Posts Tagged 'eye contact'

New & Improved Bouvier!

Now, with significantly reduced levels of testosterone!

Oh. My. Dog.

I’m backlogged on posts I’d intended to write today, yesterday, the day before, etc. But I’m not writing them. Instead you’ll have to suffer through another gleeful post about the progress Barnum and I are making.

First of all, my outdoor powerchair has been fixed — again — I hope! It seems fixed. I used it today and it ran very well. I didn’t notice any problems. Please, please let it be fixed, once and for all!

Sharon in a woodsy setting in her large outdoor chair. It has very large black knobby tires, elevated black metal leg rests, a purple square base, and an oversized gray captain's chair with headrest.. Sharon is reaching into a treat pouch hanging from the joystick while baby Barnum (4 months old) trots toward her.  He is shorter than the wheels. The chair gives an impression of great size and power.

This is the kind of rugged terrain that chair needs to handle.

My chair underwent quite an overhaul. It was rewired. the battery boxes were replaced and terminals cleaned, loose wires more securely tucked away, and light switch more firmly reattached. I also got new chargers!

(Thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking my chair for repairs and returning it to me! And for putting up my dog-smelling van for two weeks!)

Anynoodle, Barnum and I went for our first real walk in a month or two. As usual, before we left, I asked him to pee, and he did. Hooray.

I didn’t know if he’d respond differently to this chair than the only one I’ve had to use lately, but he seemed more comfortable, actually, with moving next to the outdoor chair today. I assume this is because 90 percent of our walks have been with the outdoor chair, so it’s more familiar.

I kept the pace slow, and he was damn-near perfect for the first several minutes. If this had been a Level Three test for loose-leash walking, we would have passed! However, I couldn’t consider it a test because I was doing a lot of clicking and treating. He’ll have to be able to go 40 feet without clicks or treats to pass that.

To get to that level, I will raise my criteria and reduce my rate of reinforcement — clicking for eye contact and also for relaxedness — and then I can start phasing out the treats. He is showing some nerves and apprehension during some parts of the walk, and I don’t know why, so I tried to click him for “enjoying yourself,” as well as loose leash and eye contact and such.

But, I didn’t take this walk with the plan of testing anything. I just wanted to get more practice in and have a nice time and give him a bit of exercise. The bugs were not as bad as they’ve been lately, either.

All was going well until  we were partway up the very steep hill, and Barnum’s friend, Lucy, the Vizsla, came roaring down to us. She is typically off-lead, and likes to dive-bomb Barnum to get him to play with her, and to beg for treats from me.

Longtime readers know that nothing is more exciting and distracting to Barnum than other dogs. He also has a history of playing with Lucy. Needless to say, staying controlled and on a LL is difficult with Lucy roaring around.

Oh, and yeah, Barnum was not wearing his no-pull harness, just a regular buckle collar.

At first he started pulling to get to Lucy, and I backed up as fast as I could and tried to get between them. He looked at me, I c/t. He looked again, c/t!

He  repeatedly chose  to interact with me and earn treats rather than throwing himself at Lucy!

I couldn’t believe it! Not only did he generally keep a loose leash and repeatedly give me uncued eye contact, but then he started throwing sits, and I was able to CUE sit, down, and watch me, several times!

The most amazing thing was that I was able to use my Zen cue (“Leave it,”) to get him to turn from Lucy to me. There were several times when he really would have been well within doggy manners to tell her off. She sniffed his butt, his penis, his face, and tried to get between him and me, actually trying to grab cheese right out of his mouth, and he kept responding to my “Leave its,” by ignoring her. Sometimes I didn’t even need to cue him. He was just so focused on me doing c/t as fast as I could.

Today felt like a HUGE breakthrough.  It was an almost spiritual experience, having those brown eyes staring at me so hard, I could practically see the gears going in his mind. He worked so hard to focus on me and not be swayed by the temptress, Lucy!

GO, TEAM BARNUM!

He wasn’t perfect, of course. He knew (or deeply hoped, and he was right) that once we got to her driveway, if he sat and gave me eye contact, I would  release him to play off-leash with her. As  a result, the closer we got to her driveway, the more he lost focus, until he was pulling every time we crossed the driveway threshold, and I had to keep backing up.

However, he did then sit and stare at me, and hold his stay, off-leash, until he was released. I also managed to repeatedly call him off marking off-leash (not every time, but even once was 100 percent more than in the past!) and multiple “Leave it”s from snorfling my neighbor’s adorable baby, who just started walking three days ago. She loves dogs and wasn’t afraid of him, but I didn’t want him to knock her over or get slime all over her face. (All that panting and cheese-eating, Barnum was good and slime-faced by then.)

His Zen definitely needs a lot of work — most of the time he didn’t actually stop cold and turn or back up and look at me — but he did at least not do the thing I didn’t want him to do, most of the time. He seemed to understand that this was a baby person, and that made her interesting (she’s shorter than him!), but he also seemed to be showing some care around her. He just really wanted to sniff her.

Anynoodle, he and Lucy played, and he ran around marking things, and rolling on his back in the grass, and exploring. We had some other breakthroughs here: He came when called twice (though not every time). We came running after me when I drove out of sight. And I was able to do several short sessions of training with him while Lucy was right there! He sat, hand-targeted, and gave eye contact, all on cue, despite Lucy being A) a dog, and B) all over him and me to try to get to the treats.

On the way home, he was so tired, he kept wanting to stop and rest, but even though I was going slow, I couldn’t carry him or anything! He HATES the heat. So, he was speeding up, partly to get to Lucy (who decided to escort us home) and partly because he wanted to get home. Ironically, I had to keep backing up every time he did this. I told him,”The slower  you go, the faster we’ll get there,” but he didn’t seem to respond.

Must. Sleep.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (80% more likely to be SDiT)

Woot! Do I Have a Working Dog?

Barnum and I just had a very exciting walk!

I haven’t even been able to attempt a walk recently because I haven’t felt up to it. But I slept on and off till 4:00 PM today, so I started gathering our walk things as soon as I woke up.

I really wanted to try to go farther than we have been, despite that my outdoor chair is still in the shop, so I found my elevated leg rests for my indoor chair.  I’m hoping the walks will whomp me less the next day if I have more physical support and stability.

And . . . we’re off!

First, I took him to his toileting area, and I asked him to pee, and he did! Click!

Before we left the yard, I clipped the leash to his collar, and didn’t put on the Easy Walk Harness because I thought he’d probably generalized loose-leash walking (LLW), and we wouldn’t need it. I was right! He showed no more inclination to pull on his collar than on the harness. Click!

He was also very interested in taking cheese for clicks, which he earned for

  • being in the right position, or
  • making eye contact, or
  • being about to go too far ahead and then remembering to keep the leash loose and returning to position!

Click!

We wandered along at a sedate pace (because that’s what he’s used to; going at faster speeds makes him excited, and then he forgets what he’s supposed to be doing) with a nice loose leash. Then, when passing my neighbor’s front yard, we saw they had a very bright, dark pink, plastic thing propped up next to the road. I think it might be a toddler’s sled?

