Agility for special needs dogs? Absolutely!

  People ask me all the time if special needs dogs (deaf, blind and deaf-blind dogs), can lead a normal life.  Shelters rarely put them up for adoption, breeders tend to kill them at a young age (although this is never admitted), and rescues tend to have very strict limitations for any potential adopters, if they even do take one on. My question is, why? Why not give them a chance to lead a normal life?  I own special needs dogs, and I have been training them without any issues for many years.

Why would it shock or amaze anyone that a dog that cannot hear or see could do agility? Why do people think it is impossible to teach obedience to them? They adapt and can be conditioned, just like their seeing and hearing brothers and sisters. Other dogs do not see them any differently and I strongly believe we need to learn from our canine loved ones.

In April of 2012, I was asked if Charlie, a deaf-blind dog, could enroll in our basic agility class. Of course I said yes! I have fought for, and stood behind my deaf dogs for years.  I would never deny an owner or their dog, the right to reach their full potential.

A colleague of mine asked me how I would teach a deaf-blind dog agility; my answer was, “he has a nose, I will use it.”  It is the first thing a dog relies on, and their most powerful sense. If we teach dogs how to find the slightest traces of drugs that are masked by other scents, or people lost for days; why not use it to train them in other ways too.

So Charlie enrolled in our basic agility class with four other classmates that could see and hear. We taught him how to maneuver the obstacles by different scents; carefully thought out as to what effect they would have on the dog (relaxing, exciting, non-offensive).  He performed all of the equipment and learned them at the same pace as his classmates.

His owner asked if I would consider doing an all special needs agility class, so again I said of course. I love all dogs and when I decided to get into this field, it was to help all of them; so why would I exclude special needs from any activities? I know my deaf boxer Flinn and my deaf-blind dog Gaia have no idea they have a disability. They adapt, as should we.

Fast-forward to July 2012 and I had my first all special needs agility class starting, three deaf-blind dogs, and one bilateral deaf dog.  I could not have been happier to see how involved the owners were and how much the dogs enjoyed the class.  On August 4th, in just 6 short weeks, the class graduated. A very special moment for the dogs, the owners, myself and hopefully for the special needs dogs sitting in shelters waiting to be adopted.

Below is a picture of the graduating class, I am very proud of all of them and I look forward to getting more information out there in hopes that others will do the same. Open your classes and doors to our special needs, adopt them out, let them lead the normal lives they deserve to have.

Image

Congratulations Flinn, Boomer, Charlie and Lucy. ( And their parents for giving them this opportunity!)

Painting by Stephanie Conrad of The Pet Studio- http://www.petstudioart.com ( I will cherish it, thank you)

For more information about how to train your special needs pet, please email k9workingmind@gmail.com

hugs to your furbabies,

Tara

Deaf, Blind & Deaf and Blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

Deaf, blind and deaf & blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

  For the last 23 years, I have been working with all types of issues in the canine world. I use the tag line, “specializing in misunderstood dogs” because so many people truly do not know how to communicate with our canine family members. Through the years, I have been asked to take on dogs that range from “rage” point, to rude dogs, to disabled dogs. They all have a special place in my heart, but my disabled dogs hold the record for most “misunderstood” dogs out there.

  I am continuously called by shelters about dogs that will be killed simply because they have a disability.  This hits a very hard nerve in me, because I have heard so many people tell me the human species is by far the most compassionate, caring species out there. Really?  How can we claim to be compassionate when we will kill an innocent animal because they cannot hear, or possibly cannot see? Dogs are amazing creatures, we all know this. They do not hold on to their “disability”, they simply adjust and carry on just as any other dog will.

  I had been asked to write an article about deaf dogs and aggression for the AKC delegates when they were fighting to get deaf dogs in agility competition. I did so last year, but still today I receive calls about dogs that will be killed in our shelters, for no other reason than loss of hearing. These dogs are friendly towards people and dogs, have a zest for life just as their hearing brothers and sisters, but yet they are the first to be killed because of a disability we believe can make them “unpredictable”.

  I have dealt with thousands of dogs for aggression issues; they come in all shapes and sizes. No specific breed, no specific sex, and certainly not all of them are disabled. ANY dog can and will show aggression if not trained properly, even a Golden Retriever.  To simply use a disability as an excuse to kill, is quite frankly, ridiculous.  The big issue people have with disabled dogs, the dreaded “startle aggression” that they say, “all disabled dogs have”.  This type of aggression is not just seen in disabled dogs as so many people want you to believe. How many of you have older dogs that sleep soundly or have lost their hearing and have snapped or growled at you for moving too closely.  Some of my clients have young healthy dogs that will do the same thing. Why? Simple, they have not been conditioned properly to expect the unexpected.  We never think about this until a problem erupts.

  I assess many rescue and shelter dogs for adoptability and on my assessment test I include a series of “startle” items, as most behaviorists will. Why, because ANY dog can have “startle” aggression. It is not limited to disabled dogs. If one of these dogs, mostly healthy, hearing and seeing dogs, shows startle aggression, we start them on a behavior modification program. So why would you not offer the same options and opportunity to a disabled dog?  

 Maybe it is because you are nervous they will “runaway” and not come back. So I ask you,  how many shelters are full of hearing dogs that have strayed from their owners? How many dogs are constantly being chased around dog parks because they won’t come back to their owners once off leash? This is not an excuse to kill. Just as their hearing and seeing relatives, disabled dogs can and should learn a solid recall before being allowed off leash.

  Our deaf dogs are taught how to recall to us by using a flashing light. In the daytime we use a laser light to get their focus and draw them to us. This is taught similarly to using a clicker or a verbal cue.  No dog is born with the knowledge of the recall command, it has to be taught; whether they are deaf, blind or healthy. Some dogs, deaf or not, can never achieve off leash privileges due to how they are driven.

   In my experience working with ALL dogs, I can honestly say that disabled dogs have more focus and trust in their humans, than the majority of other dogs.  

 A good friend of mine recently shot a video of our disabled fosters to show the world how EVERY dog deserves a chance at loving home, I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxAIKPFvMmo&NR=1