Are Dalmatians Deaf. If you’re thinking of getting a Dalmatian or already have one, then you probably want to know if they can suffer from deafness. The answer is yes, they can be either fully deaf or deaf in part.
It’s estimated up to 30% of Dalmatians have some form of hearing difficulty.
Most dogs have a propensity toward a health condition, often specific to breed or type of dog. For example, short nosed dogs with flat faces, such as Pugs can suffer from breathing problems due to the soft palate being too long for the length of their mouths and their narrow nostrils. In the case of Dalmatians, the predisposition is deafness.
Why does deafness occur
Research has confirmed animals who inherit the piebald (patches of black and white, or other colours) or albino gene are more likely to suffer from deafness. This is due to an absence of melanocytes in the inner ear. This absence is also common in other dog breeds, such as English Setters and Border Collies who carry the extreme piebald gene. These dogs tend to be mostly white coated.
Brown eyes or blue, patch or spot
Although the reason is not known, Dalmatians with blue eyes are more likely to suffer from deafness than Dalmatians with brown eyes.
Also, Dalmatians whose coats are more patched in appearance are less likely to be deaf than their counterparts with well defined spotted coats. Patched is where spots are joined together to form large patches of colour of the darker pigmentation.
The Dalmatian breed however is uniquely defined and loved as having a coat of spots, rather than large patches of darker pigmentation, so it is unlikely breeders will want to alter the breed definition by breeding exclusively from patched dogs.
Responsible breeders always have litters hearing tested. Needless to say it is never advisable to breed from a Dalmatian known to have hearing problems, however slight as this increases the likelihood of hearing problems in the puppies.
How is deafness identified
Hearing is tested by carrying out a BAER test (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response). This is a simple, painless procedure which will detect and record the electrical activity in the brain in response to a series of stimuli, usually clicks. The test usually lasts about 5 – 15 minutes and will not normally require sedation.
Since the ear canal in dogs is not opened until they are about 2 weeks old, the BAER test is usually carried out when puppies are about 5-7 weeks old by the breeder, but any age of dog can be tested.
The test shows what range of hearing a dog has and is recorded as follows;
- Unaffected – has a full range of hearing
- Bilateral – no response to the test, where the dog is considered deaf
- Unilateral – partial response, where the dog may be deaf in one ear or partially deaf in one or both ears
Dogs are able to hear frequencies humans can’t and as this test has been adapted from the one given to test human hearing, it does not measure the full range of a dogs hearing. It is therefore possible, whilst a dog fails to show a response to the clicks in a BAER test, they may be able to hear high-pitched noises.
Reputable and responsible breeders have their puppies BAER tested and will usually provide results before you buy. If you’re buying or adopting a Dalmatian and they’ve not been BAER tested, it is always recommended to have a test. Your vet will be able to advise you further on test centres and costs.
Can a deaf Dalmatian be trained
A Dalmatian with Bilateral or Unilateral hearing can be trained. The majority of people who own a deaf Dalmatian say it isn’t any more difficult to train a deaf Dalmatian than to train a dog with full hearing.
Take clicker training, for example, where a desired action or behaviour is rewarded immediately following a ‘click’ on the clicker device, also known as a ‘marker’. With deaf dogs, the sound of a click is replaced by a marker which the dog can see, like the flick of a light or a hand signal from the owner.
In essence, a sound or verbal marker is replaced by using another of your dog’s senses, sight. Training therefore is based on a visual basis rather than a hearing basis.
Dogs are natural learners and love to use their brain. In the same way a hearing dog will readily adapt to the sound of a clicker or it’s owners voice requests, there is no reason a deaf dog won’t learn by whichever visual method you chose. After all, whether a dog can hear or not, it is not likely to know any different and therefore all learning is new to them, on whichever basis this is delivered!
If you chose to use hand signals, such as a thumbs up sign for ‘YES’, make sure it is the same every time and also be certain to make the signal clear for your dog to understand.
If you intend to let your dog off the lead or leash, it is probably a good idea to ensure they don’t wander out of your sight. As an added safety precaution, you may want to consider purchasing a collar and harness which has the words ‘DEAF DOG’ on it.
There are also remote controlled collars which can deliver a vibration, felt against the dog’s neck. Opinion is very divided on the use of these, as they are generally used to attract the attention of a dog when it is about to carry out an undesirable behaviour, such as chasing sheep or bolting across a busy road.
The use of remote controlled collars is based on letting the dog know they have displayed an undesirable behaviour; the premise is therefore to act as a punishment or chastisement.
Perhaps it is fair to say, the more favourable training method is the polar opposite of this; where good behaviour or a desired action is rewarded. Whatever your opinion, there seems to be sufficient concern that, if used as a punishment, vibrating collars may cause more problems, like instilling fear in your dog and almost certainly discomfort.
Our first Dalmatian, Georgie; by far the prettiest of her 10 siblings had unilateral hearing (partial response to the BAER test). We didn’t want a show dog or to breed from her and as wanted a pet, we were happy to guarantee to the breeder we would have her spayed.
Georgie was strong willed, but beautifully natured. At puppy training classes, she once ran amok when we were learning recall.
I clearly remember when it was ‘my turn’; I was to request Georgie to ‘SIT’ in the centre of the community hall we were training in, ask her to ‘STAY’, before walking away to an area out of her sight. When ready, I was to call Georgie to me. Simple.
‘GEORGIE, COME ‘ I asked in a clear voice. No dog appeared. Hearing a commotion in the main room I’d just left, Georgie was no longer sat in the middle of the room where I’d left her. To my horror, she was running around the perimeter of the room, snatching at the various food rewards belonging to the other dog trainees! As she came to my side, she had bits of food and half a paper bag hanging from the corner of her mouth.
Although embarrassing and funny in equal measure, I realised this had occurred, in part because of her unilateral hearing – she hadn’t heard me call her and being of Dalmatian persuasion, the temptation of food was just too great.
Whenever we were outside with her, it was noticeable she could hear you call her name and the request, but wouldn’t usually know from which direction the sound had had come from, which would lead her to look around to locate us, almost like a delay in processing the information. It wasn’t a problem as she was excellent off the lead and tended to stay close to us for much of the time.
Do deaf Dalmatians make good pets
Essentially, deaf Dalmatians do make good pets and can be trained effectively, provided you are aware training and living with a deaf dog will need to be approached differently. As mentioned above, training needs to be visual (hand signals and/or light) rather than vocal, but there is no reason deaf Dalmatians or any other deaf dogs wouldn’t make fantastic pets.
Many deaf and hard of hearing dogs lead full, contented and happy lives.