One day I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post from the rescue page Australian Shepherds Furever. It was a picture of this little white puppy laying in someone's lap. The post said something about this puppy needing a home as soon as possible. It also said that she was a double merle, deaf, and possibly blind. I kept scrolling through my Facebook feed, but that puppy was stuck in my head. Being the owner of a blue merle, Kai (featured right), I was very familiar with the breed. I didn't know too much about double merles, but I had a basic understanding of what they were. I found myself constantly going back to that picture and eventually I commented on it asking about the puppy. She was still looking for a home and she was located in PA, not too far from us. Once I found out the puppy was still available, I went crazy doing research. My heart was set on this little puppy for some reason. I wanted her, I needed her. I must have read every site that existed on training a deaf dog and how double merles come to be. I had convinced myself that I needed her, the next thing to do was convince my family that WE needed her. I expected this to be quite a challenge. I showed my family her picture, which of course they thought she was cute, but they weren't really open to the idea of another dog. Thankfully, the puppy was safe in a home and wasn't going anywhere, so I had time to do some convincing. Long story short, I got a yes. They said to me, "I think the puppy will be good for you, and I know you'll be good for it." So our journey began here. I frantically e-mailed; I wanted to bring her home as soon as possible. I found out that the puppy was taken from the breeder at 5-6 weeks because the breeder was going to kill her. I was baffled by this and I felt like I needed her even more.
After many e-mails, we set up a time for Kai and I to go and meet this puppy. I was told there was another potential adopter, and I was nervous. I felt confident, being a vet tech I had been around deaf and blind animals and I had done more research than I could ever explain. So Kai and I got in the car and we drove a little under 2 hours to go meet this puppy. I can't explain the feeling I had when I saw this little white fluffy dog running around in the grass. I just knew she had to come home with me. It had been determined that she was completely deaf, but she could see, although they were unsure to what extent because her eyes were not normal looking. I was relieved. I would have taken her even if she was both deaf and blind, but it would have been a bigger challenge. I talked with the women that had taken her in for a good while. I discussed all the things I found in my research, and then it was time to go. As we were leaving, they asked if I wanted to take her home. I was so shocked and so unprepared. I thought it would be a little bit before she came with me, if she did, but of course I said yes. On July 25, 2013 we headed home with a brand new family member, and a whole lot of learning ahead of us. We, or I, will be forever grateful to the women that saved her from being killed. We will be grateful for ASF sharing her picture for us to see. Keller is beautiful, smart, and so special. She is the reason I want to educate people. These dogs may have "disabilities," but they are a blessing to the people who love them. Keller now leads a completely normal and happy life. She's excelling in agility and fits right into our little family.
MY ADVICE/OUR CHALLENGES
I don't want to sit here and try to convince you that having a deaf dog is wonderful, or that it's impossible, but it really is no different than having a hearing dog (with a few exceptions). Having a deaf dog along with a hearing dog, I've learned it's really no different. There are days where I want to sit down and cry because they just don't understand, and then some days I can see that they finally understand what I'm trying to teach them. There are some slight differences in our training, but nothing huge.
Training Keller has been relatively easy. Since she's deaf, it's much harder for her to get distracted, she doesn't hear that car drive by, or another dog barking. Keller has learned sit, down, stay, come, spin, drop it, stand, good girl, no, and shake all through hand and touch signals. She also has a hand signal for crate and food. Keller is such a smart little girl and has began reading my lips when I say sit, without using a hand sign, she will sit with no problem. She attends agility classes, where she is learning signals for each of the different obstacles.
People often ask, "why would you want a deaf dog?" My response to them is usually, "Why not?" It's not a curse, it's just a different way of learning and communicating. Yes, sometimes it is hard, but I wouldn't change that. No dog is perfect all the time. Many people are confused why anyone would want a deaf dog and view her as trash. I've been asked horrible things and have had even meaner things said to me, but I look at her and know that she has a great life because of me. People ask how I do anything with her and it all comes down to training. Yes, I have a deaf and vision impaired dog. She still hikes and swims off leash, she knows commands, she goes to obedience and agility class, she does everything a "normal" dog does.
A few big challenges I've faced with Keller are off leash scares. Normally if your dog is off leash, you can call them and they come back, obviously with a deaf dog you cannot. One day Keller got out of the yard and I was sprinting down the street waving my arms and jumping up and down. You'll do a lot of that. Since you can't call them, you have to improvise to get their attention. I'm sure that neighbors think I'm crazy when I'm outside jumping around and flailing my arms.
Here's some serious advice though:
I personally find that having a seeing/hearing Aussie along with Keller has made everything easier. While some dogs do better on their own, I recommend having a buddy for your DM. It will help them learn the ropes and they'll always have someone to play with!
Establish signs early and then stick with them. Don't change your signs after a week, it will get confusing. Make a sign for good girl/boy, as well as a sign for no/bad. You can make a sign for any spoken word!
Use a leash at all times until you've gotten recall down 110%. Recall is hard enough with a dog that can hear and see you. Keep a leash on your deaf/blind dog unless you are in an enclosed area. Having your dog get away from you is one of the single most terrifying experiences. I will say, it's completely possible to teach your deaf dog to be off leash and come to you!
Laser pointers and flashlights can work wonders. At least they do for us. In the house we use a laser pointer to grab Keller's attention. Once she sees the light, she will follow it over to me. Outside at night I take a flashlight in case Keller decides to take a tour through the yard. I switch the flashlight on and off a few times and it'll grab her attention so I can signal for her to come. This idea will work the same with your porch light.
Have fun. Yes, things will get stressful. You'll get upset and so will your dog. Just remember that your dog wants to please you! If they don't understand at first, keep trying. Take breaks during training to throw a ball around, and remember to always end on a good note!