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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Teaching Eye Drops

Many dogs with vision impairments will at some point in their lives require daily eye drops or medications. Treasure gets eye drops daily to keep her comfortable and to keep her eyes moist.  She has learned that they are part of her routine and accepts them with no complaints.

If' you've been following this blog, you know that my work with Vinny to accept handling and grooming has been extensive.  I've been very careful to teach him that he can be a part of the process of his care, which he started out not liking at all, and that he always has the option to say no and walk away.  Most dogs don't do well with humans holding them in place while forcibly doing things to their bodies.  By giving Vinny the option to stay and cooperate with me or to leave, he controls the session and how we progress.  This means that he remains within his comfort threshold.  It also means that I don't get into "dog trainer mode" and try to push him too fast when we are making progress.  It is truly a mutual decision whether to continue or not.

I was amazed at how quickly the process of teaching Vinny about eye drops progressed.  A total of 6 short teaching sessions and he allowed me to put drops into his eyes.  It will take many repetitions and some back stepping in our process to make sure he can commit to a daily process.  But that is OK.  We all need to take steps backwards sometimes to practice the previous steps that we are fully comfortable with, as we begin to stretch our comfort zone to do new things that may not be as comfortable.  

Luckily Vinny is not in a position where he needs to have daily drops.  I am simply teaching him this so that he is prepared should that day ever come.  We are using natural tears drops, which are not medicated in any way, and were recommended by the veterinarian as being safe to use for my dogs' eyes. This means it is safe for me to teach and practice with Vinny, as the drops won't have any adverse effect.

Here are the basic steps I used to teach Vinny to cooperate with getting eye drops.  I have only shown you a snippet of each training session to show the behaviors in the order I taught them.  This is definitely a more lengthy process than is shown in the video, but it will give you some ideas and a place to start.  If you are having trouble, find a positive reinforcement dog trainer in your area that is comfortable teaching husbandry behaviors to help get you started.  And, stay tuned to this blog into the new year!  We will have many more educational opportunities to offer you with a brand new project we are starting!  

Watch the video here ... 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiday Photos? Make These Adorable Collars!

Now begins the season of taking holiday photos.  Some will take dogs (and cats!) to see Santa for pictures. Some will pose the family animals with the family humans of all ages and capture memories forever more.

Tulle collar.

These adorable collars are not hard to make, and you can be creative in your use of materials and colors to match your dog's personality and the occasion.  

Cut elastic into strips that will easily fit around your dog's neck without stretching.  Without stretching the elastic, the collar should fit close to your dog's neck but not tight.  Add an inch to that length and cut the strip that length.  The extra inch is to allow for you to tie the ends together easily to create a circle.  Cut off any loose ends after you tie it.  

Tulle cut into strips can make a fluffy, tutu-type collar.  How long you cut the strips will determine how fluffy the collar will be.  You can fold the tulle strip in half and hold it on the elastic collar to see how far it will stick out.  Adjust your tulle strips accordingly.

There are a couple ways to attach the tulle.  One is to simply tie the tulle to the elastic with knots.  I prefer to use slip knots.  To make a slip knot, fold each strip in half.  You will then have a folded end and two loose pieces at the other end.  The two loose ends go underneath the elastic collar strip and curl around the elastic, so you now have the elastic in the middle.  Then slip the two loose ends into the hole created by the folded end and pull the loose ends through until it tightens on the elastic.  (See photo below)  Don't pull too hard.  Just hard enough to have it tied around the elastic. Continue in this way until the entire collar has been filled.

Shown with ribbon because it's easier to see.

Ribbon collars are also pretty.  Choose several colors/styles of ribbon that you feel complement each other. Attach them in the same way as attaching the tulle above.  It's nice when you cut the ribbon strips to cut the ends of each strip at an angle.  It looks fancier and prevents a lot of unraveling.

Voila!  Super cute and easy collars!

Ribbon collar.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Making and Using a Solid Leash

A solid leash can be helpful with a smaller blind deaf dog.  It allows you to have a way to give subtle leash cues at your dog's neck level, which are clearer to the dog than if they come from far above her.  It also will save your back from needing to bend over to give those cues or lead your dog around obstacles on a walk. Think of it as an extension of your arm to allow you to reach down lower.  

A solid leash can be useful during walks on busy sidewalks or in areas that you will need to steer your dog around obstacles or people, or when teaching certain training exercises when you want your dog to stay right next to your leg.  A solid leash will not be very useful on walks when you want to let your dog sniff around and explore.  A regular or long leash would work better for that.  

It will take some practice for you to learn how to handle the solid leash fluently.  There is less slack than with a regular leash, so your cues travel directly to your dog's neck.  You will need to use much less leash pressure - sometimes just a small adjustment of your hand or wrist will give a different cue to your dog. 

You can use a very simple and inexpensive version of a solid leash, or you can create a very elaborate one. The solid leash I use is a curtain rod that was the right length for me to hold easily in my hand and also reached down to my dog's neck level.  Getting one that is too long will be cumbersome to hold. Getting one that is too short will require bending over to hold it.

The curtain rod has a finished surface and has comfortable end caps on it.  It has a more finished look and feel than a wooden dowel rod, which would have worked just as well.  I cut up an old leash with a small clip that wouldn't be too heavy or clunky for my dog's neck.  I left a small tab of leash connected to the clip. This allows for a bit of flexibility between my dog and the rod.  I then used heavy tape to attach the tab of leash to the end of the curtain rod.  Voila!  This version works so well for us that we haven't seen a need to change it.

Notice there is a bit of leash between the rod and the clip

This leash is meant as a guide to help cue your dog around obstacles and people.  Please don't use it to pull or push your dog.  Take the time to teach your dog the cues and you will be amazed how easy it is to convey information to your dog through a gentle touch on the solid leash.  

You can use the same techniques for teaching regular leash walking to teach solid leash walking.  If your dog already knows gentle collar cues, it should be easy to review the steps with the solid leash.  But don't assume that the cues coming from the solid leash will feel the same to the dog as what she already knows.  Take some time to review and keep it a positive experience for both you and your dog.  

