Do You See What I See?

Admit it – it’s fun watching our dogs because so often they are joyful. There is a big difference between watching our dogs and observing them. Let’s look at what it means to observe a dog.

Often when we look at dogs we see their love, joy and devotion. However, when we observe dogs we need to be to objective and consistent in what we see. If we are do this task well it can help us understand what our dog experiences as she faces each day.

Everyone's attention is on Louise while they wait for her to throw the dummy. Dogs are Rixa, Galley, Ryder, Jade
Everyone’s attention is on the handler, Louise, while they wait for her to throw the dummy. The dogs are (left to right) Jade, Ryder, Galley, and Rixa

Do you see what I see? It is easy to say that the dogs in this photo are happy and focused on the handler. But what does that tell us about each dog? It is more informative when we slow things down and take photos one frame at a time. You may find it helpful to know the dogs in the photos:

  • Jade (black and white Portuguese Water Dog)
  • Ryder (black Portuguese Water Dog)
  • Galley (black Portuguese Water Dog – white socks on front paws )
  • Rixa (gray Portuguese Water Dog) and
  • Charlie (beagle – blind, no eyes) appears in later photos

Background:  We were playing retrieving games in the yard. The dogs would return to Louise and she would toss the dummy for them. They would all come, sit, and look at Louise. Once they were focused on her she would throw the dummy and the dogs had to wait until they were released from the “wait” to get the dummy after it was thrown. Galley and Jade took off to play right after the photo above was taken which isn’t surprising since they are the youngest dogs in the group. Rixa and Ryder are waiting for Louise to give them their next cue. Meanwhile Charlie is exploring the yard. Rixa and Ryder were focused on Louise when “out of the blue” Rixa lost her focus. The photos make it clear why this happened. When Rixa lost her focus it happened very quickly and it didn’t seem like a big deal. Looking at the photos it is obvious that there was a reason for Rixa to be distracted.
It is helpful to know:

  • Ryder is very stoic and when given a cue he does it and doesn’t usually move from that position
  • Rixa is older and deaf.
Everyone's attention is on Louise while they wait for her to throw the dummy. Dogs are Rixa, Galley, Ryder, Jade
Everyone’s attention is on Louise while they wait for her to throw the dummy. Dogs are Rixa, Galley, Ryder, Jade
  • Jade: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth open panting, tongue straight out, sitting straight, tail not visible in photo
  • Ryder: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth closed, tongue inside, sitting straight,tail straight behind;
  • Galley: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth open panting, tongue out to her left, sitting straight, tail straight behind;
  •  Rixa: head up, ears alert, eyes round and focused on Louise (handler), mouth closed, tongue inside,sitting straight, tail not visible in photo
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise

Galley and Jade have run off to play. Charlie is wandering around and is coming toward Ryder and Rixa. At this point both Rixa and Ryder are still focused on Louise, but notice that Charlie is aware of the two dogs and his body language indicates he is concerned.

  • Rixa and Ryder are focused on Louise
  • Charlie is about 6 feet away
  • Charlie furrowed brow, ears are soft/floppy, mouth is panting – open with tongue out; body position is a cower (neck and back are level); tail down but not tucked.
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise

As Charlie approaches Rixa moves her head away from Louise and toward Charlie. Ryder has not moved.

