Katie has definitely been showing signs of age. I got her in 2000 when she was about 6 months old, so she is over 13. She has had a tough time walking for over a year, but has learned to adapt to it, and still looks forward to walks around the block (and other places; last night she led us up to the shopping center nearby). She is on her third set of shoes and needs a fourth, even though I re-sole them as many times as I can using Shoe Goo. Two weeks ago Austin was staying at Jenny’s, so Katie was home with me. I was saying something to her like asking if she wanted to go outside and she wasn’t reacting. She’s old, so she could have just been ignoring me (she’s always had an independent streak), but it didn’t seem like it. The next day when I came in, I decided on a real test: I rang the doorbell. That usually sets her off howling and barking immediately, even when she hears one on TV. No reaction. She seemed to be completely deaf. I think a lot of times she relies on Austin hearing something and following his lead, so I’m not sure how long she has been this way. If a noise is loud enough, she will hear it, though it could also be she is feeling it.
I took her to the vet this week to get her checked out and see if there was anything to do. Basically, there isn’t. They said the only way to tell if she is really deaf is to take her to a neurologist for a diagnosis and that it would be unlikely they could actually do anything about it. That’s what I suspected, but I wanted to rule out something simple like wax buildup or an ear infection (the vet said dogs don’t get wax buildup).
I also read about taking care of deaf dogs online. One interesting thing is that if a deaf dog wanders off and isn’t looking at you, it will never know you are calling it. I had been letting Katie walk off leash some, but I think I will stop that, though I had cut back on it a lot when she realized she could wander into the street or deeper into people’s yards than the leash allowed. Mostly she did pretty well, staying right behind me (I think as much to keep an eye on me since she can’t hear as because of how slowly she walks).
There are other things you can do like teach hand signals for commands, but I don’t give Katie a lot of commands anyway. From what I read, hearing is something dogs adapt better to than vision or smell, which are their strongest senses. Her vision still seems to be pretty good. Her quality of life, despite her ailments, is actually decent. She likes going on walks, still gets excited after eating a meal and wants to play, and enjoys barking at the postman in the mornings. She keeps an eye out the front window, putting her front feet on a stool I put there so she would have a better view. And I keep a carpet of comforters from the window to her bed so her feet don’t slip.