Posts Tagged 'Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels'

New & Improved Bouvier!

Now, with significantly reduced levels of testosterone!

Oh. My. Dog.

I’m backlogged on posts I’d intended to write today, yesterday, the day before, etc. But I’m not writing them. Instead you’ll have to suffer through another gleeful post about the progress Barnum and I are making.

First of all, my outdoor powerchair has been fixed — again — I hope! It seems fixed. I used it today and it ran very well. I didn’t notice any problems. Please, please let it be fixed, once and for all!

Sharon in a woodsy setting in her large outdoor chair. It has very large black knobby tires, elevated black metal leg rests, a purple square base, and an oversized gray captain's chair with headrest.. Sharon is reaching into a treat pouch hanging from the joystick while baby Barnum (4 months old) trots toward her.  He is shorter than the wheels. The chair gives an impression of great size and power.

This is the kind of rugged terrain that chair needs to handle.

My chair underwent quite an overhaul. It was rewired. the battery boxes were replaced and terminals cleaned, loose wires more securely tucked away, and light switch more firmly reattached. I also got new chargers!

(Thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking my chair for repairs and returning it to me! And for putting up my dog-smelling van for two weeks!)

Anynoodle, Barnum and I went for our first real walk in a month or two. As usual, before we left, I asked him to pee, and he did. Hooray.

I didn’t know if he’d respond differently to this chair than the only one I’ve had to use lately, but he seemed more comfortable, actually, with moving next to the outdoor chair today. I assume this is because 90 percent of our walks have been with the outdoor chair, so it’s more familiar.

I kept the pace slow, and he was damn-near perfect for the first several minutes. If this had been a Level Three test for loose-leash walking, we would have passed! However, I couldn’t consider it a test because I was doing a lot of clicking and treating. He’ll have to be able to go 40 feet without clicks or treats to pass that.

To get to that level, I will raise my criteria and reduce my rate of reinforcement — clicking for eye contact and also for relaxedness — and then I can start phasing out the treats. He is showing some nerves and apprehension during some parts of the walk, and I don’t know why, so I tried to click him for “enjoying yourself,” as well as loose leash and eye contact and such.

But, I didn’t take this walk with the plan of testing anything. I just wanted to get more practice in and have a nice time and give him a bit of exercise. The bugs were not as bad as they’ve been lately, either.

All was going well until  we were partway up the very steep hill, and Barnum’s friend, Lucy, the Vizsla, came roaring down to us. She is typically off-lead, and likes to dive-bomb Barnum to get him to play with her, and to beg for treats from me.

Longtime readers know that nothing is more exciting and distracting to Barnum than other dogs. He also has a history of playing with Lucy. Needless to say, staying controlled and on a LL is difficult with Lucy roaring around.

Oh, and yeah, Barnum was not wearing his no-pull harness, just a regular buckle collar.

At first he started pulling to get to Lucy, and I backed up as fast as I could and tried to get between them. He looked at me, I c/t. He looked again, c/t!

He  repeatedly chose  to interact with me and earn treats rather than throwing himself at Lucy!

I couldn’t believe it! Not only did he generally keep a loose leash and repeatedly give me uncued eye contact, but then he started throwing sits, and I was able to CUE sit, down, and watch me, several times!

The most amazing thing was that I was able to use my Zen cue (“Leave it,”) to get him to turn from Lucy to me. There were several times when he really would have been well within doggy manners to tell her off. She sniffed his butt, his penis, his face, and tried to get between him and me, actually trying to grab cheese right out of his mouth, and he kept responding to my “Leave its,” by ignoring her. Sometimes I didn’t even need to cue him. He was just so focused on me doing c/t as fast as I could.

Today felt like a HUGE breakthrough.  It was an almost spiritual experience, having those brown eyes staring at me so hard, I could practically see the gears going in his mind. He worked so hard to focus on me and not be swayed by the temptress, Lucy!

GO, TEAM BARNUM!

He wasn’t perfect, of course. He knew (or deeply hoped, and he was right) that once we got to her driveway, if he sat and gave me eye contact, I would  release him to play off-leash with her. As  a result, the closer we got to her driveway, the more he lost focus, until he was pulling every time we crossed the driveway threshold, and I had to keep backing up.

