Be his eyes

When taking a blind deaf dog for a walk, one must always be alert.  And I mean ALWAYS.  As his owner (or hired dog walker) you are his eyes and need to guide him safely through his walks.  I mostly walk Ziggy on trails. Therefore, there are many ways that he can get injured on trails.  Many a fallen tree with broken branches, have we stared clear of.  You have to guide your dog to avoid him hurting himself on his walks.  Ziggy has gotten used to his walks and does remarkably well that sometimes, I don’t pay enough attention and he trips or bumps into trees, branches, rocks, etc. and gets injured.  Just the other day, we were traversing a metal bridge over a stream and I didn’t judge the  distance well enough and Ziggy really bumped his head hard on the rail.  I have attached 2 photos so that you can see the abrasion/contusion just above his right eye (bad mama).  I felt terrible.  So if you hire a dog walker, you must stress to them the importance of paying very close attention to your deaf blind dog as it is their responsibility to ensure your dogs safety.  Branches from fallen trees, I find are most threatening, as they can easily impale your dog in the face.  Never forget that you are their eyes.

contusion/abrasion above right eye after slamming into a metal pole
contusion/abrasion above right eye after slamming into a metal pole
Still a happy boy but I clearly failed at being is eyes for him.
Still a happy boy but I clearly failed at being is eyes for him.

How to follow commands

Luckily for us, Ziggy is a very smart dog and is also food motivated.  I am not a dog trainer (yet).  The only way that I know how to train a dog is through food and positive reinforcement.  The fact that we have a food driven, blind, deaf dog, makes training surprisingly easier than we had expected.

Getting back to basics, Ziggy can smell and can touch.  Therefore, scent and tactile stimuli are his platform for learning.  As we discussed in the previous post, Ziggy learned his way around a new environment through aromatherapy.  Yes, I said aromatherapy.  Ziggy knows when he is approaching a wall or a doorway by how it smells.

As for simple commands such as “come” and “sit” we have taught Ziggy through tactile stimulation.  Example:  when we want Ziggy to come, we place our hand, palm facing up, under his chin and draw our hand toward our body.  By bringing our hand towards us while touching his chin, Ziggy knows to move forward.  We taught him this by rewarding him with treats each time he made an effort to come towards us.  No effort = no reward.

For “sit”, we gently push his snout upward and back, and his butt sits as his head lifts.  Voila!  You’re deaf blind dog is now sitting.  As his but goes down, we reward with a treat.  Eventually, we would only reward him once his butt actually touched the floor.  As I said earlier, Ziggy is a smart dog.  He comprehended “sit” within a day!  Of course, a dog who is food driven is extremely helpful.

How to identify where I am

The first thing we did with Ziggy, when he arrived at his new home, was pick certain essential oil scents for him to identify where he was.  Anything stationary got one scent while a doorway would be sprayed another scent and his ‘safe’ places would be an additional scent.  We bought some empty spray bottles and added a few drops of an essential oil and water into each bottle.  We made a sage scent for all the walls, went around the home and sprayed all the walls sage.  We sprayed the doorways basil and his dog bed and crate lavender.  Then we took Ziggy around the home, ON LEASH, so that he would not bump into things and get scared, and had him smell his way around the home.  Within a few days, he was able to successfully navigate around our home with very minimal ‘bumping’.  Stairs were a bigger challenge but with our help, he figured it out fairly quickly.  Ziggy had no stairs anywhere he had lived or been prior to us adopting him so stairs were a bigger challenge than navigating a single level home.  Luckily, our home is all hard wood so we bought some carpet pieces for the steps and Ziggy knows that the steps start and finish when his paws feel the hardwood.  When the carpet ends, the stairs end and that has been very helpful.

We don’t travel much with Ziggy but when we do, we bring his essential oils spray bottles with us and spray the home before we let Ziggy in.  Then on his first entry into a new place, we always have him on leash and let him sniff his way around to figure out how to safely navigate through the new environment.  The essential oils have been a huge asset to our training for Ziggy.

the boys

Our history

Ziggy came to us in March 2015. He came to Maine with 2 of his brothers who were also all blind and deaf.  The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) rescued the three boys from a shelter in Tennessee.  They were found in a home with a total of 13 dogs in a basement with no access to the outdoors and very little human interaction.  We believe that Ziggy was born deaf.  However, he may have lost his eyesight due to being born in an environment without ventilation and toxic levels of ammonia from all of the urine.  This environment could have caused his eyes to burn or not develop.  So ultimately, we are not quite sure of how he lost his senses but we are fairly certain that he never really had them so being blind and deaf was his ‘normal’.

Ziggy was a year old when we adopted him.  He was a puppy still full of life who loved to play with other dogs yet he was also full of fears from a new and unfamiliar situation.  I have attached a link to a video that the local newspaper ran about the three dogs that were soon to be up for adoption.  Ziggy’s original name was Bilbo (you can see why we changed it!)

