Follow by Email

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Acclimating Resident Animals to a Blind Deaf Dog

Whether you are bringing a new dog into your home that is visually/hearing impaired, or one of your current dogs is losing sight/hearing, there will be an adjustment period for each family member.  When there are other animals in the home, they will need to be helped with this transition.  Dog-dog interactions often give people the most concern.  Cats will normally find and retreat to a safer place to rest out of the dog's way.  Smaller animals must of course be kept safe from dogs that might consider them prey.  Today's post will be specifically about dog-dog interactions.  

Do animals know when another is blind/deaf?

I'm often asked if animals know that another animal is blind or deaf.  I don't believe other animals have a sense of blind/deaf as we think about it.  I do believe that animals are very adaptable and can  learn to interact and communicate with a blind/deaf dog in adapted ways. 

For instance, my dogs will adapt their play style to my blind dogs so there is more touching involved with the play.  The dogs that can see will approach and touch the blind dogs more often during play in order to keep the game going.  While those same dogs might prefer to play chase and keep away games with my other seeing dogs. 

My herding dog that enjoys having all of the dogs going in the same direction, realizes that my blind/deaf dog isn't following the pack of dogs into the house, so he runs back out into the yard to touch that dog and let it know that everyone else is coming to the house.  Does he realize that the blind/deaf dog cannot see or hear?  Only he knows the answer to that for sure, but I don't think those things really much matter to a dog.  

I do know that he realizes that he likes all the dogs to come in together and that one isn't coming, so he learned that going out to touch that dog will bring awareness to what is going on and the dog will then come to the house.

These are the wonderful stories that we as humans like to focus on - oh look at him helping his blind/deaf brother.  Isn't it wonderful and heart-warming how he looks out for him?

I do believe our dogs notice that another dog is not responding in the same way as they might expect, and so then they adapt their communication to be more suitable to the blind/deaf dog.  But this takes time.  Just like it would take us time and practice to learn a new way of communicating, the same is true with our dogs and other animals in the home.  They will need time to adjust as well. 

Dogs live by dog rules! 

There is another side of reality when living with blind and/or deaf dogs.  A deaf dog may get startled awake one too many times by the other dogs playing nearby and can jump up in a bad mood, perhaps even biting at the dogs that woke him up so suddenly and rudely.  To a dog, being bumped into suddenly is rude.  He is not being a bad dog.  He is acting and communicating normally with those that ran into him and woke him up. 

resting in an open crate
Animals have their own "rules" about what is appropriate and polite behavior.  Being awakened by another dog jumping on your head or stepping on your tail - not cool or polite.  And this may not just be the blind/deaf dog being startled suddenly.  A seeing/hearing dog may get tired of being stepped on or having its space disturbed by a blind dog as well.   

You may notice over time that your dogs learn to find new resting places where they are less likely to be in high traffic areas.  My dogs enjoy napping in crates that are left with doors open.  This allows them a place to rest nearby to the rest of the family activity, but they are safely contained in a spot where they are unlikely to be bumped or stepped on unexpectedly.  

The crate allows them that safety space around them that they crave to feel safe while they nap.  The open doors allow them to choose when they want to go in or come out.  

Blind dogs and space

Space is very important to dogs.  They use space to communicate with each other and to feel safe.   A blind dog can't judge distance very well without getting closer than many dogs are comfortable with.  Each dog has their own personal space bubble - some may be larger than others.  If you have multiple dogs, you probably have observed this. 

Some dogs like to sleep cuddled up next to each other, while others prefer to have space around them.  Others may like to sleep in an enclosed area such as under a table or in a corner. 

Unless dogs have an understanding of living with blind dogs already, they can have a real problem with a blind dog getting into their space, stepping on them, coming close while they are chewing a bone, etc.  They will think this is very rude behavior, and while they may appear to be tolerant the first few times it happens, if it continues to happen and the blind dog is not responding to their warnings to be careful and give more space ... well, that's when things start to escalate.  While it's upsetting to us, again, this is normal dog communication. 

The blind dog may be trying to get close to the other dogs to find a sense of security, or to investigate the bone they're smelling, without realizing that the other dog is giving him a hard stare to stay away, or is posturing its body differently, or even if they are growling or lifting a lip.  If we don't notice these signs and intervene, we risk our dogs getting stressed and injured.

