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Monday, October 12, 2015

See some enrichment games in action!

Click here to watch Treasure (blind and deaf) and Vegas (deaf and visually impaired) play some of their favorite enrichment games!  Try some of them with your own dogs!  All dogs can play these games - even dogs that can see and hear just fine!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Happy Birthday!!

Mom and I are working on a new book, and because today is my Gotcha Day (the day when I got her and she got me), she asked me to share a part of what we're working on.  This is the part - my very favorite part - where Mom comes to bring me home!  I hope you like my story!


Me saying goodbye to my foster mom.

Today was the day!  There was much emotion in the air – excitement, anticipation, and perhaps even a bit of trepidation.  They said she is coming!  She wants to meet me!  She wants to take me home!  I can’t help but feel a sense of hope.  I’ve wanted a permanent home for a while now. 

But what will she be like?  Will she love me?  Will I be good enough for her or will she leave without me?  And lately, I’ve been questioning, just what does “home” mean, anyway? 

I thought I had a home … once.  I lived in a pen with my friend.  It wasn’t an exciting life, but we had each other and it felt safe and comfortable to us.  It was our space. Our home. 

Over the past weeks I had been in many homes.  But they weren’t meant to be my home.  And now, here I was, in yet another home where I’d only spent a few weeks.  They were so kind to me here.  Everyone had been kind to me.  Yet I was tired.  I wanted it all to stop.  I was tired of traveling here and there, adjusting to new places and smells and people and dogs.  I just wanted a place of my own where I knew I never had to leave. 

For a moment, my thoughts are interrupted.  She is coming!  She wants to meet you!  She’s been waiting for you for so long!  She wants to take you home!  They kept repeating these words to me.  They held me close and I could feel their excitement that this would work out for me.  I could feel their sadness, for they would need to say goodbye just as we were getting to know each other.  I could feel them trying to hold all these emotions back just in case.  What if it didn’t work out?  What if I wasn’t what she was hoping for? 

I was resigned to the fact that I would be leaving again.  This had become just another part of my routine.  There would be a new house to map out.  Everything would be new around me.  I was not afraid, just weary.  But I couldn’t deny that the energy around me was different from the last few times I moved on.  It reminded me of my time back when I left the shelter, so far away.  I had stayed at that new house the longest of any place since.  I remember how safe it felt to know the lay of the land and the routine.  To stay for awhile and call it my own. 

I wanted that feeling again.  A sense of belonging.  That comforting warm glow was getting stronger and closer, but suddenly I felt a bit frightened by it.  Where was it leading me?  Would this person like me?  Would she pass me off to someone else?  Or perhaps she would notice that I was special and leave without me, thinking I will be a burden to her?

She’s here!  I am being carried outside.  I feel the vibration of my foster lady talking, but I am so distracted that I hardly noticed.  There is a new smell in the air.  A new emotion.  A new feeling.  That warm glow is all around me now.  She touches me.  I tense my muscles to not allow myself to give in. 

But when she touches me, something inside of me melts away and I surrender - to the warm glow.  Her fingers melted into my fur.  Her touch feels so familiar, yet so new.  I can’t see them, but I feel her body welling up with tears.  They aren’t sad tears, but tears of relief and great love.  Tears of acceptance.  She was that warm glow I had felt all this time.  And here she was!  Meeting me!

She stayed for awhile, talking with the foster family I was with.  She held me.  I fell asleep on my back in her arms.  I was so content and happy.  I felt so safe.  I felt accepted.  For a moment, all my worries were gone.  I no longer wondered if she’d like me, or if I’d be good enough.  I no longer even wondered if she would take me with her or if she would leave me here.  It was all about that one place in time, that one moment.  I loved her from that very first touch. 

