Why Barnum Is No Longer My Service Dog

Hi!

I don’t blog here at After Gadget anymore. I moved to SharonWachsler.com over a year ago, but I still get notices from WordPress telling me that new people have subscribed to After Gadget. This post is for you subscribers to tell you my REALLY BIG NEWS and to invite you to subscribe to my ACTIVE blog, sharonwachsler.com because this blog you’re subscribed to here generally has no new content!

Moving alone: My big news is that I no longer have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and I no longer have chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFIDS/ME), and I no longer have chronic Lyme disease and coinfections! Thus, I no longer need a service dog! Barnum has been “career changed” to “demo/training/sport dog” as I work my way toward becoming a professional dog trainer.

I am currently interning with two trainers, Caryl-Rose Pofcher and Elise Gouge. I’m learning tons from both of them.

Barnum and I have not started our sport training yet. He has had an ear infection for 16 months (no, that’s not a typo!) which has been treated with everything you can imagine, from ointments to oral antibiotics to acupuncture to full-sedation ear flushes. We think this very nasty chronic infection is due to underlying hypothyroidism (already being treated) and food allergies (which we’re sussing out now). This means that he’s on an eight-week trial of ostrich and quinoa. Although I have found ways to do treats and toys with ostrich and quinoa, it’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming, so I’m waiting to do classes with him till the food situation is easier. We will start introducing new foods into his diet in three weeks and see how he does with them. (Yay!) I already know he’s allergic to chicken. I am really, really hoping he is not allergic to beef, pork, turkey, and/or duck.

If you want to keep up with me and Barnum, or if you want to know how I recovered my health after 18 years of severe, disabling illness, please check out my current website, SharonWachsler.com. That is where I blog now. That’s where I have info about my writing, consulting, dog training, etc. If you want to skip directly to my recovery story, including “before” and “after” pictures and videos, read the post I published a few days ago. If you want to learn more about neuroplasticity and HOW I recovered, visit my page on neuroplasticity and my recovery.

I’ll leave commenting open here for a short time to support ease for readers who are not familiar with my new/current blog, but my strong preference is for you to comment on my new site (so I don’t have to keep logging in and out of two different websites). Thank you so much for your support and interest in my blogging and all-things-dog over the years! I really appreciate all I have learned and continue to learn from you!

Love,

Sharon and Barnum, Former Service Dog

After Gadget has moved to SharonWachsler.com

Howdy.

If you subscribe to After Gadget by email you should already have had your subscription transferred to my new blog at SharonWachsler.com. If you follow this blog by other means (RSS, for example), I hope you’ll follow/subscribe at my new blog since I don’t plan to post new content here anymore.

So far there’s one new post up, and I anticipate getting a couple more posts up in the next few days for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD), the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (the deadline has been extended! Rejoice!), and a possible book contract announcement!…

UPDATE: New posts are going up all the time at sharonwachsler.com. I don’t anticipate posting any new material here, although I will keep all After Gadget pages and posts up as archives. If you’d like to support my work, please spread the word about my new site! Thank you!

We’re Ba-ack . . . and We’ve Moved!

Hi everyone.

Barnum and I are still around. I’m still having issues with my hands and wrists, but it’s not as severe as it was, thanks to ice, rest, and a change of medication.  In case you’re curious, I have tenosynivitis, which is basically tendonitis of the wrists, and some tendonitis in my hands, too. I’m doing things like icing three or four times a day, researching wrist braces that I can tolerate (most are made with neoprene, which is super toxic and not an option for me due to my MCS), and trying to mouse and type less. It seems to have been caused by a combination of the Lyme drug I was using, Rifampin, damaging my tendons, along with my constant computer use and my various other inflammatory diseases. My OT said it was “the perfect storm.” Terrific.

I’ve tried various software and hardware solutions:

  • I’ve got a more ergonomic keyboard now and am still trying to find a “pointing device” (mouse, touchpad, etc.) that doesn’t injure me more.
  • I got speech-recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking), which works pretty well for things like emails when my voice is also working well, which is about half the time. The other half of the time, when the dysphonia kicks in, Dragon is completely useless. And using it for editing and blogging is mostly an exercise in frustration.

So Far, Barnum hasn’t been much help with this new disability. The main things I’ve had to change our how a transfer out of bed and how I type, and Barnum can’t help with either of those. In fact, Barnum has been living up to his full Bouvier des Flandres potential as a service/hindrance dog: he broke my computer.

I have an all-in-one computer, which is basically like a screen with no tower. The CD/DVD disc tray slides out of the side. The computer lives on my overbed table, and I live in bed. And Barnum spends a lot of his time on my bed because otherwise we wouldn’t get to interact much!

