Archive for the 'Recommended reading' Category

Why Barnum Is No Longer My Service Dog


I don’t blog here at After Gadget anymore. I moved to over a year ago, but I still get notices from WordPress telling me that new people have subscribed to After Gadget. This post is for you subscribers to tell you my REALLY BIG NEWS and to invite you to subscribe to my ACTIVE blog, because this blog you’re subscribed to here generally has no new content!

Moving alone: My big news is that I no longer have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and I no longer have chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFIDS/ME), and I no longer have chronic Lyme disease and coinfections! Thus, I no longer need a service dog! Barnum has been “career changed” to “demo/training/sport dog” as I work my way toward becoming a professional dog trainer.

I am currently interning with two trainers, Caryl-Rose Pofcher and Elise Gouge. I’m learning tons from both of them.

Barnum and I have not started our sport training yet. He has had an ear infection for 16 months (no, that’s not a typo!) which has been treated with everything you can imagine, from ointments to oral antibiotics to acupuncture to full-sedation ear flushes. We think this very nasty chronic infection is due to underlying hypothyroidism (already being treated) and food allergies (which we’re sussing out now). This means that he’s on an eight-week trial of ostrich and quinoa. Although I have found ways to do treats and toys with ostrich and quinoa, it’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming, so I’m waiting to do classes with him till the food situation is easier. We will start introducing new foods into his diet in three weeks and see how he does with them. (Yay!) I already know he’s allergic to chicken. I am really, really hoping he is not allergic to beef, pork, turkey, and/or duck.

If you want to keep up with me and Barnum, or if you want to know how I recovered my health after 18 years of severe, disabling illness, please check out my current website, That is where I blog now. That’s where I have info about my writing, consulting, dog training, etc. If you want to skip directly to my recovery story, including “before” and “after” pictures and videos, read the post I published a few days ago. If you want to learn more about neuroplasticity and HOW I recovered, visit my page on neuroplasticity and my recovery.

I’ll leave commenting open here for a short time to support ease for readers who are not familiar with my new/current blog, but my strong preference is for you to comment on my new site (so I don’t have to keep logging in and out of two different websites). Thank you so much for your support and interest in my blogging and all-things-dog over the years! I really appreciate all I have learned and continue to learn from you!


Sharon and Barnum, Former Service Dog

After Gadget has moved to


If you subscribe to After Gadget by email you should already have had your subscription transferred to my new blog at If you follow this blog by other means (RSS, for example), I hope you’ll follow/subscribe at my new blog since I don’t plan to post new content here anymore.

So far there’s one new post up, and I anticipate getting a couple more posts up in the next few days for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD), the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (the deadline has been extended! Rejoice!), and a possible book contract announcement!…

UPDATE: New posts are going up all the time at I don’t anticipate posting any new material here, although I will keep all After Gadget pages and posts up as archives. If you’d like to support my work, please spread the word about my new site! Thank you!

I’m Writing Again

Back before Gadget died, before Barnum was born, before I started blogging, before Lyme disease ravaged my life, I was a writer. And now I am becoming one again, thanks in part to you reading this blog and encouraging me. Thank you!

Back in the Day

Breath and Shadow logo. A circle in tones of brown, peach, and mustard. There is a silhouette of a face that looks like a woman's face breathing out and inside that as a shadow is a second face which seems more like a man's face. Below that are the words Breath & Shadow in white letters.

Disability Literature and Culture

Yes, Virginia, there was writing before blogs. I used to manage and edit Breath & Shadow, a literary journal of disability culture, and I wrote occasional essays and articles (some humor, some disability studies), short stories (usually erotica, though not always), and poems for a variety of paper and online magazines, newsletters, papers, journals, and anthologies. From 1992 through 2006, I slowly built up a writing career. It was a challenge because I was disabled by chronic illness very soon after I graduated from college, so there were many years where getting published at all was a big deal each time it happened.

In January of 2007, I moved house, which I spent months trying to recover from. That summer, I got Lyme disease, which picked up my world and shook it like a snow globe. A lot of the time, my world still whirls around me in chaos. From 2007 through 2010, I did almost no writing. I handed over the reigns of Breath & Shadow to another editor, to whom I’m very grateful. During my most extreme years of illness, I did manage to write a couple of essays — a grueling undertaking — and a very small number of short erotica pieces. I also conducted periodic interviews of activists with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) for Our Toxic Times,* the newsletter for the Chemical Injury Information Network. If you have MCS or want to keep abreast of issues relating to environment and health, I highly recommend joining. The newsletter is excellent, and you will be supporting a 501(c)3 nonprofit that puts every penny to good use.

Logo for CIIN -- a merry-go-round pony, blue on white.

MCS: Roller coaster or merry-go-round?

Aside from the interviews, most of the stuff that got published in that time period were pieces that had been written earlier. Some were reprints; others were pieces that were waiting for the right home. And, after Gadget died, in December 2009, I started this blog. Blogging, I discovered, did not require the extremes of care, editing, proofing, and other work I usually put into writing. It offered me some slack that enabled me to continue writing.

“Professional” — or something**

Slowly, in the past two years, I have begun to write professionally again. I’m still hampered by severe swings in my cognitive and physical functioning and by needing to spend so much energy on training Barnum, but I’m managing to pick up a slow, stuttering sort of momentum. I know many of you read this blog because you’re interested in the topic of service dogs, dog training, recovering from loss, and other topics I cover. Others of you have told me you subscribe because you like my writing. I’m preparing for a big writing undertaking (a book, actually), and it would be very helpful to have more readers “follow me” to some of my other writing sites when my book project devours my soul takes over my life becomes the focus of my passion.

