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Friday, August 18, 2017

Benefits of Enrichment

What is all this talk about enrichment?  Enrichment is defined as improving or enhancing the quality of something.  So, enrichment in our dogs' lives is about enhancing their quality of life, giving them interesting things to experience and do, and in the process, we enrich our own lives too.  Providing enrichment for our dogs is fun and lets us use our creativity.

When we add these interesting things to our dogs' lives, however, there are other, extra benefits that may appear.  Every dog can enjoy and benefit from enrichment, no matter what senses they rely on or what their physical abilities are.  

Sometimes when our dogs have physical or sensory limitations, they tend to slow down their activity levels or the things they try to do on their own.  And we accept this as due to those limitations, but often it's because the way they experience the world has changed.  A dog that can move easily and freely and that can experience its world fully with all senses, gets drawn to different objects, movement, and activities in its environment.  If this changes and the dog doesn't see, hear and experience things in the same way, it may stop interacting with its environment.

Adding enrichment to a dog's day-to-day life can help to keep it interested, happy, and content.  It provides a sense of well-being.  Enrichment offers the power of choice.  We can empower our dogs to make choices about what they do during the day, so they aren't just sitting around waiting for something to happen. 

Enrichment builds a dog's confidence with new experiences.  Keeping a dog used to change is important, because our lives with dogs don't tend to always stay the same.  By continuing to introduce change into a dog's lifestyle, that dog will be better able to adapt to any changes that come its way.

Providing new experiences in your dog's life will help to enhance its mental sharpness and problem solving ability.  Enrichment keeps dogs busy and gives them a job to do.  Many breeds of dogs were originally bred to have a job to do every day. Sitting around the house is a poor substitute for a job, and this is where many dogs find their own "job" - one which people don't always approve of!  

Enrichment can help a dog to learn to enjoy quiet time alone and can reduce separation issues.  It can provide activities for dogs that are recovering from surgeries or injuries and may need to have crate rest time.  Providing new experiences can reduce stress and boredom, and hence, can reduce stress and boredom-related behaviors that people often don't appreciate.  

Whatever your reason for wanting to provide enrichment activities for your dog, I know you will find it FUN!  Fun for you ... and for your dog!  

If you'd like to learn more about providing enrichment for your dog, check out the new online class at Uniquely Paws-Able.  Every week you will learn new fun activities to do with your dog, as well as about the many enrichment toys you can buy - and many more you can make yourself with things you already have around your house!  You will learn some of the science behind why enrichment is necessary in a dog's life, and how to use enrichment activities to ward off behavior issues.  Class starts next week!  Hope to see you there!  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Classes and Resources - Uniquely Paws-Able

Hello White Dog Blog Fans!

I'm excited to announce that Uniquely Paws-Able continues to grow to provide you with new resources and opportunities to learn and have fun with your dogs!  Take a look at what's new:

NEW this class session is Enrichment and Games - 6 weeks full of fun activities for you and your dog to do together to enhance his/her quality of life, to build confidence, and to ward off boredom and the behavior issues that often come with it.  Enrichment and Games will be kicking off on Aug. 26th. 

Offered again this session will be Grooming, Husbandry and Handling Games, due to popular demand.  Many of you missed it the first time around and asked for it to be offered again.  We will use positive reinforcement to help our dogs learn to enjoy and cooperate with everyday husbandry and grooming behaviors.  Past Grooming students, feel free to join us again this session if you'd like.  You already have access to the course material - we'd love to have you offering support in the Facebook group to the newer Grooming students!  This course will also kick off on Aug. 26th.

Offered as an ongoing self-study course, that you can join at any time, is Positive Reinforcement and Clicker Training.  This course will get you started off right on the road to training and communicating with your dog in a positive manner!  Start anytime!

The Easy Blog Reference Guide is offered FREE to students signed up through Uniquely Paws-Able.  With this guide, you can easily navigate The White Dog Blog and find posts of interest quickly.  Check out the Reference Guide today!

Another NEW offering is the FREE Library section - exclusive to Uniquely Paws-Able members.  I am building this Library as a resource center for those interested in double merles, blind and/or deaf dogs, training (for any dogs), wellness, and just wants to get into my head and see what I like.  There are some articles loaded there now - check back frequently!

I have new classes in the planning stages and would love to know what classes you're waiting for and would love to see!  Please reach out with your ideas!  This school is all about helping you learn more about your dog! 

Happy Training,


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Treasure Embraces Eleven!

