Archive for the 'Housebreaking/Toilet training' Category

Our Recent Public Access Achievements

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

We're achieving another great carnival!

The theme for the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “Achievement.” Barnum and I had two very exciting outings recently — one caught on video — which I’m very excited to share with you. It’s perfect timing for the carnival.

The achievements that Barnum and I celebrate are not the successes of a graduation or a title. Rather, they are small steps that are leading us — oh, so slowly, it often seems — along the path to a working partnership. I don’t think we have a single behavior that I can say is truly finished — not just service skills, but basic obedience and manners, too. Working on so many little skills day after day, it becomes hard to observe that any improvement is taking place. That’s why a day like last week — or last month when we first went into a store — is such a big deal: the improvements are a stark contrast to previous efforts, clear enough for me to notice and revel in them.

This past Thursday I had my biannual appointment with my primary care doctor. The appointment itself was completely useless. (More about that another time.) However, I brought Barnum with me — even though he couldn’t come inside — with hopes that we’d do some training in the parking lot after my appointment. My driver and assistant took care of him during the appointment.

Barnum and I have really only started public access work in the last couple of months. He went into a store — the small village coop in a nearby town — for the first time on September 12. I had someone along who could video the event, which is very unusual. Below is the movie I made of it. (Like the combination treat pouch/leash belt I’m wearing? I got it from Mimi of sheekoo.com, and I love it!)

(If you’re reading this post as an email, click here to view the video.)

Click here to read a transcript of the video.

Click here to watch the video with captions.

But wait, there’s more! Fast-forward to a week ago. As I mentioned, Barnum had to stay in the van with my driver while I had my appointment. In my state, there is no public access for teams in training, so where you are able to go is dependent on the goodwill of the managers of such establishments. My doctor told me that their policy is that a SD team is not allowed in unless the dog is finished training. (These policies seem much more prevalent today than when I trained Gadget or Jersey. I wonder whether this is due to the boom in partner-training SDs — and private and program trainers, too, for the record — who are not yet skilled enough trainers, or not familiar with and careful of laws and etiquette around public-access SDs, creating negative perceptions of SD teams or SDiTs.)

Anynoodle, there is still much that can be done in parking lots or on sidewalks or at the locales that are SDiT-team friendly. Thus, after my appointment, I dressed Barnum in his snazzy working gear. We had a couple of “oopses.” One, which has never happened before, and which I hope never happens again, is that Barnum jumped the gun on exiting the van. He has gotten pretty good at staying inside until he is cued to exit. For whatever reason, though, today he jumped out while leashless. This was scary because we were in “the city” (for my area), and there was actual traffic beyond the parking lot. However, my helper snagged him, I walked him back to the van, and he jumped back in. Disaster averted. First note of something to work on more!

Then, we did some automatic sits before exiting (which is what he should have done instead of just hopping out previously), and I cued him to jump out and sit, which he did. I was pleased he was so focused on me and that I got such a fast and snappy sit. I had him sit-stay while I moved around, and then we were off.

Here’s how Barnum made my day:

  • Focus. Barnum kept focus on me and loads of eye contact the whole time. That is the foundation for everything else. I was thrilled by it.
  • Happiness. Barnum’s tail was up and wagging. His step was springy. He showed no signs of fear or vigilance (except one startle issue, which I’ll get to shortly). He was totally in the game and enjoying himself. At one point, I said, “Back up,” and instead of just walking backward, he leaped backward. He does the bouvie-bounce/pounce/spring thing when he’s loving training.
  • Loose leash. I didn’t even realize until we were on the way home that Barnum never pulled on the leash except at the end, when another dog was right nearby, whining at us.
  • Positional cues. I asked for sits, downs, nose touches, chin targets, backing up, standing up, coming to my side, and Barnum was about 90 percent reliable on all cues.
  • Toileting. When we were first heading from the parking lot to the sidewalk, I could tell that Barnum wanted to go sniff and mark the lawn, bushes, and flowers we were approaching. However, I kept him busy and focused on me, and he either realized that marking and sniffing was not acceptable, or he was too focused on working to care. When we were finished training, I took off his pack and harness and brought him to the grass and cued him to pee. He offered a short squirt, which I was very pleased about. It indicated to me that he probably did know the cue (as soon as I said, “Hurry up,” he started looking around the grass, circling, and sniffing) and that he was doing his best to follow it, even though he didn’t need to go. It’s possible that he was just marking, now that he had the opportunity, but I’m okay with that as a stepping stone to a more solid elimination on cue. This is the first time he has eliminated on cue in a totally new environment!
  • Transferring new cues from home – Part I: Door Opener. These were the ones that really thrilled me. Barnum has never touched a door opener before. The door opener for the external door at my doctor’s office is a silver vertical rectangle — not at all the shape I thought I’d remembered! At home, we’d been practicing the moves that would apply to a door opener — the same ones as for turning on or off a light switch — but my faux door-opener was a big blue paper square! The real door button was about three feet high and placed on the pane between the glass door and window. I held my hand over the button and had him nose-target my hand a few times. He could reach it without jumping up, but only just. He had to stretch his nose all the way up. . . .
  • Then I pointed at the button and told Barnum, “Touch!” He just barely bumped the bottom of the button, but that was enough; the door immediately swung outward. Barnum jumped back in surprise. I gave him extra treats and praise, along with the initial click/treat, and we did that a few more times. He hit the button every time, and he was surprised by the door every time, but with successively decreased concern. I think we’ll have to practice this many times before he is totally comfortable with the door swinging open. It’s the one area he has always had anxiety — doors swinging toward him from the front or the rear. (When he was temperament tested at seven weeks old, a solid object moving suddenly toward him was the only part of the test that scored poorly on; everything else was perfect or near-perfect, and those results were surprisingly predictive of his future behaviors and tendencies.) So, the fact that he continued to press the door opener and did not wig out — in this completely new environment, to boot — seemed like a good sign to me.
  •  Transferring new cues from home – Part II: The Retrieve. We have not yet achieved a complete trained retrieve at home. Barnum will take something from my hand, hold it quietly for a pretty long time, and then — on my cue — will drop it. But he hasn’t figured out that picking things up off the floor can be handled the same way as taking things from me. So, our big effort has gone into the take/hold part of the retrieve. It had not even occurred to me to try this skill away from home yet. . . .
  •  Then, something happened — I can’t remember what anymore — where I was holding something out, and he went to take it in his mouth! I had not been looking for that, but I was able to click and treat it. “Why not?” Says I to myself. So, I held out a pen — the object he’s the most eager and comfortable taking and holding — and we did a few repetitions of that. Well, knock me over with a feather!