However, he did then sit and stare at me, and hold his stay, off-leash, until he was released. I also managed to repeatedly call him off marking off-leash (not every time, but even once was 100 percent more than in the past!) and multiple “Leave it”s from snorfling my neighbor’s adorable baby, who just started walking three days ago. She loves dogs and wasn’t afraid of him, but I didn’t want him to knock her over or get slime all over her face. (All that panting and cheese-eating, Barnum was good and slime-faced by then.)

His Zen definitely needs a lot of work — most of the time he didn’t actually stop cold and turn or back up and look at me — but he did at least not do the thing I didn’t want him to do, most of the time. He seemed to understand that this was a baby person, and that made her interesting (she’s shorter than him!), but he also seemed to be showing some care around her. He just really wanted to sniff her.

Anynoodle, he and Lucy played, and he ran around marking things, and rolling on his back in the grass, and exploring. We had some other breakthroughs here: He came when called twice (though not every time). We came running after me when I drove out of sight. And I was able to do several short sessions of training with him while Lucy was right there! He sat, hand-targeted, and gave eye contact, all on cue, despite Lucy being A) a dog, and B) all over him and me to try to get to the treats.

On the way home, he was so tired, he kept wanting to stop and rest, but even though I was going slow, I couldn’t carry him or anything! He HATES the heat. So, he was speeding up, partly to get to Lucy (who decided to escort us home) and partly because he wanted to get home. Ironically, I had to keep backing up every time he did this. I told him,”The slower  you go, the faster we’ll get there,” but he didn’t seem to respond.

Must. Sleep.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (80% more likely to be SDiT)

stuck day

today is a stuck day. i haven’t had one in a long time. i thought i was done with them. that’s lyme for you. once you think you’re doing better, it returns and kicks your ass.

you probably can’t tell today is different from my writing, except that i’m not using caps. if i tried to use caps, i wouldn’t be able to write/post. that’s because all i can move right now are my hands, my facial muscles, some minor head/neck movement like small nods, and the lower part of my right arm. with great exertion and pain, actually, i can move more of both arms, but that’s only for necessities, like signing, typing, positioning. i’ve also reread this later when i was more functional and corrected the huge number of phrases that made no sense.

here’s what a stuck day is like: i wake up and think, “oh, i have to pee.” i realize that i’m in a lot of pain and feel weak, and the idea fleetingly crosses my mind that i might need help to get out from under the covers. “nah,” i tell myself. “don’t be such a drama queen. once you get going you’ll be fine.”

So (oh look, i did a caps! the drugs are kicking in!), I roll onto my side, and i get stuck. i can’t get the blankets off me. i can’t even move my arms or my legs, i realize. i can’t talk. ohshitohshitohshit.

then, i have to find my call button. this is the doorbell i wrote about in a previous post. no, i’m sorry, i can’t put the link in right now. maybe later, when i can move. [note: i'm doing a bit better now, so i've put in said links.]

anyway, i need to hit the button which is now loose on top of my overbed table. with great effort i get my left hand up onto the table, and it crawls around like a crab, searching. i hit my “clik-r” clicker button, and i hear barnum pop up. sorry buddy. bad trainer. no cookie. eventually i find and press the doorbell button. thank god!

here’s the problem: i’m lying on my side with my back to the door. i can’t talk or really make any sound. i can’t move at all except my left hand. so when i hear carol, my pca, open my door, i know she is waiting for me to say something or indicate something. and i appear to be all snuggled up, asleep. i try to sort of flap my left hand, opening and closing it, hoping she can see it from where she’s standing, but apparently she can’t, because I hear the door shut. DAMMIT!

“well,” i think, “i’ll just have to ring again. eventually she’ll realize i wasn’t ringing by accident in my sleep.”

yeah, right. cuz i can’t find the fucking doorbell button this time. i press the clicker again another couple of times — barnum’s really curious as to what’s happening now — and i can’t find the button. through tremendous effort i pull myself up a few inches to better search the table and find the button. i grab it — not letting it go anymore today — and ring it repeatedly.

i try to roll onto my back so i can communicate better, but can’t. fortunately, betsy comes to the door. yay! I had assumed she was asleep. she asks if i rang. i sign “yes.”

she asks what’s going on. i sign, “stuck,” which is a v-hand shape, finger tips on either side of adams apple.

her sign is rusty. she can’t remember that word.

