They Can’t Hear When You Say “I Love You,” But They Can Feel It

National Deaf Dog Awareness Week

It’s not a common case here at Texas Humane Heroes, but once in a while we do get a special needs pet. Frankie was one of those pets. Frankie came to us when he was just a pup, but from the start he was completely deaf and visually impaired. He went through several adoptions before finding his forever home, and he couldn’t be happier than he is now.

September 23 through 29 is National Deaf Dog Awareness Week, so Frankie’s adopters, the Leal Family, let us know about their experience with raising a deaf dog. 

Deaf Dog Awareness WeekThe Leal Family adopted Frankie in September of 2017 when Frankie was just over 10 months old. They were ready for a second dog, so they started looking around different shelter and rescue websites to see if any dogs stuck out. They saw young Frankie and fell in love with him, but both were apprehensive about adopting a deaf dog because neither had experience with disabled dogs. They decided to keep looking, but they just couldn’t find a dog that stuck out to them like Frankie. When they saw that he was still available after two weeks, they decided they would visit with Frankie in person.

“Of course, Frankie is a charmer and won us over quickly,” Katie Leal said. Before adopting him, the Leals made sure to do plenty of research on raising and training deaf dogs and joined the  Deaf Dogs Rock community. Also, as with bringing any new pet into a home, all members of the family should be on the same page. Katie and her husband made sure the kids understood that raising Frankie would be different than their other dog.

“The hardest part about training a deaf dog was training myself to not rely on words…. I still find myself talking to him all the time,” Katie said. This is a problem all deaf dog owners struggle with! It is definitely a learning curve to communicate with a dog through only signs. “We were lucky because a staff member at [Texas Humane Heroes] had already taught Frankie signs for sit and lay down, so he came home already having started his sign training…. Frankie does have some visual impairment, but that hasn’t impacted our ability to communicate with him through signs, except when he is being stubborn and likes to pretend he doesn’t see us signing for him to go into his crate,” Katie continued.

An important thing that anyone interested in adopting a deaf dog should know is that they are often called “Velcro dogs.” Deaf Dog Awareness WeekBecause they cannot hear, they prefer to stick close to their companions (especially if their companion is another dog) as a way to feel more secure. For the Leal’s, this was another adjustment. Their dog, Lola, and Frankie did great together, but Frankie relied on Lola a lot. “Frankie takes a lot of cues from [Lola] and would follow her around…. Lola, who was used to being an only dog, suddenly never got any space. We started noticing her getting more anxious and frustrated, so we really just had to be more aware of Lola’s cues and be intentional about making sure she gets space and breaks from [Frankie]. Once we did that, Lola became a lot more patient with him and was able to relax more,” Katie said. Because of their research and involvement with Deaf Dogs Rock, the Leals handled this situation perfectly!

Without a doubt, Frankie is in the perfect home right now. He is a high energy, young dog who loves to play rough, but he quickly learned that he needed to be more gentle with the children in the household. Now, you can always find photos of him curled up next to and cuddling with the kids on his Instagram! “It’s a huge plus that he can sleep through all of the noise that comes from having four kids in the house,” Katie joked.

So Frankie does great in the house, but what about when he goes out? Well, at first, he would accompany the family to outdoor events, but it was clear that Frankie would become uncomfortable and anxious. “Imagine being in a crowded place and not being able to hear what was going on around you and having impaired peripheral vision…. I think that would cause anxiety and fear for anyone,” Katie said. “We realized we were going to have to start slow with introducing him to higher sensory environments. We started with walks around the neighborhood and moved up to being out front with us while our kids and all of the neighborhood kids played. We want to be able to include him in our family activities, but we also have to understand his limits. I hope one day we will be able to take him out to dog friendly restaurants and outdoor events.”

The Leals did decide to get Frankie a “Deaf Dog” harness for a couple of reasons. They wanted to ensure that those around him in public would be aware and approach Deaf Dog Awareness Weekhim appropriately. Even dogs who are not aggressive can get startled if touched when unaware and react with a jolt or nip. With that being said, if you ever see a dog with a special harness in public (deaf dog, service dog, emotional dog, etc.) make sure you always speak with the owner before interacting with the dog! The Leals also wanted to make sure that on the rare chance Frankie ever gets lost, whoever finds him will be aware that he cannot hear, and thus will not respond to verbal commands.

Now here is the part you were waiting for – how does raising a deaf dog compare to a hearing dog? Well, according to Katie, “The bond between a dog and their human is really special, but the bond between a deaf dog and their human is even deeper and stronger because of how they have to trust and rely on their human. They say that deaf dogs hear with their hearts, and boy is that so true!” Raising a deaf dog, especially one born deaf, will always be a bigger adjustment for the human than for the dog. If you are willing to be patient, do proper research, not shy away from reaching out to trainers and other deaf dog owners, then you too can raise a deaf dog. There are so many resources for those interested in adopting deaf dogs (PetSafe and Deaf Dogs Rock are just two!)

“Don’t dismiss a dog just because they are deaf… all that really means is that they communicate differently. Deaf dogs can do anything a hearing dog can do as long as you’re willing to learn how to teach them,” Katie said. “Now that we have experienced have Frankie, I think we will always choose to adopt deaf dogs in the future.”

Deaf Dog Awareness WeekThere are lots of ways we can end this article, but we think Katie says it best: “If you do decide to welcome a deaf dog into your family, be ready to be deeply and unconditionally loved, spoiled with lots and lots of snuggles, and have a best friend like you’ve never had before!”

For more updates on Frankie and his forever home, make sure you follow him on Instagram at @lifewithfrankieandlola!