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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Look! It's Treasure Claus!



Wow, what a month it’s been already!  The Treasure Claus has been very busy visiting her friends and spreading good cheer!  She went therapy visiting to the assisted living facility up the road, but no sooner did we get there and start talking to people than the electricity went out!  We waited for a little while, but it soon became obvious things were not going to be back to normal soon, so we said goodbye and headed home.  She’ll try again next week. 

We took a visit down to see Treasure’s foster family, Treasure Claus and gifts galore!  Took lots of pictures and had lots of snuggles.  Shared lots of stories.  I have to show my appreciation for foster homes.  Having been a foster home, I perhaps have a unique perspective.  Often we get the comment, “Oh, I could never do that.  I would get too attached and I wouldn’t be able to give the dog up.”  It’s almost as if people assume the foster family must not love the dog at all in order to be able to give it up. 

But foster homes are amazing people.  People who make sacrifices every day for their foster dogs.  They are people who will hug a filthy, smelly dog, with a skin disease, from a shelter, and genuinely mean it.  They spend their own money on toys and bones, treats, sweaters and dog beds.  Their homes and belongings take a beating from dogs who are teething, not housetrained, or who are afraid to be left alone.  They spend their free time answering emails and phone calls to people interested in adopting a dog, possibly their foster dog.  They attend adoption events and drive many miles transporting dogs to and from here and there.

There is no glory. There is no pay check.  Why would someone do all of that for a dog if they didn’t love it with all their heart?  We truly do love our foster dogs.  But our greatest wish is for them to find their own family to love forever, where they will never have to leave again.  And, yes, we cry tears when they leave us.  How could we not?  They have become a part of our lives.  But by letting them go, we are able to then take and help the next dog who has been waiting in the wings for someone to rescue it.  So, thank you to all the foster homes out there.  You are amazing people.

Ok, so where else has Treasure Claus been seen?  Recently, she was spotted visiting two local 4H groups while they had their holiday celebration and made ornaments for the community Christmas tree.  And if you’re lucky, you may see her riding around in the back of her van, dressed up in her holiday finest, running errands here and there around town.  Watch for the smiles, for the Treasure Claus spreads them wherever she goes!  And the excited whispers and points in her direction as the children spot her from afar …



Treasure and her foster mom





Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving K9 nosework


Since graduating from obedience class, Treasure and I have been training for a new adventure ... K9 nosework!  Well, the instructor wanted us to start training at home to give Treasure a head start.  (Class actually doesn't start until January.)  So I've been teaching her to find food hidden in various cardboard boxes around the room.  She is getting so fast that I can barely reload and move the box before she has found it!  But there is a side effect that I hadn't counted on ... Treasure is now even more adamant about finding ANY food, ANY time, ANY where!  As we were loading the dishwasher after Thanksgiving dinner, I turned around to find Miss Treasure climbing up into the dishwasher!  She looked very proud of herself.  After all, this is what I had been rewarding her for, wasn't it?  Finding hidden food?  Hee, hee, hee. 

If I had found another one of my dogs in the dishwasher, I probably would have told them to get out, but because it was Treasure, I ran to get my camera instead.  It's so fun to see her trying new things and doing little naughty things right along with the other dogs.  And, of course, it wouldn't have been fair to get upset with her for doing something I had taught her to do.  Words of wisdom ... be careful what you teach!

I have many blessings to be thankful for this holiday season!  I hope you and your families do too!  Treasure is very thankful that we don't rinse our dishes very well before we put them in the dishwasher!



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ride for a Princess



Sorry for the dark picture, but I found a used stroller while at a flea market recently with a friend.  I decided that it would make life easier at times when trying to transport Treasure around.  I go to a lot of pet expos and events, where it is crowded.  It would certainly be more comfortable for both me and Treasure to have her elevated safely out of harm's way where people could actually see her coming at them.  I like to walk my dogs, but taking Treasure on a walk is a much slower process than my other dogs want to endure.  They are all about go, go, go!  Having a stroller to push Treasure in will allow me to take several dogs together comfortably.  And, I envision it helping on therapy visits as well.  The stroller is just the right height to park next to someone seated in a chair so they can reach her easily.  There have been a few times when Treasure just can't seem to get comfortable on someone's lap without slipping off. 

So, home the stroller came.  I thought I would have to teach Treasure to stay in it without trying to jump out while it was moving.  The first time I put her in it, she sniffed around for a brief moment and then laid down to relax.  She was quite comfortable and looked like she had always ridden in "her" stroller. I pushed it around the house, and at first she sat up, but she did not panic or try to jump out, even when I ran the stroller into the table leg!  Soon she laid down and enjoyed the ride.  After I stopped, she continued to lay there and even fell asleep.  The photo is from her first introduction to the stroller.  You can see, that she is not bothered in the least! 

