Living with a deaf white Boxer
of the first things I did when we agreed to take the tiny white
puppy with the brindle eye patch, was do research on deafness in
dogs. Any predominantly white dog is at a higher risk of being deaf
than their coloured counterparts, due to the lack of pigment in
their coats. White isn't a colour, per se, it's a lack of pigment.
I knew this when I told Monique that I wanted the pup. Mark, however
wasn't convinced that he wanted the pup, should he be deaf. He raised
the concern that when we have skinbabies (as opposed to the furry
kind), he thought a deaf dog would be more prone to biting out of
fear when it's given a fright. This, I learnt, is one of the most
widely believed myths about deaf dogs. A deaf dog is no more likely
to bite than a hearing dog. They do not startle easily, and if that
is a concern, there are ways to desensitize them from the time they're
first when I told people we were getting another puppy, they were
excited, but their excitement turned to "but surely you don't
want a deaf dog?" and "why would you want a dog that can't
hear?" when I told them about white dogs and deafness. I didn't
even bother trying to explain, but after a while I realised that
people really know nothing about deaf dogs, and I needed to create
awareness of them.
about 5 or 6 weeks of age, it was clear that he could not hear.
When the going gets tough … the tough do RESEARCH! So, back
to the internet I went and I joined the yahoo deaf dogs mailing
list. On introducing myself and Radar, I got perhaps the best advice
that I could ever get. I was told "your puppy is a Boxer first,
personality second, and deaf last. The only difference training
a deaf dog is that you speak with your hands."
I found out very quickly with Radar, is that he doesn't know he's
deaf. He's just a normal puppy - one that tends to get rather vocal
due to not being able to hear himself - but in every other way he's
the same as our other Boxer, Tati. I always talk to him when I give
him signs, because deaf dogs are a lot more intuitive than hearing
dogs and get a lot of information from your body language. At first,
Mark laughed at me when I spoke to Radar - but now he talks to Radar
as much as I do. (And when asked if he thinks we made a mistake
by taking Radar, he just replies "don't be silly!")
training started with puppy socialisation class when he was two
days shy of 9 weeks old. We did some research on signs to use, and
made signs for sit, down, stay, no, toilet and come – all
of which he learnt within the first two weeks of being home. During
the 6-week long puppy class, I made my debut as a human treat dispenser.
His puppy class was a breeze and he was often the 'nerd' because
he would concentrate so well and wasn't distracted by noises around
him. Nobody in his class could believe that he was deaf.
was Beginner Obedience. This was a bit more challenging, because
his other senses are so sharp due to his deafness. His sense of
smell, and his peripheral vision are the two most remarkable things,
but also prove a bit of a pain when I'm trying to keep his attention
to do heelwork and all he wants to do is sniff the grass. I'm very
grateful for a patient trainer that has helped us with him (just
for the record – she has no previous deaf dog experience,
just a willingness to try new ways of doing things), as well as
Monique with all her Boxer expertise.
night before Radar's beginner Obedience test, I took him out to
do some training and he was just fabulous. His attention was perfectly
on me. But come the morning of the test he just refused to give
me his attention, resulting in him passing his test, but having
to do a bridging heelwork course before his CGC course. I was very
sad, more than anything else, because I know what he is capable
of and I don't want people to treat him any differently to a hearing
dog because really, there is no difference.
is where we are now, and due to the amazing progress he's made,
his instructor said she's sure that he could do his CGC test even
though he's doing the bridging course because we have been practising
everything included in the CGC curriculum. So far he knows nearly
30 hand signals, and those are only limited by my sign language
Monique :) For the past few weeks she has given up her time on the
weekend to help with Radar's training. I was the one that needed
training, and he needed to be de-sensitized to people and other
dogs (when he sees other dogs, all he wants to do is play. He has
never met anyone that wasn't a friend and this, although good, isn't
so good when he has to exercise self-control and not approach other
dogs), and Monique offered her services to help us.
starting work with Monique, he really has come far. I take him out
at least once a day, usually in the morning, for a short training
session and we've been having more good days, with fewer not-so-good
ones in between. Training any dog is tough and you really have to
be consistent. If there's something I've learnt about training a
dog, it's that success comes when you're more stubborn than the
with a deaf dog is no different to a hearing dog (there I go repeating
myself… but its true!). If he wants something, he tells me.
He is very well behaved and an absolute sweetheart to live with.