One day, I’d taken out a disc and was about to put in another one, and Barnum glimpsed Something Very Exciting out the window and whipped his big, hard, heavy Bouvier head around, smacking my disc drive as he went. The disc drive cracked and a piece fell off. Barnum, of course, didn’t even notice that he’d hit anything.

I got the drive replaced, but even though that was a hardware issue, not a software issue, ever since then my computer has been extra glitchy. Let this be a lesson to you. (I don’t know what the lesson is, except maybe, “Never ever wever bever leave your disc drive open, especially if you have a big, enthusiastic, klutzy dog in the vicinity.” Yeah, I’m gonna go with that as the lesson.)

Anynoodle, it especially sucked because I COULD NOT USE MY HANDS and I didn’t yet have my speech software, so I was extremely bored because now I couldn’t watch DVDs, which — aside from listening to books on tape — was about the only form of entertainment or activity available to me. And what is the thing that has been the most buggy ever since I got the drive replaced? The media player. Le sigh.

I’ll post in the future (at my new blog) about the training we’ve been doing. The tedious training has been extinguishing barking out the window which is a behavior that I created and reinforced for a long time before I realized I was the cause. Facepalm, indeed.

The more fun behaviors, on those rare days I’m up to doing them, are working on calm behavior for hind toenail trimming, which involves clicking him for tail position (which I’m using as an indicator of his level of arousal) and teaching Barnum to carry a bag and deposit it in a box near the kitchen. Once this behavior is solid, I can have him deliver dishes and things I’m done with to my PCAs, even when they’re not here. It will be quite a while before that’s a finished behavior. I hope to blog about these training issues in the coming weeks . . . but not here!

Which leads me to my Very Exciting News:

My brand new website is up! Yeehaw!

Do you want a tour?!

You do? (I’m just pretending you said yes.)

GREAT! Follow me. . . .

This is the foyer. Some people call it the “home page,” but I think foyer sounds better (especially if you pronounce it the French way — foy-`yay!) — or the vestibulary, if you prefer.

As you can probably tell, the walls (and ceilings and floors) have just been cleaned and painted (all nontoxic virtual paint, of course), so I hope you don’t mind taking off your shoes. And your dogs’ shoes. Thanks.

OK, we’ll start our tour with the south wing of the house. First stop is the writing parlor. all furniture hasn’t been moved in yet. We’ll get there. But adjoining the writing parlor is. . . .

The literary salon! Where discussions about being a writer with a disability or writing about disability take place. And you’ll notice just off to the side, this room leads to an even larger room which is . . .

Yes, I know it’s empty now. There are just some packing crates and suchlike. BUT, this is the nursery of my mind. This room — Crip Erotica: The Book! — is the one I am the most excited about! I have been dreaming of building this room for years, and I already have a lot of the plans drawn up. I am really looking forward to using this website is to nurture, support, and grow what will be born in this room.* But it takes a village, to uh, you know, create a crip smut collection. I don’t know which village that would be, but I’m hoping to start finding the villagers soon. (More on that later.)

Moving to the next room is the disability erotica I’ve already published. This is cozy, don’t you think? There’s art on the walls. Has a more lived-in feel. I’ve been hanging out in this room for over ten years! It’s helped give me the confidence to build the “nursery” mentioned above.

Now, if we’ll take a stroll across hall we can enter the north wing of the house, where you can see the Activisting center. My longtime readers will find posts you remember about disability rights, access, environmental health issues, service dog awareness, and other assorted (no, not sordid — that’s the south wing) posts.

And I’ll still be blogging about lots of the stuff you’re used to. For example, I’m writing a couple of posts now for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. I’m going to try to get those of you who are WordPress subscribers to After Gadget transferred over as subscribers to SharonWachsler.com. I hope the rest of you will subscribe to the new website/blog, too. (Pretty please?)

See you all at the new pad (I hope)!

Peace.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, Disc Drive Destroyer

Call for Entries is Up for April #ADBC

The call for submissions for the Eleventh Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up! This round is being hosted by FridaWrites.

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.

ADBC #11

The theme she’s chosen is “Resources and Tools.” I like it! I already know what I want to write about. Plus, FridaWrites is offering a couple of nifty dog gear items as a giveaway, inspired by the topic.

For the deadline and other pertinent details, check out the call for entries. If you’re new to this and wondering what the heck an Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is, check out the ADBC home page.

OK, bloggers, start writing! And the rest of you, will you please help spread the word? Thank you!

