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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,


Blind and Deaf Dogs & Dog Sports

Why is it that people assume I will do only nosework and tracking with my blind/deaf dogs?  I know these are sports that encourage the dog to rely mostly on his sense of smell.  I know that most people think a dog that is blind and deaf must have a superior and heightened sense of smell.  But so many people think this must be the extent of what I can do together with my blind/deaf dogs.  

This has been on my mind lately.  People ask me (out of the blue) if I've considered doing nosework or tracking with my dogs.  These are great dog sports!  In fact, Treasure and I loved and did nosework for many years.  But we also did lots of other cool stuff!  

When I adopted Treasure and set out on my training journey with her, there were not many others doing any activities with blind/deaf dogs.  Some were just beginning to take some nosework classes.  But if I looked online I didn't find any blind/deaf dogs doing much of anything or being taught much of anything.  Sure I found deaf dogs, or blind dogs at times, but not those that were both.  Why is that?

Treasure doing K9 nosework
Treasure - PAWS for People therapy and READ program dog
Treasure - Expert Trick Dog
Treasure - Canine Good Citizen

As I was thinking, I realized that humans developed so many dog sports reliant upon our dogs' ability to see.  It seems impressive to get our dogs to do all types of activities at a distance or off the ground.  There are so many sports, even today, that exclude blind dogs from even participating at all.  Even sports that focus on a dog's sense of smell are not always welcoming to blind dogs to give it a go.

I did not set out to prove these ideas outdated.  I just set out to teach and have fun with my dogs in various activities.  We love the online trick dog titles, as most (but not all) offer a wide variety of tricks to choose from for each level.  Even so, many of those tricks seem to be assuming and reliant upon a dog's ability to see.  And I've even found some trick dog venues that specifically say that blind dogs can't compete.  Which I find rather sad.  

With my current blind/deaf partner, Vinny, I am pushing the limits of what people think is possible.  He is a super willing partner and is showing me, and the world, just what a dog without sight and hearing is capable of.  I don't push him, but I do give him the opportunity to learn anything and everything he can, in his own way.  He shows me a bigger glimpse into his world with each accomplishment.  I think he enjoys figuring out a puzzle for himself as well. 

Setting out to get his Advanced Trick Dog title, I wondered how a blind/deaf dog could be sent out away from me to a target 10 feet away to do a behavior.  So we gave it a try.  He learned to go out away from me 11 feet on cue, and do several different behaviors!  Did he always hit the target directly in a straight line?  No, he didn't.  But when he realized he was going off course, he could redirect himself, find the target and do his behavior.  

Vinny - Intermediate Trick Dog
Vinny - Go out 11 feet and push a ball - Treiball
Vinny and Brinks - Playground Equipment - Parkour
Vinny - heeling - Rally, RallyFree, K9 Musical Freestyle
Vinny - Skateboarding and Other Fun!

What does this mean for the future of our training?  Wow, I can only imagine the more we practice together, what he will show me!  

I am so grateful that certain dog sports are open to seeing what all dogs and handlers are capable of.  Through them, dogs and handlers that might not have had a chance before are now able to really shine!  I hope that more and more dog sports venues will learn to keep an open mind when it comes to how exercises are performed to get to the end result.  

Keep and eye out for Invincible Vinny and I in the dog sports venues!  We are having a blast finishing up our trick dog titles and then going for Trick Dog Champion, and beginning our rally and freestyle training.  I hope we have a long and marvelous partnership together.  I know I have so much left to learn from him!

Friday, September 29, 2017

How to Teach Your Deaf (and Blind) Dog to be Quiet

I’m always amused when people find out my dogs are deaf. One of their first questions is, “Do they bark?” Oh yes, and boy, can they bark! Some deaf dogs have a very high-pitched bark. Some have a deeper bark.   

You may hear that deaf dogs bark more than hearing dogs.  Some people may even tell you this is because they can't hear themselves so they don't know they are barking.  

