Thursday, March 9, 2017

Stubborn pug? He could be deaf

Liam the pug looking up

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.

Liam the pug with his whiskey prop

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.

For example:
  • 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. 
 Looking back, these are super obvious signs we should have noticed. But we didn't. We thought he was being a stubborn little pug who was a touch grouchy from time to time. We misinterpreted things.

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. 

Liam the pug in closeup

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?


  1. Sounds like you have got some training to learn. People training I mean. Liam seems just as happy as ever! Seriously, it's good that you now know and can take steps to learn new ways to communicate.

  2. Liam is in good hands. I look forward to hearing about how the training with hand signals is going and to his photo shoots!

  3. You and Liam will make a mighty fine team in this new stage in his life, we have no doubt about that. Growing up, one of my family's older dogs became deaf, and she lived nearly 5 years like that. She was as happy as could be. We taught her hand signals and other cues, taught her to react to the sight of items such as her leash and treats rather than go by verbal commands, and though she was never an aggressive dog, we started knocking on the floors and such to wake her up prior to touching her, just in case. Liam looks like a perfectly happy fellow still, so we know you and he will work through this just fine!

    1. Knocking on the floor is a smart idea. We seem to scare him so often when we reach out to touch him. If he doesn't see us coming, he has no idea we're there!

  4. We're glad you figured hat out for Liam's sake especially. Our old Merci seems to be losing her hearing.

  5. We are just happy that you and your husband figured out that Liam can no longer hear. He's a smart guy, and it sounds like he's already learned to make adjustments. We know you'll work on even more things to help him, and look forward to reading how that goes. :)

  6. Poor Liam. At the end of last year, I noticed my cat Joanie was getting deaf. She always has a lot of wax and debris in her ears, but this time the ear drum was ruptured. I don't know what caused it, but she had to be put under and get it all cleaned out. It has since grown back and she can hear the treat bag from anywhere.

    1. Wow! Poor Joanie. I'm glad it was something simple. Who knew wax could cause such damage!

  7. Aww, poor Liam. How old is he? Molly and Pug are both dealing with hearing loss, but it's age related as they are 14 and 13. Getting Molly to come in from outside has been the biggest battle because she can't hear (it took us a while to realize this because she'd ALWAYS ignored if she didn't want to come in) so unless she is facing me and I can signal with my hands to come inside, I'm yelling into the wind. Pug's isn't as bad. He can still hear a bag crinkle! But when doing photos, especially outside with other noises, we have to use treats because his nose works better than his eyes or ears.

    1. Liam is about 10yo, so this seems early to me. (And we really knew he was deaf, BTW, when he could no longer hear treat bags rattle. When a pug doesn't come running for food, you know something is up!)