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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Learning a New Way to Communicate

Sometimes we know in advance if our dog will lose sight and/or hearing.  I have a senior dog now who is mostly deaf from age.  So far his sight seems OK, but I know it too may begin to fade.  There are some things we can do to help ease this transition for our dogs.  

One is to teach hand signals to our dogs for basic every day behaviors (sit, lie down, wait at the door, come) and for some of the fun tricks they know (fetch, shake hands, spin, etc).  It's fairly easy to teach dogs hand signals.  If you've originally taught your dog the behavior with a food lure, often the hand movement you use can become a hand signal for the behavior even when you're no longer using food to elicit the behavior.  For example, many people raise their hand up when teaching a dog to sit - this same raising up of the hand can become the hand signal.  If you practice with the hand signal and reward often, your dog will respond just as easily to the hand signal.  

Think of behaviors you ask of your dog throughout the day, and perhaps you are already using a hand gesture (signal) that you can continue using.  Sometimes use just the signal and see if your dog responds without your verbal input.  If not, you can remind with the verbal at first.  The sequence would be - signal - pause just long enough to see if your dog will respond - verbal to remind if needed - reward.

It's important as your dog loses hearing to be animated with your praise - use petting, use play, always use a happy face, clap your hands.  If your dog was once hearing, praise will be important and the tone of your voice gives him cues.  You can begin now while he has hearing, to add these things - clapping your hands, smiling, acting happy in your body language - to your verbal praise so he begins to associate them together.  Dogs really tune into our body language.  But by teaching this when your dog can still hear, you will associate those body motions with all the lovely verbal praise that he's already learned to love.

As dogs lose their hearing, they begin to sleep heavier and will often wake up with a startle.  Startling is a normal behavior and you may never get rid of it totally, but a dog that can hear will be woken up gradually by sounds in its environment which its brain will recognize.  As the hearing begins to fade away, noises may not sound the same and his brain may not be able to recognize what they are, or he may not hear the noises at all.  So when you do wake him up, or he gets bumped, he will jump up and be scared until he realizes where he is and who is with him.

It's easy to help with this and you can play these games from the time your dog is a puppy, but I find it is important to revisit them as your dog becomes a senior or when you first notice his hearing may be fading.  Do lots of trading touch for treats.  You touch him, he gets a wonderful treat.  Do it a lot just as a fun game.  Do it when he is awake and paying attention at first.  Then do it while he is awake but perhaps not paying attention, so you surprise him a bit.  And lastly, do it every once in a while when he's asleep.  It's courteous to allow him to sleep without interruption, but sometimes there is a reason you will need to wake him up - be ready and give several special treats as soon as you wake him up.  Help him associate being startled with something good, so he won't wake up fearful, he will wake up and look forward to the good treats that are to come.

If your dog is losing his eye sight, begin to teach him cues that will help him navigate his environment and stay safe.  If he can hear, use verbal cues to help him learn to stop, wait, to go up or down a step or curb, etc.  Help him.  Guide him gently so he learns new ways of navigating around the house and yard.  You may want to put a small bell on your wrist or ankle when you go for a walk so your dog can keep track of where you are and whether you're moving or not.  Of course, you can also talk to or sing to him so he has a voice to follow.  

Try to empower him and teach him problem solving as often as possible.  Teach him new ways to play with you that you both enjoy.  Think of how much he relies on the vision he does have during his daily activities.  Are there things you can do to help him get around safely?  Gates at the top and bottom of steps or drop offs are easy to implement.  Blind dogs can maneuver steps, but they should be supervised, especially in the beginning.  

You will learn to watch out for obstacles that you don't normally think about steering your dog around - fire hydrants, trees, branches on a bush, curbs, etc.  There are tools that can help a blind dog to navigate.  If you are thinking of using a halo harness, or eye protection, begin to condition your dog to them now, making sure you are creating a positive association and that you are both having fun.  It can be a scary transition for a dog to lose its sight.  Plunking a lot of new, weird equipment on your dog at this time can cause him to shut down and be more fearful.  Take it slowly.  

When a dog in a multiple dog family loses its sight, there may be a period of adjustment among the dogs.  The blind dog may bump into other dogs or overstep their bounds into another dog's space - something he would not have done before because he could see to judge distance, could see the other dogs, and could respond to their communications.  Now, he may find himself getting into trouble, as the other dogs may see him as rude stepping into their space.  Be prepared to supervise and to change the way you all interact for awhile.  If there is any tension, don't leave a blind dog unsupervised with the other dogs, even if they have been left alone for years.  Separate or supervise.  At least until you're sure everyone has adjusted.