Management is key! 

It's important to allow all dogs their own space.  Be watchful always and don't leave dogs unattended together for quite awhile until you can be certain everyone will be comfortable and safe.  This may mean some extra management on your part - using gates, ex pens, crates, different rooms or levels within the room (one dog on the couch if another can't reach the couch, etc), keeping dogs leashed when necessary, etc.

There is always management and intervention going on in my house, as I have multiple dogs, each with differing needs and personalities. 

If my younger bigger dogs are wrestling and running around while playing, I will help my senior dog move away from the activity and I will look out for him so he doesn't get stomped on or bumped into.  He can't hear very well anymore and he has arthritis.  I think some of his vision is fading as well.  He could get seriously hurt by being jumped on by a much bigger, younger dog - so I look out for him. 

Because he has been startled awake by my other dogs a few times, he can be grouchy when he is woken up suddenly by them and he will be quick to tell them off.  So I wake him up when we need to move past him or when the other dogs want to jump off the bed but he's resting on the floor nearby.  I wake him first in a calm and appropriate way, and then the other dogs can come through once he's moved out of their path.

My blind/deaf dog is large and young and boisterous.  It's up to me to intervene when he gets to be too much for the older, smaller dogs.  He has learned to be respectful of them but every now and then, his youthfulness shines through and he pesters them a bit.  If I don't intervene, I know he will be wearing a battle scar on his snout.

Creating a peaceful household

Giving each dog their own space in the beginning will help everyone adapt and feel safe.  Allowing short times together when you are actively supervising will set everyone up for success.  And if you have more than two dogs, allowing them together in alternating pairs first can be helpful.  Allow dog 1 to meet dog 2, then 1 to meet dog 3, then 1 to meet 4, then perhaps 1 -2- and 3, etc.  This allows the dogs to begin to create their own relationships without being bombarded by all the dogs at once.

This is a great idea for new fosters coming into the home, a newly adopted dog, and even for resident dogs with newly appearing special needs - such as losing sight/hearing, after surgery or injury, etc.

Be sure to safely separate dogs as necessary when you can't be home or when you can't supervise closely at first.  A disagreement can very quickly get out of hand and a dog(s) can get hurt!  There are many options for keeping animals separated when you can't supervise - gates, different rooms, crates, wire exercise pens (one of my favorites because they are portable and very versatile), etc.  

Leaving dogs to argue it out and settle things for themselves often creates more tension between them that quickly escalates and causes more concerning behaviors.  It's rarely sufficient to allow them to work it out themselves.  

Dogs, like people, learn very quickly which dogs they feel safe with, and which others cause them stress.  Think about people you are stressed by in your life - at work, school, etc.  You begin to have an automatic emotional response to them when you see them, or even when you hear their voice, right?  Dogs are the same.  

So if you allow your dogs to be stressed by each other and take matters into their own hands, often the stress continues to escalate until there are conditioned bad feelings.  This will make it very difficult to find and maintain peace in the future.  

Instead, set everyone up for success and feeling safe and stress free.  This will help you create and keep that peace going forward into the future. 

**For more information about blind and/or deaf dogs, visit my website at  You will find articles, books, and online classes and resources there to assist you!  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Adding Scents to Help a Blind Dog?

When looking for advice about living with a blind dog, many sources recommend putting artificial scents in different rooms and on different surfaces for the dog to follow and recognize.

In theory, this sounds wonderfully helpful, but I've actually found that it can be very confusing for the dogs, as well as inconvenient for the human to continually reapply the scents to keep them fresh.

It is common knowledge that a dog's nose is one of its super powers!

It's been described that while we may walk into the kitchen and smell spaghetti sauce cooking, our dog can smell each of the ingredients used to make the sauce individually!

In observing my own blind dogs, they can easily tell the difference in the natural scents around them.  

The leash I use for every day walks smells different than the longer leash I use for letting them run in the fields, and smells different from the leash used for therapy visits.  The nail clippers smell different than the brush or the undercoat rake, even though they are all stored together in the grooming box.  How do I know they smell differently?  I know from my dog's reaction to each of those items - the reaction is different to each by smell alone.

