By Chelsey Zumpano
welcome back everyone! Today’s post is an interview with a dog trainer! I found Erin on Tiktok, (@Deafandblind_DogTraining), where she shows videos of her blind/deaf dog Darla.
1. How did you get started training blind dogs?I fell in love with a deaf dog at a daycare I worked at in Oregon. His parents were involved in the rescue group Deaf Dogs of Oregon and I was able to help volunteer with them at events. I eventually became a foster and training partner for them. When I had my first deaf and blind dog foster, that was it, I was completely in love and started learning how to be able to communicate with him. He was with me for the first 8 months of his life and he changed the way I saw dog training forever.
2. What is Darla’s story?After moving back home to Pennsylvania last year I knew that I wanted my own disabled dog. I posted on the “Double Merle” facebook group that I was a dog trainer looking for a blind and or deaf dog to raise. Darla is the product of a merle to merle breeding. Her breeder had an accidental litter and felt horrible about it. She wanted to make sure Darla went to the right home. After seeing my post and after a series of questions and interviews she chose my partner and I. Darla is a year old australian shepherd who is completely blind and partially deaf since birth. Right now we use SOME verbal cues but mostly touch cues to communicate with her. She really is like any other dog. Of course we have to take safety precautions and she does have some elevated anxiety in some situations but things such as anxiety medications, her thundershirt and the right equipment have really helped her grow through her adolescent phase quite gracefully.
3. What is the number one thing you want people to know about blind dogs?That they really are like any other dog. Honestly we have to focus more that she is a Australian Shepherd more than the fact that she is blind. Genetic components such as herding are still there. Even though she’s blind she somehow still used to find our ankles haha! I also would highly recommend the right equipment. such Harnesses that say “I AM BLIND” are really helpful to educate strangers to not rush up to your dog. Lastly if your dog is deaf and blind it is very important to encourage independence and self entertainment so that they are not constantly searching for you. Auto-check ins when outside of the home and ways to help them not startle are extremely important as well!
4. Do dogs have the same eye conditions as humans?This is a great question and more that I want to take time to educate myself more on if that’s okay with you! Overall I do know that dogs can have a long list of eye conditions so much so that sometimes it is easier to just remove the eyes. I do not know though if these conditions are the same as some human ones.
5. How do you make your house accessible for the dogs?Honestly you want to literally baby-proof your home. All of the tips I give to clients are exactly what you do to prep for a baby/toddler. You want to block off stairs, decks, wood stoves, put cords away and make sure chemicals are locked up safely. A blind dog will map out their surroundings pretty quickly but you want to set them up for success beforehand. Things such as pool noodles at the end of the bed, different textured mats before a door frame, and using scent with potty training are all additional tools that I have found to be incredibly helpful. I also advise clients to not move their furniture often and if they do just help guide their dog around for them to map out the new area.
6. What are the ways that you have made training accessible?I want to make sure that people know anyone can train a blind dog. It seems so daunting to adopt a blind dog but it does not have to be. The biggest thing that I like to share on social media is that I am just like everyone else who adopts a blind and or deaf dog in the fact that we are all figuring this out together. There really is not a lot of information out there about these dogs. To get at least some information out there I like to record and post my training sessions for people to see on my TikTok and Instagram. I also offer free Facebook Live events where I answer questions, host a Facebook Page called Speak! Training Support with the Down To Earth Doglady.
7. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to get a blind dog? My biggest piece of advice is to remember that your dog is so much more than their blindness. Do not coddle or baby your blind dog. Do not feel bad for them or cater too much to them. Treat, train, love and nurture your dog like you would any other. Guide them through life but do not hinder their exploration. These dogs are absolutely amazing and should be celebrated for their bravery and courageousness.
8. What’s your favorite thing that you have trained Darla?
I absolutely love this question, thank you for asking it. My favorite thing that I am currently working on with Darla is cooperative care. I want to make sure that when she needs to receive veterinary care she feels comfortable and safe. We are working on being able to administer a vaccine, eye drops and cleaning her ears while she holds a chin rest (not all at the same time haha). She loves to participate and I have never worked on skills like this with a dog before, I find it so rewarding. These skills are also helping me work on settling techniques because she does startle at times.
Other things that I am proud of are conditioning her to feel comfortable in a canoe, wearing goggles, hiking, camping and over all rewarding her adventurous spirit and not holding her back from it.
9. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be a dog trainer?That this can be a tough industry and it can take a long time to find your passion inside of it. I have been working with dogs since I was 19 years old and have been professionally training dogs for the past eight years. It has taken me a very long time to find a part of the dog training industry that I felt this passionate about. Sometimes even finding that spark can happen so randomly. All it took for me was fostering my first deaf dog 4 years ago. To sum it up, take your time, find your niche and don’t pressure yourself to be the best of the best right away.
Lastly, I do not think I could see myself having any other job than this, I absolutely love being a dog trainer. But that is because I genuinely love teaching and meeting people as well. With this job you have to work with people just as much as you do with dogs. That means that it comes with meeting all types of people and picking up on how they learn best. I will say that some of my clients have truly changed my life and are half the reason I love my job so much. Biggest tip: you do have to be good with people as much as you have to be good with dogs!
10. What are some more resources to learn about blind dogs?
Amazing resources are Kellars Cause YouTube channel, Deb Bauer’s book “Through a Dark Silence” , Deaf Dogs ROCK! has Blind dog info, Facebook groups such as Blind and Deaf dog Training and Blind dogs. I hope these are helpful! It means alot that you reached out!
This was a very important interview for me because I think animals with disabilities are just like humans with disabilities! ￼They can help people realize that they are not alone! ￼￼
Remember if you would like to be interviewed please email me: VIBlindResources@gmail.com ￼