Archive for the 'Assistance Dogs' Category

Call for Entries is Up for April #ADBC

The call for submissions for the Eleventh Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up! This round is being hosted by FridaWrites.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

ADBC #11

The theme she’s chosen is “Resources and Tools.” I like it! I already know what I want to write about. Plus, FridaWrites is offering a couple of nifty dog gear items as a giveaway, inspired by the topic.

For the deadline and other pertinent details, check out the call for entries. If you’re new to this and wondering what the heck an Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is, check out the ADBC home page.

OK, bloggers, start writing! And the rest of you, will you please help spread the word? Thank you!

- Sharon and Barnum, SD

The 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival — Perfect!

Welcome to the Tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! I’m pleased that many of the bloggers who contributed to the first #ADBC, hosted by me in October 2010, have returned, and some new bloggers have also swelled our ranks. In honor of this being the tenth carnival, I chose the theme of “Perfect 10.” Participants could write about “ten” or “perfect” or both.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

ADBC #10

I’m delighted with how this issue came together. Thirteen bloggers have contributed pieces — some of them have become my new favorite assistance dog posts! Plus, because some posts were accompanied by terrific pictures, for the first time, I’m including a few pictures from some of the posts. You are in for a treat!

The Top Tens

These bloggers are all about the tens. Some looked at the last ten weeks or ten months; others made “top ten” lists, which are a lot of fun. It seems as if top ten lists naturally lend themselves to humor and celebration.

Ro of In the Center of the Roof was part of the first #ADBC, and I remember her contribution as being particularly funny. I’m so glad she’s back because Carnival Post – Top Ten is a feel-good post from top to bottom. Not only is Ro’s match with Jayden perfect, but Ro lists ten added bonuses to their partnership that have nothing to do with Jayden’s guiding ability. Several side benefits (added potassium, quitting smoking) seem pretty unusual. Under “Attitude Adjustment,” Ro explains:

I might be feeling depressed and then it’s time for Jayden’s afternoon Kong Wobbler treat. I’ve taken to pronouncing “wobbler” so it sounds very French and you can’t stay in a bad mood when you’re asking your dog if he wants his Wobbler in a high pitched silly French accent.

Patti Brehler, a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs, wrote about her first Ten Weeks with Dutch, a Golden Retriever pup. A delight to read, each plays with puppies anecdote is accompanied by an impossibly cute picture of Dutch, such as the one below. And clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks he’s adorable:

An 8-week-old Golden Retriever puppy's head and front paws are between my blue-jean clad legs. Behind him is the glove box of our van; to the right side is the van door handle. My red fleece jacket is visiible at the bottom of the picture.

Our only choice was to enter by the stage. As I coaxed my golden fur ball past the front row seats a harmonic “awwwww” rolled out ahead of us. The “awwwwws” resonated to the back of the room like a wave….

Guide Dog Jack was good enough to write L-Squared‘s post for her because she had writer’s block. Well, L-Squared better look out because the Chocolate Dog is such a talented humorist that he might take over her blog! (The pictures which illustrated each point are also great and often hilarious.) Jack wrote a list of ten ways in which his human is Not Perfect. Here’s number six, text and picture:

Super-close up of Chocolate Lab Jack shoving his big brown nose into the camera lens - the photo is so close that all the pours of his nose skin are visible clearly, while the rest of his head is nearly entirely out of focus in the background.

Sometimes I think my girl almost forgets to feed me, so I have to wake her up at o’dark-thirty – by poking her face repeatedly with my nose – to remind her that it will be time for my breakfast in only four more hours!

Martha of Believe in Who You Are has had her new guide, Jory, for ten weeks and is trying to figure out how to teach Jory to do A very good down:

With each dog, I learn something new. This time, I think it is if one method doesn’t work, try something else till she understands. I don’t expect her to be perfect, but I’ll be happy when she is very good and happily lying on the carpet or tile in and out of harness.

Shai, a Golden Retriever who is such a pale yellow that he's almost white. A light-skinned woman with short, straight gray hair and glasses, a white turtle neck and a light blue hoodie leans her head against Shai's shoulder. It looks like they're sitting on the ground, covered with autumn leaves.

At her blog, Shai Ezer-Helper Beside Me: Training My Service Dogkhills wrote a long post chronicling Ten Terrific Training Months with their cherished trainer, Stacey. khills’s post contains many photos and videos (no descriptions or transcripts as far as I know) of her service dog, Shai (often accompanied by other Golden Retrievers) tackling an elevator phobia and a serious distraction problem with other dogs. Among their many adventures is a class with Victoria Stillwell!

When my sister & brother called to arrange a Mother’s Day dinner, I was able to look forward to a big gathering instead of worrying that Shai would not perform well in a big crowd. He rode for 5 hours in the car, then we went directly into the restaurant. He was perfect. Everyone talked about how well trained he was.

Embracing Imperfection

The posts in this section acknowledge that no person or assistance dog is perfect. These bloggers defy perceptions and judgments by the public, other assistance dog partners, or their own inner voices to celebrate their dogs and their partnerships. Some simply accept imperfection as a reality of life, while others celebrate certain imperfections as bonuses.