I was bringing him back to the van to load up and leave when a woman parked next to me with a boxer in her car. Barnum was still paying attention to me, not the boxer, so I was eager to get out of there before he could start practicing some bad behavior, such as pulling to get to the other dog, and for all I knew, jumping up to get a sniff. (Our biggest distraction is other dogs. Our second biggest distraction is people — strangers. Barnum feels the need to greet/sniff them and inquire as to whether they’d like to give him attention or food.)

Unfortunately, this woman wanted to chat me up about my “service dog.” I had to correct her that we were in training, because Barnum was not comporting himself as a trained SD should, and I don’t like to spread any more misinformation about SDs than already exists. Then, she wanted to tell me about how her dog, the one she is leaving in the car who is wearing no gear, is a service dog, too, and perfectly eager for our dogs to interact! Usually if I say, “We’re training,” in a very “read-between-the-lines-please” voice, people back off a bit, but not this woman. Trying to focus on getting Barnum refocused and loaded into the van while not getting downright rude to this stranger meant that I lost control of the situation, and Barnum decided that, yes, it would be acceptable to pull like a freight train to get to the boxer, who had started to whine.

Somehow, finally, I managed to ignore the other person enough to get Barnum loaded, and then he settled down. On the way home, we did lots more practice with taking and holding objects, and various simple skills, and I was just over the moon.

Outings like this are extremely helpful in showing which behaviors have jelled and can be taken to the next level, and which need some remedial attention. The trip made it clear the areas we need to work on most: Leave it/zen for people, leave it/zen for dogs, more work with moving-door-related fear, and more work on default sit before and after exiting the van. But on the way home, the refrain in my head was, “Go, Team Barnum! Woohoo!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and future door-opener of my world

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the ADBC, read past issues, check out the schedule for the next few carnivals, or learn how to get involved, please visit this page about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

P.P.S. You know what was really an achievement? Completing this post! I had so much difficulty creating and uploading that video — it took a week! — and then when I finally did get it uploaded, I discovered I had left out a segment in the middle and had to create and upload a new version! All future videos will be much shorter!

Win-Turned-Whiny Wednesday

This post will be a bit of a mess because I’m a bit of a mess. But, I’m not apologizing (reader who asked me not to apologize for being too sick to blog, take note)! I’m just sayin’ — point of information.

The Wins

Disability-Access Related:

My Waspish Wednesdays are actually causing change! I didn’t really expect it.

Not only wonderful response from wonderful readers wanting to know more about MCS and safer products (THANK YOU!!!), but also. . . .

I got an email from a software developer who says his software eliminates CAPTCHA issues. I have set up a deal with him for After Gadget readers whose disabilities make CAPTCHA difficult/impossible to use, to try it for free. Wanted to post about it today, with all the details, but too sick. Will soon, though.

Barnum-Related:

I’ve mentally nicknamed Barnum the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. (Don’t Panic. I’m listening to That Most Remarkable Book — one my favorites, ever — thanks to DVD version from Mom and Dad).

No, not because he’s so mind-bogglingly stupid that if I wrapped a towel around my head he’d believe he couldn’t see me, but because he is ravenous. He is actually showing — in certain areas — mindbendingly surprising mental acuity, along with ravenousness.

Ravenous examples and highlights:

  • He is trying to catch treats in the air, sometimes almost succeeding. Soon, I think he will actually be snatching them out of the air.
  • He dives under furniture to try to reach treats.
  • Last night, while trying to tick-check him, he kept picking things up (the bag of treats, the clicker, the blunt-tipped curved grooming scissors I use for the thickets between his toes) so that I would click for picking up, holding, or dropping. I had to try to hide everything that could possibly be picked up, until I finally just turned it into Zen practice.
  • He was so antsy to train, and so hungry, that he couldn’t keep still. I finally solved the problem by dropping a piece of cheese on the floor and telling him, “Leave it.” Then he stood still, staring at it. STARING HARDER. HARDER! Reaching toward it. Closer. Closer. Stretching his neck until he was practically doing a giraffe impression. Not actually eating it, but trying to get as close as possible, to WILL it into his mouth, I think. (Sue Ailsby — you said his Zen falling apart was the best possible sign. Well, hovering over a treat, deciding whether or not to steal it, is not my idea of good Zen! So this mess is a TERRIFIC sign, eh?)
  • I laughed a LOT during this mess of a tick check. This is MY KIND OF PROBLEM DOG!
  • Wish I could video us practicing with the dumbbells and floor targeting. He grabs the DB, I flick or toss a treat as far as I can. He runs and leaps after the treats, but because of slippery floor, looks like a cartoon character.

