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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Special K9 Games

Vinny - always a winner in my book!

What an amazing weekend to spend with dogs and human friends!  The Special K9 Games were held for the first time last weekend in Columbus, OH.  Specially-abled dogs and their people had a chance to attend workshops in lure coursing, disc, agility, hide and seek, conditioning and trick training.  There were competitions for these sports as well, and CGC and trick dog testing was also offered. 

Thanks for Sky Dogs, Pawsavers, and Keller's Cause for a wonderful weekend!  

I had a chance to meet so many of my friends that I only knew from Facebook.  It was great to cheer on our new friends as some of them tried new things with their dogs for the first time!  And, I learned how to paint a portrait!  

FB friends - back row, Vinny, Braille, Keller; front, Piglet

My first pet painting - Vinny

Treasure spent most of the weekend napping, although she did make an appearance in the agility ring and the hide and seek arena.  She wasn't impressed with meeting the rats, but the hotdogs did get her attention!

Treasure meeting rats

Vinny gave everything a try and left with a new CGC title, a third place in the blind/deaf agility class, and a second place in the trick competition.  He and his new friend even played a duet!  

Vinny learning to lure course

Vinny agility - photo: Keller's Cause

Vinny on electric guitar, Madelyn on keyboard

We're so excited to see what next year's Games will have in store!  What a great event!  It ran beautifully and everyone had a chance to shine with their dogs.  Thank you Pawsavers and Keller's Cause for all your hard work putting together the Special K9 Games!  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

For The Curious 2 - Your Questions Answered

There were more great questions sent for my For The Curious series of posts!  Thank you to everyone who sent such great questions that people often have about blind/deaf dogs and double merles! 

Are your blind/deaf dogs always on a leash or beside you?  Are they able to roam freely at home and are they able to navigate a space they are familiar with?  What about a space they are unfamiliar with?
My b/d dogs are free to roam in the house or fenced areas.  They know the space pretty well.  Yes, they do sometimes bump into things, but they know where the furniture is, the doorways, the steps, the toybox and water bowl.  When they are outside, they are on leash.  They are well trained and will come to find me and check in with me, but they are very valuable to me and I don't take chances with their safety.  It would only take one missed cue in a dangerous situation for something bad to happen - since I need to be relatively close to them to give a cue (they can't see or hear me from afar), things could go south pretty quickly.  I use long tracking leashes to give them freedom to run and sniff and be dogs.  

When we travel, the dogs seem to enjoy sniffing out a new area.  They can quickly map out a hotel room or a friend's house, learning where the water bowl is, the furniture, the doors.  I encourage them to be independent in as many ways as it is safe to do so, so my dogs learn confidence and how to map out new areas.  

I know a double merle that stands between people's legs that he likes - is this common in double merles?

In my experience this isn't something particular to double merles.  I know many dogs that stand between someone's legs.  In some instances, the dog feels this is a safe place to be while it watches or experiences the world go by.  It can feel comforting to the dog to have light pressure on both sides from the person's legs, the same way a thundershirt or TTouch wrap would provide a comforting pressure - like a hug!  And, in Vinny's case, he adores being between my legs because he was taught this as a trick and it's one of his favorites!  

How do you stop them from barking and from taking things they're not supposed to have?

All dogs bark, not just double merles, not just deaf dogs, and not just blind and deaf dogs, so to stop them from barking, we need to teach them what we want instead.  Just telling a dog to be quiet doesn't work, because they don't have any idea what we want them to do, or what quiet means - until we teach them.  I start by adding a cue to quiet when the dog is already being quiet and reinforcing all quiet behaviors.  As the dog realizes it is the quiet I like, he will start to spend more time being quiet.  Barking usually happens for a reason, so when I take care of the reason the dog is barking, AND teach him that I like it when he's quiet, I don't have a problem with excess barking. 

With dogs that take things that they aren't supposed to have, I can use the same principle.  If I manage the environment to set the dog up for success - by putting away things I don't want him to have, and leaving out things I do want him to have - I will have more opportunities to reinforce him for playing with things he can have.  Paying attention to him when he has something I want him to have will go a long way toward encouraging that behavior.  But every time I leave something out that I don't want him to have and he gets hold of it, he is reinforcing himself by having fun with that thing.  So the behavior won't go away until I take some responsibility and put those things out of my dog's reach.

How does she (blind/deaf) eat?