How did it happen that this amazing girl is 11 years old already?  I'm struck by a mixture of emotions.  I want to bring time to a screeching halt so she never gets any older and I have her with me forever.  I've only had her with me for 7 years and I want to make up those years that I didn't have her with me.  I adore her and my whole heart belongs to her - and she knows it.  I look back and I am amazed at all she has accomplished and all we have created together as a resource for others with double merles and with blind/deaf dogs.  She has been a trail blazer for so many others coming along in her path.  

She has touched so many people's lives - some in person and some from afar.  So many people know her and know of her, that I am humbled over and over again.  I go over so many moments in my heart that are etched there forever.  I see her slowing down.  I see her aging.  My mind doesn't want to comprehend that she's getting older.  

But then I put on her party hat and pulled out her favorite treat - homemade frosty snacks!  Turkey doggy ice cream with special dog treats frozen into it.  And she shows me that age is all a number in my head.  She has no concept of these things I burden myself with.  Her love of life and ice cream, the way she greets me when I come home, how she snuggles with me at bedtime and gently licks me awake in the morning, or how she puts her tiny feet on my leg to get my attention - these are the things that make my heart sing daily.  

Just looking at her brings a smile to my face and a rush of love to my heart.  She's my girl and I'm her person.  Together we are an unstoppable team.  I am so grateful that I started this blog 7 years ago when Treasure found her way into my heart and my home.  I started it as a way to share with others so they could learn along with us.  And I've created a beautiful memoir of Treasure's life and accomplishments.  I hope you take some time to go back and read some of our posts that you may not have seen before.  

Happy Birthday and Gotcha Day, my beautiful Treasure!  I raise a toast of doggy ice cream to the blessing of many more years together as friends and partners.  Love you, Sweet Pea!  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Invincible Vinny Branches Out!

Invincible means incapable of being defeated, conquered, or subdued.  That pretty much sums up Vinny's attitude toward life.  He is a full-speed ahead, always joyful, kind of guy.  And I haven't found anything that he won't put his whole self into doing. 

To help celebrate that invincible spirit, Vinny has branched out with his own Facebook page!  He will spread the word about being different and making the most of it, about positive reinforcement teaching, and about having great fun with your dog!  He will also educate about responsible breeding practices and why he was born the way he is.  

Come follow Vinny on his adventures!  There will even be some fun giveaways as the number of followers grows!  Here's his new address -

Congrats to Vinny on his new ITD title!  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Table of Contents for This Blog!


I'm pleased to announce a new, easier way to navigate The White Dog Blog and find that post you're looking for without a hassle!  Thank you Rose for the wonderful suggestion to create an ordered way to sort through all the great information here! 

Here's how it works:

I am adding to my online school, Uniquely Paws-Able, to create an online resource center.  All of my new articles, etc, will be added there over time.  The first free offering there is the Easy Blog Reference Guide.  

When you click on the link, you'll be taken to a page that asks you to enroll.  If you are already a Uniquely Paws-Able member, you can log in and then click the enroll button to add the Reference Guide to your classroom area.  If you are not already a Uniquely Paws-Able member, please create an easy and free log-in account.  Then you can enroll in the Reference Guide area and you will be able to access the Guide as often as you'd like.

The Guide is broken down into topic headings which will help you to find the type of information and post you are looking for.  When you click on the topic heading, you will be taken to a page with all the posts pertaining to that topic. From there, it is just an easy click which will take you directly to that particular blog post!  

There is so much great information in this blog, but it has gotten large enough now that sometimes it's difficult to find just the information that you need.  I hope you find this resource helpful and will use it frequently!  

While you're at Uniquely Paws-Able, check out our class offerings - Positive Reinforcement and Clicker Training is now available as a self-study course so anyone can sign up and get started learning at any time without waiting for a class to start.  Grooming, Husbandry and Handling Games started this past Saturday, but enrollment will stay open through Thursday, June 15th!  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What's NEW!

Lots of new things going on here and I really need to sit down and catch up on posts telling you all about it! I'll begin here - there is a new bar across the top of the blog page where you can put your email address and subscribe to get all my new posts here delivered straight to your email box!  This way you won't miss any!  

Treasure, Vinny and I represented double merles at Double Merle Awareness Day on May 20th.  We had a table to greet people and educate about the dangers of breeding merle to merle, as well as about how even blind and deaf dogs can be amazing!  We had so many people come to meet the dogs and talk to us!  It was a great opportunity to get our message out.  Thanks to Keller's Cause ( for creating Double Merle Awareness Day, and for sending banners and handouts all across the country to make it easy for us to all educate others!

