Barney is a beautiful senior toy poodle. Originally named “Browny,” he was surrendered by his owner to a shelter in December 2015. Shelter records reported that he was healthy, other than blindness. Barney waited there for almost 2 years (!) when it was decided that he might be better off in a dog rescue, and his care was transferred. The rescue vet diagnosed him also with uveitis (an inflammatory eye condition) and prescribed steroid eye drops.
He was re-named “Barney” by the rescue. Barney barked and soiled his way out of 2 foster homes over a 6 week period, and was put on anti-anxiety medication. The medication did not reduce the severity of his barking, nor did it improve his behaviour. He was then transferred to a second dog rescue, Moosonee Puppy Rescue. This very special rescue, with deep understanding and care of troubled dogs, took him off the anxiety medication. They saw his courage, persistence and loving nature, describing him as a “rare little dog.”
We adopted Barney on October 19, 2017. He was our first dog…the adventure began….
Barney was extremely reactive, impulsive and hyper. He barked at absolutely everything and everyone. For a 7 lb. dog, he had a very loud and persistent bark! Constantly! With the might of a sled dog, he dragged us around on the leash. We walked and ran him 90 minutes or more a day to tire him out…but he could have kept going! The extra exercise did nothing to reduce his constant barking. He was impulsive and would crash into things, not entirely because he was blind but because he couldn’t slow himself down enough to be careful. He jumped on his hind legs repeatedly as only a little poodle can! Barney knew the words “sit,” “run” and “treat.” Curiously, he did not know the word “walk.” He had many fears. He was afraid of the basement, bathrooms, being in any room with a closed door, the sound of wind chimes, other dogs, sudden movements or unexpected sounds. He communicated his anxiety and fear by barking. And barking some more!
At first, Barney barely ate anything. He had reflux (regurgitation) and a swallowing problem, where he would choke and sputter on water and food all the time. His skin was very itchy. There was some asymmetry in his hindquarters and he often sat with his left hind leg sticking out. Despite this, he walked and hopped often on his hind legs when excited. Through careful observation, we learned that he was not completely blind (if defined as being in total darkness), but he definitely lacked functional vision. He mapped out our house in his mind in only a few days. After that, he only bumped into things if they were accidentally left in his way (e.g., laundry basket, kids’ toys). We had to really be mindful of where we put things. Barney followed me around absolutely everywhere. For the first couple of months, we made sure he was supervised 24/7.
Addressing physical issues:
One of the first things we worked on was his eating. He was very cautious of any food that was of a crunchy texture, especially of kibble. He would sit in front of the bowl and bat at it with his paw, sniff it, then back away. Then try again. It was as if he was afraid of eating it. I wondered if he had made a negative association with a bowl of kibble being placed in front of him and then the shelter worker leaving (to feed the next dog). I could only imagine how hopeful this friendly little dog must have been at the shelter to have any attention at all, and then to be given his food and receive some brief attention, only to be left alone once again. I put a soft treat in my hand and let him take it, gently encouraging him. Then I put a tiny piece of kibble in my hand and did the same thing. He was able to take it. I reassured him that I was going to stay, so I started to hand feed him. He ate. Then when he was comfortable with that, I would place the bowl down, hand feed him the first few bites, bringing my hand closer and eventually into the bowl, then just sit quietly next to him as he ate from the bowl. I also started researching homemade dog food, which he was much more eager to eat! It turned out he had some food intolerances (green peas, which is a pretty common dog food ingredient), which we were able to remove from his diet because we were able to control all the ingredients in his homemade food.
Regarding Barney’s eyes, he was constantly pawing at them despite our daily use of steroid eye drops that were given to us by the rescue’s vet. He had a healed cut in his lower eyelid (we were unsure if he did this to himself or got it from another dog). I added supplements to his food to support whatever vision he had remaining and to decrease the inflammation in his eyes. Within 10 days of using these supplements, all the redness in eyes disappeared. He stopped pawing at his eyes. We stopped using the steroid drops and started using energetic modalities (reiki and acupressure) with him. Within a few months, we noticed that his vision was improving. I observed him watching geese walking nearby in the park, tracking the movement of a dry leaf blowing in the wind, and winding his way through chair legs, even when the chairs were moved out of their regular position. He could also walk around a toy accidentally left on the floor. It appeared that he had regained some vision.