What on earth, you ask, would make me want to adopt a blind and deaf dog???  The answer is that I actually never thought of adopting a dog with both disabilities but had thought for years of adopting a dog with one.  Being an animal lover, I had read about deaf or blind dogs for years.  This may sound strange but I also have a special place in my heart for white ‘bully breed’ dogs.  Many of the white bully breeds are blind or deaf.  I learned about vibrating collars for deaf dogs (which actually don’t exist as solo vibrating collar.  From my research, all collars that vibrate also have a stimulation mode which I did not want on my dog).  Anyway, more on vibrating collars later.  Whereas deaf dogs can be trained with hand signals and vibration, blind dogs can be trained with verbal commands and sounds such as clapping or clicker training.  But a deaf AND blind dog…..hmmmmm.  So on with my story…..

I had had this interest to adopt a dog with a disability for years.  My husband and I were in the market for a new rescue.  Our wonderful yellow lab, Kenya, was 14 and our goofy pit mix Ottis was 4.  We thought it may be a good time to add a new member of the family so that when Kenya passed on, Ottis would still have a sibling.  This of course, was all in our minds and we learned that Ottis would have been perfectly fine as an only dog.  (I will discuss that more when I talk about sibling dogs with one being disabled).

So as I had mentioned, my husband and I had been looking casually for a few months.  I then came across the video of the three boys when I looked at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s website.  I saw it and was immediately hooked!  A white, deaf/blind dog (three of them actually) right here in my home town who needed a good home?  Sign me up!  I called them later that night and left them a voice mail.  The next morning I spoke with them and they said that I could come by and see the dogs.  I was so excited!  I showed up 3 minutes after they had opened and another family was already there looking at the dogs.  I couldn’t believe it! To make a long story short, we fell in love with Bilbo and took him home as a foster to trial and make sure that he did well with the other dogs.  After a week, we officially adopted Ziggy (Bilbo).  He was our newest addition to our family and honestly, he was my personal project.  I was determined to give him a fulfilling life despite his disabilities. I was determined to make sure that this sweet little boy never new neglect again.

See the video that captured my heart:

www.pressherald.com/2015/02/27/shelter-readies-3-blind-deaf-dogs-for-adoption/

Safety

Hi there!  So when you have a deaf blind dog, nothing is more important than his SAFETY.  Safety is the foundation of your relationship.  Until the dog feels safe in your home, no progress with training will be made.  I remember making the clear decision to wait at least a month after we adopted Ziggy, to start initiating his training.  A month was the minimum that I wanted to wait to make sure that he felt safe in our home.  In reality, it took approx 3-5 months before we actually made any progress with his training.  I will get to training later on in the blog.  Here is a link to a news interview with me, my husband, and Ziggy regarding his past neglect and what the FBI is currently doing to help punish animal abusers.  http://wgme.com/news/local/fbi-put-new-spotlight-on-animal-cruelty

More on safety to follow……

First things first…..

Let me get straight to the point…..a dog who is blind and deaf is not an everyday family dog.  These dogs do NOT travel easily, they have many fears and needs almost constant supervision.  These dogs can NEVER, EVER, EVER, be off leash in an unsecured area.  You’re not going to just let this type of dog out of your front door and let him (I will be referring all all deaf/blind dogs as males in this blog since Ziggy is a male) go do his business.  They can never be recalled once let loose and therefore your dog is GONE FOREVER if let loose.  Also, it is very hard to find a dog walker and dog care provider for these types of dogs since they require so much more supervision than non handicapped dogs.  These dogs are also better off in a single dog home.  I learned this the hard way.  And although our home is not a single dog home, it has been through much heart ache, training, and money spent that we have mostly created a safe environment for Ziggy.  I say “mostly” because I will explain in a later post that having a dog that cannot read other dog signals is always risky.

this is Ziggy climbing into our open dishwasher!
this is Ziggy climbing into our open dishwasher!

Hello!

Welcome to my blog page about my dog Ziggy who was born deaf and blind.  Well, maybe…..there is the possibility that he was not born blind, but due to neglect and abuse, his eyes never developed.  We will never know for sure. Anyway, I started this blog because when we adopted Ziggy, there was very little information available on dogs that were both deaf and blind.  I found information on dogs that were EITHER deaf OR blind, but I only found one on dogs with both disabilities.

After having Ziggy for over a year now, with many trial and errors, I feel that I can contribute to those who may need some assistance with dogs with these types of disabilities.  Or simply, this site may just be an interesting read wether you are a dog lover, dog walker, or dog trainer.

I hope that you find this site helpful.  I will admit that this is my very first blog creation and you are currently reading my very first blog post, ever!  So please have patience with me and I expect to become more technologically adept as time goes on.  For now, feel free to give me any feedback that you may have regarding anything on this site.  Have fun and give your pups lots of rubs and hugs from Laura and Ziggy!