My dogs easily know the difference between the rooms of the house, and even in different areas of each room.  I don't ever add any artificial scents to help them.  Each surface and object in my home has its own scent - a door smells different than a window.  A couch smells different than a rocking chair.  My dog can tell the difference between the smells of his toys and has his favorites, even among ones that are the same texture and shape!  

Has your dog ever had one favorite tennis ball among several?  Perhaps you've experienced this very thing in your home whether your dog can see or not!  Or what about the dog that chooses its very favorite stick and can pick it out of a pile of other sticks anywhere?  It's the same idea!  Our dog's noses are amazing!  

When we add artificial scents within the home, they are normally scents that are strong enough for us to smell readily. This means they are very powerful smells to our dogs - remember that their sense of smell is so much more sensitive than ours!

If I use a scented cleaner in my house, my dogs often sneeze or even go the other way.  My blind dogs don't like to walk on floors that have been cleaned with scented cleaners - even if it's a floor they walk on regularly.   The smell is just too strong for them. 

I think this is why people think that adding scents is helpful.  They add strong smelling scents to objects and obstacles in their home and the dog avoids them, so they think the dog is learning that the lemon scent means a doorway is there, and the pine scent means a piece of furniture is there - but really all the dog wants to do is avoid the strong smell.

It's much nicer to the dog to help him learn from the natural scent of the obstacles in the home so he can learn to navigate on his own.  It's also healthier, as some of the scents used may be full of chemicals that we and our dogs are then inhaling. 

If you've had any experience with nosework or scent work with dogs, you will also know that scent travels!  Think of the spaghetti sauce - you can smell it when you walk into the house, even though the kitchen may be several rooms away!  Right?

When you add a scent to the doorway, it doesn't just stay right there on the wood of the doorway.  It moves and spreads and drifts around on the air currents in your home, moving even several rooms away.  Sometimes scent also will collect in corners or in enclosed spaces, such as under tables or chairs.  Talk about confusing to the dog! 

It's not necessary to add artificial scents to help your blind dog navigate through an environment.  I have lived with blind dogs for a long time, and I have helped many, many clients with blind dogs.  I see it time and time again - dogs are amazing!  They can figure it out without us adding scents to everything. 

Your dog already is learning (or has learned if he's lived in your home for awhile) to associate the natural smells of the various rooms, objects, and obstacles with finding his way around your home.  He recognizes the smell of your couch, your bathroom, his bed, his toys, the path to the doors.  

If your dog is newly blind or is blind living in a new environment, take the time to help lead him around and let him explore while keeping him safe.  Help him learn to navigate his way around common pathways such as to the door to go outside, to his bed, to his toy box and to your favorite cuddling spot on the couch.

He will learn quickly.  And as you watch your dog finding his way around, take a moment to be amazed by the power of his nose!  His super power!

For online articles and resources relating to blind and/or deaf dogs, go check out

To subscribe to this blog and receive emails as each new post is published, please scroll to the blog header above and add your email address! 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Canine Wellness - the Big Picture

This is National Pet Wellness Month!  It's a time to bring awareness to how we can keep our pets feeling and functioning at their best!  

In my Foundations for Canine Wellness online class, I introduce the Your Inner Dog Wellness Wheel, and we look at the building blocks within the wheel that will create a solid foundation of wellness and well-being for your dog.

The Wellness Wheel shows what I feel are the key aspects of life for our dogs.  You can see the main categories in the picture below - physical, social, emotional, and mental/behavioral wellness.  

Each category has different aspects to consider.  All require that we learn to look at life through our dog's eyes to best learn about his needs.  His needs and his perspective (how he views and experiences the world) are different than ours in some ways, yet very similar in many others. 

Each part of the Wellness Wheel affects each of the other parts.  All the parts work together and influence each other to create a harmonious big picture of life for each dog.  What happens in one area will impact the other areas, so an imbalance in one area can show up as an imbalance in another as well.  

A balanced dog has all of its needs met and can therefore experience wellness and well-being in all areas of its life.  This is the ideal that we all strive for.  It's important to refer back to the Wellness Wheel regularly, as these aspects of our dog's life are always changing.  By knowing what to consider in each of the aspects, we can easily make adjustments that will help keep our dog's Wellness Wheel in balance!