I wanted to tell you where else you can read my writing and ask you to subscribe/follow me on those sites, because I don’t generally post here about my writing elsewhere. I have some big projects I’m working toward — I hope to unveil the details about The Book in upcoming months — but meanwhile I need to keep stretching and exercising my writing muscles that are a bit stiff and atrophied from disuse. I would love it if you’d join me in some of my new writing ventures!

Dykes, Dogs, Disability, and . . . Maine?

Here’s where you can find some of my work:

– My writing blog, Bed, Body & Beyond, focuses on life as a writer with disabilities. Although historically I haven’t posted there as often as here, I have been posting there more frequently lately. I also put a lot of care into the posts that appear there. Sometimes a great deal of research and thought goes into a single post, such as this one about the language of disability.

Sharon sits in her powerchair, which is backwards; both Sharon and the chair are facing away from the camera. The chair has a gray seat and wheels, with a cherry-red base. Sharon wears a tan trench-coat, and she is holding it open on both sides, as if she is flashing whoever is in front of her. All that can be seen of Sharon are her naked calves, her feet in four-inch-high patent-leather heels, her hands pulling open the trench-coat, and her head. She is turning her head toward the camera, so her face is in profile, smiling mischievously. Her facial expression is saucy, letting you know that she does not take herself too seriously.

The longest alt tag ever?

Lately I’ve focused more on being an erotica writer, but so far I haven’t actually published anything x-rated on my blog. However, there have been requests for excerpts, so I might start posting some teasers, perhaps focusing on stories with a disabled protagonist (hint for upcoming book project!). Rest assured, if I do post something explicit, I’ll put NSFW (“not safe for work”) in the subject line so people can make an informed decision about whether to read it. Most of the time, so far, material on that site is not remotely explicit.

Recent posts include interviews with editors of books in which my work has appeared in 2012, a discussion on the language associated with disability, some reviews of my work, and pages with blurbs and links to online and book publications. As my work gets published elsewhere (I have essays, fiction, and possibly poetry coming down the pipeline) I’ll post interviews, excerpts, and links. I’d love if you subscribe/follow my writing blog! (Note: This is a Blogger blog, which means that subscribing by RSS is easy for anyone, but subscribing by email requires doing a Captcha [“word verification”]. If Captcha is a barrier for you, please contact me and I will subscribe you. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

An oval with two clasped hands reaching above the words Ability Maine in white letters on a black background that suggests mountains and a green background above the hands.

I’m ba-ack…

– Ability Maine — the website of disability news, views, information, and literature, especially (but not exclusively) with a Maine focus. One example is an interview I did with Arnold Mann, the investigative reporter for Time and USA Weekend who published a fantastic book on corporate and government complicity and coverups of chemical injury.

I’ve also started a blog for Ability Maine — Ability Maine Blog. At the blog I post blurbs and links about new content at the main Ability Maine page as well as its literary journal, Breath & Shadow. I also have started posting short, time-sensitive posts relating to disability news, events, culture or other pieces of interest to the disability community in Maine or around the world. Subscribing to the Ability Maine blog is a great way to read my new writing and found out about information of interest to the disability community. Those are actually *short* blog posts, which is a rarity with me, you know. (Note: This is also a Blogger blog, which means that subscribing by email requires doing a Captcha [“word verification”]. If Captcha is a barrier for you, please contact me and I will subscribe you. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

Outline sketch, black on white, of a dog's head and neck with a leash or harness draped around his shoulders. The profile is of a flop-eared dog like a Lab or Golden.

IAADP logo

Partner’s Forum, the newsletter of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). I have written occasional articles for PF for many years, usually training tips or equipment ideas. Now I am also helping the editor, Joan Froling, with locating, editing, and writing work on what will hopefully be an ongoing basis! You need to be a member of IAADP — a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization — to get the most recent issues of PF. Anyone is welcome to join. It’s a great way to support and learn about what’s happening in the assistance dog world. Partner members (those partnered with a working assistance dog) also receive additional benefits with membership.

– Listmania — I now have two listmania lists at Amazon of most of my work that’s appeared in books. (Work from magazines and such is more difficult to make available.) One list of books are nonfiction pieces (essays or humor) and the other is lesbian erotic fiction.

– The Chronic Writer(??) — Way back in the day, I wrote a monthly humor column called Sick Humor for Ability Maine. It was an outgrowth of my comic strip by the same name. “A twisted look at life with disability.” When I was invited back to write for Ability Maine, I really wanted to start writing again about the life of a writer with chronic illness, although I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be purely humor/satire. I wanted to do interviews with other writers with disabilities or chronic illness, write about some of the complexities of writing with impaired cognition and limited energy, the politics, the unexpected gifts of writing. I planned to call it The Chronic Writer.

I haven’t yet written an official Chronic Writer piece, although I’ve written lots of partial pieces, and I’ve published pieces at Bed, Body & Beyond and at Ability Maine that could certainly fit under the “Chronic Writer” rubric. My current plan is to move both my blogs (After Gadget and Bed, Body & Beyond) to my domain (which is very, very old and outdated, so I am not linking to it) and launch The Chronic Writer there. That website would be the home for all things Sharon-the-writer-Wachslery and would also allow me more freedom than using Blogger or WordPress freeware (especially as I’ve recently been made aware of an issue with WP Terms of Service). But, it’s been my plan for years to update my domain, so let’s call this a work-in-progress in progress, shall we?

So, that’s my big news. It’s a bit scary to make this announcement as if it’s some done deal, as if I can be relied upon to keep producing. Because if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I’m doing better. I’m starting to write again,” and then discovered that I couldn’t even finish a piece of flash fiction or a blog post . . . I would have made a lot more money than I ever have on anything I’ve published! But that is, after all, the way of the Chronic Writer.

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

*I’m still doing OTT interviews when time and energy permit, so if you are chemically injured, and you are involved in any form of activism, very broadly interpreted, please drop me a line, and we’ll see if you’re a good fit for my series. My goal is to profile one activist from each US state (and then perhaps I’ll move on to US territories and other countries after that).

**My definition of professional writing: getting paid occasional paltry*** sums for huge amounts of work OR getting paid nothing to have your work appear in academic or literary venues. This definition is slightly different if your name is J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.

***I recently got a royalty check for $1.36. That was $1.36 more than I had expected to earn in royalties for the year for that piece!

Via the Way Back Machine: Bereavement for Service Dogs

I started this blog with the goal of providing support and resources for other grieving partners of assistance dogs. For a variety of reasons, I have not posted most of the information I’ve collected. One reason was that I wanted to present it all in a complete, comprehensive, and organized fashion, and I just haven’t managed that yet.

Lately, I’ve come across many people facing loss around assistance dogs: A friend online who had to retire her guide dog and has not been able to get another yet. A client of one of my healthcare providers whose service dog has died. A post on a social network by someone who’s experiencing anticipatory grief as she sees her service dog aging. A friend who is struggling with serious health issues in her assistance dog and doesn’t know what the future holds for their working partnership.

All of this need for support — and the fact that my grief has softened into something much more comfortable — has spurred me to action. I’m trying to post a resource here and there, when I’m able, because when I was coping with Gadget’s illness and death, I needed much more support than I got. I found so little in the way of resources that met my needs for shared reality around the loss of not just a companion and family member, but a personal assistant, a breathing complex of assistive technology, a partner, a coworker, a teacher and student. Many kind people offered support, and I was and am grateful for it. Still, losing an assistance dog is a unique form of loss, and I was lonely for others who understand all the aspects of this complex loss.

Here is one resource I did find specific to service dog grief, and it was extremely helpful.

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) used to have a service dog committee that was specifically for support of assistance dog partners dealing with the retirement or death of their canine partner (both anticipatory grief and grief after-the-fact). They had an excellent page on the unique issues associated with assistance dog loss, as well as an online chat. Unfortunately, these services are no longer available.

However, it’s still possible to access their terrific page describing assistance dog loss issues through a cache-retrieval site called “The Way Back Machine.” I started working with a new therapist when Gadget was dying. One of the first things I did was to print out this information and mail it to her. It gave her more understanding of how this loss was affecting my life.

Here it is: Cached page from APLB on Bereavement for  Service Dogs.

Please note: Because this is a cached (not current) document, the phone numbers and links (names, email addresses, events) are not current. Nonetheless, the information about what it means to lose an assistance dog or end a partnership is timeless.

I recommend giving copies to family, friends, coworkers, or counselors who are willing to learn more about the unique issues in losing an assistance dog through death or retirement. I also recommend this page to assistance dog partners, themselves, as it can be very validating about what you’re going through.

To see my current list of grief resources, please visit the After Gadget Grief Resources page. I hope to continue to update the page as I add more live links. Please share this post with anyone you know who has suffered or is facing the loss of an assistance dog.

With wishes for peace and healing for all who grieve,

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

Feeding Two (or Twenty?) Birds with One Hand

Some twenty years ago, my friend Linda introduced me to the expression, “Feeding two birds with one hand.” I really like this expression. Not only is it kinder than “killing two birds with one stone,” but it’s more evocative. I can actually picture holding my hand out, full of bird seed, and having two birds land on it, whereas not only do I have no desire to imagine killing two birds with a stone, I really don’t know how you’d go about it if you wanted to.

So today’s post is about what I’ve been doing when I’m not here posting, and how this is an opportunity to bring diverse aspects of my life together and feed multiple birds — after all, I have two hands, so I should be able to feed at least four birds!

Many of my faithful readers know that over the last three months I have been working on a fundraiser for my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teacher, Marlena. Marlena’s Teaching Fund takes the form of an online auction, which starts right this very instant coffee!

Bird 1 – Connection & Contribution

What’s great about this auction? It gives me an opportunity to give back and contribute in a meaningful way to someone who has made a huge difference in my life.

I’ve also gotten to “meet” a lot of wonderful people — friends of Marlena’s or friends of my NVC friends — who donated items to the auction. It feels good to be part of something where people are coming together in a spirit of generosity and love. Nothing to be sad about there!

Picture of a mourning dove on snowy, pebbly ground with lots of sunflower seed hulls around it.

It may be called a "mourning dove," but I was happy to get this picture of it looking at me.

Bird 2 – Increasing Access to Fragrance-Free & Nontoxic Products

Some of my most commented-upon posts here at After Gadget have been those in which I’ve discussed my MCS and/or how fragranced products affect me. Many of you, my beloved readers, have gone in search of nontoxic, fragrance-free products — for your own health, for the access and safety of those with chemical sensitivities around you, and in solidarity with me. This has been so surprising and touching for me!