  • Charlie is about 4 feet away
  • Rixa moves her head to her left – the direction Charlie is approaching
  • Ryder does not move
  • Charlie, he is panting and has a furrowed brow. His cower deepens – his head and neck are lower than his back (previous picture they were level with his back), his tail appears to be tucked.
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
  • Charlie is almost behind Ryder.
  • Ryder moves his head to his left (the direction that Charlie approached)
  • Rixa moves her head to her left and down (toward Charlie) while extending her neck toward Charlie.
  • Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ryder, and is in a a cower (not as deep as the previous photo), his tail appears to be tucked (from the position of his rump and prior photos).
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
  • Charlie is behind Ryder and is moving away – he is increasing the distance between himself and Ryder
  • Ryder moves his head to his right and slightly down (following Charlie) while doing a tongue flick (his tongue goes in and out very quickly – a self-soothing behavior)
  • Rixa moves her head to the left and up (toward Charlie) and extends her neck toward Charlie.
  • Charlie has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ryder and continues to cower. His tail appears to be tucked.
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
  • Charlie is almost behind Ryder.
  • Ryder moves his head to the left (following Charlie)
  • Rixa moves her head to the left and down (toward Charlie) and extends her neck toward Charlie.
  • Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Ry.der and is in a bit of a cower. Cowering: Charlie’s neck and back are level. his tail is tucked
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
Rixa and Ryder, focus on Charlie, not Louise
  • Charlie has passed Ryder.
  • Ryder moves his head to the right slightly (following Charlie)
  • Rixa moves her head to the right (toward Charlie) and tilts her head toward Charlie.
  • Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Rixa. Charlie is not cowering at this point. His tail is low medium – at a 45 degree angle. This information indicates that while he is in the caution zone he is transitioning away from caution toward the green zone- Life’s Good (a happy place). My next post will be about the zones – first you need to understand how to read the body language before you can place the animal in a zone.
Charlie walks past Rixa. Who is more concerned – Rixa or Charlie?
  • Charlie is almost past Rixa.
  • Ryder moves his head to the right (following Charlie)
  • Rixa moves her head to the right and down (following Charlie).Did you notice that Charlie is panting, has a furrowed brow, is quite close to Rixa and is not cowering. Compare this photo of Charlie’s head, neck, back and rear to the others and you will see the difference in his body language. You may wonder why is there a difference. Often it is due to more distance between dogs.
Look at steady Rixa and Ryder are sitting - it is beautiful. They are clearly focused on Louise.
Look at steady Rixa and Ryder are sitting – it is beautiful. They are clearly focused on Louise.
  • Charlie has walked out of the photo and away from Rixa and Ryder
  • Rixa’s focus is back on Louise
  • Ryder’s focus is back on Louise

Definitions:
Cower: Head and Neck are level with the back
Tongue Flick: tongue goes in and out very quickly

dog bite prevention

 

We may not always realize why our dog is distracted and is unable to paying attention to us. We may think that our dog should be giving us his or her undivided attention. When our dog is distracted there is often a logical explanation. Our job is to find the reason and help our dog do the job we want him to do. Oh – don’t forget to have fun in the process!

How do we keep track of all of this? It looks so easy when someone else does it so here are a couple of forms to help you get started. If you want to ask questions along the way feel free to post here or on my Facebook page.

A completed form for you to use as a guide when you fill observe your animals

 

 

A chart that explains the questions you need to consider when observing animals. You may not have the answers to each question, but you want to consider each question when you observe your animal.

observation-log_exmpl_revisedobservation-log_information

A practice quide – there aren’t any “right” or “wrong” answers here… just take a few minutes and think about what you observe in the illustrations and which zone your might place the animal in for the scenario you created. You can create multiple scenarios – how does that effect the zone placement? It is fun to see how each scenario influences the zone.observation-log_practice

A blank form for you to use with your own dogs or clients

observation-log_blank

Once you become proficient at observing animals you won’t need the reminders of Head, Body, Rear, etc.

hugs and woofs

Let me count the ways… the things we love most about our dogs

Charlie, Ella and Jade - practicing a down stay
Charlie, Ella and Jade – practicing a down stay

I ask everyone who calls as a new client “please tell me three things that you love most about your dog” because if you can do this than you haven’t given up hope. If there is hope then change can happen.

I find that even in the most worrisome of cases, people want to tell me more than three things they love about their dogs. This is great news because when a person remembers why they love their dog they will be able to face even the most challenging of situations. Many times when I get a new client it is because “they’ve tried everything else.” My clients need to be prepared to work hard. They need to have a reason why they are working through the issue at hand or we won’t be able to resolve the problem. Remembering why you love your dog is a critical part of the program.

In honor of all my clients and my own dogs I would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know how thankful I am for my own dogs. I want to share why I love each of my dogs with you.

