Piglet, the deaf-blind pink puppy was rescued from a hoarding situation in Georgia along with his dog mom and 3 littermates. He is a Dachshund-Chihuahua mix and the product of two dapple colored parents. Dapple to dapple breeding results in a 25% chance of each puppy being “double dapple.” This double dapple color pattern is linked to congenital ear and eye defects that may result in partially or completely deaf/blind puppies. Piglet is deaf and blind. He lives in CT with his 6 pack of rescued dogs. Piglet educates, advocates, inspires and fundraises for special needs dog rescues. Here, his mom shares tips on caring for deaf-blind dogs.
Recently, my daughter got a new pair of glasses. By the evening, her eyes were bothering her to the point that she had to take her glasses off and close her eyes. Her head was pounding, so with her eyes still closed, she started out on a familiar path up to her bedroom.
Within seconds, she was asking me if there was anything in her path. She stepped on a dog toy and for a second thought, it was a dog’s tail. Very quickly she realized that moving about without being able to see isn’t as easy as some make it seem.
“I don’t know how he does it. He can’t see and he can’t hear, and he confidently runs around the house, the yard, and down the street. How does he do it?”
When we adopted Piglet, the deaf-blind pink puppy, I had no idea how he would do it. I had seen videos of other blind and deaf-blind dogs running, swimming, getting in and out of the car, and participating in everyday activities with their families. But when I was put in the position of caring for such a profoundly disabled dog, I have to admit that I found the whole situation completely overwhelming.
Fortunately, our deaf-blind puppy had no reservations about immersing himself into his new family, home, and life. Accommodating the tiny deaf-blind Piglet required planning, but once we relaxed, we were able to follow his lead. Right from the start, Piglet far exceeded all of my expectations.
Initially, we kept Baby Piglet gated into our little kitchen. We provided safety, supervision, and a lot of physical contact and cuddling. Our other dogs were welcoming and comforting. Piglet always had another dog to play with him or snuggle with him.
As Piglity connected with us and started to settle in, his confidence soared and he began to tackle his challenges with a remarkably positive attitude. He mapped the rooms in our house, our backyard, our neighborhood streets, the parking lot at the beach, the sidewalks leading in and out of the vet hospital, the bank, and even college campuses.
At home, we made sure there were contrasting floor and ground coverings (carpeting, mats, wood, tile) so that he would recognize which room he was in, where his water dish was, and where there was a step down into another area. All dogs love to sit on mats, and Piglet was no different. He immediately joined the Bathmat Crew; 4 dogs hanging out on the bathmat in the morning while I brushed my teeth. Our dog group included Piglet which made him feel much less isolated and much more confident.
When Piglet was outside in the backyard, he centered his running and playing around the location of the slate at the bottom of our back steps. He would run around and come back to touch the slate with one of his front paws to keep himself oriented. He learned where the back stairs were relative to the slate so he could run up the stairs to the back door. At the top of the stairs, he learned to plant his front right foot on the metal door saddle so he would be ready to go inside when the door opened.
Teaching Piglet tap signals gave us an avenue to communicate with our deaf-blind puppy. Positive feedback through touch and treats reinforced his enthusiasm for being present in his environment, participating in his daily routine, and interacting with his dog and people friends who he recognized by the smell of their breath. Each new experience he had boosted his ability to adapt to the next new situation.
The idea of caring for a blind or deaf-blind dog seems daunting to many. But using a systematic approach to their many challenges, working with dogs like Piglet becomes an extremely rewarding experience. Some dogs that are born blind and deaf are easy going and calm. They adapt to new people, places, and activities with ease. Others are anxious and need to ease into new situations. Dogs that gradually lose their vision and hearing tend to transition smoothly. They have time to compensate by using their other senses in familiar and unfamiliar surroundings. Dogs that lose their vision and hearing acutely generally have a more difficult time adjusting to their new situation.
Safety is the first consideration when setting up a home environment for a blind and deaf dog. Gates, closed doors, fenced yards, harnesses and leashes, and supervision are important for keeping blind dogs from falling down stairs, off furniture and decks, and steep slopes in the yard. Blind dogs also must be protected from running into obstacles like furniture, lawn chairs, and trees, as well as roads and driveways.
Consistency in the environment is important for blind-deaf dogs as they use their other senses to help them become familiar with their surroundings. Most will learn the location of stairs and obstacles using their senses of touch and smell, as well as proprioception. They recognize scents, floor and ground coverings, changes in terrain, and sounds if they can hear, which helps them map an area. Everything should be kept as stable as possible to avoid confusing a blind dog who can’t see that the couch has been moved over a few feet, that a floor mat in front of a staircase has been removed, or that a tree has been planted in the middle of the yard.
A leash and harness add a sense of security and help guide a blind deaf dog as they explore a new environment. Blind dogs that are not deaf can be taught voice cues such as “left”, “right”, “stop”, “stay”, and “step down”. Touch and tap signals connect deaf-blind dogs with their people. Some dogs will respond to a variety of scents used to “label” the door to go outside, different toys, and certain areas in the yard. Deaf blind dogs will respond to creative, fun routines with enthusiasm and a sense of humor.
The reality of living with dogs is that eventually, with aging, accidents, and disease processes, many dogs will become partially or totally blind and/or deaf. While the tools and techniques used to care for dogs born with these disabilities still apply, there are additional precautions to take for older dogs who become blind acutely or over a short time. They may need more encouragement, reassurance, and guidance as they adjust to their vision loss.
Some of these dogs become anxious and disoriented, requiring intervention to get them tracked for success. Halo devices for blind dogs keep the dog from bumping and injuring their head while building confidence as they settle in. Along with positive reinforcement and training, calming remedies, and anti-anxiety medications can make a world of difference for older dogs that are having a difficult time coping. These dogs also do well being confined to a smaller area within the house to keep them from getting lost and confused. Once they acclimate, they can gradually be given more area in the house and yard.
There are abundant local and online resources available for families who want to learn more about caring for a blind deaf dog. Veterinarians are available to answer questions, diagnose and uncover contributing factors to vision and hearing loss, and prescribe medication. Dog trainers who have experience with special needs dogs offer in home and online classes. Networking on social media is a great source of information and place to share experiences with others who have deaf blind dogs.
So, how does he do it? How do Piglet and other blind and deaf dogs do it?
They are dogs. They adapt. In spite of all the worry of pet parents, deaf blind dogs optimize the senses that they have rather than focus on what they don’t have. Piglet “sees” with his nose and “hears” with his paw pads. His ESP keeps him oriented and aware of his surroundings. Piglet is so completely connected and engaged in his world that he knows when someone walks into the room even when he is fast asleep wrapped in a blanket on his dad’s lap!
Dogs like Piglet are diligent. They are always in tune with what’s going on around them. If not, they would be isolated, lonely, and anxious. Instead, when offered love, patience, and kindness, Piglet, and others like him, lead happy, meaningful, productive lives.