Washout? Part 3: Barnum’s Balance Sheet

This is the third in a series about facing the decision whether to wash out Barnum or not. For an explanation of the term, and common causes for washing out a working dog, please see this post.

The second in this series was this post about people asking if I’ll keep Barnum if I do wash him out.

Now, the crux of the matter: how did I arrive at this crossroads? Why, and how, am I making this decision (or set of decisions)?

Training with Barnum has been a challenge since the beginning. I’ve written a few blog posts about that. Some focused on struggles relating to Barnum being my first puppy, others on raising a pup in the wake of my grief — and reduced physical functioning — with the loss of Gadget. Several also described challenges unique to Barnum, and how I’ve worked to overcome them.

However, most of the “public record” of how hard I’ve had to work to train Barnum has not been on After Gadget, but on the training list-serv I belonged to. For over a year, I’ve asked questions, received advice, noted triumphs to celebrate, and groused at ongoing frustrations. I also developed an entire training strategy based around Barnum’s unique challenges, called “Building Enthusiasm,” which I’ve passed on to other trainers — either novices to dog or clicker training, or to those who had “difficult dogs” in ways similar to how Barnum has been tough. I’ll be honest — I’ve downplayed my struggles with Barnum on this blog for the following reasons:

  1. I’ve noticed that people respond much better to happy posts about successes than they do to sad or frustrated or grieving posts;
  2. It’s more fun for me to write  posts about breakthroughs and successes than to write how, yet again, we are proceeding more slowly and with more problems than I could have ever anticipated;
  3. I’m less likely to receive comments that judge, offer unhelpful advice, or preach if the posts are celebratory.

It’s just made more  sense, all-around, to post about training struggles on a list whose purpose is to provide information, feedback, support, and advice about training, and to post about other things on my blog. I could easily have gone on at After Gadget not revealing the struggles I’m having with Barnum. I could have — like most owner-trainers do who are considering a washout — kept the discussion to a small group of trusted friends (usually other partner-trainers), hoping that ultimately Barnum and I would prevail, and nobody would be the wiser. Certainly, there is already enough judgement, discrimination, and ignorance facing owner-trainers (e.g., this assistance-dog blog and comment that lumps in partner-trained SDs with fake SDs); admitting that we and our dogs are not perfect and that we have doubts can therefore feel dangerous. Thus, the “stealth” approach holds a lot of appeal, but I chose to be open, instead, for the following reasons:

  1. By nature, I’m an “open-book/tell-it-like-it-is” kind of gal. I don’t like keeping secrets. They make me uncomfortable, and I get stressed trying to keep track of who knows what.
  2. I hope others will learn from my transparency. I think it’s important for the public to realize what goes into training a service dog (SD), including why not all dogs can or should be SDs. Hopefully this will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the work involved in partnering and/or training with a SD.
  3.  Another group I hope will benefit is other/future SD trainers. It’s crucial to know the potential pitfalls in order to guard against them. It’s also helpful to know that if you are considering washing out your dog, you are not alone, and you are not giving up on your dog — on the contrary, you are trying to do what is right (not what is easy), for you, your dog, and/or the public.
  4. Finally, I wish to educate friends and families of SD trainer-handlers. I believe that learning how many factors are involved, and how common it is, for SDs to wash out, or for partner-trainers to consider washing out their SD or SD-in-training (SDiT), will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of why and how this decision is faced, how devastating it is even to contemplate, and how even the most well-intentioned person can increase the distress their loved one is suffering when facing this decision. (In fact, I’d say those who are the most well-intentioned are the most likely to inadvertently cause pain.)

Despite many possible red flags, I have persevered with the assumption of success, until three recent sets of events. All of these events were ordinary for us — they were even predictable, for the most part — and it was because they were so typical, that I had to stop and take stock.