I've only had the stroller for a week, but we've taken it to a professional photo shoot, where Treasure was content to lay in it and wait her turn.  If I had not taken the stroller, I would have had to hold her the entire time.  If I put her down, she would have been into everything exploring.  The stroller was a great place to park her and she acted like it was her throne.  Everyone commented how regal she looked sitting in it.  Then we took a trip to the pet store, where Grace and Owen accompanied us (and the stroller) up and down the aisles.  I had nothing to worry about, and Treasure indeed is a princess in her new ride.  Grace and Owen, however, need a bit of practice with us all walking together with the stroller! 

Graduation pictures!

These are a couple of the pictures I took of Treasure after her class graduation!





Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Graduation Night!

Tonight was Treasure's graduation from basic 1 obedience class!  We didn't really teach anything new, but we showed off all we had worked so hard to achieve.  Everyone in the class did so well!  We were issued a challenge for graduation night to see how many of us could get our dog to come from two feet away to target our hand with their nose.  We hadn't really been working on hand targeting because it's hard to run up to touch something you can't see. 

But because it was graduation night, and because it was a challenge, I volunteered us to go first!  I walked three feet behind Treasure and squatted down with my hand held out towards her.  My secret weapon?  The roast beef tucked between my fingers.  She quickly turned herself around and came toward me, eventually finding my hand.  Voila!  Instant hand targeting! 

All cheating aside, Treasure was able to show off all of her new skills.  Sit, down, come when called, sit for a polite greeting, walking on a leash.  We had been making progress on stays at home, but that seemed to go out the window tonight.  I think part of it was that I had roast beef tonight and she kept trying to get up to look around for more roast beef!  She does love to eat!  So I helped her to be successful with some very short stays. 

We all played baseball.  A sit at home plate to get us started, then a down at first, a sit stay for five seconds at second base (she did stay for the whole five seconds!), then on to third for a polite sit for greeting, and a recall towards home plate.  Our baseball game took a bit longer than the others, but we got a home run!

Then Treasure showed off her trick.  We had been working very hard on it.  I had her spin first in one direction and then the other.  She is better at spinning to the right because when I brought her home and she would start into a spinning frenzy, it was always to the right.  So I didn't have to help her too much in that direction.  I just tapped her hip on that side and she turned in a circle.  In the other direction, I had to lure her around still.  I was surprised that I had to lure her as much as I did on that side, but it is a new place for that skill.  We've really only practiced it at home until now. 

Then we all got our graduation certificates and the dogs got to pick a new toy!  I put Treasure down in the middle of the toys, wondering if she would pick one.  She still does not play with too many toys on her own, but I thought I'd give it a try.  If Brinks is playing with her and has a toy, she will often grab at the toy and may even bark at it if she finds it laying around.  But the only toy I have seen her play with by herself is the de-stuffed shell of a smiling sunshine.  Treasure smelled the pile of toys around her but seemed to quickly lose interest.  So I chose the same smiling sunshine toy for her to take home ... but this one still has its stuffing! 

I must say a very special thank you to our instructor, who welcomed Treasure into her class with open arms.  It is all too common to find that people are a bit hesitant or overwhelmed when faced with something or someone that may be different than what they're used to.  I thank her for believing in what Treasure can do and giving her the chance to shine!  Congratulations, Treasure! 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Costumes!

Treasure the Jester
Grace the Rooster
Owen the Rooster
Brinks the Dragon
Treasure the Princess



We had a lot of fun playing dress up today.  These are a few of my favorite shots.  Grace and Treasure spent a lot of time sniffing the other dogs in costume, and Treasure even started chewing on the dragon's spikes.  Grace then ran under the kitchen table and hid there, not wanting a turn, but I convinced her to try on the new rooster outfit and got a few shots before she'd had enough!  Brinks, ever the puppy, was constantly trying to steal the costumes and drag them away to play with!  Owen is always the good sport and puts up with a lot to please me.  Treasure was very interested and had to inspect each costume I brought out.  Then she stood right in front of me until I tried each one on her.  Some she liked better than others, but she did not leave.  She stayed very close until we were all finished and the excitement was over.  Now she's sleeping at my feet.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Class Week Five

Treasure brought some smiles when she showed off her ladybug costume tonight.  But then it was right down to business.  I did manage to get her to sit and down while wearing the costume, but she isn't totally comfortable in it, so I removed it for the working part of class. 

Tonight we did sits and downs, and I actually got two downs from a standing position, which if you remember, we had a difficult time doing last week.  We worked on our sit stay.  My stay signal is a flat hand pressed gently into Treasure's chest.  I practiced moving myself around her while she stayed sitting.  It was interesting because she seemed to know as I was moving around her and turned her head towards wherever I was to get her treat.  I'm not doing down stay yet, but I think it will go quickly because once she's down, she tends to stay down longer than she stays in a sit. 

I'm starting to use less of a signal to get her to sit.  I'm not leaving my hand in position quite as long, which I'm hoping will lead to a quicker sit response.  We did loose leash walking.  She is doing so good with this!  But I noticed something I had not planned on.  She was great working near our station where the chair and training bag were.  But when I wanted her to move away from it, she fought me a bit, trying to get back to the known area.  She was able to come out in the middle of the room and do some walking with me though, once I did get her away from our station.

