What is Canine Deafness
Deafness, a condition we typically associate with humans, unfortunately affects our beloved pups too, and specifically Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers. For whatever reason, Bull Terrier breed genetics cause canine deafness to occur at an alarming rate, nearly 11%, so it’s safe to say one in every ten owners will end up with a dog with some level of disabled hearing. Oddly enough, this affliction affects Bull Terriers with the Piebald Gene (white coat color) more often than a colored Bull Terrier, a phenomenon that researchers can’t quite understand, in which terriers with partial white or complete white heads are nearly 30% more likely to suffer deafness. However, they know that the terriers with little to no pigment do not develop pigment cells within their ears, which causes the death of the nerve cells needed to register sound. As a result, a white Bull Terrier is among the most likely dog breed to suffer deafness, among Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, English Bull Terrier, Australian Cattle Dog, Cocker Spaniel, and English Setter breeds.
Deafness can range from dogs being slightly hard of hearing to completely unable to process sound. Often high-pitch sounds will be the first thing to go, followed by lower pitches. Deafness can occur at any stage of life in your Bull Terrier, including being born deaf or occurring just weeks after birth. When your Bull Terrier is born deaf or has inherited deafness, it’s called congenital deafness.
Although Bull Terriers have this affliction, they are one of the sweetest and friendliest breeds of dogs. Even if your Bull Terrier is deaf, just like typical hearing Bull Terriers, if they have the appropriate amount of early socialization with other dogs and people, lots of exercise, and proper training, they will be a perfect companion.
Causes of Deafness in Your Bull Terrier
Congenital Sensorineural Deafness
Bull Terriers’ leading cause of deafness is an inherited disease known as CSD (Congenital sensorineural deafness). In layman’s terms, CSD damages dogs’ ears when they are 3-4 weeks old. Essentially, it hurts the tiny hairs within the ears that affect the ability to receive sound. CSD can occur in either one or both ears, and it’s irreversible. Some veterinarians theorize that Bull Terrier’s and white Miniature Bull Terrier’s open and upright ears leave the inner-ear more susceptible to damage. Although there are theories and have been studies done to understand the effects of CSD, it is unknown what specific genetics cause CSD to occur.
Although CSD is the leading cause of deafness in Bull Terriers, there is also the risk that your dog may develop hearing issues with old age or suffer from hereditary deafness. For similar reasons, over time, there is damage to the inner ear hairs, resulting in your dog’s diminished hearing.
There are many reasons dogs can go deaf outside of CSD. Causes can span from toxic chemicals, an ear infection, injury, drugs, or extreme noise. Extreme noise can occur from many things, for example, the noise from a firearm when hunting, or power tools, should you like keeping your Bull Terrier as a shop dog. A dog’s ears are very sensitive! On average, dogs can hear between -5 dB and -15 dB, which is about twice as sharp as typical human ears. Therefore, they can listen to sounds lower and higher on the spectrum than we can. A good rule to follow is if you wouldn’t expose a toddler to a sound, don’t expose your dog to that sound, or it may result in acquired deafness and hearing loss.
How Deafness May Effect Your Bull Terrier’s Life
There are many ways having a deaf animal may affect you and your dog’s life. The first and primary way is that your dog will be less responsive. Recall–the ability to call your dog back to you–will be affected. He can no longer hear you, so calling him will not cause him to react to you. Instead, you may have to practice a rump tap or blowing in your dog’s direction to get his attention.
Training your deaf adult dog or deaf puppy will also be a unique experience because you may not use verbal commands.
Irritability and Fear
Another way your Bull Terrier will be affected by deafness is irritability and fear. Through not being able to use your dog’s natural sense of hearing to assess his surroundings, he’s far more apt to be startled and react negatively. Sometimes when dogs get frightened, they can react violently out of instinct. To avoid any resulting situations, it is always good to make sure your dog sees when you approach him and not to approach him from behind.
Socializing can seem like a challenge for your deaf dog, however, this isn’t much of an issue since their other senses are heightened. One thing that may hold a deaf dog back when socializing is that a puppy will not tell when his bites are going too far. Other dogs will typically let out a high-pitched yelp to let your puppy know he is playing too rough. An interaction like this can sometimes lead to violence, so keeping an eye on your puppy when first learning to play can be beneficial, mainly because Bull Terriers tend not to be super social with other dogs.
The Seriousness of Deafness in Your Bull Terrier
The seriousness of deafness in your Bull Terrier can vary. There is a chance your pup won’t become deaf at all, but there is a higher probability that he will become deaf in one or have bilateral deafness which means he is unable to hear in both ears.
Although deafness isn’t an inherently deadly issue, there are many scenarios in which complete hearing loss in your Bull Terrier can be dangerous. As mentioned above, when your dog is unable to hear, your recall may be complex. Calling your dog may become an issue if he is running away from you into a dangerous situation. You may not be able to call him back to you.
Deaf dogs are at a higher risk than hearing dogs because they are less aware of their surroundings. Because of this, it is imperative to keep your deaf dog on a leash or confined in a fenced-in area.
Quality of Life
Another concern may be the quality of life of your Bull Terrier. In most cases, Bull Terrier deafness happens at a very young age, so young in fact that your pup probably doesn’t remember what they’re missing. As well as older dogs, although they may remember what things are supposed to sound like, their other senses will more than makeup for losing their sense of sound.
Life Expectancy of a Deaf Bull Terrier
The typical life expectancy of a Bull Terrier is about 10-14 years, and thankfully, the life span isn’t affected by being deaf. Although it may be a frustrating inconvenience to you and your dog, it is not a life threatening affliction as long as you take the proper steps to ensure your deaf Bull Terrier’s safety.
