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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Useful Verbal Cues for Blind Dogs

A blind dog with useful hearing will appreciate you teaching and using verbal cues to help her navigate her environment safely and with as little stress as possible.  Keeping our blind dogs safe is a consideration that is always foremost in our minds.  How helpless we feel when we are across the room or yard and we see them about to crash into something they can't see.

Teaching your dog some safety words and words to describe what's happening around her can help make our job easier and can keep our dog safer.   Knowing what to expect will also help to alleviate anxiety and stress for the dog, which will decrease many unwanted behaviors.

Safety Words

Wait/Stop: This may be the word you'll use the most to prevent your dog from bumping into things and moving forward into dangerous situations.  There are a couple of ways to teach it.  You can use both in combination or choose what works best for you and your dog.

In day to day life, when you are close to your dog, say Wait and immediately use your hands to prevent your dog from moving forward.  As soon as she pauses, praise her and give her a treat.  Then give her an All Clear cue and allow her to move again.  It is important to say the word immediately before (not at the same time) as you stop your dog.  This allows her time to hear and recognize the word before you stop her.  Gradually you will need to physically stop her less and less as she starts to understand and respond to the Wait word.  With repetition, she will learn to stop when you say Wait, and to move when you say All Clear.

I also like to teach this with the dog on a leash and walking with me.  I practice Wait on walks and in all environments so I have peace of mind that when I really need it, my dog will respond quickly.  On a walk, I will cue Wait and then stop walking as I prevent my dog from moving forward.  Again, I praise and treat when she stops and I practice until she can stop on her own with just my verbal cue to Wait.  Continue to reinforce this behavior with praise, petting and treats to keep it strong.

Curb: This is a cue used to tell your dog to take a step down at a curb or a small step down.  You will have probably already used your Wait cue above to get your dog to stop at the edge of the curb.  Simply say the word Curb as you help lead your dog down the step, then praise and treat.  Your dog will learn this cue with practice and repetition.

Step up: Step Up is the cue used to tell my dog to step up onto the top of a curb or other step upwards.  After the Wait cue to tell my dog to stop at the bottom of the step, I will use the cue Step Up and then guide my dog up the step.  She will learn this with consistent practice and rewards.

Come to me: It's important for all dogs, including blind dogs, to learn to come to us immediately when we call.  This is safety at its finest - to be able to call our dog away from dangerous situations.  With a blind dog, we do need to keep in mind the environment we are calling our dog in.  If there are obstacles in the path back to us, it is likely that our dog will bump into them on her way to us.  This can actually be upsetting to the dog and she may begin to associate us calling her with bumping into things.  It's important to ensure that when we call our dog, the pathway is clear to get to us.  If it's not, it's better to try to get to our dog quickly instead.

Choose a word that you will only use for your dog to come to you quickly - Cookies, for example.  When you first start calling your dog, do it very close to her and give her lots of cookies.  Gradually move farther away from her so she learns to come towards you to get her cookies.  Keep in mind that your dog can't see where you are when you call.  She will hear your initial call, but then if you are quiet, she may not know where you are.  As you call a blind dog, continue to make a noise - clap, pat your leg, continue to talk, etc - so she can follow the sound and come right to you.

Words for Walks

Let's go: This cue will let your dog know that you're going to start walking and you want her to come along with you now.  She will learn it with repetition.  As you give the cue, it may be helpful to continue to talk to her or pat your leg to encourage her so she knows which direction you're moving.  Some people will wear a small bell which will provide ongoing sound for the dog to orient to while you're on walks.

Right/Left: These are helpful cues to let your dog know which way you'll be turning.  Give the cue before you actually turn and then help your dog to go in that direction.

Close to me: This cue will bring the dog in closer to you to make passing trees, hydrants, and other people easier.  You will need to guide your dog closer to you and may need to at first keep a shorter leash to keep her close to you.

Dog friend: Your blind dog won't be able to see other dogs approaching her.  Even if the dogs aren't going to meet, if you will be passing another dog, your dog will surely smell it.  I find it's handy to point out a Dog Friend as a dog is approaching or passing us, and then to keep talking happily and feed my dog many small treats.  This can prevent my dog from learning to pull towards other dogs as her attention will be on me for the treats, and it can prevent my dog from being startled by there suddenly being another dog smell in her space.

Say hello: You may meet people on your walk who want to stop and greet you and your dog.  Your dog will smell them but won't be able to see them reaching out a hand.  Most people reach out a hand to a dog for a sniff before they touch.  You can teach your dog to sniff for someone's hand on a cue Say Hello.  If your dog wants to greet the person, that can offer a chance for her to prepare herself for touch so she's not suddenly being touched by a stranger.

Day to Day Words

Petting/Touch: It's a courtesy to let a blind dog know before you touch or pet her.  She may or may not be aware that you're going to reach for her, and letting her know before you touch her will give her a moment to prepare herself.  She will be less likely to be startled.  This might be as simple as saying the dog's name first, or as elaborate as telling her which part of the body you're going to touch - ears, belly rub, etc.

