Blind Love

Blind Love, by Debby Kay © 2015 all rights reserved

You have heard the cliché “all good things come in small packages” many times, I am sure. I can think of no better way to describe how I feel about my little Chihuahua, Boo. He is full of happiness, joy, and a zest for life that is very uplifting, no matter how troubled I might be. He makes me smile and snuggles with such passion you can feel the love coming through the warmth of his fur.

One of Boo’s favorite games to play in the house is what we call the dragon game. He has a special dragon toy he adores. I will snatch it up and fly the dragon around his head making silly sounds as he jumps at it. When he finally catches the mighty dragon, I let go and he races off, making sweeping circles around the furniture, with a final leap up to his favorite chair. Once in the chair he “tames” the dragon by chewing on his nose.

As we were playing one evening with the lights a little dimmer than usual, he missed the chair when he tried to jump. He did not try again and stopped playing abruptly. In fact, it was several days before he would play again. I noticed also that night when I took him out for his last walk that he waited at the door until I went out first and tripped the motion sensor light on our porch. Over the next week my husband Sam and I noticed more and more things that made us think our sweet little dog was not seeing well. I scheduled an appointment with the veterinarian. After a careful examination along with a lengthy technical explanation, the vet determined that Boo was going blind. I had hoped it would be a diagnosis of something simple like cataracts, which can be operated on. No, this was a more elaborate disorder and unfortunately there is nothing to do to stop the progressive decrease in his vision. We were told he would have greater difficulty in low lights and at nighttime. There was no way to determine how much longer he would have nominal vision. The vet also told us he was a much older dog than the 2 years old the shelter said he was. Based on the changes in the eyes the vet said he was more likely to be 7 or 8 years old. Boo acted embarrassed at the vets office, almost as if he was afraid I was going to abandon him. I hugged him tightly and whispered, ” I will always love you no matter what.”

close up of dog'e eyes

Boo will most likely go completely blind in a few years.

Knowing the status of his eyesight has made me realize why all the remodeling being done in our house has him so upset. Things are constantly being shifted from one place to another as contractors finish up one part and move on to another. One of the first things I will make sure happens when the last contractor leaves, is once the furniture is placed, it will not be moved. It is very important to a dog with limited vision or no vision that objects remain in the same place as he learns the patterns of where everything is so he can function close to normal.

In the meantime, while we cope with the constant ebb and flow of contractors, I have done a little research to see what supplements I can get in his diet to help his eyes. From an article by Dr. Karen Yale, I found these five supplements to add to Boo’s new diet plan.

  1. Bilberry was used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots during WWII so they could see better on their nighttime bombing runs. Because it boosts night vision, provides quicker adjustment to darkness, and allows faster recovery from glare, it’s no surprise that it’s a popular nutrient today for anyone who needs to see better, especially at night.
  2. Lutein is a nutrient found mainly in green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli. It’s a unique antioxidant that safeguards your eyes’ retinal cells from damaging high-energy blue light and free radicals. It’s like a pair of sunglasses that filter out bright light. Lutein’s been clinically proven to protect your vision by increasing the density of your macula by as much as 50 percent.
  3. Vitamin A is considered to be vital for ongoing vision health. It improves weak eyesight by influencing the formation of rhodopsin, a pigmented compound in the rods of the retina. Vitamin A helps you see better in dim light and maintain the integrity of membranes that keep the cornea moistened.
  4. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is often called the “universal antioxidant.” Soluble in both water and fat, ALA helps neutralize a wide array of cell-damaging free radicals in your eyes.
  5. Taurine nourishes and protects the lens and retina. Stress and vitamin deficiencies can reduce taurine levels.

I still take Boo with me as I do farm chores. He seems to relish his role of keeping birds out of the garden, and will lie soaking in the sun for hours while I weed. I have never had a dog go blind on me before, so this will be a learning experience for both of us. We are ready, though, for whatever the future holds.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

William Shakespeare

small dog sleeping with a toy dragon

Once conquered the Dragon makes a nice nose warmer

 

 

 

Stress

By Debby Kay © all rights reserved

The past few weeks has been a whirlwind of activity at our house and has produced some excellent situations for the diabetes alert dogs in training (DADsit) We don’t often think of training under stressful conditions, but life can be stressful and the DADsit need to learn their job doesn’t stop when the stress levels rise.

