Posts Tagged 'Dog bathing'

I Think Barnum Is Allergic to the Pond

Or, Remind Me Again Why I Do This?

(Raise and train and partner with service dogs, I mean.)

When Barnum was a puppy, and I was spending most of one of my parents’ visits attending to him, my mother referred to him (with some sarcasm, I believe), as “the little prince.” Spoil my dog? Moi?

But, actually, the name kind of stuck, for me. It reminded me of the book I read in French so long ago, Le Petit Prince, which is a very sweet children’s book. At night, I kiss Barnum and say, “Goodnight, sweet prince,” before I go to sleep. (I guess this is the first-annual After Gadget literary-allusions post, eh?)

But all is not well in the kingdom. No. And We are not amused.

I am in so much pain tonight. (It’s Sunday night. I don’t know when this will post.) And what I want to know is this: Do they make wet suits for dogs?

Here’s the sitch. A couple of months ago, Barnum started to itch — he’d scratch his armpit or flea-bite his arm or his butt or lick his thigh. Mostly though, he just scratched here and there — his head, his ribs, his butt, etc.

This has not been like any problem I’ve had before. When Gadget got a skin problem, it was severe and specific. When I first got him, he had diarrhea all the time and was licking and biting himself constantly. Once I eliminated foods he was allergic to, all those symptoms went away. Then, after vaccines or anesthesia or other medicines or chemicals, he would suddenly have a flare, and I’d have to muzzle him to keep himself from licking himself raw.

But, he always chewed the same locations, and it was always clear that something had set it off — very dramatically. That made it easier to figure out what the precursor had been.

Barnum’s itchiness, on the other paw, has been all over the map. It’s sporadic and non-specific, and it ranges from occasional to moderately frequent. Over time, it seemed to be getting worse, although his skin and coat look gorgeous. If I didn’t spend all day with him, I might not have realized so soon that there was a problem.

My first fear was fleas. I had found some strange little bugs on me at night sometimes that I was afraid were fleas. We gave him a bath. We vacuumed. I gave him a Program pill (which I prefer not to use except in situations like this, because they caused seizures in Gadget). None of that made any difference. We also found no flea bites on him or us, no flea dirt, and no fleas. I finally identified the little bugs, and they turned out to be a harmless sort of beetle. I ruled out fleas. That was a relief.

The next step was that I altered Barnum’s diet. I have stopped giving him anything but a few essentials, and eliminated the huge variety he used to get. This has made training more complicated, difficult, and expensive, because I can no longer rely on cheese or hotdogs as training treats. I’m mostly using raw beef and chicken, with cooked chicken breast for those occasions when raw is just not practical.

We have been trying to do more frequent baths, and I noticed that with more baths and the simpler diet, he has definitely been scratching less. My friend Karyn, who has also gone through a lot of health challenges with her assistance dogs, suggested that perhaps the pond was a culprit. I had never thought of this before, but due to Hurricane Irene, the bacteria count in a lot of local ponds, streams, lakes, etc., has been elevated. Thus, when the scratching got worse after a pond trip, Betsy and I bathed him.

He seemed to be doing better with the more frequent baths, so when he got his legs wet wading into the pond a few days ago with another helper (who had tried to keep him out, but when he’s hot and off-leash, if he decides he’s taking a dip, there it is), Betsy helped me wash off his legs. I wasn’t sure if all this was necessary or not, and since I’ve been so sick lately, and since exertion makes me much worse, I really hoped it was something else.

Yesterday, Barnum had his weekly long run around the pond with his dog walker. This is his super-duper most favorite time of the week. He loooooves going with Deb to the pond. She, too, tried to keep him out, but he came home caked in mud.

I was too sick and exhausted to bathe him yesterday, and I didn’t have anyone to help me. I hoped it would be okay.

It was not okay. From the time he got home yesterday, and all day today, he scratched more and more. I called my assistant and asked her to come in early to help me bathe him.

All this extra bathing has really thrown a wrench into the monkey ointment in terms of my efforts to make bathing totally fun and at-liberty, which had been going so well before. They are not at liberty anymore. He is not whining or moaning, and he doesn’t make much effort to get out, but he is not a happy camper. And we both know that if he has the opportunity to jump out, he will!

Thus, I say unto you, my dear readers: ARGH!

I was too tired, and Barnum was too displeased, for me to do training in the tub with him tonight while we bathed, which usually makes baths much easier and more fun for all, and which contributes to future baths being easier and more fun. Instead, I just kept him occupied with a steady stream of roasted chicken bits. (That’s fun to clean out of the drain trap, especially when entwined with dog and human hair.)

The good news is that he has barely scratched at all since the bath. He is all soft and shiny and happy and clean. And not itchy.

The bad news is that usually at least three or four of his walks per week — most of them, in other words — are unleashed runs at the pond. He loves the pond. I love the pond. My most favorite thing to do is to go with Betsy and Barnum to the pond and have him run around on the beach and in the water, retrieve the wonderful new squeaky ball Deb bought for him, and practice the Come Game from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.

I am not physically able to take him on walks on leash often enough for him to get enough exercise and recreation. I only have one dog walker whose legs and backs can withstand long, on-leash walks. Playing fetch in the yard (which he will only do for so long — he’s a bouvier, not a border collie or a Lab!) only offers so much.

We. Are. Not. Amused.

– Sharon (service human), the muse of Gadget (the first king of the castle), and Barnum, SDiT et le petit prince

Good, Clean Fun: Compulsion-Free Bath

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

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

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

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

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

Barnum After His First Bath, First Night Home

Barnum recovers from his first bath after his looong trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give me liberty, or and give me bath!

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

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

Gotcha Day: One-Year Anniversary!

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

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

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

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

Barnum on Betsy's Shoulder

His first night home, Barnum peeks over Mount Betsy

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

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

Winter rules!

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

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

Are you seriously expecting me to go inside now?

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

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

Baby Barnum Chews Sharon's Finger

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

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

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

Puppy Barnum's first post-bath pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we added in these new elements:

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

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

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

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

Happy Gotcha Day to us!

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

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