  1. I’ve had a chance to work other dogs. In the course of doggy play dates and teaching a neighbor how to clicker train, I’ve recently worked very briefly with three different dogs — different ages, sexes, and breeds. The one thing they all had in common was that, while Barnum wandered around, sniffing and peeing on things, totally uninterested in what I was doing, these other dogs swarmed all over me, desperate to earn clicks and treats, giving me their complete focus, totally food-obsessed. Every time I have worked another dog since I’ve gotten Barnum, I’ve felt this wonderful sense of joy and relaxation, because I knew exactly what to do, and it felt so damn easy. It was such a relief to know I really did know what I was doing.
  2. I’ve been trying to take Barnum “on the road.” We are at the point in the Training Levels where he has mastered almost all of Level Three, including things like sitting or downing on one cue from a distance of 10 feet; longish sit-stays and down-stays, with distance; crate and mat work, with duration; sustained loose-leash walk and eye-contact, and other moderately advanced obedience work — as long as we do them in the house. As soon as we leave the yard, and in fact, often as soon as we cross the threshold from the house into the yard, Barnum loses all focus. For 14 months, I have worked to get him to eliminate on cue; not only is his elimination not on cue, he usually doesn’t “go” on leash at all; he’s so distracted when I take him out, that he will “hold it” for up to 26 hours. Recently, I thought he had a urinary tract infection because he went two days in a row, not peeing for over 24 hours each time, and his urine was brown. It turned out he was fine; his urine was so dark because it was incredibly concentrated. When we go to other locations to train, he’s so excited and distracted, he often cannot take a single treat or follow any cues at all.
  3. One night, we were working on how to shut a cupboard that works differently than all the others. This is the kind of task Barnum generally quite enjoys. He likes free shaping, and he likes shutting things with his nose. We’d worked on this cupboard before, so I expected it to be a relatively short, fun, easy session. Barnum seemed to be “in the game,” and then suddenly, he wandered off to look out the window. (He loves to look out the windows.) I managed to get him back in the game by increasing my rate of reinforcement to something ridiculously high, and he shut the cupboard, and we quit. But, the whole time, I felt like his mind was half on wondering what was out that window. I thought, “If I need him to do something for me once he is trained, will he come and do it, or will he just keep looking out the window?” In training, I can set up everything for Barnum to succeed: I can wait until he is really hungry and bored to initiate a training session and use a super-high rate-of-reinforcement, fantastically high-value treats, and really low criteria. However, what happens when he has “graduated”? Without all these inducements, will he be a reliable, eager, full-time SD?

Without further ado, here is Barnum’s Balance Sheet — the pros and cons of his suitability as my future service dog.


  • Barnum is physically sound (as far as I know). Aside from a tendency toward urinary tract infections, which I believe I have solved with dietary changes, he doesn’t seem to be prone to any illnesses or physical conditions. In fact, on Tuesday his hip and elbow x-ray results  came back good. (Before I can deem him entirely fit for service, he will need an eye exam, as well.)
  • Barnum has a sound temperament — he is not unduly aggressive nor unduly fearful. We still have some tweaking to do in a couple  of areas, but overall he is good about allowing himself to be examined, handled, and manipulated. He doesn’t exhibit any phobias of people, animals, or objects. He has a fast recovery from being startled or receiving minor ouches (such as having a paw stepped on, etc.).
  • Barnum, overall, is a good lifestyle fit with me. He is willing to do a lot of napping and resting when I am napping and resting. He does not need or want constant attention or physical or mental exercise. (Although I am having a problem with him whining to wake me up when my PCAs arrive.)
  • Barnum is very loving and sweet. So far, he has the most demonstrative nature of any of my bouvs (who are known to be reserved), while also not going to the excesses of jumping up, unwanted kissing, or seeking out attention from strangers. This works well for the psychiatric service work I’ve started with him. It’s also just a nice bonus.
  • He is very tuned in to sound. He has learned the name of the people in the household, and also attends well to sounds of relevance, such as the telephone ringing, my infusion pump alarm, timers, etc.
  • Barnum is well socialized. He behaves appropriately (for the most part) with other dogs, people, and other animals. He does not seem to be phased by costumes, strangely shaped objects, electronic doors, shopping carts, or other noisy or strangely moving or funny-shaped things.
  • Barnum has shown some aptitude and enthusiasm for certain service skills, particularly alerting to sounds and shutting doors.
  • Barnum is fun and likes to play. He is a master at tug and chase, and he’s learning a play retrieve.


