Archive for the 'Videos' Category

Two Years Later: Was Gadget the Perfect Service Dog?

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

ADBC #10

You know what’s odd? I wrote most of this post over a year ago, long before I had picked out a theme for this month’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. But since I so often get ideas for posts, start writing them, get too tired to finish, and then forget them, I checked my drafts for “perfect” posts and found this one!

This is not the post I’d originally planned for this carnival, but in case I’m too sick/tired/busy to write that one, I’m posting this (instead of or in addition to the one I’d planned to write.) Enjoy!

The post below was originally written November 19, 2011. All I did to finish it was write an ending and do some editing.

* * *

Today is the second anniversary of Gadget’s death. I’m on a list for people whose dogs have died after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.* It’s called the Lymphoma HeartDog Angels list (LHDA). We talk about anniversaries a lot on LHDA: anniversaries of birthdays or gotcha days, anniversaries of diagnoses, anniversaries of deaths.

When we are facing an anniversary, it often brings up memories of seminal moments in our dogs’ lives: the diagnosis, the decision to do chemotherapy, the dog’s last day. Stories of how these dogs came into our lives often touch me, such as Susan’s story about Freeway, whom she found abandoned on the side of the freeway. Susan picked her up in her car and they changed their lives forever.

Bettina fell in love with a shelter dog when she was a teenager and begged her mom to adopt him. But when they got to the shelter, they found that the sheltie mix had already been claimed. It turned out Bettina’s mother had applied for him already, as a surprise. Thus began Bettina and Niko‘s relationship, which lasted over seventeen years!

When I think about how Gadget entered my life, what strikes me is how much random good fortune played into it — how I blithely adopted this dog who turned out to be an excellent service dog and my heartdog — and I never even realized how high the odds were stacked against that until much, much later. I lucked into the perfect dog!

Not that Gadget would have been everyone’s perfect dog. Unlike his predecessor, Jersey, who was sort of the poster dog of winning over people who disliked dogs, Gadget was very doggy — and unschooled. Literally his first act upon entering my home was to lift his leg and pee on the clean guest clothes I kept in a basket by the door. Whereas Jersey never pulled on the leash, Gadget would run to the end of it and keep going. During his first week with me, he pulled my mobility scooter over onto me. He had phobias of round things (colanders, hats, outdoor garbage cans) and was wary of men, especially men in hats.

He was a drivey dog, a dog who needed a job, and I think things might have ended badly for him if he’d gone to someone who didn’t have the skill and patience and desire to put in the training to channel that drive. He wore me out with his need for physical and mental exercise. He taught Jersey that she didn’t really have to come when called. He chased all sorts of creatures, including adult black bears. He nipped my landlord, a male friend, and my dog walker, all during his first year with me. I nipped this behavior in the bud (ha ha), and Gadget learned that nipping people was counterproductive and would not bring the goodies that other behaviors did.

When I knew he was the dog of my dreams was when we started clicker training, especially shaping. The service skill I taught Gadget first was the first behavior I ever taught with a clicker: I had trained Jersey to shut the front door, and that was my clicker conversion experience. It was so positive and went so smoothly that I thought it would be a good first service skill for Gadget, too.

Here’s how I taught Jersey: I took some orange construction paper and cut out a circle and taped it onto the door at nose height. Click for approaching the target, then nosing the target, eventually wait for touching to turn into nudging, then harder nudges, then multiple nudges until the door was shut, then click for only some of the nudges it took to close the door, and finally click only for the closed door. When this was solid, I removed the target and clicked for shutting the door without it, which required going back a few steps to reintroduce nudging the door with no obvious target. With Jersey, this process had taken five days of three short sessions per day. I had been very impressed with that!

I intended to follow the same lesson plan with Gadget, but he had other ideas. I put the target on the door. Gadget immediately went to sniff it, and before I could even click him (I hadn’t expected him to orient to the target so quickly since we’d never used one before), he touched the target. I clicked that. He touched it harder. Click. He nudged the door shut! I gave him a jackpot.

When I opened the door again, he started nudging right away, and it only took two or three clicks for him to shut it again. He was so excited that if I held off on a click, he’d try pulling off the target to retrieve it. So it ended up on the floor. Even without the target, he kept orienting to the same spot on the door and within a couple of clicks the door would be shut.

“Well,” he must have been thinking, “obviously the object of the game is to shut the door. Why didn’t you say so?” Because very soon he switched to using his paw — much more efficient without all that nudging business. Within three minutes of beginning the game, I could open the door and have Gadget shut it, over and over again, with just a single click when the door latched.

Gadget, in other words, was a conceptual thinker, which I’ve been told is unusual for dogs. Thus, I managed to train him to do several skills without really providing all the details most dogs would need; I learned to expect these mental leaps and became what is known in training parlance as a lumper. Gadget would quickly grasp what the end goal of the behavior was and just do whatever worked to get there. For example, when I taught him to go find Betsy to bring her a message, and he was confronted with her closed door, he decided all on his own to bark at her door (which Betsy was not thrilled about). I had not realized how special this was. I just thought, “He’s problem solving. He’s got a brain, and he’s using it.”

When I recently told this story to a friend who has trained numerous service dogs professionally, she said, “That’s a dog on a mission!”

It was Gadget’s gusto and independent mind that I loved so much. A smart dog who has been given tools and taught to think for himself is a joy — and a nightmare. After teaching Gadget how to open the outside door to let himself out to relieve himself, one day I discovered the front door open, cold air filling the house, and no Gadget to be found! He’d realized that if he could let himself out when I told him to, he could also do it when he decided to!

I called him, and he came in. I vowed to keep a closer eye on him. He managed one more “escape” before I realized he was gone. The third time he tried it, I caught him in the act. He sauntered to the door and began to open it. I told him, “No!” very sternly, and that was the end of it — until the last year of his life, when he took to letting himself out to find me if I went out without him.

* * *

It’s odd. Grief and memory distort; they magnify some things, blur others. Even though after Gadget died I was lost without him, and I still couldn’t imagine Barnum achieving the number of service tasks or the level of support Gadget provided, I still didn’t realize how exceptional Gadget was.

Not that I didn’t remember how special he was to me, how important. I remembered our perfect moments: When the humans didn’t know I was asking them to shut the door, but Gadget did. When he woke me up when the timer went off and I had food on the stove I’d forgotten. When he alerted me that I’d left the sink on and flooded the bathroom (even though I never trained him to do that). When a stranger came into my home at night and Gadget stayed by my side, barking and ready to attack, but followed my cue to down and stay instead.

I also remembered his “flaws”: that he never completely adjusted to the move to a home with other houses and cars on it, that he worked much more eagerly if he knew I had cheese with me than if I didn’t, that he would get so excited to do a task that he’d get sloppy.

