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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A White Christmas

May each of you and your families (furry and otherwise) have a very Blessed Christmas!!  

The Treasure Claus

T'was the Night Before Christmas ... (Treasure)

White Christmas (Vegas)

Handsome Boy Vegas

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Another Trick Dog!

Vegas has recently completed the requirements to earn his Novice Trick Dog title!  He learned and demonstrated 15 tricks including putting his paws up, unrolling a carpet, jumping through a hoop, trotting through cavalettis, and many more!  I use all positive motivational methods to teach my dogs, and Vegas was no exception.  Because he is deaf and visually impaired, I had to make a few minor adjustments with how I trained him.  I use hand signals close to Vegas' face so he can see them, and he can't differentiate signals that look similar, so his signals have to appear very different to him in order for him to tell them apart.  I also use touch cues, which he picks up very quickly, and some scent and context cues to let him know what we're going to do next.  Here is Vegas demonstrating his 15 tricks ... 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October is slipping away!

The month of October is slipping away!  It's almost half over already and I have not written a blog post.  Wow.  Things have been busy!

Treasure and I have returned from a trip to MD for our fourth Tellington TTouch training.  We both had a great time visiting with old friends and meeting new ones.  There was lots of practice with touches and wraps and playgrounds!  Treasure and I got to share a hotel room with our friends Mickey and Rose too!  That was fun!  It had been a while since we've seen them. 

I have now completed requirements to become an official Tellington TTouch Apprentice!  I'm excited to expand my use of TTouch now as I continue to prepare for certification as a practitioner!

Treasure telling Mickey a secret in the car on the way to training.

I'm official!

Treasure napping during lectures.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deaf Dog Myth # 6

Deaf Dog Myth # 6
Deaf dogs bark a lot because they can't hear themselves bark. 
Or ... deaf dogs don't bark.

I have heard both of these comments.  I have met many deaf dogs – and they all do bark.  Some bark extensively.  But I have met many more hearing dogs that bark excessively!  And they can apparently hear themselves bark.  So I don’t buy either of these myths.  Two of my deaf dogs that I adopted as adults were barkers when I brought them home.  They quickly learned a signal cue for quiet and learned to be quiet, just like my hearing dogs.  There was no need to resort to bark collars or debarking.  Just using positive reinforcement training. My deaf dogs are a breed known to be barkers.  They had never had someone communicate to them that they would prefer quiet, nor teach them what quiet meant.  Once I taught them what quiet meant and that I enjoyed quiet more than barking, they got quieter. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Deaf Dog Myth # 5

Deaf Dog Myth # 5
If I adopt a deaf dog I won't be able to do ___
(agility, therapy, obedience, rally, etc)

Deaf dogs are most certainly out there and participating in dog sports and activities!  Many are competing and winning titles and awards.  Deaf dogs learn very quickly to watch our body language cues.  Training my deaf dogs has made me a better handler for all my dogs, even my hearing dogs.  They have made me aware of how just a slight change in my posture or body language can communicate so much to my dogs! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Deaf Dog Myth # 4

Deaf Dog Myth # 4
Deaf dogs have other health problems or won't live as long
or be as healthy as other dogs.

As far as I know, deafness has not been linked to any other health problems.  My deaf dogs are all healthy with no issues.  Many hearing dogs have health problems, and I’m sure there are many deaf dogs with health issues as well.  But these health issues are in addition to the deafness, not because of it.  Some deafness is caused by genetics.  Breeders should educate themselves about how to remove these genetic lines from their breeding dogs.  When adopting a dog, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the dog’s health and genetic history so you can make informed decisions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Deaf Dog Myth # 3

Deaf Dog Myth # 3
Deaf dogs are more likely to bite when they wake up or if
they are startled.

Do deaf dogs have teeth?  Yes, most of them do – but so do most hearing dogs.  Any dog with teeth is capable of biting!  Any dog!  Hearing or deaf.  I hear several times each month about people that were bitten by dogs – and interestingly, all of these dogs can hear just fine.  It’s important to teach any dog to allow itself to be touched by people and to be woken up gently.  Every time you wake up your deaf dog, you should have a special treat to give her as soon as her eyes open.  Will she jump a bit and startle?  Probably.  But hearing dogs startle too – as do people.  Startling is a natural reflexive behavior.  The dog doesn’t have any control over it.  It just happens.  A dog that is used to getting good things when she’s woken up will startle and very quickly look to you for something good to happen.  After a while, this will become a habit and you won’t need the treat every time.  But it’s a good idea to use a treat every now and then.   It’s also important to be polite and gentle when waking up your dog.  It’s not fair to sneak up on her and then wake her up suddenly. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Deaf Dog Myth # 2

Deaf Dog Myth # 2
Deaf dogs are harder to train than hearing dogs.


