Archive for the 'Puppy Pictures' Category

Barnum is 3! (in Hedgehog Years)

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

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

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

newborn puppy's head held in hand

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

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

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

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

Do you want the hedgehog?


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

Barnum chases hedgehog.


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

Barnum grabs hedgehog.


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

Chomp, chomp, chomp….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab hedgehog and SHAKE.

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

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

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

Yes! We have FLUFF!

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

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

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

My work here is done.

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

– Sharon and Barnum, SD and Birthday Boy

Good, Clean Fun: Compulsion-Free Bath

I’ve written before about how I train my dogs to enjoy baths. I used treats, including “bobbing for biscuits” to make baths more enjoyable. With training, both Jersey and Gadget were accustomed to get in the shower with me and even to help with the rinsing aspect of the job by lying down in the water.

They both had frequent baths because any time we went somewhere that involved a chemical exposure — to a store, a doctor’s appointment, or anywhere we were around people — it was necessary for me to shower and change my clothes when I got home, and to bathe my dog, as well. The chemical residues in their hair was no more tolerable for me than those on my own skin, hair, or clothing.

However, I must admit that Jersey and Gadget didn’t so much enjoy baths as put up with them. They enjoyed the treats that I used to make bath time more pleasant, but they still didn’t relish the overall experience. And while there was no struggle and physical force involved, there was an element of psychological compulsion. They were not offering behaviors; they were complying with cues because they knew there really was no other option.

Until today, I thought that bathing Barnum was always going to be more difficult and unpleasant than training Jersey or Gadget. Barnum is not one to submit just because I am the human and I say so. He had several baths when he was a little puppy, and they were far from fun and relaxing for anyone involved. The problem was that we did not have the opportunity to build up slowly and positively to happy bath experiences.

Barnum had been shampooed repeatedly, and recently, with scented dog shampoo before we brought him home. The fragrance chemicals made me very sick, so we had to wash him often. Further, because I was doing my best to “super-socialize” him in his first 16 weeks of life, he went to a lot of smelly places (including puppy kindergarten) that required post-adventure scrub-downs.

Barnum After His First Bath, First Night Home

Barnum recovers from his first bath after his looong trip.

[Photo description: Barnum as a tiny puppy, at eight-and-a-half weeks old, still damp from his first bath. He sits at the entrance to his crate, looking a little dazed. He is black with ringlets of fur, with the characteristic big paws and slightly cloudy eyes of a young puppy. Sharon’s hand is in front of his mouth, feeding him a morsel. Her hand is almost as big as his head!]

It took months of bathing to get the scented shampoo out of his coat. In fact, it was not until we gave him his first severe haircut and cut off all the hair that had absorbed the scented stuff that I could put my face to his without sore throats, headaches, coughing, and my face turning beet-red.

Inevitably, these baths were stressful affairs. I was being made sick by the increased offgassing of the fumes when his hair got wet. I had to wear gloves and a carbon filter mask during the process, and we tried to make it as quick as possible. I tried to bribe and/or sooth him with treats, but he was having none of it. He didn’t want cheese or hot dogs or broccoli, he wanted out. Barnum was completely pissed off about being bathed against his will, and he kicked, flailed, scratched, and shrieked the whole time.

So, that was the background I had to work with to train Barnum that baths were actually terrific fun. I doubted I’d ever succeed. Between the numerous negative experiences I had to counteract and the fact that we didn’t get a lot of bathing practice, I thought we were at a severe disadvantage.

I was wrong. The fact that Barnum had few baths while I’ve been training him to enjoy being in the tub has meant that I wasn’t working against myself.

I mentioned in one of my “toilet training” posts that I started with tossing treats into the tub whenever Barnum followed me into the bathroom. The first unexpected hurdle was, well, literally a hurdle: Barnum couldn’t figure out how to jump in the tub.

He used to know how to jump in the tub, so I think it was more of a “mental block” than anything — an approach/avoidance conflict. He wanted the treats in the tub, but he was anxious about being in the tub. I spent a couple of weeks — many, many sessions — simply shaping him to jump in the tub: one paw on, two paws on, hind foot raised, etc. Finally, he learned to jump in the tub, and I clicked/treated for jumping in and out, attaching the cues to the behaviors as we went.

I faded the c/t from jumping out pretty quickly and focused on c/t for being in the tub. I treated it mostly like the shaping exercise for “Go to Mat” in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. I lured the beginning of a sit, and from there, shaped for sitting and then lying down. Over time I shaped for longer periods of lying down and for relaxed body posture while lying down.

Sometimes, instead of clicking (operant conditioning), I used classical conditioning — just tossing treats between his paws while he was lying down so he could stay relaxed and simply associate being in the tub with happy things. Eventually, whenever I went into that bathroom, he’d jump in the tub and wait to be clicked. Soon, he began offering behaviors: Being in the tub not good enough? What if I sit? What if I down?

Once he was truly relaxed lying in the tub for extended periods, I started adding elements that he’d associate with baths, such as the ventilation fan being on, grabbing the hose (hand-held shower), opening and shutting the drain, rubbing him all over with my hand (but no soap or water) to mimic being shampooed, and moving the shower head over his body (without the water turned on).

These environmental cues were mostly visual, auditory, or tactile — my body position as I leaned over him to rub him; the sound of the metal shower hose clanging against the fiberglass tub, etc. I clicked for staying in position and staying relaxed, and also continued to toss treats without clicking just to add classical conditioning to the mix. Also, sometimes it was too hard to perform this physically exhausting maneuvers and also time my clicks properly, so it was easier just to toss treats or use a verbal marker.

Finally, I started adding water. The way I’d want to add water — and the way I’d suggest to anyone else — is to let a tiny dribble into the tub of lukewarm water. Unfortunately, my faucet is very strange. It’s a knob, and you adjust the temperature by how far you turn it (turn it a little, and the water is cold; turn it all the way, and it’s scorching). But, unless you want very cold water, there is no way to start with a trickle, then work up to a stream, then full-blast. Since ice-cold water can be quite aversive, this was a challenge to train.

So, I would turn the knob just enough for the sound of water to start, and turn it off again before any water actually hit the tub. Or sometimes, after it was off, a dribble would come in. It took several sessions for Barnum to stay truly relaxed at the sound of the water starting.

Eventually, I was able to get water going in the hose and spray it at the drain, so it wasn’t hitting him, and he was okay with that. But we had not yet gotten to the point where he would stay, relaxed in the tub, lying down, beyond his front paws getting wet. I thought we still had a long way to go.

This is a dog who refuses to walk through puddles. He likes to drink water from the garden hose, and he will run into the pond and moving streams, but he really does not like to get his feet wet unless it’s part of some fun activity. Even on scorching-hot days, he refuses to wade in the kiddie pool in the yard.

Then, a few days ago, Betsy and I were tick-checking Barnum, and we saw something we thought might be a flea running through his hair. We didn’t find any evidence of flea bites or flea dirt, but we decided we better bathe him, just to be on the safe side. Also, he really needed a bath.

I got together the treats and went and sat in the bathroom. Even though I’d tried so hard to simulate all the “forerunners to bath” cues in our training — getting the dog shampoo, turning on the fan, taking off my pants, etc., Barnum knew it was bath time! I was surprised. He is so sensitive to environmental cues; he’s really quite a genius at it.

But I just stayed calm and ignored him, and eventually he decided, “Hey, maybe this is a training session!” So he hopped into the tub! I said the cue while he was in the air, clicked and treated when he was in the tub, and we did a few more cued “in-and-outs.”

He sat, he downed, I kept c/t (I actually was using a verbal marker — not enough hands to hold a clicker) for the things we usually did. I stoppered the tub, I turned on the water, pointing the spray away from him. He stayed in the tub!

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll just see how far I can take this until Betsy gets here to help.”

I started spraying his lower legs, figuring that would be less likely to trigger a jump out of the tub than if I went for his back or butt or head. He stayed in the tub, eagerly participating in this “training session.” Soon, I had all of his legs, including feet, sprayed down and was moving up to his belly.

I yelled for Betsy and she came in. “He doesn’t know it’s a bath!” I told her. “He thinks this is a training session! Don’t let on that it’s a bath!”

We did the entire bath without any holding, demanding, gripping, or body blocking! He was smiling and enjoying himself. It was completely unlike any other dog bathing experience I’ve had. There were two times he decided the training session was going in a way he didn’t like, and he jumped out (soaking the floor). We just waited.

He paced and dithered. He wanted to keep getting the treats! He wanted the training to continue, but now the tub was half-full of water. Yet, training won out, and he — on his own — jumped back into the water. This happened twice! I did not touch him or cue him until he had already decided he wanted back in.

It was the fastest bath we’ve ever done! The most remarkable part of it, for me, was observing his body language. His tail was up and sometimes gently wagging. His head was up. His mouth was relaxed and smiley. His eyes were sparkling. He did not have that slumped, defeated look I have come to associate with any dog in a tub. He actually started playing in the water near the end — scratching at the tub drain (which I discouraged) and bobbing for treats, sticking his nose under the stream of water.

One of the youtube channels I subscribe to is MultiAnimalCrackers. She clicker trains her own dogs, horses, donkeys, and other animals. She says all the animals are trained “at liberty,” which means that they offer behaviors willingly; they are never forced to do a behavior they don’t want to. Bathing Barnum “at liberty,” though it did mean a soaking-wet floor from the two times he jumped out and we had to wait for him to decide to jump back in, was a remarkable experience.

I’ll post a photo essay separately of Barnum in the bathtub, just for kicks.

It’s only been a decade. I think I’m starting to get this clicker training thing now.

Give me liberty, or and give me bath!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (mooo!), and Barnum, sparkling clean SDiT

P.S. I am a finalist in today’s 5 Minute Fiction challenge again. I told you I was addicted! It’s a great group of finalist stories this time. I like them all. Please read, enjoy, and vote! (Preferably for me, but whichever one you like best, really.)

Gotcha Day: One-Year Anniversary!

It’s our one-year Gotcha Day anniversary, February 27!

One year ago, tonight, Betsy flew home with Barnum. He was so little, he was smaller than a cat, and fit in a carrier under the seat in front of Betsy on the plane. He had piddle pads in his carrier, and after Betsy used all but the last one, he peed on it. Of course, he arrived at the airport with vomit on his little chin and paws, because he’d never ridden in a car before.

But he was still happy. Betsy and he fell in love instantly, and she let him kiss her with his vomity face, which she would never do now!

He was just an itsy-bitsy tiny little ball of fluff! As I described in the post about how he got his name, he was afraid of the snow. He climbed Betsy to avoid touching the cold ground.

Barnum on Betsy's Shoulder

His first night home, Barnum peeks over Mount Betsy

Now he is 80 pounds, he snores loudly when he sleeps, he jumps through four-foot snow drifts and sits outside in 10-degree weather on a hill of snow that almost reaches the roof of the house, just enjoying the “crisp” air, and periodically eating and snorkeling through the snow.

Barnum, King of the Hill, surveys his domain from atop his snowy peak

Winter rules!

[Photo description: Barnum sits atop an enormous mound of snow, several feet high, next to the house. He is level with the windows of the house. He wears his orange vest, and his beard is white with snow.]

Barnum's head and shoulder's, very shaggy, his snout totally white with snow, his head cocked to the side in a very adorable, questioning way

Are you seriously expecting me to go inside now?

He comes in with a frozen beard, and a frosted rump, and then he wants to go out again.

A year ago tonight, we could carry him around like a little sack of flour — a very wiggly, adorable sack of flour that constantly tried to bite and lick our hands and faces.

Baby Barnum Chews Sharon's Finger

"Mmm, Mom's finger tastes just like it did a minute ago. Yup, fingery."

