Archive for the 'Products – Service Dog Gear' Category

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

The Service Dog Messenger Pouch

I’ve mentioned in several recent posts (such as this one) that I’m having Barnum deliver messages to my PCAs.  Originally the plan was just to train him to go get them, and that’s a very important skill if I’m somewhere I need help — usually the bathroom, occasionally in the yard. But a delivery system is convenient for those days I’m nonverbal, and I want to tell or ask my PCA something without having to ring for them. For instance, if I’m hungry and I really want my breakfast protein drink now, but I want to ask them to put a straw in it because it’s an “I can’t lift the mug” sort of day, I don’t want to go through this:

  • Ring my “doorbell
  • They come to my room
  • I tell them I want my breakfast drink
  • Before I can explain about the straw, they’ve already headed out the door to get me the drink
  • I try to make a noise they can hear or ring the bell so they’ll turn around and come back
  • Communicate “please put a straw in it”
  • And THEN they’d have to go back to the kitchen and get the drink (and straw)

However, with “the pouch method,” I can just write a little note that says, “Please bring brkfst drink w/straw,” and have Barnum deliver that.

Barnum with a red plaid flannel pouch velcroed to the back of his collar.

This is the pouch Barnum wears for transporting messages or small items to or from me to others in my home.

The one above is good for notes or other small things. It was a pocket from an old flannel nightgown. There is a (prickly) strip of Velcro sewn onto the back of the pouch:

Back of a red plaid flannel pouch with strip of white Velcro sewn across the top.

Back of a pouch.

 

And on the back of Barnum’s collar is a soft strip of Velcro. This makes it easy to attach and detach the pouch. It also allows me to have pouches of various sizes. We made a larger one with a closure at the top for sending bigger things.

If I send Barnum to someone with a pouch, and he returns to me without it, I know they’ve gotten my note or whatever other item was in the pouch.

Voila! Very simple service dog gear you can make yourself.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (she just tucked notes in my collar), and Barnum, messenger pigeon bouvier/SDiT

They’re “Assistance Dogs,” Not “Public Access Dogs”

Brooke at ruled by paws is hosting Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #8 on the theme of “Marchin’ to Your Own Drum.”

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.

Marching to Our Own Drum!

Lately I’ve begun to realize just how much my current approach to training my service dog (SD) diverges from ideas, approaches, and perceptions of SDs in the larger US culture. Specifically, my main focus is on training my assistance dog to perform behaviors that assist me, due to my disabilities. This would seem to be not only sensible, but the very definition of an assistance dog, wouldn’t it? Indeed, it is. If you read the service animal section of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you will find this:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Yet, more and more I am coming across individuals, organizations, and websites focused primarily, or in some cases, exclusively, on training dogs in obedience and manners so that the dog can accompany its person in public. (Here is an organizational example of a focus that is primarily on public access. Here is an organizational example of a non-task training approach to SD work.)

It’s understandable that public access training (which includes a dog being obedient, well-mannered, and unobtrusive in public as well as being able to perform necessary assistance tasks in public) is receiving so much attention. Public access is a legal issue, so it’s natural that organizations and individuals are concerned about complying with the law. Further, there are more assistance dogs working and being trained than ever before, which means more SDs are showing up in public. Into the mix add that more people are partner-training than ever before (with a great range of experience and skill) and that many partners have hidden disabilities that make them more vulnerable to access challenges. Finally, and sadly, there are an increasing number of people who wish to commit fraud by trying to pass off their pet dogs as SDs — both people with disabilities who have not done the necessary training and people without disabilities who simply want the companionship of their dog away from home. The pressure on the SD handler to make sure their dog behaves with perfect comportment at all times is thus a very big deal in the assistance dog world.

Meanwhile, here I am, training my dog to help me around the house — open and shut doors, turn on and off lights, pick up things I drop, carry messages to my human assistants, etc. We are barely doing any public access training simply because I spend almost all my time in bed and very rarely leave the house, so training in public is very difficult, and having a working dog in public is much less important than one who helps me at home. Barnum has to be “on call” at home at any time I might need him. Fortunately, his personality and the way we have trained mean that he is eager to jump into action.

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

Barnum opens the fridge for me.

