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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Introducing Vegas and Jewell!

Vegas (left) and Jewell (right)
I've been trying to sit down and blog for the past week, but these new puppies are keeping me busy!  I'm a bit biased perhaps, but there is hardly anything cuter and sweeter than sheltie puppies.  These two babies are very large for sheltie puppies, and I need to keep reminding myself that they are still babies.  The fact that there are puppy teeth falling out all over the place helps a bit with that!  But they are the same size as my largest adult shelties and they are 4 months old!  Vegas and Jewell are double merle littermates.
Vegas is deaf and appears to be mostly blind.  Although he compensates so well that often I begin to second guess my assumptions!  It is a pleasant surprise that he is able to see even a little bit, as we were told that he was completely blind and deaf before he arrived.  He appears to be able to see large shapes and movement.  He has trouble pinpointing and tracking movement and will often startle at a movement and then look for it in the wrong place. 
He can't seem to differentiate between shapes.  If I stand still near anything else, he loses track of me.  His left eye seems stable.  The pupil is small and facing downward.  The right pupil is quite large and pointed upward, yet his eye drifts and shifts and is often partially covered by the third eyelid.  He squints excessively in sunlight.
Jewell seems to be functionally deaf, although she may hear some loud noises and dogs barking.  She doesn't appear to be able to locate those sounds, however.  I don't think her eyesight is normal, but she seems to see well.  She tracks movement and can see hand signals.  She loves to chase toys and the other dogs.  She also loves to jump onto and off the furniture!  She can look around the room and see where I am, which Vegas cannot do.
A couple weeks ago, these two babies were brought to the attention of sheltie rescues nationwide.  Through the network of rescues and their dedicated volunteers, these two babies embarked on a four-day transport journey from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.  I am totally amazed at the dedication of the rescue groups that I'm associated with.  Thank you to all the rescues and volunteers who helped get these puppies on their way to their new lives! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Quality of Life for Blind and Deaf Dogs

I received a lot of great ideas for new blog posts - Thank you so much for those.  I'm always looking for ideas to write about that will be useful to each of you as readers.  One idea that truly intrigued me was to discuss what quality of life a blind and deaf dog can have.  I think it caught my interest because I had never thought about my dogs not having a good quality of life.  I began to think about how we measure quality of life and why.
I have had many dogs in my life over the years, and there have been times when I have made the decision to euthanize them when they no longer had a good quality of life.  Of course, this was always based on my opinion, the veterinarian's opinion, and the fact that I knew those dogs very well.  Pain is perhaps the biggest reason I would make this decision.  If the pain could not be controlled and if it was affecting the dog's daily activities.  If she no longer showed any interest in the activities that she used to love - then, in my opinion there is a loss of quality of life.
But now, I wonder, how do others measure quality of life.  Why would people think that blind/deaf  dogs don't have a good quality of life?  And were they seeing something that I was not?  I searched the internet, hoping to find some ideas.  I found this quality of life scale on a veterinary site.
I'm going to use some of the ideas that are mentioned there to address my own blind/deaf dogs.  Of course, every situation is different, so I can't make any recommendations as to the quality of life for all blind/deaf dogs.