Signs of breakthrough problem-solving or cue recognition:

  • Created an undesirable behavior chain of jumping onto my bed so I will tell him to get off and he can get a treat for “Off!” I’m extinguishing it, but it’s taking many sessions a day, many days. He’s gotten sneaky. I love a sneaky dog.
  • Last night, set up two standing targets, an Alley-Oop and a Manner’s Minder. Alley-Oop next to me, MM several feet away. Wanted him to go back and forth, touching one, then the other. After no clicks for touching Alley-Oop repeatedly, touched, mouthed, pawed the ball, stick, base, etc., till I finally got him to look at touch MM. Ran to it, c/t. Two more like that (maul AO, finally figure out to try MM), and he was ping-ponging between them. He’d NEVER have figured that out a few weeks ago.
  • Yesterday  took him out when he was NOT indicating he needed to go out, NOR was it a time of day when he urgently needs to pee. Took him near his toileting area (gravel), but NOT right on it. Gave him release. He hung out, sniffing the air, whateverishly. I gave him his pee cue, “Hurry up!” and pointed to a patch of grass next to the gravel. He startled, looked at me, trotted over, and peed in the grass. WOOOOHOOOO! (More breakthrough pottying stories another time, which, I’m sorry to say, will be accompanied by pictures. You’ve been warned.)
  • For a couple of weeks, I was constantly calling Barnum “Gadget,” or just catching myself before I said it or after I typed it. I think this is because he was acting more like Gadget. Now he is still acting hungry and eager and smart (still not as smart as Gadget, but much better!), however he is also showing extra, extra goofiness and acrobatic stylin’ that is just the epitome of Barnumness (and how he got his name), that I’m back to calling him Barnum. This makes me happy.
  • Because of Barnum’s improved LLW, recall, and other aspects of self-control, he is now getting 2-3 long leash walks per week and 2-3 long off-leash runs at the pond per week. Hopefully when I get my pchair (in working order) and van back, and if I am doing better, functionally, I will be able to take him to the pond or on long walks or for short training field-trips, too.

Writing Related:

  • Just had a piece accepted that means a lot to me for an anthology that pays better than most.
  • Have been writing, writing, writing, whenever my brain is capable of focusing enough, for another antho for an editor with whom I’ve worked before. She might take several pieces. I’ve written FOUR new pieces of flash/short short fiction. I didn’t know if I still had the ability, but I do!

Whines

Because of my current level of excited overachieving, I keep not getting enough sleep and also crashing.

For example, today I can’t really do much but lie in bed because of immobilizing pain, and my voice isn’t working. Unfortunately, I had to make some important, time-sensitive phone calls. However, just a few days ago, my PCA and I packed away my TTY, because I thought, “I don’t need this anymore”! Argh. So, we had to unpack it and set it up. Frustrating and disappointing, but not crushing. Just a little joke from the gods, I think.

I keep thinking I’ve finished my submission and can send it in, but either my brain isn’t clear enough, or I’m too tired, or I discover errors (where I’ve used words that don’t make sense, for example). The frustration is not so much that I haven’t finished this task, but the causes of my inability/slowness in completing the task.

Barnum WANTS to train. I WANT to train him. I know that if I could do three sessions a day, instead of usually just one, we would be going so much faster, but every time I try to add more sessions, I’m incapacitated the next day. Argh. Plus, when I’m lacking more function is when I’m so aware of all the help he could be providing if he knew what to do. So. Hard. To. Be. PATIENT!

I want to reply to all the comments I haven’t yet, especially about MCS and products. I want to write my blog posts about tick-checking dogs and people, about other Lyme myths, about all the MCS stuff that’s come up in the comments, about all the stuff that’s been happening with Barnum, and to write Part II of my Typical Atypical post before I forget everything that happened that day(!) and the CAPTCHA-related posts, and more bird posts. The grief and bereavement resources that are so desperately needed. I haven’t been able to keep up with the daily tired-trainer tips. I haven’t been able to keep my training log updated. But all I can do is lie around.

Those are my whines. Whine, whine, whine. All in all, I’m pretty happy. These are good things to whine about.

Also, I think whining is underrated. Griping is therapeutic. I think more people should revel in bitching about irritating crap. Plus, it’s good to have a hobby.

And now that I’m sufficiently drugged, pain-wise, I’m going to try to take a nap. Goodnight.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who got hurried through too many skills, and therefore did not have the solid foundation Barnum will, I hope), and Barnum, Ravenous SDiT

P.S. Phone conversation transcript with vet yesterday:

Sharon: Barnum’s stitches (from neutering) have not disintegrated yet.

Vet: (Explains that it takes several months, and as long as they’re not bothering him, it’s not a problem).

Sharon: OK, good.

Vet: How is Barnum doing?

Sharon: Great!

Vet: Has he mellowed out some?

Sharon: (laughing) Oh YEAH.

Vet: Good. So that should help him be a better service dog, right? Help with training?

Sharon: Yes! Definitely! (more laughter)

QuickPress: Hurry Up!

I was getting ready to go to sleep — finally! — when Barnum, as is his habit of late, indicated he needed to go out. (He always has to go out right when I’m about to turn in.)

I took him out. I have very carefully not been giving him the cue to pee (“Hurry up!”) until he is in the act of peeing or has just started to squat.

However, before I release him to relieve himself, I tell him, “Release. Free walk!” Which means, you are not working now, you are free to sniff things and relieve yourself and generally be a dog, as long as you keep a loose leash.

Because I’m so dang tired, instead I said, “Release. Hurry up!” And he gave a little start and sniffed out a spot and peed, right away!

Weeeeeeee! (No pun intended.)

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, empty SDiT? (or is that SDiPee?)

QuickPress: Pissing and Whining

But in a good way! (Well, not the whining.)

[Note: I wrote this last night, right after The Events, but I fell asleep before I managed to click "Publish."]

This has been a, uh, well — a shitty day. It started with Barnum whining, repeatedly, and continually, from the moment my PCA arrived, until I got up, hours later.

Only one time out of the four times we took him out, did he pee. And that was the third time, when my PCA took him out. He didn’t pee the first two times, when I took him out. Augh!

This is an ongoing issue — the “holding it” issue. The not-getting-elimination-while-on-leash-let-alone-on-cue issue.

It seems that Barnum’s compelling reason for waking me was that he had had difficulty getting his cone-head (Elizabethan collar) into the crate overnight, and he was bored, uncomfortable, and grouchy on the floor, so he wanted me to be uncomfortable and grouchy, too. No, not really. I think he just wanted something interesting to happen to take his mind off of his discomfort.

