Hunting dogs are an invaluable asset to many, and that’s not surprising, really.
Given their speed, sense of smell, sight, and eagerness to please, hunting dogs have been accompanying humans on the hunt for thousands of years.
Today, however, guns are used, and sadly, these loud blasts can have a detrimental impact on a dog’s ears and, ultimately, a dog’s hearing.
Hunting dogs require hearing protection, just like us, when it comes to increased volume. Hearing protection can make all the difference to the quality of life of a hunting dog, not to mention their performance on the hunt.
In this article, I’m going to discuss how important it is to look out for symptoms that suggest a dog is going deaf, as well as talk about some of the options available when it comes to hearing protection.
It’s an important subject, right? Let’s get into it.
Can Hunting Dogs Go Deaf?
While they can be an invaluable asset to the keen hunter during a trip, there’s the very real concern that the loud noises your weapons make could affect your dog’s hearing.
It’s not only guns that do damage; whistles don’t help much, either.
You won’t need me to tell you that a dog’s ability to hear is quite incredible. The frequency ranges up to 60,000 Hz. Us mere humans pale in comparison, only managing around 20,000 Hz on our best day.
However, what many people – hunters included – may not know is, although hunting dogs can hear these higher frequencies, it can be extremely stressful on their eardrums.
Generally speaking, anything above 25,000 Hz can be traumatizing enough to cause damage. In terms of decibels, that’s between 120 and 140.
Anything in this range can and does, unfortunately, cause irreparable damage and, ultimately, hearing loss in hunting dogs.
Most guns that a hunter will use emit a blast that is louder than 150 decibels. Modifications increase that number yet again.
While hunting dogs do have a genius evolutionary mechanism whereby they can block out one sound to focus solely on another, gunfire tends to unfold at a rapid pace. Therefore, the sounds are too quick for the dog’s senses to kick in, which works to actively protect the hearing.
While it’s highly unlikely that a dog’s exposure to a gunshot will directly lead to hearing loss, continued exposure without hearing protection poses a much bigger risk.
Symptoms That Can Indicate A Hunting Dog Is Losing Its Hearing
If you are concerned that your dog may have suffered damage to its hearing, there are a few important signs and symptoms to look out for.
Let’s discuss these in some detail.
Your dog shakes its head more than usual
If you find your dog is shaking its head a little more than usual, pay attention to it. This motion could be indicative of a problem somewhere within the ear. When your dog’s head shakes from side to side when you are speaking or commanding your dog, it could also mean that they are having trouble hearing you.
Your dog is barking excessively or more than usual
The root cause of excessive barking can often steam from a dog feeling uncomfortable, in pain, or confused.
Your dog has started pawing its ears
A dog pawing at its ears out of the blue is a sign you shouldn’t ignore. In many cases, this behavior is displayed due to pain or hearing loss, which confuses the dog, hence this reaction.
Your dog does not respond to a whistle
One major giveaway that a hunting dog’s hearing may be suffering is their recall/response to a whistle. This is due to the fact that a dog’s hearing will start to diminish, most obviously when it comes to higher frequencies initially.
One way to test this is to get a whistle and monitor your dog’s response when it is facing away from you. Following this up with some clicks or claps to see if there is a response to these, too. If you find the latter two approaches elicit a response, but the whistle does not, it’s a good indicator that the dog’s ear could be damaged.
What To Do If You Think Your Hunting Dog Is Going Deaf
Sometimes hearing loss in hunting dogs is so subtle that you won’t always recognize it straight away. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the signs mentioned above.
If you do believe that your hunting dog (or any dog, for that matter) is losing its hearing, don’t automatically put it down to aging or a natural part of growing older. As a responsible dog owner, it is your duty to seek medical attention if you suspect illness, injury, or another factor that is affecting your dog’s quality of life.
If you have any concerns that your dog may have hearing loss, you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. There your veterinary professional can run more advanced methods of testing its hearing, as well as examining your dog’s head and ear canal.
Your vet will be able to definitively state whether or not your dog is suffering from loss of hearing and discuss with you any potential course of treatment. Remember, after all, there are many reasons why a dog’s hearing can diminish. And thankfully, frequently, it is temporary and the result of issues such as ear infections.
But we’ll get to that a little bit later on. Firstly, I want to talk about prevention, including hearing protection devices and measures you can take yourself to protect your dog’s ears.
How To Prevent Hunting Dogs From Going Deaf
As I’ve discussed with you, just like humans, a man’s best friend requires some help when it comes to protecting their hearing. Thankfully, there are a few measures that you could and should consider.
Just like anything, prevention is always better than a cure. So, below I want to run through some hunting tips that could help prevent premature hearing loss in dog breeds.