My dogs eat from puzzle toys mostly and from a dog bowl - probably just like your dogs do.  Because I have multiple dogs, they each have their own space to eat around the room, and they know where that space is.  They will go to their space when they smell me getting their food ready.  They find their food by smell.  

Can you housetrain a blind and deaf dog?

Most definitely!  Doing our business does not depend on us being able to see or hear - have you ever found your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without turning the light on?  And it doesn't depend on our dog being able to see or hear either.  

Teaching a dog to do its business outside is a matter of keeping the dog on a consistent schedule, taking it outside often and supervising when it's inside.  Prevent any accidents inside and stay with him outside until he goes - then reinforce.  You will need to stay close by because your reinforcement is going to be petting while he is going.  In the beginning you can't just put him out in your fenced backyard.  

You must be with him to reinforce him for going outside - this is the behavior you want.  Behavior that is reinforced will continue!  And, if you're not out there with him, you may think he is done and let him inside only for him to go on the floor.  Stay out there with him, keep him on a schedule, reinforce behavior you like, and prevent behavior you don't like (accidents in the house).  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Special Day for Special Pets

Today is Specially-Abled Pet Day!  There are so many specially-abled animals in the world that are amazing in their abilities. This is why we call them specially-ABLED.  It's not about what they can't do - which most often is insignificant.  It's about what they CAN do!  Let's celebrate their abilities! 

In years past, I have focused my post on titles and dog sports, and therapy dog accomplishments of my specially-abled dogs.  But today I want to remember some of the great photos I've posted in this blog that showcase the day to day amazing things they do!  


Enjoying a snow day

"Watching" a baseball game

Pool party

Playing with toys


Bringing smiles

Simply being themselves

Spreading joy

Smiling and being adorable

Spreading the word

Celebrating birthdays

Going for walks and adventures

Being my buddy

Donating to a worthy cause

I hope you will join me today in acknowledging and celebrating all the specially-abled animals out there! Their spirit and their love of life can certainly teach and inspire us every day. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Therapy Dog!

Congratulations to Vinny!  He got his official Therapy Dog paperwork and tag just in time - did you know that today is National Therapy Animal Day?  It is!  

A day to celebrate animals of all types that provide love and therapy to others!  I have been blessed to partner with several therapy dogs in my lifetime.  Vinny is my 5th therapy dog partner.  

Not all organizations are open to evaluating dogs that are both blind and deaf.  I was fortunate to work with a local group with Treasure (blind and deaf) and they were open to evaluating her and seeing just what she could do.  She passed with flying colors and was my therapy dog partner for 8 years.  She is now mostly retired and has passed her knowledge along to Vinny.

I'm so excited to begin our therapy dog work together!  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Birthday Full of Fun!

Vinny is 2 years old!

For his birthday, he asked for donations to be made to the Humane Society - and just look at all the great stuff that was donated for the animals!  

He had his favorite Puppy Pinata (a box stuffed full of treats, bones, toys and paper)!  He loves to tear the box apart and find all the goodies!  

He had a doggy cake and special turkey ice cream!  

I think he was a very happy boy!!  Happy Birthday Vinny! 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hearing - or Not Hearing

I am sick - which is a bummer.  But I've also had a chance to experience first-hand something that I counsel so many people about - dogs losing their hearing, or dogs with partial hearing.

My left ear has been clogged now from this cold for several days.  I am not hearing normally from that side.  While this is annoying for me, I had a revelation yesterday.  And then I started to pay more attention to what I was hearing and not hearing.

Sounds that normally I would not pay attention to, or would discount easily and go on with my day, were startling me.  I couldn't recognize what the sound was or where it was coming from.  It's unsettling to hear something and not know what it is.  

Each time I went to investigate, I found out the sound was one that I hear every day and easily would have known what it was from a distance.  Because I would have recognized the sound, it would have been very easy to go on with my day.  

Dogs that are losing their hearing must go through this same thing.  How unsettling for them.  Of course, on an intellectual level I already knew this was true - but experiencing it for myself allowed me to put an actual emotional experience with it.  

I felt myself startle, hold my breath and try to listen harder to figure out the noise I was hearing.  I felt the compulsion to know and went searching to find out what it was.  I felt the unsettled feeling of hearing unfamiliar sounds.  My dogs do the same, and they may jump up barking and carrying on because they've heard something unusual that they can't identify - something that may be a threat and they should warn us about.

Dogs born with partial hearing won't always be able to recognize or pinpoint where a sound is coming from.  Dogs with ear infections or other conditions that affect their ears may become more fearful or reactive as they deal with things not sounding the same and safe to them.  And dogs losing their hearing too.  We have no way to know exactly what they are hearing at any given point in that process.  

