Lately, things have been going surprisingly well with Barnum. I don’t think the neutering could have had time to take effect, but having to restrict exercise and not allow off-leash time for ten days was really beneficial for our work.
For one thing, he is now becoming super-reliable about peeing while on leash. He has even started ringing the bell to indicate he has to pee when he really doesn’t have to pee that much, just so he can go and pee a moderate amount in order to earn his rewards! His reinforcements for peeing on leash within a minute or two of going outside are a handful of treats and a walk around the yard. He’s not eliminating on cue yet, but we are on the way!
I have also been working on having him help me get to the bathroom. Usually, I need this most first thing in the morning or late at night. These are the times my pain and mobility tend to be the worst. And, often my pchair is plugged in (charging), so I really don’t want to unplug it and use it unless I absolutely need to (which sometimes is the case).
This job requires several smaller tasks:
- Wake up and emerge from his crate when I call him (usually with my kissy-sound recall, because I’m often nonverbal first thing in the morning).
- Hold a stand-stay next to my bed, while I put my hand on his shoulders to help me steady myself to stand.
- Walk with me, matching my pace, with his shoulder lined up with my leg, to and from the bathroom.
- If I stop, stagger backward, etc., match my movements or position (stand still or back up, as the situation requires).
- If I stagger, fall, move unevenly, lean against the wall above him, remain calm and in place.
- Allow me to put my hand on his shoulders — and stay in place — if I need to regain my balance or I’m dizzy. (I’m not putting weight on him, just teaching him how to be still for me steady myself. This is for what I think of as my “drunken walk,” because I think if you didn’t know I had a disability, and you saw me walking this way, you’d think I was hammered.)
- Down and stay while I use the toilet. (This is the one he is having the hardest time with. Sometimes he decides to wander back to bed. Sometimes he pops up to see if I’ve forgotten to click him.)
- Walk back with me to the bed, doing all the same things as on the way from the bed.
- Go back to his crate and go to sleep (as opposed to trying to jump on my bed or demand attention, etc.).
I started teaching this by clicking and treating for having him walk next to me to the bathroom. That was easy. Over time, I have shaped his position so that his shoulder is where I want.
He is also already surprisingly steady, consistent, and relaxed with the bracing work. He achieved this level faster than either Jersey or Gadget did. I attribute this to a couple of factors. One is that he’s had no experience of being pushed into place (“modeling” — the conventional way to teach sit and down involves pushing the dog’s butt down and pulling their head to the floor by their collar, respectively). Therefore, he doesn’t assume any pressure on his body is something he has to give way to.
I think it’s also just because I’m a better trainer, so I laid the foundation better with him. For instance, I first worked on teaching him to stand in a balanced way by capturing that (click/treat), when I saw him standing square. Likewise, I broke down the steps for this into tiny parts, so that by the time we are doing it for real, it seems natural to him.
For those of you keeping score at home, this has us walking well and bracing well. Where we ran into our first major problem was when I first tried it out upon waking in the morning (when I am most likely to need this help): I signaled him and he . . . continued to sleep. Well, he might have lifted his head to glance at me, but that was as far as it went.
His attitude seemed to be, “I’m asleep. I’ll get to you when I feel like it.”
I already have Barnum conditioned to leap out of bed and coming running when my infusion pump alarm sounds, which I did by first using classical conditioning — pairing the sound with special treats — his meds or supplements in Pill Pockets. When he was jumping up whenever he heard the alarm, I started shaping the behavior with my clicker, so that now he only gets his treats if he jumps onto my bed. I’m still shaping his response to include nudging me, or otherwise escalating his behavior, to wake me up. I also added dinner as a reinforcer for responding to the alarm.
So, I know he’s capable of springing into action from a dead sleep; I just wasn’t making it worth his while. I pondered: What treat would be delicious and exciting enough to get him to jump out of bed, that I also could keep by my bed? Then it came to me. Hard-boiled eggs.
Barnum is wild about egg in any form. Usually I feed him raw eggs with his Lyme-preventive supplement, but sometimes I give him my hard-boiled yolks when I’m trying to balance out my protein and fat.
So, a few nights ago, I paired my kissy sound with a bit of egg a few times before bed, and that did the trick. The next morning, when I called for him, he pelted over for more egg (which I keep in a container in a mini-cooler next to my pillow).
Probably the reason why most people don’t use egg as a training treat is that, even in its neatest form (hard-boiled), it’s still quite messy. After one eggstremely successful trip to and from the bathroom, I decided that this was the right treat for Barnum, but not eggsactly conducive to going back to sleep for me. My hands were covered in egg goo and slobber.
After that, I donned medical gloves before each training session and tossed them when I got back to bed. The other problem is the floor. Bits of yolk crumble and fall frequently on our way to and from the bathroom. Unlike most (normal) dogs, Barnum will not hoover up any tiny morsel of food he sees on the floor. Even when it’s his favorite treat, he only licks up the bits he considers to be worth his while.
Still, a sticky floor is a small price to pay for having this skill in place. My slippers will be well-worn by the time we are done training this behavior.
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, eggsellent bathroom-walking companion and SDiT?