Playing Charades with Dogs

The True Value of Patience

I have a deaf Pug. He wasn’t always deaf, though. Auggie gradually lost his hearing over the past year and a half. Now, he’s as deaf as a post, a door knob, a rock.

My little old man

I still talk to him all the time, just like I always have, except now Auggie can’t hear me. And, I feel cheated, like I’ve lost a conversation partner, a confidant. An interlocutor.

I know he couldn’t understand a word I said before; but, now he can’t even hear the words. That he couldn’t understand before.

He no longer turns his head to look at me with that wonderful look of expectation when I say his name. I think I miss that gesture the most.

Auggie’s life has always been a grand adventure and he’s always seemed to expect the best in any situation. Especially if treats were involved.

Now, stuck in a world without sound, you can almost see the wheels turning in his head. Trying to figure out what’s happening or what’s expected of him. Trying to tell me what he needs or wants. Sometimes, it’s a little painful to watch.

It’s like Auggie lost part of himself when he lost his hearing and doesn’t know how to adjust.

Playing Charades with Dogs

Unfortunately, god love him, Auggie is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So, he’s never figured out referential signaling to the degree our other three dogs have – especially Millie.

Referential signaling is a non-verbal form of communication, a type of gesturing meant to convey a message. For instance, when Millie needs to go potty she comes over to me, stands up on her hind legs, puts her forepaws on my leg, and pushes while looking at my face. If I don’t respond right away, she pushes harder.

When she wants her belly rubbed, Millie lays on her back and wiggles back and forth – fast. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.

These are referential signals. I’ve tried to teach my dogs to use the Head Turn with no success whatsoever. The head turn is when your dog looks at you and then turns its head to look at an object s/he wants. Back and forth until you get the idea that your dog is pointing at something.

The variation I tried to teach my dogs is to walk in the direction I tilt my head. Like signaling someone across the room at a party that you want to head for the door. Never worked.

Referential signaling between dogs and humans is remarkable because it’s true inter-species communication arising from sharing existence for over 30,000 years. It’s especially amazing because young human children do it all the time.

What’s a Deaf Dog to Do?

But Auggie doesn’t seem to grasp the concept. So, he barks. A lot. His barking doesn’t really signal anything – unless he’s in his crate. Then, barking means, Let me outta this thing!

He also scratches the bottom tray of his crate when he wants out – like he’s trying to dig a hole under the prison walls. You know, that might be considered a referential signal because scratching at the bottom of his crate always means the same thing – Let. Me. Out.

Auggie’s barking is like being in a detective movie. We need to figure out what he wants because the poor guy can’t hear verbal queues any more. Outside? Drink? Toy? Treat? Walk? Those words, at least, he knew. Those words plus No Pee. Auggie has had a lot of practice with that one.

So, we need to figure it out. Fortunately, at 11-years old, Auggie is a creature of habit. He goes outside to the bathroom at certain times. He eats and gets his treats at about the same times every day. Others are trial and error.

Check the water dish to make sure our four dogs didn’t drink it dry – or wash their dirty paws in it. Toss his toy to see if he chases it – or give you that What’s wrong with you? look. Walk to the garage door where we keep his halter and leash – and see if he follows.

Or just give up and give him another treat. Probably what he wanted all along, anyway.

Driving in Circles

Having a deaf Pug is unfamiliar territory for me. Auggie’s learning how to cope without his hearing. Actually, he just plods along, oblivious to things like looking both ways before crossing the street. I’m learning that communicating with a deaf dog requires a new set of skills – and a healthy dose of intuition.

What I don’t want to do is be so focused on Auggie’s deafness that I drive around in circles – doing the same stuff over and over again – instead of exploring a circumstance that should bring us closer together.

How have you handled having your dog lose his/her hearing? How did it change your relationship? What did you learn from the experience? I would love to hear your stories.

Having a deaf dog teaches me the True Value of Patience

~ George

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. – Edward Hoagland


Fantegrossi, D. (22 June 2018). Scientists decode the meanings behind 19 common dog gestures. Retrieved online at:

Wikipedia. (11 Feb 2004). Animal communication. Retrieved online from:

Zachos, E. (06 July 2018). Dogs use 19 signals to tell us what they want. Retrieved online from:

Zuberbuhler, K. (Dec 2003). Referential signaling in non-human primates: Cognitive precursors and limitations for the evolution of language. Retrieved online at:

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