Charlie

Charlie - almost 12 years old
Charlie – almost 12 years old
  • Resilient and amazing – any dog that had both eyes removed by the time he was 4 months old and is able to bring love, laughter and joy wherever he goes – that is beyond amazing in my book!
  • Persistent – Can find anything with the super-power/bionic nose of his!
  • Trust and friendship – I’ve learned what it means to take a leap of faith from Charlie who will jump on or off a surface if I tell him it is all clear … he trusts me to tell him that take the jump without being hurt.

Jade

Jade - 5 years old and still my "Sweet Baby Jade"
Jade – 5 years old and still my “Sweet Baby Jade”
  • Loves to learn, play, and swim. These abilities make Jade a very fun dog to be around! Jade started hanging out on Duke University’s campus as a tiny pup – sometimes I wonder if she’s earned an advanced degree…
  • Makes sure everyone, human and canine alike, is safe and secure – no matter what we are doing Jade needs to be sure that everyone is safe.
  • Resilience, trust, and friendship – Jade has several autoimmune disorders but never lets them get her down for long. She is an amazing dog and friend that has taught me so much!

Ella

Ella - 3 years old
Ella – 3 years old
  • Courage and beauty combined – a brave little girl who reminds me every day that beauty is comes from the inside. We tend to focus on the outside, but when someone is truly beautiful that starts deep inside and pours out through depths of of every cell.
  • Her spirit – she sparkles … the only dog I know who is so proud that she can do a “down” that she adds a “twirl” to it! I’m not sure if this is because she loves to twirl or if it is because I laugh every time she does it. Either way it shows her desire to sparkle…
  • Trust and friendship and the fact that she is a love bucket!

A Photo to Make You Smile…

Ella twirling.... it's a superpower!
Ella twirling…. it’s her superpower!  Of course there had to be photo of a twirl in here somewhere!

Now it’s your turn – what are some of the things that you love most about your dogs? I’d love to hear from you, if you are inspired to share what you love most with me  here. ! If not, be sure to take a minute and write your list down for yourself. Remember to celebrate your dog. Go on a  long walk. Play with your dog. Do something special for him or her. That is my wish for you, and all dogs, I hope that you are enjoying and loving your dog today.

Warm woofs.

Snuffle Mat – a fun way for dog’s to eat dinner!

It is our responsibility to make meals fun for our furry friends. Do you want to eat the same thing every day? When we were kids the cafeteria lunches were like that and we quickly figured how to rebel. By the time high school rolled around … let’s just say that there were times when the cafeteria ladies were not happy, the lunch line was shut down, and detention was served. While it was never my fault (believe what you will!) I remember each detention and I’m sure the cafeteria ladies do too! We don’t want want to put our dogs in detention…

Ella moving the fleece so she can reach a hidden piece of kibble
Ella searching through the fleece so she can find a hidden piece of kibble

Snuffle mats are cool for several reasons. When Ella searches through the fleece she engages the SEEKING system in her brain. There are many games and methods for feeding – but they don’t all engage the SEEKING system. I learned about the snuffle mats from a friend over at the North Carolina State University Veterinary School. Let me tell you – my dogs LOVE these silly things!

You may be wondering:

  • What is the SEEKING System and why do I need to engage it?
  • A Snuffle Mat? Really? What is it and where can I find one?

The SEEKING System helps us

  • be curious,
  • keeps us interested in exploring the world
  • find things we want most.

Without the SEEKING System how would we ever find what we need to in order to sustain life?

There is a balance between what feels good and over indulgence. When we engage the SEEKING System for problem solving and searching for food it is a good thing for our dogs.

By using controlled activities we can encourage the right amount of SEEKING behavior without having our dogs to tip over into obsessive compulsive behaviors.

In case your were wondering – can multiple dogs find food on the same mat? Absolutely! Charlie and Ella finding food in their Snuffle Mat.

