A Guide To Regular Health Checks for Your Dog

As we continue on our journey toward canine wellness our next path takes us to the learning about health checks for our dogs.  An overall body exam only takes a few minutes and makes sure that everything operates the way it should. If you find any unexpected lumps, bumps, cuts, sore spots, etc. then you can to make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian.

My wish, is that every dog has a health check at least once a month. Even though my dogs are on flea and tick preventative I do a daily body exam to make sure that ticks didn’t catch a ride on them. It is important to remove a tick as soon as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission. My dog Abby (RIP) had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and I never even knew she had been bitten by a tick.

Performing regular health checks help you know your dog’s overall wellness and helps your dog learn to enjoy the body exam – even from your veterinarian. Imagine that – a less stressful veterinary visit for your dog!

Linda Michaels, M.A. reminds us in the Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM that it is our responsibility to take care of more than our dog’s biological needs – we are responsible for their wellness too. Performing an overall body exam and health check can help ensure your dog’s wellness. So let’s go that extra step and look out for our dog’s overall well-being.

There are a couple of ground rules when you do a health check on your dog. First off, they are for non-emergency routine care. The information you gather in no way replaces a visit to your veterinarian and your dog should continue his regularly scheduled veterinary appointments.

Throughout the process observe your dog. If at any point your dog shows signs of discomfort – stop what you are doing. Make a note of what you did – were you leaning over him or was your touch too hard? Maybe there is an injury or maybe you startled your dog. Pay attention because an injury may require medical attention but a startle response does not. If you determine your dog is healthy yet is reluctant to be handled then please contact a trainer or behavior consultant in your area for assistance. Don’t force your dog to be touched in an area or in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

Approach – your dog from the side. If you approach directly from the front your dog may take that as an aggressive approach. When you approach from the side – or present your body sideways, you are considered less threatening. Extra tip – wait a moment for your dog to come to you. Giving your dog a moment to decide that he wants to participate make all the difference in the world.

Position – you should not restrict or block your dog’s movement. If you restrict his movement he may feel trapped and become reactive or aggressive. There is a difference between containment and restraint. You can contain your dog in a small area without restraint. When you do this your dog has some choice and is more likely to accept being touched even in sensitive places.

Distance – don’t crowd or lean over your dog. Most dogs have an interesting response when you lean over them, especially near their head, most of the time they will jump up and that can cause you to be bumped. The times when this doesn’t happen is if  the dog has been trained not to jump. Have you noticed that if you crowd your dog she may do things like spin, jump up, give you a kiss, and many other behaviors; pay attention to see what your dog does to increase space. Other dogs don’t do what we consider “friendly” warnings instead they go straight to growl and bite. Be kind and respect your dog’s need for space. Don’t wait for her to growl or bite before you listen to what she is telling you.

Duration – your movements should be efficient and fluid/smooth. If you hesitate and are jerky when you work with your dog then he will not be comfortable. If you are consistently hesitant or jerky then your dog may learn to be fearful of the health checks. If you are not confident about this exercise please practice on a stuffed dog first. Your dog will thank you.

Pressure how you touch matters. Too light of a touch tickles and too hard of a touch hurts. I call this the Goldilocks effect – you want your touch to be “just right.” Experiment to find the right amount of pressure your dog likes. Remember that what feels good on the shoulder may not feel good on the hindquarters. Another handy tip – what feels good after a nap may not be the same as what feels good before or after a workout.

Safety – ALWAYS practice safe handling and have an escape route for yourself.

Here are two pages of illustrations to guide you through the health check/overall body exam process.

My next posts will go into more detail about the different sections and the body language in each section. Please feel free to comment/ask question

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-01

For a downloadable file click here: HealthChecks-Dog-02

References:
The Hierachy of Dog NeedsTM Linda Michaels, M.A

Hierarchy of Dog Needs

Forbidding Forecast For Lyme Disease In The Northeast, March 6, 2017 5:00 AM ET Heard on Morning Edition http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/03/06/518219485/forbidding-forecast-for-lyme-disease-in-the-northeast

How to safely remove a tick http://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/how-to-remove-a-tick-from-dog-cat

Acknowledgements:
The Guide to Health Check  illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and the lives of dogs.