Treasure is starting to move when she feels my left leg take a step, sometimes without any tension on the leash.  She is learning to feel the movement of my leg and feel the air current of its movement, plus the vibration of my steps near her.  I am feeding every few feet still, but I am able to get her to do right turns and about turns.  I am feeding her right next to my left leg to increase the importance of that leg to her and to increase her attention to it. 

We also worked on recalls.  Treasure was able to come towards me from about five feet away with me blowing towards her.  We did this several times to get a longer recall, with her getting a treat after each five foot span.  Once, when she walked to the end of her leash to greet the instructor, I was able to blow on her rear end from six feet away and she turned around and came to me.  I am very proud of her!  Now I just need to work on having enough breath for a longer recall! 

Next week is graduation!  We are still working on our tricks and I've narrowed it down to the easiest ones for now.  She has certainly come a long way in just a few weeks.  And I think she enjoys the special one on one time, and of course I know she enjoys all of the treats!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Class Week Four

Well, we didn't actually make it to class this week.  I ended up working a bit later than normal and didn't get home in time to make it to class.  They did miss us, however, and sent us the homework by email.  Isn't email a wonderful thing?!  So this week, the big thing is that they started teaching stays and leave its.  So I started teaching Treasure to stay.  I have already been giving her more than one reward if she stays in position, so she is learning to stay in position longer and wait to see if another treat is coming.  I have also been careful to give the release signal and then I actually help her to move out of position when we are finished.  I've tried to not let her decide when to move out of position on her own. 

Treasure doesn't always move when I release her, which is why I help her to move.  Maybe if she anticipates me helping her to move when she gets the release signal, she will start to move on her own.  So, back to stay.  Now I give her the cue for sit or down, praise and treat, and then quickly give the new cue for stay.  I'm using a firm touch to the front of her chest.  Then I feed, pause, feed, and release.  So the only difference is that now I'm naming the stay part of the exercise. 

Leave it is a new thing we've been working on anyway.  As Treasure is getting more comfortable in her new home (remember, she's only been here for a couple months), she is also getting a bit naughtier.  She tried to steal the paper wrapper from my hoagie one night while I was watching TV and eating.  And just this past week, she has figured out that if she puts her front feet up on the coffee table, she can get closer to whatever it is that she smells!  Once she knows she's been found out, she will leave things alone, so that is good.  Because I'm a dog trainer, I know that I have to stop this behavior now.  But the big softie part of me chuckles silently to myself.  It's great to see her feeling so at home as to unbuckle her collar now and then and let her hair down! 

I've been working on getting sits in different positions around me and with me standing up or kneeling down, sitting on the couch, while in bed at night watching TV, etc.  Her sits are coming much easier and her downs from a sit are great.  This week I've been trying (in vain, mind you) to get her to down directly from a stand.  This used to be the only way she would down, and she was very good at it.  But now that I've taught her the sit, I guess I need to reteach the down from a stand.  Dogs - they always keep you guessing!  So we haven't done very well with the down from a stand this week. 

I was amazed last night to see Treasure turn around and come to me from about four feet away when I blew on her!  Of course, it might have helped that I was holding some very tasty goodies as well!  She does love to eat, this girl!  Because she is not extremely active, I have to watch her food intake or she starts to get a bit fluffy.  Although, as she is getting more and more comfortable here, she is trotting more frequently around the yard, and she has started to invite me to play with her by play bowing at me.  Together, we are trying to figure out just how she likes to play with me.  I'm not so sure she knows exactly how to play with a person yet.  When I play back, sometimes she will engage with me for a moment or two, but other times she acts confused and walks away.  Usually she tries to get me to play with her after her morning trip outside. 

Treasure snuggles with me at night and after our trip to OH, she tends to creep up next to my head ... looking for her own pillow, no doubt!  It doesn't take long to spoil her, you know.  Just this past week, she has been trying to climb on top of me in the morning before I get out of bed.  Sometimes I even get Treasure kisses on the face.  She is also showing more and more interest in toys and in playing with them.  Sometimes the wonderful toy that she finds to play with and chew on is not so much a toy in my eyes, however!  But the other day when I wiggled a toy at her, she followed it and tried to bite at it a couple times, before getting bored and walking away. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ladybugs!

While the time of year for ladybugs has past us, I must say that I've never seen a cuter one than the one that visited us today!  Enjoy our little video of Treasure playing in her new costume, and I hope the music gets your toes tapping, too!


video

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Class Night Three

Just back from our third week of class.  Treasure must have recognized the training room because she promptly situated herself between my feet under the chair and laid down.  I've been rewarding her for lying quietly during lecture time, and she laid down right away and was sniffing the air for her treat.  She stayed lying down until it was time to start working with our dogs with only a few treats here and there.  It's important to place the treats on the floor between the dog's front feet, so they stay lying down.  If you feed the treats from up high, the dog will tend to get up.  By keeping their focus on the floor, they will learn to stay down and wait longer and longer periods of time for their treat.  Because Treasure can't see me putting the treat on the floor, I lightly tap her front toes as I place the treat on the floor.  She learned very quickly to sniff the floor between her feet when she feels the tap on her toes. 

