By Heather Engel
So, you're proudly an 'adopt don't shop' hooman. You've seen a photo of a rescue dog available for adoption in your area. You read the profile. You get excited thinking this pooch could be THE ONE. Then you get to the medical section where the dog is listed as deaf. What is your reaction? Does your heart sink? Do you scroll on by? Or, like me, do you get excited that you might have just found your pawfect pooch? Yes, I admit it. I'm a deaf dog tragic. I love them all. They're smart, challenging, rewarding and, as most of them are deaf due to the double merle gene, they are incredibly cute.
So, what's the big deal about deafness? Well, let me explain why it's such a big deal. The American Kennel Club  estimates that between 5% and 10% of dogs were bilaterally (both ears) or unilaterally (one ear) deaf in 2016. Ask around and you will hear horror stories about deaf dogs being put to sleep, the dreaded green dream. In fact, as little as a decade or two ago, it was common practice for breeders to cull deaf puppies. So let's put this into perspective. In 2017 Pet Secure  estimated 3.7 million deaf dogs in Australia alone - that's between 185,000 and 370,000 dogs with a hearing impairment in Australia.
Now, depending on how you look at it, that's either hundreds of thousands of healthy dogs that faced euthanasia, or its hundreds of thousands of loveable and trainable family pets. Today, deaf dogs who find themselves in a pound still face euthanasia if they're not adopted or if organisations like Deaf Dogs Rescue Australia can't take them in to train and re-home them. The same fate is faced by dogs whose owners don't have the skills, support or the time to train them.
Many people ask if a deaf dog is hard to train.
Well, training any dog does come with its challenges. Deaf dogs are dogs first and deaf second. They are no harder to train than a hearing dog. In fact, some people say they are easier to train because they don't get distracted by noises in their environment. The foundation of training a deaf dog is to get them to check in with you so that you can use sign language to give them the sign command. Just as with a hearing dog, deaf dogs can do all sorts of amazing things. They can compete in agility, fly ball, advanced tricks, become therapy dogs, emotional support dogs and psychiatric assistance dogs, just to name a few. In fact, George Wilson, the mascot for Deaf Dogs Rescue Australia, has an important job working in palliative care.
Probably the hardest thing to accomplish with any dog is to get them to respond to your commands. With a hearing dog this looks like them pretending that they can't hear your voice commands. With a deaf dog they won't look at you to see your sign commands. Think petulant three year old! Deaf Dogs Rescue Australia has recently opened a training centre in Port Kembla NSW so that they can teach deaf (and hearing) dog owners to train their furkids in sign. They hope to reduce the amount of deaf dog surrenders by educating and supporting owners and advocating for de-sexing their furkids.
There are many benefits to sharing your life with a deaf dog:
Deaf dogs lurve their hoomans. They're often referred to as 'Velcro Dogs';
They sleep like the dead. No waking up to the slightest of noises and woofing their heads off in the middle of the night;
Fireworks, thunder storms... no problems there. Some deaf dogs like to watch the light show but the noise won't bother them;
There's some evidence that they read human body language and emotions better than hearing dogs which makes them better emotional support, therapy and psychiatric assistance dogs;
Their love is unconditional. They don't care if you have a (dis)ability.