I have been trying to view these 10 to 14 days post-surgery when Barnum has to be kept quiet, including only very minimal exercise — on leash — as an opportunity to work on our loose-leash walking and elimination-on-leash/cue. In the beginning, it wasn’t looking good. He went several days without pooping, and barely ever peed.

Barnum has a perfectly lovely LLW when anyone but me is walking him, on foot, because he learned never to pull on leash as a puppy when he was walked during the winter, when I couldn’t take him for walks because of snow. When he was older, and spring came, and I took him out, using my pchair, he pulled like a freight train, and I have tried like hell to establish a LLW in the out-of-doors, with zero success.

So, when I twice today tried to take him for a walk, and neither time got past the driveway, it was pretty damn disheartening. However, during our second “walk,” when I had given up and turned toward the gate, he pooped!

I was ready with my cue, clicker, and jackpot of treats. Then, after taking his treats (!), he peed! A one-two punch! (Or, a two-one punch, if you want to get technical.) More treats! Then he pooped again! Cues and clicks and treats, oh my!

Then, we came in and had our evening. He was been pesty and whiny again. Sometimes he can make it into his crate, and sometimes it just wigs him out too much to have the cone banging into the sides. So, he has decided the solution is: my bed. He’ll just hop on up here when the mood strikes. And if I tell him to get down and don’t let him back up, he whines. Urg. Eventually he made it into his crate and settled.

I got to work on my BADD post and started infusing. When the pump alarm goes off, Barnum does a brilliant job alerting to it (going to heroic lengths to get out of the crate and hop on my bed with the unwieldy cone banging into the crate and bed sides). I feed him his dinner as his reward, and then. . . .

The human finally clues in to something Barnum has probably been trying to communicate to me for a couple of days.

The poor dog.

I have light-switch extenders on most of the light switches, which Gadget used to turn the lights on and off. Barnum has been accidentally pulling the anchoring screws right out of the walls when he bonks them with his E-collar. Since they’re not in use, I’ve just let them hang like that.

My bedroom light switch is right next to my door. When I’m in my bedroom, my door is usually shut, which means Barnum can’t get to the bell that hangs next to the outdoor-door to indicate he has to pee.

I was blogging away when Barnum started acting up. He put his paws on my bed. He whined. He paced around, bonking into things, like the light-switch extender.

Then he went over to the door, whined, sat (which got my attention, because he has learned to sit before going through doorways, and it’s the clearest indicator that he needs to go out), then intentionally bonked the light-switch extender with his cone. The long, thin rod swung back and forth . . .

like a bell.

Barnum looked pleadingly at me.

Poor dog.

“Do you wanna go out??” I said.

He did.

I took him to the door, realized I’d forgotten my hot dogs, went back to my room to get them, so he rang the bell to indicate, yes, he really did need to go out.

I took him out.

As usual, we stood around, him sniffing the air, me sitting in my chair, staring off into space, waiting and wondering how many times I’d have to take him out before he actually peed. Then he went over to the spot where he has been peeing most often — and peed! Wahooey!

I decided that rather than take him in after his hot dogs, we could wander around in the yard, as an additional reward for peeing the first time I took him out. We trotted here and there, and then, he headed toward the area where he likes to poop — and pooped!

Three poops in one day! Three pees in one day!

Yeah, we’re having our struggles, but we’re having our moments, too.

And I just know y’all reading this are as fascinated by my dog’s urinary and bowel movements as I am, right?

OK, but humor me anyway?

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I ripped the light switch extenders out accidentally only — when I was overzealous with my nose), and Barnum (SDiT? and little pisser)

A Grand Day Out: Barnum and Sharon Hit the Road (and Find Training Partners!)

A Speedy Pee, a Walk, a New Training Partner, and Improved LLW and Recall, all in one go!

What an unexpectedly wonderful series of events Barnum and I had on our walk today!

It started terrifically, when I took Barnum out to pee.

We have been in rather a battle of wills, I’m afraid, over peeing on leash. Barnum has incredible bladder control. I’m convinced he has the bladder of a dog three times his size, because he can — and will — hold it for 16 or 18 hours, even when given numerous opportunities to pee.

You see, now that the weather is better, I have been very dedicated to not letting him out to relieve himself off-leash. Ever. If I’m not able to take him out, I have one of my helpers do it.

Longtime readers know I’ve been obsessed with having a service dog who will eliminate on cue, on leash, on every surface, since before Barnum arrived. Although, as a puppy, he was always taken out on leash to eliminate, and did learn to eliminate on leash, on cue, he seems to have forgotten all of that over the winter, when I got sloppy and too sick to stay on top of it.

Thus, we began again. . . .

For the first few weeks, I’d take him out in the morning, knowing he had to pee, but I think because he gets so distracted by being outside (exciting!), and because he prefers to relieve off-leash, he would not “go.” I’d take him in after a couple of minutes, and an hour or two (or five) later, I’d take him out again.

Often, he would ring the bell, indicating he needed to go out, but when I took him out, he wouldn’t go. So, back in we’d go.

Finally, sometimes not until evening, he’d pee, I’d give my cue word as he squatted (“Hurry up!”), click when he was done, give high-value treats, and then let him off leash to run around. I “ran around” too, if I was able, zipping up and down the ramp, pretending I was chasing him, or encouraging him to chase me, and he loved it.

All that running around naturally led to him needing to poop. Eventually I need to have all elimination functions on cue, on leash, but I decided that the reinforcer of being able to run and play off leash after peeing was more important than a Cold War of waiting for him to poop all day, every day.

When I started this process, a few weeks ago, I had to take him out several times a day, all day, before he would pee. Within the last few days, he has more often been “going” on the first or second attempt.

Today, I took him out, and  he peed within one minute! Then, in addition to the click, praise, and treats, I could offer the best reinforcer of all: “Do you wanna go for a walk?!?!”