For the month of October, to celebrate National Pet Wellness Month, the Foundations for Canine Wellness online class will be offered at a substantial discount so that you can learn about building a strong foundation of wellness for your dog!  I hope to see you in the classroom! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Holistic Perspective to Canine Wellness and Training

As a holistic dog trainer and animal wellness coach, my work centers on the importance of finding a balance in our relationship with the animals in our care.  There are many aspects to consider, and each one affects the others.  Here is an excerpt from my online course, Foundations for Canine Wellness in celebration of National Pet Wellness Month!  

"What is wellness? Wellness is defined as “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” (from Google) In this course, wellness is closely married with well-being, which is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” (also from Google)
As a holistic dog trainer, I look at all parts of the picture and how they fit together. Holistic is defined as “the comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” (Google again)
This means that we recognize that all the parts come together to directly affect the whole. There are many parts, or aspects, of our dog's life that come together to affect his/her entire life - health, happiness, fitness, nutrition, exercise, sleep, enrichment, training, environment, and so on. Each of these parts comes together to create the whole of the dog's life.
When we look at these aspects holistically, we can begin to see that there are many parts that make up the whole of our dog – physical, emotional, mental, social, behavioral, and instinctual.
As we go through this and upcoming wellness courses, we will consider all aspects of the dog’s life. We will look at health, environment, stress, training, behavior, and more. Our dog’s well-being and wellness depend widely on the choices we make on his/her behalf. Our dog relies on us to make these choices for it in most circumstances.
From a holistic training perspective, behavior is affected by many variables that are not often taken into consideration. Many trainers assume that behavior is a stand-alone issue and that training alone will change behavior. But when the concerning behavior has a deeper cause, this can create frustration as training is not able to completely clear up those concerns.
In fact, many trainers resort to forcing dogs to change their behavior out of frustration, but these are only temporary fixes, then requiring more force at a later date to keep the behavior under control. Forceful training also leads to other concerning behaviors developing that weren't there to begin with, and can lead to a decline in a dog’s well-being and quality of life.
The holistic view of training and behavior is that there is a cause behind that behavior. When we can deal with the true cause of the behavior, usually the behavior changes on its own and it is a permanent change. This is because whatever was causing the behavior is no longer there.
Changing even one aspect of a dog’s life can have a lasting impact on all the other aspects, including behavior. This is because all aspects work together interchangeably to create the whole picture that is your dog! This is the holistic perspective!"
For the month of October, the Foundations for Canine Wellness online class is being offered at a significant discount.  The class is On-Demand, so may be started at any time.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

Teaching Automatic Check Ins to a Deaf Dog

A very important key to getting and keeping your deaf dog's attention is to teach an Automatic Check-In.  This sounds just like what it means.  

We want to teach the dog to check in with us often and automatically throughout the day. Think of all the times when you want to get your deaf dog's attention but it's looking in another direction or in another room, or is across the yard from you.  These are those times when people want to know how to get their deaf dog's attention.  The times when the dog is not looking at us.

It's important that we have certain signals that ask our dog to pay attention to us in the moment, such as what we discussed yesterday.  These are signals that we can teach to our dogs.  Just the fact that we are teaching those signals will help our dogs to watch us closer, because the dog doesn't want to miss the signal and miss a chance to get or do something fun with us.  

But the dog still needs to be looking in our direction or be close enough that we can give the signal easily, right?  What about those times when it's not?  

What if we could create many opportunities throughout the day when the dog was magically looking at us and close enough to us to see our signals?  Wouldn't that make life so much easier?  

We can teach our dogs to keep an eye on us and to come see what we're doing on a regular basis throughout the day (this is called checking-in with us).  The idea is that the dog will do this on its own without us needing to give a signal (this is the automatic part).  Each time the dog looks at us or comes close to us to check in, we have an opportunity to communicate with a signal cue if we want to. This opens up so many more opportunities for us to be able to communicate clearly and easily with our deaf dog.

Dogs of any age can learn this, and I usually start as soon as a dog enters my home or comes for its first lesson.  Create a situation where the dog will remain near you and where there aren't a lot of distractions.  Believe it or not, the bathroom is a great place to begin!  It's a smaller room, and there aren't usually too many distractions going on.  (Although toilet paper can be a huge distraction to some dogs!)

