Archive for the 'Barnum Pictures' Category

Default Zen Remediation Week 2 (in pictures)

We’re progressing with Zen training even though I have not managed to do a solid training session every day. We do at least a bit every day, though. We’ve probably used another 300 treats or so out of our 1,000.

How I’ve been starting it is when my PCA brings me a meal, I usually still need to cue Zen (either “Leave It” if I’m verbal or “Eh!” if I’m not) and then after one or maybe two cues, we move to the food and my eating being the cue.

Barnum will now look up with anticipation for a training session when he hears me chewing. This would seem to be counterproductive, and I admit that I feel on the knife edge of creating a behavior chain, so I’m trying to head that off at the pass. I can pretty quickly now get him from sniffing at me or the food to backing up and ending up on his mat across the room.

I’ve reduced the number of repetitions — lowered rate of reinforcement in going for longer durations — and this means that sometimes he gets up from the mat and comes over. I’ve decided that if he wants to get on the bed to look out the window while I’m eating, that’s fine. Anything that maintains “ignoring food” as the goal behavior is OK. But if he comes back on the bed, looks out the window for a while, and then sniffs my food, he gets (as Sue Ailsby puts it), The Big Prize! Which is that he gets to go and lie in his crate for a couple of minutes and then be released. (No treat.)

Here are some pictures from a session a three days ago. This was after we had taken a break from formal sessions for a few days.

Sharon sits in bed with a plate of food on a tray in her lap. Barnum stands next to the bed, looking intently at Sharon's plate.

Beginning of Zen training session with lunch as the cue for “back off.”

Same image as above except Barnum's legs are blurred as he backs up away from the bed.

Barnum backs up after not getting clicked for staying put.

Same picture as above except Barnum has backed up so he's almost out of the frame.

Barnum backs up more.

Barnum stands on a blue and white rag rug next to the wall on the left side of the room. The bed is not visible except as a shadow on the floor on the right edge of the picture.

A couple more backward steps takes Barnum to his mat.

Same view as previous picture, except this time Barnum is lying on the rag rug, his head up and looking toward the bed, which just has a little corner visible on the right edge of the picture.

Next rep Barnum lies down on his mat.

Same picture as above except Barnum's head is resting on his front paws.

While not actually relaxed, Barnum is offering a more relaxed pose (and he sighed after putting his head down, earning a click).

Peace,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD

P.S. I’m keeping my blogging to a minimum and trying to do less typing in general, including alt tags for the pictures, because I’m having repetitive strain issues with my hands. That’s scary because I spend all my time on the computer!

Barnum Models His New Blue “Birthday Suit”

Cuz he shaved him naked a few weeks ago, see? And then it was his birthday….

Here’s the confluence of events: Winter arrived late. Thus deer sticks were still active. Barnum’s long, thick coat made attached ticks hard to find. Thus we shaved him down. I had a fleece coat from Gadget that I put on Barnum, but it didn’t stay on well because it was too small. I modified it unsuccessfully. With Barnum’s birthday was coming up it was the perfect time to buy him a new coat. I I gave Voyagers K9 Apparel Barnum’s measurements and requested they use “Sea Blue” polar fleece to make a “tummy warmer” for him.

Let the fashion show begin!

Barnum lying on red, rumpled quilt, front view. Blue fleece front piece is about four inches high - above his elbows and below his neck.

Lounging in bed: Front view

Barnum lies on the bed in his blue fleece, picture of his left side, his head up and turned toward camera.

Does this fleece make my head look big?

Barnum standing on the bed in blue fleece with a 4-5 inch panel across his chest and a swath that covers his whole back and then under his chest and waist.

Comfortable enough for a dog to check his Twitter stream in!

Barnum standing facing off the bed, showing the left side of the fleece outfit, looking over his shoulder.

It’s like I’m on the cat walk! (Though I’d prefer a cat chase.)

Two proofs that this coat is snuggly warm:

1. Barnum does not smoosh up against me in bed every night now. Often he does, but he will also sleep on his own bed or on another part of my bed. (And it was three degrees Fahrenheit when I went to sleep last night.)

2. When wearing the coat he went out and threw himself into the snow and rolled around, snorfled, and romped. Fortunately, the fleece is light and dries out very fast!

Happy winter, everybody!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD and Fashion Hound

Barnum is 3! (in Hedgehog Years)

Barnum turned three today! This is one of the fun things about getting a dog from puppyhood that I never experienced before with rescues: knowing when they were born and remembering the day.

You might have noticed I’ve done very little blogging lately. That’s because I’ve been quite ill this month. Barnum has a lot of blog-worthy activities going on, I just haven’t been up to writing about them. But I really wanted to post something for his birthday, even if it’s just silly.