On the contrary!  Deaf dogs pay such close attention to our cues and the cues from the environment around them, that they learn at an astonishing rate.  However, they can just as easily learn behaviors that we don’t want them to do, as they can learn to do what we do want.  So it’s important to establish a signal right away that lets your dog know that you liked what she is doing.  This way you can reinforce behaviors quickly that you like.  The more you reinforce those behaviors you like, the more often those behaviors will happen.  And set up the environment and always supervise so you can interrupt and redirect behaviors you don’t want right away so they don’t become habits.  No dog is born understanding human words or body language, so it is up to us to teach them – both hearing and deaf dogs. 


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Deaf dog Myth # 1

Deaf Dog Myth # 1
If I adopt a deaf dog, I need to have a hearing dog as well.

Many people think that a deaf dog needs to have a hearing dog to follow around.  This is not necessary.  Although, if you do have a hearing dog, your deaf dog will watch him closely for cues to things that are important to him – mealtimes, going for a walk, etc.  A deaf dog will also watch you closely to see what cues you give.  Sometimes your deaf dog will notice cues that you aren’t even aware you are giving!  They are very good observers!  Deaf dogs are individuals, just like people and hearing dogs are.  Some enjoy the company of other dogs, while some may not.  There is nothing wrong with having hearing dogs if you adopt a deaf dog.  There is nothing wrong with having only deaf dogs either!  Don’t get a hearing dog with the expectation that he will take on the role to “help” your deaf dog.  This is a neat thing to watch when it happens, but the truth is that the majority of times it does not happen.  The dogs will develop a relationship, but it’s usually the deaf dog that learns to just observe and learn cues. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

National Holistic Pet Day!

Holistic.  That's a term that we hear a lot these days.  It's a term used to help us remember to look at a being as a whole, and not as its separate individual parts.  We all have separate parts of our lives, but in order to be truly healthy and vibrant, we need to consider all of those parts together and how they affect each other. It is no different with our animal friends.
It's important to think of everything that affects our dogs when we approach their wellness.  It's obvious when we think about health and wellness to consider our dog's physical well-being.  Feeding the best choices in food and water, avoiding over-vaccination and exposure to unnecessary chemicals, making sure she gets enough exercise and regular veterinary care, helping her maintain a proper weight, getting her regular dental care, etc.  Keeping our dog's body healthy will help her to live longer and more comfortably.  Taking care of her body will also have an effect on her behavior and her ability to handle stress.  None of us are at our best when we don't feel good physically.  A physically healthy animal is better able to handle day to day stressors and is in a better mood than one that is not feeling up to par.
Did you know that your dog also needs to have wellness in other areas of her life?  She needs to have mental stimulation as well as physical exercise daily.  Mental stimulation will help to prevent boredom and the behavioral issues that develop because of it.  Giving your dog new experiences and puzzles to solve daily will help her to be more content.  Sometimes giving your dog mental stimulation can be just as tiring (or maybe even more tiring) than physical exercise!  Read some of my previous posts for ideas about how to give your dog mental stimulation.

Learning how to reduce stress in your dog's life will go a long way toward helping her maintain emotional  and physical wellness.  Stress can cause us all to be cranky.  When we are stressed, we have a shorter fuse and things tend to bother us more than if we aren't stressed.  The same is true for our dogs.  Stressed dogs are much less tolerant.  Many dogs act out their stress in ways that we don't appreciate - chewing, barking, tearing things up, pacing, jumping, pulling, etc.  Long term stress has been shown to have poor effects on physical, mental and emotional health.  And, remember that your stress levels and emotional state can have an effect on your dog and her behavior as well!
This is what holistic means - that every part needs to be considered because every part has an effect on all the other parts.  The ideal goal is to find balance in all areas of your dog's lifestyle and wellness.  I want my dogs to experience balance and wellness in their physical bodies, mental abilities, behavior and emotions.  When they are balanced in all areas, they can be at their best and in optimum health.
When you notice your dog having any type of issue - a behavioral change, a physical change, anything that you are concerned about - the first thing to do is to check with her veterinarian to make sure it is not stemming from a physical issue that is causing discomfort.  Our dogs can't speak up and tell us exactly what is not feeling good or how.  Many behavioral issues can be caused from a physical discomfort.  It is important to rule out any issues that may be causing your dog discomfort first.  I find that often once the physical issue is being treated, that the behavioral or other issues will remedy themselves. 
Check your dog all over for anything out of the ordinary. You should check your dog all over frequently so that you know what is normal for your dog.  Keeping your dog well-groomed is also important.  For example, a dog with long nails may begin to move or hold herself differently and this can cause pain and structural changes.  You may notice that your dog's behavior is changing and perhaps she is not wanting to do things that she used to do.  Is this because her nails are getting too long?  If you have a dog with long hair, you need to keep it well groomed and tangle free. If you have long hair and you have ever felt your hair pulled as a tangle catches on something, you will realize how much this hurts!  Ears that are infected hurt a lot and can cause dogs to snap or act in other ways that they normally would not. 
The effects of stress on our dogs can have enormous impact on their behavior, their emotions and their physical health.  If you follow this blog, you know I write often about stress and how it effects our dogs, as well as ways to help reduce stress for our dogs.  Dogs don't know that there is this thing called stress or how to make it go away.  They only know that they don't feel comfortable.  It is our responsibility to help them with reducing stress and its effects on them.  After you have ruled out a physical issue, look at ways you can reduce stress in your dog's life.