The first consideration is pain level and ease of breathing.  This is more of a health related issue that would not be dependent upon the dog's ability to see or hear.  My dogs are healthy and pain-free at the current time.
The second and third sections pertain to eating and hydration.  My dogs are able to eat and drink normally on their own.  They are a good weight.  Again, this seems like more of a health related issue.
The next section is about hygiene.  My dogs have no difficulty staying clean (although they do like to roll in the mud sometimes!)  They have no open and oozing sores.  Treasure does have many skin cysts, but they are not dangerous and don't cause her any discomfort.  The vet and I keep an eye on them in case they change.
The next consideration is happiness.  I think maybe this is one that most people wonder about with a blind/deaf dog.  The questions suggested on the scale are: does the dog express joy and interest? Is the dog responsive to things around her?  Is the dog depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid?  Can the dog be included in family activities or is she isolated?
My dogs are all members of the family.  We spend a lot of time together as a family group.  They certainly express joy and interest in the activities going on around them.  They wag their tails.  They play.  They seek out affection.  They are responsive to things going on around them, reacting to air currents changing, movement and vibration, smells, the actions of other family members.  My dogs are not depressed or anxious.  I have no questions that my dogs are happy and content, and I do work hard to keep them that way.
Mobility is next.  My dogs have no problem with getting around.  I do manage the environment to keep them safe, but there is really not too much to do once the environment is set up safely for them. 
The last section says that there are more good days than bad.  For my dogs, each day has more good in it than bad.  Keeping my dogs enriched and happy is a huge part of my responsibility as a dog owner.  If I was not able to give my dogs what they needed, it might mean that I was not the most suitable home for them, but it would not necessarily mean that my dogs had a bad quality of life and should not live.
I can honestly say that my blind/deaf dogs have a wonderful quality of life.  Some people think that a blind/deaf dog can't possibly have a good quality of life.  They wonder what enjoyment a dog can possibly get out of life if she can't see and hear.  But dogs live in a world full of so  much more than sights and sounds.  Their lives are rich in smells and vibrations.  A dog that is born blind and deaf never learns to rely on her sight and hearing.  She doesn't know that she's any different.  She learns from the time she is born to explore and enjoy her world. 
Even my older dogs that have lost their sight and hearing from age, are still enjoying their lives.  Sure, there is an adjustment period where they may have to learn to rely on other senses and to do things a bit differently than they are used to.  That is to be expected.  But they still enjoy their walks and belly rubs and mealtimes.  They love to sniff around in the yard and find something to roll in.  They may even still enjoy that favorite bone. 
I hope the quality of life scale may be of good use to you, and thank you for the wonderful suggestion for this post.  It caused me to stop and think about what quality of life means, not just to me, but to others.  I hope that anyone who questions my dogs' quality of life watches the videos of Treasure and Jasmine and sees them having fun in all activities.  I hope we can change minds to realize that those with differences are not bad or to be thrown away.  When given the chance, they can blossom and teach us so much - and, they can have wonderful quality of life. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Quote to share