Addressing emotional and behavioural issues:
I read and researched everything I could on how to address his impulsivity, excessive barking and reactivity on the leash. I tried various techniques but nothing seemed to work. We worked our way through 3 trainers with limited success. One trainer said he was old and blind; therefore would be extremely difficult to change his behaviours at this point. Another trainer said we were too kind and affectionate with him, we needed to be more “alpha.” He advised us to bang on his crate if he whimpered and jerk him around with a leash. His swallowing issues got worse after two long sessions with that trainer…and once again, we let the trainer go. We didn’t feel like any of them gave us a customized training plan but they insisted on applying their approach onto him. This worsened his anxiety and started to chip away at the trusting relationship that we had worked so hard to achieve.
In desperation, we turned to animal communicators. The first one said that Barney was very confused, possibly with a dog form of dementia. This made no sense to us at all. He had learned all basic commands very quickly and had mapped out our house in his mind, in under a week. This was one smart dog! We took our chances and tried again. The second communicator was very helpful. She said that Barney needed more time to recover from his past. He was extremely stressed. Imagine changing homes 5 times in 2 years without being able to see where the heck you are! She also did some energy work (chakra work and energy clearing) with him. It made complete sense. Just like the people with trauma that I have worked with, he was in survival mode, not growth mode!
We slowed things way down and gave him space to begin to heal on his timeline. We challenged the very popular idea that we had to be the”alpha” and took a relationship-centred approach based on mutual respect and kindness (such as Patricia McConnell, Suzanne Clothier, Victoria Stilwell). This approach was closely aligned with our family’s values so it was a much better fit. We were all much happier, especially Barney!
We patiently labelled every sound or movement that he barked at and assured him that he was safe until he became more comfortable and no longer needed to holler “I HEAR SOMETHING!” every single time. We praised him when he used a quieter “woof” sound rather than his super loud bark. We used fun impulse control games to help him learn to wait. We let him self-correct his behaviour when appropriate instead of always just telling him to stop (see Susan Garrett’s work on “It’s Yer Choice”). This approach empowers the dog to make good decisions rather than simply following a command. We used this approach whenever possible. For example, if he pulled on the leash, I stopped walking, calmly waited for him to realize his problem (we’re not moving ahead!), and then eventually he would turn and come back to me. Rather than command him to “come,” he used his own mind to problem-solve. He came to understand that if the leash is taut, we’re not moving and he would self-correct his pulling. I learned that the best way to handle his reactivity to other dogs was to hold him close and repeatedly pat his chest in a slow and steady rhythm, again reassuring him that he was safe. I learned to groom him myself at home where he was most comfortable. I took courses in animal communication and complementary therapies and I began to communicate and work with him at a deep soul level.
Addressing spiritual/soul issues:
I was curious about his history with his original person. The message I received intuitively from him was that she was a young woman who had loved him very much and having had a baby (and him being a barker), her family circumstances did not allow her to keep him any longer. The separation was torture for both of them. It made sense why Barney still loved people despite his traumatic past…his basic understanding was that people are good and oh so lovable! My heart was full of gratitude for this, yet was breaking for her and Barney’s separation. I worked with Barney using homeopathic remedies for grief and reiki to help clear his energy system and to promote emotional healing.
I acknowledged that we were now together for our mutual soul learning. We took one day at a time, with respect for his history and acknowledgement that he was doing his very best each day. We had much patience, kindness and compassion for him, and also for ourselves. It was not always easy, but wholly worthwhile.
In One Year’s Time:
Barney is a content and joyful little dog! He loves going for walks, meeting people, getting countless bellyrubs and scratches behind the ears. He can eat his homemade food from his bowl without any difficulties, although occasionally, he needs a little hand-feeding and sitting with to get going, especially if I make a new recipe. We acknowledge that sometimes everyone needs a little extra nurturing and care, so we help him. Soft treats are his favourite and he needs no encouragement for those! He no longer has reflux or itchy skin. His eyesight appears to be continuing to improve and he is watching my face more intently these days. He very rarely bumps into trees and fire hydrants on walks anymore. Concrete posts (low visual contrast against the sidewalk) are still difficult for him to see. He requires verbal cues for going up and down sidewalks. He receives osteopathy and massage treatments. He has gained 2 lbs and is physically very healthy. He moves like a puppy, except first thing in the morning, he appears a little stiff as he does his morning stretches.
Barney follows me around like a little shadow much of the time, but lately I can get up and he will still be lounging on the sofa for awhile or stays on my husband’s lap. Sometimes at night, he will check to make sure that I am still there. He just needs a soft word and a pat, and he settles again quickly. He takes homeopathic remedies every now and then for anxiety as needed, such as for vet visits. He is very sensitive to anxiety in people and animals around him. He prefers peace and harmony, as most of us do!
He is no longer a severe barker and he can sometimes even walk by other dogs without any major issues. It often depends on the emotional state of the other dog. He remains easily excitable and walks on his hind legs often. He has made many human friends in our neighbourhood and has even inspired a few strangers to consider adopting dogs with special needs.
