Skip to Content

Understanding Behavior Problems in Deaf Dogs

In a world that thrives on sound, deaf dogs are sharing a reality where barks go unheard, doorbells fail to ring and birds chirp in silence.

To navigate this world, deaf dogs possess a unique set of strengths that allows them to adapt to their environment.

Without sounds, they rely on their other senses to navigate through the whirlwind of scents, sights, and textures.

Just like any other dog, deaf dogs can lead happy and fulfilling lives.

However, being a responsible owner also means acknowledging and addressing behavior problems that your deaf dog may encounter throughout his life.

Hearing loss can present certain hurdles that, with patience and understanding can be managed effectively.

Whether you share your life with a deaf dog, are considering adopting one, or are simply curious about these canines, understanding potential challenges will undoubtedly strengthen your bond.

9 Behavior Problems Deaf Dogs Can Have

Deafness in dogs can occur for various reasons including hereditary deafness, age, injury, and medical conditions.

Among the dog breeds known for congenital deafness are Dalmatians, English Cocker Spaniels, Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Boston Terriers but it may occur in any breed.

Although deafness in dogs can pose challenges, it is not inherently linked to any behavioral problems.

Deaf dogs can display the same behavior problems hearing dogs can and vice versa.

However, there are still some unique challenges such as communication issues and touch sensitivity that most dog owners do not experience.

In the following paragraphs, I will tell you how to recognize, address, and ultimately overcome these challenges.

German Shepherd wearing headphones and lying on bright yellow couch.
Photo by Igor Vetushko on Depositphotos

1. Communication Issues

One of the main challenges of living with a deaf dog is the communication hurdle with you, other people, and animals.

Humans rely entirely on voice to communicate, so it may seem counterintuitive to communicate with a dog using only hand signals or physical prompts (touch training).

Many owners have difficulties with this which can lead to frustration on both sides.

What most owners don’t know is that using voice with a deaf dog is not pointless.

If you feel more comfortable pairing hand or touch signals with a voice command then feel free to do that.

When we speak, our demeanor changes along with our facial expressions and body movements which are all cues your dog is picking up on.

2. Problems with Other Dogs

Dogs mainly communicate through body language and although a deaf dog is fully capable of understanding and displaying the right postures, he can still face some difficulties.

Besides body language, canines also utilize vocalization in different forms such as barking, growling, snarling, etc.

Since your dog cannot hear, he can neither understand nor respond to any vocalization.

This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between dogs.

Deaf dogs usually bark less, if at all, and their barks can sound unusual.

Deaf dogs may also have difficulty communicating their own needs which can lead to frustration, confusion, and even aggressive behaviors.

However, I have found no studies that point to a higher prevalence of aggression in deaf dogs – quite the contrary.

One study found that HVI (hearing or vision impaired) dogs were less likely to show aggression.

Data analysis revealed that HVI dogs were reported by owners to show less aggression, less excitement, and were less likely to engage in behaviors, such as chasing of rabbits and rolling in feces than their normally hearing/seeing (NHV) cohorts. HVI dogs, however, were reported to be more likely to chew inappropriate objects, consume feces, bark excessively, and engage in greater licking behavior.

Behavior of hearing or vision impaired and normal hearing and vision dogs

It’s important to note that these findings were based on online surveys and the perception of the owners.

3. Touch Sensitivity

Hearing-impaired dogs are oftentimes more touch sensitive than other dogs.

Without hearing abilities, these dogs have to rely more on their other senses, including touch.

Dogs are usually most touch sensitive around the muzzle, the paws, and the belly which are oftentimes areas they don’t enjoy being touched.

A higher touch sensitivity can also be the result of repeated touching to get the dog’s attention.

Instead of touching your dog to get his attention, try to teach him a hand signal for eye contact, by taking a treat into your hand and lifting it toward your eyes.

This is the easiest solution and only requires you to walk into his line of sight.

Making eye contact is the first step to getting your dog’s undivided attention.

You can then go ahead and give your dog any command or further instructions.

4. Startle Response

Deaf dogs can startle more easily than hearing dogs if they are approached unexpectedly or if they are not aware of someone’s presence.

Since they cannot hear a person or dog that is coming toward them, they most likely get a fright.

A startled dog may show fear-based or defensive reactions such as snapping, growling, or even biting.

This is especially possible when your dog is sleeping and suddenly woken up by touch.

Constant and repeated startling can lead to stress and anxiety.

Waking a deaf dog without scaring them is definitely possible and there are many different approaches you can try.

  • Place a smelly treat in front of his nose
  • Hold your hand in front of his nose
  • Turn on the lights (flash or flicker)
  • Gently tap on your dog’s shoulder
  • Tap on the floor to cause vibrations
  • Slightly blow on your dog’s nose

5. Anxiety

Deaf dogs can be more prone to anxiety than other dogs.