Human Animal Interactions – Illustrated

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to those we love, I would like to share an illustration about Human Animal Interactions. Every day I am in awe of the way dogs inspire us to be better humans. I have no words to fully express all the feelings that dogs inspire, but am fortunate to have created an illustration (with a lot of help) that captures how much we love our dogs – even dogs we may have just met. My hope is that some day we will be able to love as freely and show joy with the same abandon as our dogs do. Until then, I will continue to try and follow my dog’s model of love and friendship. The illustration below is a summary of the my research. The illustrations come from a variety of photographs and is a reminder of all the wonderful ways that dogs enhance our lives.

tirrell_hai_hab

Acknowledgements:
Thank you to Lili Chin for all the fabulous work she does!
Funding for this illustration was made possible by the Josiah Charles Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund

A look behind the illustrations

Ever wonder how an infographic or poster is created? Mine start with a lot of photos, an excel spreadsheet, and power point. The spreadsheet is designed using data from several research papers on the topic of the poster (my research is usually canine body language). Once the spreadsheet is running analysis can begin on the the photos. Finally the selection process begins for the photos that will make it into the power point slides. The photos in power point are used to create the illustrations. Even if a photo makes into PPT, they may not be illustrated. Sometimes photos are in PPT to help the illustrator understand the context which is essential for a well done illustration.

Please understand that I view the creation of illustrations as a journey. Like any journey, there are many people who have helped me along the way. First, these illustrations would not have been possible without the support (and pushing) of a couple of friends who convinced me to apply for funding for this project. These illustrations were made possible by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.

Special thanks to both Diane Lewis of Diane Lewis Photography and Lili Chin of DoggieDrawings.net who illustrated them. The illustrations would not be here without these two amazing women! Both are dedicated to improving the lives of animals and most especially the lives of dogs. I’m lucky to have worked with them through this project.

How many photos does it take to create an illustration? I can’t say for sure. There were 1,000 professional photos and more than 1,000 amateur photos reviewed to create the illustrations that will be posted over the coming months. It takes a lot of images to create a pattern.

In order to analyze the photos an Online Canine Body Language Collaborators Group was formed. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this group – they tirelessly answered questions and reviewed materials with me. These collaborators are amazing and I think we all learned a lot going through the photos and illustrations.

I learned a lot doing this project. Not just about my own dogs, but about our relationship with animals. The most important message that I can share is that everything we do needs to strengthen the human animal bond and that the bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship. For more information on the human animal bond please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.

When the work we are doing with our dogs stops being mutually beneficial we need to evaluate the situation and change it in some way. Our dogs give us their trust and it is our responsibility to keep them safe and share the joy of life and love every day!

If you liked this post here are a few others that you may find interesting:
Dog Signals and Social Cues: what is your dog telling you

Do You See What I See?

Charlie’s Facial Expressions and Unimaginable Joy

Dog Expressions: A walk through the park

 

Charlie’s Facial Expressions and Unimaginable Joy

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live with a blind dog? Charlie was only a puppy when I was told that he needed both of his eyes removed. I worried that I wouldn’t know how to read his facial expressions. Trust me, I was worried for no reason! Charlie is one of the most expressive dogs I’ve ever met.

charlie-ncsu-vs-ted-4a

Charlie was at the North Carolina State University in this photo. He was a participant in a research study. After he completed the study I met some of the research team that reviewed the photos from the project. These members of the team were not present during the testing. They told me that he was so happy which made his smile so big that his eyes were shut! I laughed and said “Yup, that’s my Charlie! He shares unimaginable joy everywhere he goes. But, his smile didn’t shut his eyes. His eyes are sewn shut because he eyes were removed due to complications from blindness…” The professor said he learned that after he reviewed the photos of Charlie, but it wasn’t the his first impression of the dog. I find this interesting because it often happens when Charlie meets new people.

char faces-8

Let me introduce you to puppy Charlie. When I learned he was losing his eyes I thought of the Velveteen Rabbit. In case you don’t the story there is a quote that reminds me of Charlie.

velveteen rabbit

Charlie is very Real and incredibly beautiful. He is resilient and doesn’t easily break. He has taught me much over the years. He sees with his heart and soul. When people meet him they know that he sees them even though he has no eyes. It is a wonderful thing.

