It is believed that Buff was born profoundly Deaf. However, it wasn’t detected during the first 6 months of his life when he was kept with many other pups in a puppy pen at his breeder’s facility. It wasn’t until shortly after my client brought Buff and another black Labrador Retriever puppy called Fred, home, that we discovered that Buff was in fact deaf and suffering from a massive ear mite infestation as well.
My client was very disappointed and shocked to realise that this pup had been so neglected at the breeder’s facility. It seemed incredulous that his deafness and his mite infestation had gone unnoticed all that time. It was now obvious that the mite infestation had caused Buff considerable distress and discomfort for all those months and subsequently this led to the development of his OCD behaviour of repeatedly circling in an anti-clockwise direction. I surmised that this was because his left ear was significantly more infested than his right ear and therefore the circling in that direction around the more painful ear, somehow served to sooth him. (It reminded me of the disturbing behaviours seen with exotic zoo animals kept in totally inadequate and small surrounding which fell extremely short of meeting their needs for enrichment and so many of them paced continuously around their pens, all day, every day).
Once Buff’s deafness was diagnosed, my client was under enormous pressure from the Veterinarians and other people around her, to euthanase him. It never sat well with me and so I fought for Buff’s right to live and I put up my hand to support him and my client through that journey. We just don’t euthanase these special needs dogs anymore because we have come so far in our understanding about how to rehabilitate them and how to achieve as normal a life as is possible for them. It is simply ‘old-school thinking’ to believe that euthanasing these animals is the first and ONLY option nowadays.
So began our journey. We sought the help of a qualified Veterinary Behaviourist, Dr Kathy Cornack, who prescribed a targeted medication to address Buff’s OCD and Generalised Anxiety and we discussed and agreed on a suitable Behaviour Modification program to be rolled out for him, under my supervision. In addition, we also engaged the talented, Sharon Kelly of ‘K9 Comfort’ to administer her fabulous TTouch (Tellington Touch) Therapy with Buff, to address his bodily imbalances as a result of his OCD circling. Sharon described his issues as -‘he is unaware of his back end because everything in his movement is driven by the front legs as a result of his OCD circling. It’s like his back legs are just along for the ride.’
Thankfully, my client is an extremely compassionate woman and was totally supportive of both Buff’s needs and of the recommendations of these professionals. It is thanks to my client’s utter bravery and her dogged determination in the face of enormous pressure to have Buff euthanased, that he was given this opportunity. Buff was really only saved by this wonderful human being who was prepared to go the distance with him and who herself had to learn how to live with and help a deaf dog. Not a bad feat, for someone who had never been involved in dog therapy or dog training previously!
Today, Buff enjoys a relatively normal life and has made incredible progress, thanks to the team who surrounded him and supported him on this journey. Buff enjoys very good health, his ear mite infestation disappeared once I switched him to a grain free diet and he has thrived in the company of the other dogs he lives with. He has also formed normal relationships with the other dogs he is familiar with.
Buff is also extremely intelligent and apart from learning tricks, such as ‘Bang’ and ‘Paw’ very quickly, he is also capable of problem solving and working out how best to adapt without full hearing. For example, Buff will watch the other dogs, monitoring their reactions so that he is alerted to anything that is happening in his world such as, when they realise I am coming out the back door, or if there is a stranger approaching or if there is a lizard in the garden to be chased! He has also been learning and progressing well with ‘chin rests’ and other desensitising protocols to help him to cope with visits to the Vet Clinic for his check ups or procedures.
Previously, no-one was able to touch his ears or put their hand anywhere near them due to the forceful handling that was used previously when he was subject to the exploratory procedures and treatments for his deafness and mite infestations. Consequently, I am a big supporter of the FEAR FREE project now making it’s way into mainstream Veterinary practice and pet homes, thanks to my very talented colleague, Michelle Davies of ‘Pawsome Dogs’ for introducing me to this wonderful approach whilst demonstrating it’s effectiveness with her own special dog, Fui.
Due to the lack of adequate socialisation during the fist 6 months of Buff’s life, we continue to work on his reactivity towards strange dogs approaching, via his customised BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION program. It is also known that deaf dogs are more likely to be startled easily and therefore, they CAN be more reactive to what is otherwise normal stimuli. With the implementation of an ongoing program of DESENSITISATION and COUNTER CONDITIONING, Buff has overcome most of his fears and has developed coping skills and confidence within himself. Living in a multi-dog household has also been a blessing for Buff’s confidence, especially whilst on our walks together.
When Buff first came to me, he was unable to engage with anyone or even to respond to affection in a any way. He was isolated within himself and within his circling. This was the most heartbreaking for me. He also couldn’t settle or take a nap until he was exhausted by his constant pacing. He snapped at food and gulped down his daily meals. He was ever vigilant waiting for someone to appear to let him out of his kennel in the morning. With the early introduction of medication to calm his brain, I started to see the commencement of tiny subtle breakthroughs, like a wag of his tail in response to a hand held out for a fleeting brush across his thigh as he passed by. I could tell he wanted to come closer and with time he did. Then one day, many months later, he sat down beside me on the grass for a fleeting second and this is when it really started to change. He came forward of his own free will to engage and to receive affection. I will never forget that moment and the joy it brought with it for both of us!
With time, those moments extended into prolonged minutes of gentle stroking and massage. Then one day he lay down beside me and I gently stroked him and he closed his eyes. Today, he is the first to come forward and the one who stays the longest for affection and massaging and he will readily fall asleep during these interactions. This is also when I noticed the change in our relationship, particularly in his level of trust toward me. He watched me almost continuously and he wagged his tail for longer periods.
Finally, Buff was breaking out of his prison. He was casting aside the shackles that bound him in that scary, very limited and endlessly silent world. Finally, everything was coming together. Finally, his body was expressing joy for the first time in his life, as he literally ‘bounced’ around the yard with a toy in his mouth, teasing his friend, Fred, the black Labrador Retriever! It is so satisfying to watch him orchestrating and initiating play. He hasn’t looked back. Today he can lay peacefully beside me as I stroke him and tell him how special he is. Today he takes himself into another room to rest without having me in sight, although he does wake up occasionally and pop his head around the doorway to make sure I’m still within reach! I am so very aware of his presence and what state he is in. I am constantly monitoring that he is ok and that he is coping with whatever is happening.
The best part, is that I am pleasantly surprised now with how well he copes with life and it’s inevitable changes. He still eats poo if given the chance, eats grass and chases lizards with stealth, but he is no longer the dog that came home frightened, overwhelmingly stressed and very much isolated and alone. Buff now has many friends and family who care about him, who see him as very special and who make it possible for him to have a normal life and I am talking about my beautiful, caring, compassionate client and now friend, who trusted and encouraged me and who has gone out of her way to ensure that Buff’s journey was a success. Thank you my dear friend.
I wrote this story for release during NATIONAL DEAF DOG AWARENESS WEEK 2017 (24-30 September) for two reasons.
One, was to provide a living example of why we don’t give up on all special needs dogs (that’s quitting), as well as to inspire those who are facing similar challenges.
Two, because I feel truly blessed to have had the privilege of working with and caring for this special boy. Not every dog trainer gets this rare and very precious opportunity to work with these dogs. There are some other trainers I have found since, who are inspiring and so very competent with deaf dogs. Buff has taught me an enormous amount about working with special needs dogs, however, the greatest gift he has given me, is to see the enormous progress he has made on his journey and to watch him experiencing and expressing absolute, pure and innocent joy in his body every day. Thank you darling Buff for your trust and your most precious gifts.
Author: Erin Williams MDI CPDT
BEYOND DOG TRAINING