[Photo description: Little puppy Barnum, black, very fuzzy, with big toes, and a white blaze on his chest. He is lying on his back, leaning forward to grab Sharon’s index finger in his mouth. The only part of Sharon visible is her hand, but from the angle of Barnum’s eyes, he appears to be looking at Sharon’s face.]

The first thing we had to do, once we brought him inside, was give him a bath. He objected wholeheartedly. He cried, as if he were being tortured. Yes, we felt horrible, but he reeked of fragrance, which was making me sick, so there was no other option.

Puppy Barnum's first post-bath pic

Aw, widdle puppy still damp from his firwst bath. (Not sure if he likes this new place.)

[Photo description: Eight-and-a-half week-old black puppy, nine pounds, curly hair, eyes still a little milky blue, damp from his first bath, with very big paws. He’s on the front in front of his crate, and Sharon’s hand is in front of his mouth, offering him a treat. Her hand looks almost as big as Barnum’s head! Barnum looks a little shell-shocked.]

I was planning on doing a much bigger deal celebratory blog and day. I was going to bake him a “Gotcha Day” doggy cake and more, but I’ve been wiped out. I spent most of today and yesterday sleeping, and the last few days resting.

Also, Barnum doesn’t seem to realize that it’s our anniversary, because he’s decided to hit a learning dip/plateau these last few days, when of course, I want to feel like we are flying high.

You’d think he could choose a more convenient time to organize and store everything he’s been learning into his long-term memory. But, no. That’s dogs for you.

It’s as if he’s not even paying attention to the Gregorian calendar and how my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem correlate to how long he can hold a sit-stay now that it’s 365 days since he arrived at my home.

(I’m making fun of myself, in case that’s not clear.)

In all seriousness, I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I’d like on playing and training with him, not just because I’ve been kind of flattened, but because I’ve been putting a lot of energy, instead, into mobility repair/upgrade so that we can achieve our training goals and he can have the life he deserves:

  • First priority, trying to get my outdoor powerchair repaired. (Since it is for outdoor use, and Medicare covers my indoor chair, I can’t go through a vendor and get it repaired the standard way.) I got it working for about a week, and then it died again.
  • Second priority, get a platform lift installed my van, which will always work with any type of chair, to replace the crane lift, which doesn’t work with some of my chairs and has become too hard for my PCAs and I to use.
  • Third priority, find used free or cheap batteries for my backup indoor chair (which is also the one I can use with my current van lift and take inside stores and clinics, but the batteries can’t hold a charge, at all).

All of this is so that I can take Barnum on walks again, and also so I can take him into public spaces more, like stores and libraries and such, so we can train behaviors in new environments and work on public access skills.

We really, really, really need to get out more. The combination of constant, massive snow and ice storms, and the unreliability of my powerchair has not been good for his exercise and energy needs, and has seriously hindered my training goals.

(If you’d like to help, check out my Why the “Donation” Button? page. Thank you!)

I had wanted this Gotcha Day post to encapsulate all sorts of changes, big and small, that have occurred over the past year, but I haven’t been equal to the task. I actually did start to write a post, many months ago, of all our achievements, big and small. I was going to make that a regular feature of the blog. But that one post, which I started when Barnum was about five months old, got so long, I never finished it! I kept adding to it. If I tried to do one now (with him fourteen months old), it would be a  book!

However, maybe I can try to get out some more short, triumphal “achievement posts,” perhaps by doing a “Gotcha Month” celebration. Then, I will feel less pressure to pack everything into one post.

Instead of a big laundry list of changes, here is just one example of how much has changed within one year: Bathing.

Tonight, when I went to the bathroom, Barnum followed me in. (I wrote in a previous post about how I like to take “toilet training” opportunities.) On his own, just for fun, Barnum decided to jump into the bathtub.

Here’s what we worked on, on the spur of the moment. We started with the following already-established behaviors:

  • Sit in tub, on cue;
  • Down in tub, on cue;
  • Default remain in tub until released;
  • “In the tub” and “Out of the tub” cues;
  • Default down and stay in tub (staying comfortably relaxed in a down in the tub);
  • Staying relaxed in a down while water dribbles in;
  • Staying relaxed in a down while I move the sprayer/hose (with no water coming out) around over him and let it clang and jangle against the sides of the stall;
  • Staying relaxed in a down while I rub him all over, as if I were shampooing him;
  • Staying relaxed in a down while I dribble water on him from the sprayer/shower hose.

Then we added in these new elements:

  • Staying relaxed in a down with water almost to his elbows;
  • Staying relaxed in a down with water on more of a steady stream (but just for a few moments);
  • Staying relaxed in a down with water switching back and forth between spigot and sprayers (but not really getting him wet with sprayer, just keeping relaxed with the sounds and vibrations associated with the change from one to the other);
  • “Bobbing for Kibble” — standing or in a down, as a way to play in the water and also get more comfortable with getting schnoz wet and learning not to snork in water through his nose accidentally;
  • Standing still to be toweled off in the tub (he’s the first dog I’ve ever had who doesn’t like being toweled off!);
  • Giving the cued paw for drying while in the tub;
  • Gentle discouragement/distraction to keep him from playing “scratch at the drain, like I’m trying to dig through the tub” game;
  • Practice other cued behaviors in tub (Watch Me, Touch, Chin-in-Palm);
  • “Tub Zen” — learning “leave it” when applied to tub means, “No, don’t jump back in the tub, please! We are done playing in the tub!”

That last one is a lovely “problem” to have, isn’t it? Needing to train him not to keep jumping in the tub? I think it’s better than cake.

This is the dog who, a few months ago, I had to painstakingly shape, for many sessions over a few weeks, how to jump in the tub. For some reason, he had a mental block about it. He would end up with three paws balanced on the tub edge, teetering, with his face almost touching the tub floor, looking down at the treats that had landed in there, whining because he wanted to get to them, but either too anxious or too uncertain to know how to take the final leap.

Now, he jumps in there even when there is no hint of a treat around. I love the power of shaping!

Happy Gotcha Day to us!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and one-year-resident of New England

LTD – Possession

This is the second post in my series on Sue Ailsby’s “Leading the Dance protocol for bonding with your dog and preventing or fixing behavior issues.

Today’s focus is Number Five — “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Here are the instructions:

At least once a day, handle the dog. Repeat the words, “These are my ears! This is my paw! This is my muzzle! This is my tail!” as you handle him. If he fusses, go slower. It’s important that the dog has a positive experience – that he comes to see that you will be handling him and it’s of no concern to him. When he’s completely relaxed and accepts your handling, say OK and release him.

Like “Sing a Song,” in my previous post, this is a fun exercise. And it gets funnier when I actually do it.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on handling Barnum since he arrived, which has sometimes been quite work-intensive. We are still not done with handling exercises, especially where veterinarians are concerned. Barnum does not like vets. Yet.

HUGS from Sharon

I practice the "vet hold" on four-and-a-half month-old Barnum. We call this behavior, "Hugs!"

But with other people, who do not “smell like vet,” Barnum’s very good. I’ve even had strangers do the “hugs” (restraint) hold on him or pick him up in the air. (This must be done by a strong person, since Barnum weighs around 80 pounds!)

With me, and other people he knows and trusts, he enjoys handling immensely, though he’s not as fond of having his ears rubbed as Gadget was, which is too bad because Barnum’s ears are so soft and silky.

We generally do handling on the floor, because it’s easiest, and because Barnum is delighted when I get down on his level and afford him the opportunity to give my face a thorough washing. I know eventually I need to get him used to being up on tables and having me handle him from above. For now, however, we’re focusing on him being relaxed and happy to be handled, including withstanding all manner of grooming.

I’ve added grooming to our LTD protocol. It makes sense to follow up a “Possession” session with a round of grooming. Raking out mats, de-gunking his eyes and ears (he has the hairiest ears ever!), and trimming the fur between his toes (which mats terribly easily), are some of the most important areas.

Our handling “last frontier” — after relaxation with vets — is teaching Barnum to be comfortable with my fingers in his mouth. It’s not an issue of him being dangerous or biting — on the contrary, he wants nothing more than to quickly spit out any fingers that find their way in, accompanied by a facial expression I translate as “Ewwww.” My goal is greater ease in removing foreign objects he has decided not to give up (I know, that’s another training area we need to firm up), and allowing me to brush his teeth (as opposed to him treating the toothbrush like a chew toy) and give him medicine.

This last has become especially important since two days ago, when — being The Dog from Mars — Barnum decided he doesn’t like pill pockets. I have never before heard of a dog (or cat) who didn’t love any Greenies product, especially Pill Pockets. But, there it is, Mr. Picky keeps trying to outdo himself in the “I can live without food, thank you” department of dog weirdness.

He doesn’t even eat around the pill, as some dogs will do — spitting out the medicine and eating the treat. Even if I give him a fresh, empty Pill Pocket, he spits it out (as if it were a finger)! One day Pill Pockets were a tasty treat, the next day — feh!

So, I have to shove the pill to the back of his throat and hold his muzzle closed while I stroke his neck. I think he’d be more comfortable with me taking his temperature (which is done at the other end of the dog).

Fortunately, in the area of tolerance for pressure or discomfort, he has lived up to his breeder’s observations and temperament tests — very mellow. This is important because of his coat and how it must be groomed.

You see, Bouviers are hypoallergenic and don’t shed; their thick outer coat keeps loose hair from their undercoat trapped beneath. This means that to prevent mats, you have to get underneath to brush out the loose hair. It’s a lot more work than with a dog with a “normal” coat. With Jersey, brushing her out once a week was enough. With Gadget, twice a week.

With Barnum, if I don’t brush him at least every other day (now that he has his long, winter ‘do), he gets so itchy that he rubs up against the chain link fence when he goes out! He has the curliest, wiriest, thickest coat I’ve ever had to wrangle. Wrangling requires hauling undercoat rakes and mat-breakers through his fur, pulling or breaking off the dead hair. Some dogs don’t like this kind of intensive brushing but Barnum enjoys the attention and isn’t bothered by the tugging.

In the summer, primarily to make tick checking easier, as well as to reduce grooming work and to provide him relief from the heat, Betsy and I clip Barnum down. These “before” and “after” pictures show the kind of serious implements needed to groom a bouvier. . . .

Haircut "Before" Picture

Even when he still had his puppy coat, serious grooming hardware was required!

(No! Of course we don’t use hedge clippers on the dog! This was a joke. Never, ever use hedge clippers to groom your dog! Very dangerous! Use appropriate dog-grooming tools.)

Haircut "after" picture

Voila! The finished product! Hard to believe we're not professionals, huh? What do you mean, "Scrawny and uneven"?

Back to LTD’s “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” The first night I was performing this little ritual, Betsy walked in on me.

There I sat on the floor, groping Barnum, whose tail was wagging happily. “This is my right foot!” I proclaimed, as I held up Barnum’s right forepaw. “I own this right foot!”

Then I moved on to his ear. “This is my right ear! I own this right ear!”

Betsy looked at me as if my cheese had slipped off my cracker. “Why are you saying those are your ears?” She asked.

“It’s part of Leading the Dance,” I said, and continued. “This is my right elbow!” I grasped Barnum’s elbow and talked in a silly voice to him, gently moving his elbow as I chanted. “I own this right elbow! I can do anything I want with this elbow!”

Because she had asked, I tried to give Betsy an explanation of why this exercise is part of “Leading the Dance.” I was vague, though, because while I knew intuitively why it was useful, I had a hard time articulating it. In some ways, it reminds me of my days as a self-defense instructor.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’ll explain.

It seems to me that there are two important aspects to this “Possession” exercise. One is physical, the other, mental.

The physical, hands-on part ensures that you handle your dog all over, at least once a day. This helps build trust and bonding by making the dog comfortable and happy being handled. That’s pretty straightforward.