The next step is to look at all areas of your dog's life and see where things may be out of balance.  Is she getting the right nutrition, exercise, sleep, mental stimulation, attention, grooming, etc.  Try as much as you can to help your dog have a balanced and well-rounded lifestyle and you may be surprised at  how her  mood, health and behavior begin to change toward being more balanced!   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

National Spoil Your Dog Day!!

If you're anything like me, every day seems like spoil your dog day!  My dogs get the best food, vet care, walks and playtime.  They have more toys than I can count and they get super delicious dog treats.  Yes, they sleep on the bed and get lots of belly rubs.  But, at the same time, it would just not be right to pass up a special day set aside for all of America to spoil their dogs! 
So, today my dogs got even more spoiling than usual!  In addition to extra playtime and belly rubs, here are two activities that they liked the most.  Perhaps your dogs will enjoy them too!
I made them a special Goodie Box!  I stuffed a box full of toys, bones, treats and chews for them to discover and unpack!  They were all very excited and after the initial unpacking, then it was playtime with the toys and chewing time with the other goodies! 
Homemade Frosty Snacks are always a hit around here!  I make them myself because they are cheaper than store bought versions, plus I can control what the ingredients are.  Because I have smaller dogs, I can also make smaller portion sizes for the smaller dogs.  Sometimes I make them in dixie cups or ice cube trays.  This time I made them in small plastic containers with lids.  You can find many recipes for these, but I tend to wing it and add whatever healthy ingredients I want to yogurt, blend them together and freeze in portions. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Happy Gotcha Day!!

Wow!  Treasure is turning 8 years old and we are celebrating our 4th Gotcha Day with her!  The anniversary of the day when we Got her and she Got us!!  I remember as clear as it was yesterday that morning I opened my email to discover the girl I had been waiting for, was finally so close to being mine!  I remember the first time I saw her in person, the first time I held her, the first time she fell asleep in my arms.  It truly was love at first sight!
Treasure, July 2014, at the Corn Fest parade
My girl is just as beautiful as ever!  And I am amazed at just what we've accomplished together in the past four years!  Enjoy our new video highlighting some of Treasure's accomplishments, and just the wonderfulness that is her!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Craft for Shelters Month

If you like to craft, check out these great crafts to make and donate to help homeless animals at your local rescue or shelter.

Kuranda beds

Kuranda beds are essential to provide bedding up off the floor for shelter dogs.  Shelter floors get very cold in the winter time especially. 
Some handmade dog toys:

Treasure loves to give Fluffy's Blankets and beds! 
And, not to leave out our cat friends -
Cat hammocks

Cat hammocks give cats a place to perch and feel safe and cozy in their cages.

Cat T shirt beds


You can also make and donate homemade dog treats for the dogs, and other crafts for the rescue or shelter to sell at fundraisers and special events.  Most rescues and shelters rely on donations and fundraising at special events to be able to get much-needed funds to help the animals. 



Friday, July 11, 2014

Pet Photo Day

To celebrate Pet Photo Day, here are some tips from a Top Dog Model Finalist herself!
Treasure's tips for dog models:
  • Expect and demand a lot of special treats for your efforts!  Don't work for free! 
  • Be creative with the props!  Fluff the blankets, push props around, taste them, knock them over, lay on top of them, the sky's the limit!
  • Always show them your good side!  Top Dog Models never take a bad picture!
  • Good photographers enjoy a challenge!  Keep him/her guessing.  Be unpredictable.
Some of her favorites:
  • Turn your head in many different directions to provide a variety of shots and to show off your many expressions and moods.
  • Get up and spin as fast as you can when the flash goes off.  It's fun!
And finally,
  • Static electricity in long hair is the worst!  Take a spray bottle of conditioner spray to every photo shoot. 



Friday, July 4, 2014

Knocking out Boredom!