But these were not the moments that made me miss him so much, that left me feeling utterly lost and broken, like a part of my body had disappeared with him. It was the dailiness: Letting himself out. Bringing me water from the fridge. Waking me up so I’d take my medication. Carrying messages to others in the house. Turning off the lights when I went to bed. Opening the doors. Carrying groceries from the van to the house.

Yet, I always thought, “We could have done better. I didn’t train him to real stimulus control on many behaviors. We were never free of the food reinforcers.”

Sometimes I’ve thought that I built him up in my mind to be more perfect than he really was. Especially as I became a better trainer while working with Barnum and achieved levels of consistency and proficiency that Gadget and I never had, I’ve wondered, “Was it really that Gadget was so amazing and special, or was it mostly that he was the service dog I needed to get the basic job done? Was it really more that I lucked into adopting a dog who learned solid public manners, assistance skills, and loved to learn — despite the issues he had when he arrived?”

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I came across something I thought was gone forever — the one video I had of Gadget. Betsy and I made it the year before Barnum got cancer, and a friend of mine put it on Youtube, divided into two parts. A year ago, that friend closed his Youtube account, and I was so sad that I had lost this tangible proof of who Gadget and I were together. Then, when I was captioning videos for a recent post, I discovered that I’d posted and captioned the videos of Gadget before they were taken off Youtube. (You can see them here: Gadget and Sharon Part One and Gadget and Sharon Part Two. Or read the transcripts: Part One and Part Two.)

When I watched them again, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. I wasn’t focused on the skills themselves or on all the mistakes I saw us making. Instead, I noticed his gusto. He was so eager, motivated, and engaged. Yes, it sometimes took two or three tries to get something right, but he was determined.

He was, indeed, a dog on a mission.

It is good to be able to miss him for who he was and not for his supposed perfection or flaws. It’s good to see this side of him that I loved so much, preserved for me to celebrate and mourn. A dog on a mission to work, to keep playing the game, and — let’s face it — a dog on a mission to earn cheese.

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

*I’m one of the few people on the list whose dog did not actually die of lymphoma. Gadget’s chemo was effective for lymphoma, and he was in remission. Unfortunately, he developed mast cell cancer four months into his lymphoma treatment, and that is what killed him six months after he got lymphoma.

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What a Bartonella Herx Looks Like

Today’s post feels very vulnerable. It contains two short videos of me that are not the way I normally want people to view me. However, my desire for understanding for myself and for other people with Lyme and other tick-borne disease is stronger than my worries of what viewers might think about me.

I’ve been very sick lately. Partly this is a result of Herxheimer reactions I’m having from a powerful medication I’ve recently started using to fight one of my tick-borne diseases, bartonella. Bartonellosis is also sometimes called cat scratch disease.

Even though I’ve been treating Lyme disease for over five years, there are still people in my life who don’t really understand what herxing is and why treatment sometimes seems to make me worse. So, I decided to video myself going through a herx reaction as a way to help my friends understand.

I also want this information (both the videos and the written information here) to be available to the general public, especially other people with tick-borne diseases (TBDs), their families, and the medical community. TBDs are still not very well understood. For example, there are 26 known strains of bartonella, but when people get tested, they are typically only tested for one strain, bartonella henselea — the strain that causes cat scratch fever.

I never had a positive bartonella test, but because of my other symptoms, known tick bite and other positive TBD tests, I was diagnosed clinically. I hope this post will answer questions about what herxing is and why people with TBDs persist with a treatment that appears grueling.

Often when I tell people that I’m sicker because I’m doing a new treatment, they think I’m experiencing side effects from the drug. This is not the case. According to drugs.com:

side effect is usually regarded as an undesirable secondary effect which occurs in addition to the desired therapeutic effect of a drug or medication.

In other words, side effects are never good. Whether you stay on a drug that’s causing side effects or not depends on the severity of the side effects and the usefulness of the drug; but drug side effects are never an indicator of efficacy.

A Herxheimer reaction also involves unpleasant symptoms (which can range from brief discomfort to serious and prolonged or even deadly symptoms) that occur after taking a medication. However, these symptoms are not side effects of the drug, itself. Instead, they are the result of massive die-off of pathogens by the antimicrobial medication (usually an antibiotic, but sometimes an antiparasitic or similar). These dead or dying microbes release toxins into the body, and symptoms result until the body is able to process and eliminate these toxins (detoxify).

This Chronic Illness Recovery website explains herxing well:

Herxing is believed to occur when injured or dead bacteria release their endotoxins into the blood and tissues faster than the body can comfortably handle it. This provokes a sudden and exaggerated inflammatory response.

