"Living with a blind and/or deaf dog is just the same as living with any other dog."
"It's really not hard at all."
"It's actually pretty easy to teach a deaf and/or blind dog."
"Train him/her just the same as you teach any dog, except ... "
"Oh, it must be so difficult to live with a deaf and/or blind dog."
"Wow, bless you for taking care of that poor helpless, blind and/or deaf dog."
Depending on who you talk to, you may hear these comments or even many others. So, what's it really like to live with blind and deaf dogs? Are they really just like any other dog?
The answer is - yes - and no.
All dogs (blind, deaf or otherwise) have the same needs and urges. They need their physical, emotional, mental and instinctual needs met on a daily basis. Yes, blind/deaf dogs need exercise and playtime. They need enrichment and a nutritious diet, as well as routine veterinary care. They need attention from within their social group. All these are the same needs - however, how you go about providing for those needs may need to be adapted.
All dogs need to be kept safe. Living with blind/deaf dogs does require me to be a bit more vigilant about safety. Life is not as simple as being able to quickly call my dog away from danger from a distance. My dog can't see or hear me, so I need to set up the environment to be safe for each individual dog. One of my blind/deaf dogs is slower and goes through life more cautiously than the other. My home is set up to be safe for either of them. This may mean leaving a gate up to block open staircases to the basement and only allowing dogs up and down them when I'm present. This means keeping them on long leashes to let them explore the field near our house (that is also near a busy street.)
On walks, it becomes my job to watch out and warn my dog when a curb is coming up or there is a fire hydrant or a tree in its path. I need to watch out that my dog doesn't poke her eyes when she's nosing around the bushes and branches.
Are these things hard? No. I don't find them hard. They have become a way of life for me and how I relate to and with my dogs. In the beginning, it was challenging to remember to always watch out for someone else and remember that he/she couldn't see. But soon it became basically automatic and didn't take up all my brain power anymore.
What about teaching a blind/deaf dog? Is it hard? Is it just as easy as teaching any other dog?
Again, it's not any harder - it's just different. It requires me to learn a new way of communicating. Deaf dogs can't hear me calling them with my voice or by clapping, etc. So I need to learn how to use my body and create signals that will then mean something to my dog. It is fairly easy to teach a deaf dog to recognize hand and body signals, because dogs automatically pay attention to our body language and pick up cues on their own. By taking time to list what signs you want to use for which behaviors, you can help yourself be consistent.
Teaching any dog requires consistency, patience, reinforcement of behaviors you like, preventing behaviors you don't like, fun, practice, breaking behaviors down into easy to learn steps, and so much more. These things don't change if you are working with a blind and/or deaf dog. But you may need to adapt how your do them for your individual dog.
With a deaf dog, you will want to focus on developing a visual means of communication. With a blind dog, focus on giving audible cues - these may be verbal, but they may be other sounds, such as tapping a doorway, a bell on your ankle during a walk, etc.
And, with a blind/deaf dog, your language and communication will be built around touch.
OK, I'm still causing it to sound a bit simplified, aren't I? There are frustrations and inconveniences that I experience living with blind/deaf dogs.
For example, sometimes I need to actually go looking through rooms in the house to find one of them if they are sleeping. I can't really just stand in one spot and call their names. And sometimes this can be alarming if I've looked everywhere and don't see the dog - only to have a small panic attack and then find her sound asleep behind the couch!
My blind/deaf dogs can't just look around the room and see what I'm doing, so they are very often underfoot and have their noses and paws into whatever project I'm doing. This can be frustrating at times, but then I remember that they are just trying to figure out what I'm doing. Once I allow them a moment to satisfy their curiosity, they often lie down next to me and let me finish what I'm doing.
I must get up and go to my dog to communicate things like, leave the trash alone, stop chewing that plant, or please don't pull my dirty socks out of the hamper. A well-timed "leave it" verbal cue just won't cut it when they are across the room.
Sometimes when playing, I feel dog teeth on my skin or clothes and it can hurt. Of course, they don't mean it and I've spent a lot of time conditioning a soft mouth. But it's hard to tell where a hand ends and a toy begins - especially because I like to wave the toy all around when playing tug and chase games with my dogs.
Do they bump into things - oh, yes. Some more than others, but I can say that my blind/deaf dogs probably bump gently into things every day. So, having things on coffee tables or end tables when I also have an inquisitive adolescent Collie can be tricky! He knocks everything down - not in an attempt to be naughty, but just in his attempt to sniff everything and check it out ... long noses can clear a table in a second!
But I can honestly say that yes, my blind/deaf dogs are just like other dogs - they play, they love, they are mischievous at times. They learn. They have personalities all their own - likes, dislikes, and little quirks. How I've learned to communicate with them is different - but is no longer challenging. We may do things a little bit differently than some other people and their dogs, but we enjoy our lives together.
Most people meeting my dogs cannot tell they are blind and deaf. It's only when they notice their eyes look differently that they ask me if the dog is blind. And then they are always super surprised to learn they are deaf as well. "I never would have known just watching him/her! He/She acts so normal!"
That's the reality of living with a blind/deaf dog.