Something I learnt is that wherever I am in the house, he wants
to be. If I'm sitting in the study, he will curl up under the desk
with his head on my foot so that he will know if I move away. He
is my little white shadow that follows me wherever I go and should
I "disappear" he will search the house for me ending in
him curled up on my foot (even if I'm standing washing dishes) in
order to "paw-tect" me. He barks like normal (I think
he really likes the feel of the vibration it makes) and is always
kept "in the know" by Tati. If anything exciting happens,
she goes and calls him (licks his face or bites his leg until he
wakes up) and then he's in on the action! However, deaf dogs don't
need a hearing dog to be their ears, some actually prefer to be
an only dog.
ISSUES (What health issues??)
don't be fooled by people who say that white dogs are more prone
to health issues than their coloured friends. There is no scientific
evidence that white dogs are in any way inferior, and going by the
experience that people I know have had firsthand, there is equal
chance of a coloured pup having health issues (other than deafness),
as a white one.
is one precaution that owners of white dogs must take, however,
and that is with their skin. Due to the lack of pigment (as I mentioned
earlier) there is a risk of the dog getting sunburnt, and as in
humans, too much sunburn can eventually lead to skin cancer.
lighter side of this is that it is super easy to prevent sunburn.
Every morning (apart from really dreary cold days) we spray "water
babies SPF40" sunscreen on all the bits of him that aren't
covered in a thick layer of fur, like the backs of his legs, his
tummy, the tops of his ears and the bridge of his squishy nose.
This literally takes less than two minutes and we have turned it
into a game – he loves it.
the readers out there that love facts and scientific explanations,
this is for you. Because I'm a very factual person too, this was
one of the first things I researched. Genetically, there is no one
gene that is responsible for deafness in dogs. It really is a big
genetic gamble whether or not a dog does end up deaf. Please note
that here I'm talking about congenital deafness i.e. the pup is
deaf by age 5 weeks. Should you have a white pup and you are worried
about deafness, if it hasn't happened by 5 weeks, then it most likely
won't happen unless it's caused by external factors, or old age.
so the facts I'm telling you now are all fruits of the work of a
Dr George M Strain from LSU school of Veterinary medicine. While
I find him quite uh, let's just say that he's not my favourite person
(he advocates the euthanasia of bilaterally deaf dogs), he seems
to be the only person who has studied the physiology of dog deafness,
although he has not done any studies on deaf dog behaviour.
right along, then, what actually happens is that when a congenitally
deaf dog is born, it can hear fine. During the first few days or
weeks of the pup's life (usually by 3 weeks of age) the blood supply
to the cochlear gets less and less, resulting in the hair cells
(used to feel vibration) of the cochlear dying. It isn't known exactly
why the blood supply gets cut off, but Dr Strain's hypothesis is
that the melanocytes are somehow suppressed by the gene responsible
for white in the coat, resulting in either unilateral (only one
ear) or bilateral (both ears) deafness.
unilaterally deaf dog will probably never even be detected, unless
BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) testing is done. The only
problem these dogs will have is localising a sound that they hear.
deaf dog should not, however, be used for breeding purposes. Even
if a dog is only unilaterally deaf, their puppies have three times
the chance of being deaf.
FEW (more) FACTS
breed most affected by deafness is Dalmatians. Approximately 8%
of the breed is bilaterally deaf, with 21% being unilaterally deaf.
In Boxers, no conclusive studies have been done, but according to
a few articles I have read about smaller studies, the figure seems
to sit at about 15% chance of a white boxer being deaf as opposed
to the 3% chance that a coloured boxer has of being deaf, which
is not considered scientifically to be a very high number (taking
into account that it's only a percentage of the breed that's actually
that do have a high rate of deafness, other than Dalmatians, are
Bull Terriers, English Setters, Australian Shepherds, Australian
Cattle Dogs, English Cocker Spaniels and Catahoula Leopard dogs
although ALL breeds have some small chance of deafness.
spoke earlier about Radar's peripheral vision that's so good and
usually I can get his attention by waving an arm - yet his naughtiness
shows when he's busy doing something he shouldn't (like trying to
chew on the wall) and I try to get his attention, he ignores me.
Very seldom does this happen, but sometimes he's just not interested
in listening and when I try to "tell" him something he
turns his head away as if to say "I can't hear you!"
conclusion (for now, anyway) I can really say that he has brought
us TONS more joy than challenges! Whenever we meet new people and
they hear of his deafness, they say "oh shame" and my
reply is always "no – shame would've been if he'd been
put down because of his deafness. He doesn't know he's deaf - he's
just a happy, energetic Boxer pup!".