Deafness is one of the most common disorders in Dalmatians, and unfortunately, almost 12% of the world's Dalmatians are cursed with it. Many of the sites I have visited suggest euthanasia as a solution to the problem, but just because the dog's world is silent, doesn't mean you should silent it's heartbeat. In fact, there are thousands upon thousands of deaf Dalmatians who live normal, happy lives. This page will teach you about deafness is Dalmatians, ways to detect it, and how to live with a deaf Dalmatian.
What causes deafness?
The Dalmatian Club of America, and other interested individuals and Dalmatian clubs have been researching deafness for many years. It is said that the cause of deafness is because the Auditory cortex, the part of the brain that controls hearing, is not fully developed. Usually when puppies are born, they gain their hearing sense at about 4 weeks. Deaf dogs however, may never get it. There is a painless test that can be given to detect deafness in dogs.
The BAER Test
The Brain Auditory Evoked Response test can be given to puppies at an early age to detect deafness, and is painless. Here is Dr. George Strain's explanation of the BAER test.
"The hearing test known as the brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) or brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) detects electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain in much the same way that an antenna detects radio or TV signals or an EKG detects electrical activity of the heart. The response waveform consists of a series of peaks numbered with Roman numerals: peak I is produced by the cochlea and later peaks are produced within the brain. The response from an ear that is deaf is an essentially flat line. Because the response amplitude is so small it is necessary to average the responses to multiple stimuli (clicks) to unmask them from the other unrelated electrical activity that is also present on the scalp (EEG, muscle activity, etc).
The response is collected with a special computer through extremely small electrodes placed under the skin of the scalp: one in front of each ear, one at the top of the head, and one between and behind the eyes. If is rare for a dog to show any evidence of pain from the placement of the electrodes, if anything, the dog objects to the gentle restraint and the irritation of wires hanging in front of its face. The stimulus click produced by the computer is directed into the ear with a foam insert earphone. Each ear is tested individually, and the test usually is complete within 10-15 minutes. Sedation of anesthesia are usually not necessary unless the dog becomes extremely agitated, which can usually be avoided with patient and gentle handling. A printout of the test results, showing the actual recorded waveform, is provided at the end of the procedure."
Living with a Deaf Dalmatian
Most people think that deaf Dalmatians might as well be put to sleep, because they think their quality of life will be affected. But in reality, the quality of life for a deaf dog completely relies on how the owner handles him, and trains him. There are also many myths stating that deaf Dalmatians are aggressive, snappy, and unpredictable, and are easily startled. Yes, they are easily startled, but it can be avoided by not pushing it or lifting it up suddenly.
It is easy to train a deaf Dalmatian. You should train like you would normally, using commands and rewards. For commands, use hand or body signals and verbal commands, and always use the same hand. Using verbal commands helps you learn the signals. For rewards, use food to keep the dog motivated. Always have an assistant sitting with the dog. When you give the verbal command and signal, the assistant should move the dog into the correct position. Here are some suggestions for signals:
An excellent site for more information on deaf Dalmatians is Breaking the Silence.
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