Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Through A Dog's Eyes - A Book Review
Canine Assistants which is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing service dogs for children and adults who have physical disabilities or special needs. Canine Assistants does not charge for the service it provides, rather, it relies on the generosity of those who recognize that helping one benefits us all.
Okay, now you have my attention but as I began to read I found myself drawing some unexpected conclusions and having deeper thoughts than the author had probably imagined or intended. I began reading the book from the perspective of a dog owner but I quickly found myself drawn into a different area. As the parent of a child with special needs I find myself often trying to make sense of my world and Sam's world and trying to relate or explain our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, interactions and life experiences in my blog.
Now I should also explain that I am a dog lover and I enjoy watching the wonderful relationship that has developed between Buddy and Sam, but I'm also very aware of the wonderful relationship between Buddy and I. As much as I love my dog I have always struggled with people comparing dogs to children...and yet as I read this book I found myself relating a lot of what the author was saying to my interactions with Sam.
Sam is unlike any person I have ever met...Sam is Sam. He is an individual with thoughts, feelings, and emotions and although he is not always able to verbalize everything he knows or wants to say, and his struggles and challenges can often be the first thing a person notices we all should take the time, be patient and through caring and kindness interact with Sam to meet and work with him at his level and create a relationship that we both enjoy. So when Jennifer was talking about working with dogs and how:
"What changed my methodology the most was my increased understanding of dogs and their perspective of the world we share. My approach to handling changed as my understanding of dogs grew, until one day I realized that it was morally wrong to treat dogs with anything other than patience, understanding and kindness."
HELLO, how could I not relate?? It's all I ask of anyone who interacts with Sam...look past the labels and diagnosis and truly understand his world and treat him with patience, understanding and kindness. It has taken me years to be able to converse with Sam and the level of patience required as he says "Mom" 1,000 times a day is indeed challenging, but this is my child that I was told would probably never talk. Sam's diagnosis of Down syndrome, brain injury, conductive hearing loss and apraxia should have been enough to keep him non-verbal. And yet...Sam is verbal and he is expressive and most of all he wants to interact. But how long would it take for Sam to shut down if the person he talked to wasn't patient enough to really try to understand his sometimes difficult speech or if they got tired of hearing him repeat phrases as he practices his articulation? How many times does my heart break when Sam ventures out and says "Hello" to a person but they don't even slow down enough to respond and instead choose to ignore him. How often do people look at Sam's behavior as an issue instead of an attempt to communicate.
Now I look at Buddy. Buddy is a wonderful dog and treats Sam with gentle compassion, patience and understanding. It was interesting how my thoughts and feelings automatically went to Sam and Buddy was the afterthought. I realized that some of the early training we had done with Buddy was probably not very useful to him and we have had better success with a more gentle approach. It's funny how I can look at Sam's behavior and I understand the need to figure out what he is trying to communicate but I didn't do the same thing when I was working with Buddy. This book made me rethink many of my interactions with Buddy and his behavior in different instances began to make sense. Even though the author agrees that dogs and humans are different and should be viewed as such she also demonstrated many ways in which we are the same and that we should understand and respect our differences.
Another area I pondered on was when she talked about how effective positive reinforcement is when training a dog. Hmmmm....didn't Sam's pediatrician always tell me to catch Sam being good and praise him for that behavior instead of always addressing the bad behavior. Both of my boys thrived on attention, the problem is they thrived on both positive and negative attention and didn't really seem to care either way as long as they got attention. So I spent a good deal of my time handling bad behavior instead of praising good behavior. When I changed...so did they. Even our home program asked us to always have a positive environment. Buddy thrives on positive reinforcement and honestly he doesn't seem to know what to do with negative interactions. And again I try to remind myself that dogs and children are very different...I think???
I loved the stories of the people with special needs and their dogs. Some of them made me tear up and some of them just plain amazed me, especially the stories about the seizure response dogs. It was interesting to read the history and theories about dogs and find myself drawing the same conclusions as the author. Jennifer also talked about the personality testing they do with the dog and recipient. I found it interesting that the dogs were graded more on observation from various people than any individual tests. Why don't we do more of this in the human world?
But the part of the book that really helped clear up my thinking about dogs and people was when Jennifer told the story of her mom and her going to a dog shelter to adopt dogs for their program. While there a woman brought in her Brittany spaniel because it had peed on her carpeting and she couldn't deal with the dog anymore. The dog was fearful of what was happening and reacted by biting which led the animal shelter to destroy the dog. Her mom cried in the parking lot and said,
"Why don't people understand that we are responsible for the well-being of living creatures who don't have the ability to care for themselves."..."That precious dog didn't ask to be born. She didn't ask to be sold like a quart of milk to the first person willing to pay the price. How can someone care more for carpeting than for a living, breathing, feeling creature who so obviously loved her? What is that women teaching her children? 'Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do also unto me' isn't just a Bible verse." "It is a natural law. Behavior like that woman's makes me afraid for us all. It is a very short step between abusing a dog and abusing a child, between thinking it is acceptable to mistreat an animal and thinking it is acceptable to mistreat other people."
Amen...she just helped tie all my thinking together. The Bible verse stated is one of my favorites and one of the many lessons I know Sam is trying to teach to me. In this journey with Sam he has required me to think more, feel more, understand more, care more and love more. He has challenged my thinking on who I am and how I live in this world. He has changed the way I treat other people, he has taught me to listen more and talk less, to feel, think and live with purpose. That's an amazing accomplishment considering his struggle with the spoken word...but that's something Sam and Buddy have both taught me. To look beyond the spoken word, to sense, to notice, to read body language, to feel, to interpret a look, a body movement, a sound and understand the communication intended.
This book also inspired a PBS program, please watch the video to learn more:
Now the fun part...to get your very own "FREE" copy of this amazing book please leave me a comment and I will have Sam randomly pick the winner. The book will be sent to you from the publisher. ENJOY!!!
Thanks to Alice, she provided the link to watch the entire special online. Go to: