Hunting dogs get exposed to quite a bit of gun fire; its logical to wonder: do hunting dogs wear hearing protection?
Typically, hunters do not put hearing protection on their dogs. Likely due to the following factors:
- Hunting dogs rely on their hearing to hunt
- There are a limited number of good products on the market to protect hunting dog’s hearing
- Wearing hearing protection while hunting is rare even on the human side, and it is just starting to gain prevalence in the hunting community.
Any hunter worth talking to cares deeply for their hunting dog. While gun fire is hard to avoid in a successful hunt, there are still practical ways to protect your pup’s hearing.
Here Are 12 Ways to Protect Your Hunting Dog’s Hearing:
1. Keep the Dog Behind the Shooters
Most hunters can recall, with ears ringing, a time when a hunting buddy took a shot over their shoulder or head. Your dog’s ears are multiples more sensitive than yours and if you are not careful your dog will frequently be in poor position relative to the gun when the shot goes off. Shots will be loudest for the dog if the dog is forward of the gun muzzle. Where possible, keep the dog behind the shooter. This might mean training your dog in some key areas. For instance, don’t let that waterfowl dog break on the shot or start creeping when she sees cupped wings. Train that competitive pointer to be steady and not creep with you as you walk past to a pointed bird. Concentrating on both these training points will help ensure the dog remains behind the shooter when the shots are being fired.
2. Distance the Dog from the Shooters
Gun fire will be loudest nearest the gun. Where possible, get some distance between the shooter and the dog. When waterfowl hunting, train the dog to use a dog blind and place it away from the shooters. This is especially easy to do when field hunting. When upland hunting, consider an approach to a pointed bird that favors the dog’s ears. Training a pointer to not crowd a bird will help ensure there is room for you to move in for a shot and keep some distance from the dog. A side benefit to this approach is that it will also likely result in your dog bumping less birds.
3. Use Sound Deadening Material on Dog Blinds
If you hunt out of a permanent blind, consider adding sound deadening material to your dog blinds. You don’t need to go to recording studio lengths, but even a shield of material between the hunter and the dog will benefit the pup’s ears. This could be as simple as a plywood barrier that separates the hunter from the dog, or something more elaborate like building a dog box in the blind that has acoustical material placed inside. You could even save your old egg cartons and staple them to cover the inside of the dog box. Your hunting buddies might look at you funny, but your dog’s ears will thank you.
4. Pass on Birds or Wait for Birds to Fly Clear
Don’t be afraid to pass on a bird if taking the shot means the dog will be poorly positioned when the gun goes off. A hunting companion without damaged hearing is worth letting a bird live another day. At the very least, hold the shot until the bird moves to present a better shot. The bird that directly flies away is rare; with any crossing or angling flights, be patient and wait for a better time to shoot.
5. Don’t Gang Up on Birds
When hunting with multiple people, avoid everyone shooting at a single bird. Discuss a system for who take the shots and let the safest shot shoot the bird. A lone duck doesn’t need a firing squad to be harvested. Reducing the number of hunters shooting at a given time will reduce the number of shots the dog is exposed to. Prolonged loud noised will have an increased negative effect on hearing.
6. Practice So You Are a Competent Shooter
Leave the dog at home, head to the range and practice. There are a bunch of great shotgun games to play to hone your skills: Trap, Skeet, 5-stand, and Sporting Clays to name a few. Join a league or just commit to becoming more proficient with your shotgun. If you are taking three shots at every passing duck, you’re exposing your dog and yourself to unnecessary noise. Become that ace shooter that has 6 ducks in 6 shots. It will impress your hunting buddies, save on ammo and, more importantly, reduce the noise exposure to you and your dog.
7. Take High Percentage Shots
Taking high percentage shots will reduce the number of follow up shots you need and by doing so reduce the number of shots your dog’s ears are exposed to. Avoid sky busting and pass on the bird that flushes wild at 50 yards. Instead take the “give me” shots on slow fat roosters or cupped winged ducks so close you can pick out an individual feather to aim at. If you are needing multiple shots in those situations, see above “Practice so you are a competent shooter”.
8. Educate Hunting Partners
Before you start a hunt, take the time to discuss with your hunting partners some tips that will protect your dog’s hearing. Go over the best way to approach a pointed bird. Decide a system for who gets to take the shot, so you don’t have 4 guns blazing at one quail. Talk about being mindful of the dog when taking shots, not shooting close or over the dog’s head. Fit it into a larger safety discussion so you can insure you have a safe and successful hunt today and in hunts to come.
9. Train Quieter
This is especially important; because, let’s face it, you should be training with your pup more hours then you are hunting with her. If training time makes up the bulk of the time where your dog is exposed to gun fire, adjusting your approach during training will have the greatest impact on preserving your dog’s hearing. Training with blanks is common. Use quieter blanks such as 209 primers in a starter pistol vs poppers in your 12 gauge. Focus on implementing the other tips found in this article, especially when training. Training is a much more controlled situation, and it should be easier to implement more of these tips when training.