Treasure, Vegas, Vinny and I were featured in Effingham Magazine with another opportunity to tell people about how to prevent double merles (just don't breed two merles together!) and how to live with and train a dog that may have different abilities (blindness and/or deafness).  The reporter and photographer did a wonderful job on the story!

Uniquely Paws-Able online school is growing!  We are now offering Positive Reinforcement and Clicker Training as a self study class, so anyone is able to take the class at any time that's right for them and their dog!  A new class is starting June 10th with the topic of Grooming, Husbandry and Handling Games!  This is very exciting, as there are so many dogs that find touch, grooming and veterinary exams to be stressful. Often these situations turn into a struggle for dog and person.  This class will show how to use positive reinforcement to create a dog that is willing to cooperate with every day tasks such as giving eye drops, cutting toenails, grooming and more!

If you haven't signed up at Uniquely Paws-Able, be sure to go check it out.  Creating an account will sign you up to receive updates as more classes and resources are added at the site.  And, it's very easy from there to look over the courses that are offered and enroll in the classes you'd like to take.  Everything is online and we have students from around the world.  We'd love to have you join us!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vinny the Great!

Vinny was born into greatness.  Born from two merle parents, it was soon apparent that he could not see or hear.  The veterinarian was consulted about what to do - after all, what was a blind and deaf puppy worth? But one of the vet techs knew about Debbie and her experience with double merles.  A couple phone calls later, and Debbie had arranged to go pick up the special puppy.

Vinny was 8 weeks of pure Collie adorableness.  And even in that moment, he began his role as educator.  Debbie and Vinny explained to the breeder why he had been born blind and deaf.  The breeder had not been aware of this danger, and was grateful to know how to prevent this from happening in the future and was very relieved that Vinny would be safe.

Vinny has gracefully evolved into his role as ambassador for the humane society where he accompanies Debbie to work every day.  His many fans come to visit him, and he uses his special-ness to educate others about the dangers of breeding merle to merle, and about adoption.  He is a strong ambassador for blind and deaf dogs and that they are capable of living full and happy lives.  Through social media and a teaching blog, plus many videos, he is paving the way for other differently-abled dogs to be adopted and trained.

Vinny also spreads joy through visiting people in the community.  Young people are drawn to him and relate to his differences.  He teaches them acceptance and compassion.  When visiting with a group of Scouts, one girl said with disgust, "Eww, his eyes look different.  They look weird."  Very quickly, another said, "He doesn't know they look that way, and he is perfectly happy.  We should be too."  When Debbie looked closely, she realized the girl that had answered had a difference of her own and had related quickly to Vinny's differences.  These comments led to wonderful discussions of differences and acceptance.

The senior population have also been inspired by Vinny, who shows such happiness even though he can't see or hear, just as they are beginning to lose these senses themselves and are wondering what life will hold for them now.  One woman told Vinny that she was going blind, but seeing him and how happy he was made her guess that it was all going to be OK.  She thanked him and together they shared a private moment.

Vinny is a typical puppy - lively, playful, and yes, even a bit full of mischief at times!  But when he's visiting, all of that fades away and he shows calmness and understanding way beyond his age.  Although he can't see or hear, he finds a way to position his body next to someone with limited mobility so they can reach to pet him, and he gently puts his head under their hand.

This special dog and his person together spread joy, laughter, smiles, hope and inspiration.  Debbie teaches Vinny using mostly touch cues.  She touches various parts of his body in different ways to communicate her requests to him.  He knows basic obedience and manners, as well as many different tricks.  As a matter of fact, Vinny has already earned his Novice Trick Dog title and is working toward higher levels.  He loves to learn new things and is taught strictly through positive reinforcement methods.

Vinny also gathers lots of information about his environment by scent and by feeling vibrations.  He recognizes air currents when a door opens.  He can quickly  map out a new area when he goes somewhere new.  He loves to travel and has already traveled to several different states with his partner Debbie.  Vinny plays with the other dogs in the house and loves to play with toys of all kinds!  He gets lots of time to enjoy being a puppy, and he brings much joy and many smiles to Debbie daily.

Vinny's reach into the community and the world is already significant and will only continue to expand as he gains experience in his new role.  He and Debbie are amazing partners in advocating for rescue, adoption, responsible breeding, and the joys of differently-abled dogs.  They spread messages to everyone about compassion, acceptance and being kind to others - all things that the world needs so much of right now.  It is their hope that by spreading ripples in their own little corner of the world, that those ripples will continue to spread into something magnificent that blankets the world with love.