The mental part is saying, “This is my ear! This is my muzzle!” etc. It is not a mental exercise for the dog, but for the human. These are a form of “affirmations” — declaring something to be true in order to make it true. Affirmations, at their best, can use your intentional thoughts to create or change an internal or external reality. Thus, they have the potential to be incredibly powerful and empowering, even transformative.[1]

I experienced this transformative power when I was in college (twenty-something years ago), when I took a self-defense course. Near the beginning of the course, we were learning about assertiveness. Part of this involved practice in walking and talking like a person who was aware, in control, and centered. In other words, someone less likely to be perceived as an easy victim.

The instructor led us through three types of visualizations. The first two exercises — focusing on my breath or envisioning a powerful light emanating from my center of gravity — didn’t work for me. The last suggestion was to come up with a word or phrase that made us feel strong and centered — an affirmation, in other words — and repeat it (silently) to ourselves.

First we practiced them, standing still, eyes closed. Then we walked around, continuing our focus.

Like most (all?) young women, by that time I had experienced a fair amount of sexual harassment. Examples included stalking, a rape threat from a (former) boyfriend, being chased by a stranger on the street, and other words and actions by men (and a small number of women) that created a sense that my body was not my own.

However, the main reason I took the class — the greatest cause of my feeling of vulnerability — was that, as one of the few out queers on campus, I’d experienced quite a bit of gay bashing. This ranged from verbal assaults, such as being called a “lezzy” (among many other things) and having a science professor tell me I was a “genetic aberration,” to physical ones, including having rocks thrown at me and a piece of cement hurled through my window.

Therefore, I did not feel safe walking around school or town. Further, some part of me believed that I did not have as much right as anyone else to be who I was or do what I wanted. Though I would have vociferously denied it if asked directly, the message had sunk in that anywhere I went in public, I was asking for abuse, simply by my presence.

I tried on a lot of the positive affirmations suggested by the self-defense instructor, such as, “I am safe,” or “I am at home in my body,” or “I can take care of myself.” None got to the kernel for me. They left me feeling weaker.

I thought about how I wanted to feel when I walked on campus or in the city, how I wanted to feel that I owned public space like anyone else. What popped into my head was, “My fucking street. My fucking sidewalk. My fucking world.” Yeah, I was a little different.

Our homework was to practice our chosen method for the next week as we moved between classes or walked home from a party at night or rode the subway. My posture, my attitude, the way I walked, all changed — forever. I carried with me into my future the knowledge that I had just as much right to be wherever I was as anyone else — definitely a blessing when I became disabled a few years later.

I continued to study various martial arts and became a self-defense teacher, myself. I taught these same visualizations and affirmations to my students (though I did not offer my “affirmation” as a suggestion to the students). It was a joy to witness each student changing how they held themselves as they simply walked in a circle in our classroom, focused on their breath or chosen words or imagery.

So what does this have to do with dog training?

In my opinion, when handling your dog — if you have a good and safe relationship with your dog, full of mutual love, trust, and respect, you can more fully embody the belief that no part of your dog’s body is off-limits to you. You are letting him — and more importantly, yourself — know that you can approach him for pilling, nail-trimming, or brushing of teeth or coat, with quiet, loving assurance.[2]

Dogs respond to this. Canine interaction is much more about body language, non-spoken cues, than it is about vocalizing. They will pick up on our calm, benevolent intentionality.

Humans, on the other hand, tend to be blatherers (of which I am a shining example!). Therefore, giving us something to say while we do this exercise makes us more comfortable. Indeed, how can we help but feel a little silly saying, “This is my muzzle!” as we stroke our dog’s nose? This silliness comes through in our tone and pitch and the way we touch our dogs, creating a fun experience for them, too.

Practicing “whole dog body” possession can sound and look even funnier still. For one thing, Betsy and I name Barnum’s body parts as we handle them — we’ve been doing this for months based on a tip from a sister SDiT trainer. This has helped Barnum a lot with confidence in being handled, particularly by veterinarians and vet techs, because he knows what part is going to be manipulated — or that he can offer — ahead of time.

This planned-in silliness, combined with my tendencies for perfectionism and improvisation, leads to some rather odd pronouncements. To whit, Betsy not only witnessed me saying, “This is my left hock! I own this left hock!” and “I own this tail! I can do anything I want to with this tail!” But, also, “This is my left England!”

You don’t know that one? Betsy does.

When Gadget had an episode of weakness that might have been related to heart damage from chemotherapy, the vet told me I should monitor his pulse. When I taught Betsy how to take Gadget’s pulse, I showed her where to put her fingers: “the inguinal area,” or inner thigh.

What I didn’t realize until many months later was that Betsy thought I’d said, “the Englandal area.” Eventually we realized we were saying different words, and it became a joke. We now refer to Barnum’s inner thighs as “England.” (I won’t tell you which parts are assigned to other nations in the European Union.) Like most relaxed, trusting dogs, Barnum enjoys having “England” rubbed, so I make sure to do that.

Barnum Rolling in the Grass (7 months)

Barnum shows off his appreciation of the UK.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? . . . After all, I’m required to handle the whole dog.

I worked my way around his underside — armpits (scratch, scratch), ribs and belly (rub, rub) and then. . . . “This is my penis!” I said.

Betsy just shook her head. “That’s disturbing,” she said.

Being a dog, however, Barnum didn’t care. Just like he doesn’t care when I trim the hair in that area that’s matted with urine. After all, it’s not like I’m up at his mouth, trying to rub his gums with my fingers or get him to eat a (disgusting) Pill Pocket. Perhaps I should tell him to just lie back and think of England.

-Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget

Your comments are welcome, as always!


[1.] Caution! Affirmations have their limits. Most of the time, when I read or hear about the use of affirmations, it is in the context of our American obsession with the idea that we can control our lives by “thinking positive thoughts.” This form of New Age thinking has been a scourge on the disability community.

Specifically, it is very popular for  people (usually those who are not seriously or chronically ill or disabled) to tell others who are seriously or chronically ill or disabled to use affirmations to “heal” or cure ourselves. Such suggestions are intrusive, ridiculous (because if affirmations worked to cure all serious illness, nobody would be chronically or terminally ill, would they?), and at their root, victim-blaming (because they imply that we do have control over our bodies, so if we fail to recover from injury or illness, it is our fault). I drew an extremely popular cartoon on this topic, in fact.

Affirmations are empowering when used to change one’s perspective or other circumstances that one can control. They are disempowering when proposed as solutions for circumstances one cannot control, such as curing one’s disability. Back to post.

[2.] Please note that this is only true if you do actually have a mutually safe, trusting relationship. The full “Possession” instructions from LTD include this warning: “If your dog won’t allow you to handle him like this without getting angry or getting away, DO NOT do this exercise. Do the rest of the exercises and use the clicker to teach the dog to allow this handling later.” Back to post.

After and Pryor: How Barnum Got His Name

Today is Barnum’s first birthday. He was born in the early morning hours of December 30, 2009. It seems an appropriate time to tell you how he got his name (and didn’t get the name I’d had in mind). I hope to put up a photo essay soon, too, with never-before-seen Baby Barnum pics. Here’s a preview.

Barnum on snow: "What's it all mean?"

What a character! Barnum during his first week home.

Before Barnum arrived, I thought I might know his name, but I didn’t. In fact, almost everything I expected (even though I convinced myself I had no expectations) was wrong. A lot of that came as a shock and a terrible struggle, but any dog will teach you a great deal if you let him.

A dog who defies all expectation and forces you to stretch and grow will teach you even more. Barnum has been, and continues to be, an amazing teacher!

While I loved Barnum from the first moment, was beguiled and infatuated, I wasn’t ready to blog about him until I’d fallen in love with him. By which I mean that I’d come to accept him, had begun to forgive myself for my mistakes in raising him, and had grown to find even his aggravating traits endearing. That took about two months, when he was about four months’ old. From then on (from his first moment here, really), I’ve grown to love him more every day. And suddenly, in the last week or two, lots of stuff is starting to “gel.” We are really communicating and enjoying each other, and we are burning through the Training Levels. (Really, I’ll post the updates and videos. I will.)

However, blogging is supposed to be a catalog of the day-to-day, the minutia of everyday life. From a blogging perspective, I’ve put myself in a pickle because I was both too exhausted and too busy to blog in Barnum’s first weeks here, and I was also not emotionally ready. However, the longer you know and love someone, the harder it is to remember the details of early infatuation! I have a lot of drafts that I’ll hopefully use to reconstruct our first few months together. But first . . .

What’s in a name?

I had no idea what I would name my puppy before he arrived. I was excited at the prospect because I’d never had the opportunity to name a dog before. My cats, Ferdinand and Velour, yes. My rabbits, mice, even fish, yes. But my three previous dogs were adults (two rescues and one rehome) who’d arrived with names they already knew, and I hadn’t the heart to add to their upheaval.

This time I had a clean slate. As soon as I’d decided on the litter and sex of the pup, friends, family, and readers wanted to know, “What will you name him?”

Many offered suggestions. I said I wanted to wait and see what suited him.

I didn’t tell most of them that I have rigid rules about naming my animals. But now the deed is done, so here’s my personal list of dos and don’ts.  (I don’t say this is the right path for everyone; just for me.)

  • Names must not be common human names. Particularly not names of people I know. For example, I know dogs and cats named Maggie, Ruth, Mary, and Laura, and I also know multiple people with these names. Who needs that kind of confusion? I forget the names of people in my life (including Betsy!) on a frequent basis. (I have “tip-of-the-tongue syndrome” as part of my cognitive impairment, and it occurs even with family members.) I also just don’t like human-sounding names for dogs or cats. Even if I don’t know someone named Alice, if I’m talking to someone and they say, “Alice just walked into the room,” I’m going to think they mean a human, and I’ll rack my brain to think of who that is, feeling increasingly embarrassed that I’m about to admit I forgot their best friend’s or child’s or partner’s name, before they continue, “Can you hear her tags jingling?” (Ohhh, that Alice. . . .)
  • I strive for a name that is as unique as my pup. Even a name that might otherwise be apt is O-U-T if I think I will run into another at the park or online. An excellent example is “Bear,” which is probably the most common Bouvier name there is, since they have such an ursine look about them. (And on more than one occasion, some of them quite hilarious, people thought my first bouv, Jersey, was a bear!) Indeed, Barnum did look remarkably like a Teddy bear when he arrived, but I already know dogs named Teddy and Bear.
  • Therefore, sadly, all Harry Potter names were lost to me. Yes, I am an HP fanatic; I got hooked when I listened to the first three books, and it’s been a passionate (though one-sided) love affair ever since. “Sirius Black” would have been an obvious choice for a big, shaggy, black dog. In fact, thirty years ago I read a science fiction book about an alien dog from Sirius (the Dog Star) and always thought I’d like to name a future dog “Sirius.” No longer. I have seen so many “Sirius Black”s on PetFinder, for instance. Bill Cosby owns a famous PBGV named Harry Potter that was shortlisted for Best in Show at Westminster a couple of years back. The service dog list I’m on already has a Hermione, an Ollivander, and probably several other HP dog names I’m forgetting. Alas!
  • It must fit something about the dog’s nature — personality, appearance, soul. Which is why I don’t like to choose a name until we’ve become acquainted.

All these deeply held beliefs were in place when, two weeks before the pup’s arrival date, I almost tossed them out the window. This was precipitated by my engaging in an immensely powerful, moving, and absorbing activity, something I almost never do:

I read a book.

(Note: I would like to paste in here a photo of me lying in bed, blissfully absorbed in a book, but we have no photos of me reading a book, which I’ll explain, below.)