– Sharon and Barnum, SD

Blogging Break Due to RSI

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately. Now I’m also barely emailing, tweeting, or otherwise using the computer when not absolutely necessary.

I’ve developed pain and swelling in all the joints of my arms, especially my right hand and wrist. Just a couple of minutes mousing or typing — even with an improved ergonomic set-up — immediately flares my symptoms.

As I rely on the computer for communicating when my voice doesn’t work — I’ve been using it as an assistive communication device for years with my PCAs — as well as for all my work, information, recreation, and most of my social life, it’s really important to me not to lose access to the computer completely. Also, now that I’m having RSI symptoms even when I haven’t touched the mouse or keyboard for hours, I’m quite scared about developing a new disability and set of limitations.

I’m making an appointment with a hand specialist and have ordered a new mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, I plan to rest my hands as much as I can stand without going out of my mind from boredom and computer withdrawal.

Other things are in the works, which I hope to get to when my upper extremities are doing better. I have even penned my first blog post by hand (a book review for my other blog), which I hope someone else will be typing for me.

Ciao for now, brown cows.
-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/hindrance dog

Default Zen Remediation Week 2 (in pictures)

We’re progressing with Zen training even though I have not managed to do a solid training session every day. We do at least a bit every day, though. We’ve probably used another 300 treats or so out of our 1,000.

How I’ve been starting it is when my PCA brings me a meal, I usually still need to cue Zen (either “Leave It” if I’m verbal or “Eh!” if I’m not) and then after one or maybe two cues, we move to the food and my eating being the cue.

Barnum will now look up with anticipation for a training session when he hears me chewing. This would seem to be counterproductive, and I admit that I feel on the knife edge of creating a behavior chain, so I’m trying to head that off at the pass. I can pretty quickly now get him from sniffing at me or the food to backing up and ending up on his mat across the room.

I’ve reduced the number of repetitions — lowered rate of reinforcement in going for longer durations — and this means that sometimes he gets up from the mat and comes over. I’ve decided that if he wants to get on the bed to look out the window while I’m eating, that’s fine. Anything that maintains “ignoring food” as the goal behavior is OK. But if he comes back on the bed, looks out the window for a while, and then sniffs my food, he gets (as Sue Ailsby puts it), The Big Prize! Which is that he gets to go and lie in his crate for a couple of minutes and then be released. (No treat.)

Here are some pictures from a session a three days ago. This was after we had taken a break from formal sessions for a few days.

Sharon sits in bed with a plate of food on a tray in her lap. Barnum stands next to the bed, looking intently at Sharon's plate.

Beginning of Zen training session with lunch as the cue for “back off.”

Same image as above except Barnum's legs are blurred as he backs up away from the bed.

Barnum backs up after not getting clicked for staying put.

Same picture as above except Barnum has backed up so he's almost out of the frame.

Barnum backs up more.

Barnum stands on a blue and white rag rug next to the wall on the left side of the room. The bed is not visible except as a shadow on the floor on the right edge of the picture.

A couple more backward steps takes Barnum to his mat.

Same view as previous picture, except this time Barnum is lying on the rag rug, his head up and looking toward the bed, which just has a little corner visible on the right edge of the picture.

Next rep Barnum lies down on his mat.

Same picture as above except Barnum's head is resting on his front paws.

While not actually relaxed, Barnum is offering a more relaxed pose (and he sighed after putting his head down, earning a click).

Peace,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

P.S. I’m keeping my blogging to a minimum and trying to do less typing in general, including alt tags for the pictures, because I’m having repetitive strain issues with my hands. That’s scary because I spend all my time on the computer!

Default Zen Remediation

Or, “100 Treats Down, 900 to Go”

My current favorite dog blog is my friend Eileen’s blog (fittingly named Eileenanddogs). It’s unlike any other dog behavior or training blog I’ve read because

  1. Eileen is, like me, a training enthusiast (reads a lot, learns a lot from great trainers online, watches videos, trains her own dogs) but not a professional trainer, and
  2. she often blogs about her mistakes, including videos of her training mistakes, which is incredibly instructive AND validating, because we all make those mistakes! Well, I certainly do.

Today she posted about an idea she got from another dog blogger to train one behavior with 1,000 treats:

I love this because I tend to be a little unfocused in training and pass out treats for good behaviors, cute behaviors, behaviors I vaguely like, etc. . . . What if every trainer took 1,000 treats, really concentrated, and spent them wisely on one behavior?

Immediately I thought of the behavior I have been puzzling about how to fix lately: Zen. The frustrating thing is that Barnum can do a terrific zen (leave it) when he knows we’re training, and he will go into “training mode” after one or two repetitions, even if I use “real-world conditions,” like my dinner plate that has leftover food on it. But it doesn’t stick to the next real-world situation.

