Raising a Deaf Puppy

Ghost puppy frisbee
When we moved into our new house last year, we wanted to expand our family. It was time to get a dog. I grew up with a dog in my family and wanted my kids to have the same experience. I expected that would mean random items around the house would get destroyed by the playful puppy. What I didn’t expect was having to learn sign language.

A relative emailed and asked if we would like a puppy. The email came with a picture of an adorable little white blob and we were hooked. The second message relayed the concern that if we didn’t take the puppy, its future was uncertain. The puppy was albino and unwanted by the breeder. That set the hook and we now knew that the puppy was coming to our house. The third message was trouble. The puppy may be deaf.

At first we were about incredulous about the deafness. With a little research we discovered that pigment plays a role in a dog’s hearing. If there is unpigmented skin in a dog’s inner ear, the nerve endings atrophy and die off in the first few weeks of the puppy’s life. Our puppy was albino so this was the likely cause.

As you can see from the picture above, our puppy had a few black spots so we wondered if albino was the right label. It was the wrong label. It’s a double merle gene that results in little pigmentation. However, when a passerby asks about his color it’s easier to answer “albino,” which people understand, than “double merle” which results in a blank expression.

We quickly realized that a deaf puppy is not handicapped. We know he can’t hear. But he doesn’t know that. He does not realize that he is missing something that other dogs have. He was born into silence and from his viewpoint silence is normal.

Even though he would not respond to his name, we couldn’t just keep calling him puppy. While reading the latest Game of Thrones book the choice became obvious: Ghost, Jon Snow’s unwanted white direwolf.

Training a deaf dog requires a major commitment and lots of patience. Of course that’s true with training any puppy. Puppies just want to have fun. In our case, “fun” means eating shoes, tearing apart magazines, and pulling the guts out of stuffed animals.

A deaf dog needs to learn visual cues, through hand signs and facial expressions, instead of words. For Ghost, we use a vigorous finger wag instead of a stern “no” to deter bad behavior. To be honest, I still say “no.” It just doesn’t work.

There are some special considerations when raising a deaf puppy. Free range is more likely to result in a lost puppy. He won’t come when you call him. So if you lose direct visual contact, you lose the ability to communicate.

He’s not a very good watch dog. A bad guy busting through a window is not going to attract the deaf dog’s attention, unless he’s staring at the window. On the plus side, he doesn’t bark at the mailman.

Training is important. For us, training would be especially important. Ghost was not going to remain a cute little puppy. He is a Great Dane, with a rate of growth that is astonishing. If you peek below you can get some sense of how much he has grown in six months, and he’s still growing.

If you want to read a bit more about raising a deaf puppy, I just read Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale. Gracie was a deaf Great Dane that ended up being part of the inspiration for the chain of dog bakeries: Three Dog Bakery.

This story originally appeared on Wired.com’s GeekDad.

ghost orange frisbee

Paddling Underground

Joe McCarthy’s grandfather remembers when the Park “Hog” River used to run through downtown Hartford. But today, it’s gone. There are buildings where there used to be a river. Intrigued, Joe looked closer and found the river buried beneath the streets of Hartford.

Joe partnered with fellow artist Peter Albano to map the now underground river and to document their exploration of this underground ecosystem. To help fund their project I backed their Kickstarter project and took a ride with them on their exploration of the underground river.

Joe and Peter took me into this beast of a public works project. At its heart, it’s just a river. But it’s wrapped in thick concrete and studded with outlets and floodways.

I wrote more about the Hog River Revival and the trip on GeekDad: Paddling Underground: The Hog River Revival.

Artwork from their trips along the Hog River will be on exhibit at the Hartford Public Library’s ArtWalk: Peter Albano and Joe McCarthy: The Hog River Revival Collection. The free exhibition opens Friday, December 7 with a reception from 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. and runs through January 20, 2013.


Make Magic! Do Good!


Dallas Clayton launched his writing/illustrating career with An Awesome Book! Now he is back with a bigger and more awesome book: Make Magic! Do Good! His new book is a collection of poems and illustrations.

An Awesome Book was a single poem joyfully illustrated by Clayton. Make Magic! Do Good! is full of dozens of his children’s poems with a single illustration. This turns out to be a great way for my kids to pick which poems they want to hear. As a I flip through the book they get drawn to the illustrations that most captures their mood.

My kids favorites: “Real Live Dragon”, “Robots”, and “The Unicorn Glade.” My favorite was “Xavier Xing Xu.” [He] was terribly blue/ that the number of/ x-fronted words was so few.

As with his previous series of Awesome books, each of these poems overflow with joy and optimism. They bring a smile to my face. The book is best summed up by the book jacket summary:

I wrote this book to remind you that
you’re magic.
You’re reading this.
You right now.
You here and you there.
You’re something special,
and I hope that someday
you get a chance
to make your own book
or paint your own picture
or build your own rocket ship
or find your own kind of happiness
and that you get a chance
to share it with the rest of us
just like I got a chance
to share my happiness
with you.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of the book from the publisher.