Anyway, Barnum looked at it with deep distrust. He’d never seen one of these before, and who knew what it was capable of?

So I backed us away from it until he seemed comfortable, and we watched it for a bit. I c/t for looking at it relaxedly. Then I started playing the “Look at That” game (from Control Unleashed).

I’d say, “What’s that?” and point to it, he’d look, I’d click, and he’d turn to me to take the treat. We did that a bunch, moving slowly forward.

Eventually we got close enough that he just wanted to give the whole thing a good sniff and not take any cheese, so I just clicked for sniffing. BUT, he was keeping track, because after a round of sniffing, he came back to demand cheese! I obliged of course; the click is a contract.

Since he was already sniffing it, I thought we might as well add nose targeting, so I pointed to different parts of it, saying, “Touch!” and he’d get a c/t for each.

Then we did some sits and hand targets and eye contact cues, right in front of the pink thing, and he was very happy to get c/t for all of that. I decided that the pink thing was no longer a source of anxiety, and we moved on.

We continued out LLW, including the opportunity for me to cue a poop. I have learned now that when he reaches for a treat and then wrinkles his nose and turns away, it means he has to poop. Very useful information. I can then take him to my preferred spot and cue just as he starts to circle.

Unfortunately, the bugs were terrible, attacking us both relentlessly, so I decided to speed up to try to lose them. This triggered the desire to run for Barnum, which resulted in some leash pulling, so I turned us toward home.

This was a tricky place to turn, because we had gone partway up an extremely steep hill, which also was very loose (dirt roads here, keep in mind) with gulleys and gravel from the snow and rain, so I had to go down it very slowly, with my back-rest reclined as far as possible, otherwise I could easily have tipped over. (This chair is too lightweight to safely maneuver a hill like that.)

I would not have felt safe to do that at all with the Barnum of two months ago, because I would never know when he’d pull and I’d do a face-plant into the rocky road. But he walked very slowly and deliberately next to me, while I crept along on “turtle.” Good dog!

On the way home we passed the pink thing, which was no longer an object of interest. What was an object of interest was my neighbor using his riding mower, which is the kind of fascinating sound and movement that usually plays havoc with Barnum’s focus. So, first I let him just observe for a couple of moments, and then he made eye contact. C/T!

Then we did more uncued eye contact, and I segued into cueing sits, downs(!), stand, touch, eye contact, and “chin” — the first time we’ve done chin away from home. He was game for all!

Then I decided to see if I could get him in working walk position with my two cues I use at home, “come by,” which means, “swing around on my left rear,” followed by “side,” which means, “stand next to me on my left, parallel to my chair, with your face next to my knees.” Often, at home, I can just say, “Side,” without “come by,” but I wanted to make things easy for him.

Not only did he do it — which we, again, had never done away from home before — but when I asked him for Side the second time, he actually did a BOUNCE into position, which is incredibly cute. (He leaps into the air and lands in the right spot. He bounces from a down into a stand sometimes, too, and gets serious air.) He bounces into position when he is feeling confident and happy to be training.

I really have to get these working bounces on film some time. They’re wonderful.

All this, in front of the mower driver!

Then we moved on, and a formidable opponent presented itself to us: birds! Not just one bird, but two or three small birds, scrabbling in the dust in the road and on the roadside, looking for seeds or insects. Bouncing, scratching, hopping birds!

I stopped when we were a good distance away to think about how to handle it. I backed us up, hoping to get him under threshold, which — with birds — has generally not been possible in the past. But, when we were about seven car-lengths back (that’s how I measure distance — I imagine how many cars would fit in that space, because I have no concept of feet or yards or meters, etc.), I just sat and waited for him to notice me. He looked at me, c/t.

Then I did “What’s that?” with him to get him looking back and forth between me and the birds. Two of the birds (too far away for me to identify, maybe wrens?) helped us out by flying away, so there was just a single robin left.

After we had grooved on the Look at That game, I cued eye contact and got it, and we slowly proceeded forward, with me c/t very frequently for keeping LL and for eye contact. Then, when he seemed he wanted to chase, I said, “Leave it,” which is our Zen cue, and — while he did not actually back off or look at me, which is the response I train for — he did STOP in his tracks.

The robin hopped right into the middle of the road, taunting us, the cheeky little twit, and I said, “Leave it,” again. Then, [cue clouds parting, sunbeam shining down on us, choir of angels singing] Barnum SWUNG HIS HEAD TOWARD ME AND LOOKED AT ME, INSTEAD OF THE HOPPING BIRD!!!!

I clicked and gave him about half-a-pound of cheese and squealed with delight, and other dignified dog-trainerish-type things. I told him how proud I was of him, and he waggled around a lot. It was a very nice moment. We proceeded forward, and I got to practice my zen cue with the robin a couple more times, each of which went great — because now we were on a roll, see?

Then we went into our driveway, which put us even closer — despite a few intervening trees — to my neighbor riding his mower. So, I went right up to our border so Barnum could watch, and then we did more zen, sit, touch, etc., despite the mower distraction. Very satisfying!

Inside the gate, I took off his orange safety vest and his leash, and we romped a bit, but he really was not so into it because he wanted to get inside, away from the bugs. He was way ahead of me when I saw him pick something up from the ramp and chew it. I thought it was a flower at first, but then it started crunching. I asked him to drop it, which he was not inclined to do until I reached for the cheese (still need to work on that), and when he did, I saw it was a piece of plastic flower-pot. Not edible!

He took his cheese and turned back to slurp up the shard of flower-pot. His nose was on it when I said, “Leave it,” and he backed right off of it! We really ended on a high note!

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT?!?!??!

P.S. Several of you have commented on recent posts, and I haven’t yet had the chance to reply. Your comments are really important to me, in some cases quite touching. I just wanted you to know that I definitely plan to respond to them.

A Typical Atypical Day in the Life (Part I). . .

. . . of a woman with Lyme, CFIDS, and MCS partner-training her bouvier des Flandres service dog.

It was atypical because I went out, which I don’t usually do. But the things that occurred, and the way I went out, were mostly typical. A lot of Barnum’s behavior was atypical for the away-from-home Barnum, which is great news!

Today was so full, and I have so much to say about it, that I’m going to have to break it into two posts and interrupt my Waspish Wednesday series (although, I think I can find some things to be waspish about that occurred today). I can always find that dark cloud inside the silver lining!

Since it is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Awareness Month and Lyme Disease Awareness Month, I’m also trying to massage into this post the ways that my day were and were not typical of having MCS and Lyme.

Despite all the explanation, it was actually a fun, exciting  day, full of hope, promise, and dog slobber. I’ve included pictures and video to keep things lively.

Let’s begin, shall we?

I woke up at 1 PM (typical because I went to sleep at 6AM — I have all sorts of sleep disorders) and managed to get my pain under control with opiate medication within a couple of hours. This is typical these days, but a couple of years ago, when my Lyme was more severe, I always spent the whole day in bed, totally exhausted and barely able to move from the severity of the pain, with the medication simply keeping me from ending up in the ER or literally paralyzed by the weakness it accompanied.