Grooming: Dogs can tell the difference between pieces of grooming equipment and learn to associate them with how the tool is used.  Take the time when grooming your blind dog to tell them which tool you're going to use.  With consistent repetition, she will learn each of them by name.  How much nicer is it to your dog to know the brush is coming next, or the nail clippers, or the scissors, than to be surprised and startled with each one?

Elevator: Small dogs who are picked up will be very happy to have a cue that means, I'm going to pick you up now.  Not all dogs enjoy being picked up, although many tolerate it.  Knowing they will be picked up is going to be much nicer than suddenly being swooped up from the ground with no warning.  Blind dogs can't see you bending and see the body language associated with you picking them up.  Give them a verbal cue to let them know before you pick them up.

Sound words: There may be sounds that startle or scare your dog because they are sudden, loud or unusual.  Adding a cue word to tell your dog what the sound is can be helpful to helping her return to a state of calm.  Telling your dog that a noise is a motorcycle may not help her to know what a motorcycle is, but it will tell her by the matter of fact tone of your voice that it's not a big deal to stay upset about.  And the more you hear motorcycles, and name them for her, she will begin over time to recognize the word.  If you remain calm in the way you name the noises for her, you will be helping her not to be as upset by them.

Bedtime: Some blind dogs are challenged to know what behaviors we expect at certain times of the day. They are not seeing the visual cues of us getting ready for bed and they can remain active at night while we're trying to sleep.  There are many cues we can use to help our dog distinguish bedtime from daytime, and adding a verbal Night, Night cue can add to these.

**For more information about blind and/or deaf dogs, visit my website at  You will find articles, books, online classes and resources there to assist you!  To subscribe to this blog and receive emails as each new post is published, please scroll to the blog header at the top of the page and add your email address!**

Friday, May 8, 2020

Blind Dogs and Fear Aggression

Some dogs that are going blind begin showing behaviors like growling, snapping, or biting.  This is very disturbing to the dog's family.  Suddenly the dog they thought they knew is acting very uncharacteristically.

The dog may be snapping at family members or other animals in the home.  If these behaviors are not understood and dealt with in the proper ways, they can escalate.

There is a period of transition when a dog is losing or has lost her sight.  How long this transition lasts is dependent upon the individual situation.  There are some things we can do to help a blind dog adjust while also keeping everyone safe.

Realize the Reason

If you can imagine for a moment that your vision is deteriorating or has suddenly disappeared, I'm sure you would be feeling a bit scared and uncertain.  As your dog is becoming blind, her world is feeling scary and uncertain now too.

There is no one specific way of becoming blind, so it's difficult to know for sure what your dog is seeing or not seeing in most cases.  But we can be sure that your dog's way of experiencing the world is changing drastically.   What she once thought was normal and made sense to her no longer feels that way.

If she's in the process of losing her vision, she may still be able to see, but what she sees may no longer make sense to her.  What she sees may be blurry, distorted, or have large areas of darkness within her line of sight.  She may be able to see light and dark contrast, or she may not.  Bright light may be painful to her or completely white out anything she may still be able to see in the shade.  Her depth perception may be changing.  She may not know how far down a step is or how close something is to her.

Perhaps your dog has become blind very suddenly.  This would be similar to the power going out and you trying to navigate in complete darkness.  Most of us would run into things, stub our toe, be startled by someone else running into us, knock things off the table, etc.  It's very disorienting to suddenly be in darkness.

As you can imagine, these changes are confusing to your dog.  She's going to be scared and unsure about her surroundings and what's going on around her.

When dogs are not feeling safe and secure, they may begin to show behaviors that people often interpret as aggressive - growling, snapping, and biting.  Your dog is not being mean or bad if she shows these behaviors.  She's telling you in the only way she knows how that she is not feeling safe.  She has needs that aren't being met, and she's doing what she knows how to do to cope in that moment.

If your dog doesn't feel safe in her environment because she's perceiving it differently now that she's losing her sight, she will be on edge and more alert to everything going on around her.  While she's on edge, anything else that happens to her, or anyone who approaches her, may scare her even more and feel like a potential threat to her safety and well-being.

When you are feeling your way around that dark room when the electricity goes out and you hear a noise, you are going to be much more startled by it than you would be in the daylight.  Your senses are on higher alert as you are feeling your way around the room, so you will be more startled by noises or unexpected bumps than you would be if you were feeling secure in your environment.

When your dog is in her environment but things don't look right to her, she will be more easily startled as well.  When a dog is startled, she may feel unsafe and will attempt to keep whatever has startled her or feels threatening away from her.  She does this by growling - that is how a dog says "stay away."  When that threat keeps its distance or goes away, the dog feels safer.  A growl is her way of trying to feel safe by creating distance around her.

If the dog still doesn't feel safe, or if the threat continues to affect her, she will escalate her growl to a snap and perhaps a bite in the direction of the threat.  Again, she's trying to create safety for herself.  She's not trying to be mean.  She's protecting herself from something she doesn't feel good about.