So, here’s what Barnum looked like three years ago today:

newborn puppy's head held in hand

I’m not sure this is Barnum, but it’s either him or one of his littermates.

Now even his paw is bigger than that puppy’s head. Even his ear is twice as big as that head. But anyway. . . .

He arrived in February 2010 at eight weeks old, and his favorite toy to play with was a hedgehog. We played with that hedgehog a lot. Here are some pics of Barnum and me on the day after he arrived:

Barnum and Sharon sit on the floor. Barnum is a fluffy black 10-pound fuzzball with a white blaze on his chest. Sharon holds a skinny, long hedgehog toy in the air, and puppy Barnum has his mouth open and a paw up, ready to grab it.

Do you want the hedgehog?

 

Same play session, Sharon slides hedgehog across the floor and Barnum chases after it.

Barnum chases hedgehog.

 

Sharon sits on the floor. Barnum is a round 10-pound very fuzzy black puppy. Sharon waves a skinny, floppy hedgehog toy in front of Barnum who is grabbing it in his mouth.

Barnum grabs hedgehog.

 

Puppy Barnum is curled up on Sharons lap, chewing the hedgehog.

Chomp, chomp, chomp….

When I talked to Barnum’s breeder a few days (or weeks? Who knows? I was completely sleep deprived during Barnum’s puppyhood; the whole time is a blur) after he arrived, I told her his favorite toy was a hedgehog, and she said he had a hedgehog there, too, that he liked to play with.

Today, for his birthday, one of my assistants surprised Barnum and me with a lovely big, soft plushy hedgehog with a loud “squeaker.” It didn’t actually squeak. It was more a sort of honk or oink. Barnum looooves plushy toys that squeak — the louder, the better.

He grabbed it and very happily chomped it, making it squeal again and again, his stubby tail wagging the whole time. And when he’d had enough of that, he started to full its feet off. I told him to stop because appendage removal is always the precursor to a complete disembowelment, but my assistant said it’s his birthday, he could do what he wanted. So I let him go ahead. It took him less than a minute to pull off all the feet, unstuff it, and pull out the honker.

We picked up the random bits of hedgehog fluff and fur and body parts. I didn’t get a picture of the hedgehog in its pristine state or even when Barnum was chewing it, because he was on my bed, his butt to me. Not a good angle for photography!

My assistant said, “This was poorly made. It wasn’t stitched tightly enough. That’s why he was able to pull it apart so fast.” Uh-huh. . . .

She put it back together with reinforced the stitching. I got my camera. I played a very short game of fetch and tug with Barnum and his refurbished hedgehog. I tried to get pictures of it in his mouth, which was very cute, but he was always moving so fast I couldn’t take the picture in time. This was the best I could do:

Dark, blurry picture with half of Barnum's face holding the hedgehog in the corner of the frame. Most of the picture is an unfocused picture of a messy living room.

That’s his face in the upper left corner. He’s running back to his mat with the hedgehog…

… to dismember it. It was easy to get pictures of that!

Barnum is now a big, full-grown black brindle dog, hair clipped short. He's standing on a dog bed, shaking the stuffed toy in his mouth.

Grab hedgehog and SHAKE.

Barnum presses toy into mat while pulling on it with his teeth.

Hold it so it can’t escape (and to get better leverage).

Closeup of hedgehog being held between both front paws and Barnum's gaping maw above with stuffing being pulled out the top of the hedgehog's head.

Yes! We have FLUFF!

Barnum continues to chew the hedgehog between his feet while the squeaker and stuffing have been spread around.

No destuffing is complete until a squeakerectomy has been performed. (That’s the long white thing in the plastic bag that got flung a couple of feet away.)

Mangled hedgehog with torn face and stuffing leaking out and very flattened between two front legs.

My work here is done.

Barnum stands on his bed looking into the camera, with a quizzical expression.

What’s next? How about that squirrel you’re holding?

Barnum has grown up. He’s a much bigger dog. He’s got a lot of talents and skills he didn’t have as a puppy. He got a much bigger hedgehog. And he destroyed it much more quickly. The great circle of life is complete.

By the way, I know he is naked. Here’s why: We were letting his coat grow out for the winter till we found three deer ticks on him between the end of November and early December. They are very hard to find when his coat is full. So we shaved him. Now we finally have snow so we can stop tick checking till the thaw. Never fear! Barnum’s got a new fleece coat to keep him warm indoors, in addition to the coat he already had for walks. At night, when the house is chilly, he sleeps under my comforter pressed against me, taking up three-quarters of my queen-sized bed. He suffers terribly.