Due both to my multiple chemical sensitivity and my cognitive disabilities, I usually listen to audio books only. When I do read a paper book, it needs to fit within these parameters:

  1. It’s a really old book that I own which therefore has no chemical smells (such as fragrance) or mustiness (mold) in the pages, OR it’s a new book which has not picked up smoke, fragrance, etc., from previous owners, but it has offgased long enough to not reek of ink, glue, paper, and other book materials.
  2. It’s “easy reading” — almost always fiction — such as a mystery. Thus, it doesn’t matter if I forget the characters, the plot, or other key components. I can just skate along (or rewind), and usually the relevant points become clear with repetition. In fact, sometimes I read — and enjoy! — a novel and then part-way through, I think, “Huh, this seems familiar. Have I read this before?” Sometimes the surprise ending gives it away. This is one of the gifts of brain injury.
  3. If the book does not fit into category 2, it must be a book I have read over and over in the past, so that my spotty memory is not an issue, because I am so familiar with its contents that it doesn’t matter if I forget a lot of it, again.

However, the book I read in February was a nonfiction, brand-new library book. I literally cannot remember the last time I read a library book. I don’t normally even handle a library book without using gloves or a tissue and covering my nose and mouth. (My partner reads library books, and sometimes I need to get to something underneath them, like the toilet paper. Ahem.)

I had been hankering after This Particular Book since before it came out. How come “before”? Because I’m on the author’s mailing list and was offered a reduced rate, advance, autographed copy, which I wanted so bad.

But, I did not buckle. I have been trying to be responsible. Gadget’s chemotherapy and my own medical bills the previous year were astronomical. The impending puppy came with a big price tag — not just the pup himself, but the new equipment, the air fare, and the powerchair I got to be able to walk him distances or in winter. (My other powerchair — the one that’s covered by Medicare — is only of use for getting around inside my home.)

Therefore, I told myself, “No books! No DVDs!” The author is a best seller. I was sure it would come out in audio eventually. (I’m still hoping it will.)

Then, while I was searching my online library catalog for a couple of books I thought might interest Betsy, I stumbled across The Book, right there, naked and inviting.

“Well,” I thought. “It just came out, so it must be brand new. If it’s new, maybe it hasn’t absorbed any patron’s cigarette smoke or perfume or fabric softener. Maybe it hasn’t crossed the desk of that certain despicable library that ‘sanitizes’ all books with fragranced, anti-bacterial baby wipes. And maybe, sitting on the shelves for a couple of weeks, it’s also had a chance to offgas just a little of that ‘new book smell.’ It’s worth a shot.”

The day came when my personal care assistant (PCA) picked up the one video and three books I’d requested. The video and the two books for Betsy, on top, all smelled like fragrance. Ack! Then, I picked up The Coveted Book. It had not been previously checked out! No smell! Well, okay, there was some smell — the smell of chemicals in new ink, glue, paper, binding, etc., but it was not prohibitively smelly. I had to use oxygen while reading, and the concentration gave me a migraine, but it was so, so worth it.

I should probably tell you the title, huh?

It is Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor. The subtitle is, “Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals.”

Book Cover for Reaching the Animal Mind

It's a pretty cover, but what's inside is so much more exciting

Unless you share a similar fanaticism with this topic, or you know me very intimately, you’re likely completely underwhelmed. I already have encouraged everyone I know to read Karen Pryor’s book that started the clicker revolution, Don’t Shoot the Dog! (Which is not, for the record, about dog training; it’s about applied behavioral psychology, and what works or doesn’t work with humans, dogs, dolphins, Republicans, etc.) Actually, if you know me well, you are probably backing away from your computer, fearing that this post will devolve into a boring theoretical discussion or dog-training lecture. ‘Tisn’t so. Reading this book, and writing this post, are actually deeply personal. I put down the book to start writing because I was so choked up, I had to take a break.

Well, it’s several months since I took that “break,” during the first week of which I rapidly finished reading the book (a feat, in itself) and dealt with all of life’s other tasks, mental and physical, nerve-wracking and mundane. All of which pushed out of my mind what, exactly, in the book moved me so much, and why, and how it led to A Big Decision: What to Name the Puppy.

I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking and exactly what sections of text prompted particular thoughts and feelings, but here is what I do remember:

  • I was smiling, hugely, most of the time I was reading;
  • I was on the verge of tears some of the time I was reading;
  • I had to stop periodically because the sensations ballooning in my chest were so overwhelming that I felt like I might burst.

It’s hard to recapture a moment of true inspiration, and that’s what I was experiencing. If you don’t record it — in words or music or brush strokes — when it hits you, you likely need to move on to new sources. However, I know that part of what was so powerful for me was the awareness, all the time I was reading, that a new little life would be coming into my care, and he would be an endless source of challenge and inspiration.

So, it seemed only fitting that, as I was lying there, overwhelmed with joy and the explosions of little pieces of new information colliding with existing knowledge, that I was inspired with a name. For weeks — well, really, for years — I’d thought about what I’d name my next puppy. This would be my first service dog that I would raise from puppyhood. It was a big deal.

I was lying in bed, feeling like I wanted to laugh and cry all at once, just terribly excited; it was hard to sort out both why I was having these emotions and also what the emotions actually were. The feeling was, “Oh my God, this is wonderful. This is both what I have been doing and what I love and am so very hungry to do with my new puppy,” and “Oh my God, this is wonderful. Here is the crystallization of solutions to problems I didn’t even know I was creating, which will make me a much better mother, teacher, and partner to this baby dog who is entering my life.”

Feeling such a jumble of emotions, so elated and learning so much — how this book was making me feel — was exactly how I felt about getting the puppy. I looked down at the cover, and there was the answer — the author’s name, one of my personal heroes, Karen Pryor.

The puppy’s name would be “Pryor.”

As soon as I thought it, I knew it was right. Nonetheless, I steadfastly refused to commit to that name until the puppy arrived. I still told people, “I am not sure of a name yet, but I think, if it fits him, I will call him Pryor.” Then, when I was looking at pictures of his litter online a couple of weeks later, I thought, “But which one is Pryor?”

Boom! I caught myself. I was already thinking of him as Pryor. How did that happen?

I doubt most people react like this to Karen Pryor’s latest book. Betsy read it shortly after I did, and she really enjoyed it — it’s a good read, very accessible, with lots of useful and interesting information — but I don’t think it was a religious experience for her. For me, every chapter was a reminder of things I already knew (with a few exceptions relating to revelations about the neuroscience of why a clicker works so much better than a verbal marker), but which are so easy to forget “in the heat of training.” With every dog, I make mistakes, and I tell myself, “Okay, I’ve learned that lesson. Next time I’ll do it differently.”

On the upside, I do do it differently. On the downside, there are always new mistakes to make, not least because each dog is new and different, and each requires a different strategy. A puppy would present several new layers of newness I tried to prepare for; but on the whole, I completely failed to understand what the lived experience of puppy raising would be until I was in it up to my eyeballs. I have made so many more mistakes with Barnum than I would have thought possible!

What Karen Pryor’s — and other clicker trainers’ — books have done in the past was open my eyes to the range of possible ways to confront a problem, and see all the different ramifications for each way of responding. There are probably chefs who feel this way about certain master chefs’ cookbooks or schools, parents or teachers who feel this way about learning how to nurture children. My passion is dog training, and the relationship that comes from training and partnering with a service dog. I was loaded with expectations and sorrows and hopes and plans — for myself and for this unknown puppy — and Karen Pryor was offering me solutions. I just didn’t realize I didn’t know the problems yet.

Which is one of the reasons Barnum is named Barnum, and not Pryor. He didn’t turn out to be the lump of clay I thought I was going to mold. He turned out to be Barnum.

This is how he got his name.

Betsy drove from Massachusetts to Connecticut, then flew to Iowa. There, she picked him up at the airport from the breeder, and flew home with him. He was in a soft-sided carrier, a Sherpa bag. It was a long, long day. She was on crutches due to a knee injury, and she has multiple plane changes. (There are no non-stop flights from Des Moines to Hartford!) There was also a storm that caused a major delay. So, Betsy and the puppy really got a chance to bond. After leaving his litter and the only people he knew, of course, he came to love and trust Betsy. When they arrived home, I came out on the ramp to meet them. I couldn’t believe how tiny he was. Nobody could. We all exclaimed, “He’s so little!” None of us was used to thinking of a bouvier who was smaller than a little cat!

He did not look like a “Pryor” to me. That name seemed too serious for this funny-looking guy with the white tuft under his chin and stripe on his chest and his black hair sticking straight up from his head.

Baby Barnum first week home

Baby Barnum tries to look serious.

I thought we should start right away by giving him a chance to potty before he came in. We scooped him out of the bag and put him on the frozen, metal mesh ramp.

“AIEEEE!” Everything in the puppy seemed to say. “What is this cold stuff under my feet?! Ack!”

He jumped up and climbed Betsy. He climbed right to her shoulders.

Barnum on Betsy's Shoulder

His first night home, Barnum peeks over Mount Betsy

As he climbed, she tried to bend, because she was afraid he would fall off. He was so small, the ground was so far away. Every time she moved, though, he climbed to keep himself as far as possible from the ground.

Meanwhile, I was afraid he would fall off and get hurt.

“Grab him! Grab him!” I yelled from the ramp. (Wasn’t that helpful of me?)

“I can’t!” Betsy responded.

Wherever she reached, he climbed somewhere else. Clearly, he’d decided Betsy was his safety, and he was clinging to her. Finally, he climbed down her back, around over her hip and under her arm, where she was able to get a hold on him.

We tried putting him on the ground this time, thinking that it was the metal ramp that had shocked him, but he was no happier on the frozen mud than he had been on the ramp, and again leaped to the safety of Betsy’s back and did his climbing routine again.

“He’s quite the little acrobat!” she laughed.

I thought, “Hmm, acrobat. . . . Circus. . . . Barnum!”

Puppy Barnum with Head in Snow Foot Prints

Barnum shows his clownish side. (And his quick reversal of opinion about snow.)

That’s how he got his name, which he really lived up to. He showed himself right away to be an avid leaper, climber, and digger. He has great balance. I took him to an elementary school playground and he fearlessly clambered over metal grates and rolly-things and steps and all manner of shapes, angles, and textures.

At home, he showed his acrobat and clown side, too. I have a “backyard agility set” that comes with a collapsible tube of blue nylon. I set up the tunnel in the living room as part of his puppy socialization/enrichment experiences. Not only did he quickly and easily learn to enjoy running back and forth through the tube, with no fear at all, he also liked to go in the tunnel and, once in the middle, ,start running, like a gerbil on a wheel, causing the tube to roll across the floor. It was very funny.

Another favorite activity has always been to stand in front of one of the full-length glass doors and watch himself leap up and down. Bouviers are excellent jumpers, and Bouv enthusiasts refer to “the Bouvie Bounce.” Both Jersey and Gadget had good bounces, but Barnum leaves them in the dust. He likes to jump both from all fours and as if he were a circus bear, jumping on his hind feet.

Like most performers, he also enjoys watching himself. He knows that’s him in the glass. That became clear when he started responding to my image in the glass when I was behind him, instead of turning to look at me. I’d ask for eye contact, and he’d make eye contact with my reflection. Only when I ignored that behavior would he turn to look at me.

Sometimes, if there is something new going on, he will go to the glass to get another perspective. For example, when I started practicing getting him accustomed to gear, he did something funny. I put on an empty — and too large — service-dog backpack so he could get used to the feel of putting it on and wearing it, and doing simple things like sitting, walking, or lying down in it.

“Oh, you’re so handsome!” I said. “Look how adorable you are!”

During a break, he went to the glass and looked at himself, turning this way and that. “Yes,” he seemed to decide, “I do look very handsome.”

He continues some of his acrobatish and clownish ways. He still likes to jump, and to run, very fast, pushing a ball across the grass or snow with his nose. He likes music, and will cock his head — sometimes to extremes of cuteness impossible to describe — at certain notes or instruments. (He seems to prefer brass to strings, for example.) He has lost some of his fearlessness — he had a lot of trouble figuring out how to navigate our very steep, slippery stairway — but he’s made great progress. (A post for another time.) Tonight, in fact, was his first time on the second floor of our house! So many smells to sniff upstairs!

