What the better help for dogs is

This is one of videos by Rolling Dog Farm which rescues and shelters disabled dogs and horses. We can learn about what the better help for dogs is from this video.

Blind dog Widget has trouble getting down from a chair. She wants to get down but her muzzle can’t reach ground surface, and she can’t know how high from the ground she is. It confuses her. What would you do if you were her owner?

Her guardian Steve chooses to encourage her. It’s really great choice!

Her body size can be picked up and carried easily. Everyone would like to rescue her because she is blind and in trouble. But Steve didn’t help Widget directly but gave her enough time to think and decide by herself, led her to take courage by encouraging her. As a result, she could overcome a difficulty for herself and this experience gives different benefits to her.

By this experience, she was able to understand the height of the chair and memorize it, and then she would get on and off it for herself. The experience of achieving her aim by her choice and courage helps to develop her self-confidence. And she would get to think that she is safe whenever Steve encourages her and be able to act with courage also in another difficult situation for her.

The two requirements for good help for dogs
  1. It is aimed that the dog can do by herself as much as possible
  2. It is an appropriate and minimum way at the time and in the situation

Of course, you should help your dog anytime she wants your help and asks you. But I want you to consider whether your help is “good help” and reduce it gradually. I recommend you to give your blind dog the opportunities to solve a problem by herself when you make sure that the situation in which she is and her challenging are safe. The experiences to overcome anxiety and achieve an aim lead to develop your dog’s self-confidence and self-control, and increase what she can do.

I introduce another great example.

My friend Tara told to me that her beautiful black Standard Poodle Zorro seemed to have trouble seeing and had gotten less able to go down stairs, and showed me his video.

Zorro turns to Tara anxiously more than once. He wants her to help him, and Tara helps him go down stairs with holding his harness. Zorro goes down automatically after few steps with Tara’s help.

From the look of Zorro’s behaviors in this video, I evaluated that Zorro can detect where the stairs starts, remember the shape of the stairs clearly but feels fear for only the first several steps and he will go down the stairs for himself in safety.

I encouraged that Tara doesn’t give Zorro a hand to step forward but walks down several steps first, encourages him calmly, waits for taking the fist step on his own, and praises or gives a reward for it.

Tara accepted my suggestion and tried it quickly. But in new way I suggested, Zorro left the stairs and walked away when Tara walked down a few steps first and turned to him. So Tara came up with the idea that she tries to change the her standing position from her training experiences with Zorro and solved the problem! Watch this video!

Wonderful! This is the consequence of Zorro’s courage and trust in Tara, and Tara’s idea and kindness. They are great team! wow! Great job, Tara and Zorro!

At first, Zorro was suspected of PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) by their vet and Tara was very worried. But their ophthalmologist vet diagnosed that Zorro hasn’t had PRA by his eye check-up. Just his iris muscles might not have worked rightly but his eyes are fine!!! I’m so glad to hear that.

It’s up to you to increase what your dog can do

I want you to remember this: From the feeling to feel pity for your blind dog, you might unwittingly expand a helping hand to your dog too much, and it would prevent her from fulfilling her potential, and erase the opportunities to develop her self-confidence and self-control and increase what she can do.

Thank you Tara McLaughlin, CPDT-KA, CDBC (GoodDog! Training) and Zorro for your videos! I appreciate your corporation.

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2 Responses to What the better help for dogs is

  1. EileenAnddogs August 27, 2012 at 02:26 #

    What wonderful folks you are to work with animals with disabilities. You asked what I would do if I were Widget’s owner. I would train, via positive reinforcement, a cue that meant, “It is safe for you to jump/go there.” I would train it very strongly so that she could trust when I gave that cue it was safe. I would give the cue when she was unable to detect via her own senses whether a situation was safe or not. I would not push her verbally with human talk and remarks meant to cheerlead. I absolutely agree that it is possible to foster dependence by doing too much for the dog. But it seems to me in this situation the owner is not fostering independence. He is applying pressure when she is already stressed. Apparently she forgot the layout after she got on the chair. How does pressuring her to jump down on the word of a human address that problem? If she understood what the guy was telling her and had a given cue for that, it would be different. But the fact that it takes her so long, and that she whimpers repeatedly, indicates pretty strongly to me that what he is saying is not something she understands exactly the meaning of. This method does not teach her a way to figure out the situation on her own, and I think that’s what the goal is. If her problem is that she lacks confidence to explore situations, I would use positive reinforcement to shape exploratory behaviors. Sticking her foot down, etc. I mean no disrespect and Widget is clearly a loved and exceptionally well cared for dog with a great situation.

    • Miki Saito, CPDT-KA August 27, 2012 at 15:38 #

      Hi Eileen,
      Thank you for reading our post and sharing your opinion!

      I agree to use the same word to let her know that she is safe and teach it as a cue by using positive reinforcement method. It will be a big help for a blind dog. Actually, I wrote about it on my handout “How to a “Notice Cue” to your dog” and teach it to my clients (blind dog owners) in my lessons.

      But I think it’s one of options to help a blind dog because the better help differs depending on each dog, each handler (owner), each relationship between them, each background, each situation and so on.

      It’s important to consider a dog’s benefit from various angle but not only emotion whenever we help and train her. It will help us make a better choice for dogs 🙂

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