Dogs who are blind, deaf or both are more likely to be fearful because to them, the world is less predictable. Specifically, dogs without one or more senses are more likely to be surprised when approached or touched than dogs who can see and hear. Though they learn to depend on their existing senses more than other dogs, they are still surprised sometimes. These surprises can be scary, and dogs often react badly out of fear. Reacting badly can mean mild behavior such as yelping and hiding, or more troublesome reactions such as defecating or biting.
To avoid surprises and fearful reactions, use a cue meaning “I am about to touch you.” Cues can be vocal or visual depending on which sense the dog has, or two taps on the floor near the dog for those lacking both hearing and sight. If dogs are alerted that a touch is coming, they are protected from being startled. I also recommend counterconditioning dogs to being touched. Basically, teach your dog that a treat follows being touched unexpectedly. With enough repetitions of this lesson, the dog’s response to a surprise touch will be more of “Oh boy, that means I get a treat! Fun!” and less of, “Aaack! What was that? Scary!”
Lots of tactile contact can be beneficial for your relationship and for your dog’s well-being. When missing the use of one or more senses, communication can be compromised despite your best efforts to work around the issue, and that can cause stress. Physical contact such as TTouch or other forms of canine massage can help your dog feel less stressed, repair any damage to the relationship and make you feel closer to each other. (Even for dogs without these challenges, massage and touching tends to be a good thing as long as they enjoy it—there is, however, the rare dog who doesn’t.)
I urge everyone who has a dog with challenges to remember that the most important aspect of living with, loving and training these dogs is remembering that they are dogs just like any other dogs. It’s easy to remember that they are blind, deaf or both, but it’s essential, whatever abilities they may or may not possess, that we never forget their true essence. Five senses or fewer, they are dogs.