Let’s take a moment or two to focus on boredom.  How do you feel when you’re bored?  I often feel antsy, as if I have energy to do something, but I can’t figure out how to use that energy.  I fidget and I might pace or shift position frequently, trying to alleviate the feelings.  I suppose a dog feels the same way.  Energy and desire to do something, but nothing captures his interest to do at the moment.  Or perhaps he is kept confined to an area that prevents him from doing much. 
Why is boredom in our dogs a bad thing?  Boredom can lead to our dogs finding ways of entertaining themselves that we might not think are the greatest choices – chewing, tearing things up, stealing from counters, barking, digging, licking a paw for hours on end to create a sore, etc.  If we make it our mission to prevent our dogs from being bored, we can supply them with exciting choices that we do approve of.  What an easy way to encourage great behavior choices from our dogs!  We can give them lots of new experiences to choose from so they don’t have time to get bored!
There are many dog food puzzle toys on the market for this very reason.  Dogs love new challenges – especially when food is involved!  These puzzle toys stimulate their desire to hunt and problem solve.   Food is a great enrichment tool because it is easy to get and keep a dog’s attention with food.
What are some other games and activities that can prevent your dog from being bored?  Being outdoors is a great idea, but just being stuck in the same fenced yard day after day is not going to prevent boredom.  Getting your dog out somewhere new provides lots of sights, sounds, and smells that are new and exciting and sure to peak your dog’s interests.  How about a hike or a swim in the pond?  If you don’t have a pond, a kiddie pool will do.  Float various toys and treats in the pool for your dog to chase and bob after.  A block of ice made in a plastic container can have special treats and toys frozen into it and can be floated in the pool to provide gradual fun as it melts.
You can create an obstacle course in your yard using things you find around the house and garage.  Some cement blocks or bricks can hold a broomstick to create a low jump or several in a row can make cavalettis for your dog to practice stepping over.  Different surfaces and things for your dog to go over, under, and through, can be a fun game to play together. 
Playing hide and seek and find it games can be fun for both you and your dog.  Hide the toy or treat, or yourself, and then encourage your dog to search and find it.  As your dog gets better at the game, you can find harder and harder hiding spaces. 
Bringing out a new toy or bone can be exciting, just because it’s something new!  Rotate toys and bones by putting some away for a while in the closet, then bring them out and they will seem new for the day!  My dogs enjoy smelling new smells and will often spend a long time investigating what I’ve brought them to check out!
Use your imagination to give your dog new and different things to do every day to keep its mind and body active.  You will also be encouraging behavior choices that you like, and not giving him time to get bored and make his own choices that you might not agree with quite so much!  And you and your dog will enjoy investigating together and having fun!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Compulsive Behaviors in Dogs (Blog Request)

I’ve been asked to write about compulsive behavior in dogs.  This is a broad topic and one that I personally don’t have too much experience with, although I have had a few dogs through the years with behaviors that seem to fit the description of compulsive.
In searching various sites online, I’ve put together a definition that I think explains just what a compulsive behavior looks like.  In most cases, it is a normal dog behavior that is exaggerated and performed repetitively for long periods of time and most likely out of the normal context.  These behaviors can interfere with the dog’s normal every day activities.  The dog has an unrelenting urge to do the behaviors over and over again.  It is not something they can control without interruption.
Some common behaviors that may become compulsive include spinning, tail chasing, fixation and chasing of lights or shadows, pacing a specific path or pattern, circling, and chewing, licking or sucking on a particular body part, creating sores.  Of course, there are others, but these are ones I hear about most often.
If your dog is showing signs of compulsive behavior, it is important to have a complete veterinary exam done to rule out any medical cause for the behavior.   In extreme cases, the veterinarian may prescribe medication to help reduce ongoing compulsive behavior. 
In my personal experience, periods of stress seem to prompt the compulsive behaviors to start.  And once they start, they are difficult to stop.  The dog’s level of stress is often a factor as to how intense and long-lasting the outbursts of behavior are. 
In researching this topic, I found suggested that compulsive behaviors begin when the dog is stressed or frustrated and it discovers the behavior helps it to feel better and reduce the feelings of stress.  This is reinforcing to the dog, so it continues the behavior to help it feel better.  Over time, the dog is practicing this pattern and it becomes worse over time. 
I can see how this can be true.  I’ve had dogs that showed compulsive pacing behaviors and trotted out a fixed pattern in the house and/or yard repetitively, almost as if they were in a trance.  These were dogs that had lived for years in small confinement and most likely paced their small cages as an outlet for boredom and frustration. 
When these dogs were stressed even slightly, the pacing behaviors started and continued until I was able to interrupt them.  It truly did look as if they were in a trance, not thinking at all about the behavior.  They were just performing on auto pilot as a way to numb themselves from what was going on. 
Everything I read pointed to stress as being a major cause and trigger for compulsive behaviors.  Some sites mentioned dogs that were tied up or confined for long periods of time to small areas, and/or were left along for long periods of time, showed more instances of compulsive behavior than others. 
So, what can be done to reduce compulsive behaviors in dogs?  Begin by writing down the compulsive behaviors you observe and anything surrounding that situation that may be a trigger for the behavior to begin.  As much as you can, remove or minimize the triggers that start the behavior.  It may be possible to put your dog in a different room before specific events happen (guests coming, microwave beeping, etc). 
Work with a trainer to begin to desensitize and counter condition some of the lower level triggers.  The idea is to help your dog to develop a new emotional response to the trigger, so hopefully instead of feeling stress (which will trigger the compulsive behavior), your dog can begin to feel calm or happy about it.
When you see the compulsive behavior begin to happen, distract your dog and redirect his attention to something else.  Try to engage him in a game or with a food puzzle or a chew toy.  You must help him substitute something else to do.  Don’t punish his behavior in any way.  He is not being disobedient.  He is stressed and he doesn’t know what else to do in that situation.  You must help him. 
Lowering stress levels overall will certainly help to reduce the behaviors.  You can read previous blog posts here about ways to recognize and lower stress.  Enrichment and exercise are also good stress relievers.  Moderate exercise is good for both you and your dog.  Heavy, frenzied exercise for long periods of time is likely to increase your dog’s stress levels instead of helping to lower them. 
Enrichment is always a good idea to keep your dog’s brain engaged and thinking.  Food puzzles, Kongs, chew toys, teaching tricks, giving him normal outlets for dog behavior (digging, chewing, and tearing), letting him explore new sights and smells, nose work games, etc.  All of these can be helpful in giving your dog other things to do and think about. 
I hope you’ve found this post useful.  Here are three websites I found while doing my searches that seem to be the most informative about compulsive behaviors in dogs. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Excessive Barking in the House (Blog Request)