Cyndy of Gentle Wit wrote one of my favorite posts, thanks to its refreshing honesty and dry wit, about the myth of the perfect match — on both the handler side and the dog side — in her post, (Im)Perfection:

I’ll let you in a little secret: whatever you’ve heard from other guide dog users about their dog never needing a correction is totally and completely a lie. I used to be almost ashamed of my skills as a handler and disappointed in my guide dog because I heard this so many times before training, during training and even after training.

Starre of This Witch’s Familiar is joining the Carnival for the first time, and she’s a welcome addition. In ADBC: (im)Perfect, she talks about what she learned from her experience as an owner trainer of her retired service dog and what she’s hoping for with the yet-to-be-born puppy. A big hope seems to be more acceptance and support from the broader assistance dog community:

Most people who are trying to take this road *are* trying to do this right. Being told that you have to look and be perfect 100% of the time is not okay.  Nobody is perfect, and that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes our dogs, dogs. Its okay to be imperfect.

Flo of A Mutt and His Pack wrote a post that really resonated with me. Duncan is a rescue dog, and that always comes with its own challenges and rewards. I also nodded my head at the all-too-familiar description of how public perceptions of perfection and imperfection of a working dog team are often bass-ackwards. What moved me the most in ADBC #10 – Perfect 10, was the story of an Obedience competition where Duncan and Flo have different ideas of what perfect behavior is appropriate that day. Even though I’ve never competed in Obedience, I’ve had similar moments:

We disqualified on a Companion Dog (novice obedience) run because I was exhausted, and he broke heel to come around to my right side, my weak side. He wouldn’t sit on the halts because I was a little off kilter and he’s trained to stand and brace…. Duncan was a service dog. He’d been perfectly behaved for what I needed, not what I wanted, and I’d basically had a tantrum that we “failed” in front of a judge.

Brooke (with Cessna and Rogue) of ruled by paws wrote about Rogue, the puppy she is raising and training to be her successor guide dog. In Impossible Perfection, Brooke describes some of her own and her pup’s imperfections — which lead her to consider washing Rogue out — but with new equipment and improved training, the team is confidently moving forward:

Some people may look at our challenges and say that Rogue isn’t an acceptable guide dog candidate, but I’m not ready to give up on her. If I had given up on Cessna so easily, I would have missed out on eight amazing years of partnership with an amazing teacher.

Frida Writes is another who embraces imperfection. I related a great deal to her post, Perfectionism and Service Dog Training. Like me, she holds herself and her dog to high standards, standards which can be thwarted by the pain and exhaustion of illness. She discusses what happens if others see her team as less-than-perfect:

As I mentioned in my last ADBC post, it took me a while to figure out why my dog would sometimes throw himself in front of my footplates–to prevent someone from bumping into me hard, to draw my attention to the kind of men who frighten me… So what can initially look like a lack of perfection can be the purest of perfection–finding a need and fulfilling it, even when directed to do otherwise. It just does not appear that way to others. And I’m okay with that.

Remembering our Perfect Dogs

The last three posts look back on assistance dogs who made a profound impact on their handler’s life. Even though (or perhaps because) each dog came with some difficult issues, these dogs were, in certain ways, perfect for their partners.

I was really moved by The Pawpower Pack‘s post about her first guide dog, Rhoda. Perfect After All is a short but powerful post that takes the reader on the journey of a perfectionist newbie who overcomes unexpected behavioral problems with her first guide dog only to lose her to early illness. Having faced some similar struggles, this post at the Doghouse socked me in the gut:

When I got my first assistance dog, I admit to have watched far too many “Guide Dog Movies®” and read just as many “Guide Dog Books®” I had partaken of the “Guide Dog Program Koolade®” with gusto, and expected perfection! Instead, I got Rhoda — a crazy, hyper, and very unfocused dog who had been damaged emotionally by her time in the guide dog training kennel.

Karyn of Through a Guide’s Eyes tells the story of her first assistance dog, Chimette. Together, they shared A Decade of Love. Karyn describes defying expectations — others’ as well as her own — to train her own combo dog. Even though I knew Karyn through most of that decade, I realized in reading this post that I hadn’t known who she was before Chimette:

He taught me to love life in spite of the severe progressive nature my disabilities would take on. Most envision service dogs from a limited skill perspective. Either they are hearing dogs or guide dogs or mobility service skilled dogs or psychiatric dogs. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined a dog doing as much for me as Met and I learned to do together over our decade long partnership.

My post was written in November, 2011, two years after my service dog, Gadget, died, and I only came across it now. In the pensive mood that hindsight and a new working partner brings, I pondered the question, Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Thank You, Readers and Bloggers!

Thank you so much to the bloggers who made this such a fantastic carnival, and thank YOU, our readers, for whom we write. I hope you will share the link to this post on your blogs or social media so that others can enjoy this splendid collection of posts. And as you make the rounds (at your convenience), consider leaving some comment love at the posts that speak to you.

Plus, bloggers, the raffle results are in. You may already be a winner! No, really – find out who takes the prize!

Lastly, the next #ADBC will be hosted by Frida Writes in April 2013. The schedule and other #ADBC details are at the Carnival home page.

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

ADBC #10

You know what’s odd? I wrote most of this post over a year ago, long before I had picked out a theme for this month’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. But since I so often get ideas for posts, start writing them, get too tired to finish, and then forget them, I checked my drafts for “perfect” posts and found this one!

This is not the post I’d originally planned for this carnival, but in case I’m too sick/tired/busy to write that one, I’m posting this (instead of or in addition to the one I’d planned to write.) Enjoy!

