Book review: Living with a deaf dog

Is your dog deaf? Read this book!

Cincinnati writer Susan Cope Becker bought a puppy that couldn't hear, and she turned her quest for help into a book to help others understand and cope with a deaf pet. In the 115 pages of Living with a Deaf Dog, Becker includes information about testing hearing, causes of congenital deafness, behavior of deaf dogs, training tips, sign language diagrams, a list of resources for owners of deaf dogs, and several stories from the owners of deaf dogs.

Becker shatters some myths about dogs that cannot hear. For example, she found no evidence that deaf dogs are more prone to aggression than hearing dogs and learned that congenital deafness has no relation to intelligence.

Some breeds have a high incidence of deafness. Research has shown that white color and coat pattern are probably linked to deafness as the incidence in merle or dappled dogs and in piebald (spotted) breeds is higher than in breeds that do not have these patterns. Deafness in Dalmatians is probably the best-known breed-specific affinity, but congenital deafness can be a problem in more than 60 breeds. The same genetic influence that causes deafness often produces blue eyes, but all blue-eyed dogs are not deaf and all deaf dogs do not have blue eyes.

Becker weaves her way through the scientific explanation of deafness without losing readers in the dust, but the meat of the book is the behavior and training information to help those who find themselves in possession of a deaf pet. She explains sign language as a teaching tool and discusses alternative methods of getting the attention of a deaf pet. For example, she suggests using visual stimuli such as a flashlight to cue the dog to watch for hand signals, always touching the dog in the same spot on the withers or hips to get the dog to look up, or using motion to catch his peripheral vision. And she presents some cautions: deaf dogs may be afraid of active, boisterous children; may react with aggression if touched unexpectedly or startled awake; and need an extra dose of socialization so they can cope with any situation.

Some breeders euthanize deaf puppies because they fear that the puppies will face a life of deprivation if owners cannot deal with the handicap. While it is true that deaf puppies should never be bred, it is also true that it takes a extra dollop of understanding and persistence to deal with a deaf dog, Becker shows that it is by no means impossible.

The book has a couple of minor flaws: Becker recommends the alpha-rollover as a disciplinary technique for deaf dogs that challenge authority. Although she characterizes the technique as “a last resort,” she fails to note that a truly dominant dog can easily bite an inexperienced person who tries this maneuver. For this reasons, most training instructors recommend against using the rollover to discipline pets.

Becker also attributes the number of deaf dogs to “overpopulation,” citing the 1996 registration statistics of the American Kennel Club as evidence, but the relationship between numbers of puppies and incidence of deafness is only superficial. More important is the combination of breeding practices that produce deaf puppies and the lack of appropriate homes for dogs that cannot hear.

Becker's book is self-published. To order, contact her at 2555 Newtown Road, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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