When the time came for her to go, she put me carefully into her car.  Immediately, my mind tried to go in a different direction.  Oh no, another car.  Another trip away from everything I had known so far in my life.  No, don’t close the door …

But I smelled her.  This car smelled so much like her.  She was still near me, I just knew it.  I was quiet, but I did not sleep.  The anticipation was just too much.  But, that warm glow surrounded me and comforted me.  I knew something different was happening to me.  Something I would remember for a long time.

Me in my new home! 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Could Vegas have his own show? In Vegas?

Vegas is such a fun dog to play with!  He is learning new tricks so quickly.  I think perhaps he is aspiring to have his own trick dog show in Las Vegas!  He finished his Advanced Trick Dog Title in April, so these pics are a bit overdue.

Vegas LOVES to use his paws!  Ever since he came to me as a little puppy, he was always using his paws.  The usual ways of teaching him not to jump on us and not to grab our legs with his feet were just not working.  Then I watched him playing with his litter sister whom we fostered for a short while and saw that he used his feet to keep track of where she was.  If she moved and his feet were on her, he knew right where she was.  Vegas has some vision, but it's hard for him to locate what he's seeing.  He was keeping track of where we were by touching us with his feet.  It comes as no surprise then that all of these new tricks involve his feet in different ways.  Having learned from Treasure that a visually impaired dog seems to be able to hit a target better when the dog and the target are not moving, we tried this trick with Vegas lying down.  He picked it up right away and with a little practice, learned to hit the button with pretty good accuracy.

Playing the piano and wiping his feet on a mat were both pretty similar.  He just has to use his paw to stroke something.  These he can do in any position - lying down, sitting, standing up.  You can see me giving him his thumbs up sign while he wipes his paws on the blanket.  He can see the signal best when it's close to his face.

Vegas likes things that move under his feet.  He's very confident about it.  He enjoys pushing his skateboard and can also roll a peanut and push a shopping cart.

Perhaps the hardest trick for Vegas this time around was chorus kicks.  He is to put his paw onto my foot and together we alternate right, left, right, left.  He never did get the concept to look down at my feet.  He is very attentive and wants to watch my hands for his cues.  With a bit of creativity, he learned touch cues on his legs that I gave with my feet and he aced this trick too!  What a guy!  

Treasure's newest tricks!

Treasure continues to learn new tricks.  She has perfected pushing her skateboard, and she really seems to enjoy it.  She steps onto it eagerly, while I hold it still for her.  Once she's in position, she starts pushing and away she goes.  Once she gets off, she can't wait to step back on, so I have to be quick to pick up the board and take her back to the starting point so she can go again.  Of course, I stay nearby to make sure she doesn't run into anything or go off the side of the walkway.  And I can stop the board if there is any danger.  I have found that in addition to being a cute trick, this exercise helps to strengthen her rear legs, which helps with her fitness program!  

The piano was easy for Treasure because she likes to step on new surfaces, but when she would stand on it, she tended to then just stay in one place instead of moving her feet around and making music.  So I decided it would be better to teach her to play while lying down so she could move her feet more easily.  Well, let's just say that although Treasure does humor me (she likes those treats, you know!), she does prefer to play standing up when she gets the chance.  

Perhaps one of the hardest we've accomplished so far is targeting the easy button.  The smaller size of the button compared to other surfaces I've asked Treasure to step on or touch, made it much more difficult for her to pinpoint where in space it was and how big it was.  We tried many different techniques.  Some resulted in her pawing the air repeatedly, trying to locate the button.  Together we discovered that if neither she nor the button moved, she was able to find it much easier.  So, with her lying down (so she didn't move), and the button next to her foot where she could feel it, she was able to target it easily.  I think this may now be one of her favorite tricks.  Every now and then she will miss the button, but she tries again until she gets it.  

Treasure and I would love to hear what new tricks your dogs are learning!  Tricks are a great way to have fun with your dog, and to keep your dog active and stimulated.  Some tricks even help provide great exercise!  Happy tricking!  