The other people in class worked on things that require sight, so we practiced sit, down, all done, come and walking next to my left leg.  Her downs are great and she will do them from a sit position with my touch signal.  I am starting to introduce her to lying down from a stand.  Sometimes she does it easily and other times she can't seem to understand.  Her sits get better all the time.  Because of her spinal issues, I think sitting was not comfortable for her, but as she gets more limber, she seems to sit quicker and quicker with my touch signal.  I noticed that she seems to sit quicker in some positions around me than others ... interesting since she can't really see me.  But I think perhaps the touch signals feel a bit different depending upon which direction I reach to touch her from. 

With any dog, it's important to teach the same exercises in many different circumstances and positions.  A dog can very easily learn to only sit when it is in the kitchen and its person has food, and no place else!  So I don't know why I expected it to be any different with a b/d dog!  Silly me!  So this week I will focus on asking Treasure to sit on my right, my left, in front of me facing me, and facing away from me, with me sitting on the floor and with me standing up, or even on my knees. 

Treasure is doing great with turning towards the direction I blow on her from.  We just started introducing directions last week and she will walk several steps towards me from whichever direction I blow on her from ... to get her treat, of course!  She loves to eat!  I can now take several steps with Treasure staying next to my left leg with barely a wiggle of the leash.  She is starting to cue off my leg more and the leash less.  I am still treating after each step mostly, but I am just beginning to do two steps in a row for one treat.  This week I will add some slight turns and maybe even a sit by my leg if her sits are going well otherwise. 

The class started a wait cue to tell the dog not to proceed through an opening, like a door, or not to rush out of their crate.  I will have to ponder how to proceed with this.  I don't want to be too quick to say that I can't teach Treasure something or that I don't need to teach her it.  I think this will be one of those situational cues, where I can teach her to wait at home in areas where I know I don't want her to go without permission.  So I will give this some thought and try some things out this week.  I enjoy having a training challenge to think about.

Other things like chasing a tossed treat for attention games and hand targeting are probably not things that I will teach to Treasure.  Yes, she can target my hand very well, but it's just because it smells like roast beef!  Then she gets confused as to why she can smell the food but it's not there.  Not a very fair trick to teach her.  Speaking of tricks, I have started to teach her a couple different ones for graduation.  We have just started each of them, so I will see how they progress and then we will pick which one we will focus on to show off with. 

I'm very pleased with how quickly Treasure is learning new things and with how eager she is to stay engaged with me during training sessions.  I only wish I had more time to work with her!  I wonder just how quickly she would progress then!  Oh, I bragged about a naughty thing she did this past week.  The rest of the class didn't understand why I thought it was funny, since they all want their dogs to STOP stealing food!  But while I was eating my hoagie the other night, she came up and started pulling the paper wrapping off my lap!  At first I grabbed the paper, thinking it was just slipping off my lap (I was eating it on the couch), but then I saw that she had the corner of it in her teeth and she was slowly pulling it off my lap.  It smelled like food and by golly, she was going to get it!  Funny to me, because Treasure has not really played with toys or other objects yet.  It was funny to see her starting to experiment with problem solving and how to get something she wanted.  It's fun to see her personality starting to show through as she feels more and more comfortable here in her new home. 


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Road Trip!



We’ve just gotten back from a trip to Cincinnati, OH, for a Healing Touch for Animals® advanced proficiency workshop.  Treasure and her buddy Brinks accompanied my friend and me.  We had a great time, and I have to say how extremely proud I am of both dogs.   They have both only been with me for two months at this point, and neither one has traveled, and both are barely housetrained.  They both did so very well!
Treasure travels well in the car, but a nine hour drive is difficult for any of us.  She rode calmly and slept most of the way.  She handled rest area and gas station stops well.  In the beginning, my friend tried to walk her, but I wasn’t really thinking on that one. Treasure was in a new place on a leash and the first thing she always does when she’s put on the grass is to orient and to find me.  Well, she was looking and I wasn’t there, so we switched and I made sure either to walk Treasure myself or to take a minute to connect with her once she was on the ground so she knew I was nearby.  Once she knows I am there, she is content to sniff and do whatever she needs to do.  I did notice that she responded to the vibrations from all the trucks at the rest stops, following them with her nose.
I took as many of Treasure’s own items from home that I could.  She had her own crate and bowls and her own blankie, so she would feel at home.  I took an ex pen with me for pottying at the hotel in case I ran into trouble.  Treasure still does not really like to potty on leash although she is getting better.  If she decided not to go, I thought the ex pen would allow her a little bit of freedom.  The hotel had a small plot of grass right outside each room’s door, which was just the size for me to set the ex pen on … worked out great.  It was easy to quickly wisk her or Brinks outside in a hurry if necessary!
Once at the hotel, Treasure set about immediately exploring, while Brinks the puppy bounced around her head wanting to play.  But until she mapped out everything, she ignored him.  She was on a mission!  I had brought along her Angel Vest in case she needed it in a new place, but she wasn’t upset at all by a new place to explore and in a few minutes felt comfortable enough to play with Brinks.  She slept in her normal place on the bed with me, but I think she was very happy not to have to share it with the other dogs at home!  The last night she even slept with her head on the pillow next to me and under the covers.  She stayed there all night. 
The workshop was three full days, and I made sure to once again take Treasure’s own crate and blanket so she would have her own stuff to orient to.  During lecture times, I kept her on a leash with me at my chair, but she had her open crate next to me and she chose to lie in the crate with her head sticking out, or right next to and touching the crate.  It was like her anchor to something familiar.  She was very good and she got extra practice with pottying on leash during the days! 
Treasure was great with so many people she didn’t know handling her and loved the new techniques.  She was even very accepting of the essential oils we worked with.  I wondered if it might be too much for her because her sense of smell is so much more sensitive due to her other senses being out of commission.  But she really seemed to like them. 
I love to take pictures. I love my dogs.  And, I love to take pictures of my dogs!  So I tried to pose Treasure outside of the facility on Saturday where they had a lovely fall display.  Many pictures later, this is my favorite one of her.  Did I mention it is very hard to pose a b/d dog and get a picture of her looking at you?  And in my case it is very hard to get her to stay in one place long enough to take pictures at all!  She hasn’t quite learned to stay yet!  Maybe that will be this week’s project!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Class Night Two

Tonight was obedience class again.  Having just gotten back from our trip to OH, Treasure and I are both a bit tired, but it didn’t show too much at class.  Tonight we practiced getting our dog’s attention with their name and a word for attention.  And we reviewed using our marker signal to mean treats are coming.  Treasure has no problem with any of these, since she loves to eat!  She has gotten used to me blowing gently on her and will look for her treat.  If you remember, last week, she did not appreciate me blowing on her, so I wanted to see if she’d get used to it or not.  The next step is that I’m blowing on her from different directions and teaching her to look in the direction the air current comes from.
We worked on collar grabs.  I touched Treasure’s collar and gave her a treat, then held the collar and gave a treat, then grabbed the collar and gave a treat, etc.  We progressed up to pulling lightly on the collar and giving a treat.  This went very quickly in class because I had already been working on this since I brought her home.  That’s how I taught her to let me lead her by the collar and then how we progressed to walking on a leash. 
We continued our loose leash walking exercises, progressing from walking backward with the dog following us, to turning the dog to come up next to our leg and walk with us.  I worked a bit differently with this one.  I stood next to Treasure with my leg touching her, both of us facing the same direction.  Then I held the leash so that when my leg stepped forward, I could also put a bit of pressure forward on the leash.  She felt my leg move next to her body first, and then the pressure forward on her collar which I had already taught her meant to move forward with me.  So I am teaching a new cue for walking with me.  My goal is to have her walk beside me by feeling my leg moving next to her.  That way, she will be able to tell my speed, and direction, and know when I stop by feel.  I only focused on her moving one step with both leg and leash cues for now and for that she got her treat.  I will add more steps as she starts to respond to the cues easier. 
We started recalls in class.  I used a slight leash wiggle in my direction to guide Treasure to me and then of course, she got lots of petting and those all important treats!  As she was coming towards me, I backed up slowly to add distance.  And I rewarded downs during the times in class where I was just sitting on my chair waiting for our turn.  If Treasure laid down by me calmly, I would drop treats between her paws on the floor now and then.  She knows this game and when it came time for us to get up and work, she stayed down, waiting patiently for her next treat! 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Class Night One