The post below was originally written November 19, 2011. All I did to finish it was write an ending and do some editing.

* * *

Today is the second anniversary of Gadget’s death. I’m on a list for people whose dogs have died after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.* It’s called the Lymphoma HeartDog Angels list (LHDA). We talk about anniversaries a lot on LHDA: anniversaries of birthdays or gotcha days, anniversaries of diagnoses, anniversaries of deaths.

When we are facing an anniversary, it often brings up memories of seminal moments in our dogs’ lives: the diagnosis, the decision to do chemotherapy, the dog’s last day. Stories of how these dogs came into our lives often touch me, such as Susan’s story about Freeway, whom she found abandoned on the side of the freeway. Susan picked her up in her car and they changed their lives forever.

Bettina fell in love with a shelter dog when she was a teenager and begged her mom to adopt him. But when they got to the shelter, they found that the sheltie mix had already been claimed. It turned out Bettina’s mother had applied for him already, as a surprise. Thus began Bettina and Niko‘s relationship, which lasted over seventeen years!

When I think about how Gadget entered my life, what strikes me is how much random good fortune played into it — how I blithely adopted this dog who turned out to be an excellent service dog and my heartdog — and I never even realized how high the odds were stacked against that until much, much later. I lucked into the perfect dog!

Not that Gadget would have been everyone’s perfect dog. Unlike his predecessor, Jersey, who was sort of the poster dog of winning over people who disliked dogs, Gadget was very doggy — and unschooled. Literally his first act upon entering my home was to lift his leg and pee on the clean guest clothes I kept in a basket by the door. Whereas Jersey never pulled on the leash, Gadget would run to the end of it and keep going. During his first week with me, he pulled my mobility scooter over onto me. He had phobias of round things (colanders, hats, outdoor garbage cans) and was wary of men, especially men in hats.

He was a drivey dog, a dog who needed a job, and I think things might have ended badly for him if he’d gone to someone who didn’t have the skill and patience and desire to put in the training to channel that drive. He wore me out with his need for physical and mental exercise. He taught Jersey that she didn’t really have to come when called. He chased all sorts of creatures, including adult black bears. He nipped my landlord, a male friend, and my dog walker, all during his first year with me. I nipped this behavior in the bud (ha ha), and Gadget learned that nipping people was counterproductive and would not bring the goodies that other behaviors did.

When I knew he was the dog of my dreams was when we started clicker training, especially shaping. The service skill I taught Gadget first was the first behavior I ever taught with a clicker: I had trained Jersey to shut the front door, and that was my clicker conversion experience. It was so positive and went so smoothly that I thought it would be a good first service skill for Gadget, too.

Here’s how I taught Jersey: I took some orange construction paper and cut out a circle and taped it onto the door at nose height. Click for approaching the target, then nosing the target, eventually wait for touching to turn into nudging, then harder nudges, then multiple nudges until the door was shut, then click for only some of the nudges it took to close the door, and finally click only for the closed door. When this was solid, I removed the target and clicked for shutting the door without it, which required going back a few steps to reintroduce nudging the door with no obvious target. With Jersey, this process had taken five days of three short sessions per day. I had been very impressed with that!

I intended to follow the same lesson plan with Gadget, but he had other ideas. I put the target on the door. Gadget immediately went to sniff it, and before I could even click him (I hadn’t expected him to orient to the target so quickly since we’d never used one before), he touched the target. I clicked that. He touched it harder. Click. He nudged the door shut! I gave him a jackpot.

When I opened the door again, he started nudging right away, and it only took two or three clicks for him to shut it again. He was so excited that if I held off on a click, he’d try pulling off the target to retrieve it. So it ended up on the floor. Even without the target, he kept orienting to the same spot on the door and within a couple of clicks the door would be shut.

“Well,” he must have been thinking, “obviously the object of the game is to shut the door. Why didn’t you say so?” Because very soon he switched to using his paw — much more efficient without all that nudging business. Within three minutes of beginning the game, I could open the door and have Gadget shut it, over and over again, with just a single click when the door latched.

Gadget, in other words, was a conceptual thinker, which I’ve been told is unusual for dogs. Thus, I managed to train him to do several skills without really providing all the details most dogs would need; I learned to expect these mental leaps and became what is known in training parlance as a lumper. Gadget would quickly grasp what the end goal of the behavior was and just do whatever worked to get there. For example, when I taught him to go find Betsy to bring her a message, and he was confronted with her closed door, he decided all on his own to bark at her door (which Betsy was not thrilled about). I had not realized how special this was. I just thought, “He’s problem solving. He’s got a brain, and he’s using it.”

When I recently told this story to a friend who has trained numerous service dogs professionally, she said, “That’s a dog on a mission!”

It was Gadget’s gusto and independent mind that I loved so much. A smart dog who has been given tools and taught to think for himself is a joy — and a nightmare. After teaching Gadget how to open the outside door to let himself out to relieve himself, one day I discovered the front door open, cold air filling the house, and no Gadget to be found! He’d realized that if he could let himself out when I told him to, he could also do it when he decided to!

I called him, and he came in. I vowed to keep a closer eye on him. He managed one more “escape” before I realized he was gone. The third time he tried it, I caught him in the act. He sauntered to the door and began to open it. I told him, “No!” very sternly, and that was the end of it — until the last year of his life, when he took to letting himself out to find me if I went out without him.