If you would like some help with the steps of teaching leash walking to a blind and deaf dog, here is a great article to help you:  Click here to go to the article.   The same steps in the article can be used to introduce the solid leash to your dog.  

The solid leash is not a tool that I use every day, but I have found it very helpful with Treasure, who is a small dog, in certain situations and for teaching certain behaviors.  I hope if you have a smaller dog, that you may find it helpful as well.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vinny's Trick Show

Wow!  Look who is joining the ranks of Novice Trick Dog!  Vinny earned his title certificate and ribbon!

Vinny 6 months old

This guy is just SO much fun to play with!  He learns just as fast as I can teach him and is always ready for more.  Enjoy Vinny's new tricks:

How Did You Get That Picture?

I'm often asked how I get such great pictures of my dogs, especially when I am taking a picture of all of them together in a group shot, like this one: 

There are a couple secrets I'll share with you.  

The first is that I teach a solid stay behavior to all of my dogs. I want them to be able to stay in any comfortable position when asked for as long as I need them to stay there.  It becomes my responsibility to be sure that I'm not asking my dogs to stay in a position or situation that is uncomfortable or unsafe for them.  
In the above picture, I know that the dogs that are up on top of the bales are comfortable with being on various surfaces and being up off the ground.  I also know they have great stays and are very unlikely to move.  This means I feel safe leaving them up on top of the bales while I move away to take pictures. 

The dog in the lower left is Vinny.  He is still a puppy and does not have a very solid stay yet.  When I took this picture, we had never worked on a stay in a brand new public place before, and he had never done a stay with me so far away from him or for so long.  Plus he was excited to be out with the other dogs and wanted to bounce around and play.  His leash is attached in case I needed to catch him quickly, but I tucked it behind him so it wouldn't show in the picture.  He did great because I took many breaks and went back to reward him for choosing to stay.  This made the photo shoot take longer, but left me and my dogs happier and helped Vinny be successful.

The dog in the lower right is Vegas.  He can't see very far away from him and he is deaf, so when I backed up to take the photo, he couldn't see me.  That meant he had no idea where I had gone.  I know that Vegas can get spooked and if I am not within his line of sight, he will bolt and run far and fast until I can catch up with him.  Vegas has a leash on and is tethered to the hay bale just in case.  He has a great stay, but I will not take a chance with my dogs' safety.  If you look closely, you can see his leash tethered, but it does not detract from the great picture.  

My second secret is to take a LOT of pictures!  I take way more pictures than I will need so that I'm able to go back and choose the best shots.  For this great picture, there were many others that I deleted with dogs looking this way or that way.  It is hard to get blind and deaf dogs to look at the camera on demand.  By taking lots of pictures from different angles, I then have lots of great pictures to choose from and can usually find one where they are looking in my direction at leash partially.  

I already alluded to the fact that I carry treats - I carry lots of toys and treats during my photo shoots.  I don't want my dogs to look bored in their pictures.  It has to be fun for them for me to get the great shots that I get.  The photos are for my enjoyment, so I do all I can to make the process for my dogs' enjoyment also.  I schedule plenty of time and take lots of breaks.  I know which of my dogs enjoy photo sessions and which ones get tired of them quickly.  I can choose which dog I photograph first and whether to do the group shot first thing or perhaps in the middle before certain dogs get tired.  

These are just a few of my favorites from out last photo session:  

Owen - paws up stay

Brinks - sit stay and wave paw

Treasure - sit stay

Vinny - sit stay with his own variation of sniffing the air for treats

Vegas - sit stay and his famous smile

Saturday, October 29, 2016


The White Dog Blog now has its own book!

I started the White Dog Blog 6 years ago as a way to educate the public about a tragedy.  Puppies are being born blind, deaf, or even both, due to a completely preventable genetic combination of merle to merle.  I hope through my efforts to educate, that one day, this type of merle to merle breeding will no longer be supported by the dog community.  In the meantime, this offers a tremendous resource for those who are rescuing, adopting and training these special dogs. 

Through my educating, I have many people contact me looking for specific topics in my blog.  There are many posts, and all posts about one topic are not grouped together, making them sometimes tricky to find.  Through the graces of technology, I have ways of tracking the most popular and commented on posts, and I have grouped them all together for you, by topic, in this great new book!  
All the most popular and influential posts are together in one place making them easy to find and refer back to again and again!

The book is available in paperback and kindle formats.  The link is here.   Take a look!  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Do Dog Trainers Get Frustrated?

Lately, this cute adorable little fuzzy white puppy has been frustrating me!  I know, just look how adorable he is, right?  Yes, this was the adorable-ness that came into my life several months ago.  

And, puppy-hood is a lot of work for us humans!  Housetraining, puppy proofing the house, sleepless nights, constant supervision, not to mention socialization and starting to teach good manners, and on and on ... Truthfully, it can be exhausting - yes, even for us professional dog trainers!  

But when the puppies are so tiny and cute, it is easy to be motivated to keep going.  They also still sleep a lot at this stage, which provides short windows in which we can get things done or nap ourselves.  

At some point, our brilliant little puppies become quite charming and relatively well-behaved and we think we've done an excellent job raising them.  We might even pat ourselves on the back a bit.  Or breathe a sigh of relief.  

Now enter adolescence ... 

Oh, still adorable, right?  Yes he is.  And he still reminds me to laugh quite a bit out of each day.  But I am also shaking my head at times in frustration.  This is a tough stage to get through sometimes - that teenage stage.  Puppies get BUSY!!  Even busier than they were before!  And they hardly ever sleep anymore - what happened to all the naps?  Large breed puppies are getting close to their adult size, but they are still far from adulthood.  They are just huge puppies!  

So many people give up on their puppies at around 6 months of age.  I see this a lot in the shelter and rescue world.  It is a tough time.  It's pretty normal (even for us dog trainers!) to be frustrated.  Puppies are rowdy and seem to come up with behaviors overnight that you thought were either non-existent or were no longer an issue.  

Oh, 6 month old puppies are still endearing and cuddly and playful and smart.  They are learning so very fast that it's hard to keep up with them - and it's either stuff we want them to learn, or stuff that we don't.  