Learn the Signs

Your dog will show certain behaviors when she is feeling unsure.  Learn the signs of uncertainty so you can help your dog before she feels that she needs to growl or snap.

You may notice your dog staying in one place a lot of the time.  This can be due to uncertainty.  She may be afraid to move because of the unknown (what she can no longer see).  She may not know what's in front of her or where she is in the room.  She may feel safer staying in one spot than venturing out to move around freely.  Some dogs look like they are sleeping a lot, but if you watch, you will see that they are awake.

You may notice her moving very slowly if she does move around.  This is a sign that while she is wanting to move around, she's still not feeling very safe in her environment.  She may avoid being touched or doing things that she used to like to do - going for a walk, playing, eating or drinking.  You might notice her turning her head or body away from you or from something you're trying to engage her with.

There are many good resources that can help you learn to recognize signs of stress and fear in dogs.  Some of these signs are very subtle, but they are important ways in which your dog is communicating with you.

When you notice the subtle signs that your dog is not feeling comfortable, you are in a position to do something to help her.  Helping her to feel safer when she's showing these little signs will build her trust in you, and hopefully prevent her from feeling she needs to protect herself by growling or biting.

How to Help

What your dog needs now more than anything is for you to create an environment and routine where she feels safe.  You may know that she's safe and there's nothing that can hurt her, but until she also feels safe within herself, that feeling of uncertainty and being on edge is not going to go away.  Look at things from her perspective as much as you can.  Help create that space where she truly feels safe, and she won't feel the need to protect herself anymore.

Keep your dog's space and routine as consistent as possible.  She will feel safer knowing where she is, where the furniture and other objects are, and what is coming up next in her day.  Begin to guide her gently to help her learn new ways of navigating her environment.

Some dogs prefer a smaller area to navigate as they transition to losing their sight.  This usually isn't forever, but blocking off a room or even part of a room for your dog may help her feel safer.  She will feel more contained and will only need to map out and experience a small area and not the whole house or yard all at once, which might feel overwhelming.

Dogs that can hear will appreciate being notified of things happening in their environment with verbal cues and sounds.  Speak when you come into the room and let her know when you are leaving the room.  This can be as simple as saying "Hello, Penny" when you enter the room, and "I'll be back" when you leave.

If your dog is also deaf, teach touch cues and just touch base with your dog when you enter the room and leave.  If your dog is unsure of being touched at this point, you can gently toss a treat to her so it lands near her and touches her lightly.  This will help her be aware of you being in her space.

Take time to condition your dog that touch and being surprised are good things.  If you've taught this previously, this is the perfect time to begin to practice it again as a refresher.  It's also a great time to teach your dog a cue that means you're going to touch her now.  Use a verbal cue for dogs that can hear.  It may be enough for you to ask her if she'd like to be pet now before you touch her, or your dog may prefer you adding a name for various body parts that you're going to touch - would you like a belly rub?  I'm going to wipe your feet now.  How about an ear rub?

This allows your dog time to prepare herself for your touch instead of your hand just plunking down on her body.  Knowing what's coming allows a dog to feel safer with what's going to happen.  Tell your dog throughout the day what you're about to do - put a leash on, fill the water bowl, etc.  She will learn through repetition.  Remember, she used to get this information by watching you.  But she can't see now, so you can give her this information in another way.

Many blind dogs don't like to be bumped into or awakened suddenly.  If there are other animals or young children in the home, closely supervise them.  Even if your dog has been fine with them in the past, remember that now she is losing the ability to gather information visually.  She won't see them approaching her, and it can be scary to be grabbed or bumped into suddenly if you don't know it's coming.

You can give your dog advance information cues to let her know that the baby is nearby or the cat is approaching her so she's not startled with them suddenly being close or touching her.  It's also important to give your dog alone time without interruptions when she can relax and sleep soundly.  Sleep is important to all of us.  It is important especially during this time of transition that you create a safe place for your dog to get uninterrupted sleep. 

Dogs that are deaf and are losing their sight can be given informational cues through touches on different parts of their bodies.  Take the time to condition touch as a good thing first.  If you try to add touch cues before your dog feels safe, you may trigger behaviors such as growling or snapping.  Always pay attention to your dog's body language and what she's communicating to you.  Don't be afraid to hire a positive reinforcement based trainer to help you through the transition if needed.

Some dogs are more startled and concerned about noises as they lose their sight.  Normally a dog would hear a noise and then look to see what it was and where it was coming from.  A dog hearing a noise but not knowing where it's coming from or what's happening can feel uneasy.  This can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Give your dog information about noises in her environment.  If you use the same words and a calm tone each time, she will begin to recognize that the noise is something that happens regularly and is not something that you're concerned about.  Calming music or a white noise machine can help to mask noises during the day or night that your dog may be concerned about.

