Living With A Disabled Dog

Kate Abbott, Petra Burke & Liz Palika  on Pet Life Radio

Dogs can have disabilities of many kinds, from blindness, deafness, the loss of a limb, hip dysplasia and more. Some disabilities come with old age, some may be due to injuries and other may be congenital defects. As much as we may feel sorry for the dog with a disability, our dogs don't need that pity. Dogs don't pout about their disabilities; they just get on with life. However, you can help your dog live a quality life in many different ways. Listen to this show for quite a few easy suggestions.


Liz Palika: Welcome to It’s a Doggy Dog World. I’m your host Liz Palika with my good friends Petra Burke and Kate Abbott. Today we’re talking about the challenges and the joys of living with a disabled dog. One point Kate made just a few minutes ago as we were preparing for the show is that for the most part dogs are living longer today or many dogs are living longer today.

And as they get up there and age, just like with elderly people they’re going to develop some problems. They can have cataracts or vision impairment, hearing impairment and my 13 ½ year old Aussie Dax has hearing impairment some of which is selective hearing but she also has some hearing impairment.

Joint problems, arthritis, there’s a variety of things plus there are disabled dogs in the population just as there’re disabled people and living with one of those dogs may require you to make some changes around your house or how you do things. So we’re going to take a look at that today.

But first before we get into this and anymore detail we need to take a break for our sponsors so hold on we’ll be right back.


Liz Palika: Welcome back to it’s a Doggy Dog world. I’m Liz Palika with me today are Petra Burke and Kate Abbott from the Kindred Spirits Canine Education Center in Vista, California and today we’re talking about living with disabled dogs. Now all three of us do have a disabled dog. My 13 ½ year old as I said Dax is deaf, and my eight year old has severe hip dysplasia so I’m dealing with two different disabilities.

Petra Burke: My Australian Shepherd Kona is blind, been blind from the last year, he is seven.

Kate Abbott: Gina is, how old is she? Four, five.

Petra Burke: Five.

Kate Abbott: She has spondylosis which is holes in the bones surrounding the spinal cord and because of that there’s bridging. There’s bone where there shouldn’t be bone, holes where there shouldn’t be holes and so it makes for backaches and limping and some pain.

Liz Palika: So dealing with a disabled dog there’s pros and cons, I know one of the pros about living with a disabled dog is you do feel good about helping the dog without assistance the dog might not be able to survive. A deaf dog could easily get lost, wander away, not hear you call him to come and get hit by a car. Disabled dogs with back, elbow, hip, joint problems may need some medical assistance may need some veterinary assistance.

So that makes you feel good and that you’re helping this dog live a better life.

Petra Burke: Well the one’s we see come through classes that people that take on a blind or deaf dog is what we see the most.

Kate Abbott: Or a three legged dog we’ve seen a few of those.

Petra Burke: And it’s a challenge, it’s hard initially but I think the outcome itself people have made a wonderful dog out of a dog that could have been destroyed, given to humane society, who knows? They make wonderful pets.

Kate Abbott: So they have disability, we don’t throw our elderly folks or blind or whom ever out in the streets.

Liz Palika: I mean heck I lose my glasses, I’m just about blind.

Kate Abbott: And it’s not always a permanent condition when I was a teenager one of our small dogs was playing with a larger dog and got injured with a slip disc, herniated disc and he was disabled for about a year, it took him to recover. He did eventually 98% recovered but during that time we had to make adjustments to living with him.

Liz Palika: And that goes on to our second point, we do often have to make adjustments. There can be some problems of living with a disabled dog like including the example I just gave a few minutes ago with deaf dogs. With a deaf dog my mom’s cavalier king Charles Spaniel Rusty is deaf and we found out in his older puppy hood that he was born deaf.
We just didn’t know it at the time and so.

Petra Burke: That would explain why your mom gets very frustrated. Hey you’re not listening to me!