There is only one strong pain medication I tolerate; I have tried many, and I have bad reactions to almost all, which range from true allergy (trouble breathing, edema in ankles) to “just” sensitivities/bad reactions (such as chest pain, anxiety, hallucinations, nausea, etc.). This is ultra-typical of people with MCS. We are usually very sensitive to medication, and the fact that I’m able to take so many medications makes me extremely fortunate and atypical for an MCSer. The fact remains that this pain medication is not as strong as I have often needed.

Nonetheless, I’m not going to complain because even though I have not tolerated about one-half to one-third of the Lyme disease and coinfection antibiotics and antiparasitics I’ve tried, I’ve tolerated enough of them that I am not dead. I feel fairly certain that if I had not gotten aggressive treatment when I did, or soon thereafter, I would be dead by now. I was headed in the direction that this woman is now in, sadly.

Instead, today I enjoyed a good day, which means I was able to get out of bed and train with Barnum and not be whomped by pain or fatigue or nausea or dizziness or migraines, etc., during or immediately after. This is atypical right now, but I’m hoping this kind of day is a trend toward the typical.

In fact, I was feeling so good that I put on makeup — and a clean shirt without holes or obvious stains! — which is outrageously atypical. Why did I take such drastic fashion-oriented measures? Because my hair was clean, and I wanted to take some pictures for this post, and I decided if I was going to be in the picture, I wanted to look good. The last time I looked really good in a picture was 2007 (before my Lyme disease became severe).

My hair was clean thanks to the bath I had yesterday, which was the first bath I’d had in ten days — a little longer than I normally go between washing, but not much. That’s because bathing — even with the help of my PCA doing a lot of the work — is exhausting and often painful. Sometimes I don’t bathe because I’d rather use my spoons on more meaningful pursuits, like blogging or dog training, and sometimes I don’t bathe because it’s just flat-out impossible. (Thus, clean, curly, shiny hair? Atypical.)

Sharon with her head titled down, mouth open, talking. She has wavy salt and pepper hair, a rosey complexion, wire-frame pink glasses with rhinestones at the corners, and is wearing dark red lipgloss and dark purple eye shadow.

I know it's a strange picture, but it's the best of the bunch.

(I’ll put up more pics of Barnum and me from today on our new FaceBook page. I have not yet figured out how to get the “Like” button up here, so if anyone knows how to do that and can help a code-impaired blog-gal, I’d appreciate it! We need 25 people to like us for it to become an official “fan page.” I have no idea why or what that means, but it seems like a good thing to aim for.)

Bathing is extra lugubrious because I have a PICC line, which is how I get my IV antibiotics for Lyme. (I’m also on multiple oral antibiotics and an intramuscular one). PICC line dressings have to be kept clean and dry.

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

This is an atypical PICC line dressing because I can't tolerate almost any of the materials normally used to dress and keep a line in place, including disinfectants, adhesives, and plastics.

It is possible to purchase waterproof PICC line covers for bathing or showering, but I can’t tolerate them; they’re made of vinyl, which is horribly toxic and fumey. Thus, my PCA wraps my arm in a long strip of an old sheet, and we tape it with a certain tape that I don’t react to (much) but that stays on if it gets wet, and them I keep that arm out of the water/spray, and we try to get it all done fast.

Back to the makeup and clean hair. Normally I don’t wear make for several reasons:

  1. Most makeup is toxic and not safe for me. A few years ago, I found a great makeup source called Alima Pure, which only uses minerals, will sell you samples to test for tolerance, lists all their ingredients, and is odorless and inert. It is great stuff, but it does take a tiny bit more effort to apply, and with CFIDS (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome) — which I also have, predating Lyme — plus Lyme, every tiny exertion is a big deal.
  2. I hardly ever go anywhere or see anyone except my PCAs, Barnum, and Betsy, and they don’t care how I look. And I’m not one of those girls who puts on makeup just for herself — not anymore anyway. Too many spoons to use all my energy for the day doing my face. If I put on makeup, I’m doing it so I can look good for somebody else. In this case, that’d be you!
  3. If I do go somewhere, I have to wear a cotton-and-carbon filter mask over most of my face. Never wear makeup under a mask; it smears everywhere, no matter what you try to do to prevent it, ruining your makeup job and your mask.

It’s hard being a femme with MCS! Lyme hasn’t helped matters any. In addition to the huge amounts of weight I have gained and lost and gained again due to my illnesses, I also lost my hair to Lyme for quite a while.

Since I got Lyme — from a tick attached to the nape of my neck, under my hair — I have kept my hair very short during “tick season” (March through November), including shaving it severely in the back, where my Lyme rash is — to make it easier to do thorough tick checks. On two occasions, I actually cried while the poor woman who came to my home cut my hair. (Of course, due to MCS, I can’t go to a salon; and this stylist is fragrance-free.)

This year I decided, hell no. Lyme has taken too much from me, and I am reclaiming my hair! Maybe this is stupid — after all, I have found two ticks on my scalp so far this year — but a crip femme’s gotta make a stand at some point, yeah?

Anynoodle, today I felt pretty (dammit!), with my almost-shoulder-length clean hair, and I decided to capitalize on it. I put on my makeup and then did some training with Barnum (the idea was that then my PCA would take pictures of Barnum and me).

When I came out of the bathroom with my “face,” Barnum looked at me with alarm for a moment. His eyebrows jumped! It never ceases to amaze me how observant he is. Really, it feels almost supernatural sometimes.

Since it was the first time he’d ever seen my face look so weird, the message his expression conveyed was, “Mom, what happened?” Then he realized it was just me doing some stupid human trick, and he moved on.

We trained some skills I can’t remember (typical memory problems of Lyme, MCS, and CFIDS/ME), but I remember that it went really well, that he was totally in the game. I remember that some of it was using the Clik-Stik for practicing position while walking. (I seemed to have poisoned my cue for that when we’re in the yard — I rolled over his hind foot one day in the yard, and now he is afraid to be in that position, but only in the area of the yard where we used to practice. In the house and elsewhere — as you’ll see in our exciting video footage! — he is doing well.)

In Sharon's yard, green with spring, Barnum stands beside Sharon on her left and looks up into her eyes while she looks down into his. Sharon is smiling.

We are rocking the eye contact.

Some other typical/atypical MCS and Lyme things are visible in the photo above. For example, even though I have huge breasts that are sagging down to my waist, and I wanted to look good, I am clearly not wearing a bra. I used to wear bras when I needed to — for work or doctor’s appointments or whatnot. Since I got Lyme, I cannot tolerate them at all; the pressure against my skin is too painful. This is true even though I have the most comfortable bras ever made, which are organic cotton, without latex, safe for my MCS, which I buy from Decent Exposures.

In fact, my T-shirt is also organic cotton, low-impact dyed, as are my pants, which I also got from Decent Exposures. It was a huge step up for me in the fashion department when they started offering organic cotton in a few colors other than “natural.” (That pink nightshirt in the picture up top that shows my PICC line? Also Decent Exposures. Sensing a theme?)