(The above was Vinny's nomination for the Collie Club of America's Shining Star Award.  Congratulations to Vinny and the other winners of this year's award!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Presentation at ASSA National

Treasure, Vinny and I had a wonderful time visiting Purina Farms and the ASSA National Specialty. There were Shelties everywhere!  Vinny was also happy that there were some other Collies making an appearance here and there as well.  This was our first time to Purina Farms, and we hope to be able to go again.

We were there to do a presentation about double merles.  Topics discussed included:
What causes double merle
What can be done to educate so we can prevent it
How to screen and educate adopters
Tips for foster homes
How to train dogs that may be blind, deaf, or both
Equipment that may be useful
And, the many myths surrounding double merles and blind and/or deaf dogs

Thanks Barbara Edelberg for the photo

Friday, April 21, 2017

Treasure's Travels (and Vinny's too!)

My beautiful Treasure and Vinny accompanied me this past weekend on an adventure!  Treasure and I are very accustomed to traveling together, and Vinny has traveled with us a few times during his puppyhood, but he had many firsts during this trip.  I am so very proud of how he responded to all the new experiences!  I wondered how he would do - visiting a museum, going to a large dog show, and staying in a hotel.

Our first challenge was learning to navigate together through the Museum of the Dog - Treasure in her stroller and Vinny learning to walk beside it and keep his toes out from under the wheels!  This was the first time Vinny would be walking with the stroller.  After only a couple times of walking in front of the stroller and tangling his leash, and a few times of his toes getting bumped by stroller wheels, Vinny said, "Piece of cake, Mom!"  He walked like a pro.  

Both dogs were a bit puzzled by the numerous dog statues that smelled a little strange.  I couldn't help but wonder what my other dogs would have thought, since they can see and some of the statues were large and even a little scary looking!  Of course, Treasure and Vinny are both blind and deaf, so they didn't know what the statues looked like, but they spent a lot of time sniffing them and trying to figure out what kind of dogs they were!  

I didn't think about the fact that Vinny had never been on an elevator before until we were about to step onto the one in the museum.  He went into it easy enough, with no hesitation, but as the elevator began to move downward and the floor moved down under his feet, he looked at the floor with a puzzled look.  I was pleased to see that he wasn't very concerned about it - probably due to all the work we do with moving surfaces.  Going up didn't produce the same puzzlement.  He acted just like a pro.  

When we got to the hotel later, there was once more where he pondered the elevator moving downward, but after that, he didn't even seem to notice anymore.  He checked out the hotel room when we arrived, just like he had been doing it all his life.  Very confident, sniffing every corner and all the furniture, finding his water bowl, playing with his toys.  He did take more trips to come check in with me than Treasure did, wanting to make sure I was OK, no doubt.  

And, while Treasure fell quickly asleep next to me, Vinny continued to check on me all throughout the night.   He would sleep for a bit and then come up to poke me with his nose to be sure of where I was.  I guess he didn't want me to be scared in a new place.  That was very thoughtful of him!  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Eye to Eye

Fear.  We all experience it.  We all allow it in some way to affect our behavior and our choices.  Sometimes we face our fears and sometimes we run from them.  The same is true of our dogs.

This past weekend I was reminded just how much we fear what is unfamiliar to us.  Hmmm ... we're not that much different in that respect to our dogs.  It can often cause issues for us when our dogs react with fear to something new they are encountering.  That's why we try so hard to socialize our dogs and expose them in a happy way to all the things we can think of when they are young.  This will reduce the number of things they may find unusual and scary.  

My heart was truly touched, and I want to share a story with you, about a person I met this past weekend. After hearing me talk about Treasure, a woman commented to me hesitantly that she had never seen a dog without eyes before.  When I asked her if she'd like to have a closer look at Treasure's eyes, she quickly said yes.  

But when I lifted Treasure so the woman could see her face, my heart sank.  I saw this woman quickly turn her face away as her eyes filled with tears.  Try as she might, she couldn't make herself look at Treasure's face.  She tried again and again, but each time she turned away crying.  She told me that Treasure's eyes scared her.  But she didn't want to be afraid.  She was afraid because this was something so different from anything she had known before.  

I wanted so much to reassure her.  To let her know that this wasn't such a scary thing.  But as we all know, fear is very personal.  Just because we say it's OK, doesn't mean the person (or dog) will suddenly not be afraid anymore.  I did reassure her that Treasure wasn't in any pain, and I told her about the special care I give Treasure to keep her eyes clean and pain free.  