“is it your heart?” she asks.

I shake no, then fingerspell S-T-U….

“You’re stuck!” she announces.

Relief. Nod.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

Affirmative.

Thank god, betsy knows the drill. carol does, too, but she has back issues and is getting over the flu, and betsy understands me when i’m nonverbal better than anyone else does. also she’s strong as a power-lifter. she pulls the heavy blankets off me. she pulls my legs toward the side of the bed. she moves my pchair into position. she grabs my hands and pulls me into a sitting/slumped position. I take a moment to rest, then she lifts me onto the chair. i’m no lightweight. i’m always surprised how strong she is.

barnum is overjoyed to see betsy — and me out of bed — and he throws himself between us, wriggling, wagging, kissing, pressing against us. he is soaking up betsy’s attention primarily, because she’s more capable of good butt-scratching than I am. i ask her to stop so i can give barnum some attention, have him just focus on me for a bit.

refreshed by puppy love, we get back to business. i take the call button with me to the bathroom. once there, betsy picks me up off the chair while i pull down my pants (fortunately the muscle lock has eased enough now that I can do this), and i pee . . . for a long time! (you know the scene in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks pees endlessly and Mae/Madonna takes out a stopwatch to time it? it was like that, except i wasn’t all hungover and gross.) we chat a little, mostly consisting of me mouthing/signing, “this sucks. why is this happening?” and exchange more dog love. Betsy helps me back onto the chair and then settles me in bed (without the quilts, which are too heavy, and even when i’m doing better, could immobilize me just by their weight alone). i just keep my light organic cotton sheet and blanket.

then she leaves me to go do other things and carol steps back in. my first priority is getting pain and muscle relaxant meds in me, so I can function better. i do a lot of mouthing and miming to get across what i need. carol and i get my laptop computer open and readjust my position, overbed table, and screen so i can communicate with her by typing.

one of the worst parts about stuck days is when they are apparently caused for no reason. i have no idea why today i’m doing so much worse than yesterday. i don’t know if this is my fall crash, and now i will be wrecked for weeks or months to come, or if this is just a blip. i don’t know if this is a result of the new Lyme treatment drug i started Thursday. fortunately, i am too exhausted, painful, and crappy feeling to care much about what it all means. i’m just focused on getting through, minute by minute — or actually, task by task. i feel relief that i have carol and betsy here to help me. it feels so much better to have peed and have the right bolsters supporting me in bed. writing this blog gives me something to occupy my brain, other than worrying what the cause of Mystery Stuck Day is and whether it will stretch out into weeks or more from here.

(the meds are really kicking in now, which is good because i can move better and feel less crappy. but it’s bad because i took them on an empty stomach, so i’m getting sleepy and dopey, and i want to finish this blog before i go back to sleep.)

several times since waking up, i have missed Gadget so bad it was a physical ache. if i’d had the energy to spare, i would have cried. but that would have wrecked the small physical gains i’d made, and i don’t even think i have the lung capacity for deep breaths, so i just locked those feelings in. in my heart, i was crying. it’s 20 days till the anniversary of his death, and i feel so heavily the weight of his absence today. he could have helped me transfer — to and from the bed, chair, and toilet. he could have gone for carol or betsy so i wouldn’t have had the stress of not being able to indicate i needed their help. he could have carried messages to them telling them exactly WHAT i needed. he could have opened my door again and again so that i wouldn’t have had to endure what i did to find the call button the second time.

the only “help” barnum provided was licking my face a LOT. i certainly appreciated that, even more than usual, but a little emotional boost and distraction only gets you so far on a day like this.

there’s also the hindering Gadget would NOT have done. (For the record, Jersey wouldn’t have helped me much on a day like this, because she was trained and worked when I was much more functional, but she also would have been very easy — no demands.) gadget wouldn’t have jumped up with his forelegs landing on my legs after i was back in bed, causing severe pain. he could have let himself out to pee and then come straight back in. he wouldn’t have stepped on my burning feet when i was sitting on the toilet. and then. . . .

when carol left me after i was resettled and typing this post, barnum started The Barking. Lately, once a pca (especially carol, his favorite) leaves, he tries to demand their return. after all, i am Boring Lady, stuck in bed, not playing or giving love or attention, while he could be following carol around the kitchen, watching her prep my meals. hearing lovey-dovey talk. getting rubbed behind the ears. etcetera. so, the second they leave my bedroom, he sits at my door and barks.