Other Resources

Here are some other related resources you may find helpful:

Learning a New Way to Communicate 

Encouraging Play and Activity with Newly Blind Dogs

Conditioning Touch

Signs of Stress

Tips for Stress Reduction

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

Friday, April 10, 2020

A Day in the Life ... Vinny

Most of Vinny's fans see him when he's in public - doing demos, therapy visits, or doing dog sports.  Today we're going to share with you the nitty gritty of his day to day life at home - what is it really like to live with a blind and deaf dog who doesn't know any better?  Who better to tell you, than Vinny himself?!

"Sometimes I sleep on the big bed with Mom, but other times I sleep in my dog bed on the floor.  I always try to keep Mom guessing, so there's really no pattern to my choice, although I do like to get on the big bed to cuddle most nights while Mom reads her book or writes.

When she starts to move around in the morning, I know it's time to get up!  I give her kisses and try to play with her, even when she wants to sleep more.  Sometimes I wait for her to let me know that my dog friends are not on the floor by the bed so I can jump off.  Usually I can tell by smelling, but sometimes it smells like they might still be there.  But if Mom tells me to jump off then I know the coast is clear.  It's rude to jump down on top of my dog friends, so I always try to be careful since I can't see them there.

Mom takes us outside to take care of our business.  I wait by the door until she opens it and we have a special way we go through together, so I don't hit my nose on the doorway.  At the top of the stairs, I pause for just a moment to find the top step. Then away I go!  Mom sometimes tries to slow me down if I'm too fast.  I've been known to try to jump down the stairs in my excitement - but Mom says this is a problem since I can't see just how far I have left to jump! 

When I walk (or run) on the stairs, I know exactly how many steps I have to go up or down in my house.  I do the steps many times every day.  Mom says I count them. 

Then it's playtime!  I bring my toys to Mom and convince her to play with me.  We have a little game, but it's never long enough since she has to get in the shower and get ready for work.  I try to get her to play just a little longer with me every day, but she always has to get ready.  I love my toys and playing with my Mom.  So, instead, while she gets ready, I play with my dog friends and we bark and wrestle and run into things.

Then we all get breakfast.  I enjoy eating from my food puzzle toys most of all.  I like to pick them up and toss them on the floor so all the food comes out!  Sometimes Mom will give me a box with my breakfast inside and let me tear it up.  That's fun too!

When Mom goes to work, I nap most of the day.  I have favorite toys and bones, and my dog friends, but mostly we nap or chew our bones and toys.

If Mom doesn't go to work, there are all sorts of fun things we may do.  It might be a grooming day - which is not usually my favorite, but I get treats and lots of fun playtime afterwards, so I put up with it.  We may have a fun class to go to where I can meet more of my friends and learn fun stuff.   We might go on a therapy visit to meet our friends there and help people smile.

If we go somewhere in the car, I know to put my front feet up and wait.  Mom will take off my leash and then boost me into the van the rest of the way.  She taught me not to jump all the way in, because often there is a crate door or some other obstacle in the way that I would hit my nose on.  She takes good care to look out for me.  I put my front feet in, and when she's ready and the path is clear, she boosts me in the rest of the way.

More playtime is always good!  I like to play tug games with Mom.  I shake my toys and I like toys that crinkle.  I can feel them crunch in my mouth when I play with them.  I also like to catch.  I give my Mom the toy and then I wait - paying attention to the sky.  I know my toy is going to come dropping out of the sky, so I pay attention so I can catch it when it does!  I'm pretty good at catching! 

And walks are fun too!  Sometimes I go on walks with my other dog friends.  Sometimes I go on walks on a long leash so I can run and smell all the amazing things that dogs love!  Mom might even hide some treats along our path for me to find.  I'm really good at smelling and finding them all!

We have training time when Mom and I practice our lessons.  There's always treats and playtime mixed in to these lessons.  Mom uses different touches to let me know what we're going to work on.  I pay close attention so I can remember which touch means which exercise.

There's always nap time in the day again somewhere - after all, I do need my beauty sleep.  Mom works on her computer sometimes and I sleep by her feet so I can easily tell when she's done and gets up to take a break.  I can feel her feet move, so I know I better get up.  She might be going to the treat cupboard, after all.

Speaking of snacks, Mom likes to have a snack when she is writing, and when I smell one of her snacks, I ask very politely if I may also have a bite of her snack.  I stick my nose up very close and take a big smell to make sure it's something that I might like.  Mom knows I won't try to take any.  Then if the smell passes my inspection, I sit politely next to her leg and ask her for a bit like Lassie would.  Because, I am a collie too, of course!  I place one paw very gently on her knee while I'm sitting and I wait.  Sure enough, here comes a little bite for me!

At bedtime, I usually climb into bed and cuddle with Mom until she's ready to go to sleep.  Then I will decide if I want to get down and go to my bed, or stay on the big bed.  I like to sleep very close and touching Mom so I can know that she's alright if I wake up during the night.  Sometimes I sleep so closely that she keeps rolling to the edge of the bed, and then she has to wake me up to move me over a bit.

I have a really good and active life.  Most days are not the same as the day before, which I think is something called enrichment.  Whatever it is, I like it!"

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

Conquering the Jumper

Why do dogs jump up?