It's important to remember that the idea of this exercise is not to try to get the dog's attention.  The idea is for the dog to give you its attention on its own.  This can be difficult because it involves patience on the part of the teacher.  

Every time your dog turns toward you, give it one of those wonderful treats!  And smile and act happy that your dog has noticed you.  It won't take long before your dog will be following you around the bathroom, not wanting to look away.  When this happens, reward and then end the lesson.

Try to be as aware as you can even during your regular day to day activities of your dog - there will be times that it looks at you or comes to see what you're doing.  Be ready to reward those times too!  You can have containers of treats in various parts of your house or in your pocket.  

But you can also reward with other rewards your dog will like - petting, smiling, belly rub, toss a toy, etc.  At this point, you will want to continue with your formal bathroom lessons, but also be aware to reward times when your dog checks-in on its own!  Your teaching will go much faster that way!

It will take some practice on your part too - you will need to teach yourself to be aware of your dog paying attention.  Often we get busy and our dog will check in with us, but we may not notice.  As your dog learns to check in, you will also learn to check in and be aware.

You should find that very quickly your dog won't need to be in the bathroom for lessons anymore.  Begin to practice in other places and situations, gradually increasing distractions.  When you increase distractions, you will want to use high value treats in the beginning.  

Keep your dog close to you in the beginning when you are adding distractions.  This may mean using a gate or a leash so your dog can't get to the distractions.  Remember, the idea is not for you to ask your dog to pay attention - the idea is for the dog to decide.  So be patient and be ready as soon as the dog turns toward you, to reward and celebrate!  

You will be able to begin to mix up the rewards you use, like we talked about yesterday.  The more you can show your dog that you like it checking in with you, the better the behavior will become. But you don't always have to use a treat.  

My dogs have been doing check-ins for years, but I will always acknowledge them for checking in to keep the behavior strong.  Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a nod to let them know I noticed, or a scratching behind the ear.  

The day that you want to give your dog a signal cue but it is looking the other way and then, in an instant, it looks back to see what you're doing, you can smile - and then give your dog that cue you wanted to give.  It's so convenient to have a deaf dog that learns to pay attention without you asking for it.  I know that if I just pause a moment, my dog will check in with me, so I can give it a signal.  

Teach the automatic check in - you will thank yourself (and your dog) for it soon! 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

How Do I Get My Deaf Dog's Attention?

When people ask me how they can get their deaf dog's attention, they often mean how can they get its attention right now in this moment.  Usually this is because the dog is doing something they want it to stop, or they need the dog to come to them. 

There are various ways to get a deaf dog's attention in the moment.  By far, the most foolproof one is to actually go to where the dog is to get its attention.  By going to the dog, we can now position ourselves in a way the dog will easily see us, or we can touch the dog - either is going to alert the dog to the idea that we want its attention.  

I often notice people trying and trying to get their deaf dog (or any dog for that matter) to pay attention without success, and instead of going to the dog, they just continue to try on and on.  Meanwhile the dog is getting into trouble, and sometimes into a dangerous situation.  If what you're doing is not working - it's always best to step in and go to the dog to manage the situation quickly. 

Sometimes we may be in a situation where the dog will be able to feel a vibration through the floor.  Be aware, however, that some dogs will not really pay attention to this unless they've been taught that the vibration has some significance.  Also, surfaces carry and distribute vibrations in various ways.  In my experience, wooden decks carry vibration very well, while harder surfaces such as concrete really aren't that good at conducting vibration.  

Some dogs may respond to the vibration of a loud clap or noise.  Again, this usually works best if the dog is taught what that vibration means ahead of time.  

Flashing a light when the environment is darkened can be a great way to get a deaf dog's attention.  Many of us who live with deaf dogs have learned that flashing the porch light when the dog is in the yard at night is a suitable way to let it know to come back into the house.  Similarly, if this can also work in a darkened room of the house.

Waving an arm in a large arc that takes up a lot of space can get a deaf dog's attention too, if you can catch their eye.

