Archive for the 'Public Access Training' Category

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

Our Recent Public Access Achievements

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.

We're achieving another great carnival!

The theme for the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “Achievement.” Barnum and I had two very exciting outings recently — one caught on video — which I’m very excited to share with you. It’s perfect timing for the carnival.

The achievements that Barnum and I celebrate are not the successes of a graduation or a title. Rather, they are small steps that are leading us — oh, so slowly, it often seems — along the path to a working partnership. I don’t think we have a single behavior that I can say is truly finished — not just service skills, but basic obedience and manners, too. Working on so many little skills day after day, it becomes hard to observe that any improvement is taking place. That’s why a day like last week — or last month when we first went into a store — is such a big deal: the improvements are a stark contrast to previous efforts, clear enough for me to notice and revel in them.

This past Thursday I had my biannual appointment with my primary care doctor. The appointment itself was completely useless. (More about that another time.) However, I brought Barnum with me — even though he couldn’t come inside — with hopes that we’d do some training in the parking lot after my appointment. My driver and assistant took care of him during the appointment.

Barnum and I have really only started public access work in the last couple of months. He went into a store — the small village coop in a nearby town — for the first time on September 12. I had someone along who could video the event, which is very unusual. Below is the movie I made of it. (Like the combination treat pouch/leash belt I’m wearing? I got it from Mimi of, and I love it!)

(If you’re reading this post as an email, click here to view the video.)

Click here to read a transcript of the video.

Click here to watch the video with captions.

But wait, there’s more! Fast-forward to a week ago. As I mentioned, Barnum had to stay in the van with my driver while I had my appointment. In my state, there is no public access for teams in training, so where you are able to go is dependent on the goodwill of the managers of such establishments. My doctor told me that their policy is that a SD team is not allowed in unless the dog is finished training. (These policies seem much more prevalent today than when I trained Gadget or Jersey. I wonder whether this is due to the boom in partner-training SDs — and private and program trainers, too, for the record — who are not yet skilled enough trainers, or not familiar with and careful of laws and etiquette around public-access SDs, creating negative perceptions of SD teams or SDiTs.)

Anynoodle, there is still much that can be done in parking lots or on sidewalks or at the locales that are SDiT-team friendly. Thus, after my appointment, I dressed Barnum in his snazzy working gear. We had a couple of “oopses.” One, which has never happened before, and which I hope never happens again, is that Barnum jumped the gun on exiting the van. He has gotten pretty good at staying inside until he is cued to exit. For whatever reason, though, today he jumped out while leashless. This was scary because we were in “the city” (for my area), and there was actual traffic beyond the parking lot. However, my helper snagged him, I walked him back to the van, and he jumped back in. Disaster averted. First note of something to work on more!

Then, we did some automatic sits before exiting (which is what he should have done instead of just hopping out previously), and I cued him to jump out and sit, which he did. I was pleased he was so focused on me and that I got such a fast and snappy sit. I had him sit-stay while I moved around, and then we were off.

Here’s how Barnum made my day:

  • Focus. Barnum kept focus on me and loads of eye contact the whole time. That is the foundation for everything else. I was thrilled by it.
  • Happiness. Barnum’s tail was up and wagging. His step was springy. He showed no signs of fear or vigilance (except one startle issue, which I’ll get to shortly). He was totally in the game and enjoying himself. At one point, I said, “Back up,” and instead of just walking backward, he leaped backward. He does the bouvie-bounce/pounce/spring thing when he’s loving training.
  • Loose leash. I didn’t even realize until we were on the way home that Barnum never pulled on the leash except at the end, when another dog was right nearby, whining at us.
  • Positional cues. I asked for sits, downs, nose touches, chin targets, backing up, standing up, coming to my side, and Barnum was about 90 percent reliable on all cues.
  • Toileting. When we were first heading from the parking lot to the sidewalk, I could tell that Barnum wanted to go sniff and mark the lawn, bushes, and flowers we were approaching. However, I kept him busy and focused on me, and he either realized that marking and sniffing was not acceptable, or he was too focused on working to care. When we were finished training, I took off his pack and harness and brought him to the grass and cued him to pee. He offered a short squirt, which I was very pleased about. It indicated to me that he probably did know the cue (as soon as I said, “Hurry up,” he started looking around the grass, circling, and sniffing) and that he was doing his best to follow it, even though he didn’t need to go. It’s possible that he was just marking, now that he had the opportunity, but I’m okay with that as a stepping stone to a more solid elimination on cue. This is the first time he has eliminated on cue in a totally new environment!
  • Transferring new cues from home – Part I: Door Opener. These were the ones that really thrilled me. Barnum has never touched a door opener before. The door opener for the external door at my doctor’s office is a silver vertical rectangle — not at all the shape I thought I’d remembered! At home, we’d been practicing the moves that would apply to a door opener — the same ones as for turning on or off a light switch — but my faux door-opener was a big blue paper square! The real door button was about three feet high and placed on the pane between the glass door and window. I held my hand over the button and had him nose-target my hand a few times. He could reach it without jumping up, but only just. He had to stretch his nose all the way up. . . .
  • Then I pointed at the button and told Barnum, “Touch!” He just barely bumped the bottom of the button, but that was enough; the door immediately swung outward. Barnum jumped back in surprise. I gave him extra treats and praise, along with the initial click/treat, and we did that a few more times. He hit the button every time, and he was surprised by the door every time, but with successively decreased concern. I think we’ll have to practice this many times before he is totally comfortable with the door swinging open. It’s the one area he has always had anxiety — doors swinging toward him from the front or the rear. (When he was temperament tested at seven weeks old, a solid object moving suddenly toward him was the only part of the test that scored poorly on; everything else was perfect or near-perfect, and those results were surprisingly predictive of his future behaviors and tendencies.) So, the fact that he continued to press the door opener and did not wig out — in this completely new environment, to boot — seemed like a good sign to me.
  •  Transferring new cues from home – Part II: The Retrieve. We have not yet achieved a complete trained retrieve at home. Barnum will take something from my hand, hold it quietly for a pretty long time, and then — on my cue — will drop it. But he hasn’t figured out that picking things up off the floor can be handled the same way as taking things from me. So, our big effort has gone into the take/hold part of the retrieve. It had not even occurred to me to try this skill away from home yet. . . .
  •  Then, something happened — I can’t remember what anymore — where I was holding something out, and he went to take it in his mouth! I had not been looking for that, but I was able to click and treat it. “Why not?” Says I to myself. So, I held out a pen — the object he’s the most eager and comfortable taking and holding — and we did a few repetitions of that. Well, knock me over with a feather!

I was bringing him back to the van to load up and leave when a woman parked next to me with a boxer in her car. Barnum was still paying attention to me, not the boxer, so I was eager to get out of there before he could start practicing some bad behavior, such as pulling to get to the other dog, and for all I knew, jumping up to get a sniff. (Our biggest distraction is other dogs. Our second biggest distraction is people — strangers. Barnum feels the need to greet/sniff them and inquire as to whether they’d like to give him attention or food.)

Unfortunately, this woman wanted to chat me up about my “service dog.” I had to correct her that we were in training, because Barnum was not comporting himself as a trained SD should, and I don’t like to spread any more misinformation about SDs than already exists. Then, she wanted to tell me about how her dog, the one she is leaving in the car who is wearing no gear, is a service dog, too, and perfectly eager for our dogs to interact! Usually if I say, “We’re training,” in a very “read-between-the-lines-please” voice, people back off a bit, but not this woman. Trying to focus on getting Barnum refocused and loaded into the van while not getting downright rude to this stranger meant that I lost control of the situation, and Barnum decided that, yes, it would be acceptable to pull like a freight train to get to the boxer, who had started to whine.

Somehow, finally, I managed to ignore the other person enough to get Barnum loaded, and then he settled down. On the way home, we did lots more practice with taking and holding objects, and various simple skills, and I was just over the moon.

Outings like this are extremely helpful in showing which behaviors have jelled and can be taken to the next level, and which need some remedial attention. The trip made it clear the areas we need to work on most: Leave it/zen for people, leave it/zen for dogs, more work with moving-door-related fear, and more work on default sit before and after exiting the van. But on the way home, the refrain in my head was, “Go, Team Barnum! Woohoo!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and future door-opener of my world

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the ADBC, read past issues, check out the schedule for the next few carnivals, or learn how to get involved, please visit this page about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

P.P.S. You know what was really an achievement? Completing this post! I had so much difficulty creating and uploading that video — it took a week! — and then when I finally did get it uploaded, I discovered I had left out a segment in the middle and had to create and upload a new version! All future videos will be much shorter!

Quel Fromage! Mat in Parking Lot

Today did not go as planned, but I learned some important lessons along the way.