It took two different procedures to remove both eyes because there were complications after the first procedure. Charlie was a trooper and in this photo he is on the road to recovery after the surgery. You can tell he was a little wary here as the photo portrays one of Charlie’s more serious moments. This serious pup grew up to be very joyful.

Look at his face – my goodness! He is one of the most expressive dogs I know. Well, he is a beagle and isn’t shy about letting you know what he is feeling! In the photo Charlie is about 10 years old and is sharing his unimaginable joy. I am so thankful for his joy.

One of Charlie’s favorite things to do is the “Snoopy Dance!” Yup – up on his back legs … he stands to dance and he smiles a big goofy smile the entire time … it is a sight to behold when a dog with no eyes is dancing on two feet and laughing at the same time. He knows he will earn some sort of fabulous reward for this trick.

Charlie's official Pets At Duke

Charlie’s head tilt … everyone adores the head tilt. This is Charlie’s camera pose. If you say “Charlie, 1-2-3” he will stop, sit (or lay down) and tilt his head. You need to take the photo on 2, but keep counting to 3. Thank you Kristy for teaching Charlie this trick! Charlie was my active Pet Partner for 8 years and had a lot of photos taken during that time. The camera pose trick served us well. This is Charlie’s official Pets At Duke photo – thank you Diane Lewis Photography for this and many other amazing photos!

Don’t be fooled – the boy can get down and dirty. Somehow I think he is part duck because he almost never is muddy. However, one day he came inside so full of mud. He seemed so proud of himself for being so muddy, that I had to document his muddiness! Notice the ears – they are flipped back. I think the flipped back ears help him cool off, but they can also be a sign of arousal…

How did I ever think that a dog with no eyes would have a face that didn’t have expressions? Between his eyebrows, mouth, and ears there is a ton of information! (the flipped back ear in this case is arousal)

Charlies journey-29

After a hard day’s work even Charlie gets tired and needs to go to bed! This photo is from his early years. You can tell he is younger because his face has ticking showing so he was between 1 and 2 years old.

Thanksgiving Dogs-15

One of Charlie’s favorite things – to sit on my lap and help me work. I find this photo fascinating because it is like Charlie is watching himself on the computer… only how can he? The photo demonstrates why people ask me “are you sure he isn’t faking being blind?” I know, the dog has no eyes, nothing connected to his optic nerve and yet people want to know if he is faking it… I’m tempted to ask them “what color is George Washington’s white horse?” Yes, he is blind … he just doesn’t need his eyes to see.

Charlie may be getting older but he doesn’t let that slow him down. He doesn’t let a little thing like the weather slow him down. If there was a thought bubble over his head it might be something like “what, you think a little snow is going to stop me? I’m blind. I might older, but I can still get around… I like snow. Let me play. Stop taking my picture already!” You need a Jersey or maybe Brooklyn accent in there too. And did you notice… head tilt…. what do you think – does he always tilt his head the same direction?

char faces-5

Happiness!! More of Charlie’s unimaginable joy.
We all need unimaginable joy in our lives.

char faces-6

Charlie is on the beach. His head is lifted into the wind, feeling the breeze and smelling all the things that a beagle can smell.  Sheer bliss… He might not be showing unimaginable  joy in the form of the Snoopy Dance or giving you a goofy grin… but this face, this is his bliss face. He loves the beach. I’m not sure if it is because he likes the water (he does) or if it is because he likes the variety of stinky smells! He loves smelling dead fish, all things about birds, people cooking out. You name it he can identify the smells. He can tell you exactly where it is coming from and more importantly where he might snag a tasty treat! If you happen to go to the beach with Charlie – you had better safeguard your burgers!
char faces-13

Charlie with a chin over Ella … Charlie and Ella are best buds and snuggle together all the time. The fact that they are looking in different directions could be that each dog finds different things distracting. This photo was taken on the main traffic circle at Duke on a Sunday morning. There were several cars that kept driving around the traffic circle watching as I took a series of photos which I found distracting. I can only imagine what the dogs thought! Charlie “watched” the cars go round and round!

char-faces-11

Charlie still has the smile… and unimaginable  joy… and can make you feel special just by being near you. I still get requests for visits with him, but he is retired and has earned the right to be a couch potato, prowl for critters in the back yard, open all the kitchen cabinet doors (and climb inside) and howl at strange sounds.