* * *

It’s odd. Grief and memory distort; they magnify some things, blur others. Even though after Gadget died I was lost without him, and I still couldn’t imagine Barnum achieving the number of service tasks or the level of support Gadget provided, I still didn’t realize how exceptional Gadget was.

Not that I didn’t remember how special he was to me, how important. I remembered our perfect moments: When the humans didn’t know I was asking them to shut the door, but Gadget did. When he woke me up when the timer went off and I had food on the stove I’d forgotten. When he alerted me that I’d left the sink on and flooded the bathroom (even though I never trained him to do that). When a stranger came into my home at night and Gadget stayed by my side, barking and ready to attack, but followed my cue to down and stay instead.

I also remembered his “flaws”: that he never completely adjusted to the move to a home with other houses and cars on it, that he worked much more eagerly if he knew I had cheese with me than if I didn’t, that he would get so excited to do a task that he’d get sloppy.

But these were not the moments that made me miss him so much, that left me feeling utterly lost and broken, like a part of my body had disappeared with him. It was the dailiness: Letting himself out. Bringing me water from the fridge. Waking me up so I’d take my medication. Carrying messages to others in the house. Turning off the lights when I went to bed. Opening the doors. Carrying groceries from the van to the house.

Yet, I always thought, “We could have done better. I didn’t train him to real stimulus control on many behaviors. We were never free of the food reinforcers.”

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. Especially as I became a better trainer while working with Barnum and achieved levels of consistency and proficiency that Gadget and I never had, I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I came across something I thought was gone forever — the one video I had of Gadget. Betsy and I made it the year before Barnum got cancer, and a friend of mine put it on Youtube, divided into two parts. A year ago, that friend closed his Youtube account, and I was so sad that I had lost this tangible proof of who Gadget and I were together. Then, when I was captioning videos for a recent post, I discovered that I’d posted and captioned the videos of Gadget before they were taken off Youtube. (You can see them here: Gadget and Sharon Part One and Gadget and Sharon Part Two. Or read the transcripts: Part One and Part Two.)

When I watched them again, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. I wasn’t focused on the skills themselves or on all the mistakes I saw us making. Instead, I noticed his gusto. He was so eager, motivated, and engaged. Yes, it sometimes took two or three tries to get something right, but he was determined.

He was, indeed, a dog on a mission.

It is good to be able to miss him for who he was and not for his supposed perfection or flaws. It’s good to see this side of him that I loved so much, preserved for me to celebrate and mourn. A dog on a mission to work, to keep playing the game, and — let’s face it — a dog on a mission to earn cheese.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

*I’m one of the few people on the list whose dog did not actually die of lymphoma. Gadget’s chemo was effective for lymphoma, and he was in remission. Unfortunately, he developed mast cell cancer four months into his lymphoma treatment, and that is what killed him six months after he got lymphoma.

Updated: #ADBC 10 Swag!

As I mentioned in the call for posts for the tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC), there will be a raffle this time. Anyone who submits a post will be entered. The drawing will take place after the carnival goes up.

Since there will be several items, there will be multiple winners — chosen by random.org. The person whose number comes up first gets to choose their prize, and the second will choose from the remaining swag, etc., until everyone who’s a winner has a chance to choose. (And if you don’t want anything, of course, you can pass.)

Here’s what’s available for the giveaway so far:

Clear cellophane bag tied with a straw bow with many small bottles in it, sitting on a folded tote bag. Barnum rests his chin on the bed just behind the items.

Dog not included.

  • Ecological Personal Care Travel Kit (Unscented): Includes fragrance-free and nontoxic shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, liquid soap, and bar soap. PLUS brand new large eco cotton tote bag from Earth Justice. (Tote says, “Earth Justice: Because the Earth Needs a Good Lawyer.”) (Won by Ro!)
Cellophane bag with three bottles, folded cloth, soap, tied with straw ribbon. Barnum rests his chin on the bed next to the gift bag.

A gift bag is always more enticing if there’s a cute dog next to it.

  •  Naturally Safer & Fragrance-Free Body Care Bag. Includes deodorant spray, an organic cotton spa cloth, a bar of castile soap, and a bottle of Kiss My Face Olive & Aloe Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin (fragrance-free), packaged in an organic cotton reusable lunch bag. (Won by Starre!)
Round raised bright red button says "Easy" in white letters on the top. The base is metal and says, "Staples" on one side.

Ah, dog training. Such a serious pursuit….

  • Staples Easy Button (because it’s so fun to teach your dog a trick using this prop). You can actually use it for a service skill or house manners, too. (I taught Barnum to stomp the button to indicate he needed to go out.) (Won by Ms. Pawpower!)
Piece of deer antler in its packaging.

Nom nom nom…

  • A deer antler by American Antler Dog Chews. All-natural, cruelty free (deer shed their antlers seasonally), full of minerals, long-lasting chew. (Size medium.) (Won by Martha!)
Dark brown chocolate Lab Guide Dog Jack wearing his rusty-orange crocheted bow tie around his neck.

It makes me even more distinguished.

  • dog bow tie, generously donated (and crocheted) by L-Squared – in the color and size of your choice! Guide dog Jack is good enough to model a bow tie, above. Picture by L-Squared. (Won by Sharon!)

