There is a special place in my heart for differently-abled dogs. I grew up with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, “Muffin”, who lost his sight at a young age and his hearing later as well. Muffin lived a long and happy life, and we were continually impressed with his zest for life and ability to navigate the world (mostly!) without incident.
When the opportunity arose to adopt Havoc 3 years ago, my husband and I jumped at the chance. He was an exuberant, confident, bouncing 10-week-old deaf boxer, bursting with energy – and of course those baby shark teeth! We quickly learnt that training Havoc might need some out of the box thinking. He would walk away from food in a bowl and hated the frustration of following food lures. He actually found luring so aversive that he’d turn his head away from chicken, cheese or hot dogs!
Learning patience, to self-settle and cope with frustration has been a constant in Havoc’s life. I remember vividly when he entered adolescence, he WOULD. NOT. SLEEP. He was becoming more and more distressed being left alone or behind any sort of barrier. Even a baby gate was a complete no-go. He began resource guarding anything and everything from anyone and everyone. He was snapping at real and imaginary flies, chasing dust around the skirting boards, barking with hackles up at shadows, ceiling fans, reflections, people walking around in dim light, random objects, car headlights etc etc etc…
I was in tears daily but I was determined to find a way to help him. It was time for a new approach!
Many would have labelled Havoc with every diagnosis under the sun. But having labels slapped on him would not have served him. So instead, we focused on skilling him up!
After nearly losing his life on raw food we changed to a prescription hydrolysed diet, we practiced structured rest time, started changing his relationship to barriers, rewarded calm behaviours and drastically reduced high-intensity exercise.
Havoc has thrived on games-based concept training. With fun, 3-minute games he has learnt valuable life skills. He learnt the value of calm, how to get pepped up and then settle down again, how to cope with reasonable amounts of frustration, HOW TO SLEEP!!! Wow – that was a life-changer! How to relax behind a barrier, learn patience, learn to take turns, learn that strange and novel objects results in food falling from the sky, learn that shadows, reflections and ceiling fans are nothing to worry about and that flies and dust bunnies don’t need to be chased away. Through cooperative care, he has learnt that baths, nail trimming, ear care and even injections are procedures he can control – he has the power to opt in and out, without having to resort to growling, snapping or biting. Having recently been diagnosed with cancer, we will continue to top up and rely on these skills to ensure his treatment journey is as stress-free as possible.
Havoc has become the most confident, optimistic dog who is a joy to live with. He has earnt his Champion Trick Dog Title, we do agility together and play scent games. Havoc is now a demo dog for my dog training business K9 Concepts teaching other dogs, deaf and hearing, all the valuable skills that have transformed his life and our relationship.