1. If you think something might not really be reliably fixed, and you use it anyway, and it turns out to be broken, breaking it apart with a screwdriver probably won’t help, but at least you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.

This is in reference to the buckle on my hydraulic powerchair lift in my van. My PCA took Barnum and me and my Jet pchair to Greenfield today (the nearest city — until recently it was a town, but it transitioned and now has a mayor), to check out a powerchair for sale on Craig’s List.

The chair seat is not at all the right dimensions for me (previous owner was much smaller than me), and I’d have to replace it entirely anyway because it’s a rehab seat, and I need what’s called a “van seat” or “captain’s chair.” I need to research whether I can get a new seat to fit the base, and how much that would cost. It’s a bummer because it’s a good brand and a decent model, in excellent condition, almost brand new.

Anyway, I tested the chair out, and then we went to the coop parking lot. The plan was that I would do some training with Barnum in the lot or on the sidewalk while my PCA bought groceries and went to the pharmacy for prescriptions. However, when she tried to unload the van, one of the buckles would not detach from the chair’s harness.

There happened to be a plumbing and heating van nearby, with a guy sitting in it, so my PCA asked him if we could borrow a flat-head screwdriver. I forgot to ask her for a small screwdriver, which is what I would have needed to finesse the buckle open. But when it was clear finesse was not an option, I just went for it, hoping it was sturdier than it looked. It wasn’t, but I felt okay about it anyway.

So, I just sat in the chair behind the van and tried to practice stationary skills with Barnum. Skills like sit, watch me, down, touch, and others don’t require movement. Nor does keeping a loose leash, for that matter. Barnum’s leash was not loose most of the time, initially, so those were all good things to practice — in theory, anyway.

2. The value of the treats really does matter. We ran out of cheese a few days ago, but I had a bag of hot dog slices with me, and I hoped that would be exciting enough. Barnum definitely was interested in them at home and in the car. However, he was not focused and in the game in the parking lot. I got the occasional sit or hand target, but a lot of the time, he was just frustrated at not being able to go anywhere, and too fascinated by all that was going on around us. I clicked for anything remotely resembling paying attention to me, especially eye contact. However, after a few clicks and hot dogs, he refused to take any more.

Then my PCA came out with the grocery bags. I asked her to give me one of the packages of cheese, which I ripped open with my fingernails. As soon as Barnum smelled it, he was like, “Cheese? Is that cheese? What can I do for you?”

I had his attention! (Or rather, the cheese did. But, that was okay, because I am Master of the Cheese. Soon to be a new video game.) Barnum was happy to sit, down, touch, etc., for cheese, which I just shredded into pieces with my fingernails. (It’s a locally made fresh mozzarella, so it didn’t require a knife.)

3. Bringing the “go to mat” mat was a brilliant idea, and I deserve some sort of award for having thought of it and utilized it. I realized, after my PCA had gone into the store, that I hadn’t asked her to grab Barnum’s “mat,” a very old yoga mat, that was rolled up next to my oxygen tanks.

When she came out to drop off the groceries before going to the pharmacy, I asked her to get it for me. I tossed it on the pavement in front of my chair. Barnum looked at it, a flicker of recognition in his eye. He tried stepping on it. I clicked for that and tossed cheese on it. Aha!

Pretty quickly I had him staying on the mat, sitting, then downing on it. I let it go that he was lying cross-wise on it, so that his hind end and front paws were off it. I didn’t use my cue at all. I just clicked and tossed cheese.

It had a very calming effect! Soon he was lying calmly and contentedly, watching people, cars, and wheelchairs go by, with only the mildest interest. There were startling sights and sounds that he glanced at and then returned to the important work of giving me eye contact from his down-stay on the mat, thus eliciting cheese.

I’d estimate it took less than 15 minutes for him to go from distracted and overstimulated to totally calm and holding his stay on the mat in a very strange and arousing environment. I was actually even able to use his cue (“Park it!”) by the end of the session, because he was reliably downing with his whole body on the mat by then.

So, there is something to be said for stillness. If we hadn’t been stuck there at the ass of the van for over half an hour, I probably would have been frustrated and concerned about Barnum’s ability to focus and train in strange environments — a challenge for us since he hit six months old or so.

4. Sometimes it’s better to just do what works, rather than what looks good or seems right or proper. After we got home, I had my helper assist me to unbolt the clip on my powerchair that was attached to the broken harness buckle so I could drive my chair inside. Then I instructed her to cut the offending (really, in all senses) broken buckle off the lift.