Onward and upward (literally!) Mr. Barnum. We have mountains to climb, and I’m not sure if or how we’ll get to the summit. For now, though, we celebrate.

Barnum and Betsy on floor: Wheee!

Being grown up doesn't mean acting mature!

Eye Lock Day 10 + Vote for Gadg & Barnum! + New Service Skill?…

If you’re seeking info on the upcoming Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit this earlier blog.

Today and yesterday I’ve been quite ill and migrainal almost all the time, so not much got done. However, I have managed to squeeze in some training here and there with Mr. Barnum.

Suddenly, we’re making Big Progress with eye contact, and I can now get us to 10 seconds pretty fast AND (drum roll, please) I have started to introduce our verbal cue (again). My voice hasn’t been working much the last couple days, so I’ve actually been whispering the cue, and I think that has made it less distracting for Mr. B.

We continue to work on our LLW, working walk, and stand-stay, which are the other skills we need to pass Level 2, as well as incorporating more zen, sit- and down-stays, etc. Two interesting new developments:

1. Barnum wants to train more now — more often — and seems more interested in offering behaviors and shaping. He seems to be gaining confidence and not feeling quite so much need to wait for me to tell him what to do. I’m trying to be patient and wait him out, make him think for himself. Sometimes when he seems to be cruising along and I think he really knows what we’re doing, he will suddenly go into “deflated” mode and — after offering a sit or stare — will just lie down and wait. Then I wait for something clickable. Or eventually I give him something else to do to move him around, like a hand target, and wait for an accidental behavior to click.

2. Today, pretty much by accident (looooong story), Betsy ended up taking Barnum for an extremely long run/walk (because I was too sick to walk him), and when he got home, instead of being tired, he was begging for training! Further support for my theory that maturity, hunger/growth spurts, and more exercise makes him more eager to train. I am taking advantage of that as much as possible! I hope I bounce back from this crash lately so I can give him more exercise again.

In fact, we have started working on our first real service skill! It’s an easy one, and one I feel relaxed about, so we can just have fun and go at our own pace. I’m very excited about how well it’s going! I’m actually starting to consider him a service dog in training (SDiT), as opposed to a “hopefully-maybe-potential SDiT candidate”!

Please Vote for Barnum and Gadget in the Dogster Photo Contests!

Please vote for my boys! It’s fast, easy and fun. Just click on the links/logos or the three pics below to take you to each of their pages. (Barnum has two pages because of a technical glitch, Gadget has one.)

Here is Barnum’s entry for “Smiles and Grins.”

Vote for Barnum in the World’s Coolest Dog Contest.

dog photo contest

Clicking on the pic above will also take you to Barnum’s entries for “Ball or Frisbee Player”; “Naughtiest Dog”; “Sleeper”; and “Jumper.”

VOTE for Barnum in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Here’s Barnum’s entry for “Tongue/Slobber”:

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Here’s Gadget’s entry for “Working Dog.”

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Clicking on Gadget’s pic above will also take you to Gadget’s pic for “Car Dog”; “Water Dog”; “Patriot”; and “Costume.”

VOTE for Gadget in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Thank you!

Sharon, Barnum (SDiT??) and the muse of Gadget

Taming the Shark, Part 1: Bite Exhibition

I have finally learned how to download photos from Betsy’s camera onto my computer, so now I have a slew of Barnum pics to share with you. I’m hoping to do a few “photo essay” blogs in the coming weeks.

If you read my last two posts, you know I’m using Sue Ailsby’s Level Training Book to train with Barnum. It’s really going well! The book doesn’t address things like toilet training, mouthing, and such. However, the Training Levels listserv refers all newcomers to Positive Petzine, which gave me more useful, concrete, step-by-step directions for using positive training to correct “puppy issues” than my extensive book, video, and bookmark collection had provided me with before. I recommend it!

See if you can guess, from the photo essay below, what major problem was the last puppy frontier we had not yet conquered?

Barnum chews bucket lid

"Mm, the lid to the bucket tastes as good as the bucket, itself."

Barnum chews hose.

"Now it's a hose -- AND a sprinkler -- all-in-one! See? I'm already so helpful...."

Barnum prepares to launch Shark Attack.

"I'm gonna get the arm! I'm gonna get it!"

Barnum bites Betsy.

"Got it!"

If you’re still not sure, here is a multiple-choice quiz.

The puppy behavior we had not successfully tackled by six months was:

A. Mouthing

B. Chewing inappropriate objects

C. Attacking people’s shoes (whether there was a foot in them or not)

D. Jumping up and biting people’s pants (whether there was a butt in them or not)

E. All of the above

Let’s just say that Barnum acquired the nickname, “The Shark” early in life, and it has stuck to him like a remora on a great white’s dorsal fin. (I’ll address the “chewing inappropriate objects” in another post, because it is sort of a separate issue. But it all leads to the Jaws-like atmosphere around here and the “taming the shark” efforts that are finally paying off.)

I won’t go into all the details of why we still had this mouthing problem except to say that someone did try to tell someone else in their household that that someone else was reinforcing the problem, and that that someone else said that she could not do what the first someone had read in her many puppy books was the way to correct the problem. [Ahem.]

[Note: In proofing this essay for me, someone inserted the following comment: Hey! I have legitimate physical reasons why stomping out of the room is a challenge! It’s especially hard when a puppy is hanging off your ear.]

Confused? In all fairness to both someones, so were we. One area of confusion was when we should switch from bite inhibition to bite prohibition.

For those not familiar with these terms: When you have a little puppy, you don’t just teach it never to bite or mouth. Instead, you start by teaching “bite inhibition.” Teaching bite inhibition means that you let the puppy mouth you, as long as it doesn’t hurt, because this teaches the puppy to have a soft mouth. If the pup does bite down too hard, you yelp and pull away and look wounded. If that doesn’t work (and after a while, believe me, with a rowdy Bouvier des Flandres, it doesn’t), then you’re supposed to get up and walk away. Then you come back and play again. The lesson is, “If you hurt me, you don’t get to play with me, but as long as you’re gentle, we’re cool.”

A dog with good bite inhibition who lands in a situation where he’s scared, hurt, over-excited, resource guarding, or otherwise has potential to bite, instead of using a full-force bite and inflicting serious damage, will just snap, snarl, nip, growl, etc. This can feel scary and upsetting to humans, but it will not send them to the emergency room (or the dog to be euthanized).

My first dog, Lady, who was probably some sort of Border Collie mix, showed terrific bite inhibition. She and I used to play a game where I would chase her, or she would chase me, and if she was chasing me, when she caught me, she would very, very gently hold my hand in her mouth for a moment. It was her way of saying, “Tag! I got you!”

It was quite beautiful and tender, actually.

But the proof of the pudding was when Lady had a bad eye infection, and I had to put ointment in her eye twice a day, every day, for a week. Holding her down and squeezing in the ointment was scary and very painful for her. She always whimpered when it went in. The second day, when her eye was at its worst, she growled and snapped at me when the ointment touched her eye, which shocked and upset me. She had never done anything like that before. However, she did not bite me, which she certainly could have, and inflicted serious damage because my face was right over her head. Instead, she just said, in dog language, “Ow! Stop! You’re hurting me!”

Jersey and Gadget, my previous service dogs, also had reliable bite inhibition. Obviously, I knew Barnum needed to learn that, too. This was my first time having the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition, because it’s something that has to be learned in puppyhood. All previous models came with it installed.

However, my interpretation of the timeline and bite force involved in teaching bite inhibition was not the same as Betsy’s. For one thing, what I consider “painful” and “too hard” are not the same as she. (She’s willing to put up with more than I am; I am more aware of all the people Barnum will have to come into contact with and behave perfectly around in his future role as service dog; and she also does not have a full-body chronic pain condition.)

I felt that by four months Barnum’s mouth should be very soft, and Betsy thought he should still be given some leeway. Also, she played with him on the floor, and she maintained that she couldn’t leap up and stride away the very instant an infraction occurred, the way the books all say is required to make the point. And I certainly was in no shape for leaping the first few months Barnum was here.

Plus, he viewed my chair (depending on which direction it was going), as either a potential menace to be avoided, or a quickly retreating prey-like object to be chased. In fact, when Betsy, my PCAs, or my guests did try to turn their backs and stride away, Barnum delighted in jumping up to bite their butts, leaping onto their feet to attack their shoelaces, and otherwise continuing this glorious game.

I blame Ian Dunbar (Why not? He’s not here to defend himself; I don’t have to live with him; and his book was woefully inadequate for my puppy-raising needs). I forced Betsy to read his book, practically to memorize it. Dunbar really hammers on and on and on (in a repetitive, redundant, and repetitious way) about the importance of bite inhibition. I think this contributed a lot to Betsy’s concern that bite inhibition was fully installed before we taught him to stop biting at all, AKA bite prohibition.

This is when you teach your dog that humans are (as Dunbar says — probably the best quote in the book), “soft and ouchy.” You convince them that even barely grazing your hand with their tooth hurts you so so so much, omigod! How could big, bad, savage puppy have done this to his loving momma? Ow ow ow!

Family photo: Betsy, Sharon, Jaws

Family photo: Betsy, Sharon, and Jaws... I mean, Barnum.

Yes, we love him. We love his natural exuberance, but there are limits. I finally decided that enough was enough. One of my PCAs had had her former dog phobia rekindled in a big way by Barnum mouthing her hands and biting her butt and hanging onto her pants as she tried to work. Another, who adores Barnum but who has skin like tissue paper, was sporting horrific-looking gashes just because Barnum’s teeth had grazed her arm or hand. (So, really, she is a litmus test for our success at bite inhibition: if she’s not bleeding, we’re succeeding.)

This is quite serious. I have received a local cultural council grant to take Barnum to the elementary school, where I will show my video of Gadget performing service-dog skills, talk to the kids about life with a SD and SD training, have Barnum show off whatever he’s learned up to that point, and get in some good socialization and training for Barnum. (Nothing like a mob of children to work on distraction and self-control issues!) As things stood, I imagined a classroom full of sweet little children running up to pat the nice doggy — and having Barnum playfully bite ears and lips, grab and chew ponytails and braids, and rip adorable little outfits. The children would scream and run, sobbing hysterically, which Barnum would interpret as a wonderful addition to the chase/catch/tug game he was starting, and I’d hand the teachers the business card of the lawyer I’d hired for this inevitable lawsuit.

No way!

I turned into Sharon the Enforcer. (A not-infrequent role for me.) Henceforth, I decreed, any time Barnum put his mouth on any skin, clothing, or shoes (that a person was wearing), that person must immediately turn away and walk out the nearest door, where they would count to twenty. If we couldn’t leap away in a split-second, so be it; he would get the picture in time. Any other person in the vicinity must also march away, so that Barnum would be left alone with nobody to mouth.

I didn’t limit the prohibition to full-on mouthing. Also off-limits was any tooth-to-skin or tooth-to-clothing contact, no matter how insubstantial, as well as Barnum making moves toward mouthing, even if he didn’t actually make contact.

For those situations when he was likely to attempt to chase and/or hang on to shoes or pants, I set up training sessions: I leashed him to the ramp railing. We would pet him, and I would click/treat for not mouthing during particularly tempting moments, such as when someone was petting his head or face or sitting on the ground or riling him up with play. For just calmly accepting more sedate petting, I offered heartfelt praise. If Barnum went for a hand or sneaker, we would turn our backs and walk out of leash range, giving him ten to twenty seconds to chill out. Then we would return with lavish praise and petting again.

The first day that I put the kibosh on mouthing, I had to turn around and zoom to my room several times in a half hour. Barnum would follow me happily, but when I shut my door with him outside and me inside, he was truly puzzled and distressed. He sat outside my door, barking and crying. I have another rule (See? I am the Enforcer; bratty behavior does not get rewarded — in dogs or children). Thus, I’d wait till he was quiet; then I’d come out, a friendly smile on my face, ready to offer more praise and love. I’d usually find Barnum sitting quietly — confused, concerned, and eager to please.

