Deaf Pet Awareness: Inspired by Nitro

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We are excited to share a Guest Blog written By Chris Lee with Photos By Christina Lee from Deaf Dogs Rock for Deaf Pet Awareness week 2012.

Life takes wonderful and amazing turns. Just a year and half ago my wife Christina and I were like a majority of the population in that we really didn’t think about deaf dogs. It was not a positive or negative thing, just a simple lack of awareness. Then EVERYTHING changed when we adopted an 8 week old deaf boxer pup named Nitro from our local animal shelter.

man holding deaf boxer puppy

Picking up Nitro from the City of Salem animal shelter

Fast forward to the present and you’ll now find Christina & I spending hours each day working on our site DeafDogsRock – the website for the non-profit corporation we formed with the sole purpose of sharing our love and passion for the care of deaf dogs. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about deaf dogs and training in general in the last year and a half, and we’re honored to write a bit about it for Found Animals as they help celebrate Deaf Pet Awareness Week.

The two most common ways for a deaf dog to become a part of a family are either a dog you’ve homed as a young pup is discovered to be deaf, or you’re visiting adoptable dogs at a shelter and run across one that is deaf. In either case you’ll surely be wondering “Is a deaf dog right for me?” The short answer is a resounding YES. But to get to that yes you need to become aware of, and comfortable with, the ways in which deaf dogs are different from those that can hear. If you have some anxiety about the decision, do not worry! All deaf dog owners have been there at one point, and it is overcome by education and awareness.

By far the most common question we get on our site is “are deaf dogs harder to train?” They are not. Deaf dogs are just a bit different to train. We strongly recommend a structured program of positive reinforcement training with the main difference being that hand signs are used instead of voice commands. Yes, your dog needs to be looking at you to see a sign, but that is easily accomplished by spending the first few weeks treating your pup for simply looking at you.

man training deaf white puppy

Nitro & I in training

What you will find is that dogs (deaf or hearing) respond much more readily to visual cues than auditory cues. Your intonation doesn’t matter, your hand signs will be consistent, and you cannot slip in to lazy mode and simply yell at your dog. You can also give your dog commands like sit, stay, and recall from a great distance. On our site DeafDogsRock.com you can find some great training videos and articles that describe and demonstrate the standard ASL (American Sign Language) commands used for deaf dogs. Additionally, you can find tips on how we use a “finger-flash” to replace a clicker in standard training.

The bond you will have with your deaf dog is amazing, and frequently much stronger than that common between a human and a hearing dog. Recently we shared a question from a supporter on our Facebook page who was wondering if the incredibly strong bond she had with her deaf dog was unique, or even odd. Immediately dozens others replied that they had the same experience – noting that the bonds they had with the deaf dogs were very different from what they had with hearing dogs. It is a true partnership. As deaf dogs can only hear with their hearts, they count on you to be their ears. This bond is addictive – a good example is Mac and Donna Adams that now have four deaf dogs in their family, known affectionately as the Mac-and-Donna-4-Pack.

4 deaf dogs sitting together

The Mac-and-Donna-4-Pack

Many owners of deaf dogs refer to them as “Velcro-dogs”, they are most comfortable stuck to your side. With this increased bond does come one caveat though, we’ve found that deaf dogs are not nearly as happy when left home alone. When you are out of sight and smell, in their mind you have completely disappeared. We are not fans of placing deaf dogs in homes where they will be left alone in crates for extended periods of time. In those cases another companion dog easily does the trick. Similarly, a fenced yard is in our opinion strongly encouraged for owners of deaf dogs. A loose deaf dog is a deaf dog in danger. You cannot call them from a distance if they are not looking at you, and they cannot hear warning signs of traffic, etc… But, this slight warning is not unique to deaf dogs; loose dogs in general can easily get in trouble.

There are so many positive and fun aspects to owning a deaf dog; a few more are worth highlighting. Deaf dogs sleep great! A loud TV, the UPS truck, or other dogs barking will go completely un-noticed. Deaf dogs are not scared of thunder or fireworks. With a deaf dog, you will have a shadow – do not be surprised as they always follow you room to room, lying down to nap with their chin on your foot. When you adopt a deaf dog from a shelter you can change its name to anything you’d like, they will never know.