Like all dogs, this can depend on individual temperament, past experiences, and how well they are socialized.

However, the combination of the startle response and increased touch sensitivity alone can lead to a more anxious dog.

The communication challenges and dependency on visual cues can also increase the likelihood of anxiety in some deaf dogs.

White, deaf dog in front of leafy background.
Photo by Caroline O’Brien on Unsplash

6. Increased Dependency

Deaf dogs can exhibit a higher level of dependency on their owners compared to hearing dogs.

They may feel more vulnerable due to their inability to hear sounds that could alert them to potential threats.

Staying close to their owners gives them a sense of safety and security, especially in unfamiliar environments.

Since they heavily rely on body language and visual cues to understand their environment, they may seek constant visual contact with their owners.

This can cause a dog to appear more “clingy” and affectionate compared to other dogs, which I have written more about below.

7. Lack of Awareness

Deaf dogs should be leashed at all times to keep them and other people safe.

Since they are lacking a crucial part of their senses, they are less aware of the surroundings that are not in their immediate vision, making them more prone to accidents and collisions.

They may not notice approaching bikes, cars, people, or other dogs which can lead to fear-based reactions and socialization issues.

8. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is something that every dog can experience.

However not being able to see or hear someone leaving the house or returning can add to that anxiety.

For a deaf dog, this can also happen when he is left in a room alone while you are still at home.

Since he cannot hear any activity in the next room, he might display anxious behavior while you are still at home.

Oftentimes it helps to notify your dog when you are leaving the house so he won’t feel like you have just disappeared.

Furthermore, not being able to hear anything can make staying home alone feel very scary.

Deaf dogs rely a lot on their owners for environmental information and without that, they are not able to (audibly) anticipate approaching potential threats.

This uneasiness can lead to destructive behaviors, excessive barking, and even self-harm.

9. Recall

Teaching recall to a hearing dog is hard enough as most dogs seem to be selectively deaf to “come” when called.

Of course, with the right training, commitment, and patience you can teach your dog a very reliable recall and that is also possible with a deaf dog.

Instead of screaming “come” in your dog’s direction you can use a chosen hand signal and teach it the same way you would a normal recall.

The difference here is that your dog must be looking at you before he can be recalled.

That’s why it’s so important to have a “watch me” signal so you can ensure that your dog’s eyes and attention are on you.

Now here comes the problem – most of the time you won’t be able to get in your dog’s line of sight when out and about.

Especially not when your dog is running in another direction, chasing an animal, or smelling something.

Similar to hearing dogs your dog may also simply ignore your visual cues if something specifically interesting captures his attention.

In this case, it would be impossible to recall your dog and keep him and others safe.

For this reason, you should keep your dog leashed at all times when you are on walks and should reserve the recall for areas that are secure and free of dangers.

Are Deaf Dogs More Clingy?

Deaf dogs can be more clingy than hearing dogs due to their increased dependence, however, clinginess is a personality trait that varies greatly among dogs, regardless of their hearing ability.

Since deaf dogs have to fully rely on body language and visual clues to experience their auditory environment, they may seek closer contact with their owner.

This process requires a lot of trust which may lead to a stronger attachment.

Not being able to hear potential danger renders your dog very vulnerable so closeness to you ensures his safety.

A deaf dog cannot interact with you auditorily so physical contact might be a way of compensating for those interactions.

How Do You Correct a Deaf Dog?

Correcting a deaf dog is not very different from correcting a hearing dog.

Most owners use verbal correction to indicate that their dog did something wrong.

Since this is not possible with a deaf dog, establish a hand signal for “no” or “stop it”.

This comes in handy when your dog is displaying unwanted behavior and you catch him in the act.

Deaf dogs respond well to body posture, hand signals, and facial expressions so you can use any of those for your training.

If your dog is performing a command incorrectly, it’s enough to omit the “good job” signal and simply lure your dog into the right position.

During training sessions, make use of the leash to better control your dog’s behavior and to provide additional guidance to avoid confusion.

Remember to praise your dog when he does something right by giving him a treat or using a hand signal.

The clearer your communication, the better training results you will achieve.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.


Saturday 22nd of July 2023

Loved this article…. Any advice when your dog is going deaf AND blind?


Monday 24th of July 2023

That's a difficult situation. If there is absolutely no hearing ability or vision left, you can only rely on touch and perhaps smell. The range of what you can do in terms of training or commands is limited but I could imagine a way to get the basics down. I'd recommend finding a trainer who knows about this stuff if a deaf and blind dog is currently experiencing behavior problems.