But then I thought, “What if I put all my training energy — small as it is — into Zen? And what if I required a form of Zen whenever we did any work or training for which he is getting reinforced?

So, I counted the treats I’d just gathered for the day, and added another bag for good measure. It added up to about 100. (There’s no way I’ll actually be able to keep an exact count; my memory and my math are not that good. But it’ll be close enough.)

I started with Zen from the beginning of the Training Levels and worked up super-fast. Then, I did treat-bag Zen and treat-hand Zen: No mugging the treat bag or treat hand anymore! If he was clicked for any behavior (whether Zen or something else), if he dove at my hand or the treat bag, I’d just wait (close my hand, close the bag) and treat only once he backed off. After ten repetitions of this, he seemed to get this for most of the rest of the day.

My big goal is to have Barnum stay well away whenever anyone is eating or there is any food in the room. He does sometimes go into his crate without cueing when one of my meals shows up, but just as often he doesn’t. He might hang around and ignore my food, but he also might hang around and get “nosey,” sniffing after things.

Today, when my food arrived, I cued Zen, and started with just having him move his nose back. I continued with uncued Zen, clicking for him being farther away. By partway through lunch (the first meal I tried this with), he was off the bed, across the room, lying against the wall. YAY!

We managed to replicate that, with only one or two lapses, for dinner, too.

I don’t know why it’s always such a surprise when I set out with a sensible training plan, stick to it, and discover that it works. It’s like this whole clicker training thing to which I’ve devoted a huge chunk of my life over the past dozen years actually is based on something logical, or something.

I wish I had a picture of Barnum at the beginning of lunch versus the end of lunch! Let’s see if I remember to keep it up tomorrow. (That’s part of the reason for posting about it; I tend to remember and keep up with things better if I write about them and share them with others.)

My end goal is the for the arrival of yummy-smelling food to be the cue for Barnum to go to his crate. Or if he doesn’t want to go into his crate, to go several feet away and stay away unless called.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

#ADBC Raffle Winners!

Howdy!

Yesterday, I assigned a number to all the bloggers who contributed a post to the 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. (I just gave out numbers from one through thirteen based on what order they posted their blog entry in the comments and edited the comments to include that number.)

Then, last night, I asked Random.org random sequence generator to put the numbers 1 through 13 into random order to choose our winners. Here’s the result:

At the top, in large letters, it says RANDOM.org. Below that in purple is "Random Sequence Generator." Below that it says, "Here is your sequence," and below that is a column of numbers in this order: 13, 9, 8, 2, 12, 7, 10, 6, 3, 1, 5, 4, 11. Below that it says, "Timestamp: 2013-01031 09:21:06 UTC"

Click to embiggen.

The screen shot above is my proof that the giveaway was not rigged. Heh heh heh.

Here’s the order with the names added:

  1. Frida Writes (13)
  2. Martha (9)
  3. Ms. Pawpower (8)
  4. Starre (2)
  5. Sharon (12)
  6. Ro (7)
  7. KHills (10)
  8. Brooke (6)
  9. Flo (3)
  10. Cyndy (1)
  11. L-Squared (5)
  12. Karyn (4)
  13. Patti (11)

Here are the items for raffle:

  • Natural & Unscented Personal Care Travel Kit & Eco Tote (US & Canada) Claimed by Ro!
  • Natural & Fragrance-Free Body Care Bag (US & Canada) Claimed by Starre!
  • Staples Easy Button (US & Canada) Claimed by PawPower!
  • Deer antler dog chew (US & Canada)  Claimed by Martha!
  • A pair of Bark’n Boots (International)  Claimed by Frida Writes!
  • A dog bow tie (continental US only) Claimed by Sharon!
  • I Love My Service Dog cap (International)

To get more details about what each prize includes, plus links and photos, please see the #ADBC 10 Swag post. Since there are seven prizes, we can have seven winners! Here’s how we’ll do it….

The first place winner, Frida Writes, gets first pick. (Congratulations!) Please comment below about which item you want, and the person who donated it will get in touch for your mailing address. Then the second place winner, Martha, gets her pick, and so on. This will be easiest if each winner puts their pick in the comment section below so that everyone can follow along in order. If commenting here is a PITA for you, please tweet me at @aftergadget with your preference.

Note: Some items have geographic restrictions on shipping, so if you live outside the continental United States, please pick accordingly. Also, if you don’t want any of the prizes available to you, please let me know so the next person in the sequence can be given the option.