7 photos of the hats from all angles to show all the details. The center picture shows Guide Dog Jack, a chocolate Lab, modeling the hat.

  • “I Love My Service Dog” baseball cap. A tan baseball cap made by Raspberry Fields and donated to me by L-Squared, who also took the pics above. (That’s Guide Dog Jack modeling, again.) Embroidered on the front is “I love my” in blue script. Below that is a paw print with brown toes and a red heart center. At the bottom in blue all capital letters is “service dog.”

Meanwhile, you still have plenty of time to get your post written and submitted. (And if you have trouble meeting the deadline, please get in touch.)

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

Call for Posts: 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! #ADBC

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

Perfect “10″

I am thrilled to be hosting the TENTH Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC)!

We’ve come full-circle. I hosted the first ADBC in October 2010, and between that time and this, eight other bloggers have hosted, coming up with some really terrific topics. And guess how many bloggers have contributed posts? Hint: Some have graced us with their presence once, while many others have a reserved table, having been part of every (or almost every) carnival! (You can find links to all the past hosts, topics, and carnivals at the home page of the ADBC.)

The Theme: Perfect 10

This month’s theme is “Perfect 10.” You can write on “perfect” or you can write on “ten” or you can write on “perfect 10.” Some topic ideas:

  • The myth of the perfect assistance dog can be a burden. Did you expect your first canine assistant to be perfect and have an “Oops” moment? Or do you find that others are shocked when your dog is, well, a dog?
  • Conversely, has your current or a past assistance dog been perfect for you? Was there a perfect day or a perfect moment? A way in which the two of you fit together that you could never have imagined?
  • Is there an arena of your partnership or other doggy life where you are striving for perfection or where you achieved some recognition of perfection?
  • For people who have pet dogs or train pet dogs, are there “nuggets of perfection” you have gleaned from assistance dog trainers or handlers that inspired you to do things differently with your own dog(s)?
  • There are so many things you can do with ten! A top ten list of . . .
  • Things you love about your service dog. Reasons you got a service dog. Best days with your dog. Ten worst moments. Ten funniest moments. Ten things you hate that people do about your assistance dog.
  • Anniversaries. . . Ten years ago. Your first ten months of training. Your dog’s tenth birthday. Your tenth day as partners.
  • Or anything else I’m not thinking of on the theme of Perfect 10!

The Guidelines

These things are required:

  • Anyone can submit a post — as long as it’s pertinent to the theme. You do not have to be an assistance dog partner or puppy raiser or trainer, etc. You just have to write something relating to the theme of “Perfect 10″ as it pertains to assistance dogs.
  • The deadline for submissions is Monday, January 28 at 11:59PM (of whatever time zone you’re in). If you are writing or want to write a post and haven’t made the deadline, please contact me. I’d like as many people as possible to join this Carnival #10! I plan to post the Carnival on Thursday, January 31.
  • To submit your post, please comment below with your name (as you’d like it to appear), the name of your blog, the name of your post, and the URL for your post. OR, if you prefer, tweet me the same info at @aftergadget.
  • If you have anything flashing or moving on your blog or post (snow falling, gifs that move, graemlins, etc.), or music that automatically plays when someone enters your blog, we request that you turn off those features until two weeks after the carnival goes live, OR please include a head’s up that you have this feature in your entry below. The reason for this is that moving imagines or music can make text difficult or impossible for some to read and can also trigger migraines (both of which are true for me). A more serious concern for me is that for some readers and contributors to the carnival, these features can cause seizures if they visit your site. By providing me and other readers with this information ahead of time, we can make informed decisions in taking care of our health and safety about whether or not to visit your blog. Thank you for your consideration.

These things are requests (not mandatory, but they make me happy):

The Goodies

I want this Carnival to be special, so I’m doing a raffle and giveaway. Everyone who submits a post for the Carnival will be entered. This is just to CELEBRATE our community of assistance dog partners and our allies — just for FUN! No good cause. No fundraiser. No goals or charity — Just. For. Fun!

The winners will be randomly chosen (using random.org) among contributors.** Here’s what’s available for the giveaway so far:

I’m hoping to collect more giveaways by the publication date of the Carnival. If you have an item you’d be willing for me to raffle, please get in touch! I would love to have a variety of goodies — little things that will be fun to receive; they don’t need to have monetary value. I’ll post new items, with links and info to the donor’s site (if relevant), here and on the After Gadget Facebook page and on Twitter as they come in. (So, if you have a business, I’ll happily plug your stuff!) If you have something to offer, please email me or Tweet me or message me on Facebook! The more who get involved, the more fun it will be (I hope!). Update on raffle: See swag post!

So, get those wheels a-turnin’. What do you want to share with the world on the theme of assistance dogs and “Perfect 10″? I look forward to your posts!

Also, if you are willing to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, other social media, and anywhere else, I would so much appreciate it! I love my internet assistance dog community which the ADBC has helped foster. I would love as many people was possible to be part of this celebration!

