As the mom and manager of Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy, one of the most common questions I am asked is “How do you potty train a deaf blind dog like Piglet?”
Over the course of my 18-Dog Life, I have taught them all to go out to pee! Piglet included!! I’m not a dog trainer but I have attended countless dog training and agility classes. I am a veterinarian, so in addition to working with my own dogs, I’ve had the opportunity to consult with and guide my clients through training their dogs (my patients) as well.
Long ago, we used choke chains to correct the dogs into doing what we were asking. The dogs learned but I don’t remember them feeling enthusiastic about training sessions or “dog obedience” classes. Thankfully, over the years, dog training has evolved into positive reward based teaching. The dogs enjoy learning and we reap the benefits of having happy, well behaved, bonded dogs.
My current group of 6 rescued dogs all started clicker training when they arrived as puppies or young adult dogs. They learned look, sit, wait, down, and come before they started informal dog classes. I try to incorporate various tricks and behaviors into games and routines which makes learning fun for the dogs. The dogs naturally integrate what they’ve learned into their daily lives.
All 6 dogs play in the backyard together, take walks together, and do group tricks together. They each have their favorite individual activities as well- Gina loves backyard agility and riding in the car, Dean loves to eat sticks and run on the beach, Annie’s job is to get the mail, Susie does errands with her dad, Evie is a perfect travel companion, and Zoey is a natural velcro lap dog. The dogs have always been in synch like a fine-tuned machine. Our routines are very smooth so it never seems like we have an excessive number of dogs other than when I’m walking all of them down the street and cars slow down for their occupants to stare.
Enter the tiny screaming deaf blind pink puppy on March 4, 2017. All calm predictable routines were disrupted, and Zoey was booted off my lap!
Having seen many deaf blind herding dogs do very well, I initially wasn’t concerned about the responsibility of fostering and then adopting the deaf blind puppy. But once I met him, I was overcome with an acute sense of panic. I had no idea how I would get him to stop screaming, let alone connect with him and teach him. I remember thinking about whether he would ever be one of those cool blind dogs that got around so well that people couldn’t tell they were blind!
It certainly didn’t take long to connect with Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy. The first few months were not easy as he had to sort through his severe anxiety. But as we maintained close contact with him by holding him, playing with him, and teaching him tricks, his enthusiasm for interacting and broadening his grasp on his environment was endless.
There is no mystery to working with a disabled dog like Piglet. Despite his lack of the two major modes of communication, Piggy has always been ready and willing to engage and learn. Like most special needs dogs, he faces his challenges with a positive attitude. We call this A Piglet Mindset! (read more about Piglet Mindset below).
Teaching the basics to hearing sighted dogs involves verbal cues, hand signals, a clicker, food rewards, and positive energy to establish good eye contact and a strong bond with our dogs. Voice and hand signals are obviously not part of teaching a deaf blind dog. Instead, the sense of touch becomes the key to connecting and working with a dog that can’t hear or see.
From the start I employed the principles of clicker training, substituting a tap on Piglet’s sternum for the click. I lured him into a sit with a treat, gave him the “click” tap, and rewarded with the treat. It took about a minute for the teeny 1 1/2 pound pink puppy to associate the tricks with the taps and treats. Within short order, we were on our way to producing The Piglet Show!
Piglet now knows specific taps for sit, down, wait, come, come along, go pee, and up, among others. He is completely engaged with his environment. He loves to do group work with our other dogs. He participates in tricks that involve long sit or down stays where I call each dog one at a time. He sits and waits his turn even as other dogs brush by him when they are called before him.
Our Piglet Show, starring Piglet and his sisters, entertains and educates children in classrooms, when we enter tricks competitions, and when we give Piglet presentations to adult audiences. His sit-down-stay is rock solid which enables him to pose for pictures with his friends and fans.
Getting back to the initial question- teaching Piglet the signal for “go pee” was simple. Whenever he was doing a pee in the yard I gave him a tap signal over his ribs behind his right elbow. Then I gave him a treat when he was done. Again, he quickly associated the tap or touch behind his right elbow with doing a pee, and of course, getting a treat. I took him out very frequently in the beginning so he would learn to go outside rather than in the house.
All of our dogs, Piglet included, know what “go pee” means. This comes in very handy when we are in a hurry or in bad weather when we need the dogs to quickly go out to pee and come right back in.
Training any puppy is a tedious endeavor. Piglet was no different other than that he had to compensate for his disabilities and his very small size. His initial basic training laid the groundwork for him to adapt to new and more complicated situations.
Teaching manners and tricks is an enjoyable way to interact with our dogs. I love spending time with my dogs. Having well behaved, respectful dogs makes them versatile and more enjoyable to be with at home and out in public. Adding a special needs dog like Piglet to the mix initially seemed like a daunting challenge. But once our connection was made, Piglet’s interest and ability to engage and enjoy learning have far surpassed all expectations.
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