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Dogs With Disabilities: My Own Experience

By Chris Coulter, Rescue Rebuild Program Manager

Anyone that is a pet owner knows that owning a pet is a big responsibility. Making sure they have food and water access, adequate exercise, vaccines and routine vet check-ups are just a few of the many responsibilities that come with pet ownership. But what do you do if your dog has a disability?

When I was a child, we had an albino boxer named D.D. She was the best and smartest dog. She had a soft white coat with a dark brindle spot over her right eye. It didn’t take long to figure out that something wasn’t normal with D.D. We would call to her, and she wouldn’t acknowledge. We weren’t sure if she was just as hard-headed as me or if she may be deaf. Not too much later it was quite obvious that she was born deaf which is somewhat common in albino dogs.

D.D. as a puppy

The next step was to find a way to teach D.D; we had to think outside of the box and find something that would keep her attention. Luckily, she was VERY food motivated. We would make up our own hand signs for: sit, shake, lay down, and no. The trick was to keep her interested in the treats, and after showing her our predetermined hand sign and then showing her what she was to do when she saw the sign, teaching her was rather easy. She would pay such close attention that our other dogs would pay attention to D.D. and soon were paying very close attention as well. It was almost like D.D. was teaching by example.

Along the way, we learned a couple of tips that could help anyone that may be reading this that may have a deaf dog or one with a disability. When D.D. thought she was alone in the house, she would try to sneak a quick nap on the couch. She was difficult to wake up. You can yell, but she won’t hear, and if you gently rub her while she’s sleeping, it would startle her. We figured out if you lightly put your hand on her shoulder while she sleeps she will slowly and calmly wake up. Then we would be able to tell her to get down.

D.D. sneaking in a nap on the couch while we were gone

All dogs love to go on walks or to the park. But with a deaf dog, you must always keep them on a leash even if the walk is just a small distance. When they can’t hear they can easily get spooked, and if they run they won’t be able to hear you yell or any oncoming vehicles. Another helpful tip would be to turn your back porch light off and on repeatedly when trying to bring her in from the backyard at night.

The most important trick when working with a deaf dog is to be patient. Being deaf doesn’t mean the dog is any less intelligent or not as willing to learn. All it means is that you will need to utilize a different way of teaching. I can say with complete honesty that D.D., though deaf, was one of the smartest and most loving dogs I’ve had.

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