10. Don’t Forget about Grass Awns
It’s not just loud sounds that can damage your dog’s hearing. Grass Awns are seeds that are sharp and can burrow into your dog’s skin or enter their ears and burrow causing hearing damage. Take measures to protect your dog against these very serious nuisances. Ask your veterinarian for best practices for dealing with grass awns. But, at the very least, be proactive in checking your dogs for grass awns and removing them before it gets serious. Complete a check after you are finished hunting each day. Some hunters in grass awn prevalent areas even put nets around their dogs’ heads to keep the awns out of their eyes and ears.
11. Keep Ears Clean and Dry
It’s important not to just focus on reducing noise to protect your dog’s hearing. Keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry will reduce ear infections which can lead to hearing loss. Hunting dog breeds have floppy ears which can be more prone to ear infections as their ears trap dirt and moisture, making a great environment for ear infections to culture. Talk to your vet about best practices for cleaning your dog’s ears; discuss frequency of cleaning, recommended products to use and method for cleaning. There are right and wrong ways to clean your dog’s ears. Best to get some advice and training from your vet.
12. Hearing Protection Devices
There are products hunters can buy to protect a hunting dogs hearing.
Mutt Muffs: Mutt Muffs are the dog equivalent of earmuffs humans use. Mutt Muffs are over the head hearing protection for dogs. They have two muffs that cover the dog’s ears and theses muffs are secured with three adjustable straps, two that go over the top of the dog’s head and one that goes under the dog’s chin. Amazon reviews for this product are not great. Many complain about the Velcro straps, difficulty securing the product, and many questioned their basic effectiveness at reducing noise. These comments are anecdotal but do your research before you buy.
Happy Hoodie: is another product designed to protect a dog’s hearing. Often used in pet grooming shops, where dogs are exposed to load clippers and hair driers, the product is a sleeve that you put over your dog’s head, pinning their ears down and covering them with a thin fabric. This product is favorably reviewed on Amazon by most customers leaving reviews. The company claims the product reduces noise but makes no claims as to the level of noise reduction. For hunting dogs, I would also be concerned the sleeve would easily slip off the ears of an active dog in cover. This might be a good option for dogs in a blind, where your dog’s movement is more limited.
In-ear Hearing Protection: There are many in-ear hearing protection products in humans, which might lead one to believe a similar product would work well in a dog’s ear. Do not attempt to use or make an in-ear hearing protection product without first consulting your vet. There is a risk that these types of products could get lodged in the dog’s ear and not be able to be removed.
Overall, I have not seen a product yet that would be a perfect fit for hunting dogs. I think you will have more success protecting your dog’s hearing by adoption of the other suggestions above.
How is a Dog’s Hearing Impacted by Loud Noises?
Noise-induced hearing loss is commonly caused by damage to hair cells located in the part of the ear called the cochlea. The swaying of these hair cells translates the sound wave vibration into electric signals that are interpreted by the brain. (Credit: Story Bots) These hair cells can get overstimulated by the vibration of sound waves entering the ear. Overstimulation causes these hair cells to die. With less hair cells swaying, less electrical signals are sent to the brain to be interpreted, resulting in hearing loss. Hair cells hit by the sound waves first will be overstimulated and die first. These are also the cells thought to allow for hearing of higher frequency sounds. So, dogs are more likely going to lose the ability to hear high frequency sounds first in noise induced deafness. Prolonged exposure to loud noises has the greatest effect on dog’s hearing.
How do I Know if My Dog Suffers from Hearing Loss?
There are two methods for testing hearing in dogs: behavioral testing and objective testing.
Behavioral testing: Behavioral hearing tests in dogs is similar to hearing tests you have likely been the subject of. With humans, sounds are played through headphones at different frequencies and you are asked to raise your hand when you hear the sound. The premise is the same for dogs, however its harder for the dog to show acknowledgment that they heard the sound. A dog can be trained to perform an action based on a sound, but this can be time consuming. Another option is to watch for visual clues. An example would be a dog stops panting when hearing a sound. Or moves their head in reaction to a sound made outside of their visual plane. You can perform these tests at home for a quick assessment, but I would recommend seeking the advice of a vet for validation of any at home diagnosis.
Objective testing: A common non evasive version of objective testing is the DPOAE method where a probe with a small speaker and microphone is placed in the external ear canal. The speaker plays a sound and the microphone records emissions that result from the sound stimulating hairs in the inner ear. Usually dogs are sedated for the procedure as movement and noise from a non-sedated dog will impact the microphone’s ability to correctly capture the sounds it needs for the test.
Your vet will be able to perform or recommend testing methods if you are concerned your dog might be suffering from hearing loss.