At some point, your dog may lose both its sight and hearing.  Begin to teach touch cues for things that you communicate to your dog every day.  A touch cue doesn't need to be complicated.  Touching a dog under the chin can mean, come forward, let's go.  Putting a harness on will become a touch cue that you are going outside for potty or a walk.  Develop a language through touch.  Loving touch is very important just to show your dog how special he is.  We all crave touch and it is very important to a dog that is blind and deaf to continue to have special loving touch daily. 

Most important of all, perhaps, is to realize that you will be sad when you realize your dog is losing sight or hearing.  This is normal and natural.  It's OK to be sad and to grieve.  You and your dog will both go through a transition period.  Please be kind to yourself during this time, and have patience with your dog.  Help him and guide him.  Take time to help him enjoy things that he's always enjoyed - sharing an ice cream cone, hanging out on the deck in the sun, going for a car ride, etc.  Together you will both start to realize a new reality that is not worse than before, but is just different than before.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Learn to Teach Tricks and Earn Titles

There has been a lot of interest in my dogs learning lots of tricks and earning trick dog titles.  Many people who also have differently-abled dogs have asked me to share how I teach the various tricks to my dogs that are deaf and blind/deaf.  I've put together an online course that will help you teach your dog beginner level tricks, using techniques that are fun for you and your dog.  You can even have a chance to then earn your Novice Trick Dog title at the end of class.

I always teach with positive reinforcement methods, so teaching and learning is fun for everyone!  One of the great things about this class is that you get expert instruction anytime that is convenient for YOU!  The class is online, but you don't need to be sitting by your computer at a certain day or time.  Lessons are published in an online classroom beginning Jan. 20th, with new lessons every week.  You can read and view the lessons at any convenient time, and then practice with your dog as it suits you.

I check the classroom and the private facebook page daily to give feedback and answer questions so I can help you be successful.  These classes are great fun and give you a focus for your training sessions with your dog.  Come join people and dogs from all over the world!  We have a fun community! 

Class will cover instruction for adapting certain tricks and teaching techniques for dogs that are blind, deaf or blind/deaf.  However, we are an inclusive school and we encourage ALL dogs and people to join along!  The more the merrier! 

For more information about the tricks class, head over to Tricky Tricks - Beginner to have a look! 

We also offer other classes, and have several new ones planned to be rolled out later in the year.  You can check out all our classes, as well as our free resources here

I'm so excited to be able to offer this class to all of you!  You've been asking for awhile now - and it's finally here!  I can't wait to get started! 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Does Ignoring an Unwanted Behavior Really Work?

I often hear the advice given to ignore the behavior we don't like and it will go away.  But is this really true?  In my experience, and in the experience of many others, ignoring a behavior does not cause it to go away.  In many instances, ignoring can even cause the behavior we are trying to get rid of to escalate.

Ignoring a behavior can cause it to escalate.

If we are trying to ignore a behavior and it escalates, we will often at some point give in and pay attention because we just can't take it anymore.  Think - the barking dog that we try to ignore and the barking just continues and continues, or gets louder and louder.  Everyone has their breaking point, right?  The trouble is, that by allowing the behavior to escalate, we've allowed the dog to learn how to bark longer and louder.  Thus increasing the behavior that we didn't like in the first place.

We can't ignore behavior forever.

The premise behind the suggestion to ignore a behavior is that we won't somehow inadvertently reinforce the behavior and make it stronger.  In reality, though, is this really what is happening?  What is your definition of ignoring?  A quick search on the internet reveals the definition of ignore as follows: "refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard intentionally."

So basically, if we are ignoring the behavior, we are refusing to get involved, and we are allowing whatever is going to happen to happen without interfering.  How is this likely to change the behavior?  It's really not.

It can also be pointed out that behavior happens for a reason.  The dog is not barking just to bark.  There is a reason.  There is something driving his behavior.  Perhaps he is bored, or lonely, or there is something there he is unsure of, or even that he's learned that barking gets him attention.  Barking may also be a means of stress release.  There are many reasons a dog may be barking.  We are not dogs, so we cannot know for sure why, although we can speculate.

Ignoring does not alleviate the cause of the behavior.