I also know that many of you have limited budgets, maybe not much access to trying out different products, or live outside the US, which sometimes means different brands than I know about. I am pleased to announce that there are several small, family owned businesses (many of them owned and run by people with MCS) that make nontoxic, fragrance-free products who have donated products or gift certificates to Marlena’s auction! Some of them will ship outside the US! You can test out MCS-safer products while also helping out an MCSer! Check out these listings! (For those who want an inexpensive way to test out several fragrance-free products, I suggest the Magick Botanicals trial/travel kit.)

Hairy woodpecker pecking at suet in a suet feeder on  small tree.

Hunting and pecking for the safe products in the scented aisles of a store? That can get downright hairy!

Bird 3 – Simplifying & Digging Out

I have too much stuff. My house is full of stuff! Stuff collects dust and mold and dander, all of which I’m allergic to. It gets in the way and leaves less room to maneuver my chair. But some of this stuff is perfectly good stuff. Stuff I can’t use, but that someone else could enjoy — brand-new books I was given but can’t read because I can’t read print books. Snarky posters I got as freebies when the company I ordered from messed up my order. Unused nontoxic/natural lip balm with peppermint oil in it. Inkjet office supplies I bought, forgetting that I now have a laser printer. It will feel great if I can give this stuff a new home.

Male red-bellied woodpecker digs suet out of a feeder with his long open beak.

This red-bellied woodpecker is chipping away at the fat, digging out. Inspiring!

Bird 4 – Bird Feeder as Blog Fodder?

I’m never short on ideas for blogs. In fact, my “Posts” folder has almost as many drafts as published posts, and that doesn’t even include all the posts I have in my head that I want to write! Still, now that I’m doing something with a deadline (the auction is only up for ten days), something I’ve invested so much time and energy in, something that’s so important to me, it pushes me to crank out a post to share with the world.

This gives me opportunities, such as to use several of my recent winter bird photos without writing the perfect Birding Thursday post.

I can carry myself with pride . . .

Tote bag in black and yellow that says Pride in big yellow letters on a black background.

This snazzy tote bag is made from recycled bird seed bags!

in taking an old idea like a signal boost and creatively transforming it into something new and different.

Colorful tote bag made from bird seed bags, includes a bright red cardinal sitting on a branch, and a sunflower at the base of the bag.

This tote bag is also upcycled from bird seed bags.

To think outside the box as a blogger . . .

Top of treasure box has head and shoulders of a brown hawk with red wings. There are feathers on teh side of the box.

This is quite some outside of a box!

can give me several different perspectives on something, depending on how I look at it.

A fabric-covered box. The top shows a blue jay in a green leafy tree with a blue feather attached to it, and the side shows a gorgeous white ibis about to take off over stormy waters.

Or how it looks at me....

It’s true that the tone of this post has been tongue-in-cheek and my objective transparent. Nonetheless, I am still appreciative of the seed Linda planted all those years ago of this kinder, gentler way to speak and act, which is part of the work of NVC, for me.

Especially because Linda remains one of my nearest and dearest friends. She’s the one who told me about Marlena’s NVC classes. Taking them together has deepened and strengthened our friendship. Maybe one of you will get to meet her, too?

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and a bored and demanding Barnum, SD/SDiT/hindrance dog

Update: Illness, Writing, Not Much Training


This is possibly the longest time I’ve gone without posting since the early months of this blog. There have been a confluence of events that have brought about this non-postingness.

One is, and I know this will come as a total shocker to those of you who follow my blog, I’ve been really sick. For realz! What with all my chronic illnesses, you’d think this wouldn’t surprise me, but it still kinda does. The issue is that I have been sicker, overall, since Octoberish, with some periods of being much sicker and/or much longer than usual. Every once in a while, I have an “up” day, and I think, “Huzzah! The suckiness hath lifted!” But nay, ’tis not so. The form changes, but the suckiness continueth. For the last couple of weeks, the major issue has been migraines every day.

This is really the first time since my Lyme treatment started to work, around spring 2009, that I have plateaued or dipped and not made a comeback eventually. My doctor and I are not sure what to make of this. A reinfection? An undiagnosed coinfection? A resurgence of babesia (which we had to stop treating because my liver couldn’t handle the antimalarial drugs required)? Or some of the drugs have stopped working? Or are one of the drugs making me sick?

It could also be an MCS thing — foods I’m reacting to that I’m not aware of. Inhalant allergies could have gotten worse, like dust and mold. Maybe there’s some sort of outdoor pollution occurring that I don’t know about that’s doing me in? The most frightening specter of all — could I be allergic to Barnum? I just can’t even deal with the hideousness of that proposition. I was allergic to my cat for years, not knowing he was the cause of my round-the-clock migraines. This worries me.

But all is not gloom and doom. There are good things going on, too. I’ve been working away at helping to organize the fundraising auction for Marlena, my NVC teacher. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s given me an excuse to interact more with some of my fellow students. (BTW, if you want to donate something and you haven’t yet, you have about ten days to get me the info.)