You may also notice I have a funny-looking arm band around my biceps. That is an organic cotton PICC-line sleeve I sewed for myself out of swatches I got from Decent Exposures. Most people with PICCs use mesh sleeves provided by their infusion company. They are comfortable and functional — and I’ve never been able to wear one because they totally reek of fragrance that they’ve absorbed from the people and products at the infusion company pharmacy.

I used to use gauze bandage that I wrapped around the PICC to keep it in place, but the chain pharmacies all changed their gauze bandage to a “new, improved” type that doesn’t hold its shape and is therefore totally useless after a couple of hours. I changed tacks.

For several months, I wrapped my arm with an Ace bandage that I’ve had since high school, which I washed periodically if it got too dirty or got fragrance on it from me going “into the world” (i.e., the hospital or a doctor’s office). Predictably, the stretchiness wore out over time, and it is now also useless, as well.

Thus, I got (even more) creative and sewed together this PICC line sleeve. I wanted something functional, but I also wanted something pretty, because — as I hope is clear by now — I’m not really able to attend to my appearance much. If I have to wear something around my arm, I’d like it to be attractive, if possible.

As I said above, I’m a femme, dammit, and I can only take so much! Sometimes I have to get feisty!

Closeup of Sharon's upper arm and elbow. Above the elbow is a sleeve made out of several small squares of different-colored fabric, stitched together like a quilt, mostly pastels and prints in pink, blue, purple, and white.

It doesn't always stay on, bu it's better than nothing.

I’ll do an album on our FB page of more photos of the PICC-line sleeve so you can see the other sides, if you’re interested.

Once the fashion shoot was over, I took Barnum out and he peed right away, but he didn’t poop, even though I knew he needed to. Since it wasn’t raining, a rare event lately and not long-lived, I decided to take him for a walk.

Taking Barnum for a walk, even just getting him outdoors to potty, is often a struggle for me. Lately, I’d say it’s about even odds that I can take him to his toileting area (which is right next to the house, just off the ramp), and it’s pretty unusual for me to feel well enough to walk him using my indoor powerchair.

The indoor chair doesn’t allow me to recline and elevate my legs, which I need if I’m going to be sitting up for any period of time. It also doesn’t have a seatbelt and is not as sturdy, so I have to use some more muscles to keep my body in position. These little details are part of living with CFIDS and Lyme.

Nevertheless, today was a good day, so we went down the ramp (practicing the cues for “behind” and “follow”) and then out into the yard. His “wait” at the gate was excellent. We moved down the driveway, and I experienced the strangest sensation: a loose leash! The Whole Damn Time! YEEHAW!

ATYPICAL! At least, it has been, but hopefully, soon it will be “our new normal.”

Barnum trotted along on his loose leash, periodically taking treats, like it was just a standard, normal behavior — which continued as we went down the street! I was completely in awe. We were doing so well that I radioed to my PCA and asked her to come to the street with the camera to videotape us.

Unfortunately, by the time she made it outside, black flies (which bite) and mosquitoes were swarming Barnum and me, making it very hard for him to concentrate. His groin and anus got all bitten up. He doesn’t follow every one of my cues in the video below, but before the plagues descended upon us, he was a rock star! (You can see the flies around us and sometimes in front of the camera lens.)

Note: This is a very visual video, with almost no dialogue, so I didn’t provide a captioned version or a transcript. Basically, what happens is that Barnum and I walk a few yards in one direction, turn around and walk back. I ask him to do a few simple behaviors, like sit, down, and “Watch me,” and that’s pretty much it.

Then, we carried on in the adventurous spirit of the day and loaded up my crappy chair (the one that is not currently dead and works with the van’s lift, but which has no battery charge left), and headed first to the local coop (about two miles from my house) and then to the POND!

More on those adventures tomorrow, and what was typical (and worthy of waspishness) and what was atypical.

A last Lyme awareness note: While I was writing this post, I scratched my head and felt a little bump against my scalp. Yup, it was a tick, attached. Betsy had checked my scalp (and the rest of me) thoroughly about three hours previous, so I know the tick wasn’t there long. Also, it was a dog tick, not a deer tick. (Deer ticks are the ones that carry Lyme, although all ticks can carry nasty diseases.) I promise, I am working on that “How to Tick Check Your Dog” post. However, in the meanwhile, please please please, tick check yourselves, every day!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, loose-leash walking SDiT?!?!

P.S. Still accepting entries/comments at my other blog before Barnum chooses the Jackpot winner.

“Lose It or Move It” Updates…

There’s been a lot going on with Mr. Barnum, but since I revealed that I am considering washing him out, I’ve become afraid to post about it!

If training is going well, and I have my hopes up, I’m worried about getting your hopes up, too! If training is going badly, I don’t want you all to think, “Oh, well then, there’s the proof that he’s not gonna make it.” Because really, there are always up days and down days, with any dog (or other being) — with any learning venture, there are peaks and plateaus. Yet, I’m so aware now that others are aware of the stakes.

It’s weird. I really love knowing so many people are supportive and pulling for us, and yet now I feel an obligation to my readers, too. Barnum and I are already dealing with the weight of my own — and my friends’ and family’s — expectations; I don’t want any more on us!

It’s not that anyone’s done anything wrong. On the contrary, I have been quite touched by the love and outpouring of support when I started posting the “Washout?” series.

I’ve never liked nebulousness and ambiguity. I’ve always been very goal-oriented, driven, motivated. I like a plan. I scheme and chart and make lists of what I’m going to do. (You all saw this past week what happens when I get focused on a goal. I’m very focused.)

Not that I’m not able to adjust in the moment; I am. It’s the creative aspect of clicker training — when I just click for something because it feels right, and then after I click, I realize why I did it — that’s one of the best parts.

In fact, when I read this sentence in Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! — about “the shaping game,” where one person plays the trainer, and one plays the animal, trying to get the “animal” to do a certain behavior with just well-timed clicks or whistles, I thought, “Aha. This is why clicker training comes so naturally to me.”

In my experience intuitive, creative, intensely emotional people make great shapers, and calm, observant people make great animals —  just the opposite of what you might expect.

“Intuitive, creative, intensely emotional,” sums me up pretty well! (Not that that’s all I am, but it’s a big chunk.)

Anynoodle, with that in mind, I’d say that so far, “Operation Lose It or Move It” — as I’ve been thinking of The Barnum Experience, ever since Sue said, “Whack those suckers off!” — has been going pretty well. (I am hoping I don’t have to explain the double entendre there.)

I’m not sure how much of the progress really has to do with the neutering per se. I thought it would be too soon to tell, hormonally or biologically, until at least two months. However, it has seemed to me as if Barnum has overall been more interested in food since the surgery. He is certainly now working hard for treats that he used to consider “low value”!