Friday, June 12, 2015

Host Author in June

I have the privilege of being a featured author this month on the DogRead email list with my newest book, Through A Dark Silence:  Loving and Living with Your Blind and Deaf Dog.  I will be featured during the last half of June (16-30) and will be available to answer questions and participate in discussions regarding blind and deaf dogs.  Come join us!  DogRead can be found here

Friday, May 29, 2015

Treasure and TTouch

Treasure accompanied me again on a cross-country trip to our Tellington TTouch training in MD.  She is such a great traveler, even though the trip is about 13 hours long and we drive straight through.  She has a crate to travel in, with water and food puzzle toys as well as an antler to chew on, and she's happy as can be!  

Our friend Maggie made Treasure a lovely name tag to display on her pen, so everyone would remember her name!  Hard to imagine that anyone would forget Treasure, I know, but with so many great people and dogs in the class (and even one cat!) to learn names for, the name tags came in very handy. And they are SO pretty as well!  Thanks Maggie!  

Our friends Rose and Mickey (pictured) shared a hotel room with us and made the place feel like home.  Treasure remembered Mickey by smell right away and followed him around until he found the perfect place for them both to rest for awhile.  Treasure liked having an actual kitchen in our room, and lying on the cool kitchen floor!  Mickey made sure we kept the air conditioning nice and cool!  

 Tellington TTouch is an amazing way of relating to and helping animals with a strong emphasis on respect and appreciation for the animal as a perfect being.  There is a whole philosophy to learn and embody when taking TTouch classes, along with a large toolbox of different touches and techniques.  Each touch is named after an animal and has a specific way to support the body, mind, emotions and spirit of the animal.  Tools include ways to use equipment to communicate more clearly and gently with the animal.  The playground for higher learning can be changed in many ways to assist with balance and focus, as well as confidence.  Wraps are a special tool used to bring a sense of confidence, calming, and/or a better sense of body awareness to assist with balance and well-being.  Here Treasure models a figure 8 wrap (photo by Linda Tellington-Jones).  

I'm looking forward to getting my official certification as a Tellington TTouch Practitioner 1 in September!  This has been a journey of growth and learning and meeting so many wonderful friends who have become family!  Here's a special picture of me and Treasure with Linda Tellington-Jones at the training in May.  Linda is such an amazingly intuitive woman, who is gracious enough to share with each of us and the animals what she has learned over so many years of experience.  Thank you Linda!  

If you'd like to learn more about Tellington TTouch, find a TTouch practitioner near you, or learn more about how you can attend a training, please visit  You'll be glad you did!  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April Fitness Update

It's been about a month since Treasure and I started her fitness program.  I'm so pleased with the progress she's made.  I'm taking a canine fitness class through Fenzi academy, so I've been able to learn more about how Treasure's muscles work to contribute to her balance and stability.  I'm learning specific exercises that I can use to help strengthen those various muscles to help her improve her strength and stability.  These exercises are helping with increasing Treasure's stamina and flexibility as well.  

Treasure is able to easily walk with me twice around the field by our house.  When we started, we walked to the field and then went 1/4 of the way around and then came back.  So, she has improved her strength and stamina nicely.  I have noticed her core muscles are stronger, and she has more energy.  She is always looking for something to do now, which is more like how she was before I allowed her to get used to a more sedate lifestyle.  

There are a couple ways to teach your blind and deaf dog to put her front feet up on a disc.  First, please consult with a veterinary professional before embarking on a serious fitness program with your dog.  If you don't understand the muscles and the exercises, and how to know when you've done enough, you can end up with a very sore and unhappy dog.  If your dog has an injury or a condition which affects her structure and movement, it is vitally important to get feedback from a veterinarian about a fitness program before starting, so you know if there are exercises that may make the issue worse.

