Total deafness from birth is an inherited condition that occasionally arises in dogs. What is interesting about deafness is that it is not obvious at the litter stage. A deaf puppy can even slip through a vet check, to be confidentally presented to a new owner as their healthy new family member.
The reasons a breeder might not detect deafness in a young puppy are many. Puppies are deaf and blind for the first 11 to 14 days of life anyway, until the eyes and ear canals open. A deaf puppy grows to look perfectly healthy and presents no differently to his litter mates. He plays just the same, wags his tail, eats and so on.
Deaf puppy can achieve this normal development because he is part of a unit, his litter, and derives visual cues from his litter mates. When a visitor arrives, for example, all pups rush to greet and he is a part of that.
Sight is a powerful sense and puppy can detect activity about him through changing shadows. Vibration will be another cue, perhaps feeling the footsteps of an approaching person.
Accordingly it is not unusual that puppy’s deafness does not become apparent until he is removed from this communal living environment. Namely, when he reaches his forever-home.
Within a few weeks of arriving the new owners will discover there is something wrong. The 12 week vet vaccination visit is an ideal time for owners to discuss any concerns they have about their new baby.
Hearing the words that your puppy is deaf can be devastating for new owners. I have heard it likened to being told a child has a major disability, which is not surprising to those of us who love our dogs as members of our family.
It does not have to signal disaster, however. Of course it is preferable the pup was not born with the defect, but now that it has been discovered it does not necessarily mean the puppy will have to be returned to the breeder.
This is the time, however, for involving the breeder with developments. A responsible breeder will be equally devastated that such a defect has arisen and will work closely with the family to find a solution the family is comfortable with. At the same time (and not necessarily known to the owners) they will be reviewing the mating that resulted in the deafness and studying what genetic combinations should be avoided in future.
Clearly it is appropriate that the family is financially reimbursed in some manner, but the decision of whether puppy stays or is relinquished to the breeder should rest with the family.
What the family decides to do with puppy is wholly personal. The vast majority of owners have squarely bonded with their puppy in the short time they have had them and the concept of handing puppy back to the breeder for a complete refund is too heart wrenching to contemplate.
Sound advice for any owners and breeders who find themselves in this position is: ‘Before you do anything, become informed’. This is a very emotional situation and decisions regarding puppy’s future need to be based on facts. The breeder should take the lead here and find out what they can for the family, taking care to reference their sources should the family wish to read first hand.
Use the Internet to discover what are myths and what are facts. For instance, a fair assumption might be that a deaf puppy will bite because he might be surprised/frightened by approaches he cannot hear. Yet this is not necessarily true at all. Puppies (or any animal – humans included) who lack a major sense from birth compenstate to some extent by developing their other senses to a higher degree.
For instance, a deaf pup will be in tune to vibrations, air movement and shadow movements to alert him to activity he can’t directly see. Also, a deaf puppy raised with children will grow with the children and learn the children’s ways.
Some common misbeliefs might be based on personal experience; that is, the deaf dogs we have encoutered in our own lifetimes. Typically this will have been very old dogs who have lost their hearing as part of the ageing process. Also typcially, they will have been a snarly proposition – especially to exuberant children who they expect will inadvertantly tread on this or that part of them!
In the case of the older deaf dog, however, there are many other factors at play. Deafness is obvious to an onlooker (who is usually duly warned by the owner, ‘Watch out! She’s deaf and grumpy!‘), but less obvious are the other ageing factors, such as arthtritic sore joints, sore back, irritating skin conditions and so on.
Further, deafness in the old dog is something it has only acquired in old age. It has not had the opportunity to develop its other senses to compensate in the way a dog deaf from birth has.
When you add to all this together, you can see why an old deaf dog will likely get surprised by someone, only to rapidly twist and cause sharp pain. No wonder they are grumpy! And no wonder we have learned to link this snappy behaviour to deafness.
What about training?
Training is an area that will present challenges for the owners of a deaf puppy. Research is needed here too and will also form part of the decision making process concerning puppy’s future.
For example, owners of deaf puppies report that they can bark a lot. They are seemingly intruigued by the vibration they create, yet not cognisant that they are being noisy. How does one then train a puppy to stop what he does not realise is an irritation? Similarly, how does one call a deaf puppy to come to them?
The Internet will once more be an invaluable resource. And the possibilities are many, from remotely activated gently vibrating collars, to hand signals and torch light at night. Visiting owner forums and seeing what experienced owners have to say will be well worth the trip.
As a final thought it is worth considering the most precious aspects of dog ownership, for chances are these have nothing to do with sound. Throwing a ball, watching tele on the couch together, a walk on the lead, rough-housing on the floor, comfort when you are sad, unconditional love – and who could beat a dog when it comes to celebrating your arrival with that unparalleled exuberance known to dogs alone!
Did you answer the Poll on the Homepage? The deaf puppy is very hard to spot at this litter stage of life at just five weeks of age.
He is the tan and white one.