I think there are a few factors that have made him, overall, much more interested in training:

  • Having an enforced two weeks of no free running, and lots of very short on-leash walks, right after the surgery, has helped the elimination on leash a great deal, as well as focus and loose-leash walk (LLW).
  • As I wrote in an earlier post, I combined intensive focus/eye contact work with evaluating how other people were walking him, which has led to actual loose-leashness on most outings with him, although they are not really so much “walks,” as he doesn’t get to go far yet. Still, tremendous progress there. That’s definitely primarily a training issue, not a hormonal one.
  • However, he is also eagerly taking treats on these walks, something that was very rare before. He will even take hot dogs, which he considers lower value than cheese. The fact that he wants to earn treats on walks has accelerated the LLW training.
  • After keeping him on leash for all elimination went so well right after his surgery, I have continued to make sure every time he goes out, it’s on leash. The exception is if it’s raining and there’s nobody else to take him out (powerchairs don’t do well in rain). He is now urinating the second we get to the gravel, and I think he “knows” that cue, when he’s on the gravel. I’m positive if I said, “Hurry up,” to him in a strange location, it wouldn’t register at all. He is also now pooping on leash most of the time, though he does still prefer his privacy. (Is that a bouv thing, or are all dogs like this? All my bouvs have been privacy poopers, but I don’t remember that being the case with our BC mix.)
  • He spent the past week with very little training, very little attention, very little mental stimulation — and he has been clamoring to train. I tried to squeeze in a session once or twice a day, if I could. Usually some retrieve training right before bed, but for the most part, he has had a taste of the easy life, and he doesn’t like it! (Yeehaw!)
  • During his week of auction-induced boredom, he tried on several occasions to induce me to train. The most humorous one is when he goes into my bathroom and shuts the door: “See? Look! I can shut the door! Cool, eh? Click me!” The problem is that he is then inside the bathroom, with the door shut, and I’m in bed. That’s what you get when the dog has learned the behavior but it isn’t yet under stimulus control.
  • The most exciting moment for me (well, there have been a couple, but this was the first), was about a week ago. We were working on the corner cupboard in the kitchen, which is a very tricky door to shut, as it’s hinged in the middle, and I was ready to release him, even though he hadn’t managed to shut it, because I could tell he was getting mentally fatigued and frustrated. I tried to end the session, but he wanted to keep going! And it wasn’t the treats, because these were not fantastic treats which he snorked down somewhat distractedly. No, it was the puzzle. He really wanted to figure out how to get that cabinet shut and to shut it, dammit! I’ve never seen that in him before. I didn’t know if he had it in him, but now I think he might.
An open, wood, corner cabinet door. There are two panels with a hinge connecting them. There is a chrome knob on the upper, outer corner -- on the left -- and a piece of pink paper is stuck in the middle of the other panel.

That piece of paper is his target for where to push to close the cupboard once he has the other panel flat.

  • Another first this week was that one of my helpers was able to take Barnum for a walk around the pond, which both she and Gadget used to love. She had not been able to do it with Barnum, however, because when we tried it, he . . .
    1. pulled on leash,
    2. didn’t come when called,
    3. could not be relied upon to get in the van when it was time to leave,
    4. was overly boisterous with other dogs he met there, and
    5. was overly suspicious of people he met there  (if they didn’t have dogs).

    When they got home after their outing last week, my helper said that Barnum was great, that “it was just like taking Gadget!” Whoah! High praise! (She didn’t used to like dogs, and was somewhat afraid of them, but Gadget converted her. After the first few weeks of baby Barnum, it seemed as if he was restoring her original opinion of dogs. Could Barnum now be on the brink of redeeming himself?)

  • Barnum’s “zen” has also suddenly gotten worse, which is a good sign, actually. He was ridiculously easy to train in zen (“Leave it”) because food was not that exciting to him. Now he has to think about it more — how badly do I want that morsel? I’m perfectly happy to rework our zen in exchange for a food-driven dog!
  • We have done more practice in the van — first just with us sitting in the driveway, and then short trips where all we did was practice getting in and out of the van in controlled ways.

So, that’s a bit of the post-surgical update on Mr. B. There is still a lot of evaluation and testing to do, a lot more training. I do think the neutering has had an effect, but I also think my change in strategy in some key areas has set us up to succeed more often.

The big test will be to see what happens when we got into strange or distracting environments, and if he is still interested in food then or not. Particularly because I’ve been working focus in very low-distraction/below-threshold environments and working up, I’m not sure what will happen when we are in the midst of some excitement.

I’ll continue to keep you posted. I am still reserving judgement, but the prognosis now is more guardedly optimistic than before. We’ll just have to see what happens, now that the balls are no longer in his court.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (How dare they compare him to moi?), and Barnum, hungry(!) SDiT?

P.S. One of the After Gadget Jackpot winners has been determined. Pop on over to this new post at aftergadget.com to find out who it is, AND to read my new, simplified instructions for those of you were overwhelmed and flummoxed by the last ones. (Sorry!)

One Step Closer: The Service Dog Leash

A lot of exciting activity yesterday. As I posted yesterday, for a few days, Barnum was not getting his usual amount of attention because I had [gasp!] other things I needed to deal with. So I tried to keep him entertained with his Kong Stuff-a-Ball.

Periodically, during my writing flurry, I’d call Barnum, just to work on his recall and remind him that good things happen when he comes to me. (Good things in this case are food, some lovin’ up (but only if he’s in the mood), and a release to go back and play with his toy.) But he did miss training. He got quite cranky about no training, actually.

Thus, I knew he had focus and motivation, so yesterday, for the first time, we used my service dog (SD) leash. While using a different leash might not seem like a big deal, it was to me, because:

  1. It attaches to my waist, so pulling would be a real problem.
  2. It is much shorter (unless I let it out for going behind me) than our practice working leash (it has two lengths of about 32 inches each, so normally it’s 32 inches from my waist to his collar, except if I adjust it to make it longer)
  3. I want him to associate that leash, along with his other working gear, with him being totally focused on me, so I waited to use it until I was sure I was at nearly SD working-walk competency before we used it in training.

In other words, symbolically, it was of much greater importance to me than to him. I had to know we were both really up to the task before I started using it. Yesterday, I felt confident that we were, and we lived up to expectations! Gooooo, Team Barnum!

We practiced “working walk” (WW) around the house and on the ramp, and he was really excellent. WW is something between loose-leash walking (LLW) and “heel” (as it’s used in competition). For WW, I require not just a loose leash, but eye contact at least every three seconds (preferably more), attention focused on me and my movements at all times, no elimination or marking or sniffing the ground, no eating anything he comes across unless it’s a treat he’s been clicked for that’s fallen, and I tell him “go ahead,” and he has to maintain parallel position with my chair on my left side (unless I ask for something else).

We were about 80 percent to a perfect WW (in very familiar surroundings — I’m under no delusions we can achieve this in the wide world). The only parts that were off (the 20 percent that was unsatisfactory) were the following:

  • He took left turns much too wide, still haven’t come up with a fix for that — I didn’t have this problem with Gadget or Jersey;
  • His butt swings out a bit too far sometimes, especially when making eye contact (i.e., he’s not as parallel as I want);
  • He hasn’t totally figured out the correct way to get back into position when we’re in a really tight spot, like a close corner;
  • He does not 100 percent know his cues for sit and down with one verbal cue only while on the move, in positions than facing me, etc.

That probably seems like a lot that’s “off”, but please compare it to all the stuff he was doing right!