Tonight, when another helper was here, we managed to free the clip from the buckle (which will go to the transfer station on the next dump day), and I bolted the clip back on the chair. From now on, I will just use a length of chain and carabiner that is already on my lift to attach to that clip on the lift harness. I mean, really, who needs this shit? I am so done with going to the experts for powerchair-related maintenance, unless it is either (a) outrageously complicated, or (b) covered by Medicare.

My long miserable, miserable experiences with my purple powerchair have taught me that when it comes to powerchairs, I’ll either go to a truly professional, Medicare-covered dealer, or I’ll do it myself! (That saga is ongoing. I am working with the consumer affairs division of the attorney general’s office. They have turned out, so far, to be useless. If that changes, I’ll let you know. Unless my luck turns around, it looks like I’m heading to court with a private attorney. Oh joy. Just how I want to use my limited energy.)

But, you never know. Maybe there are good surprises in store. After all, today did not at all go how I’d planned the day to go — quel fromage! — but it was productive nonetheless. As dog is my witness, I will never be cheeseless again.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Behold! The power of cheese!), and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Deb found another squeaky ball for Barnum. Thank you, Deb! He is uncertain about the nubbly texture and smaller size, but he likes how squeaky it is. Here’s a short video of him playing with it.

What Works & What Doesn’t

This was not the way I’d planned on making this announcement, but it seems that chaos theory is in effect, and I’ve given up for the moment on doing things “just so.”

I got my powerchair repaired last week. I really thought it was finally, truly fixed, but I had no opportunity to test it because it was raining every day. Water + electronics = bad idea.

Then Saturday dawned bright, sunny, and clear. I woke up early to allow time for my PCA to take Barnum and me out for an adventure. Part of the reason I had to wake up early is that my infusions have been taking about two-and-a-half hours, twice a day, which keeps me stuck in bed even more than I already am, which is really aggravating.

I had thought the infusions were so slow because the pump was faulty, so I got a new one from the infusion company, and it was still super slow, maybe even slower.

Infusion Pump with extension tubing, saline flush, heparin flush

Pump: Not Working?

Then I decided probably my PICC line needed to be “roto-rooted,” so the nurse and I used an enzymatic treatment in it (“Cath-Flo”) to dissolve the fibrin sheath that always builds up in my lines and prevents blood return, among other things. After doing the Cath-Flo, I did get blood return again, but it didn’t speed up my infusions.

Sharons inner upper arm and elbow with PICC line and dressing. The PICC line is a very thin white plastic tube coming out of a round "biopatch" which covers the entry site of the line. Several steri-strips hold the biopatch and line in place. A hypoallergenic clear dressing that looks like a piece of plastic covers the whole area, with two pieces of hypoallergenic medical tape holding down the dressing. The line comes out from under the dressing to a red clip, which is opened when flushing or infusing. A white plastic cap connects the line to a clear extension tube, which is hooked up to syringes with medication or saline for infusing or flushing. No needles are involved.

PICC line: Not working?

Spending the first few hours of my day infusing has meant that it’s been very difficult for me to do as much training as I want with Barnum. It also often prevents us from going anywhere, because by the time my infusion’s done and I’m up and about, my PCA is leaving, and the next one doesn’t come till it’s getting dark and/or buggy.

So, we loaded my chair into the van, and went to the center of town (about three miles away), to the library. My PCA unloaded my chair and brought it around to me.

Barnum had been very good in the car, doing sits, downs, nose targeting, eye contact, etc. He was calm and didn’t vocalize. I was quite pleased with him.

However, our biggest challenge is always what happens when Barnum gets out of the van away from home. That’s usually when he loses focus completely, forgets I exist, doesn’t know how to sit on cue, pulls on lead, etc.

Barnum inside his crate, lying in "dead bug position," asleep with his head thrown back, all his legs in the air, just letting it all hang out! He is lying on a tan puffy dog bed inside the crate, and there is a red Kong against his butt.

Barnum: Um, working. . . ?

With Jersey and Gadget, I trained a default sit upon exiting the van. This was so that they were always under control upon exiting. If the doggy is sitting, he can’t bolt into traffic or take a whiz or snork up somebody’s dropped food.

I have tried to train a default sit with Barnum, but he gets so excited about going anywhere that I have only recently managed to get him to sit upon exiting the van in our very own driveway when we haven’t even gone anywhere. That, in itself, had been a big accomplishment I’d just have him get in the van, sit, get out of  the van, sit, lather, rinse, repeat. So, he doesn’t have a default sit yet, but at home now, most of the time, he will sit when cued after exiting the van.