My heart went out to this woman.  She wanted to understand and feel comfortable.  Yet her fear held her back.  It was then I realized that she had not yet actually met and interacted with Treasure.  She had only looked at her.  When I asked if she would like to meet Treasure, she was very eager to do so.  

It only took a moment before this woman was holding Treasure in her arms against her chest.  I stepped back and just quietly watched while Treasure worked her magic.  The tears faded away quickly and were overtaken by a huge and joyful smile which stuck around a while!  And guess what?  All of that woman's fear faded away too.  She was able to now look at Treasure with a smile on her face and understanding in her heart.  

The story itself is heartwarming.  I experience stories like this often when Treasure works her magic.  But this story left me with a new perspective of fear.  I told you about this woman's fear, but what the story is really about is her courage to see past that fear.  Her courage to come to an understanding.  Once we have an understanding of something, it is no longer different and scary.  Then the fear can leave and compassion can arrive.  

It also caused me to think about the similarities between us and our dogs and how we experience fear of things and others that are different.  Why do we continue to be afraid of those who are different than us?  Is it because we allow our fear to hold us at a distance so we don't ever become familiar with those differences?  I learned something amazing from that woman.  Her willingness to learn about something she feared broadened her life experiences and made her a new friend.  I hope the next time I feel fear or uncertainty about someone's difference, that I can make a similar choice.  Thank you, my new friend, for this lesson from the heart!  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Exciting New Opportunity!

I am so excited to be able to announce to you the opening of my new online school - Uniquely Paws-Able!

After consulting with people from all over the world, who are living with and teaching dogs that are blind, deaf or both, and finding that so many of them are looking for the same support, I decided to create an online community where we can share and learn with each other!  The classes will allow me to share information with so many more people than doing one-on-one consulting.  

Having an online class allows for anyone, anywhere to have access to information at any time.  Written lectures and videos will be released weekly (for 6 weeks) for discussion and practice at home with your dogs.  There is a private Facebook page also, for those who enjoy sharing in that way, strictly for students of this and upcoming classes offered by Uniquely Paws-Able.  Your instructor (Me!) will be available for feedback and to offer bonus information depending upon the interests and questions of the students.  

The first course offering is Positive Reinforcement and Clicker Training and it starts March 25th!  

Some of the lesson topics covered include: 
How dogs learn
What is positive reinforcement
What is a marker (clicker) and how to choose the right marker for your dog's abilities
Teaching check ins and attention
What to do when your dog doesn't do what you want
Learning about ways to teach behaviors and when you might choose to use each one
How to change behavior using positive reinforcement
Some fun tricks and games
How to use reinforcers other than food
How to teach quiet
And ... more!  

Come on over and check out the new school!  I'd love to have you join us for our very first class!  Or, you can choose to sign up with only an account for now, to get information about future classes that are already in the planning stages!  

Hope to see you at Uniquely Paws-Able soon!  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tools to Help With Separation Conditioning

If your dog is already upset by being left alone, think about how you can change the picture for her.  If she is normally left in a crate, can you leave her in a different way?  Perhaps in an ex pen or a gated room?  If she is left in one area of the house, can you leave her in a different area?  Take time to condition her to enjoy and relax in the new area, just as if she was a baby puppy learning for the first time.  Can you avoid leaving your dog alone for a while until you can teach her a different way?  Perhaps taking her to a dog daycare or finding a friend or family member to stay with her while you’re gone? 

Giving your dog a totally different picture and environment can help break the habit of being stressed, but only if you take the time to help her know that it is OK to be alone.  Moving her to a different area or situation will prevent her from reacting to any possible associations she’s created with the current confinement space.

The more stress you can eliminate from your dog’s life in general will also be helpful.  There are several blog posts on this blog about recognizing and lessening stress in your dog’s life.  Dogs, like humans, hold their stress cumulatively, which means while they may be able to handle a little stress just fine, the more stress that just piles up and piles up on them eventually creates a breaking point and that’s when their behavior can really go south. 

There are tools that can help you in conditioning relaxation and low stress separation.  Of course, this list of tools is not complete.  It is meant to give you some options that you may not have considered before.  Not every tool is right for every dog or every situation.  Some dogs may not need any of them, and some may be helped by several. 

