Whether you are bringing a new dog into your home that is visually/hearing impaired, or one of your current dogs is losing sight/hearing, there will be an adjustment period for each family member. When there are other animals in the home, they will need to be helped with this transition. Dog-dog interactions often give people the most concern. Cats will normally find and retreat to a safer place to rest out of the dog's way. Smaller animals must of course be kept safe from dogs that might consider them prey. Today's post will be specifically about dog-dog interactions.
Do animals know when another is blind/deaf?
I'm often asked if animals know that another animal is blind or deaf. I don't believe other animals have a sense of blind/deaf as we think about it. I do believe that animals are very adaptable and can learn to interact and communicate with a blind/deaf dog in adapted ways.
For instance, my dogs will adapt their play style to my blind dogs so there is more touching involved with the play. The dogs that can see will approach and touch the blind dogs more often during play in order to keep the game going. While those same dogs might prefer to play chase and keep away games with my other seeing dogs.
My herding dog that enjoys having all of the dogs going in the same direction, realizes that my blind/deaf dog isn't following the pack of dogs into the house, so he runs back out into the yard to touch that dog and let it know that everyone else is coming to the house. Does he realize that the blind/deaf dog cannot see or hear? Only he knows the answer to that for sure, but I don't think those things really much matter to a dog.
I do know that he realizes that he likes all the dogs to come in together and that one isn't coming, so he learned that going out to touch that dog will bring awareness to what is going on and the dog will then come to the house.
These are the wonderful stories that we as humans like to focus on - oh look at him helping his blind/deaf brother. Isn't it wonderful and heart-warming how he looks out for him?
I do believe our dogs notice that another dog is not responding in the same way as they might expect, and so then they adapt their communication to be more suitable to the blind/deaf dog. But this takes time. Just like it would take us time and practice to learn a new way of communicating, the same is true with our dogs and other animals in the home. They will need time to adjust as well.
Dogs live by dog rules!
There is another side of reality when living with blind and/or deaf dogs. A deaf dog may get startled awake one too many times by the other dogs playing nearby and can jump up in a bad mood, perhaps even biting at the dogs that woke him up so suddenly and rudely. To a dog, being bumped into suddenly is rude. He is not being a bad dog. He is acting and communicating normally with those that ran into him and woke him up.
|resting in an open crate|
Animals have their own "rules" about what is appropriate and polite behavior. Being awakened by another dog jumping on your head or stepping on your tail - not cool or polite. And this may not just be the blind/deaf dog being startled suddenly. A seeing/hearing dog may get tired of being stepped on or having its space disturbed by a blind dog as well.
You may notice over time that your dogs learn to find new resting places where they are less likely to be in high traffic areas. My dogs enjoy napping in crates that are left with doors open. This allows them a place to rest nearby to the rest of the family activity, but they are safely contained in a spot where they are unlikely to be bumped or stepped on unexpectedly.
The crate allows them that safety space around them that they crave to feel safe while they nap. The open doors allow them to choose when they want to go in or come out.
Blind dogs and space
Space is very important to dogs. They use space to communicate with each other and to feel safe. A blind dog can't judge distance very well without getting closer than many dogs are comfortable with. Each dog has their own personal space bubble - some may be larger than others. If you have multiple dogs, you probably have observed this.
Some dogs like to sleep cuddled up next to each other, while others prefer to have space around them. Others may like to sleep in an enclosed area such as under a table or in a corner.
Unless dogs have an understanding of living with blind dogs already, they can have a real problem with a blind dog getting into their space, stepping on them, coming close while they are chewing a bone, etc. They will think this is very rude behavior, and while they may appear to be tolerant the first few times it happens, if it continues to happen and the blind dog is not responding to their warnings to be careful and give more space ... well, that's when things start to escalate. While it's upsetting to us, again, this is normal dog communication.
The blind dog may be trying to get close to the other dogs to find a sense of security, or to investigate the bone they're smelling, without realizing that the other dog is giving him a hard stare to stay away, or is posturing its body differently, or even if they are growling or lifting a lip. If we don't notice these signs and intervene, we risk our dogs getting stressed and injured.
Management is key!
It's important to allow all dogs their own space. Be watchful always and don't leave dogs unattended together for quite awhile until you can be certain everyone will be comfortable and safe. This may mean some extra management on your part - using gates, ex pens, crates, different rooms or levels within the room (one dog on the couch if another can't reach the couch, etc), keeping dogs leashed when necessary, etc.
There is always management and intervention going on in my house, as I have multiple dogs, each with differing needs and personalities.
If my younger bigger dogs are wrestling and running around while playing, I will help my senior dog move away from the activity and I will look out for him so he doesn't get stomped on or bumped into. He can't hear very well anymore and he has arthritis. I think some of his vision is fading as well. He could get seriously hurt by being jumped on by a much bigger, younger dog - so I look out for him.
Because he has been startled awake by my other dogs a few times, he can be grouchy when he is woken up suddenly by them and he will be quick to tell them off. So I wake him up when we need to move past him or when the other dogs want to jump off the bed but he's resting on the floor nearby. I wake him first in a calm and appropriate way, and then the other dogs can come through once he's moved out of their path.
My blind/deaf dog is large and young and boisterous. It's up to me to intervene when he gets to be too much for the older, smaller dogs. He has learned to be respectful of them but every now and then, his youthfulness shines through and he pesters them a bit. If I don't intervene, I know he will be wearing a battle scar on his snout.
Creating a peaceful household
Giving each dog their own space in the beginning will help everyone adapt and feel safe. Allowing short times together when you are actively supervising will set everyone up for success. And if you have more than two dogs, allowing them together in alternating pairs first can be helpful. Allow dog 1 to meet dog 2, then 1 to meet dog 3, then 1 to meet 4, then perhaps 1 -2- and 3, etc. This allows the dogs to begin to create their own relationships without being bombarded by all the dogs at once.
This is a great idea for new fosters coming into the home, a newly adopted dog, and even for resident dogs with newly appearing special needs - such as losing sight/hearing, after surgery or injury, etc.
Be sure to safely separate dogs as necessary when you can't be home or when you can't supervise closely at first. A disagreement can very quickly get out of hand and a dog(s) can get hurt! There are many options for keeping animals separated when you can't supervise - gates, different rooms, crates, wire exercise pens (one of my favorites because they are portable and very versatile), etc.
Leaving dogs to argue it out and settle things for themselves often creates more tension between them that quickly escalates and causes more concerning behaviors. It's rarely sufficient to allow them to work it out themselves.
Dogs, like people, learn very quickly which dogs they feel safe with, and which others cause them stress. Think about people you are stressed by in your life - at work, school, etc. You begin to have an automatic emotional response to them when you see them, or even when you hear their voice, right? Dogs are the same.
So if you allow your dogs to be stressed by each other and take matters into their own hands, often the stress continues to escalate until there are conditioned bad feelings. This will make it very difficult to find and maintain peace in the future.
Instead, set everyone up for success and feeling safe and stress free. This will help you create and keep that peace going forward into the future.
**For more information about blind and/or deaf dogs, visit my website at www.yourinnerdog.com You will find articles, books, and online classes and resources there to assist you!