Liz Palika: Well, mom’s not the best dog trainer anyway so there’s a little bit of fault on both sides there but she had to make everyone in the family aware that they had to be careful with the front door, they had to be careful with the front gate, they had to be careful with the back yard gate. Because if Rusty did get out, he wouldn’t hear anybody calling for him and even though he’s not intentionally bad, he doesn’t hear so we do have to make some allowances for a disabled dog.

Petra Burke: Or a blind dog probably the same way. You can’t move furniture in your house first of all. I learned that the hard way with Kona, keep bumping into things. If they bump into things, they can get injured on their face.

Kate Abbott: Poor Kona’s face.

Petra Burke: Initially it was a rough start for him. He can’t really go out and play with the other dogs. Running oh gosh, he could run into another dog, running into fence, trap in a hole.

Liz Palika: So a lot of times a disabled dog needs a little bit more protection from us. Protection from the world from us.

Kate Abbott: Back to Rusty not being a bad dog. When one of my play poodle Stormy was getting older and started going deaf, it took me awhile to realize it. For awhile there I was just gosh darn it I said come! How come you’re disobeying me now at the age of 14 or 15 when you use to do it.

Liz Palika: Well Paul and I went through that with Dax too. In fact Paul still gets a little upset with her. “Dax!” “Paul, she can’t hear” “Oh yeah that’s right”

Kate Abbott: I think like Cockapoo years ago as they get older they get deaf but the advantage to that is that we can help our students identify dogs who might have hearing impairments because of the experiences went through.

Petra Burke: Dogs are so good at hiding a lot of their disabilities. They don’t sit around and fret about it, they just keep going.

Liz Palika: And figure it’s a normal thing, we don’t test their hearing and we don’t test their vision. Kids that go to school get vision test. Oh they can’t see the black board, that was my problem. But we don’t do that for dogs so unless the disability is very obvious we have a tendency not to see it or not to notice it and hearing defects are very common.

I know the Dalmatian Club of America on their national club website states that there are many, many, many hearing impaired Dalmatians and the figure was just astronomical. Many other breeds that have the white color genetics can have hearing impairments, for example an Australian shepherd that has white ears or white around the eyes without any markings around the eyes or ears potentially has hearing and or vision defects because it goes along with that color genetics. And it’s not just Aussies, Shelties, Corkies, many other breeds can carry that same fault so disabilities can be quite common and if we look at hip dysplasia, how many thousands of dogs have hip dysplasia.

Petra Burke: And growing, the numbers are growing.

Liz Palika: And it’s not just limited to large breed dogs anymore. I mean bull dogs can have hip dysplasia. So it’s really kind of scary.

Well let’s go on and talk about blind dogs specifically first because almost, no I won’t say all but a great many dogs as they get older will get cataracts or will lose their vision and there’re many dogs with eye defects that if not blind maybe visually impaired. So what are some of the things we can do to help blind dogs?

Petra Burke: Well one thing when it came to my dog Kona was about five and a half we realized he’s developing cataracts, I assumed it was just cataracts, surgery can remove it, he’ll be fine but when Liz and I went to the vet and got him checked out he actually had retinal atrophy or PRA as they call it.

Liz Palika: Plus cataracts.

Petra Burke: Plus cataracts and unfortunately there isn’t any surgical cure for that so he was going to lose his sight quickly and he did. He’s about a year and half later now and he’s completely blind, you look at him and he looks funny because of the little white eyes because of the cataracts.

And it was tough in the very beginning for a dog that could see, that was very active that did agility, loved the ball, did everything then to go blind fairly quickly.

Liz Palika: He had a rough transition.

Petra Burke: Yeah, I think he was a little depressed there for a bit but he’s come through it and he’s still devils for us, he still wants to work and we now play ball with them and have the other dogs noise bells.

Liz Palika: Or use noisy balls.