One of the questions I hear most is whether my deaf and deaf/blind dogs bark.  While I would love to be able to say no, the truth is, that yes, they do bark.  As do my dogs that can see and hear.  It’s what dogs do – they bark.  If you are going to live with a dog, I think you need to accept the fact that they bark.  However, sometimes that barking can be excessive and seem to be for what humans believe is no good reason.  Our dogs, of course, always believe they have a good reason for barking.  How do we strike that compromise that allows our dogs to be dogs, yet protects our sanity as humans?
I think more often than not our dogs are confused when it comes to barking.  They don’t know whether we want them to bark or not.  Sometimes we may acknowledge their barking positively to announce visitors or even unwanted people on our property.  Sometimes we may laugh at their barking if they bark at something they think is scary but we think is cute.  Sometimes we may haphazardly mumble to them to knock it off or be quiet while we are otherwise engaged in some activity.  And still other times, we may become downright scary in our attempts to get our dogs to be quiet.  That doesn’t show the dog much consistency, and it doesn’t help to make clear to him what we do want him to do.
Some of us have the problem that our dogs bark at every little movement outside the window.  But if we leave our dog home alone all day with nothing to do but look out the window, can we blame him?  He sees something new and exciting outside the window to give him something to do, and he wants to join in!  If your dog has a consistent habit of barking, such as barking at things moving outside the window, it may be easy enough to prevent your dog from having access to that situation.  You can block your dog’s access to the window or put him in another room while you’re away.  You can buy window films that will allow light to shine in, but will block your dog from seeing out.  There are options only limited by your creativity.
Some dogs like to bark because it gets their person’s attention.  Sometimes we are aware of this behavior, such as when your dog comes and sits by the cabinet and barks for you to give him a treat, or if he sits and stares at you and barks until you pet him or toss his toy.  But other times it is hard to tell that what your dog wants is actually your attention.  He may bark and you may tell him to be quiet and if he barks again, you may get up and go to him to try to make him be quiet.  The problem is that if your dog only gets attention when he is barking, he may want your attention enough to get in trouble to get it. 
Instead, try paying more attention to your dog any time he is being quiet.  A gentle scratch behind the ears or a belly rub, a tasty treat dropped quietly by his side while he chews a bone … these things will go a long way toward minimizing excessive barking.  Behavior that is reinforced (rewarded with something the dog likes) will tend to happen more often!  So, paying attention to a quiet dog will tend to give you a quieter dog.  Paying attention to a barking dog will tend to give you a dog that barks more.
Decide in your mind what type of barking you will allow.  It’s not fair to a dog to expect no barking.  Imagine if someone forbid you to speak or make noises – ever!  Yikes!  So, when will you allow or even appreciate barking?  And in what situations would you like to diminish the barking?  You have to decide before you can teach your dog the difference.
I like to teach my dogs a quiet cue by rewarding them for being quiet.  Even my deaf dogs learn a quiet cue.  The end result is that when they are barking, I can give them the quiet cue and they know it is time to be quiet now.  But in the beginning, they need to learn what quiet means.  How do you explain to a dog what quiet is?  When a dog is barking, you can yell quiet all you want, but if the dog doesn’t already know what quiet means, he is unlikely to figure it out in that moment.  He is just as likely to think you are yelling, “The pizza guy is here!” 
I teach the quiet cue by giving the cue when my dogs are already quiet and then rewarding them immediately.   Any time I am reinforcing my dogs for being quiet, I cue them “quiet” and then praise them and reward them with things they like.  They begin to learn that when I say quiet they will get a reward, and they begin to have an inkling that this only happens when there is no sound coming out of their mouths.
The next step is to get their attention on me when they are barking.  I want the dog to look at me and be paying attention.  Sometimes this requires a touch to distract the dog long enough that he turns to see what I want.  I immediately give the quiet cue and reward immediately.  The reward has to come fast in the beginning before another bark can be said.  I keep containers of treats around my house in various areas to reward good behaviors quickly. 
There are other things that can help communicate to your dog that things are not as exciting as he thinks they are.  If you immediately jump up and run to the door whenever someone arrives, you are showing your dog how to behave – to jump up and excitedly rush to the door.  Dogs bark when they are excited!  Instead, put a sign outside your door asking guests to be patient as you may take a while to get to the door.  Take your time getting to the door.  Move and speak calmly.
When your dog barks, try to redirect him to do something else.  Even if you haven’t taught the quiet cue yet, you can run the other way (from what he’s barking at) and get him to chase you for a fun game, toss a toy for him to chase, have him go to the dog bed (if he already knows how to do that), etc.  Make sure you are breathing deeply and calmly.  If you are tense and holding your breath (which we often do when we are concentrating or hurrying), your dog will also be tense – and, you guessed it – tense dogs bark!
Lastly, but not any less important, be sure you reward your dog for being quiet when you want him to be.  Even if he just pauses for a moment before barking when he sees that cat outside or hears a noise, be ready to praise him and really reinforce his behavior with something he thinks is great!   Remember, if you pay attention to a quiet dog, you will get a quieter dog! 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dog bite prevention week - waking up gently

