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Hearing loss in dogs

Like humans, dogs can lose their hearing over time. Here is how you can help your faithful shooting companion.

dogs together

Most dogs suffer some form of hearing loss as they age

The most common form hearing loss in dogs is age-related hearing loss (ARHL). Most dogs experience some degree of deafness during the latter third of their life. Many people don’t recognise their dog’s hearing loss until it is almost complete, interpreting partial hearing loss as a behavioural issue or selective hearing.

If you haven’t already done so, have your vet confirm that the only cause of your dog’s hearing loss is ARHL. Ear canal disease, such as a growth, foreign body or infection, can impair hearing. Besides hand signals, you can also use other non-traditional signals to get your dog’s attention, such as clapping, stomping on the floor, knocking cans together or using a flashlight. Figure out what works best with your dog and use these in conjunction with hand signals.

Try to avoid startling your dog. Always approach or touch your dog when within her field of vision. If you need to wake her from sleep, touch her gently in the same place or put your hand in front of her nose as your smell may prevent startled reactions. Finally, think about enriching your dog’s ‘smelling life’. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell and you may help to fill in some of the sensory gaps.

Is hearing loss in dogs due to gunshot noise?

Q: I’ve been thinking about training my first gundog, but I’m concerned about the effect on a dog’s hearing of spending time in close proximity to a shotgun being repeatedly fired. Most Guns wouldn’t dream of standing on the peg without suitable ear protection and for good reason. Is hearing damage a significant problem for gundogs generally?

A: Though not often reported as clinically affecting the average working gundog in this country, noises above 120dB to 140dB, such as gunshots, which average about 150dB, can indeed cause either temporary or permanent hearing loss in dogs. Dogs’ ears have mechanisms that protect the sensitive inner ear when very loud noises occur. However, the noise of gunfire occurs too rapidly for the ear to react.

Deafness can be difficult to evaluate in dogs. You can try to determine your dog’s level of hearing by making increasingly louder noises and seeing if the animal shows an involuntary twitching of the ears in response. Ideally, we use an objective evaluation of hearing with an electro-diagnostic procedure which measures neuro-electrical activity in the auditory 
part of the brain via electrodes.

The likelihood of noise-induced hearing loss affecting your dog will depend on how near the dog is to the gun, whether or not the sound is attenuated by wind, trees and so on, and how frequently it might be exposed to the sound. Best estimates indicate that the distance from the sound (the gun) to the dog should be at least 30m and so, on large organised shoot days, the dogs are better protected behind the line. Hearing is precious

Dogs use their hearing far more than we give them credit for.

Gundog breed Labrador

Hearing when wildfowling

A perfect example of this comes when you’re wildfowling. An experienced dog will pick up the sound of wingbeats and distant quacking from miles away and point his nose in the direction of the approaching birds.

At the same time he will probably also start wagging his tail.  In situations like this it pays to keep one eye on your dog – he will help put birds in the bag when you might be looking the other way.

Dogs do go deaf

In time some dogs, like people, do go deaf. But is this caused by shooting? It’s hard to say for sure.

However precautions can be taken – after all, we know that consistent loud noise can affect a human’s hearing.

So never position a dog so that it catches the loudest blast from a gun. Think first.

When taking low shots against pigeons dropping into decoys or mallard coming into a flight pond you should always have the dog alongside you, and away from the gun muzzles, so that they are shielded from the strident gun sounds.

On driven pheasant shoots it pays to have the dog sitting in front so that you can keep an eye on it and stop him running in to shot. In situations like this, however, there is little chance of gunfire damaging the dog’s eardrums. That’s because the muzzles, when the shot is taken, will be pointing skyward with the blast being directed upward and away from the dog.