which is why the pcas all have to ignore barnum until i get up for the day. but i am still dealing with the extinction barking while barnum tries his damnedest to change my tyrannical rule.

lately, i’ve been dealing with this by working on “bark” and “quiet” with him, but being nonverbal, i couldn’t say quiet. HOWEVER, having learned from the past, he knows 3 cues for quiet: ASL for quiet, the word “quiet,” and the sound, “shhhh.” I taught, “Shhh,” because it’s a sound i can make even when i can’t speak. the ASL for quiet requires lifting hands to mouth height, which I can’t do right now.

so, after he has started the very loud, very sharp barking, it occurs to me that i can actually do something about this. i try to call him over to put his front end on the bed near my upper body, but he really only knows all the many ways i have of telling him “off,” for all the times he tries to get on the bed, because normally he wants on and I want off. of course, today i am patting the bed and making kissy noises and he just stands there, waiting for me to make my meaning clear. I can’t communicate “up” nonverbally. something to remember for later: need to teach signed cue for “paws up!” but i have my clik-r, which, despite its other faults (not my preferred clicker), is good for a day like today for two reasons:

  1. it takes very little pressure to depress the button, so even on a weak day, i can usually manage it
  2. it’s very, very quiet. barnum has excellent hearing, so he can hear it even if i click during one of his ear-splitting barks.

fortunately, i always have treats close to hand, so i click and treat for a silent moment. then we start practicing “shhh,” which goes well. he’s bored, and now i’ve given him something to focus on. occasionally i throw in the cue for “bark,” just to keep things interesting.

i am having trouble pitching the treats onto the floor, so i hold my open hand, palm up, on the bed, a treat on it, and barnum takes it that way. much easier. also, interesting note: he was ignoring most of the treats i threw on the floor, because they weren’t “good enough.” But when i offered them in my palm, he took them. could it be the energy expended was not equivalent to the value of the treat if he had to chase it? Or that, love-bug that he is, the contact involved in taking from my open hand added value? or that he liked the chance to “eat off the bed” which he normally isn’t allowed? the novelty?

at any rate, this gave me an idea. i do want him to learn to have paws/front up on the bed when i need his help, when invited, but not to have any part of his body ON my legs or feet — or other body parts — as that’s too painful. so i moved my hands back, closer to my body, for treating, and he jumped up and settled his torso parallel with my legs. actually warmly just barely touching them. felt good, physically and emotionally. perfect.

then i c/t him for making eye contact, for being quiet and still, and started shaping him to rest his chin in my palm. i mostly used luring. usually i try to use targeting or shaping more than luring, but if there’s anything a stuck day teaches, it’s that you use what you can. when i offered the treat in my palm, i’d click when he put his chin in my palm to eat the treat. i did this many, many times. eventually, i pretended to put a treat in my palm, and when he went to get the nonexistent treat, i clicked for contact and treated in my palm. c/t for that, continued. sometimes actual treat in palm, sometimes luring with motion that suggested treat. after a while i shaped the beginnings of a chin target in palm.

as his eye contact got more frequent, i started introducing my hand signal for eye contact, which is ASL for “look into my eyes.”

it felt really good to be accomplishing something when i was able to do so little. i had gone to sleep with all sorts of schemes and plans to work on recall remediation, using the great outdoors and Premack principle stuff i’ve been learning on the training levels list, because barnum’s recall (meaning, coming when called) ranges from great to eh to abysmal/nonexistent. but today’s physical and communication issues put the kibosh on that.

sometimes, actually, it seems like the best training occurs without plans, without grand expectations, but just by using my instinct, my thumb on the raised clicker button, and whatever the dog’s willing to offer. life with disabling chronic illness is unpredictable, and as wheelie catholic put it in a blog recently, that’s the thing about access — it isn’t a problem until it is. much the same as with everything with a severely fluctuating disability — it isn’t an issue until it is.

suddenly, nothing could be taken for granted, and it forced me to get back to the fundamentals of clicker training: see what the dog is offering, and shape it using just a click and some food. no target sticks. no body movement. no voice. it granted me a great feeling of power and control, of communication and making things happen, on a day when i otherwise was pretty well powerless and struggled to make myself understood by the people around me.

i still missed gadget terribly, because we already had a working language, and because he could have actually helped instead of just offering a challenge to overcome. On the other hand, i did tell barnum’s breeder i like a challenge. be careful what you ask for.