I also have written two long pieces. One is an essay for a really kick-butt anthology on intersections of oppression in feminism (most of the pieces are primarily about race/racism in feminism; mine is mostly about ableism in the feminist movement). The other writing project was a long, complex piece of erotica that was inspired by a documentary I watched on Frida Kahlo. And I’m hoping, if I hear back from various editors in time, and if I’m functional enough, to get in a few more submissions — work that is already done and just looking for a home. (This time of year seems to be heavy with deadlines; I don’t know why, but it always is.)

After I got these two pieces in, I found out that a book that was coming out that I thought had my work in it does not actually have my work in it. My story was accepted by the editor, but when it went to the publisher, they cut it. Normally, I’d have heard months ago, but the editor’s computer got hacked, so her email informing me never got to me. I found it out when I saw my name was not listed on the back cover of the book! It doesn’t happen often, this editor-says-yes-publisher-says-no, but when it does, it really bites. It feels like you’ve been sucker-punched: “You’re in! You’ll get published. You’ll get paid.” Then several months later, “Oh, by the way, the publisher hates your piece (cuz, although nobody says it, they don’t think it’s ‘marketable.’) Sorry!”

But that’s just a blip. The really big problem with writing is that when I write, I can’t do anything else. I can’t train with Barnum. I can’t talk on the phone to friends. I can’t blog. I went more than two weeks without bathing to get the short story done by the deadline extension the editor gave me. And I have to push myself beyond my total physical and mental breaking point to do it.

So, why do I do it? Well, partly because sometimes, when I write, I feel ridiculously happy and connected to myself and some sense of purpose that I never have in any other part of my life. Some of it is that usually these writing gigs pay something (paltry as it might be, and believe me, it’s generally quite paltry), and I have very expensive illnesses, and I worry about spending more (on supplements and air filters and house maintenance and my Lyme doctor who isn’t covered by insurance) than I am bringing in. So, this is a feeble attempt to put my finger in that dam. Some of it is that I just don’t know who I would be if I wasn’t a writer. I think I wouldn’t be me, anymore.

And, along those lines, I am working out a plan with the folks at AbilityMaine to return there as a staff writer. I’m really excited about this. It feels weird because Norm, my dear friend who died three years ago, founded AbilityMaine. So, it took some adjusting to the idea of working there without him, and I sort of flopped around undecidedly for a while. But I do know Norm would be very happy that AM is still in existence, and he was the biggest booster of my writing of anyone I’ve known, so I’m sure he would be happy for me to return. It’s just . . . odd. I will fill you in as developments, er, develop. And meanwhile you should start reading AbilityMaine so you can bask in its fabulousness.

Also, Breath & Shadow, the literary journal I founded, was an outgrowth of AM, and I might be writing for them, too. Again, we’re still not sure exactly how this will all shake out, but if you don’t read Breath & Shadow, you really should, because it’s been in the excellent hands of Chris Kuell since I left in 2007.

One great thing about writing for AbilityMaine is that I will once again get to be a free agent! I won’t be constrained by the whims of the publishing world’s ableism and other bullshittery. As long as I know what the parameters are of what they’re looking for, if the writing is good, it’ll get published. This is such a rare and wonderful and almost-unheard-of-thing in the writing world, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Where is Barnum in all this, you may wonder? Mostly on my bed, leaving big piles of dirt and dog-hair tumbleweeds in his wake. His coat is really long now, and he does look gorgeous as long as we can keep up with the grooming (which is a bear!). The good part about me being so consumed in my writing is that he is extremely eager for my attention when I have it to spare (or even when I don’t). So, he’s been extra cuddly, and he’s also very into training on the occasions I’m up to it.

Primarily, we are working on generalizing and learning the cue for turning on and off lights, generalizing and learning the cue for pulling doors shut (as opposed to nudging them shut or pulling them open), and adding some “attention seeking behavior/alert” to his “go find person” skill. (More about that last one in a separate post.) We’re also working a little bit every day on handling/grooming, such as keeping his mouth still with my fingers or a toothbrush inside, allowing grooming of the “sensitive bits” of his coat, recall, fetch, and working retrieve.

This Monday, February 27, will be our two-year Gotcha Day anniversary! Can you believe it? I haven’t decided what I’d like to do for it. I really want to do a photo essay or video of all the things he’s learned in two years, but between technical difficulties and extremely low energy, I think that’s unlikely. But, I am very proud of him.

Good night all. Hope to post on or before our Gotcha Day.

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

Happy New Year!

Tonight (Wednesday night), is the first night of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. I’m actually doing something for Rosh Hashana, which is a big deal. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve done anything for a holiday, and it’s been even longer since I’ve done anything I felt good about for a holiday, especially a Jewish holiday. Especially one of the High Holy Days.

I’m getting together, by phone, with some of my friends and fellow students from my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) class. I’ve pulled together some poems and some ideas of things to discuss, and sent out a transliteration of the shechianu (in both the masculine and feminine). I’m actually looking forward to it!

It’s really nice to have this glimmer of joy. I appreciate that even though I’ve been so sick lately and experiencing so much grief (this is a hard time of year for me — a lot of bad things happened to me in October through December), I can still find some happiness and a sense of meaning.

If you want to read some of the wonderful poems we’ll be using for our gathering, here they are:

A sweet New Year to all.

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


Tip for Tired Trainers: KPCT Podcasts

There are a lot of ways to handle dog training and stewardship when you have a fatiguing illness. I have generally focused my tips on training. But sometimes you are just too sick to train. In fact, taking training breaks is not only inevitable, but useful and necessary for both human and dog. More on that another time.

