Posts Tagged 'go to mat'

Quel Fromage! Mat in Parking Lot

Today did not go as planned, but I learned some important lessons along the way.

1. If you think something might not really be reliably fixed, and you use it anyway, and it turns out to be broken, breaking it apart with a screwdriver probably won’t help, but at least you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.

This is in reference to the buckle on my hydraulic powerchair lift in my van. My PCA took Barnum and me and my Jet pchair to Greenfield today (the nearest city — until recently it was a town, but it transitioned and now has a mayor), to check out a powerchair for sale on Craig’s List.

The chair seat is not at all the right dimensions for me (previous owner was much smaller than me), and I’d have to replace it entirely anyway because it’s a rehab seat, and I need what’s called a “van seat” or “captain’s chair.” I need to research whether I can get a new seat to fit the base, and how much that would cost. It’s a bummer because it’s a good brand and a decent model, in excellent condition, almost brand new.

Anyway, I tested the chair out, and then we went to the coop parking lot. The plan was that I would do some training with Barnum in the lot or on the sidewalk while my PCA bought groceries and went to the pharmacy for prescriptions. However, when she tried to unload the van, one of the buckles would not detach from the chair’s harness.

There happened to be a plumbing and heating van nearby, with a guy sitting in it, so my PCA asked him if we could borrow a flat-head screwdriver. I forgot to ask her for a small screwdriver, which is what I would have needed to finesse the buckle open. But when it was clear finesse was not an option, I just went for it, hoping it was sturdier than it looked. It wasn’t, but I felt okay about it anyway.

So, I just sat in the chair behind the van and tried to practice stationary skills with Barnum. Skills like sit, watch me, down, touch, and others don’t require movement. Nor does keeping a loose leash, for that matter. Barnum’s leash was not loose most of the time, initially, so those were all good things to practice — in theory, anyway.

2. The value of the treats really does matter. We ran out of cheese a few days ago, but I had a bag of hot dog slices with me, and I hoped that would be exciting enough. Barnum definitely was interested in them at home and in the car. However, he was not focused and in the game in the parking lot. I got the occasional sit or hand target, but a lot of the time, he was just frustrated at not being able to go anywhere, and too fascinated by all that was going on around us. I clicked for anything remotely resembling paying attention to me, especially eye contact. However, after a few clicks and hot dogs, he refused to take any more.

Then my PCA came out with the grocery bags. I asked her to give me one of the packages of cheese, which I ripped open with my fingernails. As soon as Barnum smelled it, he was like, “Cheese? Is that cheese? What can I do for you?”

I had his attention! (Or rather, the cheese did. But, that was okay, because I am Master of the Cheese. Soon to be a new video game.) Barnum was happy to sit, down, touch, etc., for cheese, which I just shredded into pieces with my fingernails. (It’s a locally made fresh mozzarella, so it didn’t require a knife.)

3. Bringing the “go to mat” mat was a brilliant idea, and I deserve some sort of award for having thought of it and utilized it. I realized, after my PCA had gone into the store, that I hadn’t asked her to grab Barnum’s “mat,” a very old yoga mat, that was rolled up next to my oxygen tanks.

When she came out to drop off the groceries before going to the pharmacy, I asked her to get it for me. I tossed it on the pavement in front of my chair. Barnum looked at it, a flicker of recognition in his eye. He tried stepping on it. I clicked for that and tossed cheese on it. Aha!

Pretty quickly I had him staying on the mat, sitting, then downing on it. I let it go that he was lying cross-wise on it, so that his hind end and front paws were off it. I didn’t use my cue at all. I just clicked and tossed cheese.

It had a very calming effect! Soon he was lying calmly and contentedly, watching people, cars, and wheelchairs go by, with only the mildest interest. There were startling sights and sounds that he glanced at and then returned to the important work of giving me eye contact from his down-stay on the mat, thus eliciting cheese.

I’d estimate it took less than 15 minutes for him to go from distracted and overstimulated to totally calm and holding his stay on the mat in a very strange and arousing environment. I was actually even able to use his cue (“Park it!”) by the end of the session, because he was reliably downing with his whole body on the mat by then.

So, there is something to be said for stillness. If we hadn’t been stuck there at the ass of the van for over half an hour, I probably would have been frustrated and concerned about Barnum’s ability to focus and train in strange environments — a challenge for us since he hit six months old or so.

4. Sometimes it’s better to just do what works, rather than what looks good or seems right or proper. After we got home, I had my helper assist me to unbolt the clip on my powerchair that was attached to the broken harness buckle so I could drive my chair inside. Then I instructed her to cut the offending (really, in all senses) broken buckle off the lift.

Tonight, when another helper was here, we managed to free the clip from the buckle (which will go to the transfer station on the next dump day), and I bolted the clip back on the chair. From now on, I will just use