The important part to remember is that something is driving that behavior.  Ignoring the behavior is not going to make it go away if the cause of the behavior is still there.  Even if we ignore the behavior, the dog will still feel the urge to do the behavior.  If doing the behavior relieves that urge, then doing the behavior in itself becomes reinforcing for the dog, and he will continue to do it.

If the dog is feeling stressed and lonely, and his barking relieves those feelings for awhile, he is rewarding himself for barking by causing his unhappy feelings to go away.  So next time he feels stressed or lonely he will be more likely to bark because he knows this will help him feel better. 

When we look at the teaching aspect of changing behavior, how can we teach the dog how we would prefer him to behave in our human world if we are ignoring him and leaving him to his own devices?  Teaching and learning are both collaborative and cooperative efforts.  If we are ignoring our dog's behavior, how can we influence that or other behavior?  

Ignoring is not teaching.

If we allow the behavior to continue, our dog is practicing it over and over again, and the behavior is getting stronger and more skilled through repetition.  The more the brain and body repeat a behavior, the better it gets at doing it. This is why we need to practice to hone our skills.  Practice makes us (and our dogs) better and better.  Whatever we allow our dogs to practice - they will get better and better at!  This includes barking!

Practice makes better!  Even behaviors we don't like.

If ignoring doesn't work to change behavior, what does work?  

Can you determine a cause for the dog's behavior?  What is driving that behavior?  There may be a way to eliminate or diminish the cause, which will then diminish the urge for your dog to behave in that manner.

What is driving the behavior?

You may also be able to pinpoint what reinforcement your dog is receiving from doing the behavior.  A reinforcement is anything the dog would view as favorable, that he would like enough to continue the behavior.  If we look at barking, this could be the mailman leaving when he barks.  It could be the attention of someone yelling at him to be quiet.  It could be the neighbor's dog coming over to visit him.  And so on.  

What is reinforcing the behavior?

If you can pinpoint what the reinforcement is for your dog, you can figure out ways to manage the situation so the dog is not self-reinforcing by doing the behavior.  With the above example of barking, if the dog is reinforced for barking at the mailman because he can then watch the mailman leave, keep the dog in an area where he cannot see the mailman come or go.  If someone is yelling at the dog to be quiet, eliminate this - and help the dog with a better environment so he won't be barking to be yelled at.  Be sure to give tons of attention instead when he is quiet, even for short periods of time.  And so on.

We always want to set up the environment and situation to set the dog up to be successful with the behaviors that we do want to see instead.  Take time to decide what you do want the dog to do instead.  Be specific.  Instead of barking, what do you want the dog to do instead?  Lie on a dog bed chewing a bone?  Bring you a toy when someone is at the door (the toy to help keep his mouth busy instead of barking)?  Etc.

Set up for success!

Take time to teach your dog that new behavior that you want to see.  Teach it in a different area and context than where the old behavior (that you don't like) is happening.  Don't start to teach an alternative behavior for barking in areas where the dog is already barking.  Teach your dog the new behavior until he knows it very well and it's easy for him.  Then gradually bring the new behavior into the environments that would normally trigger barking.  Set your dog up for success and move through this gradually.  Begin at a distance from the area or activity.  If your dog has trouble, move farther away.  If he gets it right easily, move a bit closer.

Teach the new behavior.

In order for behavior changes to become long-lasting, we must also think about the many hours in a day that we are not actually training.  How can we lessen barking in those moments as well?  (Or whichever behavior you are trying to change.)  Remember that if your dog is barking, he is practicing the behavior of barking and getting better at it.  You don't want him to practice barking.  You want him to practice being quiet.

How can you set him up to be successful in being quiet?  Enrichment activities are always super in any type of behavior change program, as they occupy the mind and the body.  Gates can be used to section off the dog's space into areas he can be successful in (gates positioned so he can't get to windows to see that mailman).  Music can mask every day sounds that may trigger barking during the day or night.  The idea is to prevent the old behavior from happening and encourage the new behavior (in this case quiet) as often as possible and for as long as necessary for the new behavior to become a habit.

Encourage feelings of well being.

Is all this a lot of work?  Well, it can be if the old behavior has been allowed to become a habit and if the dog has been allowed to practice it for awhile and get really good at it.  The good news is that dogs never stop learning.  And ... dogs do what works and brings them things that they like and feelings of well being.  If we take the time to set up their environment and activities to provide for lots of reinforcement (things they like) for behaviors we want, and to help them feel stress-free, safe, and happy, we can begin to easily shape behavior into what we want - and what our dogs want. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Crafts 2017 - Painted Treat Ornaments

Purchase plastic Christmas ornaments in whichever shape you prefer.  Plastic is always safer than glass when you have pets around the Christmas tree!  And, purchase or make tiny sized dog treats to fit inside the top opening of the ornaments.