When teaching your dog to put her front feet up on an object, choose an object that is fairly low and is stable.  The object should not move when your dog steps up onto it.  Remember that your dog has been using her feet to feel surfaces for a while now and stepping onto a moving surface may be scary.  You want your dog's experience to be a good one, so she will want to continue to step onto the object for you.  If she gets scared of the surface right off the bat, she will probably be more likely to avoid your teaching sessions.

You can use a sturdy book, or if you have a large dog you can use a short step stool.  Make sure the item is not going to move.  You can block it with furniture or a wall, or even your foot, to prevent it from moving.  When I first taught this, I used a combination of luring with food and shaping.  I used food to get Treasure to line up with the object and when her front legs and chest were touching it, I let her eat the food from on top of the object.  This allowed her to feel the object and learn its height, as well as begin to feel comfortable with it.  I let her sniff it and continued to feed her food from on top of it.  When she was fully comfortable with the object, I started to hold the lure a little farther from her over the top of the object so she had to lean forward to reach it.  As she leaned forward, I watched for smaller behaviors from her to reward.  When her weight shifted forward, she got the food.  Then when she lifted one front foot, she got the food.  Then when her front foot touched the object, then stepped onto it, then two feet up, etc.  

I added a touch cue to this behavior after she was doing it easily and was able to get rid of the lure, so she would easily step up onto the object when I gave the touch cue by itself.  Then I started to ask Treasure to step up onto other objects that were varying heights but still did not move.  We used this behavior for several tricks and for photo poses!  

Treasure loves to put her front feet up on things whether they move or not and she is often in position on her disc before I can even get myself situated.  When first introducing her to a surface that would move, I used my leg.  She was used to stepping up onto my leg for petting and cuddling.  When she came up, I tensed and relaxed my leg muscles to cause just a tiny bit of movement under her feet.  Because she was getting loving from me, she barely seemed to notice the movement.  Then I made it into a game and started to move my leg more and more when her feet were on it and in different directions.  She appeared to like this game, as any time I moved her off my leg, she stepped right back up on it for more!

From there it was a simple matter to introduce moving surfaces to her.  The disc in the pictures is a large one for Treasure's size.  We have smaller ones that we started with.  Also, the disc pictured is filled very full with air.  It is easier to start with discs that are slightly deflated, as they have less movement and are easier for the dogs to balance on and gain confidence and strength.

Do not be fooled!  Even though this seems like an easy exercise, don't overdo it!  Try sitting on a disc while you're sitting at the computer for an hour and then see which muscles are sore the next day!  It is hard work for muscles to work in ways they are not used to.  Keep sessions very short and build up gradually.  If your dog is sore, she won't be enjoying her lessons.  Fitness is only fun if the participants are enjoying it!  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fun and Fitness

Treasure is learning to push a skateboard.  While this doesn't sound a lot like something that should be in a fitness program, I am finding that it is harder for her than I expected it to be.  Treasure enjoys any trick in which she can put her front feet up on something, so I thought this would be easy for her to learn.

What I am finding, however, is that it is a difficult concept for her to move only her back feet and keep her front feet in place.  She often tries to walk her front feet forward as well, and ends up walking up to the end of the skateboard instead of keeping her front feet in the middle.

Learning to isolate and only move her back feet is a new skill for her.  While she is learning new skills in proprioception and is connecting new neural pathways to allow her to learn this new motor pattern, she is also working her muscles in a different way.  So, short sessions that are kept fun are important to prevent her from getting sore and frustrated.  Chicken pieces help to keep her motivated and having fun too!

Skateboards!  Fitness AND Fun!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fitness for Blind and Deaf Dogs

Treasure is embarking on a new and improved fitness program.  It's hard to keep her fit and trim because she is not as active as the other dogs.  They want to go, go, go (and quickly!) on their walks and they enjoy running together in the nearby field.  Treasure's pace is one of leisure, carefully smelling her way through a walk.  She prefers to walk slightly behind me so she can follow my scent.  I would not be able to walk her with my other dogs and give them each what they need and want from a walk.  This means that I need to make it a priority to take them out separately.  