  • Great eye contact;
  • Overall consistency in staying in position;
  • Maintaining default stand-stay when we come to a stop;
  • Knows the cues for getting back into position if he’s facing me and I want him to get back in heel position (“come around,” and “side”), and often did them default (without cueing);
  • Loose leash all the way
  • Performed other skills I tossed in (shut cupboard, shut drawer, touch, watch me, leave it, sit-stay, stand-stay, down-stay when chair moves)
  • His “back-up” is a thing of beauty — I’ve never had a dog who backed up next to my chair so well — and he does it as a default whenever I back up (without cueing), and he does it almost equally beautifully if I cue him to back up while I stay still

I was very excited!

We also had some interesting little bonuses during our session. At one point, while we were doing WW indoors, he rested his chin on my thigh and looked up into my eyes, and I laughed, because it was so cute, and without thinking, clicked it.

Then I thought that chin-on-knee/thigh in public might actually be a useful skill, for instance, if I need him to check in with me because the environment is distracting/overwhelming for either of us, or to signal that yes, he’s working and paying attention, or if I want him to take my agitation-calming behavior “on the road.”

So, while he was in that mode, I cued and clicked “Chin” a few more times. Then we made our way to the driveway, to practice in a more distracting environment, because he is used to the driveway leading to the road (excitement!), which leads to a walk (unbelievable excitement!).

As I’ve learned from Sue Ailsby, whose Training Levels I’m following, whenever anything changes in a behavior, especially something that’s such a big deal as a more distracting environment, you make everything easier. Therefore, from the gate onward, I loosened criteria for everything except these behaviors, which I still required:

  • Loose leash
  • Relatively correct position (on my left side, but he didn’t have to be parallel or really close, etc.)
  • Eye contact/noticing me (it didn’t have to be really good eye contact, but he had to at least flick his eyes up to my face on a pretty consistent basis)
  • Taking treats (because if he can’t take treats, he’s too distracted to think and pay attention to me, so there’s no point in continuing until things get boring enough that he can think again).

If he was paying attention to me, taking treats, etc., we went forward, out onto the driveway and toward the road. Anytime he started sniffing the air or staring off into the distance or otherwise not paying attention to my being on the other end of the leash, I’d back up.

It took him a while, but he caught on. We didn’t make it to the street, but that was fine with me — it hadn’t been my goal. (Although I’m sure, given the chance to think about it, it would have been his goal.) He also made no attempts to sniff the ground or to mark!

Then we did a working walk back into the yard, he did a sit-stay while I closed the gate and took off our very special leash and I gave him a release, and we played chase and fetch.

I enjoyed another bonus surprise behavior during our play. He was bringing me back the ball!

He used to have a very nice play fetch as a puppy (which I know is common for puppies, but not so much for bouviers, so that was something the breeder and I actually looked for), then it lost steam in adolescence (again, pretty typical to lose that type of behavior in adolescence), and I had started training a strong play retrieve, but then winter and snow made that impossible. (The tennis ball needs hard ground to bounce and roll on, and the bigger balls that can be used in the snow got buried. I also couldn’t get around in the yard because of the several feet of snow to keep training fetch.)

Therefore, this was our first time playing ball in many months, and without my even asking, he was bringing me the ball! To earn treats!

Such a good day!

Then I let him have some free time in the yard to dig in the mud. Hey, he earned it!

By the way, to anyone training their dog who feels guilty if you miss a day (or a week) of training, I say, consider it a strategy. We went the previous few days with the bare minimum of training. A couple of times, I did a little with him because he was just begging me for it, and I felt he needed it for his mental health, but it was very brief. Otherwise, because I was on a deadline, I was either writing or resting or sleeping. Even though he was getting physical exercise, he would cover over and be like, “Train me, dammit!”

So, that was actually good for us. I think it is good to take a break sometimes and get the dog really demanding training.

Peace,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I will never divulge the secret of the crisp left turn!), and Barnum SDiT (and looking dapper in the gear)

stuck day

today is a stuck day. i haven’t had one in a long time. i thought i was done with them. that’s lyme for you. once you think you’re doing better, it returns and kicks your ass.

you probably can’t tell today is different from my writing, except that i’m not using caps. if i tried to use caps, i wouldn’t be able to write/post. that’s because all i can move right now are my hands, my facial muscles, some minor head/neck movement like small nods, and the lower part of my right arm. with great exertion and pain, actually, i can move more of both arms, but that’s only for necessities, like signing, typing, positioning. i’ve also reread this later when i was more functional and corrected the huge number of phrases that made no sense.

here’s what a stuck day is like: i wake up and think, “oh, i have to pee.” i realize that i’m in a lot of pain and feel weak, and the idea fleetingly crosses my mind that i might need help to get out from under the covers. “nah,” i tell myself. “don’t be such a drama queen. once you get going you’ll be fine.”

So (oh look, i did a caps! the drugs are kicking in!), I roll onto my side, and i get stuck. i can’t get the blankets off me. i can’t even move my arms or my legs, i realize. i can’t talk. ohshitohshitohshit.

then, i have to find my call button. this is the doorbell i wrote about in a previous post. no, i’m sorry, i can’t put the link in right now. maybe later, when i can move. [note: i’m doing a bit better now, so i’ve put in said links.]

anyway, i need to hit the button which is now loose on top of my overbed table. with great effort i get my left hand up onto the table, and it crawls around like a crab, searching. i hit my “clik-r” clicker button, and i hear barnum pop up. sorry buddy. bad trainer. no cookie. eventually i find and press the doorbell button. thank god!

here’s the problem: i’m lying on my side with my back to the door. i can’t talk or really make any sound. i can’t move at all except my left hand. so when i hear carol, my pca, open my door, i know she is waiting for me to say something or indicate something. and i appear to be all snuggled up, asleep. i try to sort of flap my left hand, opening and closing it, hoping she can see it from where she’s standing, but apparently she can’t, because I hear the door shut. DAMMIT!

“well,” i think, “i’ll just have to ring again. eventually she’ll realize i wasn’t ringing by accident in my sleep.”

yeah, right. cuz i can’t find the fucking doorbell button this time. i press the clicker again another couple of times — barnum’s really curious as to what’s happening now — and i can’t find the button. through tremendous effort i pull myself up a few inches to better search the table and find the button. i grab it — not letting it go anymore today — and ring it repeatedly.

i try to roll onto my back so i can communicate better, but can’t. fortunately, betsy comes to the door. yay! I had assumed she was asleep. she asks if i rang. i sign “yes.”

she asks what’s going on. i sign, “stuck,” which is a v-hand shape, finger tips on either side of adams apple.

her sign is rusty. she can’t remember that word.

“is it your heart?” she asks.

I shake no, then fingerspell S-T-U….

“You’re stuck!” she announces.

Relief. Nod.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

Affirmative.