Happy New Year!

– Sharon and Barnum, SD and Birthday Boy

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.

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!

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

Photo Essay: Barnum’s Service Skills

In honor of our Gotcha Day a few days ago — two years together — I took a bunch of pictures of Barnum doing stuff. The idea was to show all the things we’ve learned in the past two years. Of course, it didn’t show everything he’s learned, like not eating the furniture or pooping indoors or attacking people’s pants, etc.

We also didn’t take pictures of some of the skills we’ve been working on all along, and that I have blogged about before: sit, down, come, crate, go to mat, zen, etc. This does not mean we’re finished training these behaviors, but I thought it would be more fun (and we only had so much time and energy) to photograph the newer, flashier stuff.

It’s taken me till now to get the pictures uploaded, then downloaded, then captioned, etc., but here ’tis!

I didn’t know how to adjust the camera settings, and since these tended to be action shots, there are very few that are not artistically blurred. That’s right, it’s not a defect, it’s a feature. Thus, I now present . . .

The Post-Realist Photography Exhibit of Barnum at Year Two

Stand tall to turn on and off the lights!

Barnum standing on hind legs, front paws planted on the wall, nudging switch down with his nose. He's over 5 feet tall this way.

Turning off the lights!

Open the bedroom door….

Blurry picture of Barnum from behind, pulling purple tug cord on door handle.

First, grab the cord and pull back.

Step 2:

Another blurry picture of Barnum's furry butt. Wider stance, pulling back hard on the pull cord.

Aaaand pull BACK and DOWN!

Step 3:

Blurry picture from behind, bedroom door swinging open.

Eh viola! The door, she is open!

And then close it!

Barnum running to shove his nose behind the door which is open against the wall.

Get that nose behind it, and in one fluid motion, SLAM it shut!

Done!

Barnum is whirling from the door, which is now shut, toward Sharon sitting on the bed. He's moving so fast that he's a blur, with his left front and right rear legs just shadows of movement.

The second the door latches, whirl around to collect your treat!

Where’s the PCA?

Barnum sits on the floor watching Sharon who is sitting on her bed, signing (with hand and facial expression), "Where?" in ASL.

Sharon asks me "Where?" is the PCA?

I know! I’ll find her!

Barnum sits staring fixedly at a young woman standing in the kitchen.

I have found you. I am staring at you. Do you get the message?

When that doesn’t work. . . .

Barnum stands up and noses the hand of the woman who's standing in the kitchen.

Hello! I'm bopping your hand! Pay attention!

Since we’re in the kitchen, he might as well open the fridge. . . .

Barnum swinging into action, blurred hindquarters show movement as he grabs for the door pull on the refrigerator.

I got it!

Mmmf. Riss iss harder dan id loogs.

Barnum pulling straight back on a navy blue door pull attached to the refrigerator handle.

Puuuuuuull!

Persistence pays off!

Barnum stands back a few inches from the fridge door which is now open a few inches.

Okay, it's open! Can I close it now?

Yes! Shut the fridge!

Barnum stands in front of closed refrigerator door with his nose against it.

Shutting is more funner.

I’m a clumsy human, which  means a dog’s job is never done. First, the clicker I dropped accidentally. . .

Barnum crossing living room to pick up red clicker underneath an end table. His head is down and his mouth is open, even though he's at least a foot away still.

She's always dropping these clickers!

Then the pen I dropped on purpose.

Barnum is in a sit. A pen is on the floor about four feet away. Sharon's legs and wheels are visible in the background.

She made me sit so I wouldn't keep picking things up before they could manage to take the picture. Humans can be so slow.

Ah gah da peh im my ma-ow….

Barnum standing, with muzzle on the floor. The pen isn't visible under all his fur.

Mm-kay. I'b gedding ib.

I got it!

Barnum spinning toward Sharon. Pen is in his mouth, though we can't see it because his side is to the camera.

Ah brinnin eh peh...!

And now the retrieval of the “dropped” leash….

Barnum stands in front of Sharon. She's holding his leash and is about to clip it to his collar.

Why are you putting on my leash now?

You’re welcome. (By which I mean, “Where’s my treat?”)

Barnum has the leash clipped to his collar at one end. The other he is putting in Sharon's hand in her lap.

Honestly, you drop this thing so often it's like it's intentional. . . .

Two years ago he looked like this:

Baby Barnum, an adorable puppy that looks like a black teddy bear with a white chin. Sharon's hand is rubbing his chest. Her hand is bigger than his head!

What a face!

And now!…

Closeup of Barnum looking into the camera, smiling, very hairy, lying on Sharon's bed.

Look at me now, world!

Love from Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT


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