Puppy Barnum races Sharon in the superpowerchair

He's a lot bigger now, but this is how we ROLL.

[Image description: Five-month-old puppy Barnum races next to Sharon across the lawn. He is running full-out, with his ears flying straight behind him, his red tongue hanging out and to the side, his legs fully stretched out. Sharon, in her big power chair, watches Barnum as she zooms alongside. They run through the grass, with a metal fence in the background. Sharon wears a straw hat and shorts, suggesting a sunny day.]

Indeed, the fact that we were able to go for a walk was a joy in itself.

Mostly, lately, we have been just practicing loose-leash walking (LLW) up and down our driveway, or — if I have someone to load the chair and drive me — an off-leash run at the pond. (I have video of one of our driveway walk sessions, which I hope to edit and post eventually. It shows quite a dramatic change from our LLW training videos from the fall.)

I’ve been doing driveway “walks” for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to practice LLW and “leave it” (Zen) in this less distracting environment.
  2. My chair has not yet really been fixed, so I wanted to wait until someone was home, on the other two-way radio, when I went out.
Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, and running!

So, even though it was a short walk, this was our first real walk in a long time.

We started out on a good paw, with Barnum doing quite well in his LLW and even managing to take treats and stay in position. Then, the smells got too interesting, and he didn’t take treats anymore, but he still kept pretty good track of his pace and the leash.

Although it is mud season, and thus the roads have not been graded yet and are full of gulleys, the chair managed well. We were going up an extremely steep hill, with only occasional reverses from me if Barnum got ahead when one of his dog friends, a sweet and lively Vizsla rescue, came pelting onto the road.

She was off-leash (as most dogs are in my area), and she kept “dive-bombing” us to try to play with Barnum. Of course, Barnum completely lost his head and tried to pelt after her. Repeatedly. (Thank goodness for migraine meds.) It was very difficult to keep him from pulling with such a temptress coming and going in all directions.

Nonetheless, we eventually made it up the hill to the Vizsla’s driveway, where her person appeared. My neighbor held her pup so Barnum could have a chance to settle, sit, make eye contact, stay in a sit, make eye contact again after I’d unclipped his leash, and then give him the release. (I have patient neighbors.)

Barnum had a wonderful time playing with his friend, as well as running around and marking every place he could.

I was very pleased that his play was overall appropriate and friendly. He has really only played with one dog for the past four months, a rough-and-tumble dude who can be a bit dominant and resource-guarding around Barnum (the resources being me, his owner, snow, and any food his owner or I might have on us).

(Just for fun, here is a ten-second video of Barnum playing with aforementioned buddy a couple of months ago.)

I had been concerned that Barnum’s play manners would have eroded as a result — that he wouldn’t play with the same variety and good doggy manners as he used to. But, no, with the exception of two aborted humping attempts, he was quite the gentleman.

It was also great to be out and to talk to another human being, away from my house! I really like my neighbor, and as we chatted, she mentioned that she needs to train her dog. Apparently, she is a cat person, her husband is a dog person, so they got a dog to be her husband’s. He trained her, but now my neighbor is at home with her most of the time (although she also works outside the home) and has no experience with training and dog handling in general. She has an infant, and seemed a bit daunted by the prospect of learning dog training with so little time, in this “baptism by fire” situation.

I couldn’t believe this amazing opportunity was presenting itself!

Regular readers of this blog know that I am following Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Some of the Levels skills require working with other people and/or dogs. I have tried to find a training partner, to no avail. While Betsy and my PCAs pitch in when possible — a tremendous help — usually they are too busy with other necessities, and also, none of them have a dog!

I asked my neighbor if she’d like to be my training partner, and she said yes!

Since we had just gone through her trying to get her dog to drop a dead rodent she’d unearthed, I decided to teach her about doggy Zen.

She was very easy to work with because she is wild about whatever training treats I have with me, whenever I visit. (Whereas Barnum usually could not care less.) This girl is very food motivated! And she’s plenty smart and caught on quickly.

She tends to jump up on me a lot to try to get treats, so I went back and forth between four-on-the-floor and Zen. (By this time, her person had her hands full with her baby, so she said she preferred to just watch me train her dog.) While I was training, I explained what I was doing and why, how to use the clicker and treats, and how to practice zen on her own.

“Where can I get a clicker?” She asked.

This question surprised me so much I almost laughed; because my house is full of clickers, it never occurs to me that someone might not know where to get one. (I told Betsy that our neighbor asked this, and she said, “Come to our home and look under the sofa cushions. They’re everywhere, like loose change.”) Right now, just rotating my head in bed, I have counted six clickers visible — four different kinds — three of them within a few inches of my hand!

“I’ll give you one!” I immediately told my neighbor. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her one right that moment, because — for the first time ever? — I only had one with me!

But, we decided to keep in touch, and we would try to set up a time to do some training together.

Another wonderful bonus of our conversation was that Barnum eventually saw that I was not paying attention to him, but to another dog, and that I was clicking and treating this dog, and — most importantly — the other dog was not paying any attention to him!

So, he came over.

This gave me the opportunity to click and praise extravagantly and shove some cheese in his mouth before he could question my motives. Then, I gave him his ultimate reinforcer: “Release! Go play!”

Away he went. After that, he started checking in with me more often, and even coming when called for some cheese and a release back to play. I was thrilled. This is the best he’s ever done in a new environment, with another dog around, to boot.

Eventually, my neighbor took her baby and dog inside, and I did several more recalls and releases in their yard before putting Gadget on the leash to go home.

Now he was truly tuckered out, and he walked so nicely by my side, I had to keep telling him how proud I was of him, and what a good dog he was. He was even interested in clicks and treats for proper position for about half the time, then he was too full.

We even did a couple stops (with automatic stand-stay) and a few sits.

He’s spent a good portion of the evening snoring, having received lots of sensory stimulation and exercise of his body and mind. Ah, tranquility.