This first appeared in Wired.com’s GeekDad


Lessons From a Zombie Preparedness Class

Imagine a viral outbreak has occurred. It’s highly contagious and dangerous. It’s nicknamed the “Zombie Disease” because those killed by the disease seem to rise from the dead and prey upon the living. How will you survive? REI, the outdoor gear store, has put together a class to provide some advice for that scenario.

I took one of the classes and wrote about it in GeekDad: Lessons From a Zombie Preparedness Class

The Power of Habit and How to Hack It



We are creatures of habit. We may like to think that our daily actions result from deliberation and willpower. But mostly they are the products of our unconscious habits. The same is true for our kids. Most of what they do is based on habit.

One of the keys to success in life is instilling good habits. Habits are about organic efficiency. They do not distinguish between what is good for you and what is bad for you. Does that leave us out of control? Or can we hack our habits by exploiting the habit-forming routine?

Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, presents an exploration of this subject in his latest book: The Power of Habit. Duhigg has loaded the book with information on how habit patterns work in the brain and suggestions on how to change them. Biologists have investigated the habit-formation aspect of the brain, but it’s the marketers who have pushed the envelope. They realize that creating habits means products moving off the shelf. That’s where retailers can really get their hooks in you and your kids.

One of the anecdotes in the book is the controversial story of how Target can identify when a customer is pregnant and then focus related advertising on the soon-to-be mother. Target realized that lucrative baby supply purchasing habits are already formed by the time the baby arrives so the retailer wanted to change habits before the baby came. The sooner customers started coming to Target for their baby needs, the better. Target figured out to hack habits.

Or take the background story on the crafting of Febreze, the odor eliminating spray, as an example of how our habits drive us to buy products. Procter & Gamble came up with a powerful product. One test subject was a park ranger who regularly had to wrangle wayward skunks. Her clothes, her car, and her home all stunk of skunk. Febreze changed her life. Less odoriferous customers loved the product, but ended up rarely using it.

Then the marketing scientists focused on the habits of cleaning. Febreze was scent-free. A person would spray it, but the application wouldn’t produce a sensory trigger to create a habit from using it. They added a fresh scent and advertised it for use as the final step in cleaning. “No one craves scentlessness. On the other hand, lots of people crave a nice smell after they’ve spent thirty minutes cleaning.” The addition of scent turned Febreeze from a smart product into a billion dollar product.

The Power of Habit is divided into three parts. The first focuses on individuals and how habits shape lives. Duhigg includes stories on how habits can be broken, reset, and persist. You can be trapped by a predictable cycle: you feel tired in the afternoon, you head out to Dunkin’ Donuts, and then you get the reward from the sugar and caffeine and feel much better. Marketers reinforce these routines by fiddling with the Pavlovian rewards.

The second part looks at the habits of organizations. Duhigg argues that managers can change entire firms by changing habits. The book’s third part looks at the habits of societies. Duhigg argues that some of the greatest social reformations have in part been produced by rewiring social habits. He links the pressure of weak ties and social norms with habit.

Not all habits are good habits — you probably feel trapped by your bad habits. Duhigg argues that you can also escape from the trap of the routines that trigger bad habits. Alcoholics Anonymous has proved so successful in part because it replaces one routine (drinking to feel better) with another (going to meetings and talking about your addiction to feel better). You re-wire your mind to appreciate and seek out the new routine.

That all sounds interesting, but can reading The Power of Habit help your life or help you better control improve your kids? Yes. I’m rethinking some of my approaches (and own personal behaviors). The book is filled with techniques to help focus on habits and how to change habits. “Once you break a habit into components, you can fiddle with the gears.” To change a habit, you need to keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. The hard part is discovering the cue and reward.

Some habits are keystone habits that appear to trigger other good habits. Studies show that families who eat together seem to raise children with better homework skills and higher grades. Making your bed each morning is correlated with better productivity. It’s not that these keystone habits themselves cause the the other good habits. They just seem to help the other habits to form.

If you’re interested in more of the research, the book’s notes go on for 50 pages citing hundreds of primary sources and research papers. The book is full of interesting ideas and based on an impressive collection of research. But it does a great job of balancing intellectual seriousness with practical advice. Even better, it’s written in a lively style, making it easy to read and digest. (The book was on my to-read list before the publisher sent me a review copy.)


This story first appeared in Wired.com’s GeekDad.



Archery and the Movies

There are three big movies coming out this summer that feature a bow and arrow: The Avengers, Brave and The Hunger Games. It just so happens that one of the GeekDad contributors, Jim MacQuarrie, is an archery coach. He set a critical eye on the archery sequences in the trailers and publicity shots for these movies.

He came away very impressed with Pixar’s rendering of the arrow shots in Brave. The three boys have terrible form and only one manages to hit the target. Then Merida, the princess who wants to be warrior, has great form and nails each of her shots.