I realize our situation is not that of most teams. In some cases public access is always crucial to the dog’s work. Guide dogs often work exclusively outside the home and are off duty at home. Their work involves assisting their human partners to get to and from work, school, restaurants, hotels, conferences, and subways. Thus, public work is essential for a guide dog.

For people with other types of assistance dogs, too, there is usually an expectation of public work — alerting or guiding or providing mobility assistance in stores, on the street, at work, etc. Most people with assistance dogs bring their SD with them everywhere for two reasons:

  1. The dog’s work is necessary or important for the disabled person in public, and
  2. The working bond between the partners is strengthened by ongoing work and training in a variety of settings and/or on a daily basis

Still, the proliferation of both SD fraud and poorly trained SDs have led some assistance dog organizations to require passing a public access test as proof that a dog is a service dog. For example, to be a partner member of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), I have to sign a form saying that my SD has or would be able to pass their public access test/definition. So, even though I have had two previous SDs and have been an IAADP member for a dozen years, now I’m no longer a partner member because Barnum and I don’t go out. I feel very sad about this.

Yet, Barnum is a working service dog around the house. You can see how much we’ve accomplished in this regard in just a month by comparing this recent post from July to this one from June.

I feel frustrated by this, and the irony does not escape me: the more disabled I am, and the more I need my service dog, the less I fit neatly into the category of a SD team. In fact, I can trace the changes in my disabilities in part by what my service dogs have done for me at a given time.

My first service dog, Jersey, did help me around the house, but the biggest difference she made for me was that she enabled me to occasionally go out by myself. I trained her to cart my oxygen tanks to and from the car, and to carry groceries from the van to the front door and then to the fridge. At doctor’s appointments or other occasional outings, her carrying my water and other things in a pack left my hands free to push my oxygen cart if I was walking. I went grocery shopping once every month or two with her and my mobility scooter, which was something I had previously not been able to do since I got sick. Before Jersey, I always needed someone to take me shopping.

[Note: I have some great photographs of Jersey working, but they haven’t been scanned into a computer yet. I hope to get the pics inserted by the time the Carnival goes up. Please come back in a week or two, and hopefully they’ll be here!]

Even the things she helped me out with around the house are different from the tasks I need canine assistance with now. For example, Jersey helped me fold and put away the laundry. But now I have human assistants do that. She also carted gardening supplies, which enabled me to garden. Now I’m much too sick to garden. Once, when I walked into my backyard to pick apples, I was too sick to walk back unaided, and she helped me get back home. Now there’s no question of me wandering out on foot into a field.

Sharon in an elementary school library, a folder of papers in her hand, wearing an oxygen canula, leaning forward with her mouth open, as if reading or talking. Gadget lies on the ground next to her in a green pack, looking up at her. In the foreground are several first-graders, looking in many different directions, some of them obviously moving around.

Gadget in a calm down-stay and paying attention to me while surrounded by little kids.

Gadget, my second SD, learned the same things Jersey did — bracing, carrying a pack, retrieving, loading and unloading groceries — but I also added some additional skills so that he could help out with more stuff at home.

Gadget runs with grocery bag from van/end of ramp

One of Gadgets favorite skills, carrying groceries to the house.

He learned how to alert me to the kitchen timer, to let the cat and himself in and out, to open and shut doors, to bring me the phone. When I got Lyme disease and became much more disabled than before, those skills became much more crucial than the ones for going shopping or putting away laundry. And then I taught him new things that were much more important — getting Betsy or my PCA when I couldn’t speak, turning lights on and off and bringing me water from the refrigerator to take my pills when I couldn’t get out of bed, etc.

Meanwhile, Barnum has learned to do things that Gadget didn’t. Barnum has a much more refined “go get person/deliver message” than Gadget did. He is helping me with undressing, which Gadget never learned. He alerts to my various alarms and pumps. And I still have plans for him to learn additional skills that we haven’t gotten to yet.

Barnum with a red plaid flannel pouch about 3 inches by 3 inches velcroed to the back of his collar.

This is the pouch Barnum wears for transporting messages or small items to or from others in my home.