So, we are in the (exciting!) library parking lot. I sat in my chair outside his door. My PCA opened the door, and I cued him to sit in the van. I clicked and gave cheese. Sit again, C/T. Sit, C/T. Then, I cued him to jump out and clicked while he was in the air, hoping he’d turn to me for his treat, and I could then cue a sit. I did, and he did! Yay!

He popped out of the sit when I clicked, so that gave me the opportunity to cue another sit, which he also did. I c/t for that, and then just kept c/t for him staying in the sit (I know!) while we were in the parking lot.

[Release the winged pigs to soar to the azure moon!]

My daily use powerchair. Gray vinyl captains seat with pocket in the back, beat-up black foam armrests, single post connecting seat to base, which is candy-apple red, with gray front-drive wheels and rear casters, and a black footrest and anti-tip wheels in front. Barnum is standing with his front paws on the footplate, looking into the camera.

Barnum & Indoor pchair: Working!

Was this the beginning of a day in which Barnum was perfect, focused on me all the time, followed every cue, and never pulled on leash? No, of course not. However, he was much more biddable, focused, and interested in c/t than he’d ever been before in a strange location. For example, most of the time, his leash was loose, which is really saying something! Also, most of the time, he was very eager to earn treats.

My PCA drove home, because her shift was ending soon, and Barnum and I started to walk home. We had a lovely time. He pooped, which was great, because he used to not poop away from home. (I had my poop bags with me, of course.)

We went into the Town Hall to observe a No Nukes rally. He’s heard live music before, so that didn’t bother him. The only thing he reacted to was everyone bursting into applause. Apparently, he’d never experienced that before. He startled, and then he settled right down again. He wanted to snorffle people and — even though I managed to cue a couple of simple behaviors — he was having trouble focusing on me, so we left after just a couple of minutes. It’s a good start for our first trip into an indoor public venue (except when he was a little puppy).

He got to experience a lot more traffic than he’s used to, too, since usually only a couple of cars ever pass us on our walks. There were motorcycles and all manner of vehicles passing by, because we were on our town’s main road, and he became less interested and able to ignore the vehicles as time went on.

Two preschool girls wanted to pet him, so I had them “help me train Barnum” by asking them to wait to approach until he was sitting, then pet him, then give him a treat. If he broke his sit, they backed away and came back when he sat again. He was excellent with them. Very calm. He did snorffle one when we were done practicing sitting for petting, which was a cause for much giggling.

Further down the road there were six beautiful horses in a paddock who all came to the fence, looking very friendly. So, I swung over to say hello. I petted some muzzles and offered a cherry, which nobody was interested in. Barnum was at first quite concerned about these HUGE animals that were snorting and swishing their tails and committing other strange acts, but after seeing me talk to them and pet their muzzles, he got bored and didn’t care about them anymore. Awesome! (For the record, he met horses and cows when he was a puppy, but I don’t think he remembered them.)

We kept heading home, and then I stopped at our town general store. I left Barnum outside, because it’s hard enough for me to maneuver in there, and he is just not ready for training in that kind of cramped, food- and smell-intensive environment. So, I left him tied up outside with a friendly teenager who was happy to pet him and watch him. I bought a snack for myself and a few biscuits for Barnum. I heard him distress barking after I’d been inside for a couple of minutes, so now I know that’s something we need to work on. He doesn’t do that at home, but I guess being left with a stranger in a strange land is different.

We went another distance. It was hot and dry, and Barnum was drinking a lot of water. I stopped at a friend’s house to get his bottle refilled. Eventually we stopped on the side of the road so I could have my snack and Barnum could  rest. It took a while, but he eventually did lie down, which was another first — lying down and relaxing away from home! Yay!

I was so happy! A real day out, like a regular person! My chair seemed to be in good condition. Barnum was showing his maturity; I was thrilled with him. I decided I would write a blog post declaring that I had a working dog and chair. Yes, folks, he is officially my SDiT again!

The walk helped me figure out exactly the service-dog leash design I wanted to ask my friend Karyn to make me to fit with this chair. I was pondering whether I should ask for purple webbing, to match the chair, or royal blue, to match Barnum’s working backpack. (Pictures of Barnum in his gear in an upcoming blog, or up now on our Facebook page.)

