a vet checks the ears of a dog

When a dog gets old, it may begin to lose its eyesight and ability to hear. While this may be traumatic for you to witness, it is much more stressful for the dog. Imagine suddenly not being able to hear familiar noises, find things around the house, or see who is approaching you.

While losing its vision or hearing does make things more difficult for a dog, with a little help, it can adjust to its altered lifestyle rather quickly.

Tips on How to Prepare for a Dog that is Losing its Eyesight and/or Hearing Ability

Signs of Vision Loss

Dogs that are losing their vision may appear to be clumsy and disorientated around the house — frequently tripping, bumping into furniture, and stumbling around. A dog whose eyesight is deteriorating will have a harder time locating things around the household such as toys and a food bowl that is not kept in its usual place. They may appear more easily frightened and act jumpy when you or someone else goes to pet them, as they are not able to see as clearly.

How to Handle a Dog with Deteriorating Vision

  • Replace hand signals with verbal commands. If you typically tell your dog to lie down by pointing at the ground, for example, begin placing emphasis on the verbal command. Gradually phase out hand signals and transition into saying, “Lie down” instead of showing it. Once your dog begins to respond to the new verbal cue, eliminate the hand gesture.
  • Reinforce commands and teach new tricks by using clicker training. Training a dog with a clicker reinforces the desired behavior with a sound. If your dog becomes blind and you need to teach him a new trick, do so with a clicker and treats. Press the clicker at the exact moment that the dog performs the action that you want him to do. When teaching “Sit,” for example, you’d press the clicker the second the dog’s butt touches the ground and say the word “Sit.”
  • Eliminate harmful objects from your dog’s reach. Make sure to pick up anything around the home that may pose a danger to a blind dog.
  • Gate off areas like the stairs and swimming pools. Block your dog off from areas that could be potentially dangerous to wander into.
  • Keep things familiar around the home: Keep your dog’s water bowl, food dish, bed, favorite toys, and treats in the same place so that he is able to find them in spite of his limited eyesight.
  • Engage the dog’s other senses: Purchase scented toys and balls at your local pet store. Teach your dog to play fetch by sniffing out a toy and bringing it back to you.

Signs of Hearing Loss

Vet examining a Chihuahua with an otoscope

Dogs that are undergoing hearing loss may appear disobedient and ignorant of commands. A dog with extreme hearing loss will not typically respond if you snap your fingers next to its ears or make an unfamiliar noise that typically warrants a reaction. A dog’s ears tend to move around and twitch as they take in sounds around them. If a dog has ears that remain still, this could be a sign that they are going deaf.

How to Handle a Dog that is Going Deaf

  • Swap verbal cues for visual commands. If your dog is beginning to lose his hearing, start to incorporate non-verbal cues into training. When you tell your dog to “Come,” for example, incorporate a hand gesture into the command. Reward the dog when it comes to you by cue of the hand gesture. Gradually wean your dog off of the verbal command until he is able to follow commands strictly with hand signals.
  • Keep your dog safe when outside of the home. Deaf dogs should be kept on leashes to avoid being hit by cars. Keep an eye on her whenever she is off-leash in an area like a dog park, as she will not be able to hear other dogs and people approaching and can become easily startled.
  • Make your presence known around the house. A dog that is deaf will not be able to hear you approaching and may be frightened if you just pop out in front of him. Flick on a light switch, blow on him gently, or lightly pet his back when you enter a room to alert him of your presence. Let your dog see you go into another room so that he will know where you are at all times when he cannot hear you moving around the house.
  • Desensitize the dog from being startled: Practice walking up behind your dog when she isn’t looking and gently touch her. Give her a treat when she turns around. This will get her used to being touched unexpectedly when she cannot hear people approaching.
  • Reward a deaf dog with food: A deaf dog cannot hear verbal praise and should be rewarded with his favorite treat and lots of physical affection.

Blind and deaf dogs can live just as normal lives as fully functional canines; they just require a little extra care and attention. Shower your dog with love and patiently work with her as she begins to lose her eyesight and/or hearing. Before long, your dog will adjust to life without the ability to hear or see and will be able to continue with her daily routines.

Is your dog blind and/or deaf? Let us know in the comments how she has been coping.

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