Chances are, you've all experienced it - either being jumped on by a dog, or having a dog that jumps up onto others!  Jumping up is a common dog-related behavior that is often misunderstood.

Dogs greet their dog friends and family happily and face-to-face contact is important to them and is part of their greeting ritual behavior.  Puppies especially greet adults by licking at their faces.

Our dogs jump up because they want to greet us and others.  But we are not normally down on the dog's level.  Our faces and hands are usually up above the dog's face height.  Dogs learn very quickly that jumping up allows them to reach our hands - which often pet them or play with them or hold good things!  And often, people are quick to reach to pet a cute puppy that is jumping up, thus reinforcing this behavior and encouraging it to happen again and again.

Why do dogs continue to jump?

Jumping up often escalates quickly into a dog's nails raking at skin and clothing, the dog mouthing at hands and arms excitedly, and even the dog slamming its body against the person harder and harder.

Many people give the advice to ignore a dog that is jumping up, saying the dog will stop if it gets no attention.  While I have seen this work in a few situations, in the majority of situations, I see the dog's behavior escalating as in the previous scenario.

A dog that is used to getting a reaction in some way when it jumps will quickly get frustrated as the person tries to ignore its behavior.  The frustration leads to the dog trying even harder to get a response from the person - mouthing, body slamming, raking with nails, etc.  The more frustrated the dog gets, the more aroused it gets, and the more intense the dog's behavior becomes.

If we try to ignore the dog's escalating behavior, at some point, we won't be able to ignore it anymore.  It will begin to become very uncomfortable, painful perhaps.  Then we finally react!  The dog has just learned that if he persists longer and harder, he can get a reaction from us/or the person he is jumping on.  This is really the exact opposite of the result we want.

What's reinforcing the dog's behavior?

In order for the dog to continue the jumping behavior, something must be reinforcing the behavior.  For each dog this might be different.

Is there that one person who seems to like the dog jumping up?  Who always pets and coos at the dog while it's front feet are up off the ground and says, oh don't worry about it?

Is there an opportunity for the dog to jump up on someone and snatch a toy or food from a person's hand?

Is the dog wanting attention and the only way to get attention is by getting scolded to stop jumping?  Or is the dog jumping and interpreting the person's flailing arms and pushing away as play?

If you think about the experience from the dog's perspective, you can probably figure out what its motivation is to continue jumping up.  As long as the behavior is being reinforced, even sometimes, that behavior will continue to stay strong.

How to change the behavior

Put a stop to any inadvertent reinforcement that happens when the dog jumps up.  Be sure that if the dog does jump, it receives no petting or playing or food or toys!  All great things happen when the dog has all four feet on the floor!

Don't ignore your dog when it has all four feet on the floor.  It's easy to ignore a dog that is doing what we want, but because this jumping has become a habit, it's important to catch your dog when it's doing what you want and reinforce a lot!  So anytime you notice your dog has four feet on the floor, take a moment to show the dog your approval!

Sometimes the reinforcement comes from within the dog himself.  Jumping can be a result of the dog becoming over-aroused.  An over-aroused dog is in reaction mode, not calm thinking mode.  He is acting out the way he feels, and this can cause a sense of relief within the dog, which he finds reinforcing.  Helping the dog to be able to feel calmer and stay under threshold can also help to lessen the jumping up behavior in this case. 

We want to make sure the dog's needs to greet us and to get attention from us are being met.  If its needs are not being met, the dog will continue to try to meet those needs, and this may mean continuing to jump up to try to get our attention.  So, what can we do to help prevent jumping and teach new greeting patterns?

What to do instead

Get on the dog's level.  Stoop down, get your hands at the dog's level.  Take a moment to greet your dog and encourage it to say hello into your hands - which are now at its level.  Remember that your dog is so happy to see you and wants to engage with you.  This is one of the great parts of having a dog, right? A dog who meets you at the door and loves the fact that you've come home!  Don't ignore this part of his day.

On a platform
Bring the dog to your level.  A raised platform or area will allow your dog to get higher up so it can greet you closer to your hands and face.  This is helpful if you're not able to get on the floor to say hello.  The dog can be encouraged to get onto a piece of furniture or its platform so it can be greeted in a more appropriate manner.  You can teach a cue for this so the dog knows to get onto the platform or area when asked.  You can even teach a specific behavior such as sitting or lying down once the dog gets up on it.  Remember to place your hands down to your dog's level to help prevent the jumping up.

Ask for other behaviors you appreciate more.  If your dog knows other behaviors, you can use these to redirect it before it jumps up.  For instance, a dog that is sitting can't also be jumping.  A dog doing a trick such as spin isn't going to be jumping on you at the same time.

Use a leash and harness to manage the dog's behavior.  A leash can be used to prevent your dog from jumping on guests until it settles down and isn't so excited.  In the same way, the dog can be asked to go wait on its bed or platform when guests come.  Once the dog has settled down, it may be appropriate to then allow a calmer greeting.