Charlie and Ella with the Snuffle Mat
Charlie and Ella with the Snuffle Mat

Look at how fluffy the snuffle mat is! Are you trying to figure out what it is made of and why is it a round fluff ball? The original design calls for a drain mat with pieces of fleece tied through the holes of the drain mat. I had trouble finding a drain mat and when I did I couldn’t cut it … so I improvised. I found a pizza pan with big holes. Yup – metal 13″ pizza pan. Trust me it worked better than the dish drainer which just curled into something that looked like a log when I tied all the pieces of fleece on it… Charlie thought it was his new toy and takes it outside to go potty with – not something I’m going to put food on 😉

Finished Snuffle Mat
Finished Snuffle Mat

What you need to make this particular snuffle mat – a bunch of fleece cut up into 10″ x 2″ strips.

making of a snuffle mat
making of a snuffle mat

Next step – pull the strips through the holes. I alternated colors but you don’t have to do that.I think it looks better and honestly, it is easier to know which pieces to knot together if they are different colors.

NOTE: I’ve been trying to come up with easy ways to clean and also make sure that the mat dries after my slobbery dogs sniff their way through it. For us it seems to work out best if we have every other row with fleece strips instead of every row.

fleece knots
fleece knots

Final step – tie the pieces. It’s a simple half knot. The knot is the same thing you use when you are getting ready to tie your laces on your shoes before you tie the bow.  You are done!

These are so easy to make and the dogs have great fun finding their meals inside the mats. The dogs already knew how to search for food so maybe that was part of it, but I think most dogs would have fun with this game!

I haven’t had any trouble with my dogs eating the fleece. They know that these are for food, not fleece!

Look who is under Jade – is it a bird, a plane, no it’s Charlie Bear!

The other cool thing about Snuffle Mats – at least in our house – there is no resource guarding. Perhaps it is because not only do we have three snuffle mats but there is food hidden in all kinds of fun places from low to high.  In bookcases under rugs, inside of blankets, boxes, oh my! My dogs know that there is plenty of food to go around for everyone.  Jade is pretty sneaky toward the end though…  she knows that a certain beagle has a bionic nose – you know – it is his super power because he has been blind his entire life! He might be slow at times but he always knows the obscure places I’ve hidden even just a single kibble. Or maybe a kibble got misplaced and I have to relocate the washing machine or refrigerator because all three dogs refuse to move until that kibble is rescued from it’s hiding place!

Jade searching through the snuffle matt
Jade searching through the snuffle matt

 

Ella searching the snuffle mat
Ella searching the snuffle mat

 

One size fits all - at least for us it does!
One size fits all – at least for us it does!

The snuffle mat is made with a 13″ Pizza Pan that has big holes – not the teeny tiny holes. Be careful – don’t get the little holes. You can also get a drain mat (the thick rubber mats) and cut them to whatever size you want for the mat.  I put three mats down at breakfast and dinner and the dogs are ever so happy. I could even hide the mats – but I don’t. I bury the kibble deep down inside the fleece I think that is enough work for them!

 

References:

The Brain’s SEEKING System

Panksepp, Jaak Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

The Science of Emotions: Jaak Panksepp:

Therapy Dogs: Life after retirement

Have you ever met a dog that seems to be a therapy dog even though he isn’t wearing a therapy vest?  You know the dogs I’m talking about – they give us the right emotion  at the moment we need it most. If we are sad, they know if we need to laugh versus snuggle. If we are happy they know how we like celebrate – do we like to do the happy dance, or a sing a goofy song?  Whatever your special expression of joy is – these dogs know it. These dogs share some of our most intense moments and they do it with grace. Let’s face it there are a lot of people who don’t get this right. It really is amazing that dogs help us with our emotions when humans often have a hard time with it.

Charlies journey-13-2
Charlie visiting with one of his favorite nurses. They were having a heart to heart conversation about something very important.

It may come as no surprise then, that while Charlie and Jade are retired as my Pet Partners they still are helping people. I believe that they have a deep need to be connected to humans – much more so than your average dog does. Yes, they are very bonded to me, but they like being in contact with others as well.