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

*Here’s the answer to who and how many bloggers have participated in previous ABDCs…. Forty-eight! Here they are, in the order in which their posts appeared: Ro, Carin, Allison, Torie, Jen, Beverly, L-Squared, Kali, me, TrulyAble, TheTroubleIs, Ashley, Sherlock, Robin, Patti, Linda, Katrin, Cura’s Mom, Trish, Lisa, Brooke, Coreena, Cyndy, Martha, Jess, Static Nonsense, The Pawpower Pack, Michelle, Becky, Kimberly, Beth, Solstice Singer, Karyn,  Kelley, Sam, Artemis, Andrea, Flo, Cait, Hopesclan, Wendy, Lyssa, Patty Aguirre, Lynette, Hera, Katie, FridaWrites, and Kathie! If you comment below, I’ll happily turn your name here into a link. (Too much work to go hunting down 47 links on my own.)

Dog Faming – Picture It!

My friend Eileen did a terrific blog post on Dog Faming — an alternative to the current trend of “Dog Shaming.”

What? You haven’t heard of dog shaming? Neither had I. Sadly, now I have. There are multiple “dog shaming” websites and Facebook pages devoted to people posting pics of their dogs doing (or having done) things the people Are Not At All Happy About, with a sign saying what misbehavior the dog has engaged in.

I understand that these pictures and comments are supposed to be funny (and every once in a while, I do find one genuinely funny), and I also don’t believe the dog knows their picture is on the internet. I’m glad that one of the most popular sites (over 100,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page!) now has an “Adoptable Friday” feature which shows a “shamed” rescue dog available for adoption every week. I’m certain the vast majority of people who post on these sites love their dogs.

Nevertheless, there’s a dark side to all this: This trend supports ideas about dogs and dog behavior that are inaccurate and that can cause a lot of misunderstanding and misery for those on both ends of the leash. When I read these sites, I feel sad — and frustrated.

One problem is that I see many dogs displaying unhappy body language, which leads me to believe that the person taking the picture has already made it clear to their dog that they are mad. The dogs are displaying appeasement signals. In other words, they know their person is upset and this is stressful to the dog, so the dog uses these signals to say, “Please calm down. Can’t we just get along?”

Unfortunately, people tend to misunderstand this dog body language. Here is a quote I lifted from one of the dog shaming Facebook pages that sums up the problem:

The funniest thing about some of these dogs is that they know they did wrong and their lil ears are back because they KNOW they messed up. I just love dogs so much.

Comments about dogs “looking guilty” or “acting guilty” are a common theme on these sites. In actuality, scientific studies show that dogs “look guilty” to humans whether or not they have actually done anything “wrong.”

A lot of the pictures show dogs who look blissfully unaware that their owners are “shaming” them. They are asleep or lounging around looking relaxed. The pictures that make me sad or concerned are like the two below. The white dog on the left (Miniature Poodle?) looks scared and miserable. The Husky on the right looks like it’s super pissed off and is about to attack if given any provocation.

A small, white, curly-haired dog (probably miniature poodle) hunched back, tuck-tailed, head down, ears down, eyes down. Sign says, "Days without rolling in poop: 0"A husky whose ears are pinned back, mouth/muzzle muscles pinched, eyes like slits.

Whatever happened before or during the taking of these pictures is probably pretty miserable for both human and canine.

Another problem is the number of posts of dogs who do something frequently — in many cases, apparently (like the poodle on the left) every day — and I have to ask myself, “Why are the owners continuing to support this behavior in their dog?” If they know the dog rolls in poop, destroys the sofa, eats socks, etc., why are they giving the dog unsupervised access to poop, sofas, and socks? In some photos, there are even dog crates in the background, and I have to wonder if those crates are ever USED?

I think the fact that people are posting these pictures about “dogs who need to be shamed” points to some of the answer. If you think the dog knows what they did was “wrong,” you might think that telling them off and/or shaming them is an effective way to change their behavior. So, management (use of crates or X-pens or tie-downs to prevent access to the poop or couch or socks) and training (teaching the dog to chew on a Kong or play with a toy or get a treat instead of the undesirable behavior), don’t enter into it. And the problem behavior continues.

Finally, the more you focus on mistakes (or accidents or “bad behavior”), the more you tend to encourage that kind of behavior. Here’s a rather amusing post on this phenomenon.

The flip side is also true: One of the most wonderful aspects of positive-reinforcement training (clicker training) is that by focusing on what your dog is doing right, you both tend to feel good because you are both “winning” over and over again. Both dog and human are generally very happy during and after a clicker session. In fact, if you find yourself becoming tense or angry, all the trainers I know advocate quitting the session ASAP and doing something else instead. Nobody learns (or teaches) well if they are stressed out.

So, one dog trainer started a Dog Faming contest on her Facebook page.

Still time to FAME your dog in November! Post a staged pic or your dogs w/ a sign telling us something you love/admire/are thankful for about them. It’s a photo op and a training op all rolled into one! Best pic wins a prize! Please share, and consider ‘liking’ Caninestein Dog Training’s page while you’re there.
More training/photo challenges coming soon! Let’s go ‘viral’ with positive messages about our dogs!

So, over the course of the last few days, Barnum and I have had some fun with my new camera, the signs I made, and of course, a bunch of treats. Something very interesting happened during the course of these photo shoots which I’ll tell you about at the end of this post. Meanwhile. . . . Let the show begin!

Bouviers require a lot of grooming while also not being the most touchy-feelly dogs, so I’ve put a lot of effort into Barnum being cooperative with grooming….

I couldn’t find a good place to put the sign, so I taped it to his collar.

Inside and out….

Close-up of Barnum's face with a blue plastic tooth brush with white bristles approaching his mouth. In the background, a sign taped to the wall says, "Holds still for tooth brushing."