Charlie’s parting thoughts are for you to find your own unimaginable joy. The list below are some of things that are Charlie’s happiness which is why he wants you to know that you should feel free to add whatever it is that makes you feel unimaginable joy.

charlies-wisdom

Learning to See With The Heart: My TEDx Talk

It was an honor to give a TEDx Talk in Lizard Creek North Carolina. I was thrilled to be part of the day because the theme was “Shaping the Unseen.”  If you aren’t familiar with my dog Charlie, let me introduce you – Charlie is my blind beagle and was my Pet Partner for over 8 years.  Much of the work I do with animals is about shaping and since Charlie is blind all the work we do is “unseen.” I hope you take a few minutes and enjoy the TEDx talk – the video is embedded below.

Learning to See With The Heart:
Brian Tarallo of Lizard Brain Solutions created illustrations for each talk. It was inspiring to watch Brian work as he captured the essence of each talk. I was happy that Brain was able to capture the heart of my talk in such a beautiful and wonderful way. Plus, I think Charlie would love knowing that he is illustrated as a super-cool hero dog that wears ray-bans!

TEDxLC-Tirrell

It was a great honor to be one of the speakers at the Lizard Creek TEDx event. A special thanks goes to Randi and Kathy Dikeman who coordinated the event! There are some great pictures and all the bios of the speakers are listed on the Facebook page for the event.

Charlie’s message:

  • Celebrate who you are
  • Trust and believe in yourself
  • Leave doubt behind
  • Engage others in your dreams
  • When you do these things, you will discover anything is possible.

Again, thank you to all who made the TEDx Lizard Creek event possible!

Cheers!

 

Once a Therapy Dog, Always a Therapy Dog

This post is dedicated to Charlie, my blind beagle, who was my pet partner for about 8 years.

When we arrive at a facility sometimes we don’t know who will benefit most from our visit. It may be a patient, a friend, or it might be a staff member.

Charlie's official Pets At Duke
Charlie’s official Pets At Duke

This post focuses on our hospital  visits. Most of the patients we see are on the hematology/oncology unit. Some patients may have just learned that they have cancer while others may be end-stage cancer patients. When we enter a room there might be just the patient or there could be a room full of people. The patient might have received good or bad news that day. Maybe the patient had some treatments that were particularly hard. Or, maybe she is thinking about her husband and young children and how she may not get to see her kids grow up.  When we enter the room it takes Charlie seconds to know if the patient needs him to snuggle, play, be serious, or be silly. My job is to watch and follow  Charlie’s body language.

Sharing the love

Over the years my pet partners have trained the staff to bring them their favorite treats! Charlie started the tradition when the nurses would open IV bags and he begged. The nurses didn’t understand why he was begging when all they were doing was replacing an IV bag so I explained he probably thought they were unwrapping a cheese stick! Honestly, Charlie’s super power is his nose. He had to know that there was no food involved so he was playing the nurses big time. It didn’t matter to the nurses – they caved and brought him treats! When he did tricks and shared his joy with the nurses during our shift at the end of the day he brought much needed levity to the nurses before they went home to their families.

Sharing conversation and laughs with one of Charlie's favorite nurses (he tells each one  that they are his favorite!).
Sharing conversation with one of Charlie’s favorite nurses (he tells each one that they are his favorite!).
And  sometimes they share a laugh
And sometimes they share a laugh

It is easy for me to forget just how magical Charlie is when he works as a therapy dog. I’m not immune to his wonders and I don’t have a shield up to his magical, mystical powers… it’s just that, he’s my Char-Char who snuggles with me on the sofa at night.

Charlie and Ella snuggling
Charlie and Ella snuggling

In my mind he is like any other dog which is why he is also my Char-Char the dog chases bunnies in the early morning or doesn’t come inside until he is covered in mud!

Charlie at home... BEFORE he gets his bath to go on a visit!
Charlie at home… BEFORE he gets his bath to go on a visit!

There is no doubt that Charlie is a special dog. He gives people hope when they have given up. Charlie inspires people to persevere on their path for healing. Charlie touches a person’s heart in places where others have had a hard time reaching. Everything he does is with love, laughter and joy. He does these things even though his world is a dark place which is why he amazes everyone he meets.