We are remodeling our living space with many upgrades and the addition of three bedrooms so there are contractors of every type with equipment of every description throughout our normally peaceful home. The noise, hustle, and disruption of the daily routine are all helpful in teaching the young dogs how to work through such stresses.

Whenever I am working a young dog under these conditions I always start with an exercise they enjoy and do well. My goal is to get them comfortable and into a nice training rhythm before I teach something new or more complex. In other words I set the dogs up for success so they can come away from the session feeling positive. If I don’t see them settle down and relax I don’t push the issue either. I will take them away and try again in 10 or 20 minutes.

Another type of stressful situation you might consider training for is around ambulances. We recently had an ambulance and crew at the house during filming for my new online training course. The sounds, lights, and smells associated with the scene are unlike anything else and a good training experience for a DADit.

During all the commotion at the house, I had an experience that reminded me especially to always be aware of our dog’s feelings and emotions. My rescued Chihuahua Boo was particularly affected on the main day we were packing boxes of things for safekeeping and old furniture was being hauled away. At first, he was out and about watching what was going on, but I realized at one point he had disappeared. I went looking for him and found him crying under a chair in another room. He was trembling and obviously very upset. As I held him and tried to comfort him, it occurred to me his adoption papers said his previous family was moving when they dropped him off at the shelter.

Chihuahua in a moving box

“Maybe if I get in a box they will take me too”

How do you explain to a scared little dog who was just getting settled in at his new home that all this packing and moving doesn’t mean we are going to dump him at the shelter? I’m still not sure he understands. I have tried to explain and reassure him we would never get rid of him and can only hope he somehow understands.

It is important especially with rescue dogs or very sensitive dogs to look for those clues that they are not coping well with the stress around them. In Boo’s case he was clearly crying, but other dogs might not offer as plain a clue to their feelings.

Here are a few additional subtle signs of stress to look for in your dog:

  • Constant nervous licking of themselves especially their paws or feet
  • Ears pulled back against the head
  • Frequent urination
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Panting and pacing

These are just a few things that may be a clue your dog is overstressed. So what can you do to help them?

My favorite thing is to go for a walk. The best time to do this is early in the morning when the sun is bright. Stress affects the adrenal glands, which produce higher levels of cortisol, and this is one known tip to help bring the adrenals back to a normal cycle. Since muscles tend to tense during stress I also like using massage. It’s nice if you can take you dog to a massage therapist but if not, you can just use long, purposeful strokes all over your dog’s body. It will do wonders to reduce stress. My dogs love to have their ears gently massaged as well.

At the end of the day, after his massage, Boo was snuggled under the blanket with me, sleeping soundly. The memories of his Gethsemane began fading as his breathing got slower and deeper. I am hoping somehow he understood everything I told him, especially the part about being my best little service dog in training.

Chihuahua under a blanket

Soft pillow, warm covers, Life is Good!

 

 

Size Doesn’t Matter

By Debby Kay © January 2015 all rights reserved 

When I was growing up my father kept a kennel of hounds, so all the dogs I knew where his dogs. I asked for my own and finally when I was six he got me my first dog very own dog, a female tri colored Chihuahua that I named Candy. Over my years in dogs I have had a total of 19 Chihuahuas and have really come to enjoy the breed. I mentioned to my husband Sam I would love to have another one that I can also use to demonstrate my training methods at my workshops, but it would have to a very special dog if he/she was to represent what a small service dog can be like.