Some of you may remember that when Barnum was younger, I was concerned that he’d never make it as my service dog because he was such a distracted, hyper flake in public. The irony is that since he’s matured, on the occasions I have taken him into public to train, he’s done really well — especially considering his age and his bouncy nature. I could have passed Jersey off as a fully trained SD before she had finished her training because her manners were so perfect and calm in public. She could have been doing nothing to help me, and we wouldn’t have been challenged because we “looked like” a SD team.

I once read about a SD program which had a separate category for dogs who could assist their people in the home but not work in public (due to anxiety or distractibility); they called these dogs “companion dogs” and they were not considered service animals. That has always bothered me. A “companion animal” is a pet. Dogs, cats, birds are all referred to as “companion animals.” However, a dog that opens and shuts the fridge, turns lights on and off, helps with the laundry, and retrieves dropped items for her disabled handler is a service dog, not a pet. If that dog doesn’t do well in public, obviously the dog should be left home when the person goes out. But that doesn’t make the dog any less a service dog. Why not just call that type of dog an “in-home service dog”? It would be more accurate, and in my opinion, more respectful to both members of the team.

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.

Barnum turns off the lights.

Barnum is already, by legal definition, a service dog: he increases my independence and safety by performing assistance tasks, which is what assistance dogs are supposed to do. The fact that my level of function and my level of dependence on humans is more than most assistance dog partners (and more than my previous level) doesn’t change that. However, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say he’s a SD in the eyes of assistance dog organizations, because I don’t know if we’ll do enough training — if I, myself, will leave the house enough, let alone with him — for him to pass a public access test. I try not to let it get to me. In the scheme of things, what’s most important is that Barnum and I are happy and productive together. I do hope, though, to feel a greater sense of acceptance and respect from the assistance dog community one day.

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

Crowdsourcing: Which Vest Would Keep You Away? UPDATED

In a recent post, I commented on the problem that all assistance dog handlers face: distraction from the public. In my case, there’s a slightly different twist.

While Barnum’s work at home is zipping along beautifully, we have a long way to go with his public access skills. This is because I so rarely go anywhere. However, now that it’s summer, and I’m a little more functional, I’m more often able to take Barnum to public venues to train.

One issue we face which many other service-dog-in-training (SDiT) teams don’t face is that since I am so obviously disabled (I am in a wheelchair and use oxygen) and in a public space, people generally assume Barnum is my working service dog (SD) no matter how he’s behaving. (In fact, people generally assume he’s working even when he’s running around, off-leash in the woods, in his orange safety vest!)

When we’re training in public, I always put the “In Training” patches on his vest under the “Service Dog” patches, but I don’t think anyone sees them. I think even if they were ten times larger, the sight of a woman in a wheelchair with a dog with gear on would automatically translate to “service dog” in most people’s minds, and people would still not really “see” the “In Training” badges. The poor visibility of the “In Training” patches raises two concerns.

One of my concerns is that if we’re in a store, and Barnum’s comportment is far-from-perfect, I’m not comfortable with people believing he’s a SD because I worry that we will give other SDs a bad name, or that we will support the myth that partner-trained SDs are not as well-trained as program dogs. Even worse, because I know that some individuals try to pass off pets as SDs (which is illegal as well as unethical), I worry that people will become used to seeing a badly behaved dog as a “service dog,” and that will support the efforts of those who commit fraud.

The second problem is people wanting to talk with me. When I am working Barnum in public, I am unable to communicate with other people. I can’t split my focus. When I try to tell them that I can’t talk, I think I usually end up coming across as very rude because it’s just impossible for me to answer questions, chat, or anything else when I am trying to use my limited energy and focus on extremely demanding training. People who want to talk to me or who want to interact with Barnum are equally big problems in this stage of our training.

I recently came across two products that are designed to tell strangers not to interact with your dog. They are in the DINOS (dogs in need of space) resource section of Notes from a Dog Walker. They are both primarily intended for dogs who are reactive to people or other dogs. DINOS can include fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, or overexuberant dogs (which Barnum was sometimes in the past with other dogs). Barnum is not reactive to people or dogs, however I think this gear could be really useful to Barnum and me as an SDiT team in public.

I’m not sure which to get. I’d like your opinion.