  • Barnum is not food motivated. It has been very difficult to get across to people just how little Barnum cares about food, even supposedly “high value” food like meat, liver, and cheese. He is more food-motivated now than he used to be, because of a lot of hard work on my part, but for intensive clicker training, low food-motivation is a serious problem.
  • Barnum is extremely distractible. Even in the most familiar environments, the slightest sound, smell, or movement makes him lose focus completely. When we are in unfamiliar environments, he can’t focus at all.
  • Barnum is not terribly work/play/training motivated. Even some dogs who don’t care that much about food learn to love clicker training because they like the problem solving. This is not Barnum. Likewise, while he enjoys play, he won’t work for a ball toss, a game of tug, or the like.
  • Barnum is not that smart. What can I say? People don’t like to hear this, but it’s true. He’s not stupid, but he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, either.
  • Barnum is a “soft dog.” This is a combination of traits. He is sensitive, which has both positives and negatives. The negative is that he takes it very much to heart — is easily crushed — if things don’t go the way he thinks they should, e.g., he sometimes responds to the lack of a click as a punishment. The biggest challenge of a soft dog is that he has a very low threshold for frustration, which means he gives up easily.

A note about all these “cons”: Any one of these traits, on its own, is definitely workable. A combination of several is workable, too. In fact, I believe all dogs are “trainable” — it’s just a matter of how hard you have to work, how long it takes (how much patience you have), and how high you can fly.

The combination of all these particular traits together, however, is hugely challenging. What it comes down to, as Sue Ailsby puts it, is getting the dog “in the game.”

Being “in the game” is a way of describing the absolute FIRST thing you MUST have before you train or work your dog in ANY situation. It’s the bottom line. I offer, for instance, two people, each working a dog in agility. One dog isn’t sure how to do weave poles but is paying attention to the situation and trying hard to figure out what the trainer wants. The other dog knows how to do weave poles perfectly but keeps wandering off to visit the sidelines. Which dog do I want to be working?

*I* want to be working the one that’s in the game, even if he doesn’t know anything about what he’s supposed to be doing.

A dog who is in the game is engaged, eager, trying, learning. Maybe they are not the brightest pup, maybe they don’t have the pieces together yet, but they are focused, and they want to communicate with you. They want to know, “What happens next?”

If you have a dog who doesn’t want to work for food, who doesn’t want to work for the thrill of problem-solving, who is so distracted that he barely registers your existence, who is so easily crushed that one false moves makes him give up completely, how do you get him in the game and keep him in the game?

This is the puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for over a year. For a long time, I thought that I must have really overestimated my abilities as a trainer in the past. I thought I’d deluded myself about how well Jersey or Gadget were trained. Certainly, there were a lot of things I could have done better with them, however, what I’ve realized is that it’s mostly not me, it’s Barnum.

Let me qualify that. Could Barnum do better with a better trainer? Absolutely. Would some of our problems disappear if he were living with someone who was not limited by severe fatigue and pain? I’m sure.

However, the fact of the matter is that Barnum is not a “normal” dog. Because Barnum is not ordinary, I’ve had to be extraordinary. For the first few months, I wasted a lot of time and energy being angry and disappointed with myself and with Barnum. Eventually, I realized I had to change the way I approached almost all aspects of training. The Training Levels list helped me do that.

Barnum has forced me to be a much better trainer than I was. I have to do everything just right. I’ve had to improve every aspect of my timing, my treat delivery, my attachment of cues, my setup of training plans, my selection of criteria, and on and on. That Barnum has made me a better trainer is a gift I can take with me no matter whether he becomes my pet or my SD. I will work future dogs much better, I am positive.

However, training a SD goes well beyond honing one’s skills and having a dog achieve his highest potential. Training a SD means that, at the end of the process, you have a dog who is not just able to work, but who is willing and eager to work, at a huge number of skills. I cannot force Barnum to perform service skills, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.

