How I Trained a Deaf Puppy and Helped Him Live a Full Life
Blue the collie: An unexpected addition to the family!
I always think what a bad idea it is to buy a living creature on impulse.
How many times do we read about puppies and kittens, bought for their "cute" factor as Christmas presents, being abandoned to the unwanted pets' home by January?
Also, I am a firm believer in rescuing unwanted animals from shelters and giving them a better life.
But when we saw the tiny, white, blue-eyed collie pup in the pet shop window, just before Christmas 2004, we couldn't resist him.
We had gone into town just to buy some "normal" Saturday shopping, as we often did. But we made the mistake of walking past a well-known pet shop that always had lots of tiny puppies and kittens in pens in the window.
Blue was their last Blue Merle collie - and a cuter bundle of fur you had never seen. He was absolutely tiny, with huge ears, massive pale blue eyes, gangly legs and a big, bushy tail, like a fox.
We had to go in and stroke him and he was the friendliest little soul you could ever meet.
We talked about how silly it would be to buy another dog when we already had two. We convinced ourselves what a bad idea it would be. Then we left the shop.
But we had walked only 25 yards up the road when common sense was lost to impulse and we went rushing back and bought him. He was so thrilled to be out of the pen, licking my face and going wild with excitement.
Blue meets my two older dogs...
Arriving home, we were greeted by our two older dogs, who were fascinated by this new addition to the family and made him welcome.
We called him Blue because of his breed and his vivid blue eyes, the palest I had ever seen in a dog or human.
He immediately started to "rule the roost" and was so excitable and boisterous, "talking" away in a strange, deep, throaty whine that he made us laugh out loud every waking moment. His voice kind of resembled the cartoon character Scooby Doo, but deeper. He was never quiet and certainly told us if he wanted feeding or to play.
He developed a game whereby he brought us a ball and sat in front of us, the ball at our feet, staring at it in a totally manic way. If we didn't pick it up soon enough, he actually edged it towards us, using one of his front paws, until it rested right on our feet. We started rolling it back to him using one hand and he soon realised this was a new kind of game that didn't involve throwing, but involved rolling the ball across the floor back and forth to each other. He absolutely loved it.
I even had to play it when I was in the bath.
Eating a plant made Blue sick!
Like most collies, he was totally hyperactive and unfortunately had a rather destructive streak.
One day, I arrived home from work to find my new, worn-once boots in several pieces in the lounge.
Blue was already in trouble for totally destroying a 4-foot-high cheese plant that had been happily growing in the living room for some years.
We arrived home from work to find it totally trashed, the remainder of the roots and leaves chewed up all over the floor, the cream carpet and three-piece suite covered in a thick blanket of damp soil.
He was later ill he had eaten so many leaves, roots and shoots and had to go to the vet's.
If we left anything at all lying about, Blue ate it. Shoes, cushions, biscuits, loaves of bread, hair-brushes, plants, toothpaste, T-shirts - he wasn't fussy, he liked the lot.
Blue the collie: Totally hyperactive!
The first sign of health problems: No fear of fireworks!
When he got to about six months old, however, we began to notice he wasn't as responsive as our two older dogs.
Although he was obviously bright as a button and highly intelligent, he seemed to wait for their lead if we called them for their dinner, for example, or shouted them in
from the bottom of the garden.
When we arrived home, Blue was often sleeping and didn't wake up to greet us, so we would let him doze on and it was often half an hour or more before he realised we were there.
We lived near a funfair which always had big firework displays at least once a week during the summer season and Blue wasn't scared of the loud bangs at all.
He would quite happily go trotting through the streets when the air was filled with the sound of fireworks exploding like a ricochet of gunfire.
In fact, he was the only one of my three dogs who pestered me to go out on Bonfire Night, happily trotting through the noisy, smoke-filled streets without a care in the world.
He actually stopped my older dog, Buster, from being afraid of fireworks, as when Blue asked to go out on Bonfire Night, Buster wanted to go too. So the three of us would end up going for our usual walk and Buster got over his fear of loud noises.
A trip to the vet's confirmed my worst fears!
Gradually, the realisation began to creep up on us that he may be deaf.
We tested this theory by walking in and banging the front door very loudly, or clapping and shouting behind his head as he slept. Sure enough, he would not even move and we realised he was completely deaf.
We went to the vet for his advice and he said deafness was not uncommon in white, blue-eyed dogs and cats. He agreed with our assessment and said there was nothing he could do to help Blue. It was a disability he would have to live with all his life.