I wanted to show the brush ON his actual teeth, but I’d need a third hand to lift his lips.

Certain themes did arise…

Pulling the bathroom door shut..

Nudging the bedroom door shut.



Fortunately, Barnum doesn’t seem bothered by the repetitive nature of some tasks.

Barnum in a narrow hallway pulling shut the bedroom door. Sign says (again),  "Helps conserve electricity by shutting doors. (Many doors.)"

Aaaaand this door, too….

 

Action shot of blurry Barnum nudging shut a heavy door to the outside. Sign again says, "Helps conserve electricity by shutting doors. (Many doors.)"

The whole house is made of doors.

Okay, but there is stuff to do besides closing doors. Well, except that this is technically still a door, I suppose. . . .

Barnum stands next to open refrigerator looking away from it. Sign says, "Opens the fridge... (without sampling the contents)."

It’s open. Now what?

He’s also good with retrieving skills, like this….

“Moo yoo wahn gees now?”

And this….

Barnum stands holding a wool slipper in his mouth. The sign on the bed next to him says, "Brings my slippers (instead of chewing them)."

He retrieves my slippers more often than anything else.

And this….

That’s a piece of hot dog and a piece of raw beef on the fork.

He had to hold this still for quite a while so I could get a picture where the sign wasn’t blurry from swinging around:

Barnum sits on a narrow black coffee table holding a red pen in his mouth that has a sign suspended from it that says, "Will Hup, Sit, Hold, and Stay -- combined!"

Tadah! I’m a trick dog, too!

What I noticed was this: After every photo session, I was so damn happy. I felt such warm, tender, joyous feelings toward Barnum. He was all waggy and bouncy, and I was all smiley and delighted. I’d invite him up on the bed and moosh on him and give him treats. It really did affect me to focus on all these things he does that make my life easier or that make it easier for me to care for him. Even the “trick” of sitting on the table holding the sign, while not a useful behavior in itself, showed me how solid some of the component behaviors are, which ARE useful and important. There’s nothing groovier than loving a Bouvier!

Go check out Eileen’s dog faming post and the other dog faming posts at Caninestein on Facebook and give them some “Likes” and comment love!

If you have a dog faming post to share, please provide links in the comments!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (famous without the signs), and Barnum, SD

P.S. Wasn’t this post enLIGHTening?

Side view of Barnum standing on his hind legs with his forepaws resting on the wall, his nose pressed to the wall between them. (The light switch is blocked from view by his paws.) Sign in the foreground says, "Is very enLIGHTening."

Barnum nudges the light switch with his nose.

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.

The Ninth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC) Is Up!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

Spent a Moment with Us!

ADBC #9 is up at Learning Baby Steps. Martha really scored with the topic she picked: Moments. I’m working my way through the posts and enjoying each one. From guide dogs to psychiatric service dogs, from puppies to retirees, wonderful stories have been contributed. Some celebratory, some poignant. Moments of both life and death or the split-second moment between those two.

Please check out the carnival, read the excellent posts, and leave some comment love for the contributors!

More info about the ADBC is here. Aaaaand guess who’s hosting Number 10 in January? Yours truly! Please tune in near the beginning of January for the theme and other details.

Also, if you would like to host an upcoming carnival, all the slots after mine (April, July, and October 2013) are empty and awaiting hosts. Please comment below or contact me.

Enjoy!

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT

With a New Service Dog the “Moments” Are Many, Stark, and Blended

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

These Are the Moments

It’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival time again, and from the moment Martha posted her call for entries, I knew what I wanted to blog about. The problem was that I’d just written that post at the beginning of the month — before I knew that would be the #ADBC theme.

What I immediately thought of are the moments that occur now, sporadically but frequently, when I think some version of, “Hey, Barnum is actually acting like a service dog now. He is actually making my life easier.” So, yes, I have written about this before, especially lately, but that’s the thing about these moments — they occur frequently, and each one is a little bit different.

Because I have a new camera that’s easier for me to use than my old one — and which can take multiple images in one second, so I can get several pics of Barnum when he’s moving fast — I thought it would be fun to “capture these moments on film.” All the pics in this post were taken within about five minutes tonight.

Sometimes these moments are sit-up-and-take-notice moments, when I am surprised to discover that Barnum knows something I didn’t think he did. Usually that’s a moment when I realize, “He actually knows this cue!” For example, now he will turn on or off the hallway light pretty consistently on the single cue, “Light!” Even with my back to him and me moving away from him. This is noteworthy because he has trained and used this cue mostly in my bedroom and bathroom, so this shows that he’s beginning to generalize the idea and he will look up high on walls now when I say, “Light!” To figure out what I might be talking about.

Barnum standing on hind legs, left front paw planted on the wall, nose on switch plate. Because he has to fit between the powerchair and the wall, he is at an angle, coming to the switch from his right.

When I am done taking pics, I ask him to turn off the light.

Sometimes it’s when I’ve been taking a skill or achievement for granted because I’m used to our level of fluency but someone else sees it in action for the first time. Last week I asked Barnum to open my bedroom door when Betsy was in the room with me, and he ran over and opened it. Betsy said, “Hey! He did that on the first try!” I was surprised because he has been very fluent in that skill for a long time. He almost never needs to make more than one attempt; I didn’t realize she didn’t know. (Such as in the video below, posted four months ago. I decided against making videos tonight; they take too much time. I just wanted to focus on individual moments!)