An important excerpt from my newest book, Through A Dark Silence: Loving and Living with Your Blind and Deaf dog -

Teaching your dog to wake up gently:

"There is a myth that b/d dogs are dangerous because they will always bite when they are startled or woken up. Could this ever happen? Yes, it could. But it could also happen with a dog that can see and hear. Does it happen a lot? No. Most b/d dogs are no threat when startled. Can this scenario be prevented?  You can certainly lower the risk of this ever happening with your dog.
You can teach your b/d dog to wake up easily and happily. By teaching this skill to your new dog, you can prevent any issues from developing. Start training when your dog is awake and is aware of you near her. Touch your dog and then pop a wonderful treat into her mouth immediately. Don’t wait to see what your dog will do. There should be no lag time. Just touch and pop the treat into her mouth. Make these really special treats. You want your dog to really look forward to being touched.

Repeat this pattern of touch and treat many times quickly in succession. Then touch your dog and pause for just a moment before giving the treat. The sequence will become – touch, dog looks expectantly for treat, and then feed. Don’t pause too long, just long enough for your dog to show you that she knows the treat should come next.

In future sessions, touch different parts of your dog’s body. One touch equals one treat. As your dog becomes more tolerant of you touching various parts of her body, sneak in a random touch now and then when your dog is not expecting it. Be ready with that treat immediately. Be sure to continue to use great treats every time you touch her. The more you reward the touching, the better your dog’s response will be when she is surprised or woken up suddenly. You cannot do this exercise too much as long as you are rewarding every touch.

There may be times when your dog gets startled by a touch when you don’t have a food treat immediately handy. Try to minimize these as much as you can, but if it happens, be ready to reward your dog with something else she likes – a small game or lots of petting if your dog enjoys that. Being woken up or startled should always mean good stuff for your dog!

When your dog is sleeping, though, be respectful. Don’t wake your dog up unless it’s necessary. When you do need to wake her up, do it gently. Walk heavier as you approach your dog so she can begin to feel the vibrations through the floor. When you get close to her, you can blow on her gently to wake her up. If your dog is lying on a blanket, you can wiggle the edge of the blanket to gently shake her awake. If your dog is still asleep, you can progress to brushing her gently with your hand. It is best to touch your dog on her body, not her face.  That’s just for safety in case she does wake up with a startle.  Your hand will be away from her mouth.

Be prepared for a startle if your dog is sleeping soundly. Startling is a normal response. Just make sure that you are quickly offering your dog something wonderful! Usually the dog will recover immediately once she recognizes that it is you, and when you offer something tasty to eat, she will forget all about being startled. Be aware that your b/d dog may need you to use your hands to steady her as she wakes up. She may be disoriented as she wakes up suddenly and may jump up and bump into things nearby.  Maintaining a firm but gentle touch to her body will let her know you are there while you offer the food right near her nose.

Remember that startling is a normal response. You will probably not ever get rid of it completely. But you can diminish how much the startle bothers your dog by rewarding frequently.  And with lots of practice, you may notice your dog waking up easier and easier each time!"
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Friday, May 9, 2014

Games Dogs (and Kids) Love to Play!

Fun and safe games for kids and dogs to play together with adult supervision

Dogs and kids seem like the perfect combination of fun, but their play together can very quickly get out of control and things can go south.   How can you encourage your children to play appropriate games with the dog?  By modeling appropriate games and play.  If you model wild and crazy games involving a lot of running, chasing, jumping and mouthing, that is how your children will want to play with the dog too, and that is how the dog will expect to be played with. This can lead to injuries and hurt feelings, because dogs play with a much rougher play style than most children.  Here are some fun and safe games that children can play with dogs while being supervised by a responsible adult.
The shell game:  Use empty flower pots or yogurt cups with a hole in the bottom.  With several pots, hold the dog while the child places a treat under one of the upside down pots.  She can move them around to mix them up a bit, and then have the child give the dog the find it cue as you release the dog.  It won’t take long for your dog to learn to enjoy this game!