The treatment of many bacterial infections provokes a Herxheimer reaction. Herxing was originally observed in patients with acute infections such as syphilis. . . . The immune system response to acute infection is sometimes referred to as the immune cascade. For example, in the infamous anthrax attacks people died because by the time they got to hospital the anthrax organisms had multiplied to the point where killing [the anthrax organisms] also killed the patient.
It has been reported that patients with chronic conditions or infections such as rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme, tuberculosis and louse-borne relapsing fever have also experienced herxing when treated with the appropriate antibiotics.
Chronically ill patients are carrying a heavy load of intracellular pathogens by the time they become symptomatic. . . . The immune system response when these intracellular bacteria are recognized and killed causes a similar immune cascade.
In other words, herxing only occurs when a treatment is appropriate and effective. If you are not infected by the particular microbe you’re targeting with a particular antibiotic, you will not herx on that antibiotic. And generally speaking, the worse your infection is, and the more effective the antibiotic is at killing it, the worse you herx.* For this reason, herxing is also sometimes referred to as a “die-off reaction” or a form of “healing crisis.”
Although herxing has caused me a lot of physical and emotional distress over the last few years, I also find it a useful tool. Whether or not I herx on a particular treatment can be a helpful indicator of the presence or severity of a given infection. It can also provide information on whether a given drug is efficacious or not for what we’re trying to treat.
People often ask me how I can differentiate between when I’m experiencing a herx and when I’m experiencing a bad reaction to a drug or suffering from a drug’s side effects. Although it’s not always entirely straightforward, usually the following is true of a herx, for me:
  • Herx symptoms are often stronger versions of what I was already experiencing as symptoms of tick-borne disease (TBD). For example, I often have increased pain, exhaustion, shortness of breath, and weakness when I herx, but these are already symptoms I’m living with due to TBDs. The herx just makes them more intense.
  • Some herx symptoms are known symptoms (sometimes esoteric ones) of the TBD I’m treating. For example, burning on the soles of the feet and shin-bone pain are two classic symptoms of bartonella, both of which I have had pop up or worsen when I started a drug that treats bartonellosis. Air hunger and night sweats are classic babesiosis symptoms, both of which worsened for me when I started treating babesia a few years ago with antimalarial drugs. Also, some TBDs tend to act unilaterally and others act bilaterally, so a symptom that was present before in both sides of the body might worsen on one side only during a herx; bad reactions to medications and side effects are not usually this quirky. Although I started having joint pain soon after I was infected by a tick, it was not until I started treatment that I had joint swelling. Five days after starting the antibiotic Flagyl, my toes swelled up. Later, when I started Bicillin (an intramuscular injection of penicillin), my wrists and knees puffed up. Eventually, after sufficient treatment, my toes and joints regained their former appearance. Likewise, I was having trouble voicing when I woke up yesterday morning, and I was already exhausted and in pain, though happily, my voice had returned to full strength shortly before I started my infusion. (Also, I was working so hard while being videoed at explaining what was happening with me — using notes to try to be comprehensible and accurate — that I actually think I look less sick than I was. After we stopped taping, for example, I went into an extended coughing-and-trouble-breathing jag and also was just lying there and unable to move my arms much to rest up from the exertion, but hopefully you get the idea.) So when my voice went away again during the infusion (as you’ll see in the video), that was a pretty obvious sign of herxing, but I have been nonverbal most of the last six weeks, whether or not I’ve done a recent infusion.
  • Herx symptoms usually hit hard and fast and then (eventually) go away. Most of the time, if I take a new antibiotic orally or by intramuscular injection, the herx will start within a day of the new treatment. Sometimes within a few hours. There are variations. Sometimes it starts out mild, with just one or two symptoms, and over the course of a few days, the symptom get stronger and others reveal themselves. If I am infusing the antibiotic (intravenous therapy), the herx usually starts within minutes (as you’ll see in the videos below). How long herxes last varies a lot. I seem to herx for much longer than most other Lymies I’ve talked to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was so severely infected with so many pathogens for so long, and then I started aggressive treatment with multiple drugs, full strength, at once (which I will never do again and strongly advise against!), but I herxed for well over a year on some drugs (probably because they were in combination). With side effects, or other adverse reactions to drugs, usually I do not start out with that symptom, and then it appears and increases over time. With herxing, it’s the opposite: it starts out strong, and then it gets less severe. Eventually the herxing stops and I feel better on the antibiotic than I did before I started it.
  • By now I am familiar with what most of my TBDs do and what my herxes feel like. Some examples are listed above: muscle and joint pain, exhaustion, tremor, weakness, dysphonia, etc. Other symptoms were harder for me to clue in to. For the first year or two after the tick bite, I was really crazy a lot of the time. I didn’t realize that the way I was feeling emotionally was a symptom of the TBDs. I also didn’t know what herxing was. So, I was already experiencing a lot of psychological and behavioral symptoms that I wasn’t really aware of. (I just thought everyone else was being unreasonable.) Then, when I went on antibiotics, the symptoms got worse. The more powerful and effective the treatment was, the crazier I got. This caused serious damage to my relationships and sense of self because I was not aware of what was happening, nor did I have the supports I needed to manage it. Now, before I start a new antibiotic, I tell key people in my life so they can be on the watch for any psychological symptoms I might be unaware of. However, after six years of dealing with this, I’m now very tuned in to what is “me,” and what is “the bugs eating my brain.” Fortunately, I don’t have psych herxes with every new drug. They seem to be worst for babesia (mood swings, desolation, hopelessness, paranoia) and Lyme (agitation and rage).
Below are two very short videos I made yesterday. The first one is at the beginning of my infusion, and the second one is 25 minutes later, at the end of the infusion. I chose to video yesterday’s infusion because: 1. Yesterday morning I had relatively clean hair and good natural light. 2. I was increasing my dosage so I thought it was likely I would herx. (As it turns out, I herxed much faster than I’d expected.)
If you’re reading this in an email or to watch the captioned version of Part 1, click here. A transcript of both videos is at the bottom of this post.
The Youtube of Part 2 is below, but it’s all nonverbal and signed, so unless you can understand really exhausted, broken ASL, you’ll want to watch the captioned version.
Now that you’ve watched the videos, I hope you will keep these three things in mind:
  1. Herxing subsides in time. I will not go through this every time I infuse this medication. Eventually it will make me feel better, not worse. I’m on several other antibiotics that have helped me improve a lot, and if I go off them, I tend to get worse (unfortunately). Meanwhile, the herx tells me the drug is doing what we want: killing the bacteria.
  2. Everyone’s herxes are different. There are some common bartonella symptoms, but each person’s constellation of symptoms are unique.
  3. If you are starting treatment for Lyme or other TBDs, I strongly recommend only going on one new treatment at a time until you are tolerating it well and also starting at low doses and ramping up over time. In both the short and long run, it’s safer and kinder to yourself not to try to tough out the most extreme herx possible.
I hope this was useful. I welcome comments and questions. I also hope you will share links to the videos and to this post to spread awareness of tick-borne diseases and their treatment.
-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (canine Lymie), and Barnum, SD
*This does not mean that herxing always occurs every time someone takes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection! Some types of infections are much more likely to cause herxes than others, and a few fortunate people don’t seem to herx in situations where others do.
P.S. Betsy walked into my room later that day and said, “Are you wearing makeup?”
I said I was because I’d made a video of myself, and then I showed it to her.
She said, “You put on makeup to show how sick you are??”
I said no, not to show how sick I am, but to show what herxes can look like. And, “Just because I’m sick doesn’t mean I want to make a video looking like crap!” I mean, these images stay on the interwebz forever…. Sheeh! It’s a femme thing….
Transcript of First Video:
Sharon is propped up in bed, oxygen cannula in her nose and IV line running from under her shirt off camera to her side. Sharon: Hi, it’s Sharon. I’m just starting my Rifampin infusion this morning — to show the difference between before a herx and after or during a herx. Right now, before it’s starting, my pain is about a four or five throughout my body. And my voice is working, as you can hear. Oh, it’s already starting. [Voice becomes scratchy.] I’m feeling some tightness in my chest, and um, starting to get cognitively impaired, and my voice is starting to go a little bit. And I’m starting to have trouble breathing, which is why I set up the oxygen before we started. But I was not expecting it to go this fast. [Voice becoming more hoarse.] So [laughs, coughs] I’m a little surprised and unprepared for how fast it’s hitting, and I’m going to take a break now and finish recording later. Off camera: Cut? Sharon: Yeah.
Transcript of Second Video:
[Sharon lies in bed and begins signing. She signs with her hands low, near her lap, and she doesn’t body shift. She is slumped against the pillows more than in the previous video and sometimes breathes hard with effort. She is not making eye contact with the camera but looking to the side at her computer screen.]
Sharon: Now, near the end… [looking toward the IV pump]
Woman’s voice: Signing? Infusion?
[Sharon shakes her head no each time the other person speaks.]
Sharon: It’s hard for me to breathe. I’m using oxygen at 4 LPM [liters per minute]. Pain is up, muscles locked up. Burning pain in my right shoulder, diaphragm, and right foot. And I can’t move my legs. More difficulty moving my body. For example, grabbing, uh. . . . [Sharon looks around and reaches for her pill box next to her and picks it up and moves it closer to her, which seems to cost a great deal of effort.] Sharon: That’s work! [Laughter turns into coughing] It’s hard to think, to find the right words. I’m reading now — to remember to say, um…. This is how hr… no, herx from bartonella looks. Thank you. That’s it.
Woman’s voice: Cut.