The truth is that dogs bark!  It is a trait specific to dogs.  And deaf dogs are really just dogs that can't hear. They still have all the behaviors, urges and needs that other dogs have.  This includes their desire to communicate.  Dogs communicate many things through barking - an alarm that someone or something is outside, to demand attention or other reinforcers, to invite play, out of boredom, from stress, and the list goes on.  Deaf dogs are no different.

There is another truth involved here, and that is that you CAN teach a deaf (or blind/deaf) dog to be quiet when asked.  And you don't need a vibration/shock collar to do it!  All you need is to set aside some time to actually teach your dog what you want.  Here, let me tell you how I teach quiet.

The way I start to teach a dog to be quiet is by naming “quiet” when the dog is actually being quiet and then offer calm praise. I use one finger pressed to my lips as the quiet signal. With a blind-deaf dog, use a touch signal for quiet that is a finger placed gently on top of the dog's muzzle. 

When the dog is being quiet, give the quiet signal and then quickly give the good dog signal and a treat. I do this sequence several times while the dog is quiet. You are essentially naming for the dog what “quiet” is while they are already being quiet. This allows the dog to associate being quiet with the cue.

When the dog does bark (because it will happen), I am ready as soon as the dog stops barking (even if it’s only a quick pause) to give the quiet sign and then the good dog sign. I give a treat after the good dog sign. Chewing the treat helps to distract the dog from whatever it was barking at, which allows me to get more quiet signals practiced and reinforced in quick succession before the barking starts again. It also helps to more strongly reinforce the dog for being quiet. 

Be sure not to give the quiet signal until the dog is quiet at this stage. You are teaching the dog what the quiet signal means, so you must be sure to only give it when your dog is quiet. Until your dog has really learned the quiet cue, practice naming and reinforcing it often whenever he is being quiet. 

Be very sure when teaching quiet that you are not reinforcing the dog for barking. If your dog barks at you and you throw the toy, you are teaching him that barking gets him what he wants and he will be more likely to bark. If your dog barks at you and you give him part of your snack, or pet him, or open the door to let him outside, you are teaching him to bark more. 

If you want a quiet dog household, focus on rewarding quiet dogs and not barking dogs. If you do, you will find less and less barking happening. 

To begin using the quiet signal when your dog is barking, you will need to first get his attention if he's not looking in your direction – waving your arm in the air in his line of sight may work, or a gentle tap to his body. When he looks at you, be ready to give the quiet signal quickly before he looks away. 

If you’ve done your homework in using the quiet signal often and then giving a treat, your dog should at least pause and look at you expectantly. Reward quickly! If you wait, he may start to bark again because he’s excited about whatever he’s barking at. Continue to give the quiet signal and reward with several treats one at a time while he is quiet. And don’t forget the praise too! 

What if your dog gets quiet with the initial quiet signal and eats his reward, and then turns back to barking again? Don’t let him continue to bark. Get back in there and interrupt the barking again by getting his attention back on you. 

If he does not respond to your quiet signal at all, you will need to go back and review giving the signal and rewarding when he is already quiet. Your job is to make that quiet cue super important to your dog so he will pay attention to it. 

As you continue to practice the quiet signal, you can gradually space out those treats to get longer periods of quiet between each one. Give the first treat right away when the dog gets quiet, and then pause for slightly longer periods of time before giving the next treat, etc. Do this step gradually. Only expect a few seconds of quiet between treats at first. If you try to move too quickly, your dog will start barking again in between treats. 

You can build up the time as your dog is ready. Over time, you can give fewer treats, but rewarding the quiet now and then will help keep the behavior strong. Giving a quiet cue does not mean that your dog will never bark. Dogs bark. That’s something they do. A quiet signal will give you a way to communicate to your dog when you’d like him to stop barking. 

And if you teach your dog to bark on signal, too, then when people ask you if deaf dogs bark, you can show them that yes, indeed, they do! 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to Teach Your Deaf (and Blind) Dog to Wake Up Gently

There is a myth that deaf dogs are dangerous because they will bite when they are startled or woken up. 

Could this ever happen? Yes, it could. But it could also happen with a dog that can hear just fine. 

Does it happen a lot? No. Most deaf dogs are no threat when startled. 