Remote treat dispensers – Remote treat dispensers can be set up to reinforce your dog while she is in the confinement area, and can be used to distribute treats when you are not in the area, so can be useful for transitioning to you being gone.  Be aware that if your dog gets very excited by food, this may not be the best option, as you won’t be conditioning calm, relaxed behavior if your dog is starting at the machine anticipating a treat all day.  These dispensers can be a nice tool to get you started though or to reinforce specific behaviors like being quiet in a crate.

Enrichment – Any enrichment activities that you can fit into your dog’s day will help with giving her mental exercise and help her be more likely to be able to relax when you want her to.   Some enrichment may be safe to leave with your dog unsupervised to help give her something to do while you’re gone.  This will depend upon your own individual dog and finding what works for her.  There are many posts on this blog about enrichment toys and games that can be used for any dog, not just blind and deaf ones.

Covered crate/ open crate – Some dogs are more comfortable in a covered or airline type crate with solid sides, and some are more comfortable in an open wire crate.  Yes, even blind dogs seem to have a preference.  Solid sides make for a more cozy feeling and prevent air drafts coming in from all directions which is disturbing to some dogs.  Some dogs can relax better in a solid crate because they feel secure knowing there is only one opening, where the wire crate feels open on all sides and can cause them to feel nervous or vulnerable and unable to completely relax.  Some dogs are not comfortable at all in crates and prefer a totally different solution. 

Chew toys – Any toys or bones that you leave with your dog unsupervised need to be very safe, and you need to have watched your dog with them enough to know they will not be biting chunks off and eating them.  Chew toys can help by giving your dog something to do and to help them relax.  Dogs tend to relax and nap after a good chew.

Bodywork – Bodywork can help your dog learn how to relax, and you can use it with your dog while she is in her confinement area to help her associate being there with relaxing.  Using bodywork at her normal bedtime may also help, as she will associate it with relaxing and then drifting off for a long sleep.  Massage, Tellington TTouch, Healing Touch for Animals, or any number of bodywork modalities can be helpful.  Some of these can be learned from books and videos, and others can easily be learned by taking classes in your area. 

Essential oils – Some essential oils like lavender have long been known for their relaxing effects.  This is not the only oil that may be helpful – consult an experienced practitioner or veterinarian for more information about this.  The best results come from therapeutic grade oils, not ones just made synthetically to smell pretty.  A practitioner can help you choose a quality that is appropriate.  Diffusing the oils in the room where the dog will be can help, especially if she is conditioned to relax with the oil diffusing before being left alone. 

Thundershirt, TTouch wrap – These are great tools for increasing your dog’s feelings of well-being and confidence, and in helping a dog learn to relax.  But they need to be worn when the dog is being supervised.  So, they could be worn if you are practicing separation but you are home and checking on the dog often to make sure she is not tangled or that she is not eating the shirt or wrap!  So, if you are doing cycles of leaving and coming back, this could be helpful. 

Sniffing and nosework games – I love any type of sniffing or searching games as enrichment.  Dogs love to sniff and search.  Giving them games like this to play every day, and especially before you leave them alone for the day can put them in a better frame of mind for relaxing and a long nap! 

Calming music – If your dog can hear, playing calming music can help her to relax, but can also drown out noises from outside which might keep her alert and wondering what’s going on out there.  It is best to condition the music during relaxing times when you are home at first.  Classical music can work well.  Two of my favorites are Through A Dog’s Ear and Healing Touch for Animals CD’s created with relaxation and calming of dogs in mind.  Even my deaf dogs respond to the music’s vibrations and will often lie by the CD player on the floor so they can feel the vibrations.  They also seem to be able to feel it if the CD player is on top of a solid crate.   Be sure to keep any cords out of chewing range and tucked away so the dog can’t pull the CD player down on top of her. 

DAP collar, spray – Dog appeasing pheromone products can also be very useful.  I find the collars (which stay on all the time) or the spray to be most useful.  I have not had much luck with the plug ins, but know people who have.  If the dog is staying in a crate, I would opt for the spray so the collar won’t get caught on any part of the crate.  The spray can be spritzed on the dog’s bedding before you leave or can be sprayed on a cover put over the crate. 

I hope this has given you some new ideas to try.  Put these last several posts together to create a program to help your dog feel more relaxed with staying alone.  If you would like help getting started, find a positive reinforcement trainer in your area to work with to help get you started and set up a plan that you can continue to work on. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Conditioning Separation

Here are some ideas to get you started on teaching your puppy to stay alone with as little stress as possible, and to help create a non-stressful association with the confinement area and being left alone.   Use these ideas as a jumping off point to create a schedule that works for you and your puppy. 

