Honing Our Service Skills: Barnum Training Update (Videos)

Or, “What I Did Over Summer Break”

I announced a couple of months ago that I was taking a blogging hiatus to focus on training Barnum. What I didn’t realize was that I was also taking the opportunity to be really damn sick. So, that’s been quite discouraging.

Mostly I have discovered that I cannot bounce back in a reasonable amount of time from going out. Any minor exertions or exposures completely incapacitate me for days afterward. Thus, I’ve changed my training goals and plans for the summer. I’ve shifted our focus from public access training (which I’m just way too sick to do) and foundational skills (Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels) to training skills that I really need now on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I’m very sick.

These skills include

  • Shutting and opening doors
  • Shutting and opening drawers and cupboards
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Dressing and undressing
  • Finding my PCA when I need help
  • Pulling the covers off my bed
  • Bracing/balance assistance
  • Pulling my legs to the edge of the bed
  • Answering/bringing me the phone
  • Alerting me to the kitchen timer
  • Alerting me to my infusion pump
  • Retrieving things I drop
  • Retrieving things I need

Wow. Seeing it all written out has made me realize, that’s a long list! No wonder we don’t have it all finished yet! Good reality check for me.

Some things on this list he is already very solid on, such as bracing and shutting doors and cupboards. Other things he knows solidly in some situations but not in others. For example, he is very good with the light switch in the bathroom, but not as good with the one in my bedroom because usually my chair is parked in front of it, which makes it harder to get to. (More about that below.) He knows how to pull off my socks but is clueless about my shoes. He generally is solid on retrieving things I drop, but he still needs to learn to retrieve a wider ranger of items, such as more awkward, big, and/or heavy items. Stuff like that.

Today I decided to videotape a few of the skills that we’ve been working on as a way to show some people on my training list what I was trying to describe and also as a way of testing Barnum. They are very short, fun little videos (about a minute or less each).

Pulling Shut Bathroom Door

Shutting a door by grabbing a cord and backing up is much harder than just nosing it shut. In the winter, I use this skill a lot because I keep the doors shut to retain heat. In the summer, we don’t use it as often because I like more air flow. Here’s what he did today:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

What was so interesting about today’s test was the evidence of latent learning that occurred since we last worked this skill. I shaped this skill with a focus on Barnum’s body position — having him move parallel to the door and back up so that he wouldn’t end up shutting himself into the bathroom. I taught him to grab the cord and back up.

Over time, the harder pulls, he had to really back up fast to get out of the way, so on his own, he figured out a way to “beat the clock.” As you can see in the video, he pulls the door once and races out of the bathroom and then moves into position to back up when he grabs the cord a second time to finish the pull. Very smart!

Turning Lights On and Off

This is a skill that Barnum is most used to doing in my bathroom. I trained it there because most of the wall is tile, which can’t be scratched by his toenails. He has it down pat in there. However, the place I need the skill the most is in my bedroom, particularly when I’m in bed, and I want the light either on or off (often, when I have a migraine, I want it off post-haste!).

The tricky part is that I also park my powerchair next to my bed where it prevents Barnum from doing a direct jump-up right to the switch in a centered way. Or, it makes it much more difficult. He has to launch from right behind the chair, which he does on the third cue, so we’ll need to practice that more.

We have trained this a bunch with the chair moved out of the way so that he has the idea of the best angle to launch from, but the reality is that a lot of the time, in “real world” conditions, the chair will be in the way. So, lately I’ve been having him practice it with the chair in its usual space — that’s why you see the cardboard really scraped up.

I tested him on it today, and here are the results:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

Did you see our blooper? It used to be that Barnum would flick the switch up and down and up and down if he didn’t get a click at just the right moment. By now, he usually has the idea and will just do it once in either direction. When training, I don’t use the clicker and just toss the treats, so he learns to pay attention to the click of the light switch as the indicator that he’s won. However, when using the skill — incorporating it into our lives — I’m still clicking him. I didn’t get the “Yes!” in fast enough and accidentally reinforced the dark/light double-flick. Oh well. We got it on the next attempt.

Find Help!

The last quick flick is the skill we’ve been training the most because it’s the most complex. I ask Barnum, “Where’s [name of person]?” I practice this with my four PCAs and Betsy, so he has to know it applies to everyone the same.

The skill — most of which you don’t see in the video — requires him to find the person, nudge their hand or leg, and then sit. When they say, “Where’s Sharon?” He runs back to me. The nudge is to make it clear to the person that he’s not just coming by to say hello because he feels like it (which he sometimes does). The sit is so he won’t come racing back to me whether or not they’ve realized why he’s there. (He has lately started to do a “drive-by nudging” where he runs up to them, barely makes contact, and turns around and runs back to me. The sit makes sure he actually completes the behavior.) And when I hear them ask him, “Where’s Sharon?” I know that they know I want them to come help me.

Here’s what it looks like viewed from my bed:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

You can’t hear it in the video, but I heard my assistant say, “Good boy,” and “Where’s Sharon?” That told me that he had nudged her (my assistants praise him when he nudges) and that she would be following him to me under normal circumstances. In this case, she didn’t because I had told her I was videotaping it. That’s why I had Barnum shut the door, which is not normally something he does after I’ve sent him to get someone.

I hope you enjoyed these videos. I felt happy watching them because I noticed how enthusiastic Barnum was with all the skills. That tells me that we’re doing things right.

I don’t know when I’ll feel well enough to post again, but we are continuing to train hard whenever I have enough spoons.

I love to hear from you, even though I am not always feeling well enough to respond.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, at-home-SD/public-access-SDiT

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1 Response to “Honing Our Service Skills: Barnum Training Update (Videos)”


  1. 1 Patty Aguirre December 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Barnum is doing so good! I know you are proud of him. Enjoyed your video clips.


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