Can this scenario be prevented? Yes, definitely! You can teach your deaf dog to wake up easily and happily. By teaching this skill to your new dog, you can prevent this issue from developing. 

Start training when your dog is awake and paying attention to you. Let your dog see you reach towards it. Touch your dog and then pop a wonderful treat into its mouth immediately. Don’t wait to see what your dog will do. There should be no lag time. Just touch and pop the treat into its mouth. Make these really special treats. You want your dog to really look forward to being touched. 

If your dog is also blind, give it a moment to become aware that you are nearby before you touch at this stage of teaching.  Touch gently and quickly give a treat.  In the beginning, give your dog a moment to know you are there, sniff your hand, etc, before touching.  You can progress in the same way as working with a deaf dog.

Repeat this pattern of touch and treat many times quickly in succession. Then touch your dog and pause for just a moment before giving the treat. The sequence will become – touch, dog looks expectantly for treat, and then feed. Don’t pause too long, just long enough for your dog to show you that it knows the treat should come next. You are teaching your dog to associate your touch with a treat. 

In future sessions, touch different parts of your dog’s body. One touch = one treat. As your dog becomes more tolerant of you touching various parts of its body, sneak in a random touch now and then when your dog is not expecting it but is still awake. Be ready with that treat immediately. Be sure to continue to use great treats every time you touch your dog. The more you reward the touching, the better your dog’s response will be when it is surprised or woken up suddenly. 

There may be times when your dog gets startled by a touch when you don’t have a food treat immediately handy. Try to minimize these as much as you can in the beginning, but if it happens, be ready to reward your dog with something else it likes – a small game or lots of petting if your dog enjoys that. Being woken up or startled should always mean good stuff for your dog! 

When your dog is sleeping, though, be respectful. Don’t wake your dog up unless it’s necessary. When you do need to wake your dog up, do it gently. Walk heavier as you approach your dog so it can begin to feel the vibrations through the floor. When you get close to your dog, blow on it gently to wake it up. If your dog is lying on a blanket, you can wiggle the edge of the blanket to gently shake her awake. 

If your dog is still asleep, you can progress to brushing it gently with your hand. It is best to touch your dog on its body, not its face. 

Be prepared for a startle if your dog is sleeping soundly. Startling is a normal response. Just make sure that you are quickly offering your dog something wonderful – a treat, or petting! Usually the dog will recover immediately once it sees or smells you, and when you offer something tasty to eat, it will forget all about being startled. 

Be aware that if your dog is blind and deaf, you may need to use your hands to steady it as it wakes up. It will not be able to see you nearby, so maintaining a firm but gentle touch on its body will let it know you are there, while you offer the food right near its nose. 

You won’t need to offer the treat forever, but it’s a good idea to give a tasty treat every now and then as a reminder that unexpected touch is a good thing. The more you follow a startling touch with something wonderful (treat, playtime, petting), the happier your dog will be about it. 

It is important that you protect your dog from unexpected touches that could be unpleasant. If someone startles your dog, be ready to step in and make it a happy experience for it. Remember that startling is a normal response. You will probably not ever get rid of it completely. But you can diminish how much the startle bothers your dog by rewarding frequently. And with lots of practice, you may notice your dog waking up easier and easier each time! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Teaching Deaf (and Blind) Dogs to Use Their Mouths Gently

A common complaint among those who live with deaf (and blind/deaf) dogs is that they use their mouths roughly. This is very common throughout puppyhood and adolescence, but if dogs are not taught to use their mouths gently, this problem can extend into adulthood.  Deaf dogs sometimes get a bad rap for being more aggressive than other dogs.  But this is a myth.  Let me tell you more ...  

Dogs use their mouths in many ways – when they eat, chew, play, discipline, bark, and too many more ways to list. Dogs can cause injury to humans if they are not taught to use their mouths gently and to be respectful of human skin. This means it is our responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we like, such as treating our skin gently. 

We cannot expect our dogs to stop using their mouths because it is a normal dog behavior. Just like when we use our hands. But just like we must learn to use our hands gently and appropriately in life, so must our puppies learn to use their mouths gently and appropriately. 