Petra Burke: Yup so at least he still gets to have lots of fun but…

Kate Abbott: They all go through those first stages. We got creative and innovative and sort of  frankensteinish with all sorts of different collars, with feelers on the end and things that would help.

Liz Palika: None of them really worked very well though. We tried a variety of different things that we’ve seen on the Internet or have seen previously but none of them really worked. Probably the best was the bells on the other dogs.

Liz Palika: And verbal control.

Petra Burke: And verbal control.

Kate Abbott: Thank goodness for his training and his a very good boy.

Liz Palika: And that brings up a very good point. Some of the commands that a blind dog should know or if you’re dog is beginning to lose his sight.

Petra Burke: Well our advantage was, we did carding with Kona so he knew to slow down, stop, left, right, hard right, easy right. I think to me and him was a saving grace that transition to blind and knowing the commands we just polished up a little bit more.

Kate Abbott: Both of my small poodle and with Kona you all see I noticed with both of them that our human inclination would be to go, “Look out!” They actually learn that that was a command that meant wait.

Liz Palika: You’re in imminent danger.

Petra Burke: Freeze! Don’t move!

Kate Abbott: But that was also coming on top of both of them being in the habit of listening to commands of being well trained dogs in the first place. That we’re in the habit of listening so teaching them a new command that said wait you’re going to bump into something.

Liz Palika: And trust, let’s add trust in there. The dogs trust us, and so when we tell them left or right or easy the other thing I’ve noticed with Kona here is that the training yard is he’s gotten very good about triangulating on a voice and so rather than, we break one of our cardinal rules with Kona, usually when we call our dogs to come, it’s sweetie pie come and then you praise them but you don’t repeat the command but with Kona we have a tendency to continue a line of chatter so that he can focus in on the voice and follow it in.

And it’s so exciting when he does because he’ll follow the voice, he’ll veer to the right and left a little bit which in herding is called wearing and then you can see when he’s got the voice and then he comes straight on in and then he gets all excited and all happy and he talks and he wiggles his butt. Now I found you!

Petra Burke: And for a while there, I think it’s getting a little bit better the echo locating that he came across and developed on his own.

Kate Abbott: Again when he first started doing it, it’s like Kona be quiet you never were a barker before, what’s going on with you? Until we figured out he was using that bark to sound out what was around him and perhaps all the other dogs in too to help him.

Liz Palika: Yeah, yeah, that is a smart boy. Another command I think that’s very important that we were just talked about as far as breaking our rules in calling him but the dog must have an excellent come. Because I think for a blind dog, thats very important because he does not see the dangers out there.

Petra Burke: Exactly.

Kate Abbott: I can think of a couple of times too using an emergency drop which was helpful for Albert specially hiking. My backyard has hills and steps and pools. There’s like stop and drop.

Liz Palika:  Your yard is not meant for a disabled dog.

Kate Abbott: Saving grace for him is that he is just small enough to pick up and we kept him on a leash a lot.

Liz Palika: Ah that was my next point, is  use the leash especially if you’re outside of a fenced in area. You keep that dog safe.

Kate Abbott: Blind dog around a pool too. I wanted to be able to pull him out and quickly.

Liz Palika: Sure. Yeah. Well you’ve had another story too about Albert too in one of your cats.

Kate Abbott: We had two cats at the time and one of them was quite taken with Albert and Albert with the cat. They would groom each other and laid together. Once we realized that Albert was going blind and went blind, the cat also realized it and interestingly enough became his seeing eye cat. So as Albert would walk around the house, you would find his buddy the cat right at his shoulder. When it came time to the end of the hallway and he had to make a turn, the cat was right there pushing on that shoulder, helping him make the turn.

If somebody forgot and moved some furniture, left a chair pulled out, the cat would block him so he had.

Liz Palika: You don’t think of cats being that considerate of them. I mean I have cats and absolutely love cats but you don’t think of cats being that considerate to a  housemate. I can think of a couple of my cats would go, “Yo he run into the couch, woo hooo…that was funny, do it again!”