Pet sitters or dog walkers, even willing neighbors, can be so helpful when you have a young puppy.  A normal work day is too long for a puppy to be home alone.  It needs a break or two at least throughout the day to potty, walk around outside and sniff, have a game, have some lunch, etc.  If you’re unable to come home at lunch to do this, or to take your puppy to work with you, please consider hiring someone to help you for awhile.

Begin when you bring your new puppy home.  Schedule some vacation time, or at the very least, bring your puppy home when you will have several days to spend with her with no trips out planned.  Decide ahead of time to spend those several days creating as relaxed and happy association with the puppy being alone as you can.  And then be sure to schedule yourself or someone else to come in at least once during the day when you return to work to let the puppy out and spend some time with her.  This could be a neighbor, family member or a hired pet sitter or walker. 

Have your puppy’s confinement area set up from the beginning and leave it accessible to the puppy all day long – if it is a crate, tie the door open so she can go in and out and explore as she wants.  If it is an ex pen or a gated room, leave the area open for puppy to wander in and out of at will.  Leave interesting things in the area that will encourage relaxation and calm, quiet behaviors – a bed, chew bones and even food-stuffed chew toys like Kongs.  If you notice your puppy being wild and crazy in that area, entice her to come out of the area to play.  That area is for relaxing and calm behaviors.

Puppies take lots of naps between play sessions.  When your puppy is just about asleep or is already sleeping, move her to the special area and let her sleep there undisturbed for her nap.  She will begin to learn by association to be relaxed in that area.  Stay nearby and be ready for puppy to wake up.  As soon as she wakes up, before she can realize she is confined and begins to cry, go to her calmly and take her outside to potty. 

Most important is to keep the times when your puppy is confined to very short, successful periods of time at this point.  During times when your puppy is calm and sleepy, you can sit in the confinement area with your puppy – keep things calm though, no wild games and play time.  You can sit and read a book or watch TV and allow her to settle down and sleep on her own.  Then it is a gradual process for you to sit next to the area – on the other side of a gate or pen – and then farther from the area. 

Gradually you can put puppy into the area a little sooner than normal so she has time to play calmly for a bit or chew a bone and she will learn to settle down on her own.  Stay nearby so you can intervene if you see her beginning to get upset.  Maybe just go into the area with her and sit calmly.  Then try stepping out again once she’s almost asleep. 

If you are crate training your puppy for bedtime, bring the crate into your bedroom and put it right next to the bed.  You can dangle an arm over the side of the bed to put your fingers in through the bars of the crate to provide contact to soothe your puppy, gradually withdrawing your hand as she learns to soothe herself to sleep.  Remember that your puppy will need to potty in the middle of the night.  If she makes a fuss and has been sleeping, get her outside quickly.  But don’t make this a time for games or treats or snuggles on the bed.  Keep the trip matter-of-fact, out and back in.  Upon coming back inside, puppy goes back in the crate. 

What always works best for me at this point is to pull my pillows down to the floor and lie right outside the crate door with it open just enough for me to slip my arm inside.  My body blocks the door from opening all the way and puppy coming out, but my arm inside allows the puppy to snuggle up and go back to sleep.  If puppy decides this is a great time to cut its teeth on your arm, just pull your arm out and press it up against the crate door so it is close but protected from puppy teeth.  As your puppy learns the routine, you will need to spend less and less time on the floor or with your arm in the crate to help her settle back down. 

Puppies cue off our breathing, yes even blind and deaf puppies!  So, keep your breathing calm and relaxed while you lie there, and keep your body relaxed and quiet.  This will help her know it is time to go back to sleep. 

It is a gradual process to teach a puppy to be calm and relaxed when left alone and/or confined.  Yes, this is a lot of work to do properly in the beginning.  It is just one of the aspects of having a puppy that requires a lot of commitment on our part in the beginning to set the puppy up for success for the rest of her life.  She is a baby and it is our job to pay close attention and set her up for success. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Having All The Answers

My last blog post got a lot of attention and comments, which is good.  That means it accomplished its purpose, which was to get your attention and get you started thinking.  Some comments focused on crate training, and while this concept certainly carries over to teaching a puppy to be comfortable in a crate, it is not exclusive to it.  My post was focused on teaching a puppy to accept separation, in whatever form that might be – behind a gate, in a puppy pen or room, in a crate, or just home roaming the house alone. 

My book Through A Dark Silence goes into how I start crate training for blind and deaf puppies (and other puppies as well). 

