Charity for a friend

Hey, all! A mid-week post for mercy: a friend of my sister’s has an adorable puppy named Cora. In one of those awful things that sometimes happens, Cora had a car door slammed on her. She now is struggling with neurological surgeries which, I’m sure you can imagine, are expensive. My sister’s friend is asking for help signal boosting: if you have a couple of bucks to pitch in to get a puppy on her feet, the help would be welcome. If you don’t, thoughts or prayers are appreciated, too!

Cora’s Story

How could you resist this face?



Videos of my dogs!

I found these while clearing off my youtube account. There isn’t much on there, and even less dog stuff, but I thought these were fun!

This first one is my dog, Sam. (I’ve spoken of Sam before!) He was the first human-aggressive dog I retrained, and he eventually came to live with me. Years spent in a 10×20 run had damaged his spine; when he started having a hard time walking, his owners agreed that I should take him to sunny SoCal (from Toronto). About six months later he was really struggling with walking, so the neighbor girl donated her bike and my landlord donated his welding abilities, and we got a doggie wheelchair put together!

This was filmed late summer 2006.

Here is the same dog, Sam, squeaking. Though I never told him he couldn’t bark when I brought him home, so many rules changed for him that he simply didn’t bark, trying to be on his best behavior. When he saw my sister’s little dogs give their high-pitched barks and get treats for it, he decided that was the thing to do! The picture quality here is very poor, but you’ll get the idea of the sound. Hilarious!

And finally, this is Cash at about a year old, playing in the same yard that I played in as a kid! My parents were petsitting for me while I was at a movie, I believe (from listening to the narration). That’s mostly my dad and younger sister talking. I can’t decide if it’s funnier to watch Cash, or funnier that my dad videoed for almost 5 minutes!

The passing on of the wheelchair

Have I mentioned my wheelchair dog, Sam?

Sam is who got me into dog training. I met Sam when he was about 4 years old, and aggressive. Normally there are types of aggression; dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs specifically, or humans specifically, or are very prey-driven. Sam was all of the above. He was a 125 pounds of muscle and fur, and he attacked people.

I ended up taking him on because I was fearless, needed the money, and no one else would. (That is probably my biggest weakness! “No one else will help you? I WILL!”) Dog trainers often don’t work with human aggression because it’s very difficult to turn a dog around (for many reasons), and because it’s such a high liability. I got bit two years ago, for instance, and was stuck with thousands of dollars of hospital costs (thank goodness for health insurance; the bills racked up to over $24,000 eventually, most of which was covered) and almost two months off work, with no sick days or paid leave! When I’m off work, I don’t make money.

Something like this can destroy a dog training business, if you don’t have the cushion to ride through it. I did, along with parents who were willing to fly up and help out, but I can understand why most dog trainers don’t want to take the risk!

That said, I was willing. I re-trained Sam, fell in love with him, and when he started to go crippled four years later I took him home to southern California. (Don’t panic; I do live in the NorCal Bay Area now! I didn’t then, though.)

Sam did really well for the first six months. I found some alternative treatments that helped, including a dog chiropractor, we were able to get his back feet (which he’d been dragging until they were bloody) to stop bleeding through the use of dog boots, and strengthened the muscles in his back, hips, and legs so he could walk better. Then he took a downturn, and I was afraid that I’d have to put him down.

Enter my then-landlord, who welded as a hobby, and my neighbor’s daughter, who had outgrown her child’s bike. She donated her bike, he took it apart and put it back together, and with a lot of ingenuity we soon had a perfectly-balanced dog wheelchair. I taught Sam to walk in it, and like he had done with so many things, he took to it right away with all the trust and confidence I’d come to expect from him. (To the left: Sam, a few days after getting his wheelchair, with all four feet square on the ground –at this point he could use them as long as they weren’t bearing weight — and the tires still pink. We had yet to add the padding across his shoulders and did so soon, but the pressure wasn’t great so it was worth letting him run around even without it!)







(This is Sam, the day before I put him down. You can see from the sway in his back and how low his hips sit in the sling that his spinal control is going; before that, his spine was flat and his hips tucked down. There’s me in 2006, and Lily, whom I’d just adopted. She was my neighbor’s dog, and I had no intentino of keeping her — I was going to re-train her and send her home — but Sam LOVED her, and the neighbors didn’t really want her back after everything she’d destroyed, so she came to live with me full time and has been a big help!)



Sam lived just another six months before the paralysis started creeping up his spine, affecting his bladder and bowel control, and then soon his shoulders, too. I brought him home about two days before Christmas, and had him put down almost exactly a year later, on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve kept his wheelchair. I told myself I should post an ad on Craigslist, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was holding it for someone who needed a wheelchair but didn’t have the money to buy one (large wheelchairs are expensive), someone I could meet. Over the years I’ve offered it to people, or had people ask if they could use it, only for things to fall through. I kept it, and waited.

A few weeks ago a friend from SoCal contacted me and said that her friend had a German shepherd who has the same degenerative problem Sam had, and could she put us in contact in case I knew anything that would help? I said, Certainly!