Honestly, I think Barnum learned more about not mouthing in that first half-hour of boundary setting than he had before or since. After that foundation was laid, the rest has just been teaching him that the same rules apply to other people (Betsy, PCAs, and guests) and to other situations: indoors and outdoors; with people sitting, standing, or lying down; moving fast or slow; and to anything a person might be wearing or carrying. I’ve also been playing tug with him every day, usually a few times a day, to give him practice with “give” (dopping the toy), and to interrupt the game any time he even accidentally lets a tooth touch my skin.

One particularly memorable moment, the first day he was confronted with this puzzling new behavior, Betsy was sitting on the floor with him, my PCA was petting him from a standing position, and I was sitting in my chair, praising all involved. Barnum swung his head to mouth my PCA’s sleeve, and we all instantly scattered in every direction. It was like someone had dropped a pebble into a bowl of guppies. Barnum was the pebble, sitting in the middle of the bowl, looking around, thinking, “Where did everyone go?”

I’m very proud of us. Obviously, this training is not as fun as the positive clicker training, where I’m shaping and rewarding desirable behaviors, instead of extinguishing an undesirable one through a process that is both quite tiring for me and sometimes somewhat stressful for him. However, Barnum is showing his usual great bounce back and has learned that just because the fun stops or I withdraw my attention for a few seconds, it doesn’t mean that the game won’t restart or I won’t be lavishing him with affection as soon as the time-out’s over.

I give Barnum a lot of credit. He learned very quickly that mouthing would get him nowhere. Often, I have seen him wanting quite desperately to do the forbidden, but holding himself back: He watches a PCA’s shoelaces very intently as she walks by, but he doesn’t pounce. He wants to grab my arm when I am tick-checking his ear, but instead he licks me gently. (You can practically see him thinking, “Okay, sublimate, sublimate, sublimate. . . .”) Slowly, my PCA of the paper-thin skin feels safe in lowering her hands to swing at her sides. Slowly, the PCA who used to fear dogs (whom Gadget seemed to have cured with his sweet and gentle nature), is again smiling when she willingly pets Barnum.

Today, I took Barnum to play with Bug, a neighbor dog he hadn’t seen in a few months. My neighbor had never met him before. Like the other owners of Gadget’s dog friends, my neighbor used to say, morosely, “I don’t think Gadget likes me.”

This was because Gadget basically ignored her when he went to visit Bug.

“No,” I would say, “It’s a Bouv thing.”

Then I’d explain about how Bouviers typically don’t have much interest in people unless they are their people. Especially if there are other dogs around — who has time for people? Feh. Even I was not interesting to Gadget (and now to Barnum — although Jersey was another story) when there were other dogs to be met.

However, because Barnum is still a pup, and because we super-socialized him to people by having him meet, and get treats from, 100 people in his first two months home, he is far more actively interested in people than Gadget or Jersey ever were. Thus, when Barnum and Bug were finished playing, Barnum went waggling right over to my neighbor.

She knelt down and petted his head and hugged him. I was holding my breath — just a bit — because if she’d done this two weeks ago, Barnum would have mouthed her in a serious way! Instead, he just wagged and smiled, and then gave her face a good washing.

“Oh,” she laughed, “I haven’t had kisses in a long time!” Apparently Bug was not an extremely demonstrative dog, either.

She was very pleased. I was very pleased. Thank Dog! I can stop looking for a lawyer. . . .

Gooooo, Team Barnum!

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon, Barnum (still a tiny bit sharky), and the Muse of Gadget (who was not standoffish, just dignified)

Level One: Two Paws Forward, One Paw Back

Hi. I know it’s been a long time. I also know I said in my previous post about canine Lyme, that my next two posts would be about Lyme disease. I do still plan to do those, but I have been writing various other posts (all half-finished, of course, with many waiting for pics), so I decided to go ahead with some new stuff in the meanwhile. I will definitely do the promised Lyme Awareness Parts II and III eventually.

Instead, how about a “Sharon-and-Barnum Update”?

I know those have been severely lacking at After Gadget. And, of course, I’ve written several half-posts about why they’re lacking. Sigh.

[Also note: All photos in this post are outdated. Barnum is now HUGE in comparison to these itty-bitty-puppy pics. Probably close to 60 pounds, and growing. He is six months old, and the most recent pics that have made it onto my computer are from early May. So, just imagine him now as tall as me (5’6″) if he stands on his hind legs, and his head is now about the size of his whole body when he arrived. Okay?]

Anynoodle, soon after I got Barnum and joined a training listserv, several people pointed me toward Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.

The Level Book is a system of clicker training every foundational skill a sports/performance dog (and therefore, a service dog), can use. Sue, herself, has trained herding, agility, obedience, and all sorts of other dog sports, as well as training her own service dogs after she acquired a disability. She also trains other species, especially her own llamas, to do some remarkable stuff. The Levels provides a systematic, detailed, and kind structure.

I thought I’d been “working the levels” pretty much since I discovered them, soon after I got Barnum, but I realized recently that I had mixed up the Introduction and Level One (L1), with L1 and Level Two (L2). So, I thought I’d looked ahead and seen the next steps on the next level, but I was wrong! (Or maybe I did, but I forgot it all, which is also possible.)

As it turns out, many of the next steps are not what I thought, so we have missed some things and gone farther ahead on others. The Levels don’t forbid doing some things out of order, but it was a surprise.

We also had not tested any of the levels. I did ask another trainer in town if she would judge me on the levels — there are few of us in my very small town who do advanced dog training, so I was thrilled to find a neighbor who used to work an SAR dog — but she never got back to me.

Finally, Sunday night, I decided to start using the training log I’d set up before Barnum arrived, but which I hadn’t written in since, except to put in his name. I thought it was high time we tested ourselves, one way or another, on L1, and officially moved on to the behaviors of L2.

Here’s my first log. I hope to post periodic logs (the interesting ones) on After Gadget.

6/20/10 – Barnum’s six month’s old, and I’m getting ready to test him on the L1 skills. In the course of our walk today, we did some recall and loose-leash walking practice, but that’s pretty much it, and neither of those are really tested in L1. I’m going to ask Betsy to judge us.

I’m nervous! Even though I think we should do fine, and have in general surpassed the requirements by quite a bit, you never know where your weak spots are. Rather, I do know where our weak spots are. Down (“Platz!”) is a big one. He is really dependent on a lot of body language for that one. There is also his low frustration threshold and nervousness — when he will get anxious and whiny about doing a behavior.

Part of L1 is that I have a homework assignment.

Handler lists, in writing, five things s/he hopes to accomplish by working the Levels.

1. Making sure each skill, especially foundational skills, are truly solid, without any gaps that could require remediation, retraining, or god-forbid-wash-out, later.

2. Having concrete goals. I’m a very concrete, goal-oriented person. I do very well with detailed instructions. The more detailed the lesson plan, the better.

3. On the flip side, it’s always necessary, and it’s my joy, to be creative — to adjust to the situation and the dog. There are a lot of interesting suggestions for “Advanced Education” at the end of each behavior for each level.

The specifics of the levels do concern me, though, and I have to make sure I don’t ignore the cardinal rule, “Know thy Dog,” at the expense of the instructions. Already it’s been clear to me that The Levels assume a level of sustained attention that is often not possible — or enjoyable — for Barnum.

3. Dividing behaviors up into their component parts so that I don’t either (a) overwhelm Barnum by raising criteria too quickly or in “lumps” (more than one criterion at a time) or (b) miss opportunities to raise criteria in ways I hadn’t thought of. (Novel splits.) [Note: For an explanation of what I mean by “splitting” and “lumping” in this post, please go to The Level Book Intro and scroll down to “The Levels.”]

4. Having a sense of accomplishment and community. I have been depressed, grieving, overwhelmed much of the past seven months (Gadget’s death, my own health problems, the loss of multiple friends to death or abandonment, etc.). I have been responding by either retreating/isolating or by being overly judgemental and harsh with myself whenever I make a mistake with Barnum, which can’t be good for his self-esteem, either. For the first couple of months, I was overly frustrated by, and critical of, Barnum, as a result of feeling so inadequate in puppy raising (and without an adequate guide for what it would really be like to have a baby dog). I’ve just joined The Levels listserv, hoping it will provide positive suggestions and information, without the patronizing or harsh attitude that can sometimes be present on training lists (even positive reinforcement lists!).

5. Becoming a better trainer! There are always new ways to train any given behavior, and I’m hoping this will add to my flexibility. More tools in the toolbox.

6. OK, one extra: A sense of accountability. Because, due to my disabilities, I can’t go to classes or be in training groups like others, having someone judge Barnum and me at each level will provide some form of outside validation that we are achieving what I think we are.

The Results Are In. . . .

I followed Sue’s advice and tested Barnum/myself on a day when we had not trained any of these behaviors. Also, it was late at night, and Barnum was hot and tired. He was lying on the floor, panting. He really is a snow dog, not a summer dog.

Tired Puppy Asleep across Betsy's legs

Oy! The heat! I'm shvitzing! I could platz!

So, we were definitely not operating with any unfair advantage. In fact, it was a challenge to get him interested in anything other than lying on the floor, feeling sorry for himself in the heat!

Betsy agreed to act as our judge. I read her the criteria for judging overall, as well as for each behavior as we got to it. Here’s how it went.

1. “Touch” (or Targeting)

We started with this one because Barnum normally loves it and knows it extremely well. He generally shows a lot of enjoyment and confidence in doing “touch.”

The other reason is that I couldn’t get him up off the floor any other way without practicing a behavior to be tested, and I’d need him to stand to ask for a “sit” and for a stand or sit to ask for a “down.” Can’t ask for a down when he’s already lying on the floor!

I put my hand out — far enough away so he’d have to stand — and said “Touch!” He looked at it and tried to reach it without getting up. Realizing that wouldn’t work, he grudgingly streeeeetched out and touched. It was lackluster, but it met the criteria. Then, since he was “in the game,” I asked him for two more touches, just so he’d feel some sense of accomplishment. And so he’d focus a bit. Those were more peppy.

One down!

2. Sit

The criterion here is that you can only give one cue — either an oral or a manual cue. I usually use both, and I think he’s stronger with the hand signal because it grew out of the lure. I decided to challenge us and go with just the spoken word.

“Barnum,” I said, with my hands behind my back, “Sit.”

He looked at me hesitantly — I think he realized something “big” was going on — and sat. Yay!

Later, I asked him for a sit with just the hand signal, and he sat for that, too. Good dog/trainer!

3. Down

Down is allowed to be cued from a stand or a sit, and any two cues are allowed, including one oral and one manual.

I actually don’t use the word, “Down,” as my cue, because a few weeks after I taught him “down,” he started displaying anxiety with the command. (I’d say “Down,” which he previously did quickly and eagerly, but — in certain locations — instead of lying down he’d wander away, start sniffing, sometimes scratch himself.) I’m still not 100 percent sure why this seemed to have turned into a poisoned cue, though I have a couple of strong suspicions, mostly relating to the area in the yard where I think the “poisoning” occurred. [Note: “Poisoned Cues: The Case of the Stubborn Dog” is my favorite article on poisoned cues, but you have to be signed up for the Karen Pryor Clicker Training newsletter to read it. However, if you have any interest in dog behavior or training, you really should be, in my not-so-humble-opinion, subscribed anyway.]

Regardless, I decided to start over from the beginning with a different oral and manual cue, and instead of luring with food, I used the hand targeting he’d already learned, shaping the down from a “touch.” The oral cue I chose was “Platz,” which is the standard command for “down” among Schutzhund trainers. I picked it because it didn’t sound like any of our other commands, and I knew it would come easily to me. Betsy found it hilarious every time I said, “Platz!” for the first month or so, because of its Yiddish associations, but she’s over that now.

