Fostering A Deaf Dog Taught My Family To Communicate

by Debbie Wolfe
In anticipation of Z Living's upcoming original show Finding Fido, where underwater dog photographer (yes, that's right) and behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch, we're collecting and telling a series of heart-warming pet stories. Follow along and check back often; we'll have plenty to share!

What’s the quickest way to get your dog’s attention when they are doing something they’re not suppose to be doing? Typically, you yell or make a loud sound of some sort to cause a distraction. After all, both humans and canines are vocal creatures and it’s one of the ways we communicate. It’s my main way of communicating with my own dogs. But a couple of months ago I was asked to take on a new foster dog—a deaf dog. This little dog forever changed the way my family and I communicate.

I'm A Dog Rescuer

When you are in dog rescue, you develop a reputation for certain types of dogs you handle well. For some, it’s pregnant moms and newborn pups; for others it’s senior dogs. For me it’s "heelers," also known as, Australian Cattle Dogs. And so one late afternoon I was asked to foster a one-year-old cattle dog that was an owner surrender. She was listed as dog- and kid-friendly...and deaf. I hesitated. Deaf? I’d never dealt with a deaf dog before. My fellow dog fosters assured me that I could handle her. After all, I can handle stubborn and tenacious heelers.

Also on Z Living: How a Stray Argentinian Dog Charmed His Way Across the World

My Deaf Foster Dog, Lupine, Took Awhile To Warm Up To My Family

I met Lupine a couple of days later. She was a bit standoffish. That was to be expected, she had just come from a shelter, and her whole life had turned upside-down. She took a bit to warm up to my family and our dogs. The poor girl would jump about three feet in the air whenever something would bump into her. She would never go into a deep sleep because she was always on edge. Again, this is normal behavior for a dog in a new environment. But, the fact she couldn’t hear added to her anxiety. But after two weeks of reassurance and by showering her with love, she finally started to relax. Now, I could work with her on training. (Photo by Debbie Wolfe)

Also on Z Living: This Dog Ran An Ultramarathon—And Found A New Home​

The Whole Family Had To Adjust To Lupine’s Deafness

We found ourselves whistling for her or calling her name to get her attention. It always took us a few seconds to remember she couldn’t hear us. I began to research hand signals for deaf dogs. Meanwhile, Lupine was running amuck with our other dogs and chewing up my furniture. I would never get her adopted with her lack of manners. One day when scolding her about chewing up a corner of the wall, my three-year-old son told me that Lupine doesn’t understand me when I yell. (Yes, I was schooled by a three-year-old.)

Dogs Understand Our Body Language More Than Our Words

Dogs communicate by sound, scent, facial expressions and body positions. Barking and sounds are much less important for communication between dogsSo, why do we spend so much time trying to speak to our dogs? Well, we are human. That’s how we communicate with other humans. And it’s not that dogs aren’t capable of picking up a few human words. The average dog is capable of understanding about 165 words, words like sit, stay, come, and no. However, they understand your body language acutely. Our movements, posture, and even our glances tell our dogs a lot about what we are thinking and feeling. Lupine knew I was upset about something by my body language, but didn’t understand what I was upset about. So all my yelling and pointing was just a waste of hot air.
From that day, my family and I focused on communicating with body language. We decided on what signals to use to indicate “no”, “good job”, “come”, etc. Just like with any type of training, consistency was the key. The funny thing was, as we developed a consistent means of communication with Lupine, our personal dogs fell into the rhythm as well. Sometimes I didn’t even need to make a sound of disapproval; my facial expression said it all. My dogs would stop the behavior and immediately ask for forgiveness. With consistent, clear communication, Lupine became a happy, somewhat less destructive dog—she still needs exercise for an outlet of her energy.

Also on Z Living: Get Ready for 'Finding Fido'

Surprisingly, Deaf Dogs Actually "Listen" Better Than Dogs That Can Hear

As we continue to foster Lupine, my family and I discovered that deaf dogs are much different than dogs that can hear. In fact, they tend to be better communicators because they do not rely on their hearing to alert them at all. Their other senses become keener. With our experience with Lupine, she actually “listens” better than our personal dogs. Fostering a deaf dog opened up a whole new world to me and my family.

Here Are 5 Facts About Deafness in Dogs:

Deaf dogs don’t know they are deaf. Lupine was born that way and has never known anything else. It’s business as usual for her.
Deaf dogs bark. Trust me, the lack of hearing seems to intensify their vocal cords. Lupine is very vocal and barks all the time. Why not? She can’t hear herself.
Deaf dogs are not suffering. Lupine is very playful and rambunctious. She is not hurting in any way by not being able to hear.
Most deaf dogs are white. Deafness is neither dominant nor recessive, but is linked to a dominant gene that disrupts pigmentation and secondarily produces deaf dog. Breeds of dogs prone to be deafness are Australian shepherds, Boston terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Dalmatians, German shepherds, Boxers, Jack Russell terriers, Malteses, toy and miniature poodles, and West Highland white terriers. Lupine is an Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle dog, a cousin of Blue Heelers. Her coat is mostly white with black undercoat.

Deaf dogs are not more likely to become aggressive. Sure, they can be standoffish in new situations. For Lupine, that’s more due to her breed than her deafness. She’s actually very submissive around people, but more dominant with other dogs. Deafness has nothing to do with whether a dog is aggressive or not.

Lupine is One of the Best Dogs I’ve Met 

Yes, she’ll chew up a sock and bark at her reflection on the refrigerator door non-stop, but that’s to be expected—she’s a young, spunky dog.  As we continue to work on her training and expose her to new things, she continues to teach me and my family how to effectively communicate.

And trust me, if we are not getting the message across to her, she’ll let us know my gnawing on the wall.

Watch on Z Living: Finding Fidowhere photographer and animal behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch. ​Finding Fido premieres on Z Living in early 2017 (we know, we know, we're eager to watch too!). In the meantime, we'll be sharing plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and yes, adorable dog pics from the set of Fido to keep you in the loop. Follow along and check back often

Tell us YOUR heartwarming dog story! We're starting a new series called How I Found My Fido and would love to hear from you. Reach out to us at to share how you found your pup.

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