Keeping a container of treats near the door (or other areas that jumping occurs) can offer a distraction and also a reinforcer for keeping four feet on the floor.  Hold the treat at the dog's nose level or lower to prevent jumping.  If you raise your hand up with the treat in it, you will encourage the dog to jump up to get the treat.  Feed the dog low or even drop or scatter some treats on the floor.  Praise while the dog has four feet on the floor and is smelling for the treats.  Done consistently, this can encourage the dog to begin sniffing the floor when people enter, instead of jumping up.

Let the dog jump.  This always remains an option.  It is not up to me to tell you that your dog shouldn't be jumping.  Some people do enjoy having their dog
jump on them.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Just remember that if you allow or encourage jumping sometimes, your dog will most likely also jump when you don't want it to.  Dogs aren't great at telling the difference in contexts and being reinforced for jumping up is fun - so they will want to continue doing it.  It's not fair to encourage it sometimes and get mad at other times.

You can, however, teach your dog a special cue to jump up on you - so jumping up on you becomes like doing a trick.  And, then you will have a way to let your dog know when you want it to jump up.  When you don't want it to jump up, then you can give it a different cue, ask it to go to a platform, or use any number of the other options listed here.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Helping the Newly Adopted Dog

There is so much excitement when we adopt a new dog and bring her home!  We hold a picture of expectation in our minds of all the things we're going to do together.  It's important to remember that these expectations belong to us, not necessarily to our new dog.  It can take time for a new dog to adjust to a new family.

I always try to be mindful when bringing a new dog into my household, that everything is new to her - the people, the other animals, the house and environment, the routine, my rules and expectations, perhaps even the food and the noises, sights, and smells.  I may even handle the dog in a way that is unfamiliar to her.

How would I feel going to live in someone's home that I didn't know?  I would appreciate having some time to get to know the family there, their routine, and what is normal in that environment.  Our dogs need the same.

To make this transition into a new home as smooth and low-stress as possible, there are things that every newly adopted dog needs.

Trust and Feeling Safe

Every dog needs to feel safe in its environment before it can feel at home.  A dog that doesn't feel safe will have a difficult time learning the rules and routines in a new place.  Dogs that don't feel safe may become reactive or may even growl or snap out of fear and uncertainty.  These are certainly things we want to avoid.

Prior to bringing a dog home, take a look around.  You will want to dog proof your home and yard as much as possible - moving things that could be dangerous or that you don't want chewed, broken, etc.

Think of your new dog as a guest coming into your house.  What else can you do to make this dog's stay most comfortable?

Is there a nice quiet place for the dog to rest when it's feeling overwhelmed and needs a break?  Will it have its own place to eat and drink in case it doesn't want to share space with your other dogs at first?  Are there stress-reduction tools you can put into place?

Here is a post about stress-reduction tools and techniques:

The most important thing you can do when bringing a new dog home is to earn its trust.  Dogs will trust you when they feel safe with you.  Doing the things in this post can help you to build trust, but first and foremost always think about whether the dog feels safe or not.  This will help you decide what to do or not do.

If the dog feels safe, it can begin to trust.  If it doesn't feel safe, it can't learn to trust and it won't be able to relax.  Moving into your home is a huge transition for your dog, no matter what her history is.  Even a dog coming from a loving home environment will be stressed.  Everything has changed for her.  She needs to know that she can trust you to keep her safe at all costs.


Dogs need time to adjust.  We are excited to have a new family member, but our new dog doesn't want to meet the whole extended family and all your friends right away.  Allow your dog time to get to know you and your home before adding a lot of anything new.

Training classes can wait a few weeks or more.  Teaching manners can begin on day one at home, but formal training sessions should wait until you know the dog is settled and has had time to relax and trust you.  A dog that feels safe and stress-free will learn faster and easier than one that doesn't.

There is no easy answer as to how long each dog needs.  This is a very individual thing.  The safer the dog feels and the more time you can give her to relax into this new life, the faster this process will go.  Some dogs will need a couple of weeks, while others may need a couple of months, or somewhere in between.

Learn to read dog body language so you can see signs of stress.  If you are seeing signs of stress, the dog needs more time to settle in, and may need some help to be able to relax.

Some signs of stress in dogs:


We all need uninterrupted sleep to deal with stress and change, and our dogs do too.  Allow plenty of time for sleep in your new dog's schedule.  You may be surprised at how much she sleeps those first couple of weeks.

Try to provide places for her to sleep where she won't be constantly interrupted by people, animals, noises, and commotion.  Calming music may help dogs that can hear.  There is music specifically created to help calm dogs, or classical type music will also do.  Music can also drown out some new background noises that may cause your dog to wake up often because she doesn't yet know those are usual sounds in her new home.

Dogs enjoy being part of a group, and allowing your new dog to sleep in the same room as you can help with bonding.  Many people want to put a new dog in a crate at night until it can be trusted loose in the home.  Some dogs will be fine in a crate by your bed or in the bedroom.  Others will be upset being confined.  You can also use an ex pen to create a larger safe area in the bedroom that doesn't feel as confining for the dog until you have a chance to teach her to feel safe in a crate.