Because there is a myth that deaf dogs are more likely to bite than hearing dogs, it is of utmost importance that we, as advocates for deaf dogs, make sure our dogs know how to be gentle and respectful with their mouths. It’s important that we can show others by example that deaf dogs can be safe and wonderful companions, so that more homeless deaf dogs can get adopted. 

Sometimes a dog that is deaf may have a harder time learning to be gentle with its mouth than a dog that can hear. Let me explain why. 

These lessons begin when a dog is still a baby puppy with its mother and littermates. When one puppy bites another too hard, the one that is being bitten will yelp sharply. This often startles the first puppy into letting go. That puppy learns that in order to continue playing with the other puppies, it needs to control the strength of its mouth. Since puppies play with their mouths, they learn to grip each other with less and less pressure. 

When a puppy enters a human household, it needs to also learn to control its mouth with its new human family. Human skin is even more fragile than dog skin and is not covered with fur as protection, so the puppy needs to learn to be even more careful with us than with other dogs. 

Our natural reaction when something hurts is to blurt out, “Ouch!” This will often stop a hearing puppy. Some puppies are more persistent than others and continue to bite too hard, but many will learn to play more gently to keep the game going. 

Obviously, deaf puppies cannot hear the other puppies yelp, or hear us say, “Ouch!” They may need some extra guidance learning to be gentle. One way of letting your puppy know that its play is getting a bit rough is to stop playing every time it bites you too hard. When it bites down too hard, immediately remove yourself from its reach. Remove the body part from the puppy’s mouth gently but matter-of-factly and stand up so the puppy cannot reach you. 

Exaggerate your body movement and facial expressions to convey your disappointment. The attitude of your body and face should be saying, “Ouch! Stop that!” The puppy will recognize the sudden difference in your demeanor. You should also say the word “Ouch!” out loud. Yes, I know the puppy is deaf, but saying the words will add to the genuine picture of how your body and face look. 

It’s important to note here that you should not allow yourself to get angry or act threatening. Remember that your puppy is just acting like any normal puppy would act while playing or while excited. It is not doing anything wrong; it just needs to learn how you would like to be treated during playtime. 

This break doesn’t need to be long. Once your puppy calms down, even for a moment, give the good dog signal and slowly and calmly return to its level. Allow your body and face to soften back to normal and begin to interact again but more gently and calmly. You must be consistent and end the interaction every time that your puppy bites too hard or plays too roughly. This is how it will learn. 

With consistency, you may find that just changing your facial expression and withdrawing your hand for a moment is enough of a reminder for the puppy to be gentle. 

Sometimes puppies can’t seem to stop themselves from grabbing everything around them in their mouths. This usually means that the puppy has gotten over-stimulated and needs help to calm down. Giving the puppy some quiet time to calm down is a good idea. It might be a good time to give a special stuffed food toy to occupy puppy’s mouth and encourage calmness. 

Be sure to praise your puppy frequently when it is interacting appropriately with you. In teaching our dogs to be gentle with us, it is important for us to also be gentle with our dogs. Playing games that mimic wrestling or slapping of a puppy will encourage it to play more roughly with us. 

While it may seem cute now with a little tiny puppy, think about that bigger adult dog with much bigger teeth. Will you still want the dog playing with you that roughly? If you have children, it’s especially important for you to model calm and gentle ways for the children and puppy to play together. Show your older children how to appropriately handle the situation if puppy gets too rough. Always supervise and be ready to step in during playtime. 

Keep lots of safe toys and chews around to help redirect your puppy from mouthing things you don’t want it to. Chewing on toys can keep a puppy’s mouth busy and help it learn appropriate behaviors. When your puppy is mouthing your skin too much or too hard, offer it a toy to chew on instead. Often that will be enough to divert its attention. 

A dog that knows to be gentle with its mouth is likely to be welcomed into so many more of the family’s activities than one that doesn’t. By taking some time early in your puppy’s life to teach gentleness, you can set it up for a lifetime of success.