This means that he has to choose to work. Following a cue has to be his most compelling option. If the choices are (A) go help my person open a door; (B) continue with my nap; or (C) continue watching the birdies out the window, a SD needs to choose “A” every time, and with gusto. There are three factors I’ve been weighing— the questions that sit heavily on my heart — as to Barnum’s suitability to continue as my SDiT:

  1. Training-wise, can I get him in the game and keep him there? How much longer will I have to struggle for every little taste of progress? Will it be faster, in the long run, to start over with a dog who is in the game? Will I get so burned out by how difficult the training process is that I will lose the desire to train a SD at all?
  2. Assuming I can train Barnum to do all the obedience, public-access, and service tasks I need, will he be reliable? If he has the choice between watching the neighbor dog trot around her yard, or helping me in the kitchen, will he come when I call? What about if I need him for an alert, and I can’t call him? What about in an emergency situation? What about in public?
  3. Does Barnum want to be a SD? If he could talk, and I asked him, “Would you like to face interesting mental challenges and be with me all the time and be at my beck-and-call and choose focusing on me over anything else that’s going on, would you rather do that, or would you rather be a pet?” What would he say?

This last one is a hard one for a lot of people to get their minds around. It’s well-known in the AD world that the dog chooses the career. If they don’t want to be a working dog, they will try to let you know. A good trainer or handler will read the signs.

Some dogs let you know in no uncertain terms that they are done. They refuse to work. Other dogs make it clear that there’s nothing in the world they love more than working for you. In some cases, in fact — such as Gadget’s — without a job, they turn into “a problem dog.”

At this point, I can’t tell what Barnum’s wish is, which is perhaps the most difficult question of all to answer. I know what I want our future relationship to look like. Barnum can’t know what his future as a SD would be, and it’s my job to read him as best as I can and extrapolate. Right now, I’m not clear at all as to where his interests lie.

I do, however, have a plan. I decided two things.

One was that I wanted to give us a trial month, where I did everything I could to try to “make it work,” and recorded each day’s activities, so that I could have a concrete, objective log to read through after the month was over. I created a long list of strategies to incorporate during that month, which I will describe in a future post.

The second was that I wanted the opinion of a trainer whom I greatly respect, and who has been following Barnum’s and my progress since he was five months old, which is Sue Ailsby. She has trained (and titled) innumerable dogs, over decades, in almost every dog sport there is, as well as having trained her own SDs (and lots of people and other animals, too!). I emailed her that I was considering washing Barnum out, and why. I also outlined my one-month “make it work” strategy/evaluation. Here are a few excerpts from her very wise and kind email:

Poor Sharon. I can’t answer the question for you, but . . . I sent you [some] videos [of my SDiT] . . . to remind you what working an eager dog is like. . . . [You’re always posting] about how hard you’re working and all the things you’ve done to try to get Barnum working with you as a partner. . . . The whole I-can’t-take-food-away-from-home thing speaks to me of huge stress. He’s not comfortable. And if he’s not comfortable yet, it’s highly unlikely that he’s ever going to BE comfortable. Which is not a working dog. . . .
I assume he’s neutered.
I think you know the answer, Sharon.

I got this email and cried a lot, because it just affirmed for me what I already believed. The one place I disagree is that I don’t think Barnum is “stressed” as in “unhappy,” when in public. I think he is just super excited and fascinated. Is he in a state of hyperarousal? Yes, but it’s possible that can be overcome. In fact, he will sometimes refuse to take food in the house or yard, when he is clearly not stressed, but just much more interested in something else, such as watching birds at the feeder. Also, sometimes he will take food in strange, new places. In fact, Jersey and Gadget displayed more stress about new places than Barnum ever has.

Still, it doesn’t matter what the reason is if we can’t train through it. The one ray of hope was the question of whether Barnum is neutered. I wrote back and said no, he wasn’t, that I was waiting until he was at least 18 to 24 months old, as this reduces the likelihood of bone cancer later in life. Did she really think it would make a big difference?

I received a very encouraging reply:

My friend has a Portie [Portuguese water dog] she adopted as a 14-month-old. He’s stunning, and she wanted to finish his Canadian championship and show him at the US specialty. She also wanted to do agility, obedience, rally, tracking, and drafting with him. He was awful. He wasn’t food motivated, he was distractable, he couldn’t seem to remember stuff. She was putting an enormous amount of effort into trying to inspire him. I TOLD her to neuter him but she didn’t think it would make a difference.

