By Shelley Greggs

Speak, Communicate, Share, Impart, Transmit, Reveal. As dogs owners we see these behaviors in our dogs all the time and all dog owners know well that their dog converses daily with them. However questions arise if one has a dog that is deaf. Can a deaf dog communicate and respond?, a website devoted to dogs who are deaf, says absolutely yes that deaf dogs can communicate. Moreover they say, “They are not harder to train, just different. In fact, raising a deaf dog can make you a far better dog owner.

Is deafness a risk for all dogs? Yes, any dog may become deaf through injury, illness or accident but there are some breeds that are predisposed to hearing loss. reports that breeds with white, spotted, dappled or merle hair coats are predisposed to congenital deafness, although other breeds can be affected as well. More than 50 breeds have been identified by various authorities as being susceptible to congenital deafness. The Dalmatian is most commonly affected. Other at-risk breeds include the Akita, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Heeler, Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Border Collie, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bull Terrier, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Collie, Dappled Dachshund, Doberman Pinscher, Dogo Argentino, English Bulldog, English Setter, Fox Terrier, Foxhound, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Ibizan Hound, Jack Russell Terrier, Kuvasz, Maltese, Miniature Pinscher, Miniature Poodle, Old English Sheepdog, Papillon, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, St. Bernard, Schnauzer, Scottish Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Siberian Husky, Toy Poodle and West Highland White Terrier, among others. The list of affected breeds continues to expand and certainly may change over time depending upon breed popularity and breeding practices.

Cavalier reports that,” Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are predisposed to a form of congenital deafness, although it is not as common in Cavaliers as it is in a few other breeds. Dr. Callum Turner DVM for said that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to ear problems due to their famous ears, which restrict airflow to the ear canal making a perfect environment for infection.


If you suspect that your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may be deaf, here are some behaviors you may observe that indicate hearing loss. Experts say watch for the following signs listed below that may indicate deafness. Of course formal diagnosis is through your vet.

  • Overly aggressive behavior with littermates (young puppy with congenital deafness)
  • Lack of response to squeaky toys
  • Lack of response to auditory stimuli, especially when the dog is not looking (voice commands, shouting, clapping hands, whistling, barking, doorbells, etc.)
  • Tendency to startle and/or snap when physically roused from sleep or rest
  • Tendency to startle and/or snap when touched from behind or outside of its field of vision
  • Sleeping more than typical for a dog of its age and breed
  • Decreased activity level
  • Difficulty arousing from sleep
  • Not awakening from sleep in response to auditory stimuli (voice commands, clapping, whistling, other sounds)
  • Exaggerated response to physical stimuli (touch, floor or ground vibration, wind)
  • Excessive barking for a dog of its age and breed
  • Unusual vocal sound
  • Gradual decline in response to own name and known voice commands
  • Disorientation, confusion, agitation in otherwise familiar circumstances

As stated earlier CKCS may have a higher rate of ear infections due to their beautiful flowing ears that may inhibit airflow. Learning how to keep your Cavalier’s ears clean is important. Your vet should provide instruction for you however as a refresher you may want to view the video listed below.

Treatment options for canine deafness are currently limited unless the deafness is temporary due to ear infections; tumors or build-up of wax and other debris that can be treated by removing the causative agent either medically or surgically. Cavaliers are also susceptible to PSOM, which is a mucus plug in the middle ear, and this can lead to hearing impairment. There are surgical corrections for this, but the reoccurrence rate of the disorder is rather high. For more information on PSOM, see

Currently there is no practical treatment for congenital deafness in dogs, Puppies born with a limited or absent sense of hearing almost always will be unable to hear sounds for the rest of their lives. The same is true for dogs with acquired nerve-related deafness or hearing loss. While some veterinary teaching hospitals and other highly specialized veterinary facilities offer customized hearing aids for dogs with limited hearing disabilities, these devices are extremely expensive, and have not yet been refined to a point where they are useful for the general population.

Despite the disappointment and sadness an owner of a deaf dog experiences the prognosis for deaf dogs is not dismal. General opinion is that most dogs diagnosed with hearing loss live happy lives. Deaf dogs can easily be taught to respond to hand signals, facial expressions or even flashlights. Owners will need to change some of the ways in which they deal with their dogs, but there are many success stories about the adventures of living with and being loved by a deaf dog.

The best way to deal with deafness is with kind, careful and consistent training, management and care of affected animals. According, “When it comes to training deaf dogs, they can learn just like hearing dogs with just a slight tweak in the training program. When training a hearing dog, you would use verbal and visual commands. When training a deaf dog, you would use hand signs for visual cues to replace verbal commands (although this author talks so my deaf dogs can read my facial expressions). Many trainers of hearing and deaf dogs combine the verbal with facial expressions along with the visual hand signals so that both hearing and deaf dogs will perform with hand signs”.

Tonya Wilhelm, author and owner of Raising Your Dogs naturally says that getting your (deaf) dog’s attention is the biggest challenge in training a deaf dog. On her website she provides numerous training suggestions that owners can learn and use to train their deaf dogs. She discusses the use of a flashlight, touching your dog, hand signals, stomping and several ways to reduce startling your dog. She provides a great deal of advice as does and, the website for Deaf Dog Education Action Fund.

Owners and potential owners of deaf dogs might appreciate the following Twelve Quick Facts About Deaf Dogs, written in 2002 by Heather Pate, who lives in Canada. Heather owned a deaf merlequin Great Dane named “Chance” for more than ten years. She wrote this based on her personal experiences with Chance and her contacts with other owners of deaf dogs. It has since been circulated worldwide:

Twelve Quick Facts About Deaf Dogs:

  • Deaf dogs don't know they are deaf.
  • Deaf dogs don't care that they are deaf.
  • Deaf dogs are not suffering by being deaf.
  • Deaf dogs are dogs first.
  • Deaf dogs are representatives of their breed or combination of breeds second.
  • Deaf dogs are individual dogs with their own quirks and personalities third.
  • Deaf dogs are not more likely to become aggressive than any other dog in the same circumstances.
  • Deaf dogs may startle when awakened suddenly but can easily be conditioned to awake to a calm but alert state.
  • Deaf dogs are no less healthy than most hearing dogs.
  • Deaf dogs can be easier to train than hearing dogs.
  • Deaf dogs are very attentive to visual signals, including facial expression, body language and hand signals.
  • Deaf dogs get along just fine with other dogs and people, as long as they are socialized from puppyhood on - just like hearing dogs.


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