Charlie and daisies - one of my favorite pictures
Charlie and daisies – one of my favorite pictures

I  salute my Char-Char whether he is cheering on a nurse, a patient, a family member or he is creating mischief at home. I know that Charlie has a very special gift. I am thankful every day that he is a part of my life.

The following is a story that shows how deeply therapy dogs touch a person’s life.

Jade and I were at the veterinarian because she needed some routine testing. One of our favorite nurses from the hospital came out of the ICU. It took a second for her to realize Jade was right there in the waiting room. As soon as she realized she was looking at Jade a slow smile formed on her face. Her smile started in heart and went to her eyes. She came over and gave Jade a huge hug. By touching and hugging Jade her mood brightened and her sadness seemed to float away. When she learned that Charlie was in the car she was happy!  Her mood changed from sad to happy in a matter of a couple of minutes by seeing Jade and knowing that Charlie was nearby. At long last she could introduce these very special dogs to her husband for the first time. Both dogs made her feel better on a day when her cat was recovering from a very complex surgical procedure.

Charlie on his way to work
Charlie on his way to work

You see, our dogs aren’t just therapy dogs during visits inside of the hospital, school, prison, or wherever it is that we visit. Once our dogs become a therapy dog, they are always a therapy dog no matter where they are or what they are doing. It doesn’t matter if they are wearing a vest that says “Therapy Dog On Duty” or not… to the person who knows our dog as a therapy dog, our dog is always on duty!

Our dogs gladly do their job of relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, making people smile, and basically just sharing the burden of the day. The list of what these amazing dogs do for people is endless. When I first became a Pet Partner with Charlie I knew that people were inspired by him and remembered him, but I didn’t realize just how much he meant to them and their recovery until we had been visiting for about 3 years. The patient was in a hospital rehab unit for spinal cord injuries.We typically see the patients once since they only are there a few weeks at the most.

Old friends
Old friends

As we entered the patient’s room I didn’t know that Charlie had a fan. We were greeted with a TON of happiness because the patient and their family remembered Charlie. During our visit they shared with me all the joy he brought them before and wanted to know all the things that he had done since they last saw him!

The level of detail that they went into of our visit humbled me. We spent 15 minutes with them years before but the patient and their family remembered everything about our visit. Charlie was a turning point in their care. They could relate to Charlie and the struggles he had overcome in life. After meeting Charlie the patient decided that “if Charlie can do it, I can do it!” Charlie provided hope and the ability for the patient to persevere in their healing. Oh how happy that made me to hear!!

Over the years I’ve met quite a few people where Charlie has had a similar impact on their life by spending just a few minutes with them. Every time I hear a “Charlie Story” I am amazed and humbled by the impact one little dog can have on another person. One woman swears she owes her life to Charlie because he knew there was something wrong with her foot (at the time she didn’t know it, but her foot had gout, turned septic and needed to be amputated shortly after she met Charlie). Another woman adopted a blind dog in Charlie’s honor.  I know there are many other stories and ways that Charlie has touched people’s lives but I don’t usually hear from people after we visit. It is enough for me to know that we make a difference.

Charlie in his retirement
Charlie in his retirement

Note: this post is adapted from a previous post. The posts about Charlie and therapy work were some of the most highly visited posts so I thought I would try get a few of them back up on the blog. As an update, Charlie is retired these days. He is almost 11 years old and has worked most of his life.  He does “visit”with people when we go for walks through Duke Gardens but he no longer goes on official visits.

 

Ella: Learning how to play

Ella - love you girl!
Ella – love you girl!

Ella joined our clan in July and fit in right away. Ella accepted Charlie and his blindness without hesitation. It was apparent that Ella trusted Charlie even when he was socially awkward. Ella grew up in a home that was filled with other Cavaliers so when she met Jade she saw a giant beastie of a dog. It didn’t take long for Jade to ease Ella’s fears about her. Ella soon decided that Jade wasn’t scary at all and that Jade hung the moon!

Teaching Ella the basics
Ella arrived knowing how to walk extremely well on a leash and how to stay, but sit and down were new concepts. If there were thought bubbles over Ella’s head at times I swear they would read “isn’t it enough to be beautiful?” or “you want me to do what?” Ella is one of the sweetest and most loving dogs you will ever meet, but learning new skills takes time and creativity on my part. It has been fun to go back to the basics with Ella.