Happy raffling!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

The 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival — Perfect!

Welcome to the Tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! I’m pleased that many of the bloggers who contributed to the first #ADBC, hosted by me in October 2010, have returned, and some new bloggers have also swelled our ranks. In honor of this being the tenth carnival, I chose the theme of “Perfect 10.” Participants could write about “ten” or “perfect” or both.

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.

ADBC #10

I’m delighted with how this issue came together. Thirteen bloggers have contributed pieces — some of them have become my new favorite assistance dog posts! Plus, because some posts were accompanied by terrific pictures, for the first time, I’m including a few pictures from some of the posts. You are in for a treat!

The Top Tens

These bloggers are all about the tens. Some looked at the last ten weeks or ten months; others made “top ten” lists, which are a lot of fun. It seems as if top ten lists naturally lend themselves to humor and celebration.

Ro of In the Center of the Roof was part of the first #ADBC, and I remember her contribution as being particularly funny. I’m so glad she’s back because Carnival Post – Top Ten is a feel-good post from top to bottom. Not only is Ro’s match with Jayden perfect, but Ro lists ten added bonuses to their partnership that have nothing to do with Jayden’s guiding ability. Several side benefits (added potassium, quitting smoking) seem pretty unusual. Under “Attitude Adjustment,” Ro explains:

I might be feeling depressed and then it’s time for Jayden’s afternoon Kong Wobbler treat. I’ve taken to pronouncing “wobbler” so it sounds very French and you can’t stay in a bad mood when you’re asking your dog if he wants his Wobbler in a high pitched silly French accent.

Patti Brehler, a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs, wrote about her first Ten Weeks with Dutch, a Golden Retriever pup. A delight to read, each plays with puppies anecdote is accompanied by an impossibly cute picture of Dutch, such as the one below. And clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks he’s adorable:

An 8-week-old Golden Retriever puppy's head and front paws are between my blue-jean clad legs. Behind him is the glove box of our van; to the right side is the van door handle. My red fleece jacket is visiible at the bottom of the picture.

Our only choice was to enter by the stage. As I coaxed my golden fur ball past the front row seats a harmonic “awwwww” rolled out ahead of us. The “awwwwws” resonated to the back of the room like a wave….

Guide Dog Jack was good enough to write L-Squared‘s post for her because she had writer’s block. Well, L-Squared better look out because the Chocolate Dog is such a talented humorist that he might take over her blog! (The pictures which illustrated each point are also great and often hilarious.) Jack wrote a list of ten ways in which his human is Not Perfect. Here’s number six, text and picture:

Super-close up of Chocolate Lab Jack shoving his big brown nose into the camera lens - the photo is so close that all the pours of his nose skin are visible clearly, while the rest of his head is nearly entirely out of focus in the background.

Sometimes I think my girl almost forgets to feed me, so I have to wake her up at o’dark-thirty – by poking her face repeatedly with my nose – to remind her that it will be time for my breakfast in only four more hours!

Martha of Believe in Who You Are has had her new guide, Jory, for ten weeks and is trying to figure out how to teach Jory to do A very good down:

With each dog, I learn something new. This time, I think it is if one method doesn’t work, try something else till she understands. I don’t expect her to be perfect, but I’ll be happy when she is very good and happily lying on the carpet or tile in and out of harness.

Shai, a Golden Retriever who is such a pale yellow that he's almost white. A light-skinned woman with short, straight gray hair and glasses, a white turtle neck and a light blue hoodie leans her head against Shai's shoulder. It looks like they're sitting on the ground, covered with autumn leaves.

At her blog, Shai Ezer-Helper Beside Me: Training My Service Dogkhills wrote a long post chronicling Ten Terrific Training Months with their cherished trainer, Stacey. khills’s post contains many photos and videos (no descriptions or transcripts as far as I know) of her service dog, Shai (often accompanied by other Golden Retrievers) tackling an elevator phobia and a serious distraction problem with other dogs. Among their many adventures is a class with Victoria Stillwell!

When my sister & brother called to arrange a Mother’s Day dinner, I was able to look forward to a big gathering instead of worrying that Shai would not perform well in a big crowd. He rode for 5 hours in the car, then we went directly into the restaurant. He was perfect. Everyone talked about how well trained he was.

Embracing Imperfection

The posts in this section acknowledge that no person or assistance dog is perfect. These bloggers defy perceptions and judgments by the public, other assistance dog partners, or their own inner voices to celebrate their dogs and their partnerships. Some simply accept imperfection as a reality of life, while others celebrate certain imperfections as bonuses.