Back to the judging: Barnum was already sitting — sit and stare is his default behavior during training — though he will down from a stand, as well. In fact, he downs from a stand with more zest than from a sit. Go figure.

I said, “Barnum, platz!” and lowered my arm (palm up), and he slid into a relaxed down.

Three for three!

4. Puppy Zen (AKA Zen, AKA “Leave It”)

The criterion is that Barnum must stay away from a treat in my closed hand for five seconds. This one I knew we would pass with our paws tied behind our backs. (I wouldn’t actually do that to him, of course. However, if there were a way I could remove his fangs, er, teeth, just for short periods, that would be tempting.)

Puppy Zen is the best thing since the invention of the clicker. If you have a dog, you must, must, must play Doggy Zen with him. You can read about it on The Levels site. (Hint, hint.) The idea is that the dog learns she will get what she wants by not trying to get it. Then you can apply this self-control awareness all over the place in other areas of training/life.

Barnum and I could have passed a L1 Zen test two days after I taught it to him, probably. We progressed pretty rapidly from him leaving the treat in my hand alone to him leaving alone pieces of meat on the coffee table a good distance from me (with the table closer to him than to me). [Yet, I have had much less success teaching him not to eat the coffee table, itself.] My preferred default for Zen is sustained eye contact. If that goes on too long he’ll add a sit, then backward scooches, for good measure.

Baby Barnum first week home

See? I even knew how to sit and make eye contact when I was a little, little, little guy.

I put a few treats in my hand, said “Leave it,” and shut my hand. I held it down to nose level.

He looked at me like, “Huh? Seriously?”

I think he was confused that I was using something so easy and non-tempting as homemade beef jerky in a closed fist, whereas lately I have been working very hard with him to “Leave It” shoelaces on moving people’s sneakers.  (Soooo much more enticing to get the shoelaces! They move! The more you bite, the more they jiggle and squeak and yell! Especially when you move up to the ankles!)

Anyway, he sat, looked at me, continued looking, scooched back against the wall, still looking, now getting concerned something was wrong. I looked at Betsy, and she said, “That was way more than five seconds.”

I had forgotten to look at my watch, so I hadn’t been sure. I’d wanted to be sure.

Passed that with flying colors! Whoo!

Last, we had to move out into the living room to get enough yardage for . . .

5. The Come Game.

Two people stand twenty feet apart, calling the pup back and forth. They start by using something that will not be the pup’s future/official recall command. (We use, “Puppypuppypuppypuppy.”) Then, when he is on his way, we switch to the future official recall, “Barnum, come!” We did this a few times just for fun. We have been playing variants on the Come Game for months. The photo below shows Barnum doing the Come Game between me and Betsy at The Pond.]

Puppy Barnum in Mid-Air at Pond

My favorite picture of us. Barnum flying high!

Definite pass, according to Betsy.

We passed Level One! Woohoo!

Goooooo Team Barnum! I gave him a hug, and an extra squirt of homemade “dog pâté,” and we did high-fives all around. (True confession: Barnum can’t do a real high-five yet. He is too exuberant. It starts out as a paw, then turns into him raking your arm with his claws, till he’s standing against you on his back legs. But it’s the thought that counts.)

We were very happy. We let him out to pee, then Betsy and I tick-checked each other. While we were tick-checking, Barnum started chewing a chair leg, after I thought he’d stopped chewing furniture a couple of weeks ago! Now he is doing it again — aarrgh!

I tried several toys to distract him until we settled on one that was the right hardness for his chewing needs. It was a chew stick he’d never shown interest in before, and I was so pleased to see him carrying it around in his mouth, wagging his behind as we got all our dog-grooming gear together to tick-check him.

“Look,” I said, pointing to the area where we were about to tick-check him. “He’s going to lie down and chew it over there!”

He did lie down. Then he stood up. And peed. I’d thought the accidents were over! AAARRRRGGGH!

Four Legs to Stand On

So, on one paw, Team Barnum did pass our first level, and we are proud of that. (Dammit!)

On the second paw, Team Barnum is still very much in puppyhood and has not 100 percent “got” the “only pee and poop outside” concept and is nowhere near getting the “don’t chew on people/furniture/shoes/books/everythingelseontheplanet concept.”

On the third paw, we have now officially started working on Level Two skills, and that has turned out to be fun (for both of us — yay!), enlightening (I was lumping some things I was unaware of before — oops!), and remedial (this deserves its own pawagraph — see below).

On the fourth and final paw — for tonight — I see that there were, indeed, “lumps” in the way I was teaching, which I now am sure is the reason for skills where Barnum is nervous or frustrated (whines, acts slowly, etc.). The chance to go back and fill in these gaps, by “re-splitting,” feels like such a gift to Barnum and to me. It will make the behaviors, themselves, much stronger, but that’s really the small picture. That’s just the trees.

The forest is that now that we are truly on this path in a focused way, the training will be so much more fun for both of us, and therefore rewarding (for both of us), which will make him faster, more enthusiastic, and more “operant” (not so hesitant and waiting for me to cue him, but willing to experiment and risk and think on his own). All of which will be vital to both his learning and his desire to train/work. It was desire/confidence that was becoming a concern for me as the only possible reason I can foresee, aside from unexpected health issues, that he could wash out.

If I had to write the homework now, after having worked on L2 for a few short days, I would change what I wrote for number 3. [Note: I mean the first number 3. After proofing this blog, I noticed I wrote two of them. But sometimes I think it’s good for you to see my cognitive impairment at work.] I’d say that by doing the levels and filling in the gaps where I should have started with lower criteria, I will make Barnum feel more in control and successful, and help him back to full confidence. This will probably, eventually (along with increasing maturity), allow us to do more reinforcements of each behavior.

I’d also say that what I hope to get out of the levels is renewed confidence and faith in myself as a trainer, which naturally leads to increased confidence and pride in Barnum. All of which leads to us enjoying each other a lot more.

A couple of nights later — Tuesday — we’d done a bit of bell ringing, some introduction to nail filing, L2 sits and downs, uncued leave-its, and default eye contact. I finished our training session by singing “We Are the Champions” to him and then playing a long, rousing game of “hedgehog tug.” I’d say that counts as enjoyment, wouldn’t you?

Puppy Air Barnum at the Pond

Barnum literally leaps to get to me!

We are the champions, my friends.
And we’ll keep on fighting — till the end.
We are the champions.
We are the champions.
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions — of the world.

As always, we welcome your comments.
Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget

The Puppy Ate My Keyboard

[Barnum arrived February 27. I started this post on March 2. I added to it and revised it many times throughout the month of March but never published it because, well, you’ll find out when you read it that I was a mess and couldn’t keep track of anything, which also included that I forgot I wrote it and just came across it. Thus, please keep in mind that these were my thoughts when Barnum was between nine and twelve weeks’ old. He’s now four-and-a-half months’ old and a much different dog!]

I wasn’t going to write a blog today because I can hardly form a thought, let alone a sentence. Typing these fragments had barely occurred to me. In fact, I am moving my lips as I type this (I just realized) because apparently some part of my brain has regressed to a first-grade level.

I’d tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had anything remotely resembling a normal night’s sleep (which, given my multiple forms of insomnia and sleep disturbance, is not so normal to begin with), but I have no idea what day it is or when Barnum arrived and the toileting accidents and his heart-rending yelping of being crated without litter mates and dog mama has occurred and at what frequency and which days, except I have lost all sense of time. And I’m not even going to attempt to edit or proof this, and I know I’m creating appalling run-on sentences, but you’ll just have to put up with that for a while.  Maybe a year or two.

As an example, while I was typing the above sentence, I reached for my “lunch-time pills,” and it is now 6:54PM, although I did — thank you so much, my PCA Gloria! — actually eat lunch around half an hour ago. But of course I forgot to take the pills with the food, as I’m supposed to. So, I had the cup with the dog kibble, and my fingers digging into it, halfway up to my mouth before I thought, “Wait a minute. Why . . . am . . . I . . . eating . . . kibble?” I waited for that thought to gently float to the part of my brain that could handle it, and realized that I was trying to swallow a handful of other small, round objects. “Pills! Yes! . . . Wait a minute, these are not my pills.”

I have a nice, swollen purple bruise on my right hand where some puppy chewing got a little out of hand, next to a scratch that I’m assuming must also be puppy-play related, but I have no idea when I acquired it.

I am fighting off an incipient migraine and have over-exerted at every level far beyond anything I’ve done in at least a year. The floors are covered in mud (because, of course, I would get a new puppy whom I have to take out practically every ten minutes during mud season), because that my p-chair tires are completely caked with mud, which eventually dries and falls off all over the house.

I’m exhausted and grouchy and babbling. I’m ridiculously happy. I sing goofy made up songs — using real songs but with made-up lyrics. Example (to the tune of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?“):

“Don’t you want it Barnum?
Don’t you want the squirrel?
Don’t you want the hedgehog?
Let’s give them a whirl.

I was looking for a puppy out in Iowa
when I found you.
We picked you up and flew you here and gave you a bath,
cuz of your smelly shampoo.

Don’t, don’t you want it?
You know I can’t believe it when you don’t want your chew toys!
Don’t? Don’t you want it?
You know I can’t believe it when you push aside your Kong toys!”

Our main focus has been on house breaking. That is such an understatement. We keep a log of dates, times and locations of output (and which type), indicators that he needs to go, and results once he’s gone. Someone in the house is always announcing, when they bring him in from outside, “He peed! But he didn’t poop,” or “He pooped! He pooped!” We are obsessed with it.

It’s been a very humbling experience! Foolish, foolish, egotistical me — I thought because I’d trained long behavior chains like, “Take note; run 1/4 mile to landlord; bark; down when landlord opens door; stay till landlord takes note; run straight home,” that I would be able to teach a puppy to poop and pee outside and not just randomly on the floor the split second I look away for one moment when he is out of the crate even though he just pooped and peed five minutes before.

I actually wrote the first part of this blog a few days ago. And now several more days have passed since I wrote a few more sentences, then a few more days, a few more sentences. Don’t ask me which days — that’s just cruel. I had Barnum up on my bed for a brief spell because he was an empty puppy — oh yes, the holy grail of house breaking — a puppy who has just peed and pooped and is therefore (theoretically) safe to be out of his crate and playing, snuggling, training, etc. He immediately started chewing my keyboard buttons. When I moved that out of reach, he attacked the telephone headset, then chewed on the mouse wire. Then it was time for puppy to go back in his crate for a nice stuffed chew toy he might or might not figure out how to chew.

Random thoughts that flit in and out of my mind:

– How can this tiny puppy ever be a service dog? I’m still teaching him that if he nudges a Kong or Biscuit Ball, kibble falls out. I didn’t think this would require actual clicker training to teach, but it has: look at ball, click/treat; move toward ball, c/t; nose ball, c/t; eat kibble that pours out of ball, c/t…. I had thought that the mere fact that kibble falls right out of the ball if you even breathe on it would be a good hint, but no.

– What was Gadget like as a puppy? Was he like this? He couldn’t possibly have been. I bet he figured out toilet training in one day. (I’m sure he didn’t, but still, I miss him. I want Gadget back. I want him here to show Barnum how it’s done.)

– Does anyone want a really cute, snuggly, adorable, pee- and poop-filled puppy?

– It’s weird to go to a door and have a dog next to me who has no earthly idea that he could learn to open it or even gets confused about how to get out of the way when it opens. In fact, one of the hardest parts of the toilet training has been getting Barnum and myself in or out the door — involving opening and shutting it, each time — before Barnum has an accident. If we pause for any reason that’s when disaster (in the form of a small, easy-to-clean-up, but oh-so-frustrating puddle) strikes.