Barney is a loving and bright light in our lives. I am eternally grateful for his daily presence.
In Two Years Time:
Barney is now 10 or 11 years old. He is starting to have some hind leg weakness, possibly from an old injury. He recently saw Dr. Craig Landry, Chiropractor, with some improvement, and he continues to have canine massage and osteopathy from his Auntie Susana. We noticed his vision getting a little worse this summer, so we have changed his vision supplements a bit. Otherwise, he is physically a very healthy little dog.
With a history of “severe barking,” Barney has truly settled down now. At home, he only barks when someone comes to the door, when he senses or hears another dog nearby, and when my husband and kids move in/out of rooms or up/down stairs (threshold barking). We have worked on the threshold barking for two years now, and this past week or so, there have been several days of improvement. Time, patience and kind teaching really works! Outside, he will bark at certain dogs; otherwise, he is now able to pass by without major issue if I move off the sidewalk and onto the road to let the other dog pass. Our neighbours who know us will sometimes move their dogs to the road and kindly let us pass.
Barney continues to be a friendly and loving little dog. His favourite place to be is right next to me! He likes to meet people, especially children and babies. In typical poodle fashion, after he gives a few sniffs and gets a few pats, he moves on. The exception is for people who truly understand and love dogs. He will jump up and try to give them kisses on their faces, or he will curl his wiggly little body around their legs, which we call “doing kitty cat.” One of his favourite humans is Auntie Fran, whom he boarded with this past summer, and who he gave 10,000 puppy kisses a day to!
He continues to love his walks and still runs as fast as he can, despite not being able to see where he is going! He loves to explore new places. He trusts in the adventure of life. Go big or go home!
In Three Years Time:
Barney is now 11 or 12 years old. We’ve noticed that he sleeps a bit more that he used to, but can still run like the wind outside! He is happy and healthy for his age, and is enjoying his cooked homemade dog food. His vet recently described him as being in very good condition, “very lean,” and I felt so proud of him. For a blind old man, Barney is moving very well!
His agility, however, has gotten him into a few worrisome accidents this year. Still as impulsive as ever, he injured his “good” eye (the one he might have a tiny bit of vision in) by leaping up onto what he thought was our futon, but was the wooden frame on the side. The resulting corneal ulcer did not heal, despite various medical procedures. We were given the option to remove the eye or see a veterinary opthamologist. We chose the latter, and it took over 7 months to heal, but we saved his good eye. We also learned that he sees with his peripheral vision, because when we put the cone on him, he could no longer manage stairs and was bumping into doorways. He was acting like he was completely blind. When we removed it, he was fine. Once his ulcer healed on his right eye, we noticed a grey dot on his left eye, which was growing in size. The opthamologist is now following him for this hyperpigmentation. It does not appear to cause him discomfort, and since that eye is completely blind already, we are not concerned about its effect on his vision.
Barney also has fallen down the stairs a couple of times this year. “Fallen” is not quite accurate, rather, he jumped from a high step and crashed at the bottom. He often leaps the last two steps on staircases, and lands like an Olympian gymnast. For some reason, he jumped from the 4th or 5th step. We’re not sure if his vision is getting worse or if he was disoriented at the time. He received osteopathic and massage treatments from Susana Solari, Osteopathic Practitioner (his “Auntie”) and soon was back to his old self again. We are now verbally cueing him for every step “Down, down, down” until he reaches the bottom, and rewarding him if he actually listens. Sometimes he ignores us and still does his 2 step leap at the end! Of course, we could just carry him, but we don’t want to take away his independence and mobility for stairs if unnecessary. Not yet, anyways.
We continue to work on his threshold barking at home and comfort level around dogs, and he continues to show improvement. We accept that due to his visual impairment, he may always be anxious about certain things. That said, he needs opportunities to practice. I am always looking for a calm, balanced dog in our neighbourhood that I can practice on a regular basis with. I can feel that Barney wants to be with other dogs, but when he’s up close, he gets scared and reacts. A nice golden retriever moved into our neighbourhood recently, so I am taking advantage of the times when he is in his backyard. Barney now looks forward to visiting his “friend” through the fence. Initially he would bark like crazy, now he is eager to sniff his pal out. He always picks up the pace of his walking as we get closer to his friend’s house. He knows where all the dogs live in our neighbourhood. He is one smart little guy!
Winter is not a time for long walks for Barney, he gets too cold even with his snowsuit on. Shorter walks, climbing stairs, chasing treats thrown down the hallway, and following me around the house (still) are his exercise. I’ve also cut the carbs in his homemade food, so he goes paleo.
For more of our daily adventures and mutual learning, please visit my Blog.