Pawsitively Enabled Special Needs Dog Training works exclusively with blind, deaf, and extremely fearful dogs. Pawsitively Enabled aims to: enable special needs dogs to reach their full potential and show families that living with a special needs dog can be fun and not as restrictive as they might think.
Sandy Cosser, who owns Pawsitively Enabled, is a COAPE-qualified animal behaviourist and trainer. She was inspired to launch Pawsitively Enabled by her very own special needs dogs, Rosalie, who is blind, and Hazel, who has extreme fear issues.
A few years ago, she enjoyed two stints as the puppy trainer at TEARS Animal Rescue. The first time round she met Rosalie, and the second time round she met Hazel. It was kismet.
Odds stacked against them
Rosalie’s mom had canine herpes and, as a result, Rosalie was born blind. Sandy immediately recognised that Rosalie was special, not just because she was blind, but because she was (and still is) smart as a whip, as she faced life head-on with a great deal of gusto.
Out of a litter of three, Hazel was by far the most fearful. While her two brothers gained confidence and found homes relatively quickly, Hazel remained shut down and terrified of everything. She would never cope in a “normal” home, but fortunately Sandy’s home is far from normal, so she fitted right in.
The method works
With a background solely in positive-reinforcement, force-free training Sandy knew the method worked. But it took creatively applying the principles to training Rosalie and Hazel for her to realise just how well it worked.
In fact, Rosalie participates in canine freestyle (dog dancing) and Rally-FrEe. She does a spot of agility training, and she’s earned her Gold Canine Good Citizenship. There aren’t too many blind dogs who’ve gone all the way to gold level.
Hazel’s accomplishments may not seem as impressive but, considering her starting point, it’s incredible that she now easily participates in a group class, working around other dogs, and taking treats from people. She also undertakes agility training tasks, and even though it took a little while to get her through the tunnel and over the A-frame, she now does them like a star.
Rosalie and Hazel taught Sandy the ineffable value in shaping, clicking, creative-thinking, problem-solving, and, above all, patience.
With compassionate patience, anything is possible, and that’s what Sandy brings to Pawsitively Enabled.
A head start
Training a special needs dog can be challenging, and while their humans give them all the love in the world, it’s not easy to find the time needed to work on building their confidence on and off property. Sandy comes to your home and does all the training for you. Once a solid foundation has been laid, there’s a handover session. All that’s left for you to do is enjoy your journey with your dog.
Training starts with life skills, so dogs can learn to ascend and descend stairs, jump over obstacles, take care around hazards, and become comfortable with being handled all over their bodies. Life skills are taught on and off property, so you can go walking on the beach, in the forest, or in the mountains.
Rosalie is a superstar at navigating hiking paths; she explores without going too far, and she uses her hearing to pinpoint where Sandy is on walks. She also adapts to new environments very quickly. While some of this is due to her natural confidence, it’s largely due to the work Sandy put in, and continues to put in their relationship, so that Rosalie trusts Sandy to keep her safe.
You can have that kind of relationship too, just by using the skills you’ll learn from Sandy.
Sandy also offers problem-solving, basic tricks, and simple agility lessons, so that you can have fun with your special needs dog. Once you’ve got the basics down – which Sandy will teach you in a handover session – the world of trick training is your oyster. This kind of training is great for building a strong bond with your dog and is highly entertaining. Knowing how to engage your dog’s brain this way (not to mention your brain) means you’re set for rainy days when it’s too unpleasant to go out for a walk.
Tricks are also a good way to build your dog’s problem-solving skills, which in turn builds confidence – a very important part of life for fearful dogs who need to get used to funny-looking things in your home.
For instance, Sandy still does very little standard “obedience” training with Hazel. The pressure to perform is too much and she shuts down. But her face lights up and her whole body wags when the clicker comes out to tackle a cool new trick. This is also how Sandy helped Hazel get over her fear of ordinary, everyday items, including funky pillows, boxes, and anything new and strange that threatens her comfort zone. Now Hazel has a natural curiosity and investigates novelty items in her own time.
Sandy works with dogs born with special needs, and those who lose their sight or hearing as a result of illness or age. Many dogs who start to go blind or deaf, or begin to develop fear and anxiety, are confused and can get depressed. Sandy makes the transition easier and helps your dog maintain confidence through this difficult time.
Sandy loves nothing more than working with dogs and seeing them respond to that work. She relishes the challenges special needs dogs present, because she knows that with the right approach, anything is possible.