I had a session with my empathy buddy for my telephone nonviolent communication (NVC) class, and as she helped me figure out my emotions, I realized I was proud, not just of Barnum, but of myself!

It seems ridiculously obvious that the point of training is that improvement occurs, goals are reached, and, well, the dog gets trained. However, when I’m in the midst of it, it’s often hard to see that training is, indeed, taking place.

After four months trapped in the house, only able to train indoors, I had no idea if our indoor LLW practice would bear fruit outside. Now I know — it has!

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all we still have to work on, I lose sight of how far we have come. Today was a gorgeous reminder of our progress, along with some unexpected gifts bestowed by my neighbor and her sweet dog. Barnum received lots of reinforcement: food rewards, play time with another dog, play time with me, and the multitudinous joys of a walk.

I received the reinforcement of seeing my hard work pay off. But I wouldn’t mind some more. If you’re in the mood to cheer on Team Barnum, please comment and click me!

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I lost my head around other dogs, too), and Barnum (Mr. Full-of-Surprises SDiT)

LTD: Roadwork! (Walkin’ and Talkin)’

I have a semi-working powerchair and semi-working walkie-talkies! Not since the clicker and the target stick have technologies played such an important role in dog training!

Obviously I’m exaggerating. Nonetheless, lately I’ve been on a roll.

In last week’s post, I described how I figured out what was wrong with my powerchair. I was waiting for the temperatures to climb a bit so I could finally take Barnum for a walk.

I’m pleased to report that Barnum and I have taken four walks since that post!

Walks are so important for so many reasons — exercise for Barnum, a source of bonding and a mental health boost for both of us, as well as practice for lots of behaviors such as eliminating on cue while on lead, loose-leash walking (LLW), attention and eye contact, socialization and desensitization, and the opportunity to train known behaviors (sit, down, stay, touch, etc.), in a more distracting environment (generalizing).

Vigorous exercise is also a key component of Sue Ailsby’s Leading the Dance protocol that we have been trying to follow. Previous posts focused on number five, “Possession,” and number seven, “Sing a Song.”

Here’s number 10 — “Working off Energy” (referred to as “roadwork” by many clicker trainers):

Work Off Energy – Roadwork adult dogs 4 days a week. Start small, but work up to a mile for small dogs, 2 miles for medium dogs, and 3 miles for large dogs. Many problems will disappear with no more effort than road-working. You can jog with the dog, or ride a bike, or longe him with a Flexi, or use an ATV, or lend him to a jogger who’s afraid of being mugged.

One of the behaviors that has suffered from not being able to walk Barnum has been eliminating on cue. If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you know this is a skill I’m obsessed with concerned about. In fact, I not only blogged about it when we were housebreaking Barnum, but before Barnum even arrived.

On the Training Levels list, the consensus was that getting a dog to relieve on cue, on leash, reliably, is tremendously helped by “roadwork” — as is almost every other skill and behavioral problem. I was so frustrated! I felt like I was failing as a mom/handler and as an owner-trainer.

Now, all has changed! Callooh! Callay! Oh frabjous day! I chortle in my joy!

First of all, I was able to get Barnum to pee (and in one case, poo), in the yard, on leash, before we left for our walks. This is ideal, because then I can use the walk afterwards as a very strong reinforcer.

Tuesday, the temperature climbed from negative numbers to a balmy 22 degrees Fahrenheit. I bundled myself in layers and dressed Barnum in his Premier Easy Walk Harness and hunter-orange safety vest, and away we went.

Barnum in orange vest on ramp surrounded by snow

Barnum's suited up and ready for his walk. You can see how much snow has fallen on the patio table and next to the ramp, which is actually two to three feet off the ground!

[Photo description: Barnum, a furry black brindle bouvier des Flandres, stands on a black metal grate with black metal railings. He is dressed in a bright orange vest with reflective stripes and gazing into the distance. The snow on either side of the ramp reaches his elbows.]

In truth, before we left, I told my personal care assistant (PCA) that I planned to go for just a half-hour test drive, and which route we planned to take. I said if we weren’t back within 45 minutes, to get in the van and come look for us. The chair is working, yes, but those batteries are still not reliable and had not been tested in very cold weather, and I didn’t want to risk getting stranded in the cold and dark while temperatures dropped.

I hadn’t known if I could make it to the street at all, because my monster chair just fits down the ramp, with no room to spare. Yet once on the ramp, I turned the knob to “turtle,” and toddled safely down the walkway.

Half an hour went by much too quickly. Barnum really needs a lot of work on his loose-leash walking, and he also needs much more exercise — an hour, at the very least. Before the chair batteries went on the fritz, we were doing at least one-and-a-half to two-mile walks (at a fast clip). But you gotta turtle before you can rabbit, right?

We did manage to get some decent training in for the beginning part of the walk: I was able to click and treat Barnum many times for walking by my side. He even ate the cheese! However, when my cheese supply was gone, and I switched to kibble, he turned up his squishy, black nose at it. Still, it’s progress for Barnum to pay attention to me, at all, or accept treats, on a walk.

I was pleased with the powerchair’s performance, too. The roads were thick with two to three inches of snow muck. Yet the powerchair did excellently, overall. In fact, at one point, a car slowed down to pass us, and slipped and skidded a little as it tried to accelerate, whereas my chair motored right along. Woohoo!

We only had two problems.

I’d chosen the least hilly route I could, but since I live in the hills, there’s no way to avoid at least one major slope in any direction. The path I chose had just one serious hill. Leaving, it was downhill. Coming home, it was uphill — and at the end of the walk, near my house.

The thick sludgy snow, combined with the steep incline, made for difficult driving. I had to careen back and forth to keep my momentum and to try to find the least snowy path. My erratic movements were hard for Barnum to predict, and at one point, I accidentally hit him in the snout with my footrest. Poor guy!

But we made it up. I was ecstatic. We rolled into the driveway less than 40 minutes after we’d left, and as I was removing my leg rests to store in the van (because the chair is too big to navigate the ramp with them on), I saw my PCA’s face peek through my bedroom curtains. I was glad she knew we were home.