Wash the ornaments inside and out with warm soapy water and leave them open (the top pops out) to dry completely before filling them.  

Fill the ornaments with tiny dog treats!  Hint - if you leave a little empty space at the top of the ornament, it will be easier to pour out the treats to feed to your dog!  If you fill it completely to the top, it may be harder to get the treats back out!  

After filling the ornaments, replace the top part back onto the ornament and tie a colored ribbon on to hang it with.  

I used paint pens to draw and write on the outside of the ornaments to make them more festive!  The paint will need time to dry - mine took several hours of sitting out to be completely dry.  

These are quick and easy to make and are absolutely adorable!  Easy to make for all the doggie friends!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Crafts 2017 - Advent Doggie Wreath

We made some new items for the Humane Society Christmas Bazaar this year.  They were fun and easy to make, and came out as adorable gifts!  We'd like to share them with you in case you know of special doggies that would enjoy them!

Advent Doggie Wreath:

Cut a wreath shape out of sturdy cardboard.  I used two different sized dog bowls to trace the wreath shape to help keep the circles even all the way around.

Wrap wide ribbon evenly around the wreath shape.  I anchored the ribbon with masking tape on one end.  As you wrap, keep tension on the ribbon to keep it smooth against the wreath form.

Tie or tape the end of the ribbon at the back of the wreath once it is entirely wrapped.

With a narrow ribbon (I used a different color to make it more festive), add the dog bones.  Anchor the ribbon on the back with tape or tie it in a knot so it holds better.  Wrap it around the wreath as you did with the wider ribbon, but with each pass around, add a dog bone.  Hold tension all the way around so the bones don't fall out.  Tie it in the back of the wreath when you're done to hold them all in place.

Add a pretty bow!  Then hang it up ... out of your dog's reach!  You can help your dog to eat the treats while he/she waits for Christmas Day to come!  Ribbon is not safe for dogs, so keep the ribbons out of your dog's reach.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

What to Expect with a Blind and Deaf Dog

"Living with a blind and/or deaf dog is just the same as living with any other dog."
"It's really not hard at all."
"It's actually pretty easy to teach a deaf and/or blind dog."
"Train him/her just the same as you teach any dog, except ... "
"Oh, it must be so difficult to live with a deaf and/or blind dog."
"Wow, bless you for taking care of that poor helpless, blind and/or deaf dog."

Depending on who you talk to, you may hear these comments or even many others.  So, what's it really like to live with blind and deaf dogs?  Are they really  just like any other dog?

The answer is - yes - and no.

All dogs (blind, deaf or otherwise) have the same needs and urges.  They need their physical, emotional, mental and instinctual needs met on a daily basis.  Yes, blind/deaf dogs need exercise and playtime.  They need enrichment and a nutritious diet, as well as routine veterinary care.  They need attention from within their social group.  All these are the same needs - however, how you go about providing for those needs may need to be adapted.  

All dogs need to be kept safe.  Living with blind/deaf dogs does require me to be a bit more vigilant about safety.  Life is not as simple as being able to quickly call my dog away from danger from a distance.  My dog can't see or hear me, so I need to set up the environment to be safe for each individual dog.  One of my blind/deaf dogs is slower and goes through life more cautiously than the other.  My home is set up to be safe for either of them. This may mean leaving a gate up to block open staircases to the basement and only allowing dogs up and down them when I'm present.  This means keeping them on long leashes to let them explore the field near our house (that is also near a busy street.)

On walks, it becomes my job to watch out and warn my dog when a curb is coming up or there is a fire hydrant or a tree in its path.  I need to watch out that my dog doesn't poke her eyes when she's nosing around the bushes and branches.  

Are these things hard?  No. I don't find them hard.  They have become a way of life for me and how I relate to and with my dogs.  In the beginning, it was challenging to remember to always watch out for someone else and remember that he/she couldn't see.  But soon it became basically automatic and didn't take up all my brain power anymore. 

What about teaching a blind/deaf dog?  Is it hard?  Is it just as easy as teaching any other dog?