Please comment, if you feel inclined.

-Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget (and Jersey)

Quickpress Reminder: Blog Carnival (+ Barnum Passes Another Test!)

I have really been enjoying reading and compiling all the submissions that are coming in for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. For information or details about the carnival (what, when, where, how, etc.), also see the carnival announcement post.

Please remember to post the link and title of your submission in the comments section of the Announcement. Posts must be up and your link submitted by 11:59 PM (of whatever time zone you’re in) on Tuesday, October 19.

If you have written a post for the carnival, and you don’t post it at After Gadget, I won’t know about it, and I won’t be able to include it! (I stumbled across a post for the carnival that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and would have been sorry to exclude; I don’t want to miss any others!)

Now I have to write my own blog on “The First….” I’ve known what I want to write for many weeks, I just have to coordinate my weary body and mind to do it!

Barnum Training Update: We Passed L2 Stand-Stay!

I decided to test us on Level 2 stand-stay — 10 seconds, no more than two cues (I used a verbal and a hand cue) — and no leg/paw can move at all. I wasn’t wearing a watch, so I just guessed when to click/treat, but watching the video, I see we did 12 seconds! Hooray!

I’ve been very sick, plus trying to keep up with the carnival and squeeze in a few minutes of training now and then, so I haven’t been up to transcribing or captioning the video that I’m plopping in below. My apologies. In the future, I’ll round up several videos — including this one — and do the captions and transcripts.

This one starts with a funny bit where Barnum is offering me a behavior I didn’t expect (confusing “watch” with “bark,” then the stand-stay, then a tiny bit of LLW practice.

. . . Can Watch and LLW Be Far Behind?

We can now also do 10 or more seconds of eye contact on a pretty consistent basis (despite the funny confusion that occurs at the beginning of the video above), and I have also been able to add in our cue, “Watch,” without it distracting him anymore. So, I think we are finally almost done with the 16 behaviors on Sue Ailsby’s Training Level Two. When we pass the loose-leash walking and eye contact tests, there will be a PAR-TAY!

Eye Lock Day 10 + Vote for Gadg & Barnum! + New Service Skill?…

If you’re seeking info on the upcoming Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit this earlier blog.

Today and yesterday I’ve been quite ill and migrainal almost all the time, so not much got done. However, I have managed to squeeze in some training here and there with Mr. Barnum.

Suddenly, we’re making Big Progress with eye contact, and I can now get us to 10 seconds pretty fast AND (drum roll, please) I have started to introduce our verbal cue (again). My voice hasn’t been working much the last couple days, so I’ve actually been whispering the cue, and I think that has made it less distracting for Mr. B.

We continue to work on our LLW, working walk, and stand-stay, which are the other skills we need to pass Level 2, as well as incorporating more zen, sit- and down-stays, etc. Two interesting new developments:

1. Barnum wants to train more now — more often — and seems more interested in offering behaviors and shaping. He seems to be gaining confidence and not feeling quite so much need to wait for me to tell him what to do. I’m trying to be patient and wait him out, make him think for himself. Sometimes when he seems to be cruising along and I think he really knows what we’re doing, he will suddenly go into “deflated” mode and — after offering a sit or stare — will just lie down and wait. Then I wait for something clickable. Or eventually I give him something else to do to move him around, like a hand target, and wait for an accidental behavior to click.

2. Today, pretty much by accident (looooong story), Betsy ended up taking Barnum for an extremely long run/walk (because I was too sick to walk him), and when he got home, instead of being tired, he was begging for training! Further support for my theory that maturity, hunger/growth spurts, and more exercise makes him more eager to train. I am taking advantage of that as much as possible! I hope I bounce back from this crash lately so I can give him more exercise again.

In fact, we have started working on our first real service skill! It’s an easy one, and one I feel relaxed about, so we can just have fun and go at our own pace. I’m very excited about how well it’s going! I’m actually starting to consider him a service dog in training (SDiT), as opposed to a “hopefully-maybe-potential SDiT candidate”!

Please Vote for Barnum and Gadget in the Dogster Photo Contests!