Petra Burke: Steer him in the wrong direction on purpose.

Liz Palika: The cubbards over here, come on. Ha got it covered.

Kate Abbott: I guess he got some karma back in his life Albert did. He didn’t deserve it when he was a puppy. An older poodle I had when Albert was a puppy also went blind at about the age of 17 or 18 and Albert used to take great delight in jumping up on something and waiting and for Anton, Anton was a loka, he’s ugly but anyway and he wasn’t very nice to Albert.

He would wait for Anton to walk by and Anton being blind couldn’t see Albert above him and Albert would lean over and go “bark” right into Anton’s ears setting him into a fit of barking and I swear that poodle would sit back and grin.

Liz Palika: That’s bad.

Kate Abbott: That was bad. But then Anton wasn’t a very nice dog and so.

Liz Palika: Alright, we need to take a break real quick for our sponsors but don’t go anywhere when we get back we’re going to talk about deaf dogs and we’ll talk some more about mobility impaired dogs. So hold on and we’ll be right back.


Liz Palika: Welcome back, I’m your host for It’s a Doggy Dog World, with me today are Petra Burke and Kate Abbott and today we’re talking about disabled dogs. We just spent a few minutes talking about some of the challenges of living with a blind dog and some of the things we can do to help them.

But let’s talk about deaf dogs. First of all my mom’s deaf cavalier, what I did to help her is I got her one of the electronic colors that vibrates and then using a leash and a handful of really, really good stinky treats hotdogs I think, we taught Rusty that when he felt the vibrating colors he was to find mom. He was to look for (his vision’s good), look for her and wait for hand signal. Now Rusty is not the genetic best of cavaliers.

Kate Abbott: Oh..close your ears Rusty.

Liz Palika: And he’s not very bright, but then again my mom is not the best dog trainer either but we did teach him to do this and if he knew nothing else this probably has saved his life. So she has a little remote that she can put around her neck or in her pocket and when he feels that buzz, he’s to look for her and then she’s taught him a hand signal to come. A wide sweeping hand signal from out to the side to the front of her and he will do that.
If he does nothing else, that would be enough to save his life someday.

Kate Abbott: More than some hearing dogs.

Liz Palika: Well that’s true.

Petra Burke: Well we got one that we see regularly that Australian cattle dog and thank goodness she started as a puppy. We told them the challenges of the deaf dog.

Liz Palika: And she’s had some.

Petra Burke: She’s had a lot. Her dog is very, very bright and as in Australian Cattle dog and a touch bit stubborn and a touch bit independent and as a young dog it was very hard thing to keep his attention on her.

Liz Palika: Yeah, she worked a short tart on that one.

Petra Burke: But now it’s incredible what she has him doing.

Liz Palika: Even some off leash work.

Petra Burke: Yeah so they stuck it out and he’s really good now with hand signals though.

Liz Palika: So what are some other things people should keep in mind when living with a deaf dog.

Kate Abbott: Our house was nice when my female poodle went deaf with old age because it’s hollow underneath it’s not on a slab. And so good vibrations.

Liz Palika: Yes stomp.

Kate Abbott: When I need to get her attention, good stomp on the floor. It’s like a vibrating collar for her, she’d turn around and look to see who’s trying to get her attention.

Liz Palika: And we’ve recommended that to training class students that have come in especially those with kids.

Petra Burke: Yes

Liz Palika: Because a deaf dog if he’s sleeping, if a kid startles him, the potentials there for the dog to snap even a very, very good dog if he’s sleeping soundly and he can’t hear anyone approach, he could snap. So if the house is conducive to it, have people stomp a couple of times as they walk up to the dog.

Petra Burke: And some dogs, when losing their hearing or their sight, their other senses get very keen and even clapping your by or something to disrupt the air…

Liz Palika: Haven’t you recommended flashlights?