Saturday, April 14, 2018

For The Curious - Your Questions Answered

Thank you to everyone who contributed questions and wonderings for this blog post, and for what will probably be several more to come!  (I received a lot of questions!)  Here are a few to get you started:

What kind of commands can you teach a dog that cannot see or hear?
How do you communicate with a deaf and blind dog?
How does your dog (blind and deaf) know what you want him to do?
Dogs that cannot see or hear can be taught tactile cues.  These are cues that the dog can feel through its body somehow.  I can use touch in different ways and on different parts of my dog's body as requests for certain behaviors (sit, lie down, etc) or to provide information (mealtime, car ride, outside, etc).  I can also use anything that my dog can feel as a cue.  I can use differing surfaces as cues.  I also use gently blowing on my dog as a cue, and puffs of air as a cue.  As long as my dog can perceive the information through touch, I can turn that into a cue by using it consistently to mean the same thing each time.  It is also possible to use scents as cues, but these must be used carefully because scent does not usually stay in one place - it drifts around - and scents can mix together or stay in an area for an extended period of time.  So using scents as cues needs to be well-thought out and put into place by someone who has taken the time to learn about scent/odor.

How do you call your blind and deaf dogs to come?
My dogs have a touch cue to come to me - a swipe forward under their chins.  They also recognize that when I blow toward them, they follow my breath back to come to me.  The blowing is handy in the house and sometimes outside.  But if it is breezy or my dog is too far away from me, my breath is not strong enough to always reach them in a direct manner.  I also can sometimes use turning on or off a light in the house to signal that I am leaving a room and want my dog to come with me.  If the difference between light and dark is significant, my blind/deaf dogs can sense the change in light even though they have no vision.  They know that means we are leaving the room and will come with me.  Flashing a porch light at night can sometimes work as well unless they are way far out in the yard and the change in light is not as significant - then they don't notice.

Is it hard to teach blind/deaf dogs new tricks or commands?
There are many variables in teaching any dog new things.  If those variables are put into place with a blind/deaf dog, it is not hard to teach them new things.  All dogs (even blind/deaf dogs) learn new things all the time on their own ... they learn that sitting instead of jumping might bring a treat; they learn that jumping up onto the counter will find them a tasty treat; they learn that pulling on a leash usually gets them to where they want to go faster ... you get the idea.  If you know what the dog finds reinforcing, and you can provide that reinforcement after the behaviors you like, the dog will learn to do those things more and more.  Then you can add a cue to it (see above about tactile cues), and voila!  You've taught your blind/deaf dog something new!  You can also utilize methods of getting the behavior you want, such as luring, shaping and capturing, just like you can with a dog that can see and hear!  Sometimes teaching a blind/deaf dog does require a little bit of thinking outside the box and adding creative ideas to your lessons, but the ideas of teaching remain the same.

What percentage of vision do double merles typically have?
Double merles can have varying visual abilities - ranging from perfectly normal to totally blind.  Some may even have impairments with their sight that will continue to deteriorate over time, as they get older.  Others will maintain whatever level of sight they do have for their lifetime.  There really is no definite answer to this question.  A veterinary ophthalmologist will be able to examine the dog's eyes and give you an idea of what type and extent of impairment there is, as well as a guess as to how or if it will progress.

Do double merles typically have compromised immune systems and more than average health issues?
Do special needs dogs have medical issues?
I am not aware of any studies showing that double merles have any higher incidents of health issues than other dogs.  While there are many double merles with other health issues and weakened immune systems, there are also so many non-double merles with these issues.  And there are many double merles that are healthy for their entire lifetimes, just like there are many non-double merles without major health problems.  It's important when breeding any dog to take many things into consideration and to do health and genetic testing, etc, to make sure the puppies have the best chance for perfect health and well-being.  Of course, we know that most double merles do not come from breeders who have done their homework and tested both parents extensively before breeding.  There are now genetic tests available for so many health conditions that can be passed on from parent to puppy.  It's easy to rule out the chances of these being passed on before the mating is even done.  So, without that testing and attention being paid to a new litter, it is likely that double merles (and non-double merles) that are bred in this way will pass along any health issues that they have.
Some dogs that are labelled as special needs do have medical issues.  There are so many different medical conditions that a dog can have.  It's important to know what these issues are as much as possible when you are considering adopting a dog with special requirements, whether double merle or not.