Barnum Is Now a Coupe

He is a two-door service dog. The latest model.

While I spend the vast majority of my time in bed, I also make frequent trips to the adjoining “master bathroom,” which has a difficult-to-open door. It’s actually not as bad as it used to be, but I can never fully shake off the fear of my first experiences with this door.

When I first used the bathroom in this house was when I was a potential home-buyer. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and did my business. Then, I tried to open the door, and I couldn’t. It was stuck. It was summer, and the wooden door had expanded and become too tight. I’m not super strong. I yelled for help. Nobody heard me. I banged on the walls. I tried repeatedly to tug the door open with its obnoxiously unhelpful egg-shaped door knob.

I don’t remember how I got out. Either someone noticed I’d been gone a while and came to look for me, or — using that extra boost of adrenaline that comes with a combination of fear and humiliation — I finally managed to free myself. Forever after, I was nervous about getting locked into that bathroom.

I made changes: I changed all the egg-shaped knobs to levers and hung door pulls on them for Gadget to use to open and shut the doors. The levers were also easier for me to open. And most importantly, a locksmith friend of mine adjusted the door so that it fit better in the frame and didn’t stick in the summer.

Even with all this, that bathroom door is still the most difficult-to-open interior door in my house. It takes more torque to release the bolting mechanism than any other door does. And even though Barnum has become quite accomplished with the other doors in the house, I hadn’t yet taught him this one because it presents an additional challenge due to the size and configuration of the bathroom.

So, until I taught Barnum how to open this door, I have mainly been dealing with the problem by almost never shutting the bathroom door. This doesn’t allow me a lot of privacy when my PCAs or other people are around, but I’d rather lose some privacy than get trapped in the bathroom. It’s so undignified! (And the location of this bathroom, combined with the very thick, insulated walls mean that when I do have to yell or pound for someone’s attention in there, it’s very hard to be heard.)

The reason this door was the last bastion of dog-door-opening difficulty is that I couldn’t use the same training technique I used with others. The way to make the job of opening a door easiest on Barnum is to have him approach the handle from the side furthest from the lever’s end, as opposed to pulling straight on. This way, he uses maximum leverage with minimal force to release the bolt. (Physics is your friend.) You can see this technique in action in the video below, where it takes less than three seconds for Barnum to open and exit the door. (From 0:03 to 0:06.)

Transcript of the video is here.

However, the master bathroom has a built-in cabinet right next to the door, so Barnum’s only options are to pull from the front or to pull from the lever-end side, which is even worse.

A door with a metal door lever with a red nylon webbing pull attached. It has a knot in the bottom. Next to the door is a cupboard, with a cabinet door and three drawers. Thin, turquoise nylon pulls hang from the cabinet doorknob and the knob of one of the drawers.

Here’s the bathroom door and the counter immediately on its left that prevents Barnum from getting good leverage.

So, I messed around with it for a while. I tried partially filling the latch hole on the theory that if the bolt had less distance to travel, it wouldn’t require as much torque to release. For whatever reason, that hasn’t worked.

Meanwhile, I started shaping* this behavior with a very high rate of reinforcement so that Barnum would be VERY EXCITED to open the door. I actually began with his favorite PCA sitting on my bed and only partially shutting the door, asking him to find her (as I previously discussed here and also here). This is Barnum’s Very Most Favorite Skill in the World. He LOVES to find people, get a treat from them, and then run back to find me. This also happens to be the most likely real-world application of this skill — if I’m in the bathroom and need Barnum to go get me help. So, I was tweaking the circumstances for maximum thrill.

Once Barnum was whining with excitement every time he flew at the door and tugged, I switched to just shaping a very enthusiastic approach to taking and pulling the cord. Then I shaped for longer holds and harder tugs. Occasionally, seemingly by complete chance, the door would fly open, but most of the time, Barnum was throwing his terrific enthusiasm (and considerable strength) into the job, without success.

I did notice, eventually, that the times that the door opened “out of the blue” did have something in common — Barnum was approaching from further away. So, I went back to my frenemy, physics, to try to figure out the problem. It seemed clear that Barnum needed to pull DOWN more BEFORE he pulled back. He also needed to approach as close as possible to, and parallel with, the cabinet. And there was something about approaching from farther away that helped. Shaping him to approach from the side was easy — I could manipulate each approach by where I threw the treat from the previous attempt. I realized eventually that the distance of the approach often simply meant a more enthusiastic, energetic pull. But why that was so crucial I still wasn’t sure.

I wanted to make the pulling easier on him. Someone on a training list I’m on once mentioned that a very long pull cord works better for her SD than a short one, so I switched to a long cord. That made things worse, which helped me realize that Barnum needed to choke up HIGHER on the cord to be able to pull down more easily. This wasn’t something I’d figured out with Gadget, who naturally had a tendency to grab high and who was also a bit shorter and more naturally wild/enthusiastic in his grabs. Eventually I realized that the two key ingredients were to shape Barnum to grab higher and to pull down hard at the beginning, versus a slow, steady pull that tended to be back as much as (or more than) down. That’s why the “running start” made a difference; he naturally tended to grab higher and pull down more when he was excited.

So, today I moved the knot higher up the pull cord (or tug strap, as some call them), and I tossed treats as far behind him as possible to get him coming at the door faster/further away and as close to the cabinet as possible. Success! Once he understood that grabbing up higher was the key, he was very excited about it. I jackpotted any time the door opened, not least because the door suddenly swinging open was a bit startling to Barnum the first few times.

Then, each time he opened the door, I had him run to find my PCA. Creating this behavior chain served two functions:

1. He loves this behavior, so it added value as a positive reinforcer for opening the door.

2. Most of the time when I really will need him to open the door, it will be to go find help, so it’s good to forge the links in this behavior chain now.

After a few rounds of this, Barnum was getting mentally fatigued (he was still extremely enthusiastic, but he was starting to get cues mixed up and just throwing behaviors at me), so I ended with BOTH the bathroom door and my bedroom door shut, which — again — most closely simulates what I will need in a real situation. He also has such a strong positive reinforcement history of opening my bedroom door to find a PCA that I thought it would be exciting to him.

Well, he did it! He opened the bathroom door. I said, “Where’s [person]?” And he raced into my room, whined with excitement in his hurry to get my bedroom door open faster than was caninely possible and found her. She praised and treated, asked him where I was, and he ran back to me! I was very proud and pleased.