Petra Burke: Yes. Flashlights especially to come and get their attention. A lot of people want their dog to run around. Of course they can but how do you get them to come?

Liz Palika: Well that’s a good question. Flashlight, it’s a visual.

Kate Abbott: The poodle did a lot of following of my room mate Virginia and we’ve realized that one time it’s because she has a signature cologne.

Petra Burke: Oh!

Liz Palika: Oh!

Kate Abbott: So wear a perfume! So the dogs could find her around the house much easier than they could me.

Liz Palika: Ah! Well that’s nice of you to take showers regularly. Now I know with Dax, with an older dog whose losing their hearing versus a dog who’s born deaf, hopefully they’ve already had training and you can convert some of their existing training. So Dax was a very, very well trained dog in her youth so as she aged and we saw that she was learning her hearing, we just brought back some of the hand signals that she had already known previously including the come and the lay down and the sit. As an old dog who thinks she’s smarter than most of us, she doesn’t

Petra Burke: We know she definitely thinks she’s smarter than Liz.

Liz Palika: Yeah well I think she thinks she’s smarter than most of the human race and potentially she may be. She doesn’t always obey those hand signals but she sees them and she knows what they mean and for the most part she’s a good girl.

Petra Burke: I think that’s where we actually they get away easy as our dogs are trained prior to them getting their disabilities but to start off we have the Lab mix that came through that was born blind.

Kate Abbott: Oh that had no eyes.

Petra Burke: That had no eyes.

Liz Palika: So we have a silly, putty, wiggly, active Lab puppy who can’t see.

Kate Abbott: And I can still remember graduation night when he went over the obstacle course.

Petra Burke: He had a great time.

Kate Abbott: Great agility. Well it sounds funny for a blind dog or actually a dog without even any eyes but he had a wonderful time.

Liz Palika: Of course for him, he knew no different.

Petra Burke: He didn’t. That’s the way life is and so the difference there compared to Kona who lost his sight as an adult and knew what he was losing makes a big difference.

Kate Abbott: And they were great they started with him, when he was young, they didn’t baby him, but they gave him a lot of support. And going over the agility course one family member of each side of the obstacle and hey let’s go for it.

Liz Palika: And he was recognizing their voices. Yup knew who was who.

Kate Abbott: The hardest part was walking with his tail wagging all the time.

Petra Burke: And walking, did you ever notice how he walked? He walked, he really stretched out his front legs so if there was anything in front of him, he’d touch it with his toes and he would stop. So again something he’d developed.

Liz Palika: He had figured out on his own. Hopefully that won’t develop into shoulder problems later in life but even so even if it does, it’s allowing him to cope, his paws are his white cane.

Petra Burke: Yeah.

Liz Palika: Exactly. And I think with animals with disability like that people don’t give up on them. This family didn’t. They did a great job with him.

Petra Burke: Well in fact they adopted him knowing of his disability.

Liz Palika: Alright well let’s talk about dogs with a mobility impairment. This could be elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, back problems, shoulder problems, arthritis, three legged dogs. There’s a lot of physical problems that can slow dogs down. Sometimes just a little bit but that may need help from us.

Kate Abbott: Well I know that your Riker doesn’t even understand that he has a dysplasia.

Liz Palika: No, no, no he doesn’t. His veterinarian showed me his x-rays and said if he hadn’t seen Riker walk into the office, he’d assume that dog wasn’t walking which of course made me feel like a very guilty dog mom.

Kate Abbott: But you couldn’t know by looking at Riker just the other day he was running full out around the field, jumping down off the benches.

Petra Burke: You’d never guessed it.

Kate Abbott: But you’re doing something smart, now that you know that this is a problem for him, you’ve already gotten the cart.
Liz Palika: I’ve got one of the two wheeled doggy wheel chair carts and gradually introducing him to it. It’s a little big for the house but my primary goal with it is so that he can continue to go for walks and he can come out here to the training yard run and play when his hips can no longer support him. Perhaps to give him a little bit longer quality of life.
And the first time we put him in the wheel chair cart, he was not impressed.