Cyndy of Gentle Wit wrote one of my favorite posts, thanks to its refreshing honesty and dry wit, about the myth of the perfect match — on both the handler side and the dog side — in her post, (Im)Perfection:

I’ll let you in a little secret: whatever you’ve heard from other guide dog users about their dog never needing a correction is totally and completely a lie. I used to be almost ashamed of my skills as a handler and disappointed in my guide dog because I heard this so many times before training, during training and even after training.

Starre of This Witch’s Familiar is joining the Carnival for the first time, and she’s a welcome addition. In ADBC: (im)Perfect, she talks about what she learned from her experience as an owner trainer of her retired service dog and what she’s hoping for with the yet-to-be-born puppy. A big hope seems to be more acceptance and support from the broader assistance dog community:

Most people who are trying to take this road *are* trying to do this right. Being told that you have to look and be perfect 100% of the time is not okay.  Nobody is perfect, and that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes our dogs, dogs. Its okay to be imperfect.

Flo of A Mutt and His Pack wrote a post that really resonated with me. Duncan is a rescue dog, and that always comes with its own challenges and rewards. I also nodded my head at the all-too-familiar description of how public perceptions of perfection and imperfection of a working dog team are often bass-ackwards. What moved me the most in ADBC #10 – Perfect 10, was the story of an Obedience competition where Duncan and Flo have different ideas of what perfect behavior is appropriate that day. Even though I’ve never competed in Obedience, I’ve had similar moments:

We disqualified on a Companion Dog (novice obedience) run because I was exhausted, and he broke heel to come around to my right side, my weak side. He wouldn’t sit on the halts because I was a little off kilter and he’s trained to stand and brace…. Duncan was a service dog. He’d been perfectly behaved for what I needed, not what I wanted, and I’d basically had a tantrum that we “failed” in front of a judge.

Brooke (with Cessna and Rogue) of ruled by paws wrote about Rogue, the puppy she is raising and training to be her successor guide dog. In Impossible Perfection, Brooke describes some of her own and her pup’s imperfections — which lead her to consider washing Rogue out — but with new equipment and improved training, the team is confidently moving forward:

Some people may look at our challenges and say that Rogue isn’t an acceptable guide dog candidate, but I’m not ready to give up on her. If I had given up on Cessna so easily, I would have missed out on eight amazing years of partnership with an amazing teacher.

Frida Writes is another who embraces imperfection. I related a great deal to her post, Perfectionism and Service Dog Training. Like me, she holds herself and her dog to high standards, standards which can be thwarted by the pain and exhaustion of illness. She discusses what happens if others see her team as less-than-perfect:

As I mentioned in my last ADBC post, it took me a while to figure out why my dog would sometimes throw himself in front of my footplates–to prevent someone from bumping into me hard, to draw my attention to the kind of men who frighten me… So what can initially look like a lack of perfection can be the purest of perfection–finding a need and fulfilling it, even when directed to do otherwise. It just does not appear that way to others. And I’m okay with that.

Remembering our Perfect Dogs

The last three posts look back on assistance dogs who made a profound impact on their handler’s life. Even though (or perhaps because) each dog came with some difficult issues, these dogs were, in certain ways, perfect for their partners.

I was really moved by The Pawpower Pack‘s post about her first guide dog, Rhoda. Perfect After All is a short but powerful post that takes the reader on the journey of a perfectionist newbie who overcomes unexpected behavioral problems with her first guide dog only to lose her to early illness. Having faced some similar struggles, this post at the Doghouse socked me in the gut:

When I got my first assistance dog, I admit to have watched far too many “Guide Dog Movies®” and read just as many “Guide Dog Books®” I had partaken of the “Guide Dog Program Koolade®” with gusto, and expected perfection! Instead, I got Rhoda — a crazy, hyper, and very unfocused dog who had been damaged emotionally by her time in the guide dog training kennel.

Karyn of Through a Guide’s Eyes tells the story of her first assistance dog, Chimette. Together, they shared A Decade of Love. Karyn describes defying expectations — others’ as well as her own — to train her own combo dog. Even though I knew Karyn through most of that decade, I realized in reading this post that I hadn’t known who she was before Chimette:

He taught me to love life in spite of the severe progressive nature my disabilities would take on. Most envision service dogs from a limited skill perspective. Either they are hearing dogs or guide dogs or mobility service skilled dogs or psychiatric dogs. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined a dog doing as much for me as Met and I learned to do together over our decade long partnership.

My post was written in November, 2011, two years after my service dog, Gadget, died, and I only came across it now. In the pensive mood that hindsight and a new working partner brings, I pondered the question, Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Thank You, Readers and Bloggers!