I felt upset for Blue that he would never be able to hear anything, but as he had always been deaf, he did not know any different it certainly didn't seem to cause him any problems.
Blue the dog lives a normal life despite being deaf since birth
Blue has adapted well to his deafness
Blue had adapted quite naturally to his condition. We realised this was why he was slow when coming for food - because unless he saw our other two dogs running off to the kitchen, he had no idea we were shouting them.
Similarly, when playing with his ball, he sometimes lost it, even though often it would land right behind him on the gravel in the back garden.
Of course, this was because he could not hear the dull "thud" as the ball hit the stones. He was completely dependent on his vision, so if he lost sight of the ball in mid-air, if it was thrown higher or harder than normal, he had no chance of knowing where it had landed. He always found it, but it just took him a while longer.
He was still only a puppy when his hearing problem was diagnosed and we had plenty of time to work out how to train him.
Hand signals are the key to training a deaf dog!
We soon devised a series of hand signals so that he would not go astray when out walking in the park without his lead. He was such a quick learner that it was not a problem at all.
If he appeared to be wandering too far, I would leap about like a maniac, waving my arms above my head, until he spotted me out of his eye corner. Then, I would beckon him with both hands outstretched in a hugely exaggerated motion. He soon learned this meant, "Come here," and would come darting across the field like a whippet.
When Blue was about two years old, I took in another rescue dog, Millie, a mistreated Shar Pei cross. They began going for walks together and it soon became apparent that Millie liked following Blue's lead and would chase him - and their ball - across the fields. She would bark with excitement because Blue was so fast, she usually couldn't catch him and she would be running at full pelt, while Blue hardly broke into a trot!
When playing ball, we used the same hand-waving motion, but less exaggerated, to encourage him to bring the ball back to us.
And when we wanted it dropping at our feet, we actually pointed to the spot with one finger and he would gently roll it over to us, depositing it right on the spot.
He soon learned these and other hand signals - including a finger pointing upwards when he had been bad, which meant "go to bed" - and he has had no problems whatsoever in leading a completely normal life.
Make sure he can see you while out walking
The one major piece of advise I have with regard to deaf dogs is to ensure they can always see you while on walks. I have never let Blue off his lead in areas such as unfenced stretches of grass, or on the beach when the tide his coming in, as if he loses sight of me, this could have disastrous consequences if he bolts away.
He has been allowed off his lead in the park, where I know I can be constantly in vision. But any situation that leads to a loss of visual contact is a no-go zone.
He walks well on his lead and if in doubt, his lead remains on, as safety is paramount, of course.
Once, while on his way to the park for a walk, Blue became so excited, he actually jumped through the open car window and ran off up the street! Worried sick, we drove and walked around looking for him, as it was getting dark and I feared we would never find him.
Thankfully, a fellow dog walker had seen him "spinning around on the grass verge with an old sock in his mouth" - another collie trait, they love spinning with toys! Blue was so excited, it was as if he hadn't realized he was lost and when the dog walker caught him and phoned me, he said Blue had continued to play back at his house as they waited for me!
Blue the dog's playtime (Christmas Day 2014)
Blue is still a happy dog despite developing epilsepsy
Today, Blue is a happy, thriving, bouncy dog, despite getting on a bit in years. He is showing no signs of slowing down and is the happiest, most smiley, adorable little dog you could ever meet.
In later life, at the age of eight years, unfortunately he started suffering from epileptic seizures. This was completely unexpected, but the vet said it sometimes happened this way as dogs grew older and it might never be possible to find out the cause.
Thankfully, medication keeps this under control and after recovering from an initial cluster of fits, he recovered successfully and continues to lead a normal life.
He has a new pal in Salt the cat, my fourth rescue cat. The two of them can often be found in the back garden together and also sleep in the same room at night.
Blue the deaf dog and his pal, Salt the cat
Deaf dogs should not be overlooked because of their disability
If any other readers have their doubts on bringing up a deaf dog, I would most certainly say, "Don't worry."
Blue brings much joy to the lives of those humans lucky enough to be in his circle of pals and is one of the best dogs you could ever meet.
I read of many dogs in shelters, abandoned and unwanted because of their deafness. This is such a terrible shame, because it is not detrimental to their life in the slightest. In fact, I actually forget Blue is deaf most of the time and talk away to him, because it has no impact on his life whatsoever.
If you are thinking of adopting a dog and are having doubts because he or she is deaf, I would say, from personal experience, go ahead, because these dogs can lead a normal life and should not be overlooked because of their disability.