Thank god, betsy knows the drill. carol does, too, but she has back issues and is getting over the flu, and betsy understands me when i’m nonverbal better than anyone else does. also she’s strong as a power-lifter. she pulls the heavy blankets off me. she pulls my legs toward the side of the bed. she moves my pchair into position. she grabs my hands and pulls me into a sitting/slumped position. I take a moment to rest, then she lifts me onto the chair. i’m no lightweight. i’m always surprised how strong she is.

barnum is overjoyed to see betsy — and me out of bed — and he throws himself between us, wriggling, wagging, kissing, pressing against us. he is soaking up betsy’s attention primarily, because she’s more capable of good butt-scratching than I am. i ask her to stop so i can give barnum some attention, have him just focus on me for a bit.

refreshed by puppy love, we get back to business. i take the call button with me to the bathroom. once there, betsy picks me up off the chair while i pull down my pants (fortunately the muscle lock has eased enough now that I can do this), and i pee . . . for a long time! (you know the scene in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks pees endlessly and Mae/Madonna takes out a stopwatch to time it? it was like that, except i wasn’t all hungover and gross.) we chat a little, mostly consisting of me mouthing/signing, “this sucks. why is this happening?” and exchange more dog love. Betsy helps me back onto the chair and then settles me in bed (without the quilts, which are too heavy, and even when i’m doing better, could immobilize me just by their weight alone). i just keep my light organic cotton sheet and blanket.

then she leaves me to go do other things and carol steps back in. my first priority is getting pain and muscle relaxant meds in me, so I can function better. i do a lot of mouthing and miming to get across what i need. carol and i get my laptop computer open and readjust my position, overbed table, and screen so i can communicate with her by typing.

one of the worst parts about stuck days is when they are apparently caused for no reason. i have no idea why today i’m doing so much worse than yesterday. i don’t know if this is my fall crash, and now i will be wrecked for weeks or months to come, or if this is just a blip. i don’t know if this is a result of the new Lyme treatment drug i started Thursday. fortunately, i am too exhausted, painful, and crappy feeling to care much about what it all means. i’m just focused on getting through, minute by minute — or actually, task by task. i feel relief that i have carol and betsy here to help me. it feels so much better to have peed and have the right bolsters supporting me in bed. writing this blog gives me something to occupy my brain, other than worrying what the cause of Mystery Stuck Day is and whether it will stretch out into weeks or more from here.

(the meds are really kicking in now, which is good because i can move better and feel less crappy. but it’s bad because i took them on an empty stomach, so i’m getting sleepy and dopey, and i want to finish this blog before i go back to sleep.)

several times since waking up, i have missed Gadget so bad it was a physical ache. if i’d had the energy to spare, i would have cried. but that would have wrecked the small physical gains i’d made, and i don’t even think i have the lung capacity for deep breaths, so i just locked those feelings in. in my heart, i was crying. it’s 20 days till the anniversary of his death, and i feel so heavily the weight of his absence today. he could have helped me transfer — to and from the bed, chair, and toilet. he could have gone for carol or betsy so i wouldn’t have had the stress of not being able to indicate i needed their help. he could have carried messages to them telling them exactly WHAT i needed. he could have opened my door again and again so that i wouldn’t have had to endure what i did to find the call button the second time.

the only “help” barnum provided was licking my face a LOT. i certainly appreciated that, even more than usual, but a little emotional boost and distraction only gets you so far on a day like this.

there’s also the hindering Gadget would NOT have done. (For the record, Jersey wouldn’t have helped me much on a day like this, because she was trained and worked when I was much more functional, but she also would have been very easy — no demands.) gadget wouldn’t have jumped up with his forelegs landing on my legs after i was back in bed, causing severe pain. he could have let himself out to pee and then come straight back in. he wouldn’t have stepped on my burning feet when i was sitting on the toilet. and then. . . .

when carol left me after i was resettled and typing this post, barnum started The Barking. Lately, once a pca (especially carol, his favorite) leaves, he tries to demand their return. after all, i am Boring Lady, stuck in bed, not playing or giving love or attention, while he could be following carol around the kitchen, watching her prep my meals. hearing lovey-dovey talk. getting rubbed behind the ears. etcetera. so, the second they leave my bedroom, he sits at my door and barks.

which is why the pcas all have to ignore barnum until i get up for the day. but i am still dealing with the extinction barking while barnum tries his damnedest to change my tyrannical rule.

lately, i’ve been dealing with this by working on “bark” and “quiet” with him, but being nonverbal, i couldn’t say quiet. HOWEVER, having learned from the past, he knows 3 cues for quiet: ASL for quiet, the word “quiet,” and the sound, “shhhh.” I taught, “Shhh,” because it’s a sound i can make even when i can’t speak. the ASL for quiet requires lifting hands to mouth height, which I can’t do right now.

so, after he has started the very loud, very sharp barking, it occurs to me that i can actually do something about this. i try to call him over to put his front end on the bed near my upper body, but he really only knows all the many ways i have of telling him “off,” for all the times he tries to get on the bed, because normally he wants on and I want off. of course, today i am patting the bed and making kissy noises and he just stands there, waiting for me to make my meaning clear. I can’t communicate “up” nonverbally. something to remember for later: need to teach signed cue for “paws up!” but i have my clik-r, which, despite its other faults (not my preferred clicker), is good for a day like today for two reasons:

  1. it takes very little pressure to depress the button, so even on a weak day, i can usually manage it
  2. it’s very, very quiet. barnum has excellent hearing, so he can hear it even if i click during one of his ear-splitting barks.

fortunately, i always have treats close to hand, so i click and treat for a silent moment. then we start practicing “shhh,” which goes well. he’s bored, and now i’ve given him something to focus on. occasionally i throw in the cue for “bark,” just to keep things interesting.

i am having trouble pitching the treats onto the floor, so i hold my open hand, palm up, on the bed, a treat on it, and barnum takes it that way. much easier. also, interesting note: he was ignoring most of the treats i threw on the floor, because they weren’t “good enough.” But when i offered them in my palm, he took them. could it be the energy expended was not equivalent to the value of the treat if he had to chase it? Or that, love-bug that he is, the contact involved in taking from my open hand added value? or that he liked the chance to “eat off the bed” which he normally isn’t allowed? the novelty?

at any rate, this gave me an idea. i do want him to learn to have paws/front up on the bed when i need his help, when invited, but not to have any part of his body ON my legs or feet — or other body parts — as that’s too painful. so i moved my hands back, closer to my body, for treating, and he jumped up and settled his torso parallel with my legs. actually warmly just barely touching them. felt good, physically and emotionally. perfect.

then i c/t him for making eye contact, for being quiet and still, and started shaping him to rest his chin in my palm. i mostly used luring. usually i try to use targeting or shaping more than luring, but if there’s anything a stuck day teaches, it’s that you use what you can. when i offered the treat in my palm, i’d click when he put his chin in my palm to eat the treat. i did this many, many times. eventually, i pretended to put a treat in my palm, and when he went to get the nonexistent treat, i clicked for contact and treated in my palm. c/t for that, continued. sometimes actual treat in palm, sometimes luring with motion that suggested treat. after a while i shaped the beginnings of a chin target in palm.

as his eye contact got more frequent, i started introducing my hand signal for eye contact, which is ASL for “look into my eyes.”

it felt really good to be accomplishing something when i was able to do so little. i had gone to sleep with all sorts of schemes and plans to work on recall remediation, using the great outdoors and Premack principle stuff i’ve been learning on the training levels list, because barnum’s recall (meaning, coming when called) ranges from great to eh to abysmal/nonexistent. but today’s physical and communication issues put the kibosh on that.

sometimes, actually, it seems like the best training occurs without plans, without grand expectations, but just by using my instinct, my thumb on the raised clicker button, and whatever the dog’s willing to offer. life with disabling chronic illness is unpredictable, and as wheelie catholic put it in a blog recently, that’s the thing about access — it isn’t a problem until it is. much the same as with everything with a severely fluctuating disability — it isn’t an issue until it is.

suddenly, nothing could be taken for granted, and it forced me to get back to the fundamentals of clicker training: see what the dog is offering, and shape it using just a click and some food. no target sticks. no body movement. no voice. it granted me a great feeling of power and control, of communication and making things happen, on a day when i otherwise was pretty well powerless and struggled to make myself understood by the people around me.

i still missed gadget terribly, because we already had a working language, and because he could have actually helped instead of just offering a challenge to overcome. On the other hand, i did tell barnum’s breeder i like a challenge. be careful what you ask for.