Dawn contacted me right after. I didn’t have any information she didn’t already know — in fact, in the six years since everything happened with Sam, medicine has come farther and she had far more knowledge than I had — but I offered her Sam’s wheelchair. The timing was perfect; I was headed down to visit my family, and could bring it with me.

I met Sheba on a sunny Friday afternoon. She’s a beautiful long haired shepherd with big, rounded ears and a slender nose. She’s smaller than Sam, 80 pounds to his 115 (he’d lost weight by the time we got him in the wheelchair), and she has a hitch in her step where her left hind just doesn’t quite respond well anymore. We put her in Sam’s wheelchair, made some hip slings for her that fit her better than Sam’s would, and started making adjustments.

The chair was built specifically for Sam and was too big for Sheba, but she was a trooper. Very patient as we fussed and adjusted, making it work as well as possible. She has less control in one hind leg than the other, whereas Sam was evenly losing control, which gives her a limp. Her compensation pulls her to the right as she walks, so that overall she remains in a straight line — except when the wheelchair removes her limp, suddenly she veers right! Luckily the chair has bars that a human can grab to help keep it straight, and hopefully Sheba will figure it out. (She might not be able to, but that’s okay. Dawn and I figured it was possible to hook a carbiner on a bar and just attach it to Dawn’s belt, which would counter that right-leaning tendency with a human body!)

It pulls a little on Sheba in ways it didn’t on Sam, because she’s smaller, but I think we figured that out for the most part, too. Dawn will have to keep an eye on things, and Sheba will need to practice, but it should work. Sheba didn’t balk at having a wheelchair on, or at pulling it around or having us tug on her. Dawn agreed that when she’s done with it, she’ll pass it on as well. I gave her Sam’s boots (specially made from real shoe soles so that they don’t wear through right away) as well, and his hip slings. It leaves me with nothing from him anymore, except his old collar with his dog tag (“Yosemite Sam,” which I put down on a lark and always enjoyed), on top of the box with his ashes and a paw print from the vet.

It was hard to give it away, but I knew it would be. It helped to know that it was going to help another dog. I hope it does help; it was big for Sheba, and didn’t fit perfectly, but I hope that it does some good. Sheba is in good hands with Dawn, and I can let go knowing that Sam’s wheelchair is doing what it was meant to do, and Sam’s memory lives on with me.

Seeing Eye Person: Final update!

I’ve talked before about Toby and Chaplin, the two English setters, and Toby who’s blind. Recently, we began to suspect that Toby is going deaf as well. I started using a leash cue (waggling it back and forth) as I say “step” to let him know that he needs to slow and look around for a step up and down, in the hopes that by the time he goes totally deaf and can’t hear me say “step” anymore, he’ll have recognized that waggle.

Chaplin and Toby are two of my model students, and though it pains me to say it, they don’t need me anymore! I contacted their owners and told them that Chaplin’s dog aggression is gone, neither are bolting from the car when they get out or bouncing around the inside when we drive (a serious driving risk; now Chaplin watches calmly out the window and Toby lays down for a nap!), they aren’t pulling on their leashes or peeing on things, Chaplin sits automatically when we stop and Toby sits when I cue him. They are model citizens! I suggested they switch to a dog walker, Bill Brobst of Go Lucky Paws, so we all got together and went over the last rules and tips and I introduced Bill to Chaplin and Toby.

That was last week; yesterday Bill and I got together for one final check in, and the boys are all doing great together! Bill has stuck to the rules I laid out (I knew he would; one of the reasons he’s my go-to guy!), the dogs are listening, and everything is great. I’ll miss my boys, but I know they’re in good hands!


Seeing Eye Person: Update!

A while back I wrote about playing seeing eye dog for a… well, a dog. Toby isn’t thrilled with the idea of learning new tricks at his age; he keeps trying to convince me he’s far older than ten! But despite his disinclination, he’s learning.

One thing that’s helped in working with a blind dog is wearing bells on my hip. I took several bells and tied them to a carabiner, and whenever I go to work with him I clip them onto my belt loop. It lets him know where I’m at, when I’ve stopped, and if he’s about to run into me! I didn’t realize how much it was helping until I forgot it one day, and he was all over the place.

He’s also figured out how snug his collar should be, rather than simply pulling on me all the time. He now walks so that it’s loose but still snug enough that he can tell my direction, should I change direction. He’s figured out that when it pulls to one side or the other he should walk in that direction, and when it stops and pulls up he should stop and sit down.

Best of all, he’s learned two really helpful commands: “step and “get in the car.” He knows that if I say “step” the next step will be either up or down, and he’s learning to take his time about figure out which it is! If I say, “Let’s get in the car,” he’ll go where I lead him (toward the car), then check it out with his head until he knows just how high it is. He’s hesitant about jumping in (I would be too!), but he’ll put his front feet up so I can lift the back end easier.

