It’s our one-year Gotcha Day anniversary, February 27!
One year ago, tonight, Betsy flew home with Barnum. He was so little, he was smaller than a cat, and fit in a carrier under the seat in front of Betsy on the plane. He had piddle pads in his carrier, and after Betsy used all but the last one, he peed on it. Of course, he arrived at the airport with vomit on his little chin and paws, because he’d never ridden in a car before.
But he was still happy. Betsy and he fell in love instantly, and she let him kiss her with his vomity face, which she would never do now!
He was just an itsy-bitsy tiny little ball of fluff! As I described in the post about how he got his name, he was afraid of the snow. He climbed Betsy to avoid touching the cold ground.
Now he is 80 pounds, he snores loudly when he sleeps, he jumps through four-foot snow drifts and sits outside in 10-degree weather on a hill of snow that almost reaches the roof of the house, just enjoying the “crisp” air, and periodically eating and snorkeling through the snow.
[Photo description: Barnum sits atop an enormous mound of snow, several feet high, next to the house. He is level with the windows of the house. He wears his orange vest, and his beard is white with snow.]
He comes in with a frozen beard, and a frosted rump, and then he wants to go out again.
A year ago tonight, we could carry him around like a little sack of flour — a very wiggly, adorable sack of flour that constantly tried to bite and lick our hands and faces.
[Photo description: Little puppy Barnum, black, very fuzzy, with big toes, and a white blaze on his chest. He is lying on his back, leaning forward to grab Sharon’s index finger in his mouth. The only part of Sharon visible is her hand, but from the angle of Barnum’s eyes, he appears to be looking at Sharon’s face.]
The first thing we had to do, once we brought him inside, was give him a bath. He objected wholeheartedly. He cried, as if he were being tortured. Yes, we felt horrible, but he reeked of fragrance, which was making me sick, so there was no other option.
[Photo description: Eight-and-a-half week-old black puppy, nine pounds, curly hair, eyes still a little milky blue, damp from his first bath, with very big paws. He’s on the front in front of his crate, and Sharon’s hand is in front of his mouth, offering him a treat. Her hand looks almost as big as Barnum’s head! Barnum looks a little shell-shocked.]
I was planning on doing a much bigger deal celebratory blog and day. I was going to bake him a “Gotcha Day” doggy cake and more, but I’ve been wiped out. I spent most of today and yesterday sleeping, and the last few days resting.
Also, Barnum doesn’t seem to realize that it’s our anniversary, because he’s decided to hit a learning dip/plateau these last few days, when of course, I want to feel like we are flying high.
You’d think he could choose a more convenient time to organize and store everything he’s been learning into his long-term memory. But, no. That’s dogs for you.
It’s as if he’s not even paying attention to the Gregorian calendar and how my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem correlate to how long he can hold a sit-stay now that it’s 365 days since he arrived at my home.
(I’m making fun of myself, in case that’s not clear.)
In all seriousness, I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I’d like on playing and training with him, not just because I’ve been kind of flattened, but because I’ve been putting a lot of energy, instead, into mobility repair/upgrade so that we can achieve our training goals and he can have the life he deserves:
- First priority, trying to get my outdoor powerchair repaired. (Since it is for outdoor use, and Medicare covers my indoor chair, I can’t go through a vendor and get it repaired the standard way.) I got it working for about a week, and then it died again.
- Second priority, get a platform lift installed my van, which will always work with any type of chair, to replace the crane lift, which doesn’t work with some of my chairs and has become too hard for my PCAs and I to use.
- Third priority, find used free or cheap batteries for my backup indoor chair (which is also the one I can use with my current van lift and take inside stores and clinics, but the batteries can’t hold a charge, at all).
All of this is so that I can take Barnum on walks again, and also so I can take him into public spaces more, like stores and libraries and such, so we can train behaviors in new environments and work on public access skills.
We really, really, really need to get out more. The combination of constant, massive snow and ice storms, and the unreliability of my powerchair has not been good for his exercise and energy needs, and has seriously hindered my training goals.
(If you’d like to help, check out my Why the “Donation” Button? page. Thank you!)
I had wanted this Gotcha Day post to encapsulate all sorts of changes, big and small, that have occurred over the past year, but I haven’t been equal to the task. I actually did start to write a post, many months ago, of all our achievements, big and small. I was going to make that a regular feature of the blog. But that one post, which I started when Barnum was about five months old, got so long, I never finished it! I kept adding to it. If I tried to do one now (with him fourteen months old), it would be a book!
However, maybe I can try to get out some more short, triumphal “achievement posts,” perhaps by doing a “Gotcha Month” celebration. Then, I will feel less pressure to pack everything into one post.
Instead of a big laundry list of changes, here is just one example of how much has changed within one year: Bathing.
Tonight, when I went to the bathroom, Barnum followed me in. (I wrote in a previous post about how I like to take “toilet training” opportunities.) On his own, just for fun, Barnum decided to jump into the bathtub.
Here’s what we worked on, on the spur of the moment. We started with the following already-established behaviors:
- Sit in tub, on cue;
- Down in tub, on cue;
- Default remain in tub until released;
- “In the tub” and “Out of the tub” cues;
- Default down and stay in tub (staying comfortably relaxed in a down in the tub);
- Staying relaxed in a down while water dribbles in;
- Staying relaxed in a down while I move the sprayer/hose (with no water coming out) around over him and let it clang and jangle against the sides of the stall;
- Staying relaxed in a down while I rub him all over, as if I were shampooing him;
- Staying relaxed in a down while I dribble water on him from the sprayer/shower hose.
Then we added in these new elements:
- Staying relaxed in a down with water almost to his elbows;
- Staying relaxed in a down with water on more of a steady stream (but just for a few moments);
- Staying relaxed in a down with water switching back and forth between spigot and sprayers (but not really getting him wet with sprayer, just keeping relaxed with the sounds and vibrations associated with the change from one to the other);
- “Bobbing for Kibble” — standing or in a down, as a way to play in the water and also get more comfortable with getting schnoz wet and learning not to snork in water through his nose accidentally;
- Standing still to be toweled off in the tub (he’s the first dog I’ve ever had who doesn’t like being toweled off!);
- Giving the cued paw for drying while in the tub;
- Gentle discouragement/distraction to keep him from playing “scratch at the drain, like I’m trying to dig through the tub” game;
- Practice other cued behaviors in tub (Watch Me, Touch, Chin-in-Palm);
- “Tub Zen” — learning “leave it” when applied to tub means, “No, don’t jump back in the tub, please! We are done playing in the tub!”
That last one is a lovely “problem” to have, isn’t it? Needing to train him not to keep jumping in the tub? I think it’s better than cake.
This is the dog who, a few months ago, I had to painstakingly shape, for many sessions over a few weeks, how to jump in the tub. For some reason, he had a mental block about it. He would end up with three paws balanced on the tub edge, teetering, with his face almost touching the tub floor, looking down at the treats that had landed in there, whining because he wanted to get to them, but either too anxious or too uncertain to know how to take the final leap.
Now, he jumps in there even when there is no hint of a treat around. I love the power of shaping!
Happy Gotcha Day to us!
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and one-year-resident of New England