Vinny's challenging behaviors right now?  Well, when I'm out of the room, he pulls up the bathroom rug and shakes it until it's dead, then dragging it to the middle of the bedroom floor to display his kill for all to see.  He is back to mouthing hands and arms with a passion, and is back to being overstimulated by touch, grooming and handling.  He is actively teething right now so his chewing behaviors have increased a lot - but for the most part he limits this to toys and bones. Although he has a strange attraction to chewing on my computer chair!  He is trying to jump up on me and others when he had been sweetly sitting.  He discovered he likes rolls of toilet paper.  And as the weather is getting cooler, he has discovered my jacket that hangs just right so he can grab it in his mouth as we walk along.  

Now, most days, I am able to laugh to myself at his antics - I mean, after all, he is only a teenager once, right?  As a dog trainer, I know that this phase will pass and he will settle into a calmer, more reliable adult.  I know that the most important thing for me to do right now is to manage Vinny's environment and to set him up for success whenever I can.  I know to maintain consistency and gentleness in my relating to him, and to not allow frustration to take hold.  

But it is truly a full-time job to keep him entertained appropriately, to give him things to do to keep his mind and body busy, and to keep my patience and sense of humor.   There are times when I do get frustrated.  So, what do I do when frustration begins to creep in?

Take a break!  Too much togetherness can increase frustration.  It becomes a never-ending cycle of overstimulated puppy and frustrated person.  Put puppy in a puppy-safe area with every toy and bone you can find, including food puzzle toys that are safe to leave with him unsupervised.  Frozen stuffed Kongs and hollow bones are great for teething puppies and can keep them busy for quite a while.   After a break, you will both be in a better frame of mind and will be ready to play and have some fun!    

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Calm Behavior During Grooming

If you've been following along in our blog, you know that Vinny has always gotten overstimulated by petting and grooming activities.  Trying to groom him, and often just pet him sweetly, results in him turning to mouth my hand and grooming tools.  If I continue, the mouthing gets more intense and he begins to also move his body around more.  If I continue still, he also becomes vocal and then ... well, it's all over.  

He had gotten so much better until about 3 weeks ago.  He's 5 months old now and his behaviors appear to be reverting backwards in a few areas, but they are now more intense than when he was smaller because he is now a much bigger boy!  

Vinny is now well aware of his marker (clicker) signal, and that it is followed by a reinforcer for certain behaviors.  He knows that his behaviors can drive that marker.  

I have been working with him by reinforcing calm behaviors when I touch, pet and groom him.  I started with just touching him - this was a review for him, but I wanted to start in an area that he could be successful.  I touched him calmly and then followed by giving him a treat.  I allowed him to feel the touch first, before the food appeared, and I fed him the food straight ahead of his nose with his nose facing forward and not at my touching hand.  By reinforcing him with his head away from the hand that was touching him, he did not have the opportunity to begin mouthing me, and he will learn to keep his face away from the hand petting or grooming him (eventually).  

After reviewing this a few times, I moved on to stroking or scratching him lightly just for a moment before feeding.  I was still not using a marker signal at this point because I needed both hands - one to touch and one to have that treat ready super quick by his nose.  When I saw that he was making the choice to turn his head forward for the treat when he felt me petting him, I moved on.  

Adding a second stroke or longer scratching with one hand while I continued to feed treats was the next step.  Only for a short period of time at first and then gradually building up to longer periods of time.  At first I fed treats one right after the other quickly.  But it didn't take long to be able to space out those treats more and more and build up the duration of the stroking.  As I can spread the treats out a bit, I can then begin using the marker signal to pinpoint calm behaviors.  

Now I have progressed to stroking with grooming tools.  I can do several strokes at a time with Vinny remaining in place and calm (no mouthing or vocalizing, and sitting or standing still) between marking appropriate behaviors.  If he gets up and walks away, that is ok.  It is his choice.  He will come back if he wants to do more.  If he moves away, that is ok too.  I just stop and wait.  He will come back closer when he's ready.  

I do allow him to turn and investigate a touch with my hand or the grooming tool, and I allow him to sniff the grooming tools before touching him with them so he knows what I'm going to be doing.  After only a few sessions, I am so pleased and already seeing a big change in his behaviors.

This is good because his big-boy Collie coat is starting to come in and will require a lot of grooming in the future.  I am so pleased that I can create choices for Vinny so he can be a willing participant in his grooming and care.  

This video was taken today - I tried to groom him before our training session so maybe I could get a video of his previous behavior for you - but he sat still like a champ waiting for his reinforcers.  And, so, what you see is not the flailing, mouthing and yelling that was his normal grooming behavior.  This is our 3rd session and you can see he is attentively waiting for his marker and reward.  When he moves as if he is uncomfortable, I don't force him.  I wait or move to groom a different spot for a moment.  When I groom his body, which we've worked on more, I can groom longer before reinforcing.  When I work with his ear and his tail or rear of his body, which we have not worked on specifically, I sometimes only swipe a couple times before rewarding.  

This is a session in its entirety.  The only part cut in the middle was when I had to go check on something in the middle.  It is a bit long (8 minutes appx.) but you can see in real time, how often I am reinforcing still and how he is responding.  When you see him startle and move his head around, he is responding to his marker signal and is waiting for the food!  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Affecting Change

I wrote this post several months ago, and kept it as a draft - why I was not ready to post it yet I don't know. But when I looked back on it, I noticed something very interesting - I had written it on the day that Vinny, my current foster puppy, was born.  I had no idea at the time that two little double merle puppies had been born that day and I would be instrumental in their lives.  And so, due to this coincidence (or not!), I am ready to post this now ...

When there's something we are truly passionate about, it's easy to get carried away and to push hard for others to see our way of thinking.  We may end up getting angry and going after the other person in a way that we hope will intimidate them to change to our perspective.  But I have seen this scenario enough times to know that it rarely, if ever, works that way.  Anyone who has been on the receiving end of such a situation knows that the first reaction is to feel you are being attacked, and then the natural thing to do is to fight back. Very quickly things get out of control with words being slung around that are hurtful and alienating, and neither party actually accomplishes anything except to cement the idea that they are right even further into their mind. 

Those of you who read this blog already know that I am very passionate about educating people about the issues with merle to merle breeding and why it should not be done.  While I love my double merles and wouldn't change them, I could also love them just as much if they could see and hear normally, and no matter what color they were.  My favorite slogan is, "Until there are none, rescue one!"  Until there are no more double merles, I will continue to educate and to rescue.  

Tonight I am sad.  But I am hopeful.  You see, I initiated an online conversation with a breeder who is utilizing a double merle in a breeding program.  Out of surprise and sadness mostly.  Certainly not to attack this person, but more to express my sadness and concern.  Although I didn't initiate contact to place blame or as an attack, I sort of expected to get a nasty, defensive answer in return, as is often the result of such communications.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised that this breeder and I, with very different views, were able to have a lengthy conversation.  

Our views about our dogs were very similar.  We both love our dogs and enjoy participating in dog sports with them.  We discussed new rule changes in competition.  We discussed the good that this breeder is doing with the current dogs that he/she is working with - training, showing, therapy work.  

Our views about breeding were different.  Our views about breeding were discussed, but calmly, with no word slinging or accusations.  We both heard the other's opinions and perspectives.  Did we end up agreeing with each other on these?  No, but we both felt heard.  And neither of us felt attacked or defensive. 

This is the place where understanding and change can begin to occur.  We cannot think or consider or make decisions when we are attacking or being attacked.  We can't hear another's viewpoint and try to understand their perspective.  Without understanding, how can we affect change?  

It upsets me when people are nasty to each other in the name of change. How can we change if we don't know there is another way?  How can we change if we don't see another way that we feel might be right? When we are educating, it's important to model for people that there is a different way.  We cannot ever make someone else change.  That desire to change has to come from within themselves.  But we can model for them, and we can talk to them about different possibilities.

Remember, though, that each of us starts from wherever we are.  Whatever that person's perspective is, that is where they are. That is what they feel is right, and we all will defend what we feel is right.  As we show people that there are other ways of seeing things and other ways of doing things, they will realize that now there are choices.  Will they choose to change to one of those other options?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  That is out of our control.  

If the other options we offer them are confrontational or embarrassing, will they be likely to choose them? Probably not.  If the options we offer them to think about are gentle and understanding and forgiving, they will be more likely to go away thinking about them, and more likely to choose them when they decide to make a change.  

Please be kind when you educate.  Remember that you once didn't know these things either.  You had to learn and make a choice too.  Listen to the other person's perspective and remember that is where they are right now and what they feel is right.  Try to understand why they feel that way.  If you can relate something you are trying to teach to something they already can relate to, it will be an easier jump for them to understand and think about. 

Change is not easy, and it does not happen all in one large, all or nothing swoop.  Change comes in stages. Trying to get all at once change is not going to end well.  Allowing change to happen as perspectives change and choices are made, can lead to lasting change, a new person out there educating in line with your perspective now, and possibly a new friend.  Be forgiving of mistakes or back sliding.  Remember this is a process.  It's hard to change our old habits and ways of thinking.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just Sitting There

"Oh wow.  I guess I thought he would just be sitting there, doing nothing, a lot of the time."  This is how many people perceive what a blind and deaf dog's day must be like.  Sitting alone in their darkness, nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to do, just waiting for me to move them around or feed them.  Otherwise, just sitting there.  Is it any wonder if people have this perception that they question what quality of life my dogs can have?

However, a perception of how things are is not necessarily the reality of how it actually is.  Looking out over a calm pond, our perception is one of stillness and quiet. But what is going on underneath the surface?  Are there fish, toads and turtles swimming and playing and eating?  Are they communicating with each other in their own language that we do not notice?  There is a lot going on in pond culture under the surface of what we see - our perception.  Each being has its own reality of a situation based on its own perception.  The fish will perceive the pond culture in a different reality than the toad, than the turtle, than a human.  

If we only look at the surface, we see a very limited view of what the reality may be.  When we can look below the surface and open our minds to what another's perception may be, a whole new world of possibilities is opened up to us. 

Below the surface of a dog just sitting alone in darkness and silence, what is lurking for us to discover?  In experiencing life from my blind and deaf dogs' perspectives, I know their lives are rich with movement and information at every moment.  It fascinates me - the world they live in, as I can only imagine it.  I'm sure my imagination does not do it justice.

An air current to me may feel like a draft or a welcome breeze, or even an irritant if it blows my papers to the floor.  An air current to my dogs carries a wealth of information.  Someone may have passed by and in a certain direction and at a certain speed.  A door or window opened somewhere in the house and may signal someone arriving or leaving.  The air conditioner or fan may have come on or turned off.  Someone may be calling to wake them up or get their attention.   

Changes in air pressure and how the air moves may signal a piece of furniture or a tree is near and they should slow down or curve away.  And along with these changes in air current or pressure, also come a multitude of smells.  Each thing that we notice with our eyes must have a different smell to a dog.  Think of how many items they come in contact with in a day.  And smells traveling on the air, inside and outside - quite a buffet to behold!  Each being in the home has its own distinct smell.  I believe there are unique smells to different emotions and moods as well.  So many things they may not be able to see with their eyes, but their nose knows!  

A vibration to me may mean a large truck is going by outside.  But think about every noise you hear in a day - some we learn to tune out because they don't concern us, some we have come to learn are very important to us.  What do the noises you hear every day signal to you?  

Each of those noises has a vibration - that is how we hear it and recognize it.  Dogs can notice those vibrations too, even if they can't hear them in the same sense as most of us can.  They most certainly learn to tune out the many that don't have significance to them.  Very quickly, however, they learn the ones that do have significance in their daily lives!  (This is what often causes us to second guess whether a dog that we know is deaf just heard that noise it appeared to respond to!  It was responding to the vibration it has learned is significant.)

Have you ever played the party game where you had to stick your hand into a small hole in a box and figure out what item was inside just by touching it?  It's often harder than it appears to be, because we do rely so much on our sight in our daily lives that we are not consciously aware of how each item feels that we interact with.  Blind and deaf dogs rely a lot on their sense of touch.  Not just for when they touch us or we touch them, but in everything they do.  