After I entered the yard and closed the gate behind us, I let Barnum off leash. He bounded around happily in the snow, as if he had never taken a walk at all. Then, I did something stupid. I flew down the ramp, pumping my fist and shouting, “We did it! We did it!”

I couldn’t help myself! I was having a Leonardo-DiCaprio -“I’m-king-of-the-world!” moment.

Of course, my right wheel went off the ramp. The axle came to rest on the ramp’s two-inch-high safety lip, and the wheel was buried deep into the snow that is piled several feet high on either side of the ramp. I attempted to rock the chair out of the rut, but it was well and truly stuck.

I tried getting some momentum with the wheels. At first, the one in the snow just spun in space. Then it stopped spinning. Oh dear. Neither of the wheels spun at all when I moved the joystick. I checked the controller display panel, and saw that the switch was off. I turned it back on, and the display panel simply blinked in distress.

Nooooooooo!

I bellowed to the house for help, but my home is super-insulated, and nobody heard me. I just had to hope that sooner (rather than later) my PCA would notice I was still outside.

I sat and watched Barnum playing. I tried to be patient, but I was getting a bit chilly. (Later, I discovered the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit when I was waiting.) Eventually my helper poked her head out the door.

“I’m stuck!” I yelled.

She came out to help, and I tried to back the chair up to help, but it was pointless. We decided to put it in free-wheel mode so it could be pushed. (Powerchairs have a safety feature of locking the wheels unless they are released to roll. When it’s in “push” mode, the motor disengages, so you can’t drive and free-wheel at the same time.) There’s a lever on each wheel motor. Sitting in the chair, I pulled the lever on one side up, and pushed the lever on the other side down.

Then I realized what I’d just done. The levers should have both been either up or down. The lever on the side where the wheel was caught must have been pushed up by the ramp’s side when the chair went down. I pulled both levers up, which engaged both wheel motors, and wahla! The power was on again!

Left purple powerchair wheel and motor, with snow slush

A lot of the snow had melted off the treads by the time I took this. Notice the free-wheel lever, with the up arrow for "Drive," and down area for "Push," written in yellow.

[Photo description: Large, black knobbly tire on the bottom of a purple powerchair. The entire wheel well is coated in wet snow. The snow on the treads is partially melted off. Behind the tire is the drive motor -- a black canister, parallel to the ground, with a lever sticking out, and yellow writing indicating that when the lever is up, its in "drive" mode, and when down, is in "push" or "free-wheeling" mode.]

With human muscle power, as well as the chair’s engaged motors, we were able to return me to the center of the ramp, and I made it home. Barnum continued to play in the snow.

However, I really wanted to be able to communicate from a distance from now on, if I’m out — especially if the chair is not working optimally, the road and weather conditions aren’t great, and/or it’s nighttime. This is where the two-way radios come in.

In an early post, I talked about how my ability to communicate with other household members declined significantly when Gadget died. Betsy’s solution was a doorbell, which had its pluses and minuses. Betsy bought us an intercom set for my birthday, last year. I was very excited about this new bit of assistive tech. Unfortunately, over a year later, we still can’t use them because they are still outgassing horrible plastic fumes. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tolerate them.

This year, for my birthday (are you sensing a theme?), Betsy bought me walkie-talkies! Ever since I’d moved to the country in 1998, I’d thought it would be a good safety precaution to have a cell phone for an emergency. However, neither town where I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts has cell phone reception.

The two-way radios were our attempt to circumvent the cell phone issue. Betsy bought radios with a 24-mile range “under ideal conditions.” Hilly, tree-filled countryside is not “ideal conditions,” but I normally only go a couple of miles at the most for my walks (my ultimate goal is to be able to make it to the center of town, which is about five miles), so we thought these would be powerful enough. Betsy assembled them Tuesday night (I was burnt-out on figuring out technological gizmos), and left them to charge overnight.

Wednesday, my PCA — who is a firefighter — very enthusiastically showed me how to use the radios. We each put one in our pockets, I donned my layers for the cold, and Barnum and I set out.

I checked in periodically with my PCA to make sure I was still within range. All seemed to be going well. I’d brought extra-large bags of hot dog and cheese cubes, and Barnum was eager to be clicked and treated for loose-leash walking for the first few minutes. Then he lost interest completely as his stomach filled and the terrain got more enticing.

We had to do a lot of stopping and starting, because any time the leash got tight, I turned to the right (his leash is clipped to the left side of the chair), and stopped. Stopping without turning is too slow in terms of giving Barnum the information, “What you have just done is causing the fun to come to an end.” Apparently, the stopping and starting, as well as the thick, slow ground, discharges batteries severely.

At one point, I pulled to the side of the road for a passing car, causing my left wheel to get stuck in a couple of feet of snow. I couldn’t tell where the drop-off was between the road and the gully, because there was so much snow. I radioed based.

“We have a situation,” I told my firefighter PCA, in a joking tone.

“Understood. A situation. What’s your location?”

“Well, um, I’m on Jennison? And um, my tire is stuck in the snow? And . . . Oh, a UPS guy has stopped. I think he’s going to help me. Hang on.”

“Standing by. Over.”

Indeed, the UPS driver very quickly and neatly popped me back onto the road. I guess if you spend all day, every day, hauling around big packages, you get strong.

Another lesson learned: Don’t drive into a hidden snow bank.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we got to the hill that leads to my house. With the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, the snow was not just thick, but extra sludgy and sloppy. I normally have to do a lot of starting and stopping to train LLW — once Barnum loses interest in treats — but going up that hill, if I stopped, I lost the tiny bit of momentum I had. The chair crapped out repeatedly (that’s a technical term, meaning it stopped and the power lights flashed), and I had to turn it off, wait a few seconds, and turn it back on. (According to Wheelchair Junkie, the way I’ve treated my batteries constitutes abuse. Yes, I guess that would be battery battery.)