Petra Burke: He was totally disgusted.

Liz Palika: I don’t need this mom. This is not fun. I don’t like this. I think he went over backwards a couple of times.

Kate Abbott: And Riker the happy boy who puts up with everything became a mule.

Liz Palika: Oh boy he’s got a stubborn streak. So the next time I tried it we had a bunch of people coming to the training yard and as everyone came in I told them to give him a cookie, he’s a food hound and to make a big fuss over him and I could see his attitude change within about five or ten minutes.

Whoa…everybody thinks I’m cool! I’m special to have this wheel chair! And ever since then he’s been much more amiable to it. He still doesn’t care for it, he doesn’t think he needs it yet and he doesn’t right now but he will eventually.

So the wheel chair carts are an idea especially for those dogs with neurological problems of the back, the hips or the back legs or severe hip dysplasia.

Kate Abbott: I have a ramp in the back of my truck because I had previous Rottweiler that had bone cancer and my current Rotty has spongylosis so the ramp at the back of my truck allows them to more easily get in and out where the camper shell is in the back and saves my back from  having to lift.

Liz Palika: Ramps in the house are a good idea too if you have stairs or if you allow your dog on the bed or on the furniture so that he isn’t jumping up and down especially if that causes pain or is going to make the problem worst.

Petra Burke: Besides back or hips, Katie her Jack Rustle had knee surgery and now the other knee is gone and he won’t jump so he sits there and has learned to ask to be picked up and served on the couch or on the bed.

Kate Abbott: I had actually built a ramp both for the poodles both the blind one to get up on the bed. I was worried about jumping and missing all that. So I taught them to use the ramp, it turned out to be great for my Rotty and still used by my current Rotty.

Liz Palika: Sure, sure, I think one of the things that owners should keep in mind when sharing their home with a disabled dog is that the dogs don’t sit there and mope and go “oh poor me” as people have a tendency to do. I think it’s important that we help them, we support them, we give them motivation to continue to live in as active a life as they can but we shouldn’t console them and tell them in that voice, “oh I’m so sorry, you poor baby” because that could potentially make the dog depressed.

Kate Abbott: I like to tell people, don’t burden them with your own sympathy.

Petra Burke: All the ones we’ve seen besides our own dogs and our student dogs with disability, they’re happy. It’s like capture that, go for it, enjoy for it.

Liz Palika: Actually we can learn a lot from our dogs.

Petra Burke: I think the biggest thing for us to remember is caution with kids. Some kids, I’ve got a daughter and I’ve seen some of her friend, so called friend or acquaintances, some can be mean. They know a dog is blind, some can be mean purposely set the dog upget injured or if they’re deaf purposely sneak up. “Oh watch this!”

Liz Palika: Well that kid wouldn’t stay in my house very long.

Petra Burke: No, no, no not in my house either. But just to teach the kids what a disability is and how to deal with it.

Kate Abbott: Some of the disability like Gina’s spondylosis come with pain. So a dog in pain is more likely to be crabby. I am too when I’m in pain. Others can just be startlement.

Liz Palika: And sure and your vet may have your dog on a treatment plan too and it’s important to follow that or if the dog is not responding, talk to your veterinarian. Let your veterinarian be your partner in your dog’s health and help make your dog more comfortable if he’s in pain, if he needs something like this.

Well that’s it for this show. That went by quickly. I would suggest if you have a disabled dog, take a look at your house, take a look at your yard, the problems that your dog has and then see what you can do to make life better for the two of you. Keep safety in mind and remember as Petra said we can learn a lot from our dogs, they handle their disabilities much better than we do for the most part.

So thanks again for listening, we’ll have a new show next week and in closing I’m Liz Palika your host.

Petra Burke: I’m Petra.

Kate Abbott: I’m Kate.

Liz Palika: And we’ll talk to you next week.