Find it:  This is a progression of the shell game.  The child can progress to hiding the treat in new and easy places around the room for your dog to find.  It might be helpful for you to give the child suggestions of easy places, then medium, and finally harder places to hide the treat.  Hold the dog until the child gives the find it cue. 
Hide and seek:  Hold your dog and give the child a plastic cup with some dog treats in it.  Have the child get the dog’s attention by rattling the treats inside the cup a bit, then moving quickly to an easy hiding place.  As soon as the child gets hidden, release the dog and tell him to “find Lucy” (or whatever name you choose).  Because your dog saw the child hide and knows there are treats involved, he will probably hurry to find the child.  The child can then praise the dog and feed him treats with the cup.  Using a cup is helpful to keep small fingers away from the dog’s mouth while he’s eating treats, so they don’t accidentally get nipped.  Dogs can easily lick treats from the cup, or the child can dump the treats out of the cup onto the floor for the dog to eat.  With practice, the child’s hiding spots can get harder and harder. 

Tricks:  Older children can help you teach the dog some tricks and will delight in showing off the tricks to anyone who will watch.  This can be a great activity for children and dogs to do together, but again, be nearby and supervising.  It is easy for a dog to get confused, or for a child to get frustrated, and you may need to intervene and call for a short break for them both to regroup.
Obstacle course:  You can create an obstacle course with objects you have around the house.  Construct low things to jump over, or crawl through.  Cardboard boxes can be cut and taped into just about any shape.  Use different things for the dog to safely walk over, around and through.   Make sure your dog is comfortable doing all the obstacles with you first, before you add the child into the picture.  Then turn this into a game of follow the leader.  The child can carry a cup of dog treats to lead the dog through the obstacles – over, around and through.  You can make it a game where you hold a clicker or a small bell and when the child hears that sound, she should stop and offer the dog a few treats either from the cup or tossed to the floor.  This will allow you to pinpoint good behavior from the dog as a bonus (not jumping, doing an obstacle correctly, etc.) and will keep the dog focused on following the child because he knows he will be getting treats along the way!  You can even take turns and hold the dog while the child does the obstacles first, to “show the dog how to do them,” and then have the dog follow the child through. 

An important rule is to always supervise children and dogs when they are together.  If you need to leave the room, take one or the other of them with you.  Children move fast, dogs move fast, and they don’t speak the same language.  It is very easy for one of them to misinterpret something the other one does.  It is when these misunderstandings happen, that one or the other can get hurt.  Neither the dog nor the children can be expected to be able to make appropriate judgment calls.  That is a responsible adult’s job.  With appropriate supervision, a dog and child can become best friends.  I hope you find that together they can enjoy some of these games safely!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Specially-Abled Pet Day!!

In honor of Specially-Abled Pet Day (May 3rd) …

What I have learned from my specially-abled dogs

When I let go of expectations, they accomplish things that far exceed anything I thought possible.  It is people who limit their animals with their own feelings of fear or doubt.
They need to be nurtured and protected, yet encouraged to fulfill their true potential.  Give them the freedom to be just like other dogs and to enjoy their lives to the fullest.

Their “disability” is just a difference, nothing more, nothing less. 
I have missed out on a whole world of information that I don’t need my eyes or ears to notice.  Now I pay more attention to subtle things in my day.

I’ve learned to be humble.  Sometimes the dog knows or notices things that I don’t.
I’ve been connected to some amazingly wonderful people and animals that share our journey with their own specially-abled pets.  I would not have met these friends if it weren’t for my dogs.

I started and keep this blog as a resource for others.  I hope they can learn from my journey.
Love is stronger than any problem that may arise.

Looking lovingly into your dog’s eyes is not dependent on the fact that she actually has eyes – it is about so much more than that.  It is a recognition of her soul and its connection to my soul.
A blind and deaf dog KNOWS when I open the refrigerator in the next room, and she can move at lightning fast speed to get herself in the way of the door closing, even when I thought she was sleeping!

Specially-abled dogs give us a way to connect to and teach compassion and acceptance to others.  While we often are afraid to approach a person who is different from us, something about a dog draws us in and we feel safe.  These lessons can carry over to the people in our lives.
They want the same things that we want in our own lives – love, safety, and acceptance.  They want a chance to do things for themselves.  They don’t want our pity.

There are always many ways to accomplish the same task.  One is not better than another.  Each way gets the task done in the right way for that individual.
I will always share my heart with at least one specially-abled dog!