We set off again. We’d probably gone about one-and-a-half of our three miles home when it started to rain. Oh no! Then it stopped. Phew!

We kept going. It started to rain again. I headed for the sides of the road that had the most leaf canopy as cover, and for a while, we stayed relatively dry. I emptied one of Barnum’s treat bags and put it over my chair’s controller (the joystick and controls box). It rained harder and harder, until it was a major downpour. The only way it could have poured harder was if it was mixed with hail. It was very bad. I was trying not to panic.

We came to a fork in the road, and I couldn’t read the signs, so I just kept straight without thinking about it. Since I go out so rarely, I don’t really know my way around my own town. A man in a truck came by and asked if he could help. He said he could give me some tarps and a raincoat. I said that would be great. He drove off to get them.

I kept going, as fast as I could, trying to get home before the chair got too wet. I avoided puddles and kept trying to drive under the leaf canopy as much as possible.

Suddenly, I realized that the road did not look familiar anymore. A car came by with two teenage guys. I asked them if this was my street, and they said no, it was (another street). I believe I swore, loudly. One said, “Oh, you just need to go back and turn around,” telling me how it was no big deal, and I looked at him in utter disbelief because he had apparently not grokked that I was in a WHEELCHAIR, not a CAR, and that going a significant distance to turn around in the pouring rain was kind of a big deal!

I asked them if they could please, please call my PCA and ask her to come pick me up. They said they don’t have cell phone reception. Well, duh! We don’t have cell phone reception in our town!

I said I know, but when you get home, when you get where you’re going, can you please call? They didn’t know if his mom would be home, etc. Basically, they didn’t care about me and they didn’t want to help. That is not typical of my small town, but in their defense, I think they were baked.

Barnum and I turned around — he was enjoying the rain, very cool and refreshing for him — and beat it back to the intersection. The nice guy in the pickup came back and gave me a raincoat, which I put over the control box and armrest on that side, and also put a tarp over the back of the chair. I asked him to call my PCA, and gave him her number.

I turned on my headlights, because now not only was the visibility bad for other drivers, but I couldn’t see behind me because of the flapping tarp. These are very hot lights, and I had to constantly check that all these highly flammable materials were not flapping too close to them.

I was trying to go as fast as I could, but that encouraged Barnum to pull. It was impossible to go quickly and do the loose-leash walking protocol, so I eventually decided that this was enough of an emergency — trying to keep my chair from dying — that I’d let his LLW go to hell under the circumstances.

Eventually my PCA drove up. I asked her to take Barnum home and come back with my van to take my chair home. She did, and we eventually got the chair in the van, after doing everything wrong several times because we were panicking and couldn’t see and I was exhausted and not thinking clearly. Upon arriving home, we wiped down every part of the chair we could. I had managed to keep the underside dry. I also thought the joystick hadn’t gotten too went, but it’s really hard to know. Furthermore, some controllers are more sensitive than others, and you never know if yours is ultrasensitive till you kill it. I plugged the chair in to charge and hoped really, really hard that it had not gotten damaged by the rain.

I was worried about the chair, but I was also elated that I now felt confident enough in Barnum’s progress at home and beyond to declare him an official SDiT again! In fact, I plan to start taking him for very, very short trips inside local establishments (such as stores or our library), as soon as possible.

The next day, I went to unplug the pchair charger and see if the chair was working. The charger’s fault line was blinking — a very bad sign. I unplugged it, flicked on the chair’s power switch, the lights came on, then they flickered out. That’s all she wrote. It’s been dead as a doornail since.

Pchair with headlights

Outdoor pchair: NOT working!

I spent a couple of days raging and crying. The problem is that this chair has had problems since the very beginning — and it did seem to lose power at one point on Saturday, before the rain. So, it’s possible that it died again because it’s a lemon and that the rain had nothing to do with it. OTOH, one of the most likely ways to put a chair out of commission is to take it out in a rain storm or spill a drink on the controller, so it could simply be that the controller needs replacing.

The problem is that it’s a one-and-a-half hour drive in each direction to get it repaired, and I won’t know for sure whether it’s the controller till we get there. And what happens if  they replace the controller (for a few hundred dollars, since it could well be my fault because I was out in the rain), and then it dies again? People have told me I should return the chair and demand a refund and get another chair, but the problem is that there is no outdoor powerchair option for someone in a rural area like me, who has to go up hills and across rough terrain, through a traditional vendor. There are chairs made specifically for off-roading, and they cost $15,000 to $20,000!