Thank you so much to the bloggers who made this such a fantastic carnival, and thank YOU, our readers, for whom we write. I hope you will share the link to this post on your blogs or social media so that others can enjoy this splendid collection of posts. And as you make the rounds (at your convenience), consider leaving some comment love at the posts that speak to you.

Plus, bloggers, the raffle results are in. You may already be a winner! No, really — find out who takes the prize!

Lastly, the next #ADBC will be hosted by Frida Writes in April 2013. The schedule and other #ADBC details are at the Carnival home page.

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

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.

ADBC #10

You know what’s odd? I wrote most of this post over a year ago, long before I had picked out a theme for this month’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. But since I so often get ideas for posts, start writing them, get too tired to finish, and then forget them, I checked my drafts for “perfect” posts and found this one!

This is not the post I’d originally planned for this carnival, but in case I’m too sick/tired/busy to write that one, I’m posting this (instead of or in addition to the one I’d planned to write.) Enjoy!

The post below was originally written November 19, 2011. All I did to finish it was write an ending and do some editing.

* * *

Today is the second anniversary of Gadget’s death. I’m on a list for people whose dogs have died after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.* It’s called the Lymphoma HeartDog Angels list (LHDA). We talk about anniversaries a lot on LHDA: anniversaries of birthdays or gotcha days, anniversaries of diagnoses, anniversaries of deaths.

When we are facing an anniversary, it often brings up memories of seminal moments in our dogs’ lives: the diagnosis, the decision to do chemotherapy, the dog’s last day. Stories of how these dogs came into our lives often touch me, such as Susan’s story about Freeway, whom she found abandoned on the side of the freeway. Susan picked her up in her car and they changed their lives forever.

Bettina fell in love with a shelter dog when she was a teenager and begged her mom to adopt him. But when they got to the shelter, they found that the sheltie mix had already been claimed. It turned out Bettina’s mother had applied for him already, as a surprise. Thus began Bettina and Niko‘s relationship, which lasted over seventeen years!

When I think about how Gadget entered my life, what strikes me is how much random good fortune played into it — how I blithely adopted this dog who turned out to be an excellent service dog and my heartdog — and I never even realized how high the odds were stacked against that until much, much later. I lucked into the perfect dog!

Not that Gadget would have been everyone’s perfect dog. Unlike his predecessor, Jersey, who was sort of the poster dog of winning over people who disliked dogs, Gadget was very doggy — and unschooled. Literally his first act upon entering my home was to lift his leg and pee on the clean guest clothes I kept in a basket by the door. Whereas Jersey never pulled on the leash, Gadget would run to the end of it and keep going. During his first week with me, he pulled my mobility scooter over onto me. He had phobias of round things (colanders, hats, outdoor garbage cans) and was wary of men, especially men in hats.

He was a drivey dog, a dog who needed a job, and I think things might have ended badly for him if he’d gone to someone who didn’t have the skill and patience and desire to put in the training to channel that drive. He wore me out with his need for physical and mental exercise. He taught Jersey that she didn’t really have to come when called. He chased all sorts of creatures, including adult black bears. He nipped my landlord, a male friend, and my dog walker, all during his first year with me. I nipped this behavior in the bud (ha ha), and Gadget learned that nipping people was counterproductive and would not bring the goodies that other behaviors did.

When I knew he was the dog of my dreams was when we started clicker training, especially shaping. The service skill I taught Gadget first was the first behavior I ever taught with a clicker: I had trained Jersey to shut the front door, and that was my clicker conversion experience. It was so positive and went so smoothly that I thought it would be a good first service skill for Gadget, too.

Here’s how I taught Jersey: I took some orange construction paper and cut out a circle and taped it onto the door at nose height. Click for approaching the target, then nosing the target, eventually wait for touching to turn into nudging, then harder nudges, then multiple nudges until the door was shut, then click for only some of the nudges it took to close the door, and finally click only for the closed door. When this was solid, I removed the target and clicked for shutting the door without it, which required going back a few steps to reintroduce nudging the door with no obvious target. With Jersey, this process had taken five days of three short sessions per day. I had been very impressed with that!

I intended to follow the same lesson plan with Gadget, but he had other ideas. I put the target on the door. Gadget immediately went to sniff it, and before I could even click him (I hadn’t expected him to orient to the target so quickly since we’d never used one before), he touched the target. I clicked that. He touched it harder. Click. He nudged the door shut! I gave him a jackpot.