Similarly, a few days ago Barnum removed my socks when one of my PCAs was here. She smiled and said it was the first time she’d seen him do that. Again, I was surprised. She said she knew he could do it and she’d seen us train it, but she hadn’t seen the whole behavior as a complete working skill before that. I tried to capture the sock removal process on film, but Barnum was so quick, I couldn’t keep him in the frame to take pictures fast enough.

With his front half on the bed, Barnum grabs the toe of the sock on Sharon's left foot.

Beginning with the left foot….

Now standing on the bed, Barnum pulls the toe of the sock on Sharon's right foot. (Her left foot is now bare.)

Moving on to the right foot…

Speaking of socks, another moment is when I realize Barnum is more helpful (easier, faster, more pleasant, whatever) with a task than a human would be. (Please note, humans reading this who sometimes assist me, that this is not any sort of slight against you.) When Barnum takes off my socks, he grabs the toe and pulls until it’s off and then hands it to me; it’s pretty fast and painless.

Barnum pulls the right sock by turning his head and body so the sock is now stretching as it's pulled off.

And twist and puuuuuulllll!

Barnum is now turned diagonal to finish pulling off the very long sock (about two feet long).

And puuuuuuullllll!

An extreme closeup of Barnum's snout -- just part of his nose and the front of his mouth visible with the sock -- tan, red, and blue wool stripes -- protruding from his mouth.

Here ya go!

People, on the other hand, often make quite a meal of sock removal because they are trying to be careful and gentle. I’m in pain a lot, so they are worried about hurting me. I have big, sweaty feet, so removing my socks can be quite a chore, as it’s hard to find socks big enough.

Human assistants often try to loosen the sock, roll it down from the top, ease over my ankle or heel, tug here and there — all out of a desire to be gentle and caring. Unfortunately the process takes too long, which causes me more pain and exhaustion than I want to deal with. Barnum is not thinking about my pain or exhaustion. To him, sock removal is a fun game that might earn him a treat, so it goes fast!

Likewise, I’ve started having Barnum help me off with my long-sleeved tops (something I do several times a day due to fluctuations in temperature and to get to my PICC line).

Barnum is lying on the bed near Sharon's bare feet and pulling on a white long sleeve.

It’s like a sock — for your arm!

I didn’t used to ask him to do this because I thought calling him, getting him in position, and polishing the skill would be more trouble than it’s worth. But I realized last night that actually he can do it quickly and easily, making it less painful than doing it myself or with human help.

I focus my training on the skills I need when I can’t do them alone. When no human assistant is here. When I’d be stuck without Barnum’s assistance. It often seems like overtraining and sometimes I question that choice — until one of those days happen when I really do need that help. But more often I find that I ask him to perform a skill just because he enjoys it, I enjoy it, and it’s easier and more fun than relying on a person. And sometimes because he actually does a better job.

Often it just comes down to attitude or communication. It’s not that people in my life have “an attitude” about helping me, but if Barnum’s in my room, and my PCA is in another part of the house, it’s just more enjoyable and less emotionally tiring to have Barnum help me, which he finds thrilling, than to — for example — pull my PCA away from making my food or doing my laundry — to come over and do something as simple as shut a door or turn off a light or pull down my covers.

Sometimes — usually on a day I’m doing badly — Barnum and I will work together without my really paying attention to how much he’s doing until the series of skills coalesce and I realize, “Hey! He’s making this day a lot more doable.” One realization usually starts that thought train going: “Huh, I only had to ask him that once. Hm, he will do this behavior in a chain with that one and I don’t have to reinforce them separately. . . .”

It took me a long time to get down to writing this post, and then it just flowed out of me, and I think the reason for both the procrastination and the ease is that the moments happen so often now, they are easy to miss. So, on one hand, it’s taken me a while to pick out what to write about, to remember, “What were our recent ‘moments’?” On the other hand, there are so many that once I call them forth I could write an endless post about this moment, then this moment, then this one.

But I don’t want to do that to you, readers. I might put you to sleep!

Barnum sleeping on the bed, Sharon's bare foot in the foreground.

Goodnight, everybody.

Besides, there are a lot of posts to read in this blog carnival, and I know you will want to get them all. I only wanted you to stop here for a moment.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT

P.S. Guess who’s hosting the next #ADBC? Get ready!

When Your Service Dog Is Too “Smart”….

OK, so now you know I’m writing and blogging elsewhere, although I still plan to do my service dog blogging (and related stuff) here until I can get my own domain set up. Except for today’s post, because it turns out that won’t work. So I’m posting it on my writing blog, SharonWachsler.blogspot.com. I apologize for the inconvenience. Future Gadget- and Barnum-related posts will be back here at After Gadget!

You asked so many great questions about my experiences as a service dog (SD) partner and trainer that it is taking quite some time for me to write all my answers. I am also still finishing Barnum’s training. Until now I wanted to wait to train him to open the outside door to let himself out because I wanted to make sure he was really solid on having his door-opening behaviors under stimulus control. Which leads me to today’s topic.

Two of you asked about my funniest or most embarrassing experience as a SD handler, and that brought to mind this story which I’ve posted at SharonWachsler.blogspot.com.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT (who will hopefully know better)


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