Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Do Dogs That Are Born Deaf and Blind Have More Health Problems?
"I am in the process of adopting a deaf/blind pit bull pup. I think she is now 5–6 months old. I have a fenced house and live alone. What considerations do I need to keep in mind in order to be successful in training her? Are dogs with special needs more prone to getting sick or having health issues?" —Gloria
How to Exercise and Train Congenitally Deaf and Blind Dogs
The main health issue for dogs that are born blind and deaf is increased risk of injury when loose. When she isn't in your yard, you must be extra careful to control her well and protect her from other dangers she might not see or hear coming.
Let Her Play in Your Fenced-In Yard
I was pleased to see that you have a fenced-in yard since a dog like her absolutely cannot go out in an open yard alone.
When she is older and less likely to wander off, you can take her out front if you are washing the car or tending your lawn and let her sit in the sun. But if there is a stray dog that decides to attack her, remember that she is virtually defenseless since she will not see or hear the other dog coming.
Go for Two Leashed Walks a Day
In the meantime, she needs to go out, and not just in the backyard. Blind dogs will sometimes overeat, and if they do not have adequate exercise, they risk suffering from obesity and the many health problems associated with that. You need to train her to walk on a leash and take her out twice a day for a brisk walk to keep her in shape.
When you do go for walks, allow her plenty of time to sniff around. She may not have all of the abilities of a dog with vision and hearing, but she will be able to understand a lot if allowed to stop and sniff. (1)
Keep Training Expectations Low and Celebrate Small Wins
As far as training, you need to set the bar low and celebrate every victory. You can teach her to sit and lie down using a tap and treats, but again I want to emphasize that you need to celebrate those victories and be happy with that. The most important thing you can do is leash train her and take her for a walk twice every day so that she can sniff her environment.
Teach Indoor Treat Tracking
You can also train her to track inside your house. Use liver treats for this, the kind with garlic (which makes them smell stronger). Hide a treat in one room, then scratch her head or give some other sort of signal to "find." At first, you'll want to lead her to the other room to find the hidden treat. She will most likely enjoy the game and learn quickly, eventually sniffing to find the treat on her own once you've given the signal.
(1) Horowitz, A., Hecht, J., & Dedrick, A. (2013). Smelling more or less: Investigating the olfactory experience of the domestic dog. Learning and Motivation, 44, 207-217. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0023969013000234
This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM