Barnum has known how to shut my bathroom door for a couple of months, and he’s very reliable with it. I have started to fade the rewards. He also is learning how to shut the office door, the hall bathroom door, and the hall closet doors.
The most important doors, however, are my bedroom door, and the door to the outside. I’m waiting to work the outside door with him because (A) it’s a very heavy door that will require using his paws, and I want him to have a firmly established skill of shutting lighter-weight doors with his nose, first, and (B) it’s a bit of a Pandora’s box.
The bedroom door is harder than most of the other doors because usually my power chair is crowding it from the front. Plus, it’s often slightly wedged open by my nightstand, making it difficult to get snout leverage behind it. Thus, this skill requires some deft maneuvering for a big dog.
However, he has mostly learned the skill of shutting my bedroom door for me when I’m in bed. Once this is established, it will be half of one of my most important service dog tasks. (The other half is opening my bedroom door.) Gadget used to do these for me all the time.
In the 18-second video below, the skill appears complete, but it is not actually finished. Barnum knows how to shut the door when the door is not open all the way. However, if it is, he sometimes has trouble figuring out how to get his nose behind the door, with my bedside table in the way. I’m still shaping him to problem-solve that by either pulling on the door tug or nudging the door against the wall so it bounces toward him. (Guess which one he prefers?)
He knows the cue about 70 percent, but if he would rather be playing with a toy or watching squirrels out the windows or leaving the room instead of shutting us in it, he takes some convincing that it’s really worth his efforts to shut the door, collect his treat, and then go back to his toy or squirrel watching. That is sort of a separate issue, though.
I need to Premack the squirrel-watching and chewy-bone playing so that that doesn’t get in our way anymore. In other words, his reward for stopping watching squirrels or playing with a bone to look at me is to get to go back to watching squirrels or playing with his bone. Once that’s established, he will be more eager to interrupt those activities to do a job.
Finally, of course, I’ll have to fade the clicks and treats. In other words, we have a long way to go.
Yet, he has, on occasion, actually performed this skill so that it was helpful to me! Huzzah, huzzah. That’s what it’s all about!
This video is captioned. The timing of the captioning of the click is off, though. I actually click five seconds later, right when the door shuts, and just before I say, “Good boy!”
Transcript of the video is below my signature line. Enjoy!
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Oh puh-leeze, I did that all the time), and Barnum, strong-snouted SDiT
Transcription of Video:
View of Sharon’s open bedroom door, edge of the bed, and powerchair sitting next to bed. Sharon is not visible, except occasionally her hands, when she is signaling to Barnum.
SHARON: I’m in bed. I’m going to ask Barnum to shut the door for me, which is an extremely useful skill once it’s established.
SHARON: Barnum, release!
Barnum, a black bouvier des Flandres with a short working clip and natural ears, bounces into view from behind the chair and looks toward the camera.
SHARON: Good boy. Shut the door! [Sharon signs “There, shut door.”]
Barnum lowers his head, goes around behind the door and nudges in an up-and-outward motion with his nose, causing the door to swing most of the way shut. He continues with this momentum and nose-nudges the door again, and it latches shut.
SHARON: Good dog!
Sharon reaches for a treat. Barnum stands, facing the bed, expectantly.