Tonight was Treasure’s first night of obedience class.  I wondered how she would do.  It was nice when I was waiting for the class to start.  Some dogs were lunging and barking at each other.  I was very appreciative of my b/d dog, standing quietly by me, sniffing a bit but not causing a scene.  Having been in their shoes with other dogs in the past, it was nice to be able to just sit and pet my dog.
I brought some cut up Vienna sausages to try to tempt Miss Treasure to pay attention to me.  I wasn’t sure how much the other dog smells and commotion would distract her.  She loves sausages!  Even though they were cut up in the tiniest, most miniscule pieces, she savored each bite. 
We worked on teaching our dogs a marker signal.  Treasure’s is a double tap behind her right ear.  I’m not sure if I’ll use it behind either ear or just stick with the right one for now.  I chose the right one assuming she will be on my left side just out of habit of working my other dogs on the left.  She started turning her head to the right each time I tapped to take her bite of sausage.  Did I mention I did not feed her dinner before class?  Still, I smiled at how brilliant my girl is to have learned it so quickly!
The rest of the class worked on name recognition for attention.  I already use many signals to get Treasure’s attention – a stomp on the floor, a tap on her side, a wiggle of the leash.  I had already taught her to pay attention to each of those things.  I wanted to teach her to respond when I blow on her lightly.  So we started that tonight at class.  I’m not sure we made much progress, but we’ll keep working on it for a bit.  I’m not so sure she likes being blown on.  Some dogs don’t.  If she doesn’t start to respond positively to it soon, I’ll stop and just stick with what we already use.  The more tools I have to choose from, the easier life will be.
We worked on walking on a loose leash and coming towards us as we backed up.  With Treasure, I keep enough tension on the leash that she knows where I am and which direction I’m going.  It’s not a pull, but it’s not super loose either.  I wiggle the leash to give her signals while I’m moving.  I’ve already worked with her on this, so we did pretty well practicing in class.  It took a long time for me to teach her to walk on a leash and she’s just now really getting comfortable with it in new places.  But it was all worth it for a bite of sausage!  At least that’s what she told me!
Then we did sits and downs.  I have just gotten Treasure to the point that she does these both on cue at home.  She will do it in different rooms in the house, but we haven’t done it in brand new places.  I had to do a lot more luring than usual with the sit, but I gave her time to figure it out and she did do it.  Down was easier for her.  Sit has always been harder for her.  Until I started to teach her to sit, I never saw her sit on her own.  She would stand, walk, or lie down, but never sit.  She has spinal lordosis and when I first brought her home, her back was very stiff and hunched.  She walked like an old lady, barely moving.  I think maybe sit was uncomfortable for her.  But she is getting more flexible all the time with the various exercises and techniques I do with her.  I guess maybe just sitting is helping too. 
It was a good night!  I am very proud of Treasure!  I did hear many auditory gasps and “oh, that poor dog” comments as I introduced myself and Treasure at the start of class.  It always makes me sad that people can’t see past her outer shell to see the amazing dog on the inside.  I guess we will have to just work extra hard, so we can show them what she’s made of at graduation day!  And I will need to start teaching Treasure a trick to show off - also at graduation!  Stay tuned to see what I pick!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding Treasure

"Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way."
Native American saying

How did this beautiful girl come to me?  Well, everybody loves a good story, and Treasure is no exception.  I have been involved in sheltie rescue for many years, both through fostering and adopting.  In the beginning of May, I found myself drawn to look at shelties on pet finder.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new dog, or at least that’s what I told myself.  But I found myself there looking, none the less.  Something, or someone, had led me to search there.
When I found her, her name was Snowy.  She was listed as being in a shelter in Missouri.  The instant my eyes saw her picture, my heart belonged to her.  I wondered how I would go about getting her from Missouri to PA, but I inquired about her anyway.  The shelter answered me that I was too late.  That someone else (from PA, of all places) was already in the process of doing paperwork to adopt her.  My heart sank.  I tried to be happy for her, that she had found a wonderful home and would no longer sit in a shelter all alone.  But I had felt an instant connection with her without even having met her.  Her picture was printed out next to my computer.  I stared at it.  I couldn’t make myself throw it away.  I had a feeling that I would run into Snowy again someday. 
Almost three months later, I learned that a sheltie rescue near me had taken in two new double merles that would be looking for homes.  I took a chance in asking about the female.  Maybe by some chance it was my old friend, Snowy.  I looked once again at her picture.  I hoped that it might be her, but I had prepared myself that there was no way it could be.  I was shocked to get an email back from the rescue saying that it was indeed the same Snowy! 
And the rest, as they say… is history!  Treasure had found her way all the way from Missouri to her foster home only a half hour from my house.  I went to pick her up a few days later.  She has been with me almost two months now.  Every time I look at her, I feel very blessed to have her here with me.  She is truly a Treasure.

Ideas for Signs to Use

Here is just one of many websites that you can use to find ideas for signs. Click on the first letter of the word you want across the top of the page, and then scroll to find the word along the left side.  There are many other online resources, this is just one to get you started!  And remember that no one besides your dog has to be able to read those signs, so you can create your own.  I have greatly simplified the signs I use with Treasure, but because I do have a background with sign language I tried to base them on signs I already knew for my benefit!  Happy signing!

