Hello faithful readers!
I haven’t been blogging much lately because I’ve been sicker than usual quite a lot. I have had two stuck days within less than a week, for example. The lower rate of blogging will probably continue as I figure out how to stay within my “energy envelope.” As I discussed at length in my recent post at my writing blog, mental exertion can cause as much, or more, of a payback than physical exertion.
Therefore, I’m facing some difficult decisions about how to use my time — what I will have to give up or limit, and what I will need to prioritize. More about this another time. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find ways to continue with Barnum’s training even when I’m in bed, in a lot of pain, etcetera.
One skill I’ve been wanting to work on with him is alerting me to the telephone ringing. I have a phone in my room, and I keep the ringer turned off most of the time. The theory is that I turn it off before I go to sleep and turn it back on when I wake up, but I sleep very odd hours — in both senses. My hours are strange and variable. And sleep is a precious commodity, so unless there’s some sort of major emergency, I don’t want to be woken up for anything.
Because of my cognitive impairment, I very rarely remember to turn the ringer back on. There is a phone in the living room, but with all the white noise of my air filters and my heavy wooden door, I don’t usually hear it ring. This means that I miss phone calls that I really don’t need or want to miss.
Barnum has a strong and reliable alert to my infusion pump alarm (he now jumps on the bed and then noses or licks my face), and he is learning how to alert me to the stove and toaster oven timers, too. These have been easy to train because Barnum is naturally attuned to sounds, and once he’s learned that responding to one type of beep or buzzer gets him cookies, he’s increasingly likely to generalize. These other sounds can be easily incorporated into my day now and then when I need to use the stove or oven, so the training opportunities arise on their own. I am prepared to toss my cookies (no, not that way), because I always know approximately when the timers will go off, because I have set them.
The phone is a whole ‘nother kettle of monkeys in the ointment. I never know when someone will call. When the phone does ring, either I don’t hear it because my ringer is off, or I do hear it, and I’m scrambling to find the headset among the debris on my bed before it goes to voicemail, so it doesn’t occur to me to toss Barnum a treat.
We really need some training sessions, where the phone rings repeatedly, so it becomes something he tunes into. Unfortunately, I can’t call myself (no cell phone reception here, as I mentioned in my rural living post). This means I need people who are willing to call me several times in a row without actually needing or wanting or expecting to have a conversation with me!
The beginning stages of alert training are simple. I use classical conditioning and just pair the sound with a treat. Phone rings, I toss a high-value treat. Phone rings, I toss a high-value treat. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I do this until, when the phone rings, I see Barnum start. When he’s showing me clickable behavior, I switch to operant conditioning. I click that behavior — the startle — even though it was probably involuntary. Over time, I click/treat for increased intensity of behavior (swinging head to look at me, jumping up, coming over, etc.).
But, as I said, in the beginning, it’s pretty simple. I just need to lie in bed, waiting for the phone to ring (we all know what that’s like!), with treats in my hand, and then toss the treats when the phone rings. I need to make sure that the phone rings at irregular intervals (one minute, 30 seconds, two minutes, 45 seconds, three minutes, etc.), so that Barnum doesn’t start responding to a pattern as opposed to the ring itself. (Dogs are very good at judging time intervals.)
So, if you would like to help me train Barnum, here is a hands-on opportunity! Benefits and compensation include:
- Warm fuzzies (knowing that you are helping me train my service dog);
- The opportunity to hear me train Barnum in the background while I ignore you to focus on him;
- Flexible hours;
- Opportunity to work from home, office, or a cafe or taxi;
- Keep those extra long-distance phone minutes from going to waste;
- Not being burdened by the paperwork that comes with pay, health insurance, sick leave, vacation time, etc.
If you think you might be interested, please contact me by using the contact form or by commenting on this post. Or, if you have my email address, you can email me directly. This can be something you just do once, for five minutes, or it could be something we do on an ongoing basis, or anything in between. At night, during the day, whatever. We just need to schedule ahead so I am ready to fling treats, or you can even email me if you have an unexpected free ten minutes in your day. If I’m awake and not training Barnum, chances are I will see your email.
No experience necessary. Only serious, silly, or frivolous replies, please. Inquire within or without — I won’t know the difference.
– Sharon, Gadget (I was lousy at this because I was hard-of-hearing), and Barnum, SDiT and sound-oriented dog