Sometimes people ask me if my blind and deaf dogs' sense of smell is more highly developed than that of other dogs. I'm not sure how to answer that question, because a dog's sense of smell is already so much more developed than yours and mine. There is really no way for me to measure that sense of smell against my other dogs that can see and hear. I don't notice that it's any more developed, just that they do rely on it more than the others seem to.
I am always amazed, however, that my blind and deaf dog is sometimes the first dog to react when I come home. Even though she's in a room behind a closed door. How does she know that I'm home? Even though I don't notice it, the floor boards creak in a certain way, and the door closing as I come into the house does create a vibration. But sometimes I think it's something so much more than these things that she is noticing. Is she reacting to my energy coming into the house? Could she be noticing that energy before I am even close enough for her to smell me? Or to feel the floor vibrating? There is a lot of really cool research out there that goes into this more in depth - how we know instinctively what others are doing, feeling, etc. through a connection of energy. I see it every day and I know it's true.
I don't know how many times I have felt sure that Treasure could see or hear something based on her reactions at the perfect time. In the beginning of our time together, I would set up little trials to see if I could get her to react to the same noises or situations again. But I was always disappointed. Her reactions seem to be strictly coincidence in those circumstances - but are they? There is no way for me to know exactly what my dogs sense or how.
When I adopted Treasure, she was already almost 4 years old. She had already learned to use the senses that she had to react to her world. Her senses have always amazed me.
Yet, it is interesting to me watching Vinny, from a very young puppy, learning to use and hone his senses. His first month here, he was very accident prone, as his balance was not developed. I know that our sense of sight and our inner ear are important to developing our sense of balance, and I've been told by people who are hearing impaired that their balance is affected as well. Most puppies are a bit clumsy on their feet, but Vinny seemed to be exceptionally so. Now he is growing into a more balanced puppy who is more sure-footed.
As a seven week old puppy, he could not sniff out individual treats or toys and pinpoint where they were. Now he is an expert at finding whatever it is that he wants to find! And it's not just his sense of smell that is becoming more expert. He has some of that extraordinary sense going on too.
It's almost scary how good he's getting at perceiving things! Sometimes he faces something in space and waits, almost as if he is watching it with his eyes, and then he pounces right on it - a toy, a dog bed, another dog, me, ... But when I test out his eyesight again, he doesn't seem to see or track anything. Of course, other times, he does a totally adorable pounce into nothingness which always makes me smile. But more often than not, he hits his mark right on now, and I think he will continue to get better with practice.
He knows things. Like when I walk in the room and he is in his crate or pen across the room. Yet he always knows. He knows when I am there to open his crate even if I've been in the room near him already. He's not hearing anything or feeling any vibration because I haven't done anything yet, I'm just right there ready. I know he's probably smelling me, but he isn't visibly scenting. I think there's more to it than that. He is just learning how to know.
On our walks, Vinny is becoming expert at knowing where my leg (or especially between my legs) is so he can touch me to touch base. More often than not, he comes running and will squeeze right between my legs and stop to wait for a scratch. Yet he will still run right into a tree or something else in his path. He can track me on our walks and if he falls behind, he can catch up real quick! He is always on a leash or a long line for safety reasons, but I like to give him the freedom of the whole line so he can run and explore where it is safe.
His mapping skills continue to expand. He now can trot from the bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen in the exact arc that will take him from the hall to the steps heading to the outdoors. He will stop directly at the top of the steps within a couple inches, quickly find the steps, head down, and then knows the turns and how many steps to take where to get to the back door. He searches out surfaces in the yard and once there knows exactly how many steps until he gets to the next surface or the door back to the house. He knows the way home from our walks as we start to get close to the house and will take off out in front until he leads me home to the door.
He has maps for work days when we go out the side door, to the grass to potty and then back across the parking lot to the car. And maps for once we get to work, from the car, to the grass, to the building and to the office where his pen is. From the pen to the front outside for potty breaks.
Of interest to me is that I started teaching Vinny some tricks involving using his paw. The very next day, I noticed him beginning to use his paws to gather information about more than just surfaces. He will sit waiting to be let out of his crate and he will put his paw on the crate door so he can feel the door open and knows when he can come out. He is not scratching at the door, just sitting calmly with his paw resting on the crate door. He is using his paw now to feel for another dog now as they are playing so he knows where it is and can pounce more accurately.
I am enjoying watching Vinny's senses develop and seeing how he chooses to use them. Giving him so many new and varied experiences is allowing him to learn more confidence in his abilities and how to use his senses in many ways. Allowing him the freedom to explore and learn as much as possible is important for his brain as it grows and develops. And being aware of energy and how it connects us to each other has given me a unique perspective into his extraordinary senses. Yet, even though I know what a blind and deaf dog is capable of, it still continues to amaze me in the most incredible ways.