She finished his Canadian championship and shortly thereafter we went to the American specialty and she got to show him. The day after he got home, she neutered him. He’s not perfect, but his personality changed completely. He’s earned 2 water titles, an obedience title and 2 rally titles in the year since he was neutered.

I’d whack those suckers off and give him some time to see if it makes a difference.

Done and done! Barnum was neutered on Monday. He is recovering nicely. He has transitioned from being in pain and utterly freaked by the Cone of Shame (E-collar) to just being really itchy “back there,” and irritated as hell about the collar. His strategy for dealing with the collar is typical Barnum: he just slams into/through any obstacle, so it’s anyone’s guess how long the collar or house will last.

Barnum, a black brindle bouvier des Flandres with an extremely short haircut, lies on a wooden floor with an enormous translucent plastic cone over his head. His head and body posture all indicate a miserable, self-pitying, hang-dog expression.

Insult Added to Injury

I don’t know how long it takes for the hormones to settle down. (Anyone?) I figure I’ll give him a month or two to recover, and then I’ll put my “make it work” plan into action.

After the Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) 2011 blogswarm is over, I’ll try to post some pictures of Mr. Bucket Head and get back to other issues.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (she did that to me the first week I got home!), and Barnum (forever altered, SDiT?)


18 Responses to “Washout? Part 3: Barnum’s Balance Sheet”

  1. 1 The Pawpower Pack April 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Sharon, I had similar issues with my border collie, Gracy. I can totally relate to your post. I wish you nothing but the best and hope that with time, maturity, and neutering Barnum will make a great assistance dog for you. *hugs*

  2. 2 Cait April 29, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Neutering can definitely make a difference for the boys who are sitting on the edge of “OMG THE WORLD IS AWESOME AND I NEED TO LOOK AT EVERYTHING” and “bored now!”- I think that age was teh worst with Mal, who I ended up washing out for similar reasons as you’ve described here with Barnum.

    HOWEVER- Indy- super-high drive, intense, worky, wonderful dog (who was washed out for reactivity that I would have been able to deal with then if I had the training skills I had now, and his SD-ness was a lot more informal than anything formal because I was still trying to use different strategies for dealing with the things that my disability makes impossible for me) was as bad at the same age. I didn’t neuter him, and everything came back together once he hit maturity around 2.5-3 years old. It was a LONG wait, though.

    Washing out dogs is super-hard. Hang in there. Thinking good thoughts for you and Barnum, whatever his future career may end up being.

  3. 3 Michelle April 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Sharon, I totally enjoy reading your posts. I really don’t care that much about dog training, yet I find myself reading everything you write. I love that you’re a “tell-it-like-it-is” kind of person. I love that you’re brave enough to lay it all out there. Whatever your topic, I’m fascinated by your processes, your thoughtfulness, and just the way you string your words together.
    I’m sorry you’re in this position of having to choose. Your angst really comes through here. I’m not sure what else to say. Good luck? Thinking of you. Sending an air hug.

  4. 4 Karyn April 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Ahhh Sharon,
    I so appreciate your transparency and candor. If we all felt comfortable enough to do so in our blogs, I think you’d find a lot more of us have gone through this or similar scenarios.
    We’ve chatted about the comparison between Thane and Barnum so I wont go into that here, except to say I can relate to so much of what you go through.
    Thane continued to change for several months after I got him- not just in adjustment to the new environment but it really seemed apparent that it was based on the hormonal changes within him. I’m no vet but I would suspect that it can take several months for all of that- certainly more than just a month. Its something to research though.
    I hear you in so many ways though because I’m living it with Thane’s indoor work and further training. If he were not *into* his job as a guide, I’d probably be feeling the same as you- evaluating the possibility for washing him out. I wish you and Barnum the best no matter what road you wind up going down with him in the end. Hugs

  5. 5 Lolly April 30, 2011 at 8:58 am


    I feel for you. It’s a hard decision to make on so many levels.

    I do think Sue Ailsby is right on. Nudering may make a difference, but if it doesn’t make enough of a difference, the lack of interest in the job is so very important.