Option A: The TACT Training Vest from Clean Run

Side view of a red corduria vest covering the dog's chest and shoulders. A rectangular black patch with white capital letters says Training Do Not Distract with a red Stop sign. On the back is a smaller round patch which says Training Stop Do Not Pet.

These colors are very eye-catching.

You can read a description of the materials and see additional views of this vest at Clean Run.

Pros

What I like about this vest is that it has the message very forcibly on both sides, and to a lesser degree, from the top. It also looks like it will last well, and it looks professional, so I could keep using it as we improve our public manners. Red and black help get across the “Keep Away” message, I think.

I’m also wondering if I’d be able to remove those patches and put them on his working gear when he’s no longer training. A very large “Do Not DISTRACT” patch is definitely preferable to the smaller “Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working,” patch that we have now.

Cons

I’d like something that I can fit over Barnum’s pack, if possible, because I’m using the pack as a cue to teach him that a certain standard of behavior is required. I’m not sure if that would be possible with this. But the tradeoff might be worth it. I also wish it covered more of the dog, because between my big self and my big chair and Barnum’s big self, I would want to make sure the message didn’t get lost.

The biggest drawback, in addition to the minimal size of the vest, is definitely the price: $100+. I could also pay extra for a badge for me to wear that says “In training, do not distract,” but I doubt that would be useful. Most people seem to have trouble seeing me inside all the assistive equipment anyway. Plus, being in a chair means I couldn’t put this badge anywhere close to eye level for a standing adult. For those who know me and want to be friendly and chat, my presence as a familiar face would probably override a little badge. Most people look at the dog, anyway.

Option B: Dog In Training Vest from The Pawsitive Dog

A tan vest that covers from shoulder to waist with very large purple capital letters that says Dog In Training and below that in smaller letters Give Me Space.

This covers more of the dog.

There are more pictures of this vest on different sizes and breeds of dog at The Pawsitive Dog, including the option for a harness hole in the back. It has the same text on both sides of the vest.

Pros

It covers more of the dog. There is just one message, and it’s pretty straightforward. The size of the lettering is huge; there’s not much to distract from the message. At $38, it’s also less than half the price of the other one. This seems most likely to fit over Barnum’s working pack.

Cons

It doesn’t look as professional. My biggest concern is that I’m not sure if medium purple on tan is bright enough and has enough contrast to get the message across.

UPDATE: Cricket Mara, the maker of this vest, replied to my questions with this very helpful information:

The Dog In Training vest is made of a poly/cotton blend fabric with cotton straps and “Soft Touch” Velcro.  It is durable and washable, but still not heavy or noisy.  To use it over his pack, I would measure his chest with his pack in place.  I do suggest air drying to preserve the screen printed lettering.

UPDATE: Option C: Design Your Own Vest

Therapy-dog-style vest in dark blue with large yellow embroidery that says YOUR TEXT GOES HERE on both sides.

This might be the winner, if I can contact them….

Notes From a Dog Walker — the creator of the term, DINOS — commented below and suggested this online store.

Pros

Much more reasonably priced than either of the other options. I can choose the color of the material. (Not sure if I can choose the color of the text.) This means I can choose colors AND a message that I think will be the clearest and the most obvious!

Cons

I think this is least likely to fit it over his pack. I’m emailing them with questions about sizing, colors, etc.

What do YOU think?

I’d particularly like to hear from members of the general public who do not have assistance dogs: Which vest do you think would more likely keep you from approaching a person and dog and trying to engage either the person or the dog? If you knew the person or dog? If they were strangers?

I’d also like to hear from other assistance dog handlers. Which do you think would be more effective, based on your own experiences? If you were going to buy one, which one would you get?

I look forward to everyone’s responses! Please feel free to cast your vote (and offer your reasoning, if you’re so inclined) in the comments to this post. You can also tweet me on Twitter at @aftergadget.

Thank you!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I didn’t like strangers), and Barnum (Strangers are fascinating!) SD/SDiT

Video: Turning on Light Switch

Barnum and I are working on his light-switch abilities. We’ve hit a snag for the moment, because I wanted to put mylar or something like that on the wall below the light switch so that when he jumps up on painted walls, he won’t scratch them. We do keep his nails pretty short, but still.