Signs Your Bull Terrier May Be Deaf
There are many ways to tell if your Bull Terrier is deaf, but the easiest way to tell is to observe his behavior looking for the following signs. First, appearing unresponsive to familiar sounds is extremely common when dogs lose their hearing. For example, if they become alert when the doorbell rang and are no longer doing so. Or they no longer respond to their name when they used to. For puppies or young Bull Terriers, it may be more that they don’t respond to sounds that most dogs would, like a squeaky toy or the sound of keys jingling. Another sign to look for in both puppies and grown Bull Terriers is excessive barking. They may not be able to hear themselves and therefore bark more than they would otherwise.
As your dog gets older, it may be helpful to check in often with a clapping exercise or similar to make sure you understand the rate at which your dog is losing his hearing. Knowing precisely the level of hearing your dog has ensures you react appropriately with training and otherwise.
To properly care for your deaf Bull Terrier, you need to assess how well he can hear and if he has bilateral deafness (entirely deaf) or only unilateral deafness, which is partial deafness. The best way to do this is to stand in a place your dog can’t see you or feel the vibrations from you walking and start clapping at a low volume. Then, continue to clap louder to see if and when your dog responds. Of course, the louder you have to clap for your dog to hear you, the deafer they are. After assessing your dog’s level of hearing, you can better understand how to care for them.
Another way to test your Bull Terrier for deafness is a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Test or a BAER test. This test is something that can only be performed by a professional due to the equipment required. It is a non-invasive way to test deafness prevalence inside a dog or cat’s ear to ensure they’re working correctly and don’t have anything that would cause conductive deafness. BAER tests are the most helpful if you can tell your dog is hearing sounds but is struggling to know in what direction the sounds are happening. That could mean your dog can hear unilaterally, and The BAER test can discern if your dog has one deaf ear or both. Some older dogs may require local anesthesia to reduce stress while the test is happening.
How to Care For Your Deaf Bull Tarrier
Sadly, there isn’t anything to be done when your Bull Terrier loses his hearing. There are canine hearing aids on the market, however, most veterinarians advise against them because most dogs dislike having anything in their ears. In addition, the hearing aids only increase volume, which can harm a dog’s hearing in the long run.
Different Training Methods
Hand Signals and “Check-Ins”
Caring for your deaf Bull Terrier is similar to caring for a hearing dog, with just a few substitutions. One way to train a deaf dog is by using hand signals. Another great tool to use with your deaf Bull Terrier is, in the dog training community, referred to as “Check-ins.” When fully trained, this means your dog will frequently look back at you and make eye contact to ensure you’re on the same page. The way to introduce this behavior is to reward your dog every time he looks back at you with a positive affirmation, or a treat, until it becomes second nature.
Waking Up and Reacting Calmy
A great way to avoid the dangerous repercussions that can sometimes come along with catching a dog off guard is to train your deaf Bull Terrier to wake up calmly. Establishing that behavior can be as easy as constantly waking him up with treats or gentle pats on the rump. Over time, your dog will be able to be approached from behind or woken up suddenly and have a calm reaction.
Another great tool to help you and your dog succeed is to put a collar on your dog that states your dog is deaf. A labeled collar is essential so your dog doesn’t get into situations that could be potentially dangerous for him or others. For example, if someone who wanted to pet your dog was unaware that he was deaf, they could accidentally surprise him and get injured.
Preventing Deafness in Your Bull Terrier
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to be done to avoid deafness in Bull Terriers. It’s an affliction that’s weaved into their genetic makeup, which means when adopting a Bull Terrier, you must keep in mind there is a high probability he will be deaf or end up deaf someday. The potential for deafness shouldn’t stop you from adopting a Bull Terrier, however, because Bull Terriers are great family dogs whether they can hear or not. Bull Terriers are notorious for being playful, loyal, intelligent, and easy to train.
There are some cases where your Bull Terrier hangs on to his hearing into adulthood rather than having inherited deafness. In that case, there is the possibility with regular vet appointments and limiting the number of loud noises your dog is exposed to; you may be able to delay the onset of deafness in your Bull Terrier. Just like preventing any diseases, such as dental disease, regular visits to the vet can help avoid those situations.
How to Give Your Deaf Bull Terrier a Fulfilling Life
Pair With a Hearing Dog
Pairing a deaf Bull Terrier with a hearing dog often helps deaf dogs adjust to surroundings and stay safe. The hearing dog will be able to communicate with your deaf Bull Terrier via body language and inform him of any oncoming threats. The hearing dog will also lead by example when he comes to training, and can act as a conduit between verbal commands and your deaf Bull Terrier. For example, if you say the word sit while making a specific hand motion, your hearing dog will show your deaf dog that hand motion means to sit. Outside of that, the recall of your deaf dog will be easier if you’re able to call for your hearing dog with verbal language. For example, if your deaf dog sees the hearing dog suddenly stand at attention or run to you, he will likely follow.
Ignore the Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions when it comes to owning a deaf dog. For example, people perceive them to be harder to train in that you cant teach them verbal commands. While it may be true you can’t use spoken commands to train your deaf Bull Terrier, there are many other ways to train them. For example, you can use simple things like taps or vibrations. There is also the misconception that deaf dogs are more violent. While there is the potential for a deaf dog to be more easily surprised, if you train your deaf Bull Terrier to react calmly to being startled or woken up, you can avoid this issue altogether. So, on the contrary to those misconceptions, a deaf Bull Terrier will be just as playful and exuberant as a hearing dog and can live just as fulfilling a life. As the owner, it is your responsibility to make sure your deaf Bull Terrier can live up to his fullest potential. Whether from training, exercise, or lots of love, it is up to you to make sure that your dog is as happy and well-behaved as a hearing dog would be.