Agility for special needs dogs? Absolutely!
People ask me all the time if special needs dogs (deaf, blind and deaf-blind dogs), can lead a normal life. Shelters rarely put them up for adoption, breeders tend to kill them at a young age (although this is never admitted), and rescues tend to have very strict limitations for any potential adopters, if they even do take one on. My question is, why? Why not give them a chance to lead a normal life? I own special needs dogs, and I have been training them without any issues for many years.
Why would it shock or amaze anyone that a dog that cannot hear or see could do agility? Why do people think it is impossible to teach obedience to them? They adapt and can be conditioned, just like their seeing and hearing brothers and sisters. Other dogs do not see them any differently and I strongly believe we need to learn from our canine loved ones.
In April of 2012, I was asked if Charlie, a deaf-blind dog, could enroll in our basic agility class. Of course I said yes! I have fought for, and stood behind my deaf dogs for years. I would never deny an owner or their dog, the right to reach their full potential.
A colleague of mine asked me how I would teach a deaf-blind dog agility; my answer was, “he has a nose, I will use it.” It is the first thing a dog relies on, and their most powerful sense. If we teach dogs how to find the slightest traces of drugs that are masked by other scents, or people lost for days; why not use it to train them in other ways too.
So Charlie enrolled in our basic agility class with four other classmates that could see and hear. We taught him how to maneuver the obstacles by different scents; carefully thought out as to what effect they would have on the dog (relaxing, exciting, non-offensive). He performed all of the equipment and learned them at the same pace as his classmates.
His owner asked if I would consider doing an all special needs agility class, so again I said of course. I love all dogs and when I decided to get into this field, it was to help all of them; so why would I exclude special needs from any activities? I know my deaf boxer Flinn and my deaf-blind dog Gaia have no idea they have a disability. They adapt, as should we.
Fast-forward to July 2012 and I had my first all special needs agility class starting, three deaf-blind dogs, and one bilateral deaf dog. I could not have been happier to see how involved the owners were and how much the dogs enjoyed the class. On August 4th, in just 6 short weeks, the class graduated. A very special moment for the dogs, the owners, myself and hopefully for the special needs dogs sitting in shelters waiting to be adopted.
Below is a picture of the graduating class, I am very proud of all of them and I look forward to getting more information out there in hopes that others will do the same. Open your classes and doors to our special needs, adopt them out, let them lead the normal lives they deserve to have.
Congratulations Flinn, Boomer, Charlie and Lucy. ( And their parents for giving them this opportunity!)
Painting by Stephanie Conrad of The Pet Studio- http://www.petstudioart.com ( I will cherish it, thank you)
For more information about how to train your special needs pet, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
hugs to your furbabies,