Liam the pug is accustomed to working on blog photo shoots with me--especially around the holidays. He knows I break out elaborate props and backdrops, and then we sit down together to take photographs of him posing with those props. We've been doing this work for 6 years now, so he knows the drill.
But my new Liam posts might look a little different. That's because Liam seems to have lost most--if not all--of his hearing.
In a typical blog post, like this St. Patrick's Day post from last year, I put Liam in some sort of pose, and I use oral commands like "wait" or "stay" to make him hold the pose. He follows those oral commands quite well. Or at least, he did.
This year, I wanted to pose Liam with this little whiskey bottle for St. Patrick's Day. It's cute. He's cute. I thought it would be a perfect match.
Posing him with the bottle was no problem at all. The real issue involved making him look at the camera. Liam just doesn't want to do this anymore. He either looks up and over the camera, trying to catch my eye. Or he looks at another person in the room (like my husband) for instructions.
Liam's developed these coping skills all on his own, and he was so good at using them, that neither my husband nor I realized that Liam was deaf until about a week ago. We have a good excuse: We've both been very busy with my broken leg and all of the changes that's prompted. But Liam was showing signs quite some time ago.
- Liam just flat-out stopped coming when he was called. We could call and call and call for him, and he just wouldn't show up. When we'd go to him to get him, he'd look surprised.
- He started sleeping in late in the morning, rather than springing out of bed when his bowl came out of the dishwasher.
- He started growling at Fergus and Sinead during play sessions, if they tried a pouncing maneuver.
- He tried to keep my face in sight at all times, even when we were walking.
But the big kicker came last week, when Sinead was in the living room barking at a supposed intruder, and Liam was in the kitchen with me. Typically, one barking dog makes all the other dogs bark. Liam often tears off to join her in barking. This time, he didn't.
I got nervous then, and I did another test. I held a toy behind my back and squeezed it to make it squeak, he didn't turn his head at all. He just didn't hear it.
We've run dozens of other experiments with doorbells and whistles and dropped food and crinkling treat bags. We get the same reactions each time. If Liam can't see it, he does not react to it.
There is one approved, formal hearing test for dogs, and there is a veterinarian about an hour from my home that performs these tests. But, this BAER test involves placing three electrodes on the dog's face for the duration of the test. Liam is an absolute whirling mess of nerves at the veterinarian's office, and he has become so upset at anything near his face that he has nearly hyperventilated. Considering that there is no real treatment for deafness like his, I'm not sure I want to put him through a formal test--just in case.
That said, an infection has been ruled out for Liam. Serious ear infections and wax plugs can cause signs of deafness, so dogs who can't seem to hear should always go to the vet. Liam did.
But deaf dogs can--and often do--live very productive and helpful lives. They adjust, as Liam has done, with the help of their people. I'll be learning more about hand signals, for example, and we're already looking for ways to modify the few hand commands he does know into big gestures he can see from long distances. Watch for that on the blog in the coming months.
But this St. Patrick's Day, raise a glass to a very smart and sweet little pug who has been dealing with this challenge admirably, all on his own. Liam is truly extraordinary, and I'm so glad he's with me. And do leave me a note before you go, okay?