Please vote for my boys! It’s fast, easy and fun. Just click on the links/logos or the three pics below to take you to each of their pages. (Barnum has two pages because of a technical glitch, Gadget has one.)

Here is Barnum’s entry for “Smiles and Grins.”

Vote for Barnum in the World’s Coolest Dog Contest.


dog photo contest

Clicking on the pic above will also take you to Barnum’s entries for “Ball or Frisbee Player”; “Naughtiest Dog”; “Sleeper”; and “Jumper.”

VOTE for Barnum in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Here’s Barnum’s entry for “Tongue/Slobber”:

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Here’s Gadget’s entry for “Working Dog.”

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Clicking on Gadget’s pic above will also take you to Gadget’s pic for “Car Dog”; “Water Dog”; “Patriot”; and “Costume.”

VOTE for Gadget in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Thank you!

Sharon, Barnum (SDiT??) and the muse of Gadget

Eye Lock Log Update

If you’re looking for information on the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit my previous post.

Meanwhile . . . training has continued, even though I have not posted daily training logs. I wanted visitors to find the info on the carnival first. But, here’s an update.

We hit a learning dip or plateau a couple of days ago, when Barnum suddenly seemed unable to go for 10 seconds on any consistent basis, or at all. Fortunately, I was able to see it for a blip, and just end sessions quickly on a high note as much as possible and have faith.

He has certainly been giving me more eye contact and even eye lock throughout the day, so the training is making an impact.

I’ve also started to try to incorporate more thoughtful, planned-out recalls, with the goal of 10-20 recalls in the house or yard per day, with a variety of high-level reinforcers. Reinforcers are cooked liver, roasted chicken, raw beef heart, cheddar cheese, tug with his favorite toys, and praise and cuddles (when he is most affectionate, in the morning).

We’re continuing to train stand-stay, and last night we did a couple of ten-second stand-stays, so I think we are almost ready to test! I think he is just now getting that stand is a “thing,” like “sit” or “down” are “things,” and so the idea of stand-stay, even though he has a concept of sit- and down-stay, is new. However, I have started to incorporate sit-stay and down-stay into daily life now and again for actual useful purposes! I think he might actually be on his way to a SDiT (service dog in training)!

His recall out in the world is improving, too, as he was actually coming, sitting (uncued), and accepting treats when I called after he’d worked out his initial puppy zoomies at the pond on Friday. Amazing!

This morning we got to a count of 15 for eye contact twice in a row (which is probably about 12 seconds), and we were able to start right off the bat at six and work up. The stare is really a stare now, more intense. Truly eye lock! It’s great! Didn’t have to start at one. Then I got overconfident and did that great clicker-training no-no and asked for “just one more” 15-count eye lock, and the behavior collapsed. I ended for the day and went to the bathroom.

He saw his spider on the freezer in there and stared at me, so I built us up from 6 seconds with kibble to 10 and then rewarded with spider-tug and spider-fetch-and-tug. I also actually said the cue, “watch me,” once during our longer session to get to 10 seconds, but it seemed to make him uncomfortable, and he broke the contact. In the bathroom, I tried just “watch,” and he didn’t notice that, and that went fine, so I think I might be trying our THIRD cue and see if this one sticks (“look,” then “watch me,” now “watch”). I think he associates the earlier cues with his confusion and looking away, so I gotta come up with something and use it only when we are really solid on ten seconds. We’re getting there!

I think when we can start at 7 or 8 seconds and then do 10 consistently (5 or 6 reps at least in a row), I will reintroduce, “watch,” and then hopefully we’ll be rolling. I’ve never had to work so long and hard to get a behavior. It’s usually putting it on cue that’s the work. Here, as with LLW, I think it’ll be both!

I’ll try to get some video of our new duration behaviors as soon as possible (sit-stay and the blossoming stand-stay, LLW, and eye contact).

Eye Lock Log Day 5 – QuickPress

The value of the treats makes a difference! Ran out of cubes of beef heart before our eye contact training session today, and Barnum was NOT In the Game. Chicken cubes and lamb/beef miniballs didn’t cut it.
I switched to tastes of “goop” (pureed beef heart, liver, and kidney) I fortunately had defrosted, and that worked to get us up to 2 or 3 reps of 10 seconds, then quit. I do have beef heart ready for tomorrow!

A Red Letter Day in Other Areas….