I wanted to pet him or thump him on the chest in celebration, but he really does not like to be touched while in training mode, so I asked him for a “high nose,” which is the behavior I have settled on for when I want some celebratory physical contact at the end of a training session and he doesn’t want to be touched. I do a “high-five” position with my hand, and he bonks it with his nose (because even though I say, “High nose!” which means nothing to him, a palm facing him is our nonverbal cue for “touch”), and he gets a treat, and everyone feels good. (I have been giving a lot more thought to how and when Barnum wants to be touched and how we can both have our needs met and respected since I read this post by Eileen and Dogs.)

Of course, we will need to practice this and get the entire behavior chain on one cue (“Where’s [person]?” leading to opening both doors, finding and nudging the person, sitting down, waiting for the “Where’s Sharon?” cue and then returning) but I feel very confident that we are close to that now.

High nose!

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

P.S. I know I haven’t been posting much lately. I have a lot of posts that are mostly done, and I hope to get back to blogging and other writing soon, which I will be filling you in on. . . .

* For those of you who are new to my blog or to clicker-training lingo, a few explanations/definitions:

Shaping, sometimes referred to as “free shaping,” is, in my opinion, the most creative, advanced, and fun form of clicker training because there is no prompting by the trainer. Instead, we use a dog’s offered behaviors and reward those that resemble — in tiny ways, at first — the end result we want. The dog has to do more thinking than in any other form of training. It is a step-by-step way for dog and trainer to problem-solve their way to a solution. In my experience, behaviors that are shaped are the strongest behaviors when they’re finished than those achieved by luring or other methods, possibly because they tend to involve such a high rate of reinforcement (sometimes referred to as RR).

Rate of reinforcement (RR) means, quoting Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Glossary: “The number of reinforcers given for desired responses in a specific period of time. A high rate of reinforcement is critical to training success.” Here is a much longer discussion of RR and its importance in dog training.

Retrieving a Fork with Food on It (Zen + Retrieve = Yippee!)

I’ve said all along that I wanted to train Barnum more and better than I did Gadget and Jersey. I wanted him to learn skills they didn’t know because I now need more types of assistance than I used to. And I wanted Barnum trained better because there were skills Gadget had that were good enough, but that were never really perfect. For example, Gadget was good at retrieves but lousy at combining the “hold” with other skills, like heeling or sitting or sometimes even waiting for the release (instead of just dropping the item in my lap).

One thing I never trained Gadget or Jersey to do is pick up silverware that had food on it without tasting the food. I just didn’t know how to communicate that part, because I didn’t know about doggy zen. Since dropped utensils often have food on them, this was a hole in our training.

Thanks primarily to all I’ve learned from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels and the Training Levels list, I am a much better trainer now. I also owe some credit to Barnum for being harder to train than Jersey or Gadget, which made it impossible for me to be sloppy and take shortcuts like I did with them.

One of the ways Barnum is much better trained is with his “leave it.” I used the “puppy zen” approach to teaching this, and it’s an awesome tool to have in your dog training toolkit. (I’ve posted about zen plenty in the past. If you want to read some zen-related posts, click on the relevant tag or search “Zen.”)

We have been working on a default zen, which means that I don’t have to cue “leave it” for Barnum to know that he should not eat/sniff/touch/grab that thing/person/animal unless I tell him to. I wrote this earlier post on zen which includes a video (a captioned version and a noncaptioned version and a transcript of the video at the end of the post).

Recently we’ve also been working on combining zen and retrieve.

In general, I’ve been trying to widen Barnum’s repertoire of things he understands how to pick up, like big (wide) things, long things, heavy things, bulky things, flat things (e.g., paper), etc., as well as circumstances in which he picks things up (different rooms, outside, with other people around, with background noise like a video playing, over longer distances, with me moving, etc.).
I’ve also started combining zen/distraction with retrieving. I started leaving a treat on the floor and asking him to retrieve something while ignoring the treat. Over time I’d add more treats and/or put them closer to the retrieve items. Eventually I could put several treats under and around the item and still have him pick it up. The challenge was not with him snorking up the treats but with him being afraid to pick up an item that was within “the zen field.” (You can see the zen field at work in the video referenced above. If a treat was next to another treat that was also “zenned,” he wouldn’t eat it unless specifically cued to do so.)
Last Saturday he was doing really well with something we were working (I don’t remember what anymore) and for his treats I was using leftover cooked fish and fish skin that was very smelly and exciting to him. I was delivering the treats on a fork. I thought, “Hmmm.”
I got a clean fork and had him retrieve it. Then I smeared some fish juice on it and repeated. Then put a piece of fish UNDER the fork. And finally I used the fork I’d been feeding him from with a piece of fish speared on the end, and he retrieved it! (Without touching the piece of fish, I mean.) We did it a few times, including the fork ending up in different positions and having fish flying off it, etc.
In the following days, I tried it with pork and hot dogs. Each time, if I didn’t begin with review, he’d start toward the food end of the fork and I’d tell him leave it. But once I reviewed and he realized we were working zen AND retrieve, he’d switch to carefully picking up the handle end of the implement and leaving the food on the fork.
Today I finally made a video of him doing this, and I tried to show some of the steps leading up to it. It’s kind of a clumsy video. My voice wasn’t working, so we did it all without voiced cues, and he was not the most “in the game” he’s ever been, but hopefully you can understand what’s happening. (For the record, when I say, “Oops,” it’s not because he’s eaten the food, it’s because of the sloppy way he retrieved the fork which resulted in a piece of hot dog falling onto my foot plate, which he then went to eat, so I had to cue him to leave it.)
I am “signing” in this video, not speaking. I use the term “signing” very, very loosely because I am so out-of-practice signing that a lot of it is kind of incomprehensible mumbling from an ASL perspective, so the captioned version is as much for hearing folk as it is for Deaf or hard of hearing people.
You can watch the video (uncaptioned) below. . . .

The captioned version is here.

There is a transcript of the video below which might be of interest even to those who can watch the video, because there are some things you don’t see very well in the video that I explain in the description, like where the meat is, and that in the last retrieve the fork is right next to a piece of hot dog on the floor, etc.

Comments, critiques, questions, etc., all welcomed!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (she didn’t do this stuff with me! Boo!), and Barnum SD/SDiT

Video Description:

Sharon: I’ll show you how Barnum and I train zen (self-control) and retrieving.

Sharon picks up a fork.

Sharon: This is clean.

Sharon holds out the fork and Barnum takes and holds it in his mouth. Sharon grabs the fork in Barnum’s mouth and clicks and he lets go and gets a treat. Sharon tosses the clean fork on the floor and Barnum retrieves it for a click and treat again.

