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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!   

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


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!