We passed Level 2 sit-stay (handler walks 20′ away and back while dog remains in sit).

Since instituting “Sharon leaves room when Barnum nibbles powerchair armrest ONE time last night, the number of incidents of armrest mauling in the following 24 hours? ZERO!

For the first time ever, tonight, I ate dinner with Barnum in his crate the entire time, and there were NO whimpers, no whines, no pacing, no shredding his bedding; he just went in, laid down, and relaxed. (And I take a while to get through a meal.)

Oh, bliss!

Next post up: Assistance Dog Blog Carnival announcement!

Eye Lock Log Days 3&4, plus Additional Progress!

Eye Contact Log

We start each day — once we’re both fully awake — with our eye contact training session. I keep them very short — 5-10 minutes, at most.

Here’s the very beginning of our day 2 training session. We have come so far! We made it to four seconds, and then at 1:19 he broke contact. I decided to get out the better treats, and there’s no point in watching after that because it’s just me breaking up frozen treats to get ready for the rest of the session. When I gave him that one jackpot, it wasn’t because of duration, but because it was a particularly intense stare — I wanted to reinforce that.

I’m not providing a transcript or captioning because there’s no spoken dialogue, and there’s so little to describe, I don’t think it would be of interest. What I’m signing at the beginning is, “My voice isn’t working today, so it’s a good day to train eye contact.” That’s not my angry face, by the way; that’s just my “exhausted-and-in-pain” facial expression.

Generally, since then, I start out with just 1 low-value treat (chicken) for looks until count of 6, then switch to multiple tiny cubes of beef heart.

Yesterday, after getting to count of 10, I wanted to make sure we were reaching 10 seconds, so I went back to 6 but counted “one-good-dog, two-good-dog,…” until we got to 10. Today, I just counted higher instead, up past 15, which is definitely 10 seconds, at least.

When we get to 10, I do some sort of jackpot, such as treats plus tug, or treats plus wild praise and tummy rubs. He is usually a sponge for affection early in the day.

I got confirmation today that he understands we are working on eye contact, and not, for example, sit-stay, because later in the day when he was doing a sit-stay, he looked away now and then, but held the stay, whereas when we do eye contact sessions, he is getting better and better at holding contact longer, and in down, standing, or sit positions. Sometimes he starts standing, and then he will move into a sit because it’s more comfortable, but he doesn’t break the gaze! Sometimes he rests his chin on my bed and looks up at me to get a click — very cute!

We also worked in a new location today for the first time — the bathroom connected to my bedroom, instead of working at bedside.

Major breakthroughs in other areas yesterday and today!

He now periodically checks in with me by making eye contact and running over to me when playing with other dogs — not cued by me.

LLW Breakthroughs!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, he has been increasingly giving me eye contact on walks, allowing me to include that in criteria for restarting loose-leash walking (LLW), and pulling much less, often going many yards walking beautifully at my side.

Most amazing, he has started offering behaviors for c/t on walks! When he startled and looked over at me for his food reward when I said “YES!” yesterday on a walk, you could have knocked me over with a feather! (I use the verbal marker, “YES!” on walks, because handling the clicker along with everything else is too difficult. Also, he seems to respond more to my voice when we’re in a distracting environment than to the clicker.)

I was finally able, for the first time, to reinforce the loose leash, the position next to the chair, etc., with more than praise or restarting the walk. We have had to rely so much on constantly turning, backing up, and reorienting, which has been dreary for both of us, and I think, painful. (It certainly has been hard on my arms and my powerchair. We’re using a harness so as not to damage his throat, but I still don’t like him getting jerked around when he pulls so hard, I have to swing right to keep him from tipping the chair.)

Eye Contact Leading to Other Skills!

All this has come about, I’m certain, because of our increased eye contact training. I c/t for eye contact when we practice “working walk” inside the house, and am trying to capture eye contact more throughout the day, as well as on walks. He finally started accepting food for eye contact reinforcement a few days ago on walks.

As a result, yesterday and today, not only was I able to reinforce a very eager Barnum for LLW and eyes, but also for sit, down, stand, and touch! He was so eager for the cheese (our treat of choice for walks, because raw meat is too messy, and he adores dairy), he was pinching my fingers sometimes! (Usually he is careful not to nip at the food.) But I let that go for now. I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm!