When Shelby was alive, she and Treasure both walked slower and we would take a separate walk around the yard - just us three girls.  As Shelby slowed down even more, those walks became shorter and eventually all but stopped except for her really good days.  I didn't make it a priority to take Treasure out again for a walk by herself.  So, she spent a lot of this winter in the house.  

She started to put on a couple extra pounds, so I cut back on her food amount to help with that.  And although she is now a good weight, she is out of shape.  I want her to live for a long time, so I want her muscles, heart and lungs to stay strong and for her joints to remain flexible for as long as possible.  This means - exercise!  

Now that the weather is getting nicer, I will be focusing on building up Treasure's endurance for walking with me, and then experimenting to see if we can quicken the pace just a bit.  It is unlikely that Treasure will go any faster than a slow trot, because she can't see what is in front of her, so she's learned to go at a more conservative pace to avoid smacking into something hard or falling into a hole in the ground.  But I would like for her to be able to go on longer walks with me.  

Treasure does enjoy her time with me learning tricks and doing nosework.  She does get some exercise doing various tricks that allow her body to stretch and move in different ways and improve her balance and proprioception skills.  I have balance discs, and a balance ball and peanut and each of these challenge her to use her muscles and help keep her toned.  

I know all too well that starting up a new exercise program can leave muscles sore and tired.  I also learned recently that if there is pain during a workout, the muscles protect themselves and don't work as hard, so they are not really building any strength.  So, my goal is to go slowly enough that Treasure is always having fun and ready for more when we stop, and that she never gets sore.  That's no fun for anyone, and I want her to build strength, so it's important to keep her under that pain threshold.  

Walks are such good exercise physically, but walks also allow Treasure to experience different surfaces, smells, textures, and sensations.  She loves to feel the warmth of the sunshine on her coat, and to smell all the amazing farm smells on the breeze.  Each new surface - grass, gravel, black top, wood - is a new experience for her and requires her to adjust her balance and pace somewhat.  

I'll try to keep the readers updated on our new fitness adventure.

Enjoying our longer walks together ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March happenings

It's March already.  The time has certainly flown by.  We've all had a couple months of changes and adjustments and being cooped up inside way too much because of the winter weather.  

Our dear Shelby (Jack Russell/Dachshund mix) passed away in late January.  She had been with me for nearly 18 years, from the time she was a puppy.  She was the oldest here, and all the dogs had learned to respect her and to watch out for her.  It's interesting while going through my own grieving process to see how each of them looked for her and reacted to her being gone.  But slowly our lives have returned to some sense of normalcy.  

As many times as I have sat down to write about Shelby, there just don't seem to be adequate words to express how integral she has been in my life for the past 18 years.  So I haven't written anything yet.  But she is so very missed ... 

While we were stuck inside this winter, the dogs and I have been working on their trick dog titles.  Vegas and Treasure both earned their Intermediate Trick Dog Titles!  Owen earned his Expert Trick Dog Title, and Brinks earned his Advanced Trick Dog Title.  We've been very busy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Trick Dogs!

A project we’re working on over the winter is for Vegas and Treasure to learn enough new tricks to earn their Intermediate Trick Dog titles.  Tricks are a great way to spend time with your dog and a good way to help their bodies and minds get exercise when all we want to do is hibernate inside where it’s warm!

Each dog needs to learn 12 new tricks to earn this new title.  Vegas has learned 8 on the list so far.  He is working on developing the muscles needed to sit pretty (beg) on his own, hide in a box, weave through my legs as I walk, and do tricks with a pedestal.  He loves his lessons, which are a time for just him and I to play and have fun!  I can’t wait to show you what he has learned!

Treasure knows 10 of the intermediate level tricks!  Only 2 more to go!  She is learning to work with a pedestal and do different tricks with it, go to a mat (which is proving to be easier than I thought with a blind/deaf dog!), and to weave through my legs (this one is tricky for her).  She is also working with paw pods and learning to put one paw up on each pod.  She can do the front two pods very well.  It’s much harder for her to find the pod with her back feet. 