Ella learning how to "down" by modeling Jade's behavior
Ella learning how to “down” by modeling Jade’s behavior

Do you see how hard Ella concentrates? I haven’t had a dog that thought this hard to get something right in a long time!

It has been fun has been watching Jade teach Ella. Jade is very patient  with Ella especially during training moments. If you’ve ever met Jade you know that patience doesn’t come naturally to her!  Words like “overly enthusiastic” or “extremely joyful” or even  “baby Godzilla” have been used to describe Jade. Patient … nope… not a word that typically fits her profile.  So, why do you think she is being patient with Ella?

Jade is teaching Ella and is self-handicapping. Jade can be very sweet and loving when she knows that a person, or a dog, is in need. Jade is patient with Ella because somehow she knows that Ella needs help learning basic cues like sit, down, and leave it. It is cool to watch her teach Ella.

Play is an important part of learning
One of the many wonderful things about dogs is they use play to teach and learn. When Ella met  Jade and Charlie she was shy around both of them.  She became friends with Charlie first and loves to snuggle with him.  It took a little longer before she was completely comfortable around Jade and even longer until she was willing to play with Jade.  These are appropriate activities with each dog because Jade loves to play and Charlie loves to snuggle.

Ella and Charlie - sweet pups
Ella snuggling with Charlie – sweet pups

It took about about three months of Ella living with us for the next story to happen.  Every dog, every home will be different – the key is to be patient and let your new dog find their own comfort zone so that they can find their joy.

Jade selected the smallest fleece rope toy that she had and took it to the overstuffed chair in our living room so she could let the rope dangle from her mouth over the edge of the chair. Jade looked at Ella to make sure that Ella was watching her.  Jade got up and very slowly paced around the living room – back and forth – right by Ella… each time Jade passed Ella she got closer. Sometimes Jade would let the rope gently touch Ella but she didn’t let Ella take the rope. Every now and then Jade returned to the chair and waited a few seconds before resuming her walk around the room.

Each time resumed her walk she increased her speed. Eventually Jade started tossing the rope up in the air and catching it… Ella got interested in chasing Jade when the rope was being tossed! Ella didn’t try to take the rope, she just chased Jade. The game continued for a while like this… Jade pacing, swinging the rope and/or tossing it up and catching it with Ella chasing Jade.  Don’t blink… Jade let Ella catch the rope! Within a few minutes Jade had Ella tugging on the rope and even had Ella grabbing the rope right up by Jade’s mouth to tug.  And I mean tug hard!  Ella was tugging!!

Ella and Jade tugging
Ella and Jade tugging

I was so happy to see this – why? Because this was the same girl that thought Jade was scary. Jade was patient and knew what was needed to let Ella be her friend. Jade taught Ella how to play with her. Jade self-handicapped so that Ella could learn that she was safe, that she was a friend who could be trusted. We all need friends like Jade in the world.

Ella, Charlie and Jade playing
Ella, and Jade playing. Charlie comes to see what they are doing and maybe join in the fun!

Jade and Ella continue to play and have increased their games to include other toys. To let you know how comfortable Ella is in our home, Ella has even stalked Jade! Jade seems to like being stalked by Ella because she takes her paw and just puts it on Ella like “you’ve got to be kidding.” That is when Ella takes the toy and runs! Ella has a few places she can hide out, but Jade knows where to find her. It has become their game. It is good. It means Ella feels safe.

Since this post is about play I want to share one more thing. Ella has been “retrieving” with Jade when Jade practices for her competitions or just for fun. Ella has only been willing to tag the ball or dummy. She does run with Jade to get the ball or dummy and to bring it back – she has not brought the item back. The other day she picked up the ball! I was so excited!

Ella retrieving and holding a ball for the first time. This is a stress ball - she doesn't look stressed here!
Ella retrieving and holding a ball for the first time. This is a stress ball – she doesn’t look stressed here!

It is important to share the joy in play because if nothing else, play should be fun!

So… How do your dogs play together? How do you play with your dogs?

For more information on the importance of play:
Jaak Panksepp: “Affective Continuity? From SEEKING to PLAY — Science, Therapeutics and Beyond” p.1

The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier

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.