We are also starting to be able to play “Look at That!” which — thank you Donna of VIAD for the suggestion! — does feed back into eye contact. He has not been calm enough before — almost always above threshold — to play it, even in the house. But we were able to do it when my PCA was sweeping yesterday (he wants to chase the broom, and shred it, of course), and today and yesterday, we have FINALLY applied it to cars successfully, which he tracks with great intensity. (Therefore, it is so important that he learn to relax and be interrupted, or I’m sure he will chase cars if off-leash and given the opportunity.)

I feel so proud of him, and he is delighted with himself, too, and wiggles all over the place when we get home from a walk, covered in triumph!

Eye Lock Log Day 2 – QuickPress

Today very sick. No voice, lots of pain, in bed all day. Eye contact was the only training we did besides testing/training understanding hand signals only from laying-down position.

Started with beef/lamb raw frozen little “mealtballs.” One per click. By 5 reps, he laid down. Boring.

Switched to tiny beef heart cubes (also raw, frozen), RF per c/t and hid flying/tug duck behind my back.

Got up to 7 seconds, then went for 10. At nine, he looked away. When will I learn?

Went back down to 1, did several reps of 3, then 5 seconds because that seemed reliable, then worked up fast to 10, click and reward w/RF and The DUCK.

He is starting to stare at me more often during the day. Must remember to try to c/t when I catch him at it. Right now, only reinforcing occasionally.

With no voice, easy not to be tempted to attempt to say the cue!

Eye Lock Log #1

I’ve decided to do a quick press, ideally once a day (but this is me, so it’s doubtful) about my eye contact training.

This is the one area I can’t seem to make consistent training progress on. Lots of other good stuff is happening with Barnum, and even if it’s slow, I can tell we are moving forward.

Eye contact is a different story. Level 2 requires the dog to find the handler’s eyes on two or fewer cues and hold contact for 10 seconds. No hand signals or body language allowed. (Though once we have an *established* cue, I will introduce a nonverbal cue, because I need to have nonverbal cues for everything.)

Today, I took us back to square one and worked my way up from there.

I gathered my strongest reinforcers: frozen raw beef heart cubes and chicken cubes, and the squeaky plush spider tug (to be featured in a future blog on toys for aggressive chewers) and the flying duck. (It’s soft, it squeaks, it flies, it has a tug rope — what more need I say?)

Step one: Rapid Fire (RF) for any eye contact. Several RF in a row for any eye contact, just to get his attention. (One treat doesn’t usually seem to be worth it for him to do something as boring as look at me.)

Then I started clicking for two seconds, three seconds, four seconds — 2-3 reps and RF for each. This is a modified version of the 300-Peck Method. Usually 300 peck works well for us, but it has not been working for eye contact. Thus the modification: Several reps at each step/peck, plus RF.

What is rapid fire? It’s when you shove as many treats as you can as fast as you can into the dog’s mouth. It’s a way to get them excited and focused at the same time. It’s different than a jackpot in that a jackpot is usually tossed on the floor, several treats at once or one right after the other. Some dogs find jackpots terribly exciting. Others find them distracting. (Jersey was gaga over jackpots, and Gadget loved them, too. Barnum can go either way. RF usually works better for him. Depends on the situation.)

Anyway, the longer we went, the more intense his stare got. We got up to seven! Foolish, foolish, foolish me — I had planned to stop at five. But I got greedy. Bad trainer. He broke eye contact after we successfully did seven.

With 300 peck, if you have an error, you go back down to one. Back we went. This time I went up in true peck fashion — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, but did RF for each. We got to TEN!

That’s when I pulled out the big guns. Food can be enjoyable, but it is not, after all, TUG!

When I clicked for ten, I whipped out the spider from behind my back and said, “Git it!” We played an exhilarating minute of tug, and I put the spider behind my back again.

NOW, I got real eye lock! We did two or three more reps from seven to ten seconds, with the spider as reward each time. For the last one, I THREW the spider, which is the most rewarding of all, because then he gets to chase it, pounce on it, chew/shake/squeak it, and bring it back for us to tug on it.

Then we ended.

Another note: I did not use a cue. I have decided not to introduce the cue until at least a week of solid ten-second, consistent eye lock sessions. I’m writing this in public so I can’t take it back.

Coming up soon: Announcement of Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!


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