Easily identified by their dark-spots-on-white coats, Dalmatians are prone to deafness, either partial or complete. A few easy adjustments will allow you to keep your deaf Dal content. But don't breed him.
Between 10 and 12 percent of Dalmatians are deaf, according to the Dalmatian Club of America. Other sources put the percentages higher. Normally, puppies begin hearing around the age of 2 weeks, definitely hearing by the age of 5 weeks unless they're deaf. Dals with blue eyes are more likely to be deaf than brown-eyed dogs. If a Dal has one blue and brown eye, he's likely to be deaf in the ear on the blue-eyed side. Dals with primarily white coats and little spotting are also more likely to suffer deafness.
Conduct some basic tests and observations to determine if your puppy is deaf. If he ignores loud noises, startles easily when you come behind him, sleeps excessively or doesn't respond when you call or speak to him, suspect hearing loss. However, puppies with partial hearing might also respond in ways similar to completely deaf animals. In order to tell if your puppy can hear at all, take him for professional testing by a veterinarian.
The most common hearing test conducted by veterinarians is the brainstem auditory evoked response, or BAER, which can test puppies aged six weeks and up. Small electrodes connected to a computer are placed on the puppy's scalp, in between his shoulders and and in front of each ear. BAER detects any electrical activity in the puppy's cochlea and the brain's hearing pathways. The computer testing produces peaks and valleys on the screen, but a flat line indicates a deaf ear.
The Dalmatian Club of America advises humanely euthanizing deaf puppies, stating that deaf Dals are "hard to raise, difficult to control -- they are often hit by cars when they 'escape' -- and often become snappish or overly aggressive, especially when startled." That's not the view of Dalmatian Rescue of South Florida, which contends that deafness is a condition, not a handicap, for affected Dals. It advises extra attention and a secure, safe environment. "By osmosis, these deaf Dals learn just as quickly as the hearing ones and are sometime even more attentive to their surroundings as they rely heavily on visuals since they do not hear," the rescue contends.
Find a trainer who can teach you and your dog hand signals in lieu of voice commands. Make sure any fencing in your dog's yard or run is secure and escape-proof. Socialize your dog as much as possible. It takes more work, but you can still enjoy a wonderful, if deaf, companion.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.