One of our favorite activities is to go for walks through the Duke Gardens . In case you aren’t familiar with the Gardens the  Huffington Post put the gardens on their list of “insanely beautiful places to visit.”  I mention this because the gardens get a LOT of visitors! From weddings to school children to Duke students to people in the community – there are a wide range of visitors that come through the gardens every year.

While your town may not have a park that is on Huffington Posts “insanely beautiful places” to visit, there are plenty of awesome places in every town to visit. Look around your town and find an interesting spot to visit with your dog – it is worth the effort!

My friend Nancy Bernstein joined us on a recent walk to document through photography a few of our interactions.

Jade and Ella with a visitor from Canada
Jade and Ella with Kimberly from Canada

Ella is learning how to be a therapy dog by modeling Jade’s behavior. She is learning the best ways to meet and greet people. Ella is also learning how to remain calm when many people want her attention at the same time. This visitor is a pet sitter/dog walker who was visiting family in North Carolina. You can’t see that there are about 4-5 other people watching, laughing, and telling jokes as we are taking pictures. This photo is great because Kimberly is touching both Ella and Jade!! She was so happy to get to have some one-on-one time with dogs! Her family was teasing her the entire time we were taking photos! They loved that she found some dogs that she could spend some time with during their walk and on her trip! In case you are wondering the dogs are panting because it was hot outside when we took the photos.

If you are wondering where I might be – I am by the stone wall just outside of the photograph. Charlie was with us as well and I was walking him. We are not on an official visit – we are walking our dogs – and our dogs are able to bring joy and happiness to others. What a wonderful way to spend part of an afternoon!

As we continue on our walk and see some freshmen who are missing their dogs from home…

The photo is taken near a persimmon tree that is dropping its fruit. The dogs are distracted by all the persimmons on the ground!
The photo is taken near a persimmon tree that is dropping its fruit. The dogs are distracted by all the persimmons on the ground!

It looks like Jade and Ella may not be enjoying the interaction, but that wasn’t true. We made the mistake of posing underneath a persimmon tree that was dropping fruit and the dogs really wanted to eat the persimmons! The students thought this was really funny and enjoyed having the chance to get to know both Jade and Ella.

The really nice thing about going on walks like this is that no one expects your dogs to be “perfect” so there is no pressure. You can leave at any point in time. Jade LOVES being outside so these walks are a great way for her to share her special gifts.

A little farther down the path we met another student, a senior studying evolutionary biology/anthropology. She fell in love with the dogs. Jade liked chatting with her and Ella fell in love with her boots! You can’t see Ella in this photo because she is tucked behind Jade with her head inside the boots!

Jade having fun with a senior.
Jade having fun with a senior.

The common theme in these photos – joy.

We discovered that when we shared why we were taking photos of the dogs with random people in the park they were very happy to participate in the project. My goal was for you, the reader, to know what our walks are like on any given day.  I want everyone to know how much joy “retired” dogs bring  people. These are not planned visits and they bring joy to both dogs and humans.

I want to say thank you to the people who took time from their walk through the Duke Gardens to participate in this project! I’d also like to thank my friend and photographer Nancy Bernstein. Nancy graciously went on a walk with me so that we could capture and share these moments with everyone.

Tips for living with a blind dog

What is it like to live with a blind dog? If you’ve met Charlie he makes life as a blind dog look pretty easy. If you found your way to this page my guess is that you have questions about ways to help your blind dog or maybe prepare for life as your dog goes blind. Here are some a few helpful tips that I’ve learned from Charlie, my blind dog, over the years.

First and foremost, it is important for you to know that Charlie is a happy dog. Being happy is what makes people love him. People forget that he is blind because he is happy. Being blind is not synonymous with living a sad, frightened life.

Charlies journey-40
Charlie – happiness in the gardens

Often people’s concerns about their dog being blind is tied to their own fear of not being able to see. It can be hard for us to imagine being happy in a world of darkness. Charlie helped me overcome my fear of being blind (which is good since my grandmother was blind). I know that if I were to be blind my world might be a little more challenging, but my life would not be sad.

