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#NVC Meets Clicker Training: Needs and Reinforcers – Part 1

Writing, clicker training, and nonviolent communication (NVC) are my passions. For several months I have wanted to write a series on how NVC and clicker training overlap (thus combining all three passions) but I keep being too busy — with, guess what? Yeah. All of the above. I’ve been co-organizing an NVC telesummit that started Monday, Nov. 5!* When I do these things, it tends to use all my spoons. I made an attempt at cohosting the first call, but it was too much for me, so I’ve gone behind the scenes again. I’m better at the writing and brainstorming and promo stuff, I think.

Anyway, the more I study nonviolent communication (NVC), the more I love it. This has also been true for me with clicker training. The more I learn of both, the more obvious it becomes how I can apply the underlying principles of both to virtually everything in my life, and I find it fascinating to see how they bleed into each other.**

It’s not surprising I would see these synergies, because this is where my energy is going, but since I haven’t yet met anyone else who is passionate about both applied behaviorism and NVC, I haven’t had anyone to share these exciting little bursts of insight with. That’s where you come in!

I have heard from a couple of NVC people, and a couple of clicker people, that they’re interested in this topic, so I will take a stab at it. The most encouraging response was when I explained the difference between “splitting and lumping” to an NVC practice group facilitator, encouraging her to “split” more in her teleclasses. She later told me that that had been a useful tip which supported her in her role as facilitator. Since clicker training is basically a form of pedagogy, this shouldn’t astonish me, but I’m still always surprised when I pass a tidbit along to someone who isn’t already a clicker enthusiast and they tell me, “It worked!”

DISCLAIMER! I am not a professional in either field. I have no certifications or degrees or licenses. In both areas, I am an enthusiast, a dedicated amateur (though I’ve been clicker training much longer than studying NVC). I strongly encourage you to ask questions, to challenge me, to tell me if you disagree with me — and of course, because I am a believer in positive reinforcement, I also encourage you to share what you like, what makes sense, and where you think you can expand on my ideas. I think these sorts of interchanges — no matter whether they take the form of agreement or disagreement — offer the most potential for juicy learning and cross-pollination of ideas. I hope this will be a wonderful learning opportunity for many people, especially me!

I’m actually going to leave my attempt at defining what NVC or clicker training are, including the purpose of each, till another time. I want to start off with what I see as the basic “unit” of each practice. In NVC language, this would be “needs.” In clicker language, it’s called “reinforcement.”
In this post, I’ll tackle needs. The next post on this topic will take on reinforcement.

Needs – Human Example

Let’s start with needs. NVC holds as a basic tenet that all people have the same basic needs. This list at the Center for Nonviolent Communication is a basic example, though I prefer this PDF by Miki and Arnina Kashtan of BayNVC.
Now I’m going to say something that a lot of NVC practitioners (and other people) might find challenging, but I hope you’ll stick with me anyway. My first NVC teacher and main mentor believes, as do I, that animals have the same basic needs as humans. In other words, those lists I linked to are not just lists of universal human needs; they are cross-species lists of needs. If you’re thinking, “What about bacteria? What about amoebas? I doubt they have most of these needs,” I agree with you. Though I can’t prove it, I think it unlikely that bacteria have a need for companionship or trust or fun. So when I refer to an animal/being in these discussions, I mean “anything with a brainstem that eats,” because that’s Karen Pryor’s definition of an animal that can be clicker trained, and because I think it’s a manageable and reasonable way to define parameters. And yes, that includes humans — people can definitely be clicker trained, though it’s called TAGteaching (mostly because a lot of parents got in a flap when they learned their kids were being taught using a tool “that was for animals!”).
Do ALL animals need everything on the lists I’ve linked to? Maybe not, but then not ALL humans need everything on these lists, either. For example, I know some people who would say “sexual expression” is not a need for them. However, overall these are universal human needs, and enough experiences and science support my belief that they are equally applicable universal needs among social species, such as dogs, horses, parrots, apes, and dolphins, to name just a few. (If you’d like more information on this topic, I recommend For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and in Your Best Friend by Patricia McConnell, who studied both zoology and behavioral psychology. Although the book is geared to dog lovers, McConnell uses other species as examples as well.)

At any rate, a lot of learning to practice NVC is learning to connect with the basic needs at play in ourselves or in others with whom we’re interacting. This often takes the form of hearing the needs underneath the strategies we are using to try to get those needs met. For example, suppose I’m in an argument with my partner (this is hypothetical — I’m not saying this is an argument I have with my partner, nor that this is the language she’d choose), and she says, “You’ve spent the whole day blogging, and now it’s almost bedtime and you’re still at it! I’ve been waiting for you to watch a movie with me! I rented this DVD so we could have some time together, but you care about that stupid computer more than me!”

If I have my “NVC hat” on (as opposed to losing my head), I might make some guesses as to what my partner is saying her needs are. From an NVC perspective, her need is not to watch a movie because plenty of people and animals don’t care about movies; movie-watching is not an universal need among people. So, what are the possible needs she is asserting? My guesses might be that her needs are for fun, connection, companionship, and knowing she matters.
I might try to find out by asking, “Were you really wanting to have some connection with me tonight? To know that you’re important (matter more to me than my computer)?”
A cartoon of a hippopotamus and a giraffe. The hippo says, "I think that you..." and the giraffe shouts, TELL ME YOUR NEEDS!!! A banner says, Dear Beginners, This is how you can make your partner hate NVC. (Or hate you.)

Painfully true. (Just ask Betsy.)

Another cartoon by Sven Hartenstein

If she says, “Well, yes, I do want to spend time with you, but I also am just really sick of work, and I can’t understand why you aren’t! We spend all day on our computers, and now I’ve got this movie we’ve been waiting to see, and I want to watch it! Don’t you?”
From this, I think probably her primary need is fun (play, relaxation, enjoyment) and secondarily also some companionship in having fun. So, watching the movie with me (or by herself, or with someone else) might meet her needs, but so also might other forms of play, relaxation, or enjoyment, such as playing cards or backgammon or doing something fun with the dog or with someone else. So I might agree to watch the movie with her, or if I want to keep working, I might empathize with her need for fun and ask if she’d be willing to watch it without me — if that would still be fun and relaxing for her? And we’d go from there. Her needs have been identified, however. (My needs will be in another post in the future!)

Needs – Canine Example

Now I’m going to apply the same scenario to a dog! (Note: Because I have more experience with behavior in dogs than in any other nonhuman species, my examples will usually be dogs, but I encourage people with birds, horses, llamas, rats, etc., to comment with questions or examples.)
I’m blogging away at my computer, and Barnum starts barking. (This IS a real example which happened while I was writing this post, so I used our interaction as an experiment.) He’s looking out the window when he barks. Barking is no more a universal need among dogs than movie-watching is among people. Don’t believe me? My first service dog (same breed) never barked, even when a stranger approached the house. So, what is the need underneath the behavior here? First, I’ll tell you what I think he was “saying,” before I tell you what needs I guessed. I guessed he was saying, “I see someone in the yard, and I want you to know that they’re there!”
Back of Barnum's head and back as he looks out the window towards a green, leafy view outside.

What’s that?!

Note that there appears to be an extra step here: I am interpreting Barnum’s dog language into human words. This is a difference between communicating with most animals and most humans; humans are more likely to be able to use language we think we understand to interpret into needs. However, we often rely too much on language, thinking we know what another person is saying when we don’t, and we tend to ignore obvious (body) language from nonhuman animals about what they are saying. There are many times I know quite clearly what a dog is saying to me, while I can have a long, drawn-out discussion or argument with a person before I have a facepalm moment and say, “Ohhhh, so you mean X?!” Sometimes I’m not sure what Barnum (or another dog) is saying to me, and sometimes I am.
With either species, the process is basically the same: You make guesses and see how they land. With a dog, you often need to use a strategy to make a guess because just asking the dog, “Are you wanting X?” doesn’t always work. (Note: Except when it does. Many dogs know words for toy/ball, play, eat, dinner, car, walk, out, etc. Barnum knows the words “train” and “training,” and I try to use care about saying them in his hearing because he can get very disappointed if training is not forthcoming when he thinks it is.) Anyway, aside from these obvious examples, you usually “ask” a dog what they want by beginning a strategy that you think will meet their need and see how they react to it.
In this case, if I think Barnum is saying, “Pay attention! Intruder alert!” I’m likely to guess that Barnum’s need is communication, contribution, and safety. In other words, he wants to communicate to me that one or both of us might need to handle the danger of a stranger coming to our home; he wants to contribute to me by letting me know this. So I would probably thank Barnum for barking, ask him to be quiet, and treat him for remaining quiet while I look out the window or go to the door to see who’s outside. Looking out the window is partly for my own peace of mind and partly to convey to him that I have heard his alert and am taking it seriously — that he has communicated successfully to me his concern for our safety.
Suppose I do this and I see . . . nobody! Which is what happened! Either I guessed wrong or there was a dog, neighbor, or other “disturbance” he saw, heard, or smelled (perhaps in our neighbor’s yard) that I didn’t see. So, I went back to my work (this blog). As with my human partner, my initial guess was not entirely correct, but I’m still open to more information.
A few minutes later, Barnum — who was looking out the window again — barked again. Obviously what I did before did not meet his needs. I’m going to make a new set of guesses. I watch him for a few seconds and notice that his bark and body posture are a bit different from when he is truly alarm barking. I also catch him glancing at me a couple of times between barks.
I decided that actually Barnum is probably thinking, “I’m bored! She’s been staring at the computer all day, but last time I barked, she paid me some attention and moved away from the computer. If I keep barking, she will probably pay attention to me by telling me to be quiet, and I might even get a treat if I am quiet, and then I can do it again!”
Barnum lying on Sharon's bed with his chin on her computer keyboard in her lap.

Are you STILL on the computer?

I made a different set of guesses about his needs. I guessed Barnum might have needs for stimulation, play, challenge, purpose, connection, or companionship. Possible strategies to meet these needs include: physical affection (ear rubs, belly rubs, butt scritches), play (tug, fetch, chase), a puzzle toy (Buster Cube, treat ball, Kong), or training — which engages body and mind and usually is his favorite strategy for meeting needs of connection, creativity, purpose, challenge, stimulation, learning, and movement, among others.***
I decided to leave training as a last resort for three reasons: 1. It’s what I usually use, and I wanted to experiment. 2. I wanted to finish this post, and training can use up a lot of my physical and mental energy. 3. Training meets so many of Barnum’s needs that it would be harder to distinguish which specific needs were successfully being met by the strategy of training (normally not something I care about, but for the purposes of this experiment, I wanted to try to figure it out).
Then I actually tested this out while I was writing this post. I didn’t start with petting because Barnum rarely wants petting except first thing in the morning or last thing at night. (It’s a Bouvier thing.) I was also interpreting his body language as requesting more active engagement than passively receiving physical affection. So, I moved to the edge of my bed, got a plush squeaky toy and threw it for him. (The spider that quacks like a duck!)
Huggles Seat-Belt Spider

It actually looks creepier in real life. And it sheds!

He was not that interested at first, but then when I made it clear I would play with him (by voice and body language), he got it, and we played some version of tug/fetch/chase. Much to my surprise, when we started playing this way, he came over all wiggly and pressed himself against me. I took that as a request for petting, which is a delicious and rare treat for me (mutually reinforcing, AKA meeting needs for physical affection and connection for both of us). I vigorously rubbed his back and sides and scratched his butt, then he happily bounded over to pounce on his toy. We played some more, during which he requested scritches one more time, and then he got bored.

At this point, I could have decided his needs were probably met. Clearly he HAD had a need for connection with me, including physical affection, and I was touched by that. He’d had some fun, but my guess was that he had not had enough stimulation, play, and similar needs satisfied. If I went back to the computer, he might go back to looking out the window and maybe barking. Even if he didn’t, he might still have these unmet needs but just suffer in silence.
I thought it was likely that his needs for mental engagement (stimulation, challenge, play, whatever you want to call them), were still unmet. Again, I wanted to see if something other than training would work for him. I gave him a previously stuffed IQ Treat Ball set to a high difficulty level. He immediately began pushing it around my room, trying to get the kibble to fall out.
Two hard plastic balls, one blue, one orange. Each has a transparent hemisphere and then a divider inside with an opaque hemisphere below. There is a hole in the divider that can be adjusted in size, and the transparent hemishere has one hole in it as well.

Can be made difficult or  easy to get treats out by rolling

This might seem like a strategy for meeting a need for food, but I have often found that Barnum prefers a food-dispensing toy to easily-accessed food. For example, once when I was leaving the house, I left him a raw knuckle bone and the Buster Cube to occupy himself. Betsy came back into the house because she’d forgotten her hat and saw that he was ignoring the knuckle bone completely — normally a high-value food reward — in favor of the Buster Cuber, with its lower value kibble, because the reinforcement of working to get the food out was so much better. In other words, in that case, his need for challenge or work was greater than his need for eating or chewing.
Barnum pushed the ball around my room until either it was empty or it got stuck under my bed (or maybe both — he’s pretty good at getting toys and treats out from under furniture) and then went to his crate and took a nap. I decided his needs for connection and activity had been met, and now he had a desire for peace, rest, or space.
Barnum sleeping on the bed, Sharon's bare foot in the foreground.

Goodnight, everybody.

Future posts on NVC and clicker training may cover some of these similarities:
  • Opposition to punishment
  • Splitting
  • Assumption of innocence
  • Observation
  • Separating behaviors from intent
  • Focusing on the moment, not guessing stories
  • “Respect the organism”/Recognizing that the other has needs
  • Asking for what you want, not what you don’t want
Please let me know what you think of this topic!
– Sharon and Barnum, SD/SDiT
Notes:
*I’ve decided not to post my NVC events here from now on because I think you’re probably not that interested in that. But if you do want to be on my mailing list for NVC events I’m helping to organize, drop me a line and I’ll add you to my email list. If you want to read the blog posts I’ve been writing on this, they’re at Mair Alight’s blog, where I’ve been putting up information on the telesummit.
**I’m also clear on a couple of very fundamental principles in each practice that seem to clash as theory. From the clicker side, I anticipate the argument, “But we can get the behavior we want without needing to know WHY it’s occurring,” and yes, this is often true, and it is often true that it helps a lot to know the need behind the behavior in the first place to prevent it or to influence it. From the NVC side, I anticipate two major arguments: 1. That animals aren’t people, and 2. that clicker training (and behaviorism in general) is used to elicit behavior, which is “manipulation.” Indeed, the founder of NVC, Marshall Rosenberg, refers to “manipulation” as a form of violence specifically stating “that would include any use of punishment and reward.” I think actually both science and experience can show that, in practice, these are complementary, not antagonistic, approaches. I definitely plan to delve more deeply into these issues later. You might get some ideas of where I’m heading if you read Rosenberg’s article, “Praise versus Encouragement.”
***Note to trainers concerned that I’m reinforcing an undesirable behavior chain: I asked for a down-stay then worked at the computer for a short time before the next step to break the behavior chain of bark-cued quiet-reward for quiet.

Beginning Training the Simultaneous Pull-and-Push Door Opening

Barnum and I have started training on opening my bathroom door from the outside. This can later be applied to several other doors in the house.

The difference between this task and others I’ve written about is that in this case, instead of pulling down and back, Barnum has to pull the cord down and then, while continuing to keep the tension on the pull, push the door inward. This is the most difficult door-opening behavior in my opinion because it’s counterintuitive — due to the opposition reflex (which dogs, people, and other mammals have), the natural tendency is to pull back — and it’s also the opposite of his reinforcement history, which is to open and shut doors by pulling down and BACK.

So, here’s how we’re approaching this behavior:

1. I tested, myself, how far I’d need to pull down and where I’d need to push the door to get it open if my hand were a dog’s mouth. I then put a sticker on the pushing spot for Barnum to use as a target.

2. I shaped Barnum to nose-target the sticker and started selecting for harder nudges.

3. I decided Barnum wasn’t nudging hard enough, and I wanted to get a hard nudge on cue. He knows “nudge” for nudging a person, but I’ve never actually put nudging on cue. I just taught behaviors that involve nudging by shaping and then gave a cue for the whole behavior, like, “Shut the cupboard.” So, I got out the Poundin’ Bed Bugs toy* and had him practice pushing in the bugs.

Plastic toy with four different colored "bugs" sticking out of a plastic "bed." A red plastic mallet hovers above the bugs. When one bug is hit down, another pops farther out.

We don’t use the mallet. Barnum’s snout is the mallet.

4. When he was getting tired of that, I switched to having him hold a pen in his mouth (it’s one of his favorite things to hold or retrieve) and do different things while still holding onto the pen. This is because eventually he’s going to need to hold onto the door pull while also pushing the door inward, and I want to get him used to holding something in his mouth while also nudging the door. He also is just in need of remedial “holding onto things until the cue has been given to release them.” He’s so used to retrieving the thing and bringing it to me that if I don’t take it he starts trying to shove it into my hand or press it into my lap or bouncing his head like, “Here it is! Here it is! Take-it-take-it-take-it!”

So we practiced a few different behaviors while holding the pen: backup, sit, let’s go (working walk), and “touch.” The one I’ll eventually focus on is “touch,” and then I’ll stop giving that cue and just shape a firm nudge of my hand while holding the pen. I’ll also start sometimes giving him a door pull (not attached to a door) to hold while doing other things.

Once he is good at both holding and nudging at the same time, and once we have a firm nudge on cue, we’ll go back to working on the door and try to combine things. Right now he’s trained enough in the skills that are the most useful to me that I don’t feel a lot of urgency on this skill. It will be useful to have it, but we can just work it when we’re in the mood.

Back to writing and resting, guys!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who somehow figured out how to do this skill even with my lumping-style training), and Barnum, SD/SDiT

*I found out about this toy as a useful service dog training aid from Barbara Handelman‘s DVD set, Clicker Train Your Own Assistance Dog. You can watch a video of her training a pup with this toy at her page on clicker training an assistance puppy.

Honing Our Service Skills: Barnum Training Update (Videos)

Or, “What I Did Over Summer Break”

I announced a couple of months ago that I was taking a blogging hiatus to focus on training Barnum. What I didn’t realize was that I was also taking the opportunity to be really damn sick. So, that’s been quite discouraging.

Mostly I have discovered that I cannot bounce back in a reasonable amount of time from going out. Any minor exertions or exposures completely incapacitate me for days afterward. Thus, I’ve changed my training goals and plans for the summer. I’ve shifted our focus from public access training (which I’m just way too sick to do) and foundational skills (Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels) to training skills that I really need now on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I’m very sick.

These skills include

  • Shutting and opening doors
  • Shutting and opening drawers and cupboards
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Dressing and undressing
  • Finding my PCA when I need help
  • Pulling the covers off my bed
  • Bracing/balance assistance
  • Pulling my legs to the edge of the bed
  • Answering/bringing me the phone
  • Alerting me to the kitchen timer
  • Alerting me to my infusion pump
  • Retrieving things I drop
  • Retrieving things I need

Wow. Seeing it all written out has made me realize, that’s a long list! No wonder we don’t have it all finished yet! Good reality check for me.

Some things on this list he is already very solid on, such as bracing and shutting doors and cupboards. Other things he knows solidly in some situations but not in others. For example, he is very good with the light switch in the bathroom, but not as good with the one in my bedroom because usually my chair is parked in front of it, which makes it harder to get to. (More about that below.) He knows how to pull off my socks but is clueless about my shoes. He generally is solid on retrieving things I drop, but he still needs to learn to retrieve a wider ranger of items, such as more awkward, big, and/or heavy items. Stuff like that.

Today I decided to videotape a few of the skills that we’ve been working on as a way to show some people on my training list what I was trying to describe and also as a way of testing Barnum. They are very short, fun little videos (about a minute or less each).

Pulling Shut Bathroom Door

Shutting a door by grabbing a cord and backing up is much harder than just nosing it shut. In the winter, I use this skill a lot because I keep the doors shut to retain heat. In the summer, we don’t use it as often because I like more air flow. Here’s what he did today:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

What was so interesting about today’s test was the evidence of latent learning that occurred since we last worked this skill. I shaped this skill with a focus on Barnum’s body position — having him move parallel to the door and back up so that he wouldn’t end up shutting himself into the bathroom. I taught him to grab the cord and back up.

Over time, the harder pulls, he had to really back up fast to get out of the way, so on his own, he figured out a way to “beat the clock.” As you can see in the video, he pulls the door once and races out of the bathroom and then moves into position to back up when he grabs the cord a second time to finish the pull. Very smart!

Turning Lights On and Off

This is a skill that Barnum is most used to doing in my bathroom. I trained it there because most of the wall is tile, which can’t be scratched by his toenails. He has it down pat in there. However, the place I need the skill the most is in my bedroom, particularly when I’m in bed, and I want the light either on or off (often, when I have a migraine, I want it off post-haste!).

The tricky part is that I also park my powerchair next to my bed where it prevents Barnum from doing a direct jump-up right to the switch in a centered way. Or, it makes it much more difficult. He has to launch from right behind the chair, which he does on the third cue, so we’ll need to practice that more.

We have trained this a bunch with the chair moved out of the way so that he has the idea of the best angle to launch from, but the reality is that a lot of the time, in “real world” conditions, the chair will be in the way. So, lately I’ve been having him practice it with the chair in its usual space — that’s why you see the cardboard really scraped up.

I tested him on it today, and here are the results:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

Did you see our blooper? It used to be that Barnum would flick the switch up and down and up and down if he didn’t get a click at just the right moment. By now, he usually has the idea and will just do it once in either direction. When training, I don’t use the clicker and just toss the treats, so he learns to pay attention to the click of the light switch as the indicator that he’s won. However, when using the skill — incorporating it into our lives — I’m still clicking him. I didn’t get the “Yes!” in fast enough and accidentally reinforced the dark/light double-flick. Oh well. We got it on the next attempt.

Find Help!

The last quick flick is the skill we’ve been training the most because it’s the most complex. I ask Barnum, “Where’s [name of person]?” I practice this with my four PCAs and Betsy, so he has to know it applies to everyone the same.

The skill — most of which you don’t see in the video — requires him to find the person, nudge their hand or leg, and then sit. When they say, “Where’s Sharon?” He runs back to me. The nudge is to make it clear to the person that he’s not just coming by to say hello because he feels like it (which he sometimes does). The sit is so he won’t come racing back to me whether or not they’ve realized why he’s there. (He has lately started to do a “drive-by nudging” where he runs up to them, barely makes contact, and turns around and runs back to me. The sit makes sure he actually completes the behavior.) And when I hear them ask him, “Where’s Sharon?” I know that they know I want them to come help me.

Here’s what it looks like viewed from my bed:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

You can’t hear it in the video, but I heard my assistant say, “Good boy,” and “Where’s Sharon?” That told me that he had nudged her (my assistants praise him when he nudges) and that she would be following him to me under normal circumstances. In this case, she didn’t because I had told her I was videotaping it. That’s why I had Barnum shut the door, which is not normally something he does after I’ve sent him to get someone.

I hope you enjoyed these videos. I felt happy watching them because I noticed how enthusiastic Barnum was with all the skills. That tells me that we’re doing things right.

I don’t know when I’ll feel well enough to post again, but we are continuing to train hard whenever I have enough spoons.

I love to hear from you, even though I am not always feeling well enough to respond.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, at-home-SD/public-access-SDiT

Training Update, Plus Where Is My Shark of Yesteryear?

Training Wrap-Up/Update

Barnum’s training moves apace. I try every day to do some handling (brushing teeth, coat upkeep, nail filing), some New Levels training (Sue Ailsby’s books), some service skills training, and/or some manners/basic obedience training. Most days we do not manage most of this! Still, almost every day we do some training.

The New Levels training is hard to track because a lot of it is review, and some of the “comeafters” require criteria that I’m not always able to do — like retrain it outside, or with another person, or in a different room. So, we speed through some of it, and then we stall out and wait on some until the weather or my pain level or whatnot enable me to do things in other rooms or outside, etcetera.

In preparation for future doctor’s appointments and things like that, we’ve been working on mat duration, down-stay, and relax. I’m loving combining shaping relax with down-stay and mat. These also mesh well with training default going to mat or crate when I’m eating, with which the MannersMinder has been very helpful. And we’ve also been adding new aspects of zen (“leave it”) into the mix, such as having my PCAs teach him zen when they’re doing food prep.

Most of the service skills we’ve been working on are doors (opening and shutting), light switch, and “Where is [person]?” He has made excellent progress on all of these. He can now turn on or off my bathroom light on one cue — the same cue (Lynn!) — pretty reliably, without flicking them on or off additional times. The most important light switch is my bedroom one. That’s still a challenge because the switch is right behind where I park my powerchair next to my bed, and that makes it hard for him to jump up and get it from the correct angle. We’ll get there, though.

Door shutting is, in some cases, completely reliable — such as if I’m in my powerchair — and in other cases, still not attached to the cue. He seems to know what I’m asking if I ask for him to shut my bedroom door when I’m in bed, but he still has some discomfort with it because of one time when the door bonked him in the butt when we were training that. Even though we’ve done it a hundred times (not exaggerating) since then, he hasn’t entirely gotten over that incident. Bouviers are like elephants: they never forget. They develop phobias at the drop of a hat.

With the bathroom door, he has no “issues,” he just doesn’t know what the cue is yet, and there are not as many obvious physical cues because I’m far enough away that he can’t tell if I’m pointing to the door, his crate, his mat, etc.

Where he is really shining, and what turns out to be one of the most useful skills, is finding the person. He loves this, and I’m very pleased with how I’ve trained it. I started teaching him when he was a baby to learn the names of my PCAs and Betsy, and my name, and that it was excellent fun to run to that person when he was asked, “Where’s Sharon/Betsy/PCA?” etc. What I’ve been working on lately is creating a behavior chain where he will open the door to get to that person, no matter where we are, and then nudge them until they ask him, “Where’s Sharon?”

I have discovered I most often need this skill when I’m in the bathroom, and I haven’t brought my walkie-talkie with me. So far, he will eagerly run and open my door and find and nudge the person if they are in an obvious location downstairs. It’s good training for both of us that we have to practice this skill with five different people, each of whom does it a bit differently.

Next I’ll be raising the criteria. It will become much harder if he has to open two doors (my bathroom door, which is probably the hardest door to open in the house, and then my bedroom door, which he does easily) or if he has to find the person in an unexpected location. When we have the entire behavior really solid, and he is nudging people in a totally obnoxious way, I will go back to teaching him to bark on cue so that he can bark in situations where he can’t get through a door, such as if I’m outside or if he needs to get Betsy, and she’s upstairs. I put bark/silence training on hold a few months ago because he was getting too barky (I started calling him, “Barkum”), but now that he’s had an attitude adjustment, I think it will go better.

Mais où est mon requin d’antan? (But where is my shark of yesteryear?)

One skill that is really important that we’ve had to return to basics on is his trained retrieve. He is great at picking up small things like pens, clickers, baggies, silverware, and even paper. He doesn’t chew or lick things. He doesn’t bat them around. He’s very purposeful about it. He usually remembers to hold things until I cue the release, even if my hand is on it.

The problem is that he somehow has learned that he can only open his mouth a leetle bit. Obviously I must have taught him this, because when he’s playing, and certainly when he was a pup, he had no problem opening his mouth very wide, as these pictures and this early post show.

Barnum prepares to launch Shark Attack.

Sure, it’s all fun until someone gets bit in the arm. Then it’s only fun for Barnum, not so fun for the owner of the arm.

Barnum chews bucket lid

“Mm, the lid to the bucket tastes as good as the bucket, itself.”

Barnum chews hose.

Now its a hose and a sprinkler all-in-one!

But somewhere along the way, when I taught him to take things from my hand and hold them, he got into the habit of opening his mouth just enough to bump his teeth against the thing, and then a bit more to hold the thing behind his canines. If I hold up something that is larger and requires a more open-mouthed grab, he is used to opening a bit and then a bit more, and then a bit more. So, he is sort of going, “nibble?? nibble? nibble,” until he has carefully and gingerly taken the item. However, the sequence occurred so quickly and seamlessly that I didn’t notice that’s what he was doing, because the end result was that he was holding the item the way I wanted.

It’s an excellent approach for helping me to dress or undress, a skill we recently started with sock removal. He’s very careful to avoid my fingers or toes. With removing a sock, you want a dog that will start with a careful, gingerly nibble. But for grabbing and pulling the front of a sneaker, it doesn’t work at all because he won’t open his mouth wide enough to take the front of the sneaker!

Further, when it comes to picking things up off the ground, this method fails miserably for anything that requires a wide, firm grip. What happens then is that he ends up pushing the thing around because he’s not lowering his mouth over it wide enough to grasp it with the first attempt. Round or slippery things roll away as he tries repeatedly to nibble at them. He ends up getting frustrated and giving up.

So, I have stopped most of our retrieve work and gone back to the beginning. I decided I needed to mark the moment when his mouth is open and to keep shaping him to open it wider. This is easier said than done. For one thing, I use a verbal marker (“Yes!”) for this work, and it’s harder to be precise with timing with a verbal marker than with a clicker. For another, he is a bouvier des Flandres, not a Lab or Weimaraner — in other words, he has a lot of hair obscuring his mouth. Even though he has a very short haircut for a bouv, it’s still not always possible to see whether or how much his mouth is open from the side.

Also, my original idea had been to do the training the way we’d started, but use fatter objects, but he just did the nibblenibblenibble thing with the bigger objects, so I knew we had to go further back to kindergarten. Instead, I’ve been using items he is very familiar and comfortable with, such as pens, and very high value treats when he’s very hungry and eager to work. Then I wave the item around in front of me and a little high for him so I can see when his mouth is opening. A lot of the work has just been me learning how to time my “Yes!” — which involves anticipating when he is about to open and trying to say it right before his mouth gets to its widest point — and how to position him so I can see his open mouth. I actually ended up training a little hop because he was having to jump up to grab for the item. That went away as soon as I lowered it a bit.

Once we both got used to the idea that he didn’t actually have to take the item, he just had to open up and grab for it, we started to make some progress. Last session, I had worked him up to grabbing — opening wide enough to take it in his mouth on the first grab — a wide handle of a dog brush. That’s where we are now. I am trying to regain my shark of yesteryear. If anyone had told me a year ago (or two years ago!) that I’d have to put lots of effort into getting him to open his mouth wide and grab willy-nilly at things, I’d never have believed it!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I liked grabbing things!), and Barnum SD/SDiT and reformed shark

Waspish Wednesday: The Obstacle to Training My Service Dog

A poster showing a paved road with a huge, long boiling mass of molten lava pouring out across the road, black smoke billowing up from it. Under the picture in large orange letters, it says, "Obstacles." Beneath that in smaller type, it says, "Some things cannot be overcome with determination and a positive attitude."

A Despair, Inc., Demotivator

[To enlarge image, click here.]

The theme for this month’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “Obstacles.” Lately it’s become very clear what my biggest obstacle is in training Barnum: me. Or, to be kinder and more accurate, my panoply of disabilities and their attendant symptoms.

While searching for inspiration to create a catchy title for this post,I  googled famous quotes on obstacles. I ended up at the proverbia.net Obstacles page. Here are two representative quotations:

Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them… they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight. ~Orison Swett Marden, American author and founder of Success magazine

Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have. ~Norman Vincent Peale, American preacher and author of The Power of Positive Thinking

What I noticed as I read through the quotes (aside from the fact that, except for unknown authors, these were all said by successful white men) is that the underlying message to all of them is this: Obstacles aren’t real. What you think is an obstacle is actually your personality defect. Get some perspective, little missy! Ditch the bad attitude and start thinking B-I-G! If you fail, it’s because you didn’t follow the dream recklessly/doggedly enough, and it’s your own damn fault.

Uplifting, no?

Although most of these quotes are from a century ago or more, the ideas they espouse are the same victim-blaming, magical-thinking-induced ideologies that I and every other person in the US (and most other countries) are relentlessly subject to today. (If you need some convincing, please read Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent book, Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. She lays it all out much better than I ever could.)

Many of us with disabilities or serious illnesses get told by family, friends, strangers, even doctors how positive thinking, and mind-over-matter, and mind/body connection, and blah blah blah is going to cure us. How if we think positive! And act cheerful! And smile! And be good little poster kids and supercrips and Brave, Inspirational, Role-Models (because therebutforthegraceofgodgoyou), we can overcome every obstacle! After all, isn’t that what the American dream is all about? Isn’t that what all the commercials tell us — about limitless growth, wealth, expansion, progress?…

In fact, this quote was my favorite of the bunch at the Proverbia.net site because it is just so brutally honest in its social Darwinism:

The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong. ~Thomas Carlyle, British historian and essayist

That’s the truth of it: If you’re “weak,” too bad for you. If you’re “strong,” you get all the cookies. (And by cookies, I mean, money, security, respect, freedom, independence, choices, opportunities, etc. In a nutshell, privilege.) Basically, “weak” can just be a stand-in for whatever misfortune or trait a person might have which puts them on the margin. Of course, “weak” can also literally mean “weak,” and that’s a reality for some of us, too.

My biggest obstacles are not imaginary. They are not any sort of personal failing on my part or Barnum’s to be determined, smart, dedicated, hard-working, or creative enough. Because, in all honesty (but not modesty), I have all those traits. And they’re not enough. My severe pain and mondo-weirdo sleep disorders and exhaustion and inability to think clearly and inability to drive and inability to leave the house and inability to leave my bed and struggles to walk, talk, bathe, etc., all affect my training with Barnum in every possible way.

It is so damn frustrating! I want a trained SD desperately. It’s true that I am training him to a higher standard — in terms of both the solidity and number of skills he’s learning — than I used with Gadget or Jersey. Nonetheless, I’m also a better trainer, and we’ve been working longer than I’ve ever worked to get a SD completely trained. I don’t want to just keep training forever! I want to spend time with Barnum working, playing, getting out and about, having fun, being free and independent. I want this so bad! And lately it has become so starkly apparent that the reason we are so behind in so many areas is not him; it’s me.

When he started rounding the corner to two year’s old, a lot of dog maturity suddenly clicked into place. He has more energy. He catches on to ideas much faster. (I wrote recently about how we’re having more “light bulb moments.“) He’s more enthusiastic and confident. He wants to train. Indeed, he wants to interact with me all the freaking time! He’s insatiable! He’s turned into a training machine. This miracle I’d been hoping for of a dog who really wants to work, who chooses to be a service dog, is coming to pass. And much too much of the time, I’m so damn tired, I just want him to leave me be. I want peace and quiet and rest.

And I also want so much to work, work, work him. Lately, when we train, the clicker magic is there. He has recently — within the last three weeks — either learned the beginnings of or dramatically improved aspects of the following behaviors:

  • Opening the refrigerator
  • Opening my bedroom door (almost a completed behavior and on cue) and opening the bathroom doors (understands the cue but hasn’t figured out how to work the doors yet)
  • Pulling my bedroom door shut from the outside (which is a completely different set of behaviors than shutting it from the inside)
  • Carrying an item in his mouth from me in bed to a PCA in the hall
  • Standing or sitting on a table to be groomed
  • Going into crate as a default when I start eating a meal (not 100 percent yet, but more often than not)
  • Nose-targeting my feet (which will later be shaped into pulling off my socks and helping me move my legs when I can’t do it on my own)
  • Generalizing the light switch UP skill
  • Learning the light switch DOWN skill
  • Going to find a named person to let them know I need help
  • Retrieving novel objects from the floor
  • Holding his head and mouth still (no chewing or licking) for tooth brushing
  • plus doing ongoing work on go-to-mat, down-stay, sit-stay, zen/leave it/self-control, come, crate, quiet, separation anxiety, and other things I’m forgetting.

All of which is probably leading you to think, “Damn! They’re doing great! Why is she complaining? Clearly they are overcoming obstacles, otherwise they wouldn’t be showing all this progress, right?”

Yes and no. Yes, we’re making progress. Nobody is more aware of that or more excited about it than I am — believe me! I’ve waited a long time to see this. There was a time I thought we were hopeless! I’ve tweeted and posted on our Facebook page, and on the Training Levels list, about how Barnum has really started to help me with some important skills, especially when I’m very sick. This is terribly exciting, and there have been a time or two I almost wept with gratitude and joy that we have achieved this place. I also tend to shower him with praise, hugs, and kisses when these events take place.

What I’ve noticed the most, when I actually need help, and I ask him to do that thing, not just as a training exercise, but because it would really be damn useful, and he does it, it’s a totally different world we are entering. It’s the world of partnership, of a new level of communication, of moving from mommy/baby or teacher/student to something more like, well, partners. It’s really the word that sums it up best, because it’s appropriate in every nuance and meaning of the word — equals, mutual supports, working team members, family, beloved, etc.

But. . . .

We are not there yet. Most of the skills above are still in their youth, if not their infancy, in some cases. Most of the time I’m still putting the energy out, out, out, and only sometimes is it coming back. By his second birthday, I really had expected him to be working full-time, with just polishing of a few skills. Instead, only a few of his skills are in working order, most of them are under construction, and a few haven’t even been introduced.

So, yes, the reason we have achieved what we have, despite the immense obstacle of my illness, is due to our determination, smarts, dedication, hard work, and creativity. We certainly wouldn’t have gotten here without all that. But the fact remains that we still have so very far to go because the obstacle of my illness is real and cannot be “overcome” as in the endemic supercrip trope. We can only chip away at this block of granite a little bit at a time, sometimes with a pick-axe, and a chunk comes tumbling down, but mostly with a dull pocket knife, or a bent spoon, or sometimes just a toothpick or a thousand drops of water over the course of years that hollow out a smooth indentation where I rest.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, eager SDiT

Building Enthusiasm: Take a Training Break

I created a protocol many months ago of ways to increase Barnum’s enthusiasm and “in the game”-ness. Eventually I want to post the whole list, and then do separate posts on each aspect. I already did one post on this topic, focused on treat delivery, and the stark difference in “Go to Mat” a year ago versus more recently.

One of my the main challenges with him has been his lack of enthusiasm, and I wrote about what it means to be in the game and how essential that is for clicker training my own service dog.

Recently, Barnum seemed to lose his gusto for training. I was somewhat concerned, but I also decided to give him some time. He might be going through a “learning plateau” where what he’s learned is being organized and stored into long-term memory, which can give the appearance of flaking out and forgetting everything he knew. The heat’s been a factor, too.

Also, taking a training break is a good way to get a dog back in the game. With Barnum, this seems to work best if I keep things very boring on his days off, and the only stimulating, fun things that happen are things I make happen. This means no watching squirrel TV, no unearned Kongs, no wandering around the house getting loved up by everyone else.

It’s much easier to take a training break if you are sick or tired or busy; in my case, I’ve been all three! Combine this with a heat wave, and a dog-training hiatus seems just the ticket.

Yesterday, I had time, energy, and an eager dog. I tested the waters and Barnum dove in!

Here is what we practiced:

  • take/hold with all three dumbbells, three sessions;
  • shutting doors (multiple doors in one session, and several opportunistic reps of shutting my bedroom door;
  • paws up/jump up to push a nose target high on a wall (will eventually be used for automatic door openers, opening/shutting high kitchen cupboards, and light switches);
  • brace (possibly his most solid skill);
  • go to mat (living room dog bed) — focusing on speed and cue;
  • simple commands outdoors (sit, down, touch, loose-leash walk);
  • turning on light switch (he really seems to enjoy this one);
  • sound alerts (toaster oven timer, infusion pump alarm);
  • and a bit of brush-up on a variety of other skills, as opportunities arose.

I was very pleased with his eagerness, focus, motivation, and stamina. We really, really need to work on Zen more, but I’m waiting until my New Training Levels books arrive to start back at the beginning.

We are also back to doing umbilical cord/leading the dance, which seems to help a lot.

Good dog! Good trainer!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and possibly a contender

Tuesday Tips for Tired Trainers: #5 Clickers at Hand

Quite a while back, I said I wanted to do a series of Tips for Tired Trainers. I didn’t realize it was going to be so hard to keep the notes visible and updated on Facebook, so I’ve decided to try to do a regular feature on my blog — just short posts of tips. Since I already have a Wednesday and Thursday feature, I thought I’d do Tuesday Tips for Tired Trainers. As with the other features, I probably won’t manage to do it every week, but I’ll do my best.

I already posted several tips as a page here, but I have so many now (I’ve been working on a document on my own), that I think breaking it up and doing it as a series will work better. I am actually hoping to eventually turn this into a book.

I really encourage comments and feedback. If you have a chronic illness or an intermittent or time-limited source of fatigue (such as migraines or chemotherapy), I’d really like to hear from you: What are the most challenging skills to train when you’re exhausted? Or general dog-stewardship issues affected by the limiting effects of fatigue?

Here is one of the tips that was not included in the tips page I link to above.

5. Have clicker, will travel — or stay put!

I try to have clickers wherever I go. Searching for clickers uses valuable physical and mental energy. I have one or more on a wrist coil on my powerchair joystick, and then I also have them in every room of the house (including bathrooms) and in the car. You can also keep one on a cord around your neck, around your wrist on a coil, or in your pocket (see below about potential issues arising from i-Clicks in pockets). This makes it easier to do short sessions on the fly and to capture behaviors.

Which Clicker Do YOU Click With?

It’s good to try out different styles of clickers to see which work best for you. I usually use a box clicker on a wrist coil or on a finger loop for most of my training, but if I’m doing something near Barnum’s head/ears, I might choose the Clik-R or the i-Click because they’re quieter.

The box clickers works best for me (as long as they have either a finger loop or a wrist coil attachment) because…

  • I’m less likely to lose them.
  • They seem sturdier and last longer/put up with more abuse.
  • My timing is better with them. I don’t know why, but I find myself clicking late more often with the i-Click. This doesn’t just reduce effectiveness of training, but it causes me physical and mental stress, which adds up to more fatigue.
  • If I have an i-Click in a pocket, on my lap, or on my joystick and I accidentally bump into it or bend over onto it, etc., it clicks! Then I have to pay up, even though there was not necessarily any desirable behavior occurring at that time!

That said, not all box clickers are created equal. The ones from ClickerTraining.com or Clean Run are the best, in my experience. I once got some from PetCo, and they are much bigger and it takes more force to make the sound (depress the metal part).

Large bright red clicker with keychain loop.

I do not recommend the PetCo clicker.

They are also very loud – and have a particularly concussive quality, which can be useful if the dog is at a distance, but for people with neurological issues, might be intolerable. The difficulty of depressing the metal part (and the delay this causes in clicking) make them my least favorite clicker. I use them as backups, only.

There are also many benefits to push-button clickers. The most well-known is Karen Pryor’s i-Click.

Circle of red, geen, blue, and black i-Clicks. These are oval-shaped clickers with a yellow button sticking out at one end, and a thin molded plastic loop at the other end. There is an indentation below the button to rest your thumb between clicks.

The i-Click is immensely popular, especially with novice trainers and those who like to use it as a foot clicker to keep their hands free.

The other external-button clickers I’m familiar with are the Clik-R (made by Premier) and the StarMark clicker.

The i-Click and Clik-R are quieter than most box clickers, which might be helpful for people with neurological conditions who find loud clicks jarring. They are easier to use and manipulate for some people with hand coordination or strength issues. (The Clik-R is particularly sensitive to a light touch.)

Purple clicker, a fat oval around a small green external button and then a thick rectangular "neck" below with a molded loop for attaching a string, coil, or key-chain. On the back is a thick green elastic loop. Below the button, in neon green are the words "Clik-R" and in smaller letters, "Premier."

The Clik-R by Premier.

The StarMark clicker is larger and louder than the i-Click, and may fit better into the palm of the hand for some who want something more substantial and grippable.

A large royal blue, egg-shaped clicker with an orange button at the fatter part and a sturdy plastic loop at the bottom for attaching a cord or loop.

This clicker is good if you want a large and very loud button clicker.

The button clickers also have the advantage of being easily usable with body parts other than the hands. They can be used in the mouth, under foot, taped to an armrest and whacked with the heel of your palm, etc. It all depends on what works for you.

Sue Ailsby turns her box clickers into toe clickers by cutting off part of the top so she can put her big toe in the clicker. If you have better foot than hand control, this might be a good option for you, although most who have good foot control like to tape an i-Click to the floor or a wheelchair footrest and click it by pressing their foot down.

You can also modify a box clicker by gluing a “button” (a peg of some sort, such as a one-half inch piece of dowel or the end of a wooden spoon) where you would normally press with your finger.

The main thing is to test out what works while training. Don’t be afraid to tell your dog “Gimme a break” (see tip #2 in previous post) while you switch clickers to see if a different type will work better for you.

Also, even clickers made by the same company will vary slightly in sound and ease of clicking; like dogs and people, while the “breed” may give you a sense of what to expect, individuals always vary. Test them out to find which one is the easiest for you. I have a particular favorite box clicker from Karen Pryor Clicker Training that makes a nice “pop” with very little pressure, which is not as true of the other clickers I got in that same batch.

There are also finger clickers — which just have a little elastic loop on one end of a box clicker, that make it easier to have “in hand,” which you can get from Clean Run.

A box clicker, blue on top and white underneath. The bottom has a cartoon of a dog creeping toward a starting line and the words, "Clean Run" underneath with the company phone number. At the top end of the clicker is a blue elastic band, the same kind as a hair elastic.

I am fond of my finger clickers.

The Clik-R has an elastic loop for your finger to go in, but I find it cuts off my circulation unless I use a really small finger or just a finger tip. If you have particularly thin fingers, this might not be an issue for you. If you are crafty — and have the energy! — you might even want to make one for yourself that does fit your fingers, as Michele  Fry explains, here. This is the solution if the Clik-R doesn’t fit your hand or finger, but you want an elastic loop on the back of a standard size and shape box clicker.

The cheapest way to keep clickers wherever you need them is to buy several at once (such as from ClickerTraining.com). The more you order at once, the cheaper they are. If you have friends who train as well, you can go in on an order together and save on shipping, too. If you can’t afford to buy several clickers, and you are able to go to stores or dog events, you can ask test out various clickers and see what works for you before you buy or order new ones.

I hope you find a solution that clicks!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and clicker aficionado

Tips for Tired Trainers: Dog Training Suggestions for People with Fatiguing Conditions

This series is based on my experiences of training three service dogs, as a person with fatigue-inducing illnesses. I also borrow ideas from other trainers I know with chronic illness and/or disabilities.

I imagine this list as analogous to a cookbook for people with food allergies. The recipes all assume that the people using them have some limitations, with widely variable and changing specifics, severity, and other factors. This means some recipes may not work for some people, or may work some times and not others. Other recipes will include ingredient substitutions, so if you can’t follow the recipe one way, there will be alternatives.

All this is to say that if one of these tips doesn’t work for you, please go to the next one. For example, I will eventually include tips that don’t work for me, but have worked for others I know. I also very much welcome suggestions of tips you use, or ways you have modified my tips to work better for you.

Note: These tips are intended for people who already have a basic understanding of dog-training principles,  by which I mean clicker training principles (also known as operant conditioning  or positive-reinforcement training). If you don’t have experience already with dog training, or with forms of training other than compulsion, I recommend using a “getting started” video, website, or book, and then modifying how you apply some of the exercises, when appropriate,  using my tips.

Here they are!

1. Flick it good!

Instead of throwing or tossing treats, line some up on your knee/thigh/armrest or table you’re at. I do one or two on each knee/thigh or a line of five to 10 on a table or armrest.

Then flick the treat (I use my index finger coming off my thumb). It takes less energy than throwing, and it makes the treats go flying in a different direction each time (and quickly, too, if you’re good at flicking), which is exciting and energizing to your dog, because they get to go into chase mode. This is particularly true if you use hard treats on a non-carpeted floor.

If you don’t have the control/coordination to flick, you can sweep treats off the surface with your hand, fist, or arm, instead.

Lining up your treats ahead of time (e.g., five or ten or whatever your space and coordination allow), also helps you keep track of your stats — how many reps your dog has done.  Counting them beforehand is particularly useful if you’re using the “Give Me a Break” game from Control Unleashed: Line up six treats, reinforce as fast as possible, and give your release/break cue. Now you have time to line up another six treats when your dog demands training again. See tip #2 for more on “Give Me a Break.”

2. Use and modification of Control Unleashed’s, “Give Me a Break” Game

Leslie McDevitt’s great game for getting your dog “in the game” — focused and enthusiastic — also allows both trainer and dog to take a break (as the name suggests!). It’s a good way to judge if you should keep going or end a session, because your dog has to demand that training continue.

I find taking small breaks can be a useful way for me to stop and tune in to my body: Where is my pain level? How fatigued am I? Am I positioned for maximum comfort and minimum pain?

After checking in with myself, I can either decide to continue as we’ve been doing, adjust my seating/posture to better suit my needs, or decide to stop altogether.

I also modify the game to accommodate my disabilities. McDevitt’s instructions are to train in one area (standing up), and then after giving the release cue, to walk to a chair and sit down. The dog will come to associate this chair as the “time out” chair.

This is a lot of extra energy for people who can stand and walk, and impossible for those who can’t. For example, if you are using a chair all the time, remaining in your chair offers no obvious visual cue that something has changed!

What I do instead is to say, “Gimme a break,” and sign “break” at the same time, and then simply turn my powerchair 180 degrees. This provides a clear visual cue that the game has shifted, and it has the added bonus that Barnum has to come around to my front and give eye contact to initiate the game again. (This is a version of Sue Ailsby’s “Get Lost” game for teaching a dog to find the handler’s eyes.)

If you are not a wheelchair user, you can achieve similar results if you’re sitting on a couch or chair. Train with your body facing one direction, then give your break cue and turn your body to face the other way. Or, slide from one end of the couch to the other.

It may take a little longer using these methods than McDevitt’s way, but I discovered that after a while, Barnum learned what the rotated chair, coupled with the “break” cue meant.

For trainers working from bed, I haven’t tried this (because of the way my bed is positioned) but I’m guessing you could also train facing the dog (who is on the floor) from one side, then roll to face the opposite side of your room to signal your break.

3. Capture behaviors.

One of the best and laziest ways to train is to mark and reward behaviors as they occur. If you reinforce your dog enough times for something he does naturally, eventually he will start to offer it, and then you can put it on cue.

The classic examples of behaviors for capturing are lying down, relaxing, making eye contact, or simply looking in your direction. These are important behaviors to have on cue, and at some point during the day, your dog will do them.

Other behaviors that might be useful to capture, especially if you need time to rest, and your dog has to learn to amuse herself, are looking away from you or at a toy, chewing a bone, or going to her bed or crate.

To make the most of capturing behaviors, it’s important to have your training tools (treats and marker signal/clicker) available. (See the next tip.)

4. Deck the halls (and every other room) with boxes of treats.

Training opportunities occur all day, every day, everywhere. If you have treats and a clicker close at hand, it’s much easier to capture behaviors as they arise. Although I predominantly feed raw (meat, bones, and organs), with a small amount of cooked grain and vegetables, I’ve broken my “no kibble” rule in order to have lidded plastic containers of kibble in every room of the house — including bathrooms.

I also keep a treat pouch hanging from my powerchair joystick unless you have clothing with pockets that provide easy treat access. (Most garments don’t lend themselves to easy-access pockets from a seated position, although I’ve seen some vests with multiple pockets that are apparently very useful for handlers in wheelchairs.)

If you’re ambulatory, I suggest a pouch that you can clip to a waistband or pocket or wear on a belt.

If you are trying to avoid kibble — like me — there are other creative alternatives. Cooked meat, dehydrated meat or organs, and all-natural hot dogs and cheese may not be perfect foods for your dog, but they are definitely a big step up, health-wise, from kibble.

Dehydrated meat or organs can be kept in containers just like you would with kibble. All-natural cheese or hot dogs or homemade biscuits can keep well for many hours wherever you spend most of your time, and can keep even longer in a soft-sided lunch-bag cooler with an ice pack.

I keep a bag of natural treats on my bed, where I spend most of my time. When I’m ready for sleep, I put the treats in the soft-sided cooler. This way, if I want to do some training when I wake up to go to the bathroom, or in the morning, my treats are available and fresh. This works just as well for couches, recliners, and other “rest areas,” as well.

When I have the mental and physical energy to set up a “real” training session, I get my cubes of frozen meat, clicker, and other equipment and set up. But at least half of my training occurs “on the fly,” while resting, using the computer, listening to a book, etc.

5. Clickers at hand. (Will come back to this one.)

6. Verbal markers. (Will come back to this one.)

7. Use your dog’s energy and mood.

Good training is all about setting both yourself and your dog up to succeed. Not only is it useful to pay attention to your levels of fatigue, mental sharpness, and energy, but to your dog’s. This way you are working with your dog’s energy level and interest, not against it; this saves you energy, too.

For example, if your dog is hot or tired, it’s a great time to practice “Down,” especially down-stays. If your dog already has some proficiency with long down-stays, this is the perfect time to practice those.

On the other hand, if your dog is full of bounce and energy, try to train something with a lot of movement or where you want a really enthusiastic response. For example, if you’re teaching the “take” for retrieval or “touch,” and you want your dog to leap into what she’s taking or targeting, this is a good time to practice those skills.

Other examples might be shutting doors or long-distance retrieves or long-distance recalls. If you’re teaching your dog to find you or a family member or personal assistant, this is an excellent game to play for a wired dog (or on a rainy day). It’s a version of Sue Ailsby’s “Come Game,” except that you’re asking the dog, “Where’s Sharon?” or “Find Mama,” or whatever your cue is. Most dogs love this, because they get to visit between their favorite people while also earning treats, working of energy, and if one or both of the people move each time the dog is called to the other, they also use their “searching” drive.

Whatever you choose to do, unless you are intentionally setting out to test or proof your dog for holding a sit stay when he’s hot and tired, or holding a down-stay when he’s rip-roaring, it makes your life easier to train with your dog’s natural inclination in the moment.

* * *

Coming up: How to keep a clicker close at hand, establishing a verbal marker; the best-kept-secret tool for SD trainers (laser pointer); how and why to train lying down; training while on the toilet or in the tub; practicing long down-stays; working from bed (dog on bed and off); teaching a low-energy or nonverbal recall; the crate is your friend….

* * *

I welcome feedback: Which tips do you find most useful? Do you have suggestions of tips that you use? What about elaborations, improvements, or modifications to those above? Do you have a specific dog training or management issue caused by your pain or fatigue that you’d like ideas to address? Post it, and hopefully one of the other readers or I will have an idea.

A Grand Day Out: Barnum and Sharon Hit the Road (and Find Training Partners!)

A Speedy Pee, a Walk, a New Training Partner, and Improved LLW and Recall, all in one go!

What an unexpectedly wonderful series of events Barnum and I had on our walk today!

It started terrifically, when I took Barnum out to pee.

We have been in rather a battle of wills, I’m afraid, over peeing on leash. Barnum has incredible bladder control. I’m convinced he has the bladder of a dog three times his size, because he can — and will — hold it for 16 or 18 hours, even when given numerous opportunities to pee.

You see, now that the weather is better, I have been very dedicated to not letting him out to relieve himself off-leash. Ever. If I’m not able to take him out, I have one of my helpers do it.

Longtime readers know I’ve been obsessed with having a service dog who will eliminate on cue, on leash, on every surface, since before Barnum arrived. Although, as a puppy, he was always taken out on leash to eliminate, and did learn to eliminate on leash, on cue, he seems to have forgotten all of that over the winter, when I got sloppy and too sick to stay on top of it.

Thus, we began again. . . .

For the first few weeks, I’d take him out in the morning, knowing he had to pee, but I think because he gets so distracted by being outside (exciting!), and because he prefers to relieve off-leash, he would not “go.” I’d take him in after a couple of minutes, and an hour or two (or five) later, I’d take him out again.

Often, he would ring the bell, indicating he needed to go out, but when I took him out, he wouldn’t go. So, back in we’d go.

Finally, sometimes not until evening, he’d pee, I’d give my cue word as he squatted (“Hurry up!”), click when he was done, give high-value treats, and then let him off leash to run around. I “ran around” too, if I was able, zipping up and down the ramp, pretending I was chasing him, or encouraging him to chase me, and he loved it.

All that running around naturally led to him needing to poop. Eventually I need to have all elimination functions on cue, on leash, but I decided that the reinforcer of being able to run and play off leash after peeing was more important than a Cold War of waiting for him to poop all day, every day.

When I started this process, a few weeks ago, I had to take him out several times a day, all day, before he would pee. Within the last few days, he has more often been “going” on the first or second attempt.

Today, I took him out, and  he peed within one minute! Then, in addition to the click, praise, and treats, I could offer the best reinforcer of all: “Do you wanna go for a walk?!?!”

Puppy Barnum races Sharon in the superpowerchair

He's a lot bigger now, but this is how we ROLL.

[Image description: Five-month-old puppy Barnum races next to Sharon across the lawn. He is running full-out, with his ears flying straight behind him, his red tongue hanging out and to the side, his legs fully stretched out. Sharon, in her big power chair, watches Barnum as she zooms alongside. They run through the grass, with a metal fence in the background. Sharon wears a straw hat and shorts, suggesting a sunny day.]

Indeed, the fact that we were able to go for a walk was a joy in itself.

Mostly, lately, we have been just practicing loose-leash walking (LLW) up and down our driveway, or — if I have someone to load the chair and drive me — an off-leash run at the pond. (I have video of one of our driveway walk sessions, which I hope to edit and post eventually. It shows quite a dramatic change from our LLW training videos from the fall.)

I’ve been doing driveway “walks” for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to practice LLW and “leave it” (Zen) in this less distracting environment.
  2. My chair has not yet really been fixed, so I wanted to wait until someone was home, on the other two-way radio, when I went out.
Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, and running!

So, even though it was a short walk, this was our first real walk in a long time.

We started out on a good paw, with Barnum doing quite well in his LLW and even managing to take treats and stay in position. Then, the smells got too interesting, and he didn’t take treats anymore, but he still kept pretty good track of his pace and the leash.

Although it is mud season, and thus the roads have not been graded yet and are full of gulleys, the chair managed well. We were going up an extremely steep hill, with only occasional reverses from me if Barnum got ahead when one of his dog friends, a sweet and lively Vizsla rescue, came pelting onto the road.

She was off-leash (as most dogs are in my area), and she kept “dive-bombing” us to try to play with Barnum. Of course, Barnum completely lost his head and tried to pelt after her. Repeatedly. (Thank goodness for migraine meds.) It was very difficult to keep him from pulling with such a temptress coming and going in all directions.

Nonetheless, we eventually made it up the hill to the Vizsla’s driveway, where her person appeared. My neighbor held her pup so Barnum could have a chance to settle, sit, make eye contact, stay in a sit, make eye contact again after I’d unclipped his leash, and then give him the release. (I have patient neighbors.)

Barnum had a wonderful time playing with his friend, as well as running around and marking every place he could.

I was very pleased that his play was overall appropriate and friendly. He has really only played with one dog for the past four months, a rough-and-tumble dude who can be a bit dominant and resource-guarding around Barnum (the resources being me, his owner, snow, and any food his owner or I might have on us).

(Just for fun, here is a ten-second video of Barnum playing with aforementioned buddy a couple of months ago.)

I had been concerned that Barnum’s play manners would have eroded as a result — that he wouldn’t play with the same variety and good doggy manners as he used to. But, no, with the exception of two aborted humping attempts, he was quite the gentleman.

It was also great to be out and to talk to another human being, away from my house! I really like my neighbor, and as we chatted, she mentioned that she needs to train her dog. Apparently, she is a cat person, her husband is a dog person, so they got a dog to be her husband’s. He trained her, but now my neighbor is at home with her most of the time (although she also works outside the home) and has no experience with training and dog handling in general. She has an infant, and seemed a bit daunted by the prospect of learning dog training with so little time, in this “baptism by fire” situation.

I couldn’t believe this amazing opportunity was presenting itself!

Regular readers of this blog know that I am following Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Some of the Levels skills require working with other people and/or dogs. I have tried to find a training partner, to no avail. While Betsy and my PCAs pitch in when possible — a tremendous help — usually they are too busy with other necessities, and also, none of them have a dog!

I asked my neighbor if she’d like to be my training partner, and she said yes!

Since we had just gone through her trying to get her dog to drop a dead rodent she’d unearthed, I decided to teach her about doggy Zen.

She was very easy to work with because she is wild about whatever training treats I have with me, whenever I visit. (Whereas Barnum usually could not care less.) This girl is very food motivated! And she’s plenty smart and caught on quickly.

She tends to jump up on me a lot to try to get treats, so I went back and forth between four-on-the-floor and Zen. (By this time, her person had her hands full with her baby, so she said she preferred to just watch me train her dog.) While I was training, I explained what I was doing and why, how to use the clicker and treats, and how to practice zen on her own.

“Where can I get a clicker?” She asked.

This question surprised me so much I almost laughed; because my house is full of clickers, it never occurs to me that someone might not know where to get one. (I told Betsy that our neighbor asked this, and she said, “Come to our home and look under the sofa cushions. They’re everywhere, like loose change.”) Right now, just rotating my head in bed, I have counted six clickers visible — four different kinds — three of them within a few inches of my hand!

“I’ll give you one!” I immediately told my neighbor. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her one right that moment, because — for the first time ever? — I only had one with me!

But, we decided to keep in touch, and we would try to set up a time to do some training together.

Another wonderful bonus of our conversation was that Barnum eventually saw that I was not paying attention to him, but to another dog, and that I was clicking and treating this dog, and — most importantly — the other dog was not paying any attention to him!

So, he came over.

This gave me the opportunity to click and praise extravagantly and shove some cheese in his mouth before he could question my motives. Then, I gave him his ultimate reinforcer: “Release! Go play!”

Away he went. After that, he started checking in with me more often, and even coming when called for some cheese and a release back to play. I was thrilled. This is the best he’s ever done in a new environment, with another dog around, to boot.

Eventually, my neighbor took her baby and dog inside, and I did several more recalls and releases in their yard before putting Gadget on the leash to go home.

Now he was truly tuckered out, and he walked so nicely by my side, I had to keep telling him how proud I was of him, and what a good dog he was. He was even interested in clicks and treats for proper position for about half the time, then he was too full.

We even did a couple stops (with automatic stand-stay) and a few sits.

He’s spent a good portion of the evening snoring, having received lots of sensory stimulation and exercise of his body and mind. Ah, tranquility.

I had a session with my empathy buddy for my telephone nonviolent communication (NVC) class, and as she helped me figure out my emotions, I realized I was proud, not just of Barnum, but of myself!

It seems ridiculously obvious that the point of training is that improvement occurs, goals are reached, and, well, the dog gets trained. However, when I’m in the midst of it, it’s often hard to see that training is, indeed, taking place.

After four months trapped in the house, only able to train indoors, I had no idea if our indoor LLW practice would bear fruit outside. Now I know — it has!

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all we still have to work on, I lose sight of how far we have come. Today was a gorgeous reminder of our progress, along with some unexpected gifts bestowed by my neighbor and her sweet dog. Barnum received lots of reinforcement: food rewards, play time with another dog, play time with me, and the multitudinous joys of a walk.

I received the reinforcement of seeing my hard work pay off. But I wouldn’t mind some more. If you’re in the mood to cheer on Team Barnum, please comment and click me!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I lost my head around other dogs, too), and Barnum (Mr. Full-of-Surprises SDiT)

“Toilet Training”? Gimme a Break!

Tonight’s post is the first of a series on How to Build Enthusiasm in your dog. You can get more speed and excitement from your dog, even, or especially, if he’s new to clicker, a puppy, low self-esteem/confidence, low food drive, and more.

And, it’s contagious! When your dog is giddy over training, you will get happy, too, and enjoy the rush of “endolphins” (my favorite fractured word from Postcards from the Edge), after using these techniques, too.

I decided to start the series tonight because I’m feeling the high of a lovely series of training sessions after a really shitty day. Well, actually it’s been a pretty miserable last few days, with today being sort of the turd on the crap-cupcake of the week, where I was feeling particularly physically cruddy, as well as emotionally flattened. (All these scatological metaphors are not just me getting literarily lazy; they are dramatic foreshadowing!)

Finally, tonight, I got some relief (no pun intended, really!) from the pain and exhaustion that had been holding me down all day, and I managed to pull myself out of bed and distract myself from the dramarama. . . .

Barnum and I did some training. Now we both feel soooo much better!

In the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to conduct at least three short training sessions a day, each one composed of several very short sessions (five or six treats), with as high a rate of reinforcement (RR) as I can give (usually a shaping session).

Then I offer Barnum the choice to stop or to continue. It’s called the “Give Me a Break” game, which can be found in Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt. McDevitt originally conceived of the idea as a way to capitalize on latent learning in her dog who was reactive, extremely distractible, and had a very short attention span.

Photograph of book, Control Unleashed, with part of the spine chewed away

Oh, the Irony! “Control Unleashed,” visibly damaged when my unleashed, out-of-control teething puppy decided it made a colorful and delicious chew toy!

[Image description: A photograph of the paperback book, Control Unleashed, lying open, spine up. The front cover is very colorful, with several dogs in a variety of poses and lots of agility equipment and toys around them. The top part of the book is shredded, especially on the spine, torn and bitten up.]

Latent learning is what happens (in any organism), between training sessions/lessons/classes. It’s when our brains sort out and store what we’ve learned.

Latent learning is also one of the reasons why it’s much more effective (as well as more fun and less exhausting), to do several short sessions a day than one or two long ones. You can experience the effects of latent learning if you take a day or week or month off from training and discover that your dog is farther ahead than where you stopped off. This is very common in clicker dogs in a session in the morning that is a leap from the previous night, or sometimes even a big leap an hour or two after the previous session.

McDevitt created the game by doing a very short (five treats), very fast (high RR) shaping session, and then stopping and giving a “faux release.” This was not her true release that meant, “Okay, we are totally done with training now.” This release meant, instead, “Go cool off, have a chill, watch the birds, play with a ball, let me know when you want to start up again.” It was a way to take the pressure off her dog, who otherwise found training too stressful.

Well, an amazing thing happened. The more often she did this, the shorter was the interim between breaks. Very soon, the moment McDevitt had gone to her chair for her “time out,” her pup was demanding to start up the training again. It became a way of building enthusiasm and focus.

As some of you know, because of my inexperience with puppy training, which led to too-high expectations on my part, and frustration and confusion for both of us, Barnum seemed to be a  “slowly dog.” He did the skills, and he seemed to overall find training pleasant (once he finally had some idea of what we were working on — poor dude!), but he wasn’t wildly enthusiastic, and he tended to perform slowly.

A very smart and supportive reader of this blog (Hi, Eileen!), suggested I use Give Me a Break with Barnum. It has worked great!

At first, it took a while for Barnum and me to develop a communication system, because the system McDevitt uses — standing in one spot to train, then going to sit down in a chair in another spot for the break — didn’t work for us. This is because sometimes I train from my bed, sometimes from my pchair, sometimes, um, elsewhere. (I’ll get to that, shortly.) And I wasn’t always able to move far from wherever we were. Not only does where I sit or lie down vary, the room does too — we go wherever there are the fewest distractions, or the most room, or the least exhausting/painful for me.

The cue I use for “break time” is to sign the ASL for “break/interruption” and say “Gimme a Break,” and then wheel elsewhere or just rotate. While “on break,” I break up more training treats while (seemingly) ignoring Barnum. If I’m working from my bed, instead of moving or rotating the chair, I just turn my body slightly. If Barnum wants to keep going, he comes around and faces me and throws a behavior. Usually it’s sit ‘n stare. If we’ve been working on down, he will sometimes platz ‘n stare.

Then I say, “Oh! Do you wanna train??” And he acts excited. Then I say, “Okay, let’s train!” I grab my five or six pieces of meat, rotate  or move to a new spot, and we do our next short session.

We work on one skill until I think he’s peaked — by which I mean that either we have gotten a teensy bit further along than the last time we worked, or we’ve made a teensy bit of progress with whatever criterion I’m looking for in that session, or I get that gut feeling that if I try to do one more rep, it will not be as good as the last one or the behavior will actually fall apart. (More on “quitting while you’re behind” in a future installment of “Building Enthusiasm.”)

Sometimes this means we do four or five mini-sessions for one behavior and then move on to several more mini-sessions for several more behaviors. Sometimes we just do one mini-session for one behavior, and that’s it. Sometimes, it’s something in between, like two mini-sessions for a behavior, another couple of mini-sessions for another behavior or two, and that’s it. I gauge it by his enthusiasm, or by what I’m up for.

Another bonus to Gimme a Break for your’s truly is that I can take the breaks to think very clearly and specifically about what I want to do next: What skill will we do now? More of the same, or switch to something else? What will my criterion be that I want us to work on? And if he reaches that, what is the next step up from that, so I am ready to add another criterion if he is cruising with the first one.

I actually say my goals to myself, in my head or, more often, out loud, to make sure I’m clear about what I’m expecting of both of us. Some examples are, “All four paws on the mat,” or “Click for front going down before rear,” or “Click during the second scratch, not at the end of the scratch, which means I need to remember to depress the clicker partway while he is eating his previous treat so I can be ‘faster on the draw’ with my click.”

I don’t know if this technique is useful to people without brain injury, as well, but I suspect it probably is. (Neurotypicals, let me know: Do you do this, too?)

Another “trick” I’ve added to my repertoire is Toilet Training. No, not house breaking the pup! Thank goodness, we are waaaay past those days by now! What I mean is training from the toilet — my toilet! Whenever I head to the bathroom, Barnum follows, and we have a session that lasts as long as it takes me to pee!

It’s a great, easy way to keep sessions short, and to squeeze them in on a day that I’m feeling lousy and would otherwise have difficulty training. Also, if Barnum’s really not in the mood to train, it’s no big deal, because I have still accomplished what I got up to do (empty my bladder). Or I might just do one or two clicks — if he is tired from a long run or something, I click him for flopping down when he gets in the bathroom, toss the treat, he (usually) gets up to get it, and then I can click again for him flopping back down.

And once a day, we have a longer toilet-training session (if you catch my drift). Also, five days every month, we have a few longer sessions, if you catch my flow. (Too much information? Well then, you’ve come to the wrong blog. I grew up in a family where we referred to the bathroom as “the library” or “the reading room,” and my dad discussed manure at mealtimes).

Barnum’s food (raw meat) is stored in my bathroom, in our extra freezer, so it’s just that much more convenient.

Dog-training bathroom: Meat freezer, dog nail file/scratching board, yoga mat for Go to Mat, wooden sppon for take/hold retrieve training, yellow foam taped to a mouse pad for paw target practice, and foam supports to put under dog nail file at optimum angle

The well-appointed dog-training bathroom

[Photo description: Barnum’s head in the foreground, looking at a large white chest freezer, next to which is a doggy nail file, and on top of which is a blue yoga mat, a yellow foam rectangle duct-taped to a mouse pad, a long-handled wooden spoon, and two odd-looking white foam pyramids held together with duct tape. These foam pieces are placed under the nail file board to provide a better angle for scratching his claws.]

Although, if I’m feeling truly lousy and not up to opening the freezer lid, I just use the kibble I keep in a sealed container on the back of the toilet. I have a clicker that I hang on the toilet paper roll. It’s all soooo convenient!

Toilet training setup

Plastic container full of kibble? Check. i-click clicker hanging off toilet-paper dispenser? Check? Plunger for added decor? Check.

[Photo description: A gleaming white toilet in a corner, flanked on the left and rear by tan tile walls. There are three plastic containers on the toilet tank, one of which is a blue and white cottage cheese container, which holds the kibble. A roll of toilet paper hangs from a metal chrome-colored dispenser. A green i-click clicker is visible hanging off the toilet paper dispenser.]

View from the throne

View from guess where? Have i-click, have dog, ready to “go”!

[Photo description: View from the toilet. On the left is a toilet-paper roll with a green i-click clicker hanging from the metal dispenser. Barnum lies on the floor at my feet looking up at me. Just visible in front of me and to Barnum’s right is the foot rest of my powerchair. Floor and wall are tiled with large speckled tan/salmon tiles.]

Anynoodle, he is now way into training, and this is what we trained tonight, all in a row, in a bunch of short sessions. (Most, but not all, of these are Training Levels behaviors. We are primarily working Level Three and Level Four):

  • File your nails. (See video of early training session of this behavior.)
  • Eye contact. (I try to do contact at least twice a day, but preferably at the beginning of any training session each day. Tonight we made it to a count of 18 with six treats!)
  • Super-fast down. (I’m rebuilding down from a stand instead of a sit, and using a lure to get him to slide sort of play-bow really fast into the down.)
  • Take/hold the wooden spoon (as seen on top of freezer).
  • Foot target a yellow styrofoam rectangle (as seen on top of freezer).
  • Go to Mat on his dog bed AND nonverbal recall (very important for him to come to me when I don’t have my voice. I cue him to go to his dog bed, then make my kissy noise to call him to me, treat, and cue to mat again).
  • Random leave it. (I try to throw in at least one or two zen exercises every day, including now I often toss some treats on the floor and then we train something else, and he has to focus on what we’re doing while also ignoring the food on the floor. This really shows his progress! Requires focus!)
  • Play break (tug with plush spider and “I’m Gonna Get You” chase game).
  • Foot (give me right foot or left foot, as requested, and also let me examine your nails).
  • Default sit/wait before going through doorways.
  • Shutting cabinet doors!

What a dog! What a day!

And that’s only what we did tonight!

Earlier today we also did go to (yoga) mat (the blue one on the freezer), eye contact, touch (nose target), “quiet,” Look at That (another Control Unleashed exercise, because he is still slightly reactive to the vacuum cleaner), and two of his most important and highly accomplished skills, “Hold down the floor,” and “Look adorable.”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (hmm, is it possible that Barnum might actually be worthy to succeed me?), and Barnum (true business SDiT)

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