Again, it's not any harder - it's just different.  It requires me to learn a new way of communicating.  Deaf dogs can't hear me calling them with my voice or by clapping, etc.  So I need to learn how to use my body and create signals that will then mean something to my dog.  It is fairly easy to teach a deaf dog to recognize hand and body signals, because dogs automatically pay attention to our body language and pick up cues on their own.  By taking time to list what signs you want to use for which behaviors, you can help yourself be consistent.

Teaching any dog requires consistency, patience, reinforcement of behaviors you like, preventing behaviors you don't like, fun, practice, breaking behaviors down into easy to learn steps, and so much more.  These things don't change if you are working with a blind and/or deaf dog.  But you may need to adapt how your do them for your individual dog.

With a deaf dog, you will want to focus on developing a visual means of communication.  With a blind dog, focus on giving audible cues - these may be verbal, but they may be other sounds, such as tapping a doorway, a bell on your ankle during a walk, etc.  

And, with a blind/deaf dog, your language and communication will be built around touch.  

OK, I'm still causing it to sound a bit simplified, aren't I?  There are frustrations and inconveniences that I experience living with blind/deaf dogs.  

For example, sometimes I need to actually go looking through rooms in the house to find one of them if they are sleeping.  I can't really just stand in one spot and call their names.  And sometimes this can be alarming if I've looked everywhere and don't see the dog - only to have a small panic attack and then find her sound asleep behind the couch!  

My blind/deaf dogs can't just look around the room and see what I'm doing, so they are very often underfoot and have their noses and paws into whatever project I'm doing.  This can be frustrating at times, but then I remember that they are just trying to figure out what I'm doing. Once I allow them a moment to satisfy their curiosity, they often lie down next to me and let me finish what I'm doing. 

I must get up and go to my dog to communicate things like, leave the trash alone, stop chewing that plant, or please don't pull my dirty socks out of the hamper.  A well-timed "leave it" verbal cue just won't cut it when they are across the room.  

Sometimes when playing, I feel dog teeth on my skin or clothes and it can hurt.  Of course, they don't mean it and I've spent a lot of time conditioning a soft mouth.  But it's hard to tell where a hand ends and a toy begins - especially because I like to wave the toy all around when playing tug and chase games with my dogs.  

Do they bump into things - oh, yes.  Some more than others, but I can say that my blind/deaf dogs probably bump gently into things every day.  So, having things on coffee tables or end tables when I also have an inquisitive adolescent Collie can be tricky!  He knocks everything down - not in an attempt to be naughty, but just in his attempt to sniff everything and check it out ... long noses can clear a table in a second!  

But I can honestly say that yes, my blind/deaf dogs are just like other dogs - they play, they love, they are mischievous at times.  They learn.  They have personalities all their own - likes, dislikes, and little quirks.  How I've learned to communicate with them is different - but is no longer challenging.  We may do things a little bit differently than some other people and their dogs, but we enjoy our lives together.

Most people meeting my dogs cannot tell they are blind and deaf.  It's only when they notice their eyes look differently that they ask me if the dog is blind.  And then they are always super surprised to learn they are deaf as well.  "I never would have known just watching him/her!  He/She acts so normal!"  

That's the reality of living with a blind/deaf dog.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Autumn Special! - Uniquely Paws-Able

Hi Uniquely Paws-Able Friends!

Wow, autumn is arriving here already! Wherever you are in the world, please join me in celebrating that our school is rounding out the end of its first year! The school and resources are continuing to grow, with many new projects in the works that will be unveiled in 2018! I can't wait!
The current classes will be offered for the last time this year beginning Nov. 1st. At this time, with the new projects for 2018 coming along, it is undecided whether Enrichment & Games, and Grooming, Handling, and Husbandry Games will be offered again next year, or how many times it may be offered. Positive Reinforcement and Clicker Training will continue to be offered as a self-study, take anytime course, as the class is full of foundation learning and skills that carry over to all the other classes.

As a celebration of our first year, and as a gift to you, all three classes will be offered at a substantial discount ($40 - normally $65) this time around. Registration is open NOW and classes will begin Nov. 1st. If you've been wanting to take one of these classes, now would be a great time to register!
Here's the link to see what's offered and to get signed up! Uniquely Paws-Able

Don't forget, there are some free resources at the school also. The blog reference guide has been updated with the newest posts.
I hope to see you all in a class next month! Please take advantage of this Autumn Special to get the lowest prices! 
And, as always, please let me know what you'd like to see offered at the school. I strive to make this a resource to educate and inspire! I'd love to hear what you want to see more of! 
Happy Fall,