When I opened the door again, he started nudging right away, and it only took two or three clicks for him to shut it again. He was so excited that if I held off on a click, he’d try pulling off the target to retrieve it. So it ended up on the floor. Even without the target, he kept orienting to the same spot on the door and within a couple of clicks the door would be shut.

“Well,” he must have been thinking, “obviously the object of the game is to shut the door. Why didn’t you say so?” Because very soon he switched to using his paw — much more efficient without all that nudging business. Within three minutes of beginning the game, I could open the door and have Gadget shut it, over and over again, with just a single click when the door latched.

Gadget, in other words, was a conceptual thinker, which I’ve been told is unusual for dogs. Thus, I managed to train him to do several skills without really providing all the details most dogs would need; I learned to expect these mental leaps and became what is known in training parlance as a lumper. Gadget would quickly grasp what the end goal of the behavior was and just do whatever worked to get there. For example, when I taught him to go find Betsy to bring her a message, and he was confronted with her closed door, he decided all on his own to bark at her door (which Betsy was not thrilled about). I had not realized how special this was. I just thought, “He’s problem solving. He’s got a brain, and he’s using it.”

When I recently told this story to a friend who has trained numerous service dogs professionally, she said, “That’s a dog on a mission!”

It was Gadget’s gusto and independent mind that I loved so much. A smart dog who has been given tools and taught to think for himself is a joy — and a nightmare. After teaching Gadget how to open the outside door to let himself out to relieve himself, one day I discovered the front door open, cold air filling the house, and no Gadget to be found! He’d realized that if he could let himself out when I told him to, he could also do it when he decided to!

I called him, and he came in. I vowed to keep a closer eye on him. He managed one more “escape” before I realized he was gone. The third time he tried it, I caught him in the act. He sauntered to the door and began to open it. I told him, “No!” very sternly, and that was the end of it — until the last year of his life, when he took to letting himself out to find me if I went out without him.

* * *

It’s odd. Grief and memory distort; they magnify some things, blur others. Even though after Gadget died I was lost without him, and I still couldn’t imagine Barnum achieving the number of service tasks or the level of support Gadget provided, I still didn’t realize how exceptional Gadget was.

Not that I didn’t remember how special he was to me, how important. I remembered our perfect moments: When the humans didn’t know I was asking them to shut the door, but Gadget did. When he woke me up when the timer went off and I had food on the stove I’d forgotten. When he alerted me that I’d left the sink on and flooded the bathroom (even though I never trained him to do that). When a stranger came into my home at night and Gadget stayed by my side, barking and ready to attack, but followed my cue to down and stay instead.

I also remembered his “flaws”: that he never completely adjusted to the move to a home with other houses and cars on it, that he worked much more eagerly if he knew I had cheese with me than if I didn’t, that he would get so excited to do a task that he’d get sloppy.

But these were not the moments that made me miss him so much, that left me feeling utterly lost and broken, like a part of my body had disappeared with him. It was the dailiness: Letting himself out. Bringing me water from the fridge. Waking me up so I’d take my medication. Carrying messages to others in the house. Turning off the lights when I went to bed. Opening the doors. Carrying groceries from the van to the house.

Yet, I always thought, “We could have done better. I didn’t train him to real stimulus control on many behaviors. We were never free of the food reinforcers.”

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. Especially as I became a better trainer while working with Barnum and achieved levels of consistency and proficiency that Gadget and I never had, I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I came across something I thought was gone forever — the one video I had of Gadget. Betsy and I made it the year before Barnum got cancer, and a friend of mine put it on Youtube, divided into two parts. A year ago, that friend closed his Youtube account, and I was so sad that I had lost this tangible proof of who Gadget and I were together. Then, when I was captioning videos for a recent post, I discovered that I’d posted and captioned the videos of Gadget before they were taken off Youtube. (You can see them here: Gadget and Sharon Part One and Gadget and Sharon Part Two. Or read the transcripts: Part One and Part Two.)

When I watched them again, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. I wasn’t focused on the skills themselves or on all the mistakes I saw us making. Instead, I noticed his gusto. He was so eager, motivated, and engaged. Yes, it sometimes took two or three tries to get something right, but he was determined.

He was, indeed, a dog on a mission.

It is good to be able to miss him for who he was and not for his supposed perfection or flaws. It’s good to see this side of him that I loved so much, preserved for me to celebrate and mourn. A dog on a mission to work, to keep playing the game, and — let’s face it — a dog on a mission to earn cheese.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

*I’m one of the few people on the list whose dog did not actually die of lymphoma. Gadget’s chemo was effective for lymphoma, and he was in remission. Unfortunately, he developed mast cell cancer four months into his lymphoma treatment, and that is what killed him six months after he got lymphoma.


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