– If I drop something, not only does Barnum not retrieve it for me, he will — if I’m lucky — not be able to find it (because, apparently, even if you drop something directly in front of their noses, puppies often can’t see it it). If he does find it, he will chew it, especially if it’s something fragile or expensive or dangerous to him, or all of the above. [Note: Eventually, I learned from reading a website what none of the many puppy-rearing books I’d read had bothered to mention — new puppies can’t see! At eight or nine weeks, their eyes are still maturing. In fact, Barnum’s were still blueish at the beginning. His eyes are now brown, and he is perfectly capable of seeing or sniffing out treats on the floor. The amount that I didn’t know about puppies was astounding. I know so much more now, and I still feel completely ignorant!]

– God, he’s so adorable, it’s practically indecent.

Baby Barnum first week home

See what I mean? Beyond, beyond cute.

– It was weird to go for my annual physical and leave a dog behind and be there without a dog and then come home to a dog who is not Gadget (and who then pooped on the floor).

– It also felt like a blissful relief to get away from him for a couple of hours and leave someone else in charge of him. Gloria, who was driving me to the doctor, said that’s how she felt when her son was really little — that going to work felt like a vacation. That’s how I felt: getting a pap smear was a vacation!

– All the women in my life who have kids keep saying everything I’m going through is typical of being a new mom: the anxiety that I’m ruining him for life with every mistake, the guilt that I sometimes just want someone to take him away for 12 hours (or perhaps forever) so I can sleep, the complete inability to think, the zombie-like facial expression, the relentless pursuit of following all the instructions in all the puppy raising books that tell you your puppy will become a horrible, out-of-control, dangerous, miserable wreck if you don’t accomplish all eight million absolutely necessary training, bonding, and socialization efforts in the first four weeks you have him; examining every single behavior or nuance as a predictor of the glorious/tragic path that lies ahead; my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Gloria keeps telling me I have “milk brain” because I can’t think worth a damn. Maybe this is the oxytocin connection??

– I think I’ve smiled and laughed more in the last two weeks than I have in the previous five years, combined. I also think I have cried — or been too exhausted to cry, and just laid there, crying in my mind — than I have in the past year, too.

– Will all this overexerting build up my strength or tear it down in a huge crash?

– I am so not up to this task. I was a fool. I had taken leave of my senses (which I no longer possess, at all) when I decided to get a puppy.

– I love when he sticks his whole head into the snow, so all you can see is fuzzy puppy butt, back and legs.

Barnum with head in snow.

Barnum loses his head.

– I love when he pounces and leaps.

Baby Barnum leaps in snow

A bouncing baby Bouvier.

– I love when he kisses me and curls up in my lap.

Baby Barnum Kisses Sharon in the Garden


I love when he is sleeping, lying on his back with his paws in the air and his little white chin poking up.

Barnum at 14 weeks, sleeping on back

One very relaxed puppy!

– I love when he is tired and lies down with his back legs sprawled out behind him. We call this “Superman,” because he looks like he is flying — front and rear legs extended, very streamlined. (Don’t yet have a picture of it, or I’d show you.) He also does “frog leg,” where one leg is extended behind and the other is pulled up.

– I love that I am having to force myself to invite over every single person and dog who might remotely be willing (and even those who are not) to meet, treat, or play with him. I have socialized more in the past two weeks than in the previous few years combined.

– I hate having to deal with all these people — the exhaustion, the noise, the sensory overload, the exposures, exposures, exposures.

– I will never again take for granted a dog who is able to pee and poo outside and not inside, and to indicate when they have to go before relieving themselves on the floor, or who can “hold it” for more than two hours — or five to ten minutes or 30 seconds, depending on the circumstance.

* * * *

Guess what? I now have such a dog! (His name is Barnum.) We still have the occasional accident, but it is the exception, not the rule. He will even eliminate on cue — in our yard, that is. Elsewhere in the world he gets too distracted to pee or poo, so he holds it till we get home. Seriously

Barnum is also able to sleep through the night and is adjusting to my Vampire Girl schedule. (It’s a CFIDS/MCS/Lyme thing.)

I have only almost eaten kibble — thinking it was my pills — once or twice in the last couple of weeks.

He still attacks the headset, mouse, and keyboard when he gets on the bed. In fact, here is Barnum’s first After Gadget contribution:0000-                                                           32.

Now I just have to put his typing on cue.

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget (and Barnum, puppy-in-training)

P.S. Commenters of the previous post, I have not forgotten you! Responses forthcoming.

The Experts Are Full of It (and the Puppy Is, too)

You might have noticed there have been no After Gadget blogs in a month, which — not coincidentally — is when I got my new puppy. That’s because things like, um, sleeping, thinking, not weeping with frustration, were hard to come by for a while.

I was sobbing on the phone to my therapist (with whom I’ve been speaking much more often lately) and to my grief support list, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” Some people were just an eensy bit judgmental about this.

Even more obnoxious are all the people who have been saying to Betsy and me, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to have a puppy? Isn’t it so much fun?” We just look at them with very, very tired eyes and mumble, “Yes, he’s adorable and sweet, but, um, it’s a lot of work.” The people who have survived raised puppies themselves tend to switch into sympathy mode.

Betsy and I each asked friends whose dogs are less than two years’ old, “How long did it take you to toilet train?” We hoped, on one hand, that they would say something like, “Six weeks,” because we’re entering week five now, so that would mean there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, we hoped they’d say, “Six months,” because this definitely would mean we are not failures because we are already at about 75 percent toilet trained.

However, what both people said was, “I don’t remember. I must have blocked that time out.” Practically verbatim.

Worse than this was when Betsy asked her employer (when our puppy had already had about 17 accidents in his first four days), how many their goldendoodle had during housebreaking.

“One,” she said. We both cried. I think they should have lied.

I tried to convince Betsy we were Not Failures. “We’ve gone 24 hours without an accident! We didn’t know what we were doing at first! We’re doing so much better now!”

I believed myself, too, until the next (inevitable) accident. About an hour later.

But despite sobbing, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” the first two weeks, to anyone who had ever showed me any kindness, I really do love him, as you can see in these two pictures of us bonding on his first day home:

Little bear - Barnum's first day.

Isn't he a snuggly little bear?

Barnum in Sharon's lap
Looking lovingly into each other’s eyes on his first day home.

Honestly, I promise, I don’t hate him. I just hate the pee and poo that appear on floors throughout the house, even when he has not been in that vicinity that we know of and he has either been in his crate or under supervision 99.96 percent of the time. (It’s that 0.04 percent that gets you.) It’s not even that I hate the pee or poo, because I’ve become rather resigned to that by now (even as the puddles/piles get bigger). It’s more the constant vigilance we’ve had to maintain for over five weeks.

This is primarily because I read — and forced Betsy to read — a book by a world-renowned dog behaviorist, veterinarian, and expert in puppy training who writes over and over how you can achieve “errorless housetraining and chew-toy training.” Errorless. His exact words. He also calls any accident “a potential disaster” and says that “you can start ruining a perfectly good puppy in one day.” So, no pressure.

The errorless chew-toy- and crate-training are to be achieved with Kongs and hollow bones stuffed with kibble and the occasional treat, such as freeze-dried liver, “the Ferrari of dog treats,” he says. No need to use anything other than kibble because puppies are “food-seeking missiles.”

Well, great idea, except if your new baby is so stressed by his life’s biggest upheaval that he refuses to eat in the beginning, and then has barely any interest in kibble, and doesn’t even LIKE freeze-dried liver, and has no idea how to get kibble out of a bone or Kong, even when there is nothing blocking the Kong, so that kibble just falls out if you breathe on it. It’s taken a month of clicker training to teach him how to get the biscuit balls and Kongs to give up their goodies by nudging them around. This has not made him, as the author promised, a “chewtoyaholic.” He would so much rather chew everything else — our flesh, our clothes, our furniture, his leash, ANY electrical cords — than his chew toys.

His favorite toy — thank God for it — is a bucket. Not a full-sized bucket. Ironically, it’s a big plastic tub, about half the size of a real bucket, that freeze-dried liver came in — for Gadget. Gadget, a dog who LOVED liver. A dog who, if you accidentally spilled a big pile of liver dust and bits on the floor next to his crate, would not have left it there for two days until you resigned yourself to vacuuming it up! Anyway, we punched holes in the bottom of this plastic bucket last year and used it as a planter. Barnum found it under the snow and fell in loooove. (Yes, his name is Barnum. I’ll have to write a second blog on how he got his name. Right now, there are more important things to focus on, obviously.) Because it was distracting him from his excretory duties, I brought it inside, and now we use it a lot as a toy.

Before Barnum arrived, I bought a bunch of organic, nontoxic, fair-trade dog toys for him — and he prefers to chew a plastic (and therefore, toxic) bucket. All I can say to that is, “Get your bucket!!! Where’s your bucket??? Git it gitit gitit!!!”

I have so much more sympathy now for parents who take their kids to McDonalds or plunk them in front of the TV.

The puppy-raising book also says that the first twelve weeks are the puppy’s socialization window, and after that, everything you do will be playing catch-up (and with rather poor results) so that you have to make sure your puppy meets 100 people in his first four weeks at home! And that the puppy should not leave your home, and all guests must remove their shoes, because they could track in a dog disease. (For the record, Barnum has met about 75 people so far, though they were not all people in our homes with their shoes off, and it was not all done by the moment of 12 weeks. Horrors!)

I was fool enough to believe all this bilge! So, you can imagine, what with the massive sleep debt, and the impossible expectations, there has been a lot of stress! Stress! Stress! AUGH!!!!

I’m able to type what you’ve read so far because I pleaded with Betsy Betsy offered to watch the puppy for the night, so I got 11 hours of sleep. The last time she puppy sat, I got 13 hours of sleep. This is because a new puppy is not only a great cure for sleep, but also for insomnia. I’m hoping this lasts. I’m hoping now for the rest of my life, whenever I want to go to sleep, all I have to do is become slightly horizontal, and I will instantaneously drop like a rock into slumberland. Yes, all the sleep disturbances caused by my many chronic illnesses that include insomnia, hallucinations, nightmares, early wakening, etc., as symptoms, might be cured just by puppy motherhood! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I have taken up the saying my friend Julie introduced me to in high school: When all else fails, lower your expectations. We have done a lot of lowering. Now, if the accident is near the door, we rejoice, because it seems to indicate he knows he should try to head in that direction when the urge hits. Or, if we catch him in the act and interrupt him, so that he does half the poo inside the house and half outside the house, we are thrilled that we were able to indicate that pooping in the house is not what we want (poor guy looks so confused as everyone in the vicinity converges on him and says, “OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE!”) and even better, that we are able to reward him for doing the second half of the poo outside. Isn’t that terrific?!?!

Another thing to feel good about is if I’m thinking, “I should take him out right now,” or asking someone to take him out (if I can’t), or if I am actually bringing him to the door, and we’re delayed because I have get to the door, grab the pull cord, then back up to open the door but very carefully so as not to roll over him (more about that another time), and when I turn to check that it’s safe for me to back up, he is peeing! So, I was correct that I did need to take him out right then; that counts for something, doesn’t it?

So, in the spirit of lowering my expectations, I have also decided to try to get blogs out when I can. If they are not beautifully written and poignant and error-free, well, neither is life, right? It is messy and dirty and full of mistakes, but we still have to find meaning in it and love it despite its faults. Hopefully you feel some of this love and forgiveness toward this blog, even with the long gaps and the mistakes and the lack of beautiful, deep, thoughtful writing, but most especially, because of the pee and the poo.

More about Barnum, his name, pictures, etc., the next time I have a full night of sleep (or two or three or eight).

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

P.S. Please, please, please do not post any housebreaking advice! We really do know all the theory and the things we should be doing. It’s just that sometimes life happens, and then you step in it.

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