Jim has similar good things to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s bow shots in The Hunger Games trailer.

However, Jim has nothing good to say about Jeremy Renner’s form as Hawkeye in The Avengers. Haweye is supposed to be the World’s Greatest Marksman. Jim’s take:

In a few interviews last year, Renner said he was taking archery lessons in preparation for the role, but from what I see here, it looks like he (a) had no coach and was entirely self-taught; (b) had an incompetent coach (there are many out there); or (c) is a terrible student and refused to do what his coach told him.

Of course you can argue that it’s a comic book movie, so it’s not supposed to be realistic. On the other hand, you could say the same about Hunger Games.  It seems clear that Jennifer Lawrence took the time to properly use a bow and arrow. So why didn’t Jeremy Renner?

You can read each of the three stories:

The Children’s Museum of Easton

In addition to getting back to writing for GeekDad, I’m also trying to continue my quest to visit the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. How about combining the two?

The Children’s Museum of Easton has been on my list of places to visit for several years and I finally got around to making the trip on a rainy June day. You can read more at GeekDad Visits the Children’s Museum in Easton.

Dinosaurs and the Museum of Science

The Museum of Science was kind enough to invite me to Media Family Day and a preview of the Dinosaurs exhibit. Since The Girl has been walking around with a stuffed T. Rex for a few weeks, I assumed she would be thrilled to see more about dinosaurs. Of course, The Boy like dinosaurs.

The trip seemed like a good story for GeekDad so you can read more on Wired: Dinosaurs Walking at Boston’s Museum of Science.

GeekDad at Pax East

Several GeekDad writers will host a panel at PAX East. The panel, titled “Geek Parenting,” will include Dave Banks, Natania Barron, Matt Blum, Curtis Silver, John Booth, Doug Cornelius (that’s me), Michael Harrison, and Corrina Lawson. We described the session as:

How young is too young for The Hobbit? Why is LEGO Star Wars the best console game for your child? What’s the best way to deal with bullying? How old should your child be before you stop letting/helping them win games against you? As a parent, how do you deal with smart phones, texting and technology in your kids’ lives? These questions and many more will be discussed by writers for GeekDad.com, GeekMom.com, and geek parents in the audience. Come share your stories and advice for how to ensure our kids grow up to be geeks like us! Don’t have kids? Show up and find out what may be in store for you if you ever do!

What is PAX East?

“PAX East is a three-day game festival for tabletop, videogame, and PC gamers. We call it a festival because in addition to dedicated tournaments and freeplay areas we’ve got nerdcore concerts, panel discussions, and an exhibitor hall filled with booths displaying the latest from top game publishers and developers.”

It’s happening March 11th to13th. Our Geek Parenting session is in the Merman Theatre, Saturday the 12th from 1:00pm – 2:30pm.

This year, Pax East will be in the luxurious Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on the South Boston Waterfront.

Higgins Armory Museum

With all the snow on the ground, I was getting a little snow crazy. So it was back to the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

I packed up the kids in the family truckster and we ended up in Worcester at the Higgins Armory Museum.

It had caught my eye, but I have to admit that I was skeptical. I figured it was just some crazy guy’s collection of swords and some beat up armor.

I was wrong. I came away impressed.

The kids had a great time. I had a great time. I figured it would make a decent story for GeekDad, so you can read more about it over there on Wired.com: GeekDad Visits the Higgins Armory Museum.

What really surprised me was that I didn’t know about this place. It had first come to my attention as a comment to my 2009 list of 100 Geeky Places to Take Your Kids this Summer. Higgins has been around for decades and I have been in Massachusetts for decades. So how did I not know about this place?!?!

Now I know and now you know.

LEGO KidsFest in Boston

This past weekend, the LEGO KidsFest opened its tour Boston. They offered me a media pass as a GeekDad contributor.

Since I was there for GeekDad, my story about the day was published on Wired: GeekDad Visits Lego KidsFest. You’ll have to head over there to read about it.

For my “friends” I also published some pictures on Facebook of The Boy posing with some of the LEGO creations: LEGO KidsFest Boston 2010.

Connecticut Science Center

Did you know there was a great science center for kids in Hartford?

The Connecticut Science Center opened in Downtown Hartford last summer. It’s been on my list to visit ever since. We had an opportunity to swing by on the way back from our visit to the King Tut exhibit.

It was such a great place to visit that I published the story on GeekDad: GeekDad Visits the Connecticut Science Center.

Visiting the Belugas at the Mystic Aquarium

I took a break from visiting the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts and ended up south of the border. The family visited the Mystic Aquarium.

It was a great place so I figured I would share it with the larger GeekDad audience. You can read more about our visit on Wired’s GeekDad: GeekDad Visits the Mystic Aquarium.

Yes, that’s sea lion poo!
From 2010 Mystic aquarium