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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!