The key is that I’ve treated Charlie like he was any other dog. Perhaps that’s because my grandmother was blind and she made it clear that she while she was blind that didn’t mean she was couldn’t take care of herself. Sure, she needed you to tell her where food was placed on her dinner plate, or where things were located when we went somewhere new, but that is not the same as treating her like a second-class citizen. Trust me, if she thought you were treating her as a disabled person you were in for a tongue lashing that you would never forget! She expected the same amount of respect you would give any other grown up. She had just as much dignity that any other grownup. Thanks to my grandma it is no surprise that when Charlie came into my life I applied the life-lessons she taught me about blindness to dog training. You know what? It worked. Today Charlie is an inspiration to so many people.

Charlie shortly after he came to live with me
Charlie shortly after he came to live with me

My basic philosophy is this: I treat Charlie the same as my other dogs – with trust and respect. In return Charlie trusts and respects me as well as the world the around him.  Do I modify Charlie’s training? I do modify some things, but my training philosophy is that we should always modify training  to best the needs of the dog. Charlie has had some terrific accomplishments. He received his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) when he was 2 years old and has been my registered pet partner (with Delta Society and now Pet Partners) since he was 3 years old. He has been nominated twice for the AKC ACE Award in the Therapy Category and has the AKC Therapy Dog title.

Charlie's official photo for Pets At Duke, photo credit: Diane Lewis Photography
Charlie’s official photo for Pets At Duke, photo credit: Diane Lewis Photography

Here are some insights that I’ve learned from talking to people who are blind and working with a lot of visually impaired/blind dogs.

Scent not vision is the most important sense for dogs. Many people have a hard time understanding and sometimes accepting this fact, because sight is our most important sense. The fact remains that we are not really capable of understanding the full extent to which a dog can sniff out things. Many dogs are lazy about using their nose and we have to remind them so if you have a newly blind dog don’t worry if he doesn’t find his food bowl right away – he will, be patient.

It helps to have a sense of humor….

Feathers? What feathers? I don't see any feathers!
Feathers? What feathers? I don’t see any feathers!

In reality Charlie wasn’t responsible for this – a foster dog created the mess, it was a great photo op though!

While we are talking about senses hearing is important as well. However, sounds can be overwhelming especially in crowded places. Think about it – have you ever been driven down a long stretch of highway and ended up in the middle of nowhere? You are flipping through radio stations trying to find a radio station/song (before there was all the fancy types of radio) and the most you can find is mostly static… oh then wait – you can barely hear a country music station (you know the ones!) and probably a Willie Nelson song! The song is really faint, but you recognize it and because you recognize it you find some comfort. You leave the station on with the hope that the signal will get stronger. This song is your beacon and helps you stay awake as you drive down that road. You are wondering – how is this relevant to your blind dog. Imagine being blind. You are in a busy place and all the sounds you are like the static on the radio. What can you do to help your dog find you in those busy places? How can you be that country song on the radio station? Well, I wear little tiny bells in the form of a bracelet. I call them my “Charlie Bells.” They are fun and cheery and help Charlie know where I am when we are out and about. A charm bracelet could be just as effective.

When Charlie was a puppy and until he was about 4-5 years old I wore “Charlie Bells” all the time. Now I only wear them when we go on therapy visits or if we will be in a busy place. (Note, I happen to be touching Jade in this photo, not Charlie – didn’t want you to think Charlie had something weird going on with his fur!) In case you are wondering, I have a crafty side to me – I made the “Charlie Bells

Charlie running on the beach
Charlie running on the beach. He has so much trust and faith in the world around him that he is happy doing things like running through the surf!

Some other helpful tips:
Use surfaces to your advantage. A blind dog uses the pads of his paws to feel the surface to give him a clue as to his location.

Outside ivy is the ground cover in the woods with a pine straw path. There is a transitional area between the woods and the grass where there is a combination of pine straw and mulch.  As you get closer to the house there is a brick path before the cement sidewalk that leads to the back door. The sidewalk is right next to the house. If we didn’t have these different surfaces Charlie might be running around in the backyard at full speed and hit the sidewalk and not be able to stop in time which would result in a hard whack into the house – OUCH! Actually this happened when he was a little puppy (sorry guy).

