Today we meet Mary and her dog Arlo from Reno, Navada. Mary shares her experience raising a puppy that was born blind and deaf due to a genetic condition called Double Merle.
Could you tells about Arlo's disability?
Arlo was born blind and deaf due to a genetic condition called "double merle." Basically, when two dogs with merle color coats are bred each puppy has a chance of receiving two copies of that coat color gene which leads to a pigment deficiency. The development of the inner ear and eyes are dependent on pigment and so these dogs are commonly born with impairments in hearing and sight. In Arlo's case, he was born deaf and with microphthalmia which caused his eyes to be underdeveloped. Their size is so small that they cannot protrude past his third eyelid, but they can detect light and shadows.
What is daily life like with a deaf and blind dog?
I wake up early every day because house training Arlo has been difficult (you can't say "no" to a dog who can't see or hear) and if I wake up early enough I catch him before he has an accident. Then I go back to sleep and wake up again at a more reasonable time. I should point out that, while I have heard one other person had this problem with their blind/deaf dog, it isn't a problem for most of the blind/deaf dog owners I know. Once I've woken up for good I usually curl up on the couch with the dogs for a while and read the news on my phone. Arlo doesn't like being away from us all night and I think it's nice to start the day with togetherness. I then will feed the dogs, make my own breakfast, and get ready for the day. Arlo and his sister tend to hang around and check on me once in a while as I do. In the summer when it's hot out we also walk the dogs early in the morning to beat the heat!
I usually spend evenings watching TV, reading, or working on crafts, all of which I can do with Arlo because his favorite thing to do is be in physical contact with me in some way. He usually picks a bone or antler to chew on to occupy himself while I do my activity. Once in a while he'll get wound up and irritate his sister (he's still a puppy) and then he calms back down again and sits on my feet, under my legs, or pushed up against my hip depending on where we are.
We always have one or two active outings planned during the weekend as opposed to our more boring neighborhood walks during the week. Arlo can go on mild to moderate hikes as long as the footing stays reasonably consistent throughout, or sometimes we'll go for long walks around town or take the dogs to the dog park, although Arlo has been touchy about new dogs recently. When we're not out we are spending time doing our hobbies in the house, which are fairly inactive, and so Arlo will stay close as he does in the evenings. My husband and I do go out on our own as well, and even though Arlo doesntike it he's fine being left at home for several hours at a time.
Are there any useful products for blind or deaf dogs that you recommend?
The first tip with a blind dog is to not intervene when they are getting an understanding of their surroundings and bumping into things. It's hard to watch, I know, but it's how they learn, map, and understand the world. This is probably different for a dog that loses its vision and hearing, but for dogs born this way just let them make mistakes (as long as they aren't in actual danger).
Don't buy them a bumper or halo: touch is one of the few senses they have left and they need to feel things to get information. If they have a big piece of wire or plastic around their body that's one more sense that has been robbed of them.
The next thing is that you need to develop a language between you and your dog. You need to be able to read their body language and train them to understand what your touches mean. It's totally possible and not too different from the way you would train a hearing/sighted dog!
Finally, as far as products, slow feeder bowls double as a puzzle/mental stimulation game for blind dogs, and we have had a great experience with a front lead harness as it helps us direct Arlo where to walk. Placing a mat by the back door also helps Arlo navigate his way in and out of the house.
What advice would you offer someone who is considering caring for a blind and deaf dog?
Find experts on dog behavior and positive reinforcement training! Learning how to communicate with your dog is important for any dog owner, and for a deaf and blind dog it is especially important as their modes of communication are so much more limited. Again, it's totally possible and not even very difficult, but it's unique and takes creativity and so experts are an amazing asset!
Another suggestion I would give is to follow and reach out to people with blind and deaf dogs on social media. My experience has been that they are very happy to talk about their dogs and give you advice in the areas where you have concern.
I remember when I first saw Arlo's picture online and fell in love with him I was afraid I couldn't handle a blind and deaf dog no and so I dove into research. There were only a few resources and they didn't seem thorough enough so I reached out to his rescue to inquire further. The woman who runs the rescue, and has a blind and deaf great dane, assured me that it wasn't very different from having a seeing and hearing dog. She was right!
I know I just outlined all the things that are different about having a blind and deaf dog, but if I could list the things that are the same the list would go on forever! They really are just dogs at the end of the day.
Follow Arlo’s adventures on Instagram.