While we play with intermediate tricks, they are also both learning some tricks from the advanced and expert trick lists.  This is really great fun!  It challenges my skills as a trainer – doing shaping with a tactile marker (clicker signal that Treasure can feel), figuring out how to adapt each exercise for Vegas’ limited vision – and it is fun for the dogs to get one on one time with me and lots of praise, treats, and fun!  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Welcome 2015!

The start of 2015!  So much to look forward to in the coming year!  And, we are stuck inside here due to the bitter cold.  So, once again, I look for new ways to keep my dogs busy and using their brains.  Doing puzzles and learning activities for their meals is always a popular activity.  Since my dogs do like to eat, giving them a game to play to get their food and treats stimulates their brains and problem solving abilities.  As a matter of fact, my dogs get so much more excited to eat when they see the puzzle games coming out rather than their food bowls. 

I saw online something called a snuffle mat.  There are many different kinds of mat, some are sewn with intricate pockets and closures to hide goodies.  Some look like a version of a shag carpet, with high fibers for the treats to fall into and the dog to search and “snuffle” about for.  I thought perhaps I could figure out how to make one of these mats myself.  I found a plastic sink liner with one inch square holes in it and I cut strips from some old fleece I had in the basement.  By tying the fleece strips to the sink liner, I created this snuffle mat. 

On the left of the mat, you can see some of the sink mat that doesn't have fleece on it yet.  Sorry, forgot to take a picture before I started making it.

This is very definitely a supervised toy with my dogs.  I have one dog in particular that enjoys the game, but if I left him alone with it, he might start to chew off and eat the fleece pieces (he enjoys doing this with his toys).  So I am careful to be nearby when they are playing with it, and then I pick it up and put it out of reach until we use it again.  Plus, it’s just  more fun to play with the toy with my dogs! 

While we have some of the fancy manufactured dog puzzle games and Kong toys, some of our favorite food toys are from the recycle bin.  Of course, these are also always supervised, because most materials from the recycle bin are not dog-teeth safe. 

An empty and dry water bottle is a fun toy at my house.  For the dogs that can hear, the crinkling sound of chomping a bottle is so much fun!  For the others, it moves and spins across the floor dumping tasty pieces of treat all over to search and find!  Easy enough to dispose of after playtime, and replace the next time!  

This is a tea bottle, so a bit more sturdy than a water bottle, but any bottle can work. Remove the cap and any plastic rings on the top.  Put treats inside - simple!

A plastic container can be used to make frosty dog snacks, just watch that your dog isn't trying to eat the plastic part as they chew at the frozen snack.  You can easily run the outside of the container under warm water enough to loosen the frozen snack so it pops out and into a bowl for licking if your dog is eating the plastic part. 

This frosty snack happens to be yogurt mixed with ground meat and frozen.  You can use any number of dog-friendly foods to freeze.  

Some dogs like to lick out a yogurt container that you’re finished with.  This can keep them busy for a little bit.  Please make sure your dog is OK to have yogurt, and that the yogurt is not flavored with anything that may be harmful to your dog (Xylitol or other sweeteners, for instance).  You can also smear a little bit of other foods around the inside of a plastic container – peanut butter, canned pumpkin, and other dog-safe foods.  It doesn’t take much to keep your dog busy and too much of a rich food may cause your dog to have an upset tummy. 

The dogs and I love learning new tricks together!  Using their meals for some of our lessons helps to ensure that they aren’t getting too many extra calories.  It is winter and they aren’t getting as much running around with us being inside more now.  If I gave their regular meals and then lots of treats on top of that, they might get upset tummies, but they would certainly gain weight which wouldn’t be healthy for them. 

Stay warm and have fun learning new things with your dogs!