A question I get all the time is this: “How do I deal with my dog if they’re going blind or deaf, or both?” There’s a very simple answer to that: You deal with them pretty much the same way you’d deal with a dog that isn’t going blind or deaf or both.

Yes, you have to make some accommodations, but the wonderful thing about dogs is that they adapt very quickly. If one or more senses go away, the others make up for it — and a dog relies more on its sense of smell than sight or hearing in the first place. If its eyes or ears go, its nose will lead the way.

This is why adopting a blind or deaf dog can actually be a very rewarding experience.
There’s something I always like to tell people when they’re looking for a new pack member: “You don’t always get the dog you want, but you always get the dog you need.” The dog you want may fulfill your needs, but it won’t teach you as much as the dog that you have to try harder with.

The key to choosing the right dog is to always look for one with the same or lower energy level as you or your household, but it also means to not overlook the dog that might not be physically “perfect.” Whether it’s a senior dog, blind, deaf, missing a leg, or has some other condition shouldn’t matter to you, since it doesn’t matter to the dog. What matters to the dog is that she finds a pack and pack leaders who will give her protection and direction.

What that “less than perfect” dog can teach us is priceless — things like patience and perseverance. We need to be a bit more patient when working with a handicapped dog; we learn perseverance when we see that dog’s disabilities not get in the way of his enjoyment of life. I’ve met plenty of handicapped dogs, but they all greet the world and their humans with the same enthusiasm and happiness as every other balanced dog.

They’re also capable of some pretty remarkable feats, like Norman, the blind yellow Lab who saved a 15-year-old girl from drowning, or Glory, a mixed-breed dog left with only one leg after an assault, who learned to walk again using three prosthetic limbs. Dogs don’t seem to be all that familiar with the word “can’t.”

So the next time you adopt a dog, don’t start looking with your emotions or your intellect. Listen to your instincts and the dog’s energy instead. Then don’t try to find the dog that you want. Let the dog that you need find you. You’ll know it’s happened when that dog gives you her trust and follows your lead.

Don’t be offended if the dog won’t engage you, though. That wasn’t the right dog, and he’s not going to pretend if he doesn’t feel the connection with your energy because he can’t lie. But don’t mistake his disinterest for judgement. Dogs don’t judge themselves and they don’t judge us. And that is the best lesson they can teach us.

Stay calm and don’t underestimate the “wrong” dog!

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