She spears a piece of hot dog onto the end of the fork and tosses the fork on the floor. Barnum moves around the fork warily. He picks it up but at the food end, so although he doesn’t eat the hot dog, when he hands it to Sharon, the hot dog piece falls onto her footrest. He moves to eat it. Sharon voices something that sounds like “Leave it,” and Barnum retreats from the hot dog piece.

Sharon: Oops. We’ll try again.

She holds up another fork that has a beef cube on it and throws it on the floor. This time Barnum picks it up by the handle. Sharon shows the fork to the camera so viewers can see that the meat is still on the fork.

Sharon takes two more hot dog slices and puts one on the fork that has the beef on it and tosses the other on the floor. Barnum doesn’t attempt to eat the one on the floor. When he turns and looks at Sharon instead, he gets a click and a piece of hot dog from her hand.

Sharon holds it for him to take, and then give back to her. She tries to hold it for him out to the side, but drops it instead. Barnum picks it up by the handle and gives it to her. Sharon shows the camera the pieces of meat still on the fork.

Sharon: Perfect!

Sharon throws the fork with the meat on it over next to where the hot dog is lying on the floor. Barnum retrieves it while ignoring the hot dog on the floor. Sharon clicks and treats him.

Honing Our Service Skills: Barnum Training Update (Videos)

Or, “What I Did Over Summer Break”

I announced a couple of months ago that I was taking a blogging hiatus to focus on training Barnum. What I didn’t realize was that I was also taking the opportunity to be really damn sick. So, that’s been quite discouraging.

Mostly I have discovered that I cannot bounce back in a reasonable amount of time from going out. Any minor exertions or exposures completely incapacitate me for days afterward. Thus, I’ve changed my training goals and plans for the summer. I’ve shifted our focus from public access training (which I’m just way too sick to do) and foundational skills (Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels) to training skills that I really need now on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I’m very sick.

These skills include

  • Shutting and opening doors
  • Shutting and opening drawers and cupboards
  • Turning lights on and off
  • Dressing and undressing
  • Finding my PCA when I need help
  • Pulling the covers off my bed
  • Bracing/balance assistance
  • Pulling my legs to the edge of the bed
  • Answering/bringing me the phone
  • Alerting me to the kitchen timer
  • Alerting me to my infusion pump
  • Retrieving things I drop
  • Retrieving things I need

Wow. Seeing it all written out has made me realize, that’s a long list! No wonder we don’t have it all finished yet! Good reality check for me.

Some things on this list he is already very solid on, such as bracing and shutting doors and cupboards. Other things he knows solidly in some situations but not in others. For example, he is very good with the light switch in the bathroom, but not as good with the one in my bedroom because usually my chair is parked in front of it, which makes it harder to get to. (More about that below.) He knows how to pull off my socks but is clueless about my shoes. He generally is solid on retrieving things I drop, but he still needs to learn to retrieve a wider ranger of items, such as more awkward, big, and/or heavy items. Stuff like that.

Today I decided to videotape a few of the skills that we’ve been working on as a way to show some people on my training list what I was trying to describe and also as a way of testing Barnum. They are very short, fun little videos (about a minute or less each).

Pulling Shut Bathroom Door

Shutting a door by grabbing a cord and backing up is much harder than just nosing it shut. In the winter, I use this skill a lot because I keep the doors shut to retain heat. In the summer, we don’t use it as often because I like more air flow. Here’s what he did today:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

What was so interesting about today’s test was the evidence of latent learning that occurred since we last worked this skill. I shaped this skill with a focus on Barnum’s body position — having him move parallel to the door and back up so that he wouldn’t end up shutting himself into the bathroom. I taught him to grab the cord and back up.

Over time, the harder pulls, he had to really back up fast to get out of the way, so on his own, he figured out a way to “beat the clock.” As you can see in the video, he pulls the door once and races out of the bathroom and then moves into position to back up when he grabs the cord a second time to finish the pull. Very smart!

Turning Lights On and Off

This is a skill that Barnum is most used to doing in my bathroom. I trained it there because most of the wall is tile, which can’t be scratched by his toenails. He has it down pat in there. However, the place I need the skill the most is in my bedroom, particularly when I’m in bed, and I want the light either on or off (often, when I have a migraine, I want it off post-haste!).

The tricky part is that I also park my powerchair next to my bed where it prevents Barnum from doing a direct jump-up right to the switch in a centered way. Or, it makes it much more difficult. He has to launch from right behind the chair, which he does on the third cue, so we’ll need to practice that more.

We have trained this a bunch with the chair moved out of the way so that he has the idea of the best angle to launch from, but the reality is that a lot of the time, in “real world” conditions, the chair will be in the way. So, lately I’ve been having him practice it with the chair in its usual space — that’s why you see the cardboard really scraped up.

I tested him on it today, and here are the results:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

Did you see our blooper? It used to be that Barnum would flick the switch up and down and up and down if he didn’t get a click at just the right moment. By now, he usually has the idea and will just do it once in either direction. When training, I don’t use the clicker and just toss the treats, so he learns to pay attention to the click of the light switch as the indicator that he’s won. However, when using the skill — incorporating it into our lives — I’m still clicking him. I didn’t get the “Yes!” in fast enough and accidentally reinforced the dark/light double-flick. Oh well. We got it on the next attempt.

Find Help!

The last quick flick is the skill we’ve been training the most because it’s the most complex. I ask Barnum, “Where’s [name of person]?” I practice this with my four PCAs and Betsy, so he has to know it applies to everyone the same.

The skill — most of which you don’t see in the video — requires him to find the person, nudge their hand or leg, and then sit. When they say, “Where’s Sharon?” He runs back to me. The nudge is to make it clear to the person that he’s not just coming by to say hello because he feels like it (which he sometimes does). The sit is so he won’t come racing back to me whether or not they’ve realized why he’s there. (He has lately started to do a “drive-by nudging” where he runs up to them, barely makes contact, and turns around and runs back to me. The sit makes sure he actually completes the behavior.) And when I hear them ask him, “Where’s Sharon?” I know that they know I want them to come help me.

Here’s what it looks like viewed from my bed:

(If you’re reading this post in an email, click here to watch the video. To read a transcript of the video, click here.)

You can’t hear it in the video, but I heard my assistant say, “Good boy,” and “Where’s Sharon?” That told me that he had nudged her (my assistants praise him when he nudges) and that she would be following him to me under normal circumstances. In this case, she didn’t because I had told her I was videotaping it. That’s why I had Barnum shut the door, which is not normally something he does after I’ve sent him to get someone.

I hope you enjoyed these videos. I felt happy watching them because I noticed how enthusiastic Barnum was with all the skills. That tells me that we’re doing things right.

I don’t know when I’ll feel well enough to post again, but we are continuing to train hard whenever I have enough spoons.