Some comments focused on why I didn’t give all the answers in my post.  While I have other posts planned to help offer suggestions, I wanted to first address the general idea and way of thinking.  The purpose of my post was not to give all the answers of how to do something.  Each individual situation and puppy is different.  Techniques and ideas are meant to be adjusted to meet each individual’s needs.  So, no matter what ideas and techniques I write about in my blog, they are not the only way or the only answer for each and every dog.  But those ideas can be adjusted to meet any dog’s needs.

Dog training is not about having all the answers.  Many of us have been teaching dogs (and other animals) for a long time.  We can never have all the answers.  There are always new possibilities to discover, ponder and try.  A wise person once told me – there are many answers to the same question.  But the problem is that we usually stop looking for the other answers when we find one that works.  That limits our learning and traps us in our box.  If we think that our answers are the only ones that are right and can work for a certain situation, we aren’t seeing the whole picture of many possibilities. 
If we remain open to learning and exploring new ideas, we can create a much better life for our dogs.  As we learn better ways, we can do better.  Just because an idea is not discovered yet, doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing one! 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Just Let Him Cry It Out?

“Don’t go back to him if he cries.  No matter what you do, you must ignore him if he is barking or crying.  You will spoil him.  Don’t reward his crying.  Just let him cry it out.  He will eventually stop.” 

Have you ever heard this advice?  It seems to be pretty popular advice to give someone with a new puppy. 

Trainers may argue that going back to a crying puppy and giving it attention will reinforce the crying.  While there might be some truth in that statement, I don’t think much thought is normally given to the emotional cause of the crying in the first place, nor to the physiological changes that are happening to a puppy’s body and brain while he is crying. 

Yes, a puppy left to cry it out will eventually be quiet, but is that the best thing for the puppy?  Can letting the puppy cry it out lead to problems with anxiety down the road? Is there a better way?

I'd like to propose a different perspective about teaching a puppy to stay by itself.

Let’s talk about getting a new puppy.  Let's think about his first day leaving his mother and littermates, and that safe puppy pen.  Everything he had known up until this day had been comfortable and safe for him.  He was never alone.  He always had the comfort of others around him.  Taking him away from that safety and security is a major life change for him.  He is stressed and looking for his mom and littermates, and the sense of safety he had known.  Very quickly that sense of safety begins to transfer to the person who is caring for him.  

Is it really necessary for a puppy to learn that very first day how to be alone?  When he already feels terribly alone and wants to cling to the new person in his life so he feels safe?

Vinny feeling very safe in his confinement area.  

Staying alone and learning self confidence should be a gradual process.  Puppies who cry are distressed. They don't cry unless they have a reason to cry.  They aren't crying to keep you up at night.  They aren't crying to annoy you or to interrupt your favorite TV show.  They are scared and alone and they feel vulnerable.  They are calling out for someone to care for them and comfort them, and to help them feel safe.

Puppy brains are always learning.  Do we want our puppy's brain to learn and develop from a place of fear or panic (fight or flight), or from a place of trust and safety?  

I hear often about people who let their puppy cry and howl for an hour (or more) until it begins to quiet down.  Each minute that goes by increases that puppy's stress, anxiety and fear.  I have to wonder if letting a puppy cry it out and become more and more upset until it is exhausted may contribute to separation anxiety behaviors later in life?  It is something to ponder. 

I want to teach my puppies to have the capacity to self calm, so they are able to settle down on their own. To a puppy, being left alone must be a scary feeling.  He is unable to take care of himself, and the group of others he’s always been with has helped to keep him safe.  He may feel vulnerable.  He may become hypervigilant, watching everything to see if it is a threat.  

Puppies very quickly form emotional associations with the situations around them. Spending so much time learning that being alone is scary and stressful can't be good for staying by himself later on. These are not feelings we really want our puppy to associate with being left alone at home or with being in a confined space, are they?
It is a process to teach a dog to calm itself.  It is not something you can just throw at him all at once and expect him to get used to and understand that all is well.  Expecting a puppy to just cope with it and get used to it is very stressful for him.  Puppy is calling to you to help him and you don’t come.  Does this build trust in your new relationship?  Puppy doesn’t understand why the rules have suddenly changed. 

Perhaps this is how it's always been done - letting him cry it out.  Or perhaps it worked for a puppy we had a long time ago, so we are sure it is the best way to do it.  Or maybe you know someone with a dog and it worked for them, so you're sure it will work for you and your puppy.  But don't we owe it to our puppies to consider them as individuals?  To do all we can to build their trust and their confidence that we understand what they're communicating to us?  Sometimes we do need to think outside of our box ...