http://www.lifeprint.com/   

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communication Part Two

As is most important with any new dog, housetraining took a front seat in our new life together.  Treasure was not housetrained when she came to me.  We were making progress with it, but it was still a bit touch and go sometimes.  I started to name outside while I carried her out the door into the yard.  I did the sign many times.  First when I picked her up to let her know where we were going, a time or two on the way to the door at first to keep her aware of the sign I wanted her to learn, then very importantly as I opened the door and she first felt the outside air on her face.
I decided to start to teach the sign for inside at the same time.  Because we spent many times going in and out every day, I thought this would be a great opportunity to teach two different signs.  And it was something very obvious so I could remember to use them both consistently. 
My goal is to be able to give Treasure the inside or outside sign as the other dogs and I are headed to the door, so she will know to follow along.  Often I will get to the door to let the other dogs outside or back into the house only to see Treasure searching to see where everyone went.  We are still working on it, but I do think she is recognizing the signs now.  Only problem I’m running into is that Treasure is small, so I find myself bending over to touch her with a sign and sometimes she is surprised by me and moves away before I can give the sign.  Still working out that part of it.  We’re both getting better at it.
I find that if I touch her in a neutral way first and keep that hand in place to sort of anchor her, I can then use the other hand to give the touch sign.  That seems to work pretty well so far.  That way she is not startled by the sign and won't move away from it. I do have a background with sign language, so I chose to use very simple ASL signs for home (inside) and out (outside) against the side of Treasure's face.  At first I wondered if the signs were clear enough for her to understand, but it is obvious to me that she is responding to them now.  I just need to choose the sign I want to use and then be consistent with using it.

For mealtime, I tap the side of her muzzle three times quickly in succession near her whiskers, similar to the ASL eat sign.  I just introduced a sign for going in the car.  I used a fist moving from one of her shoulders, up over her back, and to the other shoulder, similar to drawing the top of a steering wheel in the air, but instead drawing it on her shoulders.  She knows the sign for all done means there are no more treats coming!  Otherwise, she will continue to look all day!  She does love to eat!  Again, I use the sign for all done against the side of her face. 

I taught all of these signs just by using them consistently immediately prior to whatever I was naming.  For all done, I gave her several small treats in a row, one after the other, then signed all done and stopped.  I made sure the treats were all gone, because if she could smell them, she would keep looking!  If she kept looking anyway, I signed all done again.  She learned to understand that if there was no sign, then more treats were coming, but if there was a sign, then no more would show up no matter how much she searched.  Now she knows not to search after I sign all done. 

On a wonderful note, Treasure walked all the way across the room to her crate on her own this morning for breakfast!  Once she got there, she wasn't sure what to do, so I steered her in the right direction to go in.  She eats in her crate because I have several other dogs and they would easily take advantage of her not being able to see them sneaking up to grab a bite!  I've been carrying her and setting her down a short distance from the crate and letting her go in by herself.  As she gets better, I set her down farther away each time.  This was a first, as she deliberately walked looking for the crate until she got there.  Yesterday, I came into the room to find her standing inside her crate, sniffing for her breakfast.  I hadn't started to dish out the food yet, so I think she thought my shower was taking too long and took it upon herself to make a statement! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Opening Up Lines of Communication

"Once I knew only darkness and stillness...
my life was without past or future...
but a little word from the fingers of another
fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness,
and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."
~Helen Keller

I read the above quote, and I can only imagine the excitement that Helen Keller felt as she realized the meaning of her first word.  That moment when she started to connect to the world around her and there was a way for her to understand what was going on.  Information!  Our minds crave information.  Dogs are no different in that regard.  They are constantly trying to gain information through their senses.  We all feel more comfortable when we know what to expect and are familiar with what is going on around us. 
I talk to all my dogs and I sign to Grace.  They pick up words and phrases whether I really intend for them to or not.  I think they enjoy knowing what is coming up next and what things are called.  No, they may not particularly enjoy nail trimming time, but knowing it is coming helps them to prepare themselves for it.  It is not a surprise.  They know they must lay still and tolerate nail trimming and then I will pay them well with special treats.  But no one runs away when I announce that it is time to do nails.  Once one dog’s nails are done, they get their treat and then the next dog comes over for their turn.  I do not have to chase them down or try to trick them into letting me catch them.  They know what is going to happen because I told them before I sat down on the floor.
I wanted to find a way to open that communication up to Treasure as well.  She was very good at getting around the house and yard after a short time of exploring, but it seemed odd to live next to this being that only lived in silence and darkness.  I carried or led her here and there and she was accepting, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she had any idea where we were going or why.  I needed to find a way to tell her about her day.  I wanted to open up her world to that excitement the other dogs felt when they knew we were going outside or for a ride in the car. 
Obviously talking to her with only words was not going to help.  Nor would the hand signals I used with Grace, although I did find myself automatically using hand signals with Treasure a bit at first.  Each time was followed by a “duh” moment when I realized she could not see me!  So I needed to develop a language based on touch and sensation.  I was already starting to teach her some touch cues for behaviors, but this was different.  These were not necessarily behaviors that I wanted from her.  What I wanted to do was just name certain things for her.
I started to name inside, outside, meal time, bed time, crate time, and car.  I didn’t start everything all at once.  This was all new to both of us.  I needed to go slowly for me, so I could remember the touch signs I was developing and learn to use them consistently so Treasure would learn what they meant.  I needed to go slowly at first for Treasure because the whole idea of learning was new to her.  I hoped that once she caught on to the idea, I could go a bit faster with the process. 


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Somebody new...