I love to hear from you, even though I am not always feeling well enough to respond.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, at-home-SD/public-access-SDiT

Dog Zen: Dog Impulse Control/”Leave It” Video

I recently posted some pictures of Barnum doing “pie zen” for Thanksgiving. The term comes from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Zen is teaching a dog to get what it wants by not trying to get it. (Thus the name.)

Once you attach a cue to zen, it becomes the “leave it” cue for most of us.

There is also training “default zen,” which is when the dog learns, for example, not to snork up any food that’s on the floor unless they are specifically cued to do so. This is a very important skill for assistance dogs, so it’s one I’ve worked on with Barnum. Another way to teach this is Susan Garrett’s “It’s Yer Choice.” (Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of clicker trainers are named Sue?) I’d started combining the two methods before I learned about It’s Yer Choice. Now I’m going back and retraining it some to fill in holes.

This video highlights mostly default zen, but it also shows how I can cue Barnum to eat treats on the floor or to ignore them. We had already been training this skill when one of my training heroes, Marge, the Rhodesian ridgeback rescuer and trainer, posted this video showing impulse control, which she trained via Susan Garrett’s method. Well, not to sound snooty or anything, but when I saw that video (and being a fan of musical theater), I thought, “I can do that.”

Then, Lynn, another trainer from whom I’ve learned much and who is on the same training list as Marge and me, tried it out in a similar fashion with her Weimeraner service dog, Lily and posted this video of it. She trained using the Levels zen method.

So, it seemed the gauntlet had been thrown down. Barnum and I may not be tops at everything. But he is getting to be quick the rock star in certain zen challenges. Okay, maybe “rock star” is a bit much, but it certainly looks impressive, doesn’t it? Well, see for yourself:

Note: If you are reading this post as an email, click here to watch the video.

A captioned version of the video is here.

Transcript of the video is below my signature.

You might notice that I say, “Leave it,” in a mellow tone. I’m not snapping or yelling it. Others use other cues, such as, “no.” Sue says it took her many years of clicker training (after crossing over from traditional training) to be able to use “no” in this way — not as a rebuke, but as a cue. I know that I am not yet capable of that.

Her new Training Levels books, Steps to Success, indicate that the cue is to be given in a “please pass the butter” tone of voice. I have started practicing whispering, “Leave it.” I might see how quietly I can say it and still have Barnum respond. He has excellent hearing, so my guess is that as long as he is focused on me — always the sticking point! — if it’s barely audible, he’ll respond.

I wanted to point this out because recently I had some guests, and one of them kept trying to cue Barnum to do a behavior (go to mat), which he wasn’t doing. I’m pretty sure the problem was that Barnum doesn’t completely know that cue yet. Since has only ever been given that cue by me before, and the person was not pointing to the mat (which would have given him an additional clue as to what was wanted), he didn’t recognize the cue.

Another guest told her, “You have to say it in a forceful tone of voice.”

The first person pointed out that I didn’t use a forceful tone. I was pleased to see that she noticed that.

This is one of the differences between a cue and a command. A cue is something that indicates to the dog that if they do something, they might get a reward for it. Thus, it doesn’t matter how you say it.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (whose “Leave it” was nowhere near this good, ever), and Barnum, SDiT and rising Zen Master

Video Description:

Sharon sits on toilet in small bathroom. Barnum is standing nearby. Sharon has a tray of beef cubes in her lap.

Sharon: OK, I’m gonna toss 10 cubes of raw beef heart on the floor.

Barnum looks at the meat on the floor and then looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! I’m giving him one from my hand.

Barnum eats the treat and then looks at the meat on the floor again, then looks back up at Sharon.

Sharon: Barnum, sit.

Barnum sits.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum starts eating the food on the floor.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs away from the treats. He has eaten two pieces.

Sharon: Barnum, platz.

Barnum lies down and looks up at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum begins eating the meat.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs away from the food. He has eaten three pieces. He looks up at Sharon again.

Sharon: Good dog.

She holds out her hand in front of Barnum’s nose.

Sharon: Touch.

Barnum nose-targets Sharon’s palm. Sharon moves her hand above his head and cues “touch” again, and then again lower down. At the third touch, Sharon says, “Yes! Go ahead.”

Barnum starts to eat the meat, but just as he’s about to eat the first piece, Sharon interrupts him.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs up.

Sharon: Go ahead.

Barnum sniffs and looks at the ground between Sharon’s feet but ignores the five pieces of beef that are still on the floor.

Sharon: Alright, foot!

Barnum gives Sharon a front paw.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats one cube and is about to eat a second.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs up and circles the food, looking at it from a different angle.

Sharon: Watch me.

Barnum makes eye contact with Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the piece closest to him, which is a little farther away from the remaining three pieces of food. He looks at them and seems to decide he shouldn’t eat them. He looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Barnum, platz.

Barnum lies down.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum gulps down the first two pieces of meat.

Sharon: Leave it.

He looks up at Sharon and backs away from the remaining treat.

Sharon: Good dog.

Barnum lies down and looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Good boy. Yes!

Sharon gives Barnum a treat from the tray in her lap. He eats it and looks down at the remaining treat on the floor and then up at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes!

Sharon gives him another treat from her hand, from the tray in her lap.

Sharon: [To herself] Let’s see. [To Barnum] Chin!

Barnum rests his chin in Sharon’s palm.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the treat on the floor closest to him. He looks up at Sharon again.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum looks around but doesn’t move to eat a treat.

Sharon: I didn’t give him anything to do so he doesn’t believe me. Foot!

Barnum gives Sharon a paw.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the last piece of meat on the floor.

End.

Barnum’s Service Dog Retrieve Training (with Videos!)

Hey all.

I haven’t been posting here much lately. I have been very involved with the Occupy/Decolonization movement. I’ve been blogging at #Occupy at Home, and I’ve been trying to assist in organizing and providing nonviolent communication (NVC) to anyone affected by the Occupy movement. It’s been exhausting, scary, exhilarating work. I am learning so, so much, and stretching myself mentally every day. Sometimes I am overdoing physically, and cognitively, and then I have to pull back.

However, amidst all this, Barnum and I continue to train! Actually, taking time out to focus on Barnum is very grounding for me. Dogs will be dogs, no matter what political state the world is in, and for that I am grateful!

I have recently implemented a spoonie* version of Sue Ailsby’s Leading the Dance. I hope to post about how I’ve modified it, with Sue’s guidance, and how it’s going (short answer: well) some time soonish as part of my “Tips for Tired Trainers” series.

The skill we’ve been working the most is retrieving. This is truly exciting. We are actually getting somewhere with the whole “making Sharon’s life easier” part of the service dog training plan! Yeehaw!

Overall, Barnum has an extremely solid take/hold of any object I hand him. He is less consistent with picking things up off the floor and is still doing some problem-solving with certain items when taking them from the floor. We also have just barely begun to add distance.