An important part about getting a deaf dog's attention is to take the time to teach the dog that these things mean you'd like it to look at you for more information.  This doesn't have to take very long, and it's not complicated.  In fact, the more of these signals that you teach, the easier it will be in various circumstances to get your dog's attention quickly.  

Let's take the example of teaching a dog to pay attention to a large wave of your arm.  Begin close to your dog and with your dog already paying a bit of attention to you.  At first you need to create an association so your dog understands that an arm waving in the air is a wonderful thing to see!  So having your dog's attention when you start is the best way to create this association.  Have plenty of tasty treats handy. 

Associate the wave with a good thing - the treat!  The sequence is to wave first - make it as big as you can - and then feed a treat.  Make the treats extra special and you will see your dog making this association very quickly!  A large wave - a great treat.  This is the sequence.  Do it many times.  Then take a break and go do something else.  Probably your dog will follow and watch you closely for a bit.  That's normal. 

Do many mini sessions during the day and in different rooms of the house, or in the front yard, or the back yard.  You can even practice on walks - take your treats with you.  Right now, you want there to be a great treat every time you wave your arm so the association your dog is creating will be very strong.

After you've practiced this for several days in different environments, you can begin to throw a random wave into your day here and there.  Make sure you have that tasty treat but hide it for a bit beforehand in a pocket or a container hidden around the house.  When your dog is nearby but is not paying a lot of attention to you, wave that big wave.  When your dog notices, it should quickly pay attention to you - at which point you can reward with the treat and lots of praise or even a game!

Paying attention to you should always be a super fun thing for your dog to do!  Be sure to make it worth your dog's while to pay attention to you when you ask!  

With more practice, you should be able to give the wave signal from farther away or at more random times during the day.  If you have created a strong association by rewarding often with things your dog loves, your dog should be learning to watch for that wave out of the corner of its eye, in the hopes of seeing that you want its attention and getting something great in return!  

You can teach other attention-getting signals with the same process.  Use the signal you want to teach followed by things your dog loves!  Create the association.  Start off close to your dog and make it easy, then gradually start incorporating it into your daily life.  

Once you know the association is strong, you can begin to randomize the rewards you give.  Sometimes play a game, or give some petting if that's something your dog likes, or go for a ride in the car - just make sure it's something your dog really likes.  Getting your dog's attention for things that aren't pleasant will create avoidance instead of alert attention. 

Now you've created easy ways to get your dog's attention so you can call it to come to you, or give it a different cue signal, or just redirect its behavior.

But ... there is one more key ingredient to getting and keeping your deaf dog's attention.  And, we'll talk about that tomorrow!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Teaching a Name Sign to a Deaf Dog

A name sign is a sign that is a shortcut instead of finger spelling out an entire name with sign language.  It's a bit like a nickname!  It is a shortened sign to make signing a name faster and easier.  Deaf dogs can learn many different signs, and all of my dogs also learn a sign for their names.

Teaching a name sign is a great way to let your dog know you want to engage with him.  If you have multiple dogs in your home, using name signs can be very handy so the dogs know which dog you are referring to.  I use name signs to ask my dogs to take turns, or to allow one dog to come through a doorway but not a different dog.  I can ask my dogs to do different things by differentiating which one I'm addressing.

How do you decide on a name sign?  Perhaps your dog has a certain character trait you want to highlight, or an endearing nickname that already has a sign that you can use.  I tend to use the first letter of the dog's name in its name sign and choose different ways to use that hand shape.  

Vegas (pictured) has a name sign that is a V (index and middle fingers spread as a V with other fingers folded into my hand) and I shake it back and forth slightly in the air.  Owen has an O hand shape (all fingers curled and touching my thumb to create a circle) and instead of shaking back and forth, his drops slightly downward in the air. 

To teach Vegas to pay attention to this new sign, I use his name sign whenever we are doing things he likes!  Name sign, then treat!  Name sign, then his meal!  Name sign while we are playing his favorite games!  Name sign when I put his leash on to go outside!  He will learn by association that the sign refers to him and that something good will happen.

I don't use a name sign if I am going to do something my dog is not fond of - bathing, going to the vet, etc.  I will just go get my dog.  I always want only positive things associated with my dog's name sign.  I always want my dogs eager to engage with me and come running when they notice their name sign!