It's possible for them to easily map out environments that they use every day.  Even outside, in a yard that appears to us to just be grass, the dogs can tell where in the yard they are.  They map out little dips in the yard, or small slopes, and various smells so they know exactly where they are.  They use surface changes such as mulch, dirt, gravel, brick, and grass, to create their map.  They enjoy the softness of a dog bed or blanket, or the cool firmness of a tile floor.  They know which piece of furniture they are brushing past.  

And these things just brush the surface of what our dogs are aware of.  There is so much to discover beneath the surface of our perception.  

It's easy to form our own judgments about others or about circumstances based on our own perception. That's normal.  It's how we interact with our world.  It takes a bit more effort to open our minds to learning about someone else's perception.  But imagine the possibilities of what you can learn?  

Our perception of what a blind and deaf dog might experience may lead us to put limits on what they can and will accomplish.  If we think they will just sit there, how much of a chance will we give them to do otherwise? Don't let your perception of another create limits in your thinking - or in their potential.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Playing Fetch? With a Blind and Deaf Dog?

Vinny's latest growth spurt seems to have slowed down a little bit.  For the past several weeks, he has really shot up!  He continues to enjoy learning new things and meeting new people and situations with confidence.

He has mastered lying upside down in my lap to have all of his nails trimmed, as well as having his pads trimmed with an electric clipper.  Collies have long hair that grows between their pads and keeping it trimmed ensures that his feet grow properly, he won't slip on slick surfaces, the house stays cleaner, and that he can feel various surfaces clearly, which is essential for him when he is making his way around in the world. He can tell where he is by changes in surfaces and textures.

Interestingly, however, his behavior while being brushed still leaves a lot of room for improvement!  He wiggles and wiggles.  Somehow we manage to keep him looking brushed and presentable, and he certainly does better than he did in the beginning.  It is a work in progress.

Vinny has learned a tactile marker signal (a clicker touch cue) and I'm looking forward to doing some shaping exercises with him in the future.  He gets so excited for food and gets frantic for it, so he cannot control himself or think very well when food first appears.  Sometimes he still looks back at his shoulders when I touch him.  I want him to focus ahead of him where the food will appear and not become frantic looking all over for it.  We are getting close to that point.  I don't want to start shaping until he truly understands where the food will appear.  

Lessons consist of sit, down, spin both directions, roll over, shake hands, and heel position by my left leg. Self control is an ongoing lesson and I am seeing gradual progress.  Vinny often offers sits on his own now for petting, coming out of his crate and food.  By VERY gradually prolonging those, he is learning some self control.  I have to be careful though, because he can be sitting expecting something without me noticing and he can't see that I'm not paying attention.  So, he sits patiently, and he may not get his reward.  

Our favorite game to play together is fetch.  Yes, Virginia, blind and deaf dogs can learn to play fetch!  The very first blind/deaf dog I ever trained taught me this.  She was amazing and loved her toy.  She would race out to smell the grass until she found it and come bounding back in my direction once she found it.  Vinny is not quite that advanced in the game yet.  But if I touch him with the toy and allow him to feel the direction I toss it, he knows to head in that direction and will sniff it out (only about a foot away from him at this point). Once he picks it up, he joyfully comes bouncing back to me with it.  If I'm not careful he will bounce right into my face if I'm sitting on the floor!  He is so happy to get back to me with it and we have a little game of petting and light tugging before I toss it again.  

Vinny's biggest adventure this past week was learning to ride in Treasure's stroller for the Fair Parade. Right now he is still small enough to fit in it, but barely.  He had to learn to remain in the stroller and not try to jump out.  The pavement was too hot for him to walk, and he is getting too big to carry now.  He did great!  There were so many interesting smells - all the farm animals, horses up close, other dogs, people, food!  So many children ran up to pet him as we walked by.  I was very proud of him.  But by the end of the parade, he was one tired pup!


Sunday, July 31, 2016

An Extraordinary Sense?

Sometimes people ask me if my blind and deaf dogs' sense of smell is more highly developed than that of other dogs.  I'm not sure how to answer that question, because a dog's sense of smell is already so much more developed than yours and mine.  There is really no way for me to measure that sense of smell against my other dogs that can see and hear.  I don't notice that it's any more developed, just that they do rely on it more than the others seem to.  

I am always amazed, however, that my blind and deaf dog is sometimes the first dog to react when I come home.  Even though she's in a room behind a closed door.  How does she know that I'm home?  Even though I don't notice it, the floor boards creak in a certain way, and the door closing as I come into the house does create a vibration.  But sometimes I think it's something so much more than these things that she is noticing.  Is she reacting to my energy coming into the house?  Could she be noticing that energy before I am even close enough for her to smell me?  Or to feel the floor vibrating?  There is a lot of really cool research out there that goes into this more in depth - how we know instinctively what others are doing, feeling, etc. through a connection of energy.  I see it every day and I know it's true.

I don't know how many times I have felt sure that Treasure could see or hear something based on her reactions at the perfect time.  In the beginning of our time together, I would set up little trials to see if I could get her to react to the same noises or situations again.  But I was always disappointed.  Her reactions seem to be strictly coincidence in those circumstances - but are they?  There is no way for me to know exactly what my dogs sense or how.  

When I adopted Treasure, she was already almost 4 years old.  She had already learned to use the senses that she had to react to her world.  Her senses have always amazed me.  

Yet, it is interesting to me watching Vinny, from a very young puppy, learning to use and hone his senses. His first month here, he was very accident prone, as his balance was not developed.  I know that our sense of sight and our inner ear are important to developing our sense of balance, and I've been told by people who are hearing impaired that their balance is affected as well. Most puppies are a bit clumsy on their feet, but Vinny seemed to be exceptionally so.  Now he is growing into a more balanced puppy who is more sure-footed.  

As a seven week old puppy, he could not sniff out individual treats or toys and pinpoint where they were.  Now he is an expert at finding whatever it is that he wants to find!  And it's not just his sense of smell that is becoming more expert.  He has some of that extraordinary sense going on too.  