Yesterday we went on a walk that included a LONG flight of stairs. There must have been fifty of them! For the first third, when he realized it was a flight, he tried to charge down. For the last two thirds, he stopped and listened to me every step of the way, taking one at a time and waiting for my cue. It was fabulous!

In short, being a seeing eye human isn’t half bad, and Toby’s doing fantastic. Hooray for collars, leashes, and bells!


Playing seeing eye dog for a springer spaniel

I’m working with a dog right now who’s ten years old, and blind. Now, the only thing I need to do with this dog is leash training, which is nice. He’s a English setter, and boy can he pull! Being blind hasn’t deterred him from lunging to the end of his leash and heaving on whoever is holding it!

My job is to help him learn to walk nicely on his leash. Now, I don’t want to use anything that will deter him from walking in general; he’s already being quite courageous by wanting to go out, still, and I don’t want to lessen that. So no slip chains or prong collars to stop him lunging, despite the fact that he’s nearly pulled me off my feet — no mean feat (pun intended!)!

I also need to find a way to tell him where to be, even though he can’t see me. In this case, whether he walks ahead or beside/behind doesn’t matter so much for psychological reasons, as it matters for safety reasons: I can’t guide him around objects if he’s ahead of me!

To solve the problem of letting him know where I am, I’ve taken to wearing bells on my hip. I’ve only worked with this dog for two days, so time will tell if it works, but the theory behind it is that he’ll hear when I’m walking, when I’m stopping, where I am, and how fast I’m going. (I can tell the same thing by the sound of a dog’s tags when it’s coming up behind me; he can certainly learn it, too!)

I’ve also started keeping his leash snug. Normally the goal with a dog is to walk with a very loose leash, but in this case if I keep a small amount of pressure on the collar, then he knows where I am. If the pressure increases either forward or back, he knows he’s gone out of line. This also means I can guide him with his collar to either side, if I need him to dodge something.

To get some control without stressing him out, I got myself a martingale collar. To him, it’ll feel like his normal flat collar (the collar you put a dog’s ID tags on), but I can bring it up behind his ears, keep it snug enough to A) keep it there and B) let him know where I’m at, and then I can control his head instead of trying to control his very powerful shoulders.

The first day I took him out, I had neither bells nor martingale. The second day it was like a changed dog! I’m hoping things will continue to improve.

There are some other notes to working with a blind dog (and in many respects, any dog with a disability). The first one is – DO NOT PITY THEM! They don’t pity themselves, and you’ll only convince them there’s something wrong with them, when they would normally accept life as it is. Sometimes dogs do get quite anxious as their bodies stop working the way they used to, but pitying them will only make that anxiety worse. Think about being a cheerleader instead: be proud of them for their accomplishments, and praise them enthusiastically while supporting and helping where you need to.

The second note is – they will probably need more support and help than another dog! While we were walking with the blind dog, my assistant trainer, Quin, noted that I was much more careful with him than with a seeing dog. It’s true: if a seeing dog falls behind and whumps my leg, I’m probably going to give them a sharp tug to knock it off. But the blind dog couldn’t see what he was doing, so instead I guided him back where he belonged and praised him for it. Quin also noticed that I was “almost protective,” and that, also, is true! It’s my job, if I’m putting him in danger, to keep him safe. That means also keeping him safe from excess anxiety: I need to steer him around bushes, overhanging plants, posts, curbs, puddles, the edge of the sidewalk where it turns into dirt, and so on. Try closing your eyes and having someone lead you — every new thing is startling.

The third note is – there are a lot more commands you can use! His owners told me they’d taught him “curb” at one point, though he’d forgotten it. We’ve gone back to it and he’s already remembering what it means. I also use it going up and down steps, with one “curb” for each step. I also considered using “Feet” to let him know when the ground was about to change and that it was a safe change, as in when he walks over a pile of leaves. I may yet; I’m debating between a command that will help him, versus people forgetting to use it or not noticing and the ground change startling him when the command isn’t used.

Blind dogs, or dogs with disabilities, are also more likely to rush things. Humans freeze up, but often a dog will rush through. The blind dog, for instance, charges down the stairs from the house. In part he does it because he’s eager to go on his walk, but when I was able to slow him down and get him thinking, I noticed that he also has some anxiety around those stairs — he’s getting them over and done with as quickly as possible! As we slowed down, he started to hear my “curb” command, and he slowed down even more and started to relax. I, of course, praised and praised and praised!

A dog with a disability isn’t always a sad thing. My dog, Sam, ended up in a wheelchair for the last year of his life — and it was the happiest year, too! He was a big, intimidating looking dog. When I put him in a wheelchair, people went from avoiding him to cooing over him, and he LOVED it. He would strut quite proudly whenever I put it on, knowing he was about to get the attention he deserved!

Dogs with disabilities need some extra help and new ways of thinking, and it often takes them longer to learn since they’re having to think about so many other things (imagine Anne Frank), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. Take some precautions, learn some new tricks, have patience, and things can be good!

As for the blind dog, I’ll let you know how the bells are working in a few weeks!