In a very short amount of time we’ve gone from a family that had no experience with deaf dogs to a one that will only have deaf dogs in the future. We cannot even count the number of deaf dog owners that have shared with us their similar story of transformation. When we first adopted Nitro we were struck by the minimal resources we could find to help answer questions about deaf dogs. We hope we have helped fill this void with our site DeafDogsRock.com, and our Facebook page at Facebook.com/deafdogsrock. Please visit, you’ll find heartwarming stories of successful adoptions, recognition of deaf dogs earning the Canine Good Citizen Certification, and bios of deaf therapy dogs. We have a very active community of over 6000 followers that love to jump in and answer questions about the love and care of deaf dogs. Additionally, 300+ deaf dogs from across the nation that are looking for homes are listed on the site.

2 dogs kissing on the lips

Thinking of adopting a deaf dog? Go ahead and take the plunge – education will take you past any reservations you may have. Our lives have been made much better by the addition of Nitro to our herd, yours could be the same.

Chris Lee with Deaf Dogs Rock, a registered non-profit organization.

man with a grown up deaf boxer

Photo by Don Peterson

12 Responses

  1. Mary Runge says:

    I love your commitment and compassion to and for these animals!! I love my pets in a way that only animal lovers understand, so thank you for “Deaf Dog’s Rock”!! I’m sure I speak for many when I say how much I enjoy the site, learn from it, and just get a huge smile and warm heart every time I’m on it!!! <3

  2. Kerri LuvsBoxers Henderson says:

    Fantastic article and pics ….Chris and Christina!!

  3. Wendy says:

    Great, great article…I am a recent friend to Deaf Dogs Rock website and facebook page and love it! I love getting the feedback, (I am the one who posted the question about my deaf dog, Hitch). It is true, the bond is soooo strong, and gives me a warm, rich feeling of unconditional love. Just today I was working at my computer, and my dog Hitch was sitting in the t.v. room barking. She was barking because she wanted to sit in a specific chair, and she wanted me in the room with her. Whenever she leaves the room we are in she “calls” me to where she would like the “both” of us to be. How cute is that? If I don’t want to be with her, she is fine, but it is almost like she is saying, I prefer to be with you, but at least I want to know, that you know where I am. Just love, love, love my deaf dog and the Deaf Dogs Rock website and facebook page!! Great article…now go out and adopt a deaf dog and feel the love!

  4. Lawrence says:

    In my point of view, successful dog training is not only about getting your dog to understand you—it’s about how much you understanding your dog. Dog training will improve the relationship and interaction between you and the dog, once your dog was well trained, you will have fun with the dog.

    • Annie M says:

      I agree Lawrence! After attending a 6 week obedience class with my dog I find we communicate much better and on such a different level! I believe everybody should do basic obedience with their dogs, it just makes for better dogs and better owners.

  5. Denise says:

    Nitro, bud, Chris and Christina rock. They work hard and do a great job for the deaf fur babies and community!

  6. HELENA says:

    God bless these “deafies” we have 1 deaf boxer, Carla is her name, the most affectionate, sweetest,and funniest dog..always seeking out our approval, she understands the sign language, my daughter, grandson, and i are deaf. and hve 2 chihuahuas, Tyson and Chico as ears for us. the love between the 3 dogs is absolutely awesome and beautiful…
    +

  7. Jan says:

    My Boston Terrier, Gardenia, was born deaf and I got her when she was about 6 and a half months. She had been placed at a Petco because the elderly woman that bought her said she could never get anything done because this puppy was constantly at her side. Isn’t that what puppies do?Turns out Gardenia (renamed)was deaf and is now going to be 14 years old in October.She barks at 6:00 p.m. for dinner, and 10:00 p.m. for a bedtime treat and is smarter than I’ll ever be. She is a diva in the truest sense of the word and now has 4 other Bostons that she is the Mother Superior to.

  8. Paula says:

    My Toy Poodle Missy is 14, and I am sure she is deaf. I took her to the vet three months ago and she passed her test. But since then she has been going down hill excessive barking, growling more at other dog, not responding to triggers ect. Thank you so much for your article it was very help full. I am taking her in to the vet on Saturday. But I am pretty sure I know what the answer is.

  9. big daddy says:

    we have a deaf French bulldog–Dixie–smart loving and a bell wearer, she knows her hand signals & will melt your heart with her actions, she rules the roost here.

  10. Annie M says:

    Thanks for sharing your sweet story about Shadow Roxann. If you are facebook you should check out Deaf Dogs Rock. They are a great community for deaf dog lovers!

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