    I’m heading toward retirement with my current guide, and here’s my list of things to look for in the next one. (I have to say that it reflects almost exactly the dog i have now, but as I am on my way to number six, I really do have an idea of what works for me.)

    Breed – Lab or Cross, or Shepherd that meets these qualifications
    Gender – Either
    Pace – average similar to current dog
    Pull – similar to current dog
    Size – small, under 22 inches

    Calm – settles quickly and has calm demeanor
    Confident – has good initiative
    Sensitive/willing to please – responds to voice commands with a minimum of correction, but can tolerate correction when needed
    Inteligent – learns quickly (after being shown something once or twice)
    Really gets inteligent disobedience – Stands its ground assertively when refusing to move forward
    Resilliant – Shows good bounce back
    Clicker savvy – enjoys learning through clicker training and is food motivated
    Good problem solving skills – shows good potential for sizing up situations and making decisions
    Likes the work – enjoys guide work
    Sound – not reactive to loud noises or stressful situations
    Energy – moderate, can miss a day of work and not need a walk

    Quiet – doesn’t bark
    Lives in the present – let’s things roll off its back
    Playful – fun to be around

    I’m considering a breed change, but that is hard for me because in Labs I have found the willingness to please is in their DNA. In fact they try to figure out what you want. It’s a hard thing to let go of.

    Seeing Eye instructors often say that willingness to please is the first thing they look for in a good guide dog. Inteligence comes second.

    You have a challenging path as an owner/trainer. But it’s clear you’re thinking things through well, and consulting with people you believe can provide you wise guidance, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.

    Good luck with your plan!

  6. 6 brilliantmindbrokenbody April 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I am so sorry to hear the way the chips seem to be falling, Sharon. I can only imagine how hard it is. I have trouble enough with Hudson when we haven’t been in the city much and he spends the next trip freaking out at everything. I can only imagine what it’s like when the distraction outside is a constant thing.

    I hope that neutering him brings about the change in focus you’re hoping for!

    Incidentally, Hudson is also getting the Cone of Shame treatment. He’s got some scratches inside his right ear that he keeps opening up, and I think he’s doing it at night while I’m asleep, so he’s going to get the cone for the night until those things heal up. Measuring him for it freaked him out pretty good, so I imagine things are going to be ugly when I put it on him tonight.


  7. 7 Brooke & Cessna May 3, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Thank you so much for being so open and honest. As someone who is about to embark on the “owner training” journey, it’s important to hear about the challenges other’s face and to know that it won’t be all fun and games.

    Canyon and I are having similar issues in regards to his lack of enthusiasm to “work” and “try” new things. He will never be my service dog, but I have really been trying to work on entering agility competitions with him, but am running into road blocks that are causing me to question whether he really wants to compete or just be a pet. He’s highly toy motivated, but this causes issues for me in keeping his attention on me and not the toy. I also find that his sensitivity seems to cause him to give up easily which I did not really connect as being one in the same until reading your post. You have really given me things to consider when it comes to Canyon and his future as an agility dog…he is also not neutered so I’m interested to see what changes Barnum experiences.

    Thank you again for being so open and honest.

  8. 8 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to these comments, especially because I do appreciate them so much! As you can all probably tell from some of my posts, I’m not getting as much support and understanding IRL about this issue as I would wish, so to have so many of you be so kind and supportive and understanding in the comments just makes such a huge difference. I am truly, truly grateful.

    @Pawpower pack — Thank you! Did Gracy ever settle, or did you have to wash her (?) out. If Gracy is a girl, probably neutering wouldn’t help, I suppose.

  9. 9 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Cait, your description totally made me laugh. It is really good to hear that Mal and Indy did settle down. I do appreciate your good thoughts.
    I do thank goodness I am a better trainer now than I was with Jersey or Gadget, or no way would we have a chance. With Jersey, I had really bouv-savvy people who chose her for me as a starter bouv, and they were right on the money, she was easy in a lot of ways that most bouvs aren’t. And I just got lucky with Gadget, because I knew so little about him, though the person who was fostering him thought he’d be a good SD. With a puppy, it’s a crapshoot. I knew going in that chances for a more physically sound dog would be higher, and so far he is, but the personality is a total best guess situation.