So far, we haven’t found any at the local hardware stores. If you have a brilliant suggestion, please post it in the comments! Meanwhile, when I feel up to it again (have not been doing much training the last few days), we will keep working on the parts of the chain for this behavior. I thought we were ready to string the chain together, but as this one-and-a-half minute video demonstrates, we’re not. Still, it gives you an idea of where we’re going. (A description and transcript of the video is included below the video.)

Here’s how we got here.

First, I shaped nosing a light switch on a board on the floor. (We used the technique shown in these captioned and narrated videos: Part 1 and Part 2 of Donna of VIAD’s instructional shaping-light-switch-with-clicker series.)

Over time, I raised the board so Barnum had to reach for it and added a piece of tubing to make it easier to nudge when the switch was too far to reach above his head.

Then I switched to teaching him to do “paws up” to target my hand or a colored square on increasingly high surfaces, until he was able to do it against the wall. We used this technique from Lynnherself and Lily, which involves having the dog nose-target your hand on increasingly high pieces of furniture, until you put your hand on the wall, and the dog jumps up with feet on the wall to reach your hand.

Once I go back and strengthen each link of the chain — the jump to reach the switch and the nose nudge to turn on the light — we’ll try putting them together again. We still have a long way to go to get the behavior consistent, and then to add a cue.

Video description:

Sharon sits next to a tile wall in a bathroom with a light switch about four feet off the ground. She puts her hand against the wall under the switch, palm side out. Barnum jumps up and noses Sharon’s palm. Sharon clicks at the nose nudge and gives Barnum a treat.

Something on the floor distracts Barnum. Sharon tells him “Leave it,” and he backs away. Then he sniffs at it again and gives up. He jumps up and targets her hand and gets another click/treat.

The third time Barnum jumps up, he hits the light switch, and the room is suddenly bright with light. Sharon clicks and says, “Yes!” In a high, happy voice. She gives Barnum several treats and turns off the light.

They do two more reps of Barnum jumping up to touch Sharon’s hand. Then Sharon switches to just pointing at the light switch before taking her hand away.

Barnum jumps up and tries scratching at the wall underneath the switch. No click. He jumps up again and noses the switch plate. Sharon clicks that, even though he also adds a paw scratch on the wall.

Again, Sharon points to the switch and waits for Barnum to decide what to do. He jumps up and paws the tile. He pauses a moment and flicks the light switch with his nose, flooding the room with light. Sharon clicks the light switch nudge and says, “Yessss! Good boy!” She gives him several treats and ends the session.

Thanks for watching!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (she didn’t let me jump on the wall!), and Barnum, SDiT (I have an idea! Let’s turn on a light! Ha ha ha ha!)

Signal Boost: Auction to Sponsor Guide Dog Puppy

The generous and talented L-Squared of the blog, Dog’s Eye View, has been trying to raise money to sponsor a puppy for Guide Dogs of America, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization through which she received her current guide dog, Jack.

She recently put together a fantabulous online auction, all the proceeds of which will go toward the $5000 cost of raising a puppy to be a future Guide Dog of America. When you see all the work that has gone into this site — how beautiful it all is and how many things are offered — you will be blown away.

There is a lot of dog stuff, not surprisingly! Toys, treats, collars, and leashes, etc. There are also baked goods, jewelry, hand-knitted and crocheted hats, mittens, purses, and more, including a gorgeous afghan! Art, photography, cards, T-shirts, etc.

There are various one-of-a-kind items and things you can personalize, such as a photo of your choice on stretched canvas, or individually made postcards. How about getting a T-shirt with a message of your choice in Braille? (Real Braille, raised dots, so to read it, you will have to be felt up!) You can have a short story written about a topic of your choice!

If you like dogs or cats, there is definitely something there for you! And even if you don’t, there’s probably something. So, please stop by. Some bids start as low as $3, and there are many items that have not yet received bids. L-Squared gives so much of herself to the blogging, blind, and assistance dog community. This is a great way to give back!

Here is the link once more: Guide Dog Puppy Sponsorship Fundraiser Auction.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I would have eaten those banana cookies), and Barnum, SDiT (I want the Kong!)

Barnum, Harnessed!

The Gotcha Day Festivities carry over from Sunday.