Friday, April 25, 2014

Worried about Strangers (Blog Request)

Does your dog get worried around strangers?  Many dogs do.  But often, it’s not the strangers themselves that these dogs are worried about; it is the fact that we are going to ask them to interact with those strangers that worries them.  Why do we expect our dogs to act open and happy with everyone they meet?  Do we act that way with everyone we meet? 
Do you always stand very close to people you don’t know or do you try to keep some space between yourself and them?  Do you want strangers to come touch you and hug you?  Are there some people that you feel more comfortable with than others?  It is ok for those you feel more comfortable with to stand closer to you than someone you don’t feel that way about, right? 
And yet when our dogs try to move away from strangers do we shorten the leash to make them stay?  Do we baby talk them and try to bribe them with goodies to go say hi to the nice person?  And do our efforts help?  Not usually. 
Imagine if you felt uneasy about a person who approached you on the street.  You probably would try to make an arc around that person to allow more room while you averted your eyes and tried to hurry past.  Now, what if someone held you in place with a leash so that stranger could touch and hug you and stare into your face?  Would you like that?  Would it make you more likely to like and feel comfortable with that stranger?  Probably not. 
What if the person tried to bribe you closer with a piece of chocolate?  If you really liked chocolate, you might inch closer until you could grab the candy, and then you would try to back away quickly again.  Even if you were eating the candy, would you like the stranger any better?  Most likely not.  But you would be feeling more anxious because you had to go closer to that stranger than you would have liked.  But if your uneasiness about the stranger was more than your love of chocolate, you wouldn’t even approach. 
Many people try to have the stranger feed their dog a goodie, thinking the dog will begin to associate the stranger with a yummy treat.  While on the surface this might sound like a good idea, it usually is not.  While it does work with a few dogs, it can also lead to worsening anxiety or even a bite from your dog.  What happens is that your dog will go closer to get the great food (just like you sneaking in to grab the chocolate), but when the food runs out your dog will realize just how close he now is to the scary stranger.  This will cause him to be even more worried, as he may not realize how he got so close to the person, and he may not know what to do.  This is when he might snap or bite in an attempt to get the person to back away and give him more space, especially if you are holding him close on a short leash and he can’t get away.
Don’t force your dog to make friends.  You may make his anxiety around strangers even worse even though you were trying to make it better.  It’s ok to say no when people ask if they can pet your dog.  It’s even ok for your dog to walk away from a stranger or to go sit behind you. 
Let your dog walk away.  Keep the leash loose and allow him to have a choice about who he greets or doesn’t greet.  If you give your dog the choice, he will begin to feel more in control of the situation and his stress levels will lessen.  You might be surprised … often if you just hang out near people and ask everyone to ignore your dog, you will soon see him settle down enough to approach and sniff the other people on his own.  But it has to be his choice when he feels comfortable enough to do that.  If strangers are looking at him or trying to get his attention by reaching out a hand, etc, he will feel pressured and he will begin to worry again.
With time, your dog will become more comfortable around strangers because he will know that they won’t be trying to pet him or feed him.  If he wants to approach someone to sniff, let him.  Ask the other person to ignore him.  Praise gently as your dog is sniffing.
Sometimes sitting next to the person on a bench will help your dog feel safe enough to approach.  Often a dog will go under the bench and when the people are talking and otherwise engaged, he will sneak closer to sniff the person’s shoes. 
A dog being approached head-on will most likely try to take a detour away from a new person.  This is polite dog language and also a response to the stress of someone approaching him directly.  Allow him to move away to create more space so he will be comfortable and keep the leash loose if you can.  Following or walking next to a new person can help put your dog at ease much quicker than a person approaching him. 
One of my own dogs is worried about strangers.  The more I tried to work with him to help him, the more anxious he got.  I tried asking people to pet him or to feed him.  I tried doing targeting games to have him go say hi to people by touching their hands.  Even though with a certain cue (touch) he would do the behavior, his general behavior in public where there were new people got worse because he was never sure which new person I was going to make him interact with. 
Taking the pressure off and telling people they couldn’t pet my dog, allowed him to feel much more comfortable in the presence of new people and even with them handling him.  Of course this took some time.  I let it be his choice.  If he approaches a person, I praise him.  I don’t ask him to approach the person.  I don’t let others push into his space. 
When I see that he is curious about the other person and will approach and sniff on his own, I then tell the person how to invite him into their space.  If he goes to them, then he has made the choice to interact with them.  I give very specific instructions to the person on what to do next.  And when my dog moves away, I back away and call him to me, praising him for coming as I explain to the other person that he’s had enough now and thank them for taking the time to make friends with him. 
You need to stand up for your dog and protect him and his feelings.  He doesn’t have a choice when he is on a leash and he can’t move away.  Remember that it’s ok not to allow people to pet your dog.  Dogs have varying comfort levels around new people, just like we do.  Forcing him to interact will increase his anxiety and make him want to try to avoid new people even more the next time.  Instead, take it slow and allow him to tell you how he’s feeling about the situation.  Give him the freedom to decide who he wants to interact with and over time you may notice that he is making that choice more and more.