Several months ago a russet colored Chihuahua at a Dog Days street festival stole my heart. He was wearing a tiny scarf that said, “Adopt Me”. I watched him for quite some time as dozens of dogs of every breed and size imaginable went by. He stood quietly unless one of them stopped to sniff and then he would sniff them back, wagging his tail the whole time. The shelter volunteer that was holding his leash had no awareness of what the dog was doing. At one point two people each walking well-muscled pit bull terriers stopped to chat with the girl holding the Chihuahua. Since the people were engaged in conversation they failed to see the challenging stare that the two pits were giving each other. The tiny Chihuahua offered some calming signals to the two larger dogs but neither were paying any attention to him and in an instant the Pits were lunging and snarling at each other over the top of the Chihuahua. Quickly the Chihuahua backed off a safe distance and watched quietly as the two dogs tried to rip each other apart. When the whole mess was finally stopped and the aggressive dogs left, the little dog just looked after the retreating dogs with a look of amusement. I smiled and walked over to the Shelter table and asked if I could adopt the little dog whose name I learned was Boo.

head study of red colored chihuahua

Boo the Chihuahua making himself at home.

Boo acts like he has lived in our house all his life. The integration has been seamless. You would think a Chihuahua in a house with 15 Labrador Retrievers would be hiding all the time but nothing could be further from reality. Boo walks with the Labs and hunts birds with them and will retrieve anything that he can carry or drag just like the Labs. He realizes he is small and will stay out of the way when the Labs get crazy and start jumping around a lot but otherwise they treat him with the same respect they give any other adult dog; size doesn’t matter.

I am in the process now of training Boo to be the demo dog for the medical detection workshops I teach. I want people to know not all service dogs have to be medium to large size dogs like Labradors. Small dogs have a definite place in the world of service dogs. They still have very good noses and can alert on scent changes in a human, they are capable of activating an alarm, and can very well get someone to help if needed. For many people who live in apartments with limited space the small dog is the perfect answer. The best part about the smaller dogs is they fit into places the larger dogs do not such as on public transportation. The down side though is many of them are not as willing to work as some of the larger typical service breeds are, so finding a really good one can be a long and arduous search. I got very lucky when I found Boo. He is smart, willing, and just slightly larger than most Chihuahuas, weighing in at 8.1 pounds, which is about as small as you would want for a detector dog.

Some other considerations when looking at size for your potential detector dog is their face structure. Be aware that dogs with too short a muzzle could possibly have breathing problems, which would interfere with the detector work. Boo had a nice length muzzle for his size, which helps him with his scent work. Many little dogs I had been looking at only wanted to sleep and had no interest in work, so it was refreshing to see Boo with his eager to please attitude and insatiable appetite for tasty treats. Both of these qualities help a dog learn the scent lessons they will need so they are high on my list when screening potential dogs. As with the larger breeds, the smaller breeds have their own list of potentially serious genetic problems such as patella and teeth issues to name a few, so it is important to learn what these are for the small breed you are considering. Boo checked out clean on all these points as well.

The obedience training part of the service dog work with a small dog is the same as with any other dog. I do not make any excuses for a dog to not learn obedience just because they are small. There is no need to carry a small dog everywhere, they are capable of walking and in my opinion they seem to prefer it. If I do a lot walking, Boo does get tired as he is working twice as hard or more to keep up with my stride, so I make sure he has sufficient rest time to recover and have also taken care to build up his stamina. When I first got Boo I enrolled him immediately into a Manners Class at the local obedience school where he graduated 8 weeks later with his AKC Canine Good Citizen award.

Author with her Chihuahua

Boo at his graduation from Manners Class.

The greatest challenge in training the small dog as an alert dog has been with the alert itself. It is easy to teach the sit and paw when a person is in the house, or at a desk such as in an office. What is more difficult is to teach the alert when you are out walking. To overcome this obstacle, I am working with Boo to have him grab a tab and tug on it. I have tried several different ways of doing this and may have hit on the right design when it occurred to me that something on his leash would make the most sense. I’m working with my service dog leash maker now to get that set up and can’t wait to share the photos with everyone when we get the final design worked out. I mention all this to point out that while training a small dog is a challenge and there are limitations to what they can do, there is no reason you can’t train your little guy to help out and experience the success I am finding as I move along the program with Boo.