Changing surfaces provides information so Charlie knows where he is and when he needs to turn or slow down. This is very helpful information for a blind dog. The best part is that it helps Charlie be independent and gives Charlie confidence. These are good things.

Different textures outdoors to help Charlie know his location.
Different textures outdoors to help Charlie know his location.

This brick path runs straight for a bit and then makes a turn and runs parallel to the house. In this photo Charlie is training with Abby, our Portuguese Water Dog.

Inside the house we use surfaces too- rubber backed bath mats are really helpful.  instead of putting them in front of a doorway I put them next to the wall beside the door so that Charlie doesn’t run into the wall.

Charlie has been blind since birth so teaching him to “go to mat” was a little more challenging than it has been for me to teach other dogs. Until recently Charlie had two favorite mats in his life. He had one mat until he was about 8 years old (he still has it). At 8 he got a memory foam mat. He loves the memory foam so much that refuses to go back to his old flat mat – silly boy! Charlie’s newest mat is microfiber and very fluffy. He in in mat heaven! If you haven’t used a microfiber mat you need to get one – they are great for dogs!

Charlie loves his mat and always goes to mat when he is uncertain about life. It is important to have a safety zone – a place where no one else is allowed to bother a blind dog
insert photo Charlie waiting for his dinner bowl
insert photo Yum – happy things happen on the mat!

Charlie practicing mat work with Jade
Charlie practicing mat work with Jade (Jade’s paw is on the microfiber mat)

When Charlie was a puppy his favorite safety zone was the laundry room when he but once he learned how to go up AND down the stairs it changed to the middle of the stairs. For the longest time I was at a loss for why he thought the middle of the stairs would be a safe place. Then I talked to a several blind friends who explained to me the importance of vertical surfaces. It just so happens that my staircase has the most vertical surfaces to his body mass in the entire house. When he is scared he doesn’t want to budge from the stairs instead I sit there and talk to him until he is ready to move on his own.

To help you understand why vertical surfaces are important to your blind dog try this exercise. Close your eyes. Imagine being in the middle of a very large room and there is nothing that you can touch – no chair, sofa, person. You have nothing to touch or help you navigate to find your way to the door. All around the walls of the room are people and they are talking – some rather loudly. They might even be giving you instructions about which way to turn and how far to move. But what is your point of reference? Things can come at you from all directions – go right, go left, turn around, and go back – it is a very vulnerable feeling when you get conflicting information and you can’t see. You know that if you can get to a wall – or a sofa – or a chair (big stuffed chair that is very stable) then you will be safe. Because you will have a point of reference and you can figure out which direction to go.

Here is video of Charlie doing one of his favorite activities

Did you notice  I had on  Charlie bells! Also, my treat pouch is up high (attached to my shirt instead of my waist) because if I had it on my waist he would steal the treats out of my pouch – he is a thief!

I would like to thank, on behalf of Charlie the three dogs that have had the biggest influence in his life.

Sophie, our Dalmatian, taught him everything he knows about body language and how to fit into the world.

Charlie and Sophie at play.
Charlie and Sophie at play.

Abby, a Portuguese Water Dog, came to live with us after Sophie passed away. Abby’s most import job was to be Charlie’s guide in the world.

Charlies journey-67-5
Charlie and Abby during a training session

Currently Charlie’s buddy is Jade who is also a Portuguese Water Dog. Jade joined our crew to be a therapy dog, but when Abby passed away about a year and a half ago she stepped up to the role of helping Charlie navigate the world.

Charlie and Jade - they love to go for walks through public gardens.
Charlie and Jade – they love to go for walks through public gardens.

If you would like to hear Chris Downey speak on his experience about sudden blindness I would recommend the TED Talk Design With The Blind In Mind. It will give you a whole new perspective about being blind.

I hope you found this helpful and enjoyable.