You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Tuesday Tip for Tired Trainers, and that my posts have been less frequent lately, overall. This is due to a dip I’ve experienced in my health and functioning. I hope I will pull out of it soon. Meanwhile, though, Barnum and I train when I can, and I try to support our efforts even when we’re not training. How? By keeping ahead of him in my learning.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. Have you gone through times where you have not been able to do much training, and you are feeling restless? If you’re training a service dog, a lot is riding on your training, and you’re probably fighting impatience as it is. While latent learning can help both you and your dog — that’s the learning that occurs when you’re not actively training/studying, when your brain is organizing all the information you’ve taken in, so resting is actually a form of learning — you may also find ways to support your sense of accomplishment by other forms of passive learning.

It’s a fact that people have to learn a lot more and work a lot harder to train their dogs than the dogs do. Every time I ask someone to help me train Barnum, I describe in detail exactly what they should do. They almost always respond, in a surprised and joking way, with something like, “This is really human training isn’t it? You’re training me more than him!”

I usually say, “Yes, of course!”

In fact, when it comes to dog training, I find people much harder to train than dogs! The hardest person to train is me. I’ve learned the same lessons dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and I still do the wrong things sometimes! Sometimes even while I’m doing it, I will say to myself, “Why are you doing this?” Or after I’ve done it, and it has failed, predictably, I’ll ask myself why I didn’t see that coming. Well, that’s just human!

So, what if you’re in a position like me? Training is important to you, but you are too darn sick to do much of anything. If you don’t have a lot of mental fatigue or cognitive issues (whatever you want to call it — brain fog, chemo brain, fibro fog, CFIDS brain, Lyme brain, etc.), you might be able to read a dog-training book. I find re-reading my dog training books very helpful, especially because of my memory problems. The same holds true for watching dog-training DVDs.

However, most fatigue-related conditions also seem to affect mental acuity. And chances are good that if you’re reading or watching a dog-training program, it’s important to you to remember it. You might be following a structured program, such as Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels: Steps to Success, in which case you are trying to follow each “recipe” exactly. That’s not very restful! Too much pressure for a tired brain and body.

Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcasts on Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT). These are usually podcasts by individuals or groups of trainers who have graduated from the Karen Pryor Clicker Academy (KPA). They cover a wide range of subjects, from typical dog-training issues (fear, aggression, games) to training other species (cats, fish, marine animals, other people, and oneself), as well as theories of training and behavioral psychology. Benefits of the podcasts are that they are available anywhere and any time you have a computer, and they don’t require a fast internet connection (the way video does). They are also free, which is a real benefit over buying a gazillion training books or DVDs. You do have to be a member of the KPCT mailing list to listen to them. If you aren’t already, it’s a relatively short, easy process to sign up, and the monthly articles you receive in your email are more than worth it.

I found this episode on the Power of Context Cues to be especially relevant at my current stage in training Barnum as a service-dog-in-training. Even though they weren’t saying anything I didn’t know, there are a lot of lessons it helps to learn repeatedly. This was a great reminder of the importance of keeping contextual cues in mind, and manipulating them to my benefit. Indeed, among examples relating to veterinary visits and aggression issues, examples are also presented that relate to guide dogs. (These comments came from guide dog trainer and KPA graduate and international freestyle champion, Michele Pouliot.)

The most recent podcast is this one on “Wow!” Moments by ClickerExpo Faculty. This page also contains a listing of all the podcasts to date, so you can start here and work backward, or pick and choose what interests you most.

These podcasts provide entertainment and education that is not too mentally taxing for me (usually). So far, they have not been on topics I felt I needed to take notes on, so I can just let the information wash over me and feel like I am still doing something to support my work with Barnum, even if we can’t shape behaviors.

If there’s a podcast you particularly like, please mention it in the comments!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and lately lead latent learner

AD Blog Carnival and BADD Reminders

Attention, bloggers!

Two reminders/announcements:

First, if you have anything to say on the subject of “Reactions” in relation to assistance dogs (guide dogs, hearing dogs, and all types of service dogs for people with physical, psychiatric, or cognitive disabilities), please consider including your post in the upcoming Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, hosted by The Trouble Is… You can find details about the theme and the deadline on her website. I’ve  already read some of the early entries, and it looks to be a fun and thought-provoking one!

Secondly, May First is annual Blogging Against Disableism Day, hosted by Diary of a Goldfish. This is an amazing blogswarm that happens every year; it started in 2006. Bloggers from around the world write a post in some way striking a blow against ableism/disableism.

Here’s what Diary of a Goldfish said last year:

This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made.

Goldfish has archives of all the past BADDs. Amazing stuff!

My post last year was Q&A on Being an AD Partner. You can write on any topic you want — employment, housing, relationships, discrimination, assistive technology, family, education, medical care — the list is endless. It only has to be something that will bring to light or discuss some aspect of ableism.

Note that for both the carnival and the blogswarm,  you do not have to be disabled, nor does your blog normally have to address disability issues, to be involved. You just have to write on the theme. Allies are a very important part of the disability rights movement, so allies’ contributions to BADD are very welcome, too.

There’s been a post I’ve wanted to write for a year, and that’s what I’ll be working on between now and May 1, so if I don’t post much, that’s part of the reason.

Another reason is something I will post about soon. I’m grappling with a big decision, and I’ll share that with you.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum

“Toilet Training”? Gimme a Break!