    BTW, to anyone who is curious, Sue Ailsby said she would give him at least 2 months post-op before I start evaluating the situation.

  10. 10 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I just loved getting this comment. Thank you so much!
    All that you said is good and the “right” things to say. No worries. *smiling*
    I also like to get your periodic comments because it’s nice to still be in touch a little, even if I do forget little things about your life, like what state you’re living in now. *grin*

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Knowing your struggles with Met and Thane in the past, that you overcame, does give me a lot of hope. Although, honestly, I am SO ready for my next dog to be a girl! For real! All I want is a physically and temperamentally sound girl who is a food hog next time around!
    I think the thing we both have going for us, and that makes the decision harder and easier, both, is that you most need a guide — the outdoor work — and Thane is into that, and then the hearing and SD stuff for indoors, etc., is important, but not as crucial.
    For me, I most need a SD for at home, because I am still going out so little. And Barnum definitely does have his moments for indoor work. Lately I have really been focusing on the sound alert and also balance/steadying work for walking to the bathroom from bed and back, because this is a new thing, the walking, and it will really make a difference to be less worried about staggering and bouncing into walls. So, we are continuing to do our thing. It may end up he is a good at-home SD and never a public access SD, and I will just have to go from there. Who knows?

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

    This was such an interesting comment! First of all, I am sorry to hear you’re facing retirement of your current guide. But, I guess, having gone through this so many times before offers you a certain amount of confidence in the process, yes?
    Will you be getting your successor from The Seeing Eye? Have you already told them you’re looking for a successor, or are you waiting a bit longer?
    It is definitely good to know what you want! Each time, I know a bit more about what to look for. Your list seems like mostly the perfect dog for anyone! LOL Except for preferences like breed, size, pace, etc.
    Sometimes I do envy people who can get a program dog — to be able to have some say over the dog you get in terms of its “fittedness” for you and the job. There are a lot of aspects of working with a program that I might find challenging, but it would be nice to at least have the option. Hell, it would be nice to be able to work with a private trainer sometimes, IRL.
    But I sure do learn a lot this way. It’s just, you know, sometimes one might wish for one less FGO (effing growth opportunity)!

  13. 13 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Aw, poor Hudson. How is he doing with the Cone of Shame?

    Funny side-note: One of my PCAs is the one who introduced me to the term, “Cone of Shame,” and then I said it to another PCA, and she said, “Only if he knows what was done to him.” Ha ha ha ha!

    If it’s any comfort, the first 24 hours Barnum had the cone, he was pretty freaked by it, and he was not so compliant with me putting it back on when we took it off to tick-check his head. However, by the second day, he had adjusted a lot, and by the third day, he sat quietly (resignedly?) for me putting it back on, and from then after. So, hopefully Hudson will adjust, too, or has already by now.

    It is hard for both dog and handler if the dog is freaking out at return to public. Jersey had “public nerves” that I had to work her through, and Gadget required serious overhauling as a result of m landing in bed for two years and him being stuck in the house along with me.

    Has your program been able to provide any support around desensitization and counterconditioning? I’m wondering, too, whether maybe some DAP (if you can take it on the road??) might help. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone.) I think you can get it in a spritzer. Your vet would know. I’ve never tried it, but Trish McConnell says sometimes it really helps (and sometimes it makes no difference), but it seems to be a pretty easy intervention, without side-effects, requires not training, etc. Not that you asked for any of my unsolicited advice, so feel free to disregard. *grin*

  14. 14 Sharon Wachsler May 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm


    I was really touched by this. It’s so good to know that going public about my struggles is of use to others.

    If you’re able to read Control Unleashed, I highly recommend it. It speaks to exactly the issues you’re discussing. I have found it a very useful book, and it’s on my list of things to do to reread it and implement more of it with Barnum. I don’t know if it’s available in alternative formats or not at this point, but I think it will be soon, as it’s quite popular and has won some awards and lots of respect.

    Are you waiting to neuter Canyon for the same reasons I was waiting — for health? I think I remember you were hoping to show a dog in conformation and then discovered a health issue, so I’m assuming you’re not planning on breeding him. Unless I’m mixing you up with someone else — my memory is not terrific.