"My disability will always be a piece of me, but if it's the only part of me you
recognize, then you've only scratched the surface of who I am."
The above quote was shared with me by a friend through a friend.  We have no idea who is the originator of the quote - if you know, please do comment and let me know so I can give him/her credit. 
What struck me most about this quote, is that it says so well what I try to impress upon people when they first meet Treasure.  Yes, she is blind and deaf.  There is nothing that anyone can do to change that.  But there is so much more to know about her than that.  She is an amazing animal, not because she is blind and deaf, but because of who she is.  It is only when you take the time to get to know her that you realize the depth of her presence.  Thank you Pam and Mike for sharing this wonderful quote with Treasure and I. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wow! How does she do that?!

This is a post to accompany the release of Treasure's Novice Trick Dog (NTD) title video.  Treasure completed 16 new tricks from the list of novice tricks provided.  I had to choose tricks which I felt Treasure would be able to do.  Some of them had to be modified slightly to assist her with her special abilities.  Here are the tricks we show on the video:
  1. Come when called:  I taught Treasure to follow my breath when I blow towards her gently.  Indoors this is rather easy unless the heat or air conditioning has just kicked on and I am near a vent which blows the air currents (and my breath) all around while I'm calling her.  Outdoors this can be trickier with various breezes also blowing my breath off course.  But we enjoy practicing and playing hide and seek outdoors.
  2. Lie down:  When I tap her front foot several times, Treasure knows I want her to lie down.
  3. Sit:  When I keep my hand on her rump for a duration, she will sit.  Sit started out to be a difficult position for her since she had some back issues when I adopted her.  Now she sits easily, but will often pause to process the touch cue before sitting. 
  4. Spin:  Treasure can spin in both directions.  This was actually important therapy for loosening up the muscles in her back.  She will spin a circle in the direction of the hip I tap.
  5. Stay:  Treasure does a nice down stay and a paws up on an item and stay.  Stay was a tricky one to teach her, as she really wanted to go with me and keep tabs on where I was ... especially since during training, I often have treats nearby! 
  6. Loose leash walking:  I can walk Treasure on a loose leash and she will usually try to follow behind me so she can keep track of me.  I can also walk her on a solid leash for heeling and to keep her next to me more formally. I taught her leash cues which allow me to communicate to her when I start, stop and turn with minimal pressure on the solid leash.
  7. Roll out a carpet:  Treasure can roll out a carpet mat.  I started this trick by placing food every few inches inside the rolled up mat so she could find them easily without pushing very much.  Now she will unroll the entire mat for a reward only at the very end from inside the mat.
  8. Shake paw:  When I tap the back of her front leg, she will lift it for me to grab it and shake it.  She cannot see to put her own paw into my hand, but she lifts it and waits for me to take it.
  9. Balance beam:  Treasure can walk on a balance beam placed only a few inches above the ground.  I'm sure she could do it higher up, but there is really no need.  She doesn't know how high up she is and if she does misstep, there is no reason to put her in danger.  She can do it off leash, but she has more confidence when she can feel me through the leash and she goes faster and straighter. 
  10. Find hidden treats:  This was already a favorite game of Treasure's!  For the video, I used boxes because of the limited range of the camera on the tripod, but she can find treats hidden anywhere - up on shelves, under the couch, etc.
  11. Paws up on an object:  Treasure really likes to do this one.  She will put her paws upon boxes, upside down bowls and containers, my legs, on a yoga ball, etc.  My cue is swiping my open hand from her chest up to her chin.  Tapping the object sometimes helps her to locate it, but not always.
  12. Which hand has the treats:  Another finding treats game!  This time I hold both hands out as fists.  Only one fist has the treats and she has to smell both hands to find which one has the treats.
  13. Crawl:  Treasure can crawl fairly quickly for a longer distance if I have a food lure in my hand held in front of her.  She knows not to stand up until I release her, so will stay down and crawl towards my hand.  Without the lure, she will crawl, but slower and only a few creeps at a time with a pause for more direction from me.  My cue is swiping my fingers off her front toes and tapping the ground ahead of her.  She also can crawl under items like the stuffed dog in the video or under my bent legs.
  14. Going through a hoop:  I am very impressed with Treasure for learning this one.  She goes through the hoop on the floor.  I added streamers to the hoop so she could tell the inside of the hoop from the outside by feel.  She will often poke her nose into the streamers, then into the air around the outside of the hoop to define for herself where the hoop is before coming through.  She will also follow my hand through the hoop with a follow me cue which is a swipe forward under her chin. 
  15. Muffin tin game:  This is a fun one.  Put treats into a muffin tin and then cover the treats with tennis balls and other toys.  Treasure has to find the treats and then figure out how to remove the toys so she can get to the treats.
  16. Doggie pushups:  This combines two cues together - sit and down.  It took some practice to get Treasure to pop up into a sit from the down position.  I used the same sit cue but added a light tap and she seemed to get the idea.  I still reward in between each position change because I don't want her learning to pop back and forth between them just because she wants a treat.  That could ruin my sit and down for other activities like rally.
See the trick video here!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Goals

In the beginning of November, I told you about my new goal with Treasure to earn her Novice Trick Dog title.  I expected that this would be a nice goal to keep us warm and cozy inside over the winter.  What I didn't count on was how quickly Treasure would learn all the new tricks!  On December 30, we finished video taping the last of her trick requirements for her Novice Trick Dog title!  Fifteen tricks were required and we taped 16.  She learned a few more, too, but we will save those in case we decide to go further for her Intermediate Trick Dog title. 
I'm so very proud of my little girl!  I never expected her to learn so much so quickly.  She loves to learn!  And, she loves to eat!  So the treats she can earn by learning new tricks certainly do help the process.  Positive reinforcement training is certainly the way to go!  It produces happy dogs that love to learn and learn quickly, as is evidenced by my Treasure.
And so, as we begin 2013, I have a list of new goals.  I hope you will continue to follow our blog to see what they are!  Also watch for her Novice Trick Dog (NTD) video to be released once she gets her official title certificate! 
Have a safe and blessed New Year!