So, if you can’t drive, and you rely on a powerchair for mobility — and when Medicare won’t pay for a chair that can handle outdoor conditions (because their policy is that you’re only eligible for a chair if you need it to get to the bathroom and the kitchen and bed; if you use it outdoors, that is considered “not for its intended purpose,” because, you know, if you’re disabled, you’re not supposed to have a life. You’re just supposed to be able to eat, sleep, and piss) — then what the hell are you supposed to do? Well, if you live in the city or in suburban areas, you can probably get around in a chair that was not made for use outdoors.

People keep asking me about scooters. There are powerful four-wheel scooters that cost much less than powerchairs, and I used to have one, but I’m too disabled to use one, now. You can’t recline or have elevated leg rests, and the biggest deal of all is that you must holds your arms straight in front of you, gripping the handle bars the whole time, sort of like riding a bicycle. That was tiring for me even when I was way less disabled than I am now. I’m doing better than I was a couple of years ago, so in a moment of optimism, I tried just holding my arms out in “scooter position” to see how it felt, and after literally two seconds, I couldn’t do it anymore. That was depressing. (Thanks, Lyme disease!)

People also ask me, well, what about your regular use (indoor) chair? Couldn’t my PCA drive me to the store or town center or wherever I want to train with Barnum, and I’d use that chair to get around in the parking lot or store? Nope. There’s no way to get the chair into the van; it doesn’t work with my van’s lift. I either need to get a different lift (ideally, a platform lift that will work with any of my chairs or any future chairs), or I need to get my daily use chair adapted for my current lift. Or, I need to figure out how to take the lift bar off my old chair so I can access the battery compartment, and buy new batteries for my old chair that is adapted for the van lift, but has almost zero juice in it and is generally in lousy condition, and use that for going places (which is currently how I go to the doctor or hospital). But I hate to put any more money into that chair, in the condition it’s in. (Medicare stopped covering it the minute I got my new chair, even though I couldn’t use my new, indoor chair for close to a year because I was outgassing it.)

So, I finally called the people who built my (big, purple, dead outdoor) chair, and we decided that I would come out, and they’d check the controller, and if it was the problem, they’d replace it, and I’d pay for it. These are brand-new controllers, not recycled. I believe they are the same as the one I just got (and possibly ruined), which I really liked, so I’m still holding out hope. I am also planning on writing and bringing with me a contract for us both to sign, warranting the chair to continue working without repairs for some period of time. Because if it craps out again, I am so done with them, and I will return the chair and demand a refund.

But, before we can drive the hell out to get the chair repaired, we have to get my van repaired! That’s right — something else that ain’t working right. My van is currently making three different kinds of worrisome sounds, as well as giving off gasoline fumes (which makes me sick, due to my MCS). Wrangling two people who can take the van to the mechanic and two people who can bring it home on the same day is always stressful, and this time is no exception. And I’m sure, because it’s an automobile, that the repairs will be several hundred dollars, right?

Big, green boxy cargo van glints in sun at the end of black metal wheelchair ramp. Sharon sits  next to the van pinting up the ramp to Gadget, who is in front of her, and about to carry a white canvas grocery bag to the house.

Van: Not working

The van is now nine years old, so the repairs will start piling up, but I can’t get another one because nobody makes cargo vans anymore! This was my only option for a wheelchair-accessible, all-wheel drive vehicle (and the most MCS-accessible option for me) and they are no longer manufactured. Apparently, the only big AWD or 4WD options are now SUVs or pick-ups, neither of which accommodates a chair lift. The current trend for solving the problem for vehicle accessibility, as vans go the way of VHS and audio cassettes, is to lower the floor of a vehicle. Guess where a lowered floor is a really, really bad idea? Bumpy, hilly, country dirt roads! Where I live! The other wheelies I’ve talked to about this have basically told me I have to keep the van running forever.

Then, yesterday, I woke up and started my infusion at 10:30 and went back to sleep, figuring the pump alarm or Barnum would wake me up when it was done, two hours later.  (Why waste awake time on infusing?) When I woke up at 1:30 PM, only 10 ml of the 50 ml of medication had gone in! It just stayed there, at 10 ml, no matter what I tried, so I finally did it manually, as an IV push of 40 ml over the course of an hour, which you’re not supposed to do, I think, but I’m a DIY kinda gal when it comes to health care.

