As our amazing dog companions begin that transition into their more ‘distinguished’ years, we don’t always recognise what is naturally taking place within their bodies. Or, we can see, but aren’t sure how best to support them to ensure stress and worry is at a minimum.
It is not always easy to realise the hearing is going until perhaps the recall is non existent or they are perhaps barking more than normal.
When this is happening, it can definitely be a sign that the hearing ability is changing. It may be in both ears, or just the one, so being observant and noticing reactions (sometimes very subtle) is a good first step in helping them. Then we can put the right elements in place.
So how can we help our dogs not lose confidence in themselves and their abilities? I am very much about planning ahead where we possibly can, and also acting on what the dog will show us it needs.
As an example, let’s look at my older girl Molly who will be 13 years old in a few months time.
Her walks are always a mix of on and off lead, and this includes known usual walks, or new ones. Her recall is normally excellent.
I noticed a while ago, that she would very subtly and calmly come back to check in with me more than usual. I would stroke, check her and if that was all she wanted she would go for a sniff again. I then noticed she began to change her behaviour to coming to me and stopping. So I clipped her lead on and yes, she wanted the extra support the lead gave her. Always look for those little ‘extra guidance requests’ messages dogs can give out, that way they can continue enjoying their walks without stress and know we have ‘listened’ to their changing needs. Obviously the benefits are there for us too because our own stress levels are reduced.
If you have reached the point where perhaps your older dog is not coming back on recall, don’t get frustrated or angry. Change the walk for success, and think of how to make it easier for them by guiding into different skills. If you have always used voice commands as an example, then start using body language. Begin at home initially with crouching down, arms wide open and looking fun/welcoming. When they come back give a treat, praise and let them know just how good they are. Then start to incorporate this method when out.
Also combine with supporting on a lead more when walking, because you will definitely get to a point when this will be the normality. So your walks are going to change altogether.
Make the lead no less than 1.5m long
Walk slower to encourage lots more sniffing
If they are used to going to different places then please continue doing this (if they are still comfortable), because their world does not need to get smaller as they age....unless they want it too. An example Molly always wanted a walk every single day, but now she sometimes wants to go and
spend ages in the garden sniffing whilst I walk around with her – and that is absolutely fine. Let them choose, they are NOT being lazy they just want different things than they did previously.
Clear body language signs from us, and why wait until you have a problem – start it as soon as you can, then the dog is used to this method as well.
Incorporate gentle touch in case the eyesight also starts to decrease.
Another area you may notice is Increased barking or being noisier. Don't forget this isn’t always about going completely deaf, it can be about usual sounds feeling different – muffled, less, echoes, ringing in ears etc. So again don’t get frustrated, just guide, support and help them.
Other areas may be car travel, not as confident in the dark or as the light changes, walking on different flooring. These may seem strange to connect to hearing, but sometimes the middle ear is effected so changes their balance and they can lose confidence.
There are so many ways the aging dog can show hearing changes, together with reasons why including some health conditions – always have the teeth checked as an example. I hope this short insight into a couple of the key indicators, combined with some tips helps. Although there are so many other indicators and suggestions obviously.
With aging they are no different to us, the body changes and vulnerabilities increase. We need to be patient and compassionate during this time – it is what we would want too.
The largest element we normally need to adjust is in ourselves. Whilst we do not want to admit they are getting older perhaps, let’s be observant and help the process be easier for us and them.
If you require help with your older dog, hearing difficulties and changes in behaviour. Please head to https://www.facebook.com/HelpingHandforDeafDogs or www.help-at-handsdogbehaviour.com