Until recently, he definitely preferred small, firm objects like pencils and spoons and clothespins. He had a harder time with soft things, crinkly things, or heavy things. Now he has gotten comfortable with socks, leashes, scrunchies, and other soft items he used to make the “this feels icky in my mouth” face before. Shreddable things (paper, tissue, etc.), very thin things (flat lids, credit cards, change), and heavy or bulky things (boots, towels, hammers) will be next.

Neither Jersey nor Gadget had a solid hold; they wanted to pick the thing up, run to me, and spit it out at me as fast as possible. Barnum will keep holding the object until I cue the release into my hand. (My cue is, “Thank you.”) It is exciting to have reached a point in training where Barnum is doing something better than Gadget did. For example, I can toss something into the tub, have him jump in, grab it, hold it still in his mouth, jump out of the tub, and place it in my hand — only when I have asked for it.

On one hand, we still have a long way to go. On the other hand, the slow, careful, meticulous approach will pay off in the end. And he’s not even two! There is yet hope for us!

Now, here are two videos. Barnum was very excited to have someone watching (videotaping) our sessions. When we first started, he kept running over to her and peering up into the camera. I didn’t use that footage. I called him over, and he settled enough to focus on me, but as you will see, he was still much more excited and sloppy than usual.

The first video shows what happens when Mr. Barnum is overexcited when we are training the retrieve. I have worked hard to build this enthusiasm. Now I can direct it. Overly enthusiastic retrieves result mostly in him doing a sloppy take — stepping on the object, batting it with his paws, even (oy!) shredding it — and sometimes with a flawed hold — moving the object around in his mouth, or dropping the object before cued.

The first video shows him retrieving a Sharpie marker for the first time. (I can’t use Sharpies, but its the cap on, it doesn’t bother me.) It’s a hot mess. I finally figure out how to interrupt the situation. I change my technique and switch to having him take it from my hand — eliminating the chase/play/prey drive aspect of the “game” — then having him pick it up from right next to me, before tossing it again.

For the captioned version of the video, click here.

(Note: If you are reading this post as an email, to view the videos, click here.)

[Video description: Sharon sits in her chair and tosses a marker about ten feet away. Barnum runs after it and has some trouble picking it up. He is very bouncy. He brings it to Sharon and drops it. With his butt facing her, he tries again, in an overly enthusiastic way, to pick it up. Sharon looks like she is smiling or silently laughing. She says, “Leave it,” and Barnum immediately looks up curiously. Sharon says, “Yes,” when he is facing her and gives him a treat. Sharon says to the camera, “He’s not supposed to do all that,” and tells Barnum, “Excuse me,” so she can pick up the pen. She holds the pen out and Barnum tries to grab it before she cues, so she moves it out of the way. She holds it out again and says, “Take.” He takes it and holds it above her hand. Sharon says, “Thank you,” and he drops it, and it falls on the floor. After giving Barnum a treat, Sharon points to the dropped marker and says, “Take.” He picks it up and puts it in her hand when she says, “Thank you!” After treating the dog, she puts the pen on the floor on her left and says, “Take.” Barnum delivers it to her again on “Thank you.” Sharon says, “Okay, let’s start over again. Can you turn it off?”]

After that, we continued our training and restarted filming, which is the next video. This includes some items Barnum has never retrieved before (such as the scissors), so it’s interesting to see him figure out how to approach them and gain confidence with more reps. See if you notice how many variables we are working with. . . .

For the captioned version of the video, click here.

The description of the second video is below my signature.

In breaking news, in the last few days Barnum has actually started to retrieve items when needed! The most exciting moment was last night when I dropped a scrunchy and didn’t realize it until I saw him holding it. He had picked it up on his own but now wasn’t sure what to do. I called him over and cued the release, and he dropped it right in my hand. Good dog!

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

*If you are not familiar with The Spoon Theory, you can read it here. The term, “Spoons,” has been adopted internationally to refer to the functionality level a person with a chronic illness is currently dealing with, as in, “I just don’t have the spoons to take a shower today.”

[Video description: Sharon tosses a marker onto the floor.

Sharon: Take!

Barnum picks it up and holds it above her hand.

Sharon: Thank you! (Gives him a treat.)

Sharon tosses the marker behind the chair. Barnum retrieves it, though he drops it halfway to her. Sharon moves forward and puts the marker on a table. She wipes her hand on a paper towel and Barnum moves in as if to take it.

Sharon: Are you sure? This is a tough one. Take.

Sharon drops it on the floor next to her chair. Barnum grabs it with his mouth but holds part of it down with his front paw, tearing it in two.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

She leans down to pick it up. Barnum still is standing on part of it.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum steps back. Sharon removes the larger half of the ripped paper towel.

Sharon puts a pair of paper scissors on the ground next to her. They have a black plastic handle. Barnum circles them, apparently deciding how to approach. He picks them up and brings them over. Sharon moves her hand higher and farther away an inch or two a couple of times, then says, “Thank you,” and Barnum places them in her hand and receives a treat.

Sharon tosses the scissors behind her chair.

Sharon: Take.

Barnum stoops and looks at the shred of paper towel but leaves it alone and finds the scissors. He has to maneuver his jaw a few times to grab the scissors correctly, then picks them up and trots to Sharon’s front. She moves her hand higher. Barnum tries presenting them on her knee, but Sharon doesn’t give the cue. Barnum raises the scissors and puts them in Sharon’s hand when she says, “Thank you.”

Sharon puts the scissors on the table and tosses an empty cottage cheese tub (no lid) on the ground. Barnum immediately scoops it up and gives it to her. This is the one he seems most comfortable with. After he eats his treat, Sharon tosses the container about six feet away and says, “Take.” Barnum goes to it, looks back at Sharon to make sure this is what she meant, then picks up the container and delivers it again. Sharon drops the container on her opposite side so that Barnum has to go under the table to get it. When he brings it back, Sharon holds both hands seven or eight inches above her lap. Barnum tries to put it in her lap. Sharon won’t take it. Barnum lifts it up, and Sharon puts her hand under it but drops it on her foot plate. She waits to see if Barnum will pick it up on his own, but he is uncertain. Sharon cues “Take” again. Barnum picks it up from her foot plate, and this time Sharon allows him to put it in her hands in her lap. Sharon puts the container away and grabs a six-foot cotton webbing leash. She drops it at her side and cues, “Take.” Barnum moves to it immediately and swings around so he’s not stepping on it. He brings it to her and gets his reward. Sharon tosses the leash again. Barnum retrieves it again.

Sharon: Okay, good boy! Good job!]

It’s taken me more than a week to write this post, so Barnum has now improved on various things. He is actually just starting to occasionally do useful-in-the-moment retrieves! Last night, I dropped a scrunchy on the floor without realizing it, and he picked it up! Then he wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I called him over and he gave it to me. Good dog!


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