Please comment, if you feel inclined.

-Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget (and Jersey)

Quickpress Reminder: Blog Carnival (+ Barnum Passes Another Test!)

I have really been enjoying reading and compiling all the submissions that are coming in for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. For information or details about the carnival (what, when, where, how, etc.), also see the carnival announcement post.

Please remember to post the link and title of your submission in the comments section of the Announcement. Posts must be up and your link submitted by 11:59 PM (of whatever time zone you’re in) on Tuesday, October 19.

If you have written a post for the carnival, and you don’t post it at After Gadget, I won’t know about it, and I won’t be able to include it! (I stumbled across a post for the carnival that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and would have been sorry to exclude; I don’t want to miss any others!)

Now I have to write my own blog on “The First….” I’ve known what I want to write for many weeks, I just have to coordinate my weary body and mind to do it!

Barnum Training Update: We Passed L2 Stand-Stay!

I decided to test us on Level 2 stand-stay — 10 seconds, no more than two cues (I used a verbal and a hand cue) — and no leg/paw can move at all. I wasn’t wearing a watch, so I just guessed when to click/treat, but watching the video, I see we did 12 seconds! Hooray!

I’ve been very sick, plus trying to keep up with the carnival and squeeze in a few minutes of training now and then, so I haven’t been up to transcribing or captioning the video that I’m plopping in below. My apologies. In the future, I’ll round up several videos — including this one — and do the captions and transcripts.

This one starts with a funny bit where Barnum is offering me a behavior I didn’t expect (confusing “watch” with “bark,” then the stand-stay, then a tiny bit of LLW practice.

. . . Can Watch and LLW Be Far Behind?

We can now also do 10 or more seconds of eye contact on a pretty consistent basis (despite the funny confusion that occurs at the beginning of the video above), and I have also been able to add in our cue, “Watch,” without it distracting him anymore. So, I think we are finally almost done with the 16 behaviors on Sue Ailsby’s Training Level Two. When we pass the loose-leash walking and eye contact tests, there will be a PAR-TAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


dog photo contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

Eye Lock Log Update

If you’re looking for information on the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit my previous post.

Meanwhile . . . training has continued, even though I have not posted daily training logs. I wanted visitors to find the info on the carnival first. But, here’s an update.

We hit a learning dip or plateau a couple of days ago, when Barnum suddenly seemed unable to go for 10 seconds on any consistent basis, or at all. Fortunately, I was able to see it for a blip, and just end sessions quickly on a high note as much as possible and have faith.

He has certainly been giving me more eye contact and even eye lock throughout the day, so the training is making an impact.

I’ve also started to try to incorporate more thoughtful, planned-out recalls, with the goal of 10-20 recalls in the house or yard per day, with a variety of high-level reinforcers. Reinforcers are cooked liver, roasted chicken, raw beef heart, cheddar cheese, tug with his favorite toys, and praise and cuddles (when he is most affectionate, in the morning).

We’re continuing to train stand-stay, and last night we did a couple of ten-second stand-stays, so I think we are almost ready to test! I think he is just now getting that stand is a “thing,” like “sit” or “down” are “things,” and so the idea of stand-stay, even though he has a concept of sit- and down-stay, is new. However, I have started to incorporate sit-stay and down-stay into daily life now and again for actual useful purposes! I think he might actually be on his way to a SDiT (service dog in training)!

His recall out in the world is improving, too, as he was actually coming, sitting (uncued), and accepting treats when I called after he’d worked out his initial puppy zoomies at the pond on Friday. Amazing!

This morning we got to a count of 15 for eye contact twice in a row (which is probably about 12 seconds), and we were able to start right off the bat at six and work up. The stare is really a stare now, more intense. Truly eye lock! It’s great! Didn’t have to start at one. Then I got overconfident and did that great clicker-training no-no and asked for “just one more” 15-count eye lock, and the behavior collapsed. I ended for the day and went to the bathroom.

He saw his spider on the freezer in there and stared at me, so I built us up from 6 seconds with kibble to 10 and then rewarded with spider-tug and spider-fetch-and-tug. I also actually said the cue, “watch me,” once during our longer session to get to 10 seconds, but it seemed to make him uncomfortable, and he broke the contact. In the bathroom, I tried just “watch,” and he didn’t notice that, and that went fine, so I think I might be trying our THIRD cue and see if this one sticks (“look,” then “watch me,” now “watch”). I think he associates the earlier cues with his confusion and looking away, so I gotta come up with something and use it only when we are really solid on ten seconds. We’re getting there!

I think when we can start at 7 or 8 seconds and then do 10 consistently (5 or 6 reps at least in a row), I will reintroduce, “watch,” and then hopefully we’ll be rolling. I’ve never had to work so long and hard to get a behavior. It’s usually putting it on cue that’s the work. Here, as with LLW, I think it’ll be both!

I’ll try to get some video of our new duration behaviors as soon as possible (sit-stay and the blossoming stand-stay, LLW, and eye contact).

Eye Lock Log Day 5 – QuickPress

The value of the treats makes a difference! Ran out of cubes of beef heart before our eye contact training session today, and Barnum was NOT In the Game. Chicken cubes and lamb/beef miniballs didn’t cut it.
I switched to tastes of “goop” (pureed beef heart, liver, and kidney) I fortunately had defrosted, and that worked to get us up to 2 or 3 reps of 10 seconds, then quit. I do have beef heart ready for tomorrow!

A Red Letter Day in Other Areas….

We passed Level 2 sit-stay (handler walks 20′ away and back while dog remains in sit).

Since instituting “Sharon leaves room when Barnum nibbles powerchair armrest ONE time last night, the number of incidents of armrest mauling in the following 24 hours? ZERO!

For the first time ever, tonight, I ate dinner with Barnum in his crate the entire time, and there were NO whimpers, no whines, no pacing, no shredding his bedding; he just went in, laid down, and relaxed. (And I take a while to get through a meal.)

Oh, bliss!

Next post up: Assistance Dog Blog Carnival announcement!


Receive new blog posts right in your email!

Join 572 other followers

Follow AfterGadget on Twitter

Want to Support this Blog?

About this Blog

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival

Read Previous After Gadget Posts