    I have never done agility, so I can only pass along what I have learned from CU and all the agility people I’ve met online, especially the Training Levels list, which I always recommend to people as a fantastic resource. (There are other SD partners and blind handlers on the list, FYI.) There are tons of agility people doing Training Levels. Anyway, some people do find ways to get their dog in the game, using the Levels or stuff from CU, and others find that another dog sport, such as flyball, is better suited. Agility does seem fantastic; I wish I could do it. But, these days, there are so many terrific dog sports — flyball and rally and treiball (spelling?) — have you heard of that one? — and of course all the standbys like herding, tracking, obedience, etc., that hopefully even if agility doesn’t work out, you can still compete in something.

    Keep us posted!

  15. 15 Brooke & Cessna May 5, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Hi Sharon,
    I have casually been working through Sue ailsby’s Levels, but have gotten stuck in a couple of areas with both Canyon and Cessna. Canyon refuses to do the “touch” and Cessna doesn’t seem willing to keep trying for the “distance” exercise so I’ve sorta taken a bit of a break and just work on some of the more interesting things they can do and teaching some fun tricks that will be useful in agility or flyball if we end up doing one of them.

    I got Control Unleashed a few years ago, but Huib hasn’t had a chance to really sit down and scan the book for me. I would do it myself, but it’s hard when it ends up all jumbled at the end so he finds it just easier to do it from the start so he knows what’s wrong and doesn’t have to go back to fix things lol!

    I heard about Treiball and really think Cessna would excell at it, but am not sure where to find someone who teaches it near us. She’ll be starting agility lessons this week or next though, so that should be fun.

    I originally kept Canyon intact because of breeding, but did find out about scarring on his retinas so won’t be breeding, but he also has no real behaviours from it so Huib and I are both considering not neutering at all unless he goes under anethetic for something else, our vet suggests it or if you notice a huge difference in Barnum. I told Huib about what you had learned and he thought it was quite interesting and said that if there is a huge difference then we might book him for the surgery, but not until the fall because he’d like to enter him into a conformation show in August to see how he does. it’s local and small so he thinks it’ll be good experience for both of them.

  16. 16 Sharon Wachsler May 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    The Levels List is terrific. It’s a yahoo list, and if you post that you are having difficulty with a behavior, you almost always get helpful replies very quickly that help you solve the problem.

    I have no idea who or if anyone is teaching treiball yet. I have only seen videos on it on youtube, but that probably is not so useful for you! I bet, as it becomes more well-known, classes will pop up. I hope your upcoming agility classes are fun! I have a backyard agility set, and when Barnum is a bit older, I would like to try it with him. I have to wait till his joints fuse for any jumping.

    OK, that was you and Canyon I was remembering, then. I, too, had mostly heard about behavior problems associated with being intact as aggression, marking, or roaming, etc., which were never an issue. So, I, too, thought that since Barnum was not chasing after bitches in heat (he will chase after any dog, regardless of sex, because he wants to play, play, play with any dog he meets) or other “sex-drive linked” behaviors, that neutering wouldn’t make much difference. But I think that information is provided to the general dog-owning public who are more concerned with serious behavior issues for dogs that may not get a lot of supervision and savvy handling.

    However, if you are trying to do intensive clicker training, “behavior problem” can mean simply “distracted, uninterested in food,” etc. I have heard from many people that neutering can make a dog more food-motivated and settled. I saw this with one of Barnum’s friends, too, who used to mark with poop constantly during their play-dates, and who was not that interested in me or food, but since he’s been neutered, the frequent pooping has stopped, and I’ve done a few brief clicker sessions, and he is all over it!

    So, I would seriously consider neutering Canyon. Or you can wait and see how the Barnum experiment goes. *grin* But I am feeling more optimistic.

  17. 17 Brooke & Cessna May 5, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I tried joining the levels yahoo group but got stuck on the captia part, do you have the address for it? I’ll see if Huib can help me join this time.

    I think we’ll wait until the fall anyways to get him neutered so we’ll get a good idea on how Barnum’s changed by then too 🙂

  18. 18 Sharon Wachsler May 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Oh, the irony! My latest post is about the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA.

    Here’s the training levels’ list link:


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