Tonight’s post is the first of a series on How to Build Enthusiasm in your dog. You can get more speed and excitement from your dog, even, or especially, if he’s new to clicker, a puppy, low self-esteem/confidence, low food drive, and more.

And, it’s contagious! When your dog is giddy over training, you will get happy, too, and enjoy the rush of “endolphins” (my favorite fractured word from Postcards from the Edge), after using these techniques, too.

I decided to start the series tonight because I’m feeling the high of a lovely series of training sessions after a really shitty day. Well, actually it’s been a pretty miserable last few days, with today being sort of the turd on the crap-cupcake of the week, where I was feeling particularly physically cruddy, as well as emotionally flattened. (All these scatological metaphors are not just me getting literarily lazy; they are dramatic foreshadowing!)

Finally, tonight, I got some relief (no pun intended, really!) from the pain and exhaustion that had been holding me down all day, and I managed to pull myself out of bed and distract myself from the dramarama. . . .

Barnum and I did some training. Now we both feel soooo much better!

In the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to conduct at least three short training sessions a day, each one composed of several very short sessions (five or six treats), with as high a rate of reinforcement (RR) as I can give (usually a shaping session).

Then I offer Barnum the choice to stop or to continue. It’s called the “Give Me a Break” game, which can be found in Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt. McDevitt originally conceived of the idea as a way to capitalize on latent learning in her dog who was reactive, extremely distractible, and had a very short attention span.

Photograph of book, Control Unleashed, with part of the spine chewed away

Oh, the Irony! “Control Unleashed,” visibly damaged when my unleashed, out-of-control teething puppy decided it made a colorful and delicious chew toy!

[Image description: A photograph of the paperback book, Control Unleashed, lying open, spine up. The front cover is very colorful, with several dogs in a variety of poses and lots of agility equipment and toys around them. The top part of the book is shredded, especially on the spine, torn and bitten up.]

Latent learning is what happens (in any organism), between training sessions/lessons/classes. It’s when our brains sort out and store what we’ve learned.

Latent learning is also one of the reasons why it’s much more effective (as well as more fun and less exhausting), to do several short sessions a day than one or two long ones. You can experience the effects of latent learning if you take a day or week or month off from training and discover that your dog is farther ahead than where you stopped off. This is very common in clicker dogs in a session in the morning that is a leap from the previous night, or sometimes even a big leap an hour or two after the previous session.

McDevitt created the game by doing a very short (five treats), very fast (high RR) shaping session, and then stopping and giving a “faux release.” This was not her true release that meant, “Okay, we are totally done with training now.” This release meant, instead, “Go cool off, have a chill, watch the birds, play with a ball, let me know when you want to start up again.” It was a way to take the pressure off her dog, who otherwise found training too stressful.

Well, an amazing thing happened. The more often she did this, the shorter was the interim between breaks. Very soon, the moment McDevitt had gone to her chair for her “time out,” her pup was demanding to start up the training again. It became a way of building enthusiasm and focus.

As some of you know, because of my inexperience with puppy training, which led to too-high expectations on my part, and frustration and confusion for both of us, Barnum seemed to be a  “slowly dog.” He did the skills, and he seemed to overall find training pleasant (once he finally had some idea of what we were working on — poor dude!), but he wasn’t wildly enthusiastic, and he tended to perform slowly.

A very smart and supportive reader of this blog (Hi, Eileen!), suggested I use Give Me a Break with Barnum. It has worked great!

At first, it took a while for Barnum and me to develop a communication system, because the system McDevitt uses — standing in one spot to train, then going to sit down in a chair in another spot for the break — didn’t work for us. This is because sometimes I train from my bed, sometimes from my pchair, sometimes, um, elsewhere. (I’ll get to that, shortly.) And I wasn’t always able to move far from wherever we were. Not only does where I sit or lie down vary, the room does too — we go wherever there are the fewest distractions, or the most room, or the least exhausting/painful for me.

The cue I use for “break time” is to sign the ASL for “break/interruption” and say “Gimme a Break,” and then wheel elsewhere or just rotate. While “on break,” I break up more training treats while (seemingly) ignoring Barnum. If I’m working from my bed, instead of moving or rotating the chair, I just turn my body slightly. If Barnum wants to keep going, he comes around and faces me and throws a behavior. Usually it’s sit ‘n stare. If we’ve been working on down, he will sometimes platz ‘n stare.

Then I say, “Oh! Do you wanna train??” And he acts excited. Then I say, “Okay, let’s train!” I grab my five or six pieces of meat, rotate  or move to a new spot, and we do our next short session.

We work on one skill until I think he’s peaked — by which I mean that either we have gotten a teensy bit further along than the last time we worked, or we’ve made a teensy bit of progress with whatever criterion I’m looking for in that session, or I get that gut feeling that if I try to do one more rep, it will not be as good as the last one or the behavior will actually fall apart. (More on “quitting while you’re behind” in a future installment of “Building Enthusiasm.”)

Sometimes this means we do four or five mini-sessions for one behavior and then move on to several more mini-sessions for several more behaviors. Sometimes we just do one mini-session for one behavior, and that’s it. Sometimes, it’s something in between, like two mini-sessions for a behavior, another couple of mini-sessions for another behavior or two, and that’s it. I gauge it by his enthusiasm, or by what I’m up for.