We did a decent amount of training today, including . . . Barnum’s first time wearing his working harness!

He has worn a variety of gear before, and his reaction to all of it has been: “Yuck! Don’t put that on me! Get that offa me! Eek!”

I tried shaping, luring, successive approximation, classical conditioning (when the walking harness and orange vest go on, it means fun and recreation!), but nothing was 100 percent successful before. That’s not entirely true. In the interests of full disclosure: he did get used to his collar, eventually, but since that’s been a 24/7 situation since he was tiny, he didn’t have much choice.

With everything else, once he has it on, he usually seems comfortable, but he really did not want to put stuff on.

Fortunately, I practiced with gear I didn’t expect him to use when truly working.

His main working gear will be a black webbing harness,which is worn as the base for a blue saddle-bag type pack that goes on top. It’s made by RuffWear. We have an older version of the Palisades Pack.

The nice part about this gear is that you can have the harness on, by itself, and have the dog be off-duty. Neither the dog nor I have to worry about extra weight or space, etc. Or,  you can attach a handle for manual wheelchair pulling (a job Gadget only did once a year or less, on average, but when I needed that help, it was really invaluable) or other brief, minimal pulling or stabilizing work.

Then, when I need the packs on for my SD to carry stuff, which is my main gear need, it’s a simple matter of attaching the saddlebags to the harness with Velcro and a snap or two.

I had been a bit concerned about the design of the harness, because the dog has to put its head through the neck hole, and then the front strap requires the dog to put its paw through that, as well. So, it’s not as easy to gear up as your typical pack.

I started a few weeks ago, just dropping treats on the harness. Then, letting some of the treats fall under it so he Barnum to snorffle around and put his nose inside the various holes.

Over time, I started holding the harness up in front of him and feeding Barnum the treats with my hand through the neck hole. When he was very comfortable with that, and seemed eager and not at all apprehensive when he saw me pick up the pack, I did some sessions where I held treats in front of the collar, and Barnum had to poke his nose through, then his muzzle, then his eyes, etc., until it was all the way on his neck.

I always had him back out of the harness on cue, long before I saw any signs of distress. So far, I’ve managed to keep it an entirely positive, relaxed experience for both of us.

In the last two days, I’ve also worked on having him sit after the harness is over his neck, so that I can then ask for the right paw to put through the front strap. That has been going well, also, except that he usually wants to give me his left paw, first. But, I’m sure he’ll figure out eventually that I always want the right paw for this particular “trick.”

Tonight, Barnum was wearing it and seemed completely comfortable. He’d had no problems putting his head in and his right leg through the strap, so I decided to try putting it on completely, which meant buckling the chest and waist straps.

I’d opened and shut the buckles in front of  him before, treating and praising lavishly every time I did, but I’d never buckled it on him before. I was prepared, if he showed the tiniest bit of discomfort, to immediately stop what I was doing, and calmly, happily remove the harness.

I buckled the two straps, praising and feeding him.

Then, there he was, wearing his harness. And his body language said, “Are you going to feed me dinner now?”

I gave him a nice boneless chicken thigh to work on in his crate. He dined while wearing his working-dog harness. Yay!

Then we practiced doing “working dog walk,” around the house, with me focusing on a high rate of reinforcement, especially for eye contact, position, and just generally trying to click everything clickable to make the experience of wearing the harness as rewarding as possible.

Then, for the coup de grace, I set up his muffin-tin game, which he played with much gusto. Then we had a bit of a love-in to celebrate.

I took off his harness and released him and made myself boring. Inside, of course, I am thrilled.

I considered taking a picture for this post, but here’s the thing: He’s a black, very fluffy dog. The harness is black webbing. I decided that if I took a picture, it would basically look like how Barnum looks anyway, except that he’d have a few tufts poking out where the fur is not tamped down by the harness.

Some day, I will introduce the pack, too — after he’s totally comfortable and happy putting on and wearing the harness — and then I can take a picture that will look like something. The pack is royal blue. Barnum is not. That should show up better.

But, a thousand words is worth a picture, and a least two of these thousand words are “Yee-Haw!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (that harness was the only gear I didn’t like getting into), and Barnum, well-dressed SDiT


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