Q: Our ancient Bischon, Ginger, has been going deaf for a couple of years, but there are still some things she hears, including car keys, can openers and thunder. Can you explain this?
A: You don’t have to try the can opener test to know that dogs are highly attuned to auditory cues. It’s a feature that not only reflects their profound intelligence but also reveals how good they are at hearing things –– when they want to.
Even wolves, much as they rely on howling for communication and are able to discern one individual’s howl from another, can’t match our couch potatoes for their hearing ability, much less their ability to understand sounds in a social context. (This probably has a lot to do with how domesticated dogs evolved alongside humans.)
That’s why what your dog hears matters to her ... a lot! Every jingle of the keys and click of the can opener probably means something important to her –– as does thunder.
That’s why veterinarians counsel their clients to use sounds therapeutically. Here are a few cool ways in which dog owners make the most of a dogs’ hearing skills at any age:
1. Play music.
Playing simple piano-based classical music, in particular, has been shown to help relax dogs. Learn more about this soothing approach at www.throughadogsear.com. Mozart, anyone?
2. Try a toy that makes stimulating sounds.
The X-Tire Animal Sounds Ball is awesome. My dogs love this cool, mostly indestructible ball that makes more than 20 different animal noises. Even old dogs respond to its unusual cacophony of sounds.
3. Play thunderstorm sounds.
Some behaviorists have started recommending thunderstorm sounds to help gradually reduce our dogs’ sensitivity to this stressful stimulus. Increasing the volume in the presence of other positive stimuli can gradually desensitize dogs. Ask your vet about this approach.
4. Use sound machines.
When all else fails, noise-anxious or noise-phobic dogs are often easily soothed by being fooled instead of sedated. Playing “Star Wars” or plugging in a white noise machine can help soothe storm- or sound-phobic dogs and keep stressed dogs calmer.
Your veterinarian likely has lots more ideas about Ginger’s hearing and her overall health. After all, if she can hear both can openers and thunder, she probably hears a lot more than you think she does. If she’s not responding to other cues, maybe there’s something else amiss.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to email@example.com.