Not much free time to blog tonight, so tonight's blog is about Grace, my other double merle sheltie.  Grace (deaf with slight visual impairment) is also a rescued dog and is 2 and a half years old now.  I've had her for a year and a half now.  Tonight we had rally class at the club.  Because I do rally with my other (hearing) dogs, it was strange to be going through the course so quietly.  I have to make a real effort to keep my body language animated when working with Grace.  She is a quieter, more reserved sheltie, so it takes a lot to get her motivated sometimes although she's much better than she used to be!  Grace will have to compete in APDT rally, because AKC will not allow deaf dogs to compete in its events. 

Grace did very well with our practice and our first rally course tonight.  She paid attention to my hand and body signals and learned some new exercises.  By the second course she was getting a bit stressed and while she was still following my signs, she was working a bit slower and started to not be as motivated for her treats.  But the second course required us to work close to and in between two unfamiliar dog/handler teams.  We made it through the course but stopped after and in between exercises for extra pets and treats to keep her happy, and left on a good note before she got pouty.  Here's my sweet girl, Grace...

Meet Treasure

"Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him."
Paulo Coelho


Ok, so just who is the White Dog that inspired this blog?  Treasure is a 4-year-old Sheltie.  Her coloring is called double merle.  Yes, she is a beautiful and not commonly seen color for a sheltie, but it is the result of an irresponsible breeding.  When two dogs carrying the merle gene are bred together, some puppies get a double dose of the dominant merle gene.  These genes often cause the puppies to have genetic defects which prevent them from having normal vision and/or hearing.  That means that many puppies are born blind, deaf, or both (like Treasure).  These merle/merle issues can also happen in other breeds.  Here is some interesting reading about double merle dogs.
Treasure is able to see big flashes of light.  For example, she can sense the flash on the camera if we are indoors, and she can see the porch light flash on and off to tell her to come inside from the yard at night (if she is standing close enough to the house).  She will find her way to a room where the light is on at night when the rest of the house is dark.  And she notices when I turn off the light at bedtime.  She cannot see objects or movement and will sometimes bump into things, or us.  She is not able to hear, but she responds very quickly to any new vibration in her environment.  Her sense of smell is simply amazing.  She can also tell if someone is passing her and in which direction by feeling the air currents move around her and the vibrations on the ground near her.  This took her a little while to figure out, but now she's very good at it.
Watching Treasure and how she uses her senses makes me realize how much of my environment I take for granted because I rely so much on my sight and hearing.  My other senses tend to take a back seat.  Now I try to remember to take time to notice the more subtle information in my day to day life.  It makes me more aware of all that goes on around me and the hidden possibilities that I am often too pre-occupied to notice. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Quote

I found a perfect quote to go along with my post from yesterday.  It is good for each of us to remember, and I'm considering having it put on a T shirt!

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
~ Author Unknown ~
We feel bad when anyone tries to discourage us from doing something that we feel passionate about.  Do we ever remember to look at it from the other side?  How often do we try to talk someone out of something, or play the devil's advocate, so to speak?  We think we are helping that person in some way, perhaps.  If we can get that person to see our perspective, maybe they would think twice about doing something that may be difficult or even end in failure.  But in the meantime, we will also be inflicting the same discouragement on someone else that we do not like to experience ourselves. 
Something to think about on this Monday morning...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

That Poor Dog!

Lately, I find myself getting aggravated by those words.  I recently added a blind and deaf dog to my family. She is a wonderfully happy dog, yet when people find out she cannot see or hear, they immediately feel sorry for her.  She does so many things that so-called "normal" dogs do - she plays and wrestles with my new puppy, she always knows when I have something yummy to eat, she chews bones, she loves to explore in the yard, she enjoys meeting new friends both human and canine, she likes to cuddle on the bed at night... She likes to play in her tunnel, she licks my toes.  She is a therapy dog.  Her name is Treasure.

Yesterday, Treasure and I attended a pet therapy conference. While most people who met Treasure were curious and then inspired by her, there was one person in particular who tried very hard to convince me that Treasure was deprived in some way, that we should feel sorry for her, and that she must be a huge burden for me.  I tried to explain that Treasure was indeed very happy and content, and that we shouldn't feel like she is deprived of anything.  Treasure was born both blind and deaf, so she doesn't have any idea that something is missing.  She feels no different from any other dog.  But the woman continued, "Ohh, that poor dog!"  As much as I tried, I could not convince her that Treasure does indeed enjoy her life, and that I enjoy having her in mine. 

I found myself starting to get angry with this woman.  But then I realized that she wasn't trying to be confrontational.  She just truly did not understand.  Perhaps she had just never met a dog with Treasure's special circumstances.  With her limited experience, she just could not imagine a dog being happy without being able to see and hear.  Perhaps she tried to put herself into Treasure's paw prints ... how would she feel if she lost her ability to see and hear?  I may never know for sure.  So I started this blog as a way for others to get a glimpse into Treasure's life.  Perhaps you have a dog like Treasure in your life, or you are thinking of adding one like her.  I hope you can learn from our adventures.  Perhaps you are just curious.  Whatever the reason, thank you for joining us on this journey!