I really could not afford to have Barnum pulling in any direction but the one I was going in, and I couldn’t take care not to clock him with erratic driving. So I gave him as much leash as I had and had to let him do as he pleased while I focused on getting home.

Trainers aren’t kidding when they talk about how reinforcing pulling is, in itself, for dogs! Just those few yards up the hill with the freedom to pull, and Barnum tried to pull the rest of the way home! (Two steps forward, one step back, anyone?)

But we made it. I even managed to go length of the ramp without careening off this time. I let Barnum off leash to play in the yard, as he tends to get the “zoomies” after a walk and likes to gambol in the yard, especially when it’s so comfortably freezing outside. Pictures to come.

On the third day, God didn’t rest, and neither did I. We went for an hour-long walk. Finally! We’re approaching real roadwork. This is when I discovered that the radio’s range sucks. Past about an eighth or a quarter of a mile from my house, they couldn’t hear me back home.

We had no untoward events, unless you count that I was kind of flattened the next two days as a result. I got to take a lot of goofy pictures of this heroic conquering of the winter landscape, as well. I’ll try to get that up as a photo essay shortly.

Love and other outdoor games,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (snow-dog)

Level 2 Test Videos (Part 1)

I have figured out how to use Betsy’s camera to make very short videos! On July 31, when my parents visited, I had them test me on six of the sixteen behaviors of Level Two in Sue Ailsby’s training levels (which I introduced when I tested myself on L1, delved into further in “Click, treat, repeat,” then provided another update on our progress, and just a couple of days ago, provided the brain-twisting theory behind it all).

Now, as promised, the first batch of L2 test videos!

I wasn’t sure how strictly to judge myself, so I retested them the next day, August 1. I’ll give a synopsis of the criteria we are testing ourselves against, but if you want the details, read them here at Training Level Two.

The first day of testing (which has not been recorded for posterity here), Barnum was very peppy. Probably a combination of cooler weather and the presence of visitors (Oh boy, oh boy!). The following day, in the videos below, he is very mellow. Well, that’s the two sides to the Bouvier des Flandres — bouncing around and athletic, or floor spud, and not much in between!

Here’s our handling test. Test requires handling all paws, ears, and tail, without the dog fussing. On day one, I did it with him standing (because he was hyper), but that’s not typically how I do handling. I feel like he did pass it — he let my dad pick him up (twice!) so he could hold him to weigh him. I thought that was pretty good for someone he’s only met about three or four times. (For the record, Barnum weighed 64 pounds.)

But I wanted to redo it the way we normally do.  Here’s the video-taped test, showing our usual style. Even though you can’t see it, I did do both hind feet (one I pulled a burr out between the toes) and his tail (what little of it there is got wagged, gently pulled, lifted, etc.). I didn’t caption it because my voice wasn’t working, so there’s no essentially no audio. I look like I’m speaking, but really I’m mostly mouthing and squeaking. Read the transcript/video description here.

Next is our “trick.” You can teach any trick you want. I chose ringing a bell to indicate he wants to go out. Barnum also knows various verbal and signed cues for ringing the bell. He did it better the previous day, but I felt that today’s was a pass, too. It’s closed-captioned. Read the transcript here.

This just in! August 10, 2010 –

Three times today, Barnum went to the bell, while I was in bed, and rang it to indicate he wanted to go out. Even better, each time I took him out, on lead, he PEED or POOPED immediately, and on cue! Woohoo! The “trick” is no longer just a trick — the connection has been made!

Now, back to the testing videos of 10 days ago. . . .

This is our Come Game test (captioned).

The dog has to come eagerly, straight to you from forty feet away.

When he did it yesterday, he ran faster/harder, but I still felt this was a pass. Read the transcript here.

This is our Zen (“Leave It”) test. Dog must stay off a treat in your hand for 10 seconds and off a treat on a couch or low table for five seconds. One cue only.

Barnum always does great with Zen. I wanted to make it clear I was not “guarding” the treat by being near it, which is why I moved it and moved far away from it and looked in another direction. That is raw beef heart he’s ignoring; even though he looks like he doesn’t care, it’s one of his favorite treats. I’m calling this a pass.

(It’s captioned, but not well. I did try my darndest; apologies.) Read the transcript here.

This is our targeting test — target sticks.

Dog must touch the end of a target stick.

I used the stick from the Alley-Oop (yellow tip), then the Manner’s Minder (love that one! — red tip), then the old-fashioned Karen Pryor stick (just metal, and mine is missing its tip).

I didn’t know I was holding some of them out of the range of the camera, but he actually did the very tip on the KPCT stick both times, which I was happy about, because it doesn’t even have its tip anymore, so it’s not as obvious as the other two. 

Note: I’m doing something wrong in this video, see if you catch it!

Apologies — I could not get the captions to work with this video. They ended up being so ill-timed I thought they’d be more distracting than useful. Read the transcript here.

After seeing the video above I realized I often move the stick away as he’s going to touch it! Need to work on that! Also, since it’s in my left hand, I asked for many more touches on the left. Need to work on that, too. I still consider it a pass. We will continue to work with the sticks, and I’ll be more careful with those two issues.

Finally, after retesting “Go to Mat,” I decided it’s a fail!

Both days, he did not run to the mat, like I’m looking for, even though it’s not technically in the criteria (which is the dog goes to a mat from five feet away, with two cues or less, all four paws on the mat). I want a more enthusiastic response to the cue.

Here’s the closed-captioned video, anyway, of where we are in our process.  See the transcript here.

Update: Some on the training levels list say he did pass this behavior, so I decided it’s technically a pass, but I’m going to keep working at it at this level anyway.

Thanks for watching! (And more videos on the way, as we have tested and passed three more behaviors, so far.) As ever, we welcome your comments!

-Sharon, Barnum, and the spirit of Gadget, who would’ve rocked the Levels, if he had but been given the chance!


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