It's almost scary how good he's getting at perceiving things!  Sometimes he faces something in space and waits, almost as if he is watching it with his eyes, and then he pounces right on it - a toy, a dog bed, another dog, me, ... But when I test out his eyesight again, he doesn't seem to see or track anything.  Of course, other times, he does a totally adorable pounce into nothingness which always makes me smile. But more often than not, he hits his mark right on now, and I think he will continue to get better with practice.  

He knows things.  Like when I walk in the room and he is in his crate or pen across the room.  Yet he always knows.  He knows when I am there to open his crate even if I've been in the room near him already.  He's not hearing anything or feeling any vibration because I haven't done anything yet, I'm just right there ready.  I know he's probably smelling me, but he isn't visibly scenting.  I think there's more to it than that.  He is just learning how to know.  

On our walks, Vinny is becoming expert at knowing where my leg (or especially between my legs) is so he can touch me to touch base.  More often than not, he comes running and will squeeze right between my legs and stop to wait for a scratch.  Yet he will still run right into a tree or something else in his path.  He can track me on our walks and if he falls behind, he can catch up real quick!  He is always on a leash or a long line for safety reasons, but I like to give him the freedom of the whole line so he can run and explore where it is safe.  

His mapping skills continue to expand. He now can trot from the bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen in the exact arc that will take him from the hall to the steps heading to the outdoors.  He will stop directly at the top of the steps within a couple inches, quickly find the steps, head down, and then knows the turns and how many steps to take where to get to the back door.  He searches out surfaces in the yard and once there knows exactly how many steps until he gets to the next surface or the door back to the house.  He knows the way home from our walks as we start to get close to the house and will take off out in front until he leads me home to the door.  

He has maps for work days when we go out the side door, to the grass to potty and then back across the parking lot to the car.  And maps for once we get to work, from the car, to the grass, to the building and to the office where his pen is.  From the pen to the front outside for potty breaks.  

Of interest to me is that I started teaching Vinny some tricks involving using his paw.  The very next day, I noticed him beginning to use his paws to gather information about more than just surfaces.  He will sit waiting to be let out of his crate and he will put his paw on the crate door so he can feel the door open and knows when he can come out.  He is not scratching at the door, just sitting calmly with his paw resting on the crate door.  He is using his paw now to feel for another dog now as they are playing so he knows where it is and can pounce more accurately.  

I am enjoying watching Vinny's senses develop and seeing how he chooses to use them.  Giving him so many new and varied experiences is allowing him to learn more confidence in his abilities and how to use his senses in many ways.  Allowing him the freedom to explore and learn as much as possible is important for his brain as it grows and develops.  And being aware of energy and how it connects us to each other has given me a unique perspective into his extraordinary senses.  Yet, even though I know what a blind and deaf dog is capable of, it still continues to amaze me in the most incredible ways.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Group Dynamics

Part of being a puppy is learning where and how you fit in with the humans and other animals in a household. And part of bringing home a new puppy is that the people and animals learn how this new being fits in. Sometimes, this can be a difficult lesson - such as when adorable puppy noses get snapped at by older dogs who are trying to teach some manners.  Vinny has had a couple of those during his time here.  

Treasure has her own way of communicating that she would like the dog bed now.
Vinny did take his bone and move out of the bed right after this was taken.  

It's normal for adult dogs to discipline puppies at times - this is how puppies learn.  But it's harder when that puppy is blind and deaf.  Harder for the puppy, and harder for the adult dog.  Dogs give a lot of signals before they snap - signals that say stop that or go away.  They may give a hard stare or lift a lip, or they may growl.  A blind and deaf puppy cannot read these signals accurately and so will usually keep doing the behavior that the adult dog doesn't like, which then results in a snap.  It can take some time for an adult dog to learn how to communicate differently with a blind and deaf dog too.  

Thankfully my dogs are well-versed in this already, but to them, it seems to be case-specific.  They treat the other blind and deaf dogs differently, but this did not carry over to Vinny.  Now they are beginning to learn that he too, requires special treatment.  By this, I mean, they are starting to realize that if they growl or lift a lip while chewing their favorite bone, he is not going to respond.  So, they now are picking up their bone and moving to where he can't get them with it.  This is the behavior they do with the other blind and deaf dogs.

Of course, I have tried to keep a close eye on them when they are together and want the adults to have some time away from worrying about a puppy, but still there are times when something needs to be said by the adult dogs.  

Adult dogs can play a bit rough for a puppy, and so there is learning about just how much is enough to keep the game going.  Too rough, and the puppy stops and leaves the game, or the human steps in to referee.  Just the right amount of tumbling without getting too rough allows the game to continue indefinitely.  Just this past week, my rougher players are figuring out the perfect balance with Vinny.  And my shy one is beginning to get in on the play also.  

Playing with puppies that can see is different for dogs than playing with dogs that can't see.  If they bounce or run away from a blind puppy, inviting a chase, the game just isn't as fun, since the blind puppy can't see which way they went.  But they learn to play close by, inviting contact by touching or poking to let the blind puppy know where they are - also a tactic to keep the game going. 

There is more learning to be done - learning that play with humans must be different than play with other dogs!  Vinny likes to pounce on me and bite my skin and clothes, and those puppy teeth hurt!  Sometimes I think he thinks I am one of the dogs and if I happen to be nearby he pounces and gets me instead.  But often he just gets excited playing and can't stop.  He is learning that human skin is for being gentle with.  I am careful to only play with him with toys, and it's important to use toys that are longer when playing with blind puppies - give them plenty of room to grab the toy without grabbing your hand, since they can't see where your hand stops and the toy begins.  I don't want him to think that my hands are play things.  My  hands always touch him gently and give him soft and calm touching so he can learn the difference.  

It is working.  I don't correct him for biting me in any way.  Using his mouth is one of the few senses he has to learn about his world.  I don't want him to stop using his mouth.  I want him to learn how to use it gently. If he learns to use it gently, then one day when he grabs my hand instead of the toy, he will immediately loosen his grip and be gentle.  Or, the day that he bites down too hard for a piece of food and gets my finger, he will immediately know the difference and will become gentle. This is an important lesson for any puppy to learn. By being consistent with  my examples to him when to play and when to be gentle, simply by how I interact with him, he is learning what is expected.  