Another bonus to Gimme a Break for your’s truly is that I can take the breaks to think very clearly and specifically about what I want to do next: What skill will we do now? More of the same, or switch to something else? What will my criterion be that I want us to work on? And if he reaches that, what is the next step up from that, so I am ready to add another criterion if he is cruising with the first one.

I actually say my goals to myself, in my head or, more often, out loud, to make sure I’m clear about what I’m expecting of both of us. Some examples are, “All four paws on the mat,” or “Click for front going down before rear,” or “Click during the second scratch, not at the end of the scratch, which means I need to remember to depress the clicker partway while he is eating his previous treat so I can be ‘faster on the draw’ with my click.”

I don’t know if this technique is useful to people without brain injury, as well, but I suspect it probably is. (Neurotypicals, let me know: Do you do this, too?)

Another “trick” I’ve added to my repertoire is Toilet Training. No, not house breaking the pup! Thank goodness, we are waaaay past those days by now! What I mean is training from the toilet — my toilet! Whenever I head to the bathroom, Barnum follows, and we have a session that lasts as long as it takes me to pee!

It’s a great, easy way to keep sessions short, and to squeeze them in on a day that I’m feeling lousy and would otherwise have difficulty training. Also, if Barnum’s really not in the mood to train, it’s no big deal, because I have still accomplished what I got up to do (empty my bladder). Or I might just do one or two clicks — if he is tired from a long run or something, I click him for flopping down when he gets in the bathroom, toss the treat, he (usually) gets up to get it, and then I can click again for him flopping back down.

And once a day, we have a longer toilet-training session (if you catch my drift). Also, five days every month, we have a few longer sessions, if you catch my flow. (Too much information? Well then, you’ve come to the wrong blog. I grew up in a family where we referred to the bathroom as “the library” or “the reading room,” and my dad discussed manure at mealtimes).

Barnum’s food (raw meat) is stored in my bathroom, in our extra freezer, so it’s just that much more convenient.

Dog-training bathroom: Meat freezer, dog nail file/scratching board, yoga mat for Go to Mat, wooden sppon for take/hold retrieve training, yellow foam taped to a mouse pad for paw target practice, and foam supports to put under dog nail file at optimum angle

The well-appointed dog-training bathroom

[Photo description: Barnum’s head in the foreground, looking at a large white chest freezer, next to which is a doggy nail file, and on top of which is a blue yoga mat, a yellow foam rectangle duct-taped to a mouse pad, a long-handled wooden spoon, and two odd-looking white foam pyramids held together with duct tape. These foam pieces are placed under the nail file board to provide a better angle for scratching his claws.]

Although, if I’m feeling truly lousy and not up to opening the freezer lid, I just use the kibble I keep in a sealed container on the back of the toilet. I have a clicker that I hang on the toilet paper roll. It’s all soooo convenient!

Toilet training setup

Plastic container full of kibble? Check. i-click clicker hanging off toilet-paper dispenser? Check? Plunger for added decor? Check.

[Photo description: A gleaming white toilet in a corner, flanked on the left and rear by tan tile walls. There are three plastic containers on the toilet tank, one of which is a blue and white cottage cheese container, which holds the kibble. A roll of toilet paper hangs from a metal chrome-colored dispenser. A green i-click clicker is visible hanging off the toilet paper dispenser.]

View from the throne

View from guess where? Have i-click, have dog, ready to “go”!

[Photo description: View from the toilet. On the left is a toilet-paper roll with a green i-click clicker hanging from the metal dispenser. Barnum lies on the floor at my feet looking up at me. Just visible in front of me and to Barnum’s right is the foot rest of my powerchair. Floor and wall are tiled with large speckled tan/salmon tiles.]

Anynoodle, he is now way into training, and this is what we trained tonight, all in a row, in a bunch of short sessions. (Most, but not all, of these are Training Levels behaviors. We are primarily working Level Three and Level Four):

  • File your nails. (See video of early training session of this behavior.)
  • Eye contact. (I try to do contact at least twice a day, but preferably at the beginning of any training session each day. Tonight we made it to a count of 18 with six treats!)
  • Super-fast down. (I’m rebuilding down from a stand instead of a sit, and using a lure to get him to slide sort of play-bow really fast into the down.)
  • Take/hold the wooden spoon (as seen on top of freezer).
  • Foot target a yellow styrofoam rectangle (as seen on top of freezer).
  • Go to Mat on his dog bed AND nonverbal recall (very important for him to come to me when I don’t have my voice. I cue him to go to his dog bed, then make my kissy noise to call him to me, treat, and cue to mat again).
  • Random leave it. (I try to throw in at least one or two zen exercises every day, including now I often toss some treats on the floor and then we train something else, and he has to focus on what we’re doing while also ignoring the food on the floor. This really shows his progress! Requires focus!)
  • Play break (tug with plush spider and “I’m Gonna Get You” chase game).
  • Foot (give me right foot or left foot, as requested, and also let me examine your nails).
  • Default sit/wait before going through doorways.
  • Shutting cabinet doors!

What a dog! What a day!

And that’s only what we did tonight!

Earlier today we also did go to (yoga) mat (the blue one on the freezer), eye contact, touch (nose target), “quiet,” Look at That (another Control Unleashed exercise, because he is still slightly reactive to the vacuum cleaner), and two of his most important and highly accomplished skills, “Hold down the floor,” and “Look adorable.”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (hmm, is it possible that Barnum might actually be worthy to succeed me?), and Barnum (true business SDiT)

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