Meanwhile, I called my nurse, who thought I probably needed a new line. I called the infusion company and begged them to deliver a new pump right away, as a last, desperate attempt to make sure the problem was indeed my PICC line. I tried all day to reach my doctor to ask her to put in orders for a replacement line with the hospital, which eventually my doctor did do before leaving for the weekend. (My doctor takes Fridays off.)

The infusion company delivery person came with the pump and said he needed to take the old one back. I didn’t want to give up the old one because of course the new one reeks of fragrance (as does everything else from the infusion company), whereas the old one has outgassed by now. I pleaded with him to just give me one day, and I would return one of the pumps tomorrow.

Last night I set up my infusion with the new pump (enclosed in a zip-loc bag except for the tubing coming out), and lo and behold, it infused in 40 minutes! Yay! Yay! Yay! I don’t need to go to the hospital to get a new line!

In summary, here are the current scores.

Working Breeds:

  • Dog (Barnum, Bouvier des Flandres)
  • PICC line (left arm)
  • Pump (fragrancy Bard Mini-Infuser)
  • Helpers (driving me to get chair repaired, driving van for repairs. So grateful to them!)

Non-Working Breeds:

  • Van (Chevy Astro Cargo, call name “Big Green Monster”)
  • Powerchair (Purple FrankenChair)

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (definitely was working till he stopped), and Barnum, working SDiT!!!

Field Trip Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I have a doctor’s appointment. I’ll be bringing Barnum — not in to the appointment, itself — he’s not ready for that. But he’ll come for the trip.

My plan is to arrive early, so we can train in the  van and then in the parking lot before my appointment. I’ll test him on the Level One behaviors (come, sit, down, touch, and leave it) as our Level Three On the Road test, and whatever he fails (and probably whatever he passes, too), I’ll train with him more, as well as loose-leash walking in a totally new environment.

During my appointment, my PCA will watch Barnum (when she isn’t helping me with transferring, un/dressing, un/loading the chair, etcetera). I’m bringing frozen, stuffed Kongs for him to occupy himself in my absence, though he probably won’t be interested in them because he’ll be too excited about being away from home.

Because my PCA and I don’t each have cell phones (there’s no reception where I live), I’ll bring my two-way radios. That way, my PCA and I can communicate when she’s dog-sitting, and I can let her know when I need her and check in on how she and Barnum are doing.

If Barnum performs well during our “pre-game” practice session — if he is able to focus on me and respond correctly to cues — I might even take him inside the building for additional training, either before or after my appointment, depending on timing. I won’t take him inside unless he’s truly ready for that and can be calm, under control, and paying enough attention to learn anything.

Public access laws in my state don’t cover teams in training, so the clinic is not legally obligated to let me in with him to train, but I’ve been going there for many years. Thus, the staff are used to seeing me with a service dog, so I don’t think they’ll object.

If we do go inside, we’ll practice working walk, go to mat (I’m bringing one of his mats with us), and whatever else we can manage. I’ll probably use the waiting room and the bathroom. If he really blows me away, I might ask to go up and down the hall or into an exam room, for just a moment. All in all, we will probably be inside for only a few minutes.

Still, it will be a huge accomplishment if I’m able to even bring him inside. Heck, it’ll be an accomplishment if he can pay attention to me in the parking lot! He might be so distracted that I just have to click and treat for not pulling on leash or acknowledgement of my existence.

Tonight, in preparation, I dug out my “In Training” patches to put on his harness, as well as one of the “Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patches. It’s been almost a decade since those “In Training” patches were used! Whether they see the light of day tomorrow depends on how we do in the parking lot.

I felt a ripple of excitement and pride seeing those white crescent patches, with the neat black lettering, “In Training,” velcroed in place on the harness.

A lot of people focus on when the patches come off — when the dog goes from SDiT to SD. However, there’s a huge step that comes before: arriving at SDiT in the first place.

My big fear is that he has not generalized toilet training — that he doesn’t know the concept of “inside” applies to buildings other than our house — but he won’t learn that without exposure and practice. You can bet I will be extra, extra vigilant about any movement that might potentially lead to a lifted leg or a squat! Please, please, please don’t let him pee on the waiting room rug. (That’s one reason I might just head directly for the bathroom.)

Whether or not he actually enters the building, our public access work is finally beginning! Please cross your fingers and paws for us!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I remember my first official SDiT outing, it was fun! I earned a lot of hot dogs!), and Barnum (The car? We’re going in the car? Oh goody-goody-goody-goody!)

P.S. I’ll try to get some pictures or video of our adventure, if possible.

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