He has progressed to the point that when he is getting too excited at playtime, I can scoop him up into my lap for a moment, and just by my hands touching him gently, he can calm himself for a moment. And then I can let him go play again.  

Vinny's Rule of Twelve

Have you heard of the Puppy's Rule of Twelve, by Margaret Hughes?  It is an adaptation of Pat Schaap's Rule of 7's.  It is a checklist of categories, and within each category, the idea is to expose your puppy to 12 different things in each category by the time he's 12 weeks old.

Vinny is 12 weeks old now.  Let's see how I did exposing him to the various categories so far.  Of course, this doesn't end once you complete the list.  Puppies need to be exposed to many different things for their entire puppyhood, and then on into adulthood.

Vinny's Rule of Twelve

12 different surfaces:  grass, gravel, dirt, carpet, tile, linoleum, wet grass, mud, puddles, uneven surfaces, rubber matting, wading pool, plastic tarp, foam cushion, dog bed, ball pit, metal grate, plastic, metal - 19

12 different objects:  cardboard, wood, balls, tug toys, rubber, feathers, plastic bottle, stuffed toys, metal bowls, squeaky toys, bones, wire crate, plastic crate - 13

12 different locations:  office, car rides, play yards, back yard, walks, front of office, gym of office, cat room, basement, steps, side yard, driveway, vet's office - 13

12 new people:  LOTS of people, children, men, women, at office, at home, in yard on walks - many more than 12!

12 different noises:  thunder, fireworks, vacuum, squawky bird, clapping, barking, phone ringing, washing machine, dishwasher, traffic, motorcycles, dryer - 12 even though he doesn't hear noises, he does respond to vibrations from some

12 fast moving objects:  dogs running, cats, cars and vehicles, hard to say - he can't see them moving.

12 different challenges:  obstacle courses, tunnel, ball pit, TTouch star, food puzzle toys - wobbler, food ball, food saucer, muffin tin, steps up and down, uneven surfaces, full flight of stairs - 12

12 handling experiences/week: on his back in my lap, on back in arms, on back on floor, carried under arm, carried with another puppy, grooming, ears, mouth, nail clipping, tail, check eyes, cuddle time, lifted up and down - 13

12 different eating containers:  metal bowl, food ball, muffin tin, kong, ball pit, scattered on floor, hand, kong wobbler, food saucer, ceramic bowl, plastic bowl, elevated bowl -12

12 different eating locations: yard, pen, office, crate, in the rain, different crates - 6

12 different dogs/puppies:  Brinks, Vegas, Owen, Nike, Treasure, Elsa, Daphne, Silva, and kittens! - 12

12 different times left alone/week: many in pen, crate, car even for short periods of time - many more than 12

12 collar and leash experiences new areas:  walks, yard, office, all over - many more than 12

Thanks Cameron for the great pics!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Puppy Update - 11 Weeks

It hardly seems possible that it's been a month already since I picked up Elsa and Vinny!  Things have settled into a routine for the most part and have gotten easier.  Pups know the daily routine, and I know their potty schedules.  They are sleeping through the night.

Sweet Elsa left for her forever home a couple days ago.  I am so thrilled for her and for her new family!  She is in an experienced double merle home that will help her have every opportunity to shine and develop her full potential.  Plus, I will get to see the updates and pictures of her growing up!

In preparation for her going to her new home, both puppies got their first bath.  Elsa was content while I got her wet and soapy, but then decided during the rinsing that she was not a happy camper.  She complained extensively and loudly!  But she was oh so very white and sparkly afterwards!  Vinny wasn't quite as vocal, but he was frustrated with the whole thing.  Vinny has had a harder time with containment and restraint since he came home with me.  He is learning more tolerance one situation at a time, but he did not like being contained to the tub and wanted to go exploring.  He was very wiggly to give a bath to!

Continued socialization this week included meeting and playing with new people, taking long lead walks in new areas for playtime and sniffing, nail cutting, new meal toys, new fenced areas to play in and explore, new adult dogs, and new obstacles and toys.  Both puppies take it all in stride.  Interestingly, Elsa, who is the more rough and tumble and active of the two, can be the one who stressed quicker.  This has been seen in her giving up easily with the food challenge toys.  Also on our long lead exploring walks, she is confident and happy for the first 10 minutes and then she starts to get a bit concerned about getting back to some place she knows and is comfortable with.  Because these experiences are meant to be positive ones for her, I allow her to go back to places she is more comfortable with when she decides she's had enough.  

Some interesting things happened this past week.  When exploring a new play area, Vinny discovered a plastic drain pipe spread along the ground.  He stepped over it in one direction, turned around and then stepped back over it in the other direction.  This continued as he went first one way and then the other, just as proud as could be stepping over the drain pipe.  Even when he seemed to tire of his new game and he went off to explore other things, he continued to come back to "his" drain pipe to step over it back and forth a few times.  I don't know why he found it so fascinating, but it was fun to watch him.

Vinny has gotten very confident on the few steps leading to the outside.  I had stopped holding his collar to help guide him and only used the tactile cue at the top of the steps to let him know there was a step down. He has gotten creative and will take the first step down, and then make a flying leap down the last two!  But to my surprise, he did not land in a heap at the bottom.  He lands perfectly on his feet and has judged the distance perfectly.  I tried to tell him he shouldn't be able to do that since he can't see anything, but Vinny was not impressed.  My daredevil Vinny.  So, I am back to holding his collar to remind him to take each step so he won't get hurt.  

I introduced Vinny (while holding that collar!) to the big flight of steps this week.  He confidently went down the entire flight on his first try!  He did stop after the first few and seemed a bit confused as to why there were more steps, since he had only done the few to the outside up until this point.  But he did stop 1/2 way up that staircase and decided that was far enough, so I carried him the rest of the way. 