Allowing her to cry and bark herself to sleep is not going to create that trust you're trying so hard to develop.  If the dog is not already comfortable in a crate, please don't expect her to get a relaxed night sleep in one.  Teaching about a crate can take time.  Being confined is very stressful for some dogs.

Crate training is important, but please do it gradually.  Ignoring a dog that is obviously stressed in a crate only creates a dog with more stress about the crate, not one who knows how to relax and nap in one.

Keep Things Low Key

Keep things low key for the first few weeks.  If you must have guests during this time, please don't have guests for the first couple of days.  After that keep guests to one new person a day for another week.  Remember that you want your dog to learn to trust you and that you are her new person.  Too many new people can overwhelm some dogs and cause anxiety. 

The same holds true for taking your new dog on walks.  Keep walks calm.  The first day or two, confine walks to the area right around your home.  Explore the yard together.  Be leisurely and allow your dog to sniff on a long leash as she feels comfortable.  As you begin to venture out away from home, try to go at times when the area will be quiet with only a few people to meet and not a lot of traffic.  Build up slowly.

You don't know how your new dog will react to surprises, or to things that you think are normal but your dog may not know about yet.  By staying close to home and going at quieter times, you have the ability to get home quickly if your dog gets overwhelmed or becomes difficult to manage.

Walking is great exercise for those first few weeks, especially if paired with lots of opportunity to sniff and explore.  Playing wild and crazy fetch games may be fun for you, and you may think the new dog enjoys them as well, but this will not help your dog to relax and be low-stress as she settles in.

Arousal of any kind is stressful.  A dog that is already relaxed and settled can play fast fetch games without too much concern, as long as the game is not allowed to continue for too long and the dog doesn't become obsessive.  But a newly adopted dog is not yet relaxed, so save those games for a while.

Providing calm enrichment activities can be a great addition to sniffing walks.  Food puzzle toys, scatter feeding, licki mats, etc. are all good choices.  If using puzzle toys, choose very easy ones at first.  Many dogs have not experienced working to get food out of toys and will become frustrated if the puzzle is too hard.

I find a stuffed Kong is a good toy to start with.  I put the dog's meal into a Kong toy.  I don't freeze it at this stage.  I want the food to be easy for the dog to lick out.

Scatter feeding means sprinkling the food around an area for the dog to sniff out and find.  Start with sprinkling food around the kitchen floor.  You can also try this out in the grass by letting the dog see you putting the food out first.  Snuffle mats are also a good way to do this - again, start easy, letting the dog see you hiding the food.

More about enrichment:


A consistent routine and handling will go a long way toward teaching your dog what the rules and expectations are.  A routine will help set up housetraining right away.  A dog that knows when it will go outside, be fed, get its walk, go to bed, etc., will settle in more quickly than one who is always guessing.  Routine and consistently = predictability = trust!

Blind and Deaf

Of course, with all of the above, dogs that are blind will need extra help feeling safe and learning the routes to all the important places in the home.  Guide your dog for several weeks until she starts to show you she is learning the lay of the land.  Stay close and help her as needed.  This builds trust and a feeling of being safe.  Many blind dogs do better with a smaller area of the house at a time, instead of having run of the entire new house and yard.  As they feel comfortable, you can expand that area for them.

Deaf dogs will need special care that they aren't startled by sudden touch or woken up suddenly.  This can be very stressful for them if they haven't been previously taught to associate these with something good.  Try to create spaces away from activity and give the deaf dog time in those spaces to get that much-needed uninterrupted sleep.

Be sure to have safety measures in place at doors to the outside, steps, etc.  You certainly don't want a new blind and/or deaf dog sneaking out the door before she really knows you and you know her.  Having a gate across doorways will give you peace of mind.  Gates are great tools for creating safe places.

Some blind and/or deaf dogs may not feel safe being reached for by someone they don't know, or touched unexpectedly.  This is something that you can teach, but for this time while your dog is getting settled, you may want to allow her to drag a light piece of clothesline or leash when you are home and supervising. This will allow you to easily pick up the end of the line to guide the dog where you want her to go without reaching suddenly for her collar or touching her when she's not expecting it.  Remember, you want to build trust.

Don't leave this line on the dog when you're not home or supervising, as it may get caught on obstacles or tangled around the dog's leg.  Not all dogs will need this, but it is a useful tool to use with some.

**For more information about blind and/or deaf dogs, visit my website at  You will find articles, books, online classes and resources there to assist you!  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, January 2, 2020

Why Teach Tricks?

I love to teach tricks to my dogs!  I especially support teaching tricks to dogs that may be differently-abled.  Many dogs, no matter what their abilities, spend the majority of their week lounging around at home being bored while their human goes to work or school.  

Tricks are a fun activity that can be done anytime, anywhere.  When I get home from work I don't always have the time, energy, or daylight hours left to go out and give my dog a lot of exercise or training.  Sometimes I just want to sit back in my chair in front of the TV.  

