Pip is 13.5 and is losing her hearing. Soon, I believe, I’ll be living with a entirely deaf dog. Not yet. She can clearly still hear but it’s equally obvious she doesn’t hear clearly. Here are two changes I’ve noticed recently plus the thing that sealed the deal today.
- She’s not coming when called instantly. Now, not responding quickly is pretty normal for many dogs but not with Pip; she loves when I call her. She whips her head in my direction and accelerates with a grin when she hears, “Pip, Come!” Or she did. Now, she keeps sniffing until she does hear at which point she whips her head in my direction and accelerates with a grin on her face, as she has for years.
Clue: If your dog no longer responds quickly or even at all to communication she has always enjoyed, she isn’t being suddenly “disobedient” but rather, more likely, isn’t hearing you as she once did.
- I’m bumping into her as I got out of bed. That’s a huge shift. She is respectful of my space and movement, that’s something we’ve worked on a lot. Usually, by the time I’ve swung my feet down she is up and greeting me. I’ve also been bumping her more as I move around the house. This could also signal me that her eyesight is fading but I’ve seen no other hints of that. She is sticking closer to me, in general, recently. I’ve had to recalibrate my awareness of her as I am moving around my house.
Clue: If you notice you are bumping into your dog more, suspect some phsyical change rather than a behavioral one. Old dogs don’t suddenly develop new behavior patterns; when that happens it’s usually a medical issue.
- She’s clearly confused. This happened today: when I came home, she did not meet me at the door. I called her, louder than I used to so I knew she would hear me. Still, she did not appear. Concerned, I walked down the hall only to find her stationary in the dining room looking off into the kitchen. When I greeted her, she looked confused. I think she simply didn’t hear me well and couldn’t orient properly. Such disoritentaion can be a sign of cognitive decline in older dogs but it doesn’t usually display that way and she’s shown me no other such moments. Her confusion is that she does not know she is going deaf. As far as she understands, sound has simply confusingly changed.
Clue: If your dog, who has always greeted you joyfully when you come home, no longer does or is slow to appear, think hearing loss before anything else.
All this means I need to be more cautious with her off-leash adventures. She grew up off leash on our farm in NY and she does love it still. I try to give her opportunities as often as I can in our current suburban life but will need to be even more careful going forward. She can’t be her reliable, responsive self if she can’t hear me as she once did.
Here’s what haunts me: Does she miss my voice? Is she confused or stressed by what must seem like my “failure” to praise her as much anymore? My eyes fill as I type those words. So now, I take special time with her now to do more than happy verbally praise. I stroke her beloved and increasingly lumpy head. Try to speak in a way she can hear and feel.
I don’t have Pip forever. I am reminded of that everyday now. We may have years to go, I hope we do, but if we don’t, I want her to know today and every day, that she is beloved.