I wanted to work on some sits with Vinny for his lunch yesterday and wasn't thinking.  We were near his crate and he smelled his food.  So he was frantic to get himself into his crate to eat, and had a hard time focusing on his sit cue even with the food right at his nose.  After letting him eat a handful of food from inside his crate, he did eventually come out and do some sit practice with me.  So smart - I guess he showed me! He knew what he was supposed to do!  

Vinny knows his way from the back door to his potty spot and back in.  He will lead me with little puppy bounces and happy circles around me as we go.  He knows his way from the side door to the grass to potty and then to the car to head to work in the morning.  His nose is getting more keen and he is more accurate with searching for dropped/hidden treats.  He can also scent his way back home from our short walks to new places.  While he is confident and happy on our way to a new area, on the way back he is leading with his nose in the air, trotting toward his yard.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Third Week - Puppy Update

Pups have turned 10 weeks old this past week!  They are settling into the routine and starting to sleep through the night.  They know their way by scent from the door to the potty area and to the door again when they are done.  They are doing the few steps up and down on their way in and out to the yard.  Our car trips to and from work are now quiet and calm with puppies in their individual crates.  Things are getting a bit easier.  I know what to expect, they know what to expect.

Lots more fun stuff happening this past week for the puppies!

Food bowl games are continuing - not at every meal, just now and then, petting while they eat, looking in an ear while they eat, sticking my hand in the bowl to hand feed a few pieces, moving the bowl slightly while they eat.  I am watching for any signs of stress - hunkering down lower over the bowl, tensing up, stopping eating, eating faster.  But I am doing these things infrequently and very briefly and their reaction is neutral.  I do believe a dog has the right to eat in peace and not be bothered, but I also know that things happen and what the puppies learn now will carry over for their lifetime.  So, I take some time to do food bowl games now while they are young.

Long lead walks to run and explore new areas,smells and surfaces.  Just letting puppies sniff and explore, pick up a stick or a feather they find, I take along a couple toys and encourage some play with me in new places.  I may stop and sit on the ground and just let them explore so they have me to come back to as their security.  Of course these are puppy safe places - watch out for hot surfaces in the summer, and places where lots of other dogs don't frequent.

Puppies are starting to ask to go outside and potty if they need to go at a time that is not on their usual schedule. This is VERY nice!

Puppies did muffin tin eating and food ball eating of their meals - put meals in an empty muffin tin for them to experiment with, and also in food ball toys.  Vinny is very confident in his techniques, picking up and tossing the muffin tin, pouncing on the ball; while Elsa can be more easily frustrated and will tend to give up and walk away.  I help her and make hers easier so she can be successful at this point to help her learn problem solving skills and confidence.  I have no concerns about her as she is normally the more active outgoing one. Just want to make sure she is having good experiences and learning to be successful.

Oh, the empty cardboard box I gave them at the office has been great fun this past week and a half.  It doubles as a toybox that they can pull the toys out of, and a chew toy, as well as a wrestle partner.  They toss it around and dig inside it and roll around with it.  Just the other day, I filled it with new toys.  They had kept the same toys in their office pen for the past two weeks, so I gave them all new toys and they had a blast pulling all the new toys out of the box over and over again.

The puppies' ears are trying to decide whether to stand or tip or flop this week.  Vinny spent most of this week with one ear tipped or straight up, and the other one still floppy.  Elsa's are pretty much both tipped all the time now, although sometimes one will go straight up.

More grooming!  I'm brushing them more thoroughly now - brushing the hair the wrong way to fluff them up, focusing on around the ears, ruff, and back legs where there will be LOTS of Collie hair soon.  And introduced other grooming tools that I used just for a few swipes on their body to help them get used to the different feel - the undercoat rake and the comb.  Worked toward nail clipping with lots of foot handling and managed to cut a nail or two.  Here's a hint:  try to cut puppy nails when they are sleeping!  But if you teach them to love their crates too well, like I did, it is hard to do because they will go find their crates to sleep in. And, it's hard to cut puppy nails while they are in their crate sleeping.  Also did mouth and gum handling to get them used to tooth brushing, looking in their ears, etc.

Elsa and Vinny learned that they enjoy popcorn!  And they learned how sitting like angelic puppies gets them more popcorn than leaping up to pull the whole bowl down.  They also learned about taking turns with the other dogs.

The puppies learned about wearing different types of clothes this week.  Jackets and skirts and shirts - oh my!  Dressing up puppies can be fun for special events and taking pictures - IF the puppy is not bothered and stressed by it.  Elsa and Vinny took it all in stride and were walking around and having fun in their outfits. Dressing puppies in clothes helps them get used to feeling new sensations on their body parts, having their bodies handled and manipulated, and can help them be more accepting of new equipment later on, like harnesses, vests, gentle leaders, etc.

We had a make-shift puppy class this past week.  The puppies got to have their own little class with Nike, a border collie/pitbull puppy of about the same age.  There was no group playtime, as Elsa was a bit worried when Nike tried to jump up on her, but we let them meet and gave them treats to hunt for side by side to let them see that they could be near another puppy and nothing bad would happen.  They each got to go through an obstacle course at the office - new place, new equipment.  Lots of fun!  It's important not to have an agenda when doing a puppy obstacle course.  Let the puppy explore and take the obstacles in the order they want to.  No forcing, just fun and however much they want to do.  It's the puppy's choice.

Two of my adult dogs are really just starting to play with the puppies in a nice way.  This is important for the puppies, as they learn the rules of being a dog, playing, bite inhibition, etc.  They have been learning already when it is ok or not ok to take a toy or a bone the other dogs are chewing on.  There have been a couple times when puppies yelped at being reprimanded by the adults.  I am always supervising them when they are together.  When adults need some quiet time away from puppies, it's important that I provide that.  When puppies get too far out of hand, as they do, I make sure I step in and keep the peace and create space.  It's nice to see them starting to have some real nice playtimes together now.

Elsa will be having a big week this next week, as she is leaving us for her new forever home!  I am so excited for her and her new family, but Vinny and I will miss her.  And I think the other dogs will miss her a bit too.

And, as usual ... a sleeping puppy, is a good puppy.  Vinny has the most unusual sleeping positions!