Hearing protection devices
One of the first lines of defense you should be thinking about is getting your dog to wear hearing protection. There are quite a number of options available in today’s market. These include in-ear hearing protection and over-ear protection.
Over-ear protection for hunting dogs is, in a sense, similar to the forms of hearing protection humans wear. These are basically earmuffs that are fitted with elastic or Velcro straps which fit over the dog’s head. The straps are then adjusted accordingly to hold the ear defenders in place. These are ultimately cups that are positioned over the dog’s ear.
The disadvantage of these is they can be difficult to secure. Also, if you have a particularly free-spirited hunting dog, it can take them a little while to get used to the new alien device that’s in place!
Obviously, this type of hearing protection needs to be comfortable on your hunting dog and fastening it can take quite a bit of trial and error. The important thing here is to listen to your dog. Observe their behavior. Likely, if they are uncomfortable, they’ll let you know about it.
In-Ear hearing protection
In-ear hearing protection is another option that you might want to consider.
I have known people who state that human earplugs are as good as any for hunting dogs. If you, too, are from this school of thought, I got news for you: You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT, use human earplugs on a canine.
A dog’s ear canal is a completely different shape from a human’s, so to do so would be redundant. You could even potentially be doing a lot of damage, too. Always seek out dog earplugs.
Like over-ear devices, dog earplugs can have their drawbacks. There’s the potential for the device to get lodged within the ear of hunting dogs. However, if you use them correctly and follow the instructions, there should be little chance of this hearing protection becoming stuck.
Before deciding whether in-ear or over-ear hearing protection is best for your dog, speak to your vet, who will be able to recommend certain products and procedures to give your dog the best chance of having well-maintained hearing.
Best Hunting Practises To Help Protect Your Dog’s Hearing Protection
It’s not just hearing protection devices that you should be thinking about. There are practices you can do as a hunter that will help to protect your dog’s hearing.
Training can go a very long way when it comes to protecting a hunting dog’s hearing. Teaching them through means of positive reinforcement to stay behind shooters is a great start. For example, guide your dog as to when it can break, determining them from moving forward once they catch a glimpse of cupped wings.
Ideally, you should always try to maintain as much distance as possible between the hunting dog and the shooter.
When training your hunting dog, try to ensure that this is quieter. This will also help to protect your hunting dog and not expose them to any unnecessary volume. Blanks are most often used, but you can decide to purchase quieter blanks, which will be much easier on your dog’s hearing.
Other Reasons Why Hunting Dogs Go Deaf
Just because a hunting dog is going deaf of is having trouble with their ears, it doesn’t always indicate that the cause is gunshots.
Potentially, it could mean something serious. On the other hand, it could also be a quick fix with a visit to the vet.
Ear infections can be maddeningly painful. We’ve all been there, right? When it comes to dogs, it’s no different. Almost every hunting dog will get at least one ear infection in their lifetime. Depending on the severity, it can also really interfere with their hearing. Certain breeds, especially those with big, floppy ears, are even more at risk of developing an infection.
Clean in and around the dog’s ear canal after each hunt without going into the ear too much. If you suspect an infection, contact your vet as a matter of importance, given the discomfort your hunting dog is likely in. Some of the symptoms of an ear infection include excessive barking, shaking of the head, discharge, or cuts or scars around the ear and dog’s head where they have been attempting to stretch their ear.
Sometimes disease can be the cause of a hunting dog’s hearing. One such illness is known as Canine Distemper. To eliminate the threat of a host of diseases, ensure your dog has all its required vaccinations and boosters up to date.
Many hunting dogs, as they get older, suffer from hearing loss. Just like with humans, sometimes there just isn’t a way for this to be prevented.
If there’s hearing loss in your dog’s bloodline, there’s a chance they, too, could suffer from loss of hearing.
Dogs that have white coats or at least a large portion of white in their fur are considered to be more susceptible to hearing loss.
As I’ve stated before, if you suspect your hunting dog of going deaf for whatever reason, speak to your vet.
What is too loud for a dog?
Sounds above 85 decibels are too loud for dogs, and prolonged exposure to these sounds can damage their ears. If you have a hunting dog and shoot guns around them, then they will need to wear hearing protection to prevent permanent hearing loss down the line.
How far can a dog hear?
All dog breeds can hear sounds from between 50 to 100 feet away.
From how to keep ticks off when hunting or looking after their coat after being out in the forest all day, when you have a hunting dog, there are a lot of things you need to know about.
Hunting dog ear protection, however, is one of the most important.
Training away from loud noises is a great option for honing your hunting dog’s discipline skills and keeping their pup’s hearing damage to a minimum. There’s also some great outer and in-ear hearing protection that can help greatly. It just might take a little time for your hunting dog – and you – to get used to it, but it is worth it.
Happy hunting guys.