I do enjoy giving my dogs treats, and it's very simple to ask for or teach a new trick before they get a treat.  I can spend a moment during the commercials doing a couple tricks.  My dog has fun, and I have fun.  It gives me a chance to turn all my focus to my dog.  Dogs love our undivided attention!  

Tricks can be great for helping to keep dogs in shape (and people too depending on the trick!).  Dogs use various parts of their bodies in new ways when doing tricks. This can help to keep their muscles strong and healthy.  Of course, they still need other types of exercise, but tricks can certainly be a part of any fitness program.

Tricks have increased my dogs' confidence.  They aren't afraid to try new things or to use their bodies in different ways, because I've taught them many tricks and have always encouraged them and set them up for success.  

I've not yet met a dog that wasn't able to learn tricks - this is one of my favorite parts!  We can adapt tricks to any variety of abilities!  Dogs missing limbs can learn tricks.  Dogs without hearing or sight can learn tricks.  Dogs that have balance or coordination concerns can learn tricks!  The sky is the limit when it comes to teaching tricks!

If you haven't taught your dog any tricks, you may want to give it a try!  It's a lot of fun!  I offer online classes for beginner and intermediate level tricks, and I can witness titles through DMWYD if you're interested (for all levels).  Find classes here:

(This slide is from a presentation I did for TriDex about including blind and deaf dogs in trick training and beyond!)

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

Friday, December 20, 2019

Moving with Deaf and Blind Dogs

We've been a bit quiet online lately, as we've made a couple major moves in the past year.  As many of my readers know, most of my dogs are deaf or blind/deaf.  Moving has been a major transition for all of us.  I often get questions about moving - especially questions about how to help blind dogs adjust to a new environment.  I hope some of these tips will help to make a move easier for you and your dogs.

Preparing for the move

Keep your dog used to change.  If you always keep everything the same, it will be harder for your dog to adjust to something different.  Take your dog to new safe environments and allow it to explore.  Go with your dog and help it to map out and explore new spaces.  Help to minimize hard bumps and stumbles.  This increases a dog's confidence and trust in you to keep it safe.

If you are moving a distance away, try to choose a new veterinarian before the move and have your dog's records transferred.  This way, if there is an emergency, or you need to schedule a vet visit soon after moving, all your dog's records will already be there.  You may also want to refill any prescriptions prior to moving so you won't have to worry about doing that right after the move.

Some dogs may do better drinking water from their old home.  Take some jugs of the water your dog
is used to to help transition it to the water in the new home.  This will help minimize stomach upsets.

Take important landmark items with you to have in the new space from the start.  These are items that have a familiar smell and feel to your dog - its bed, crate, bowls, and certain rugs that may have been by the door.  Having these in the new home right away can give your dog clues about its new environment.  Unpack and place these items first before bringing your dog into the new space.

In your new home

Be sure to show your dog to its water bowl several times a day at first.  Your dog needs to stay hydrated for good health.  Hydration also aides in scenting and your dog will be doing a lot more smelling and exploring than usual.  Make certain your dog knows its way to the water bowl by taking it there often.  Expect that during the transition your dog may drink more water than usual.

Each dog is individual in how long it will take to map out a new space and feel comfortable.  This is a transition and will take some time.  If your dog is not practiced with mapping out new environments, this process may take up to several weeks.

Try to arrange your schedule so you are home for at least several days in the new space if you can.  Spend time focused on getting your dog settled and comfortable, and helping it create a mental map of its new space. Keep your dog's routine as close to what is normal as possible.  This will help with keeping stress levels low and with maintaining house training.

It may be helpful to restrict your dog's access to all of the new home at first.  Many dogs feel more secure in a smaller area, so you can set up a pen with his things - bed, toys, bowls - or use gates to create a smaller area for him to map out first.

If you've used padding on furniture and corners, you may want to go back to using padding for a little while until your dog has mapped out the new set up.  You may also wish to use a halo harness - if this is a tool your dog is familiar with.

Take the time to gently guide your dog so it will learn paths to and from doors, its bed, toys, water bowl, etc.  This will take repetition, but you will notice with practice that your dog will begin to anticipate the path.  Then you can guide less and less.  Jump in to help if needed so your dog won't get frustrated, hurt or scared.

Things to consider

Expect to make more trips outside for business breaks.  The routine and the path to the door are different now for your dog, plus drinking more water and possible sensitive stomachs will mean needing to go more frequently.

Remember that moving is stressful.  Use various tools and techniques to keep stress levels as low as possible.  (There are other posts on this blog about these!)  Expect to see some behaviors related to stress - more barking, spinning, being clingy, chewing, pacing, etc.  Your dog may seem restless, or may even seem very tired and sleep a lot.

Some dogs may seem to become startled more easily.  This may be due to noises or vibrations that are unfamiliar in the new home.  Stress can also cause dogs to be short-tempered with people and other pets.  Often this is due to the dog being on edge and overly aware of everything in the new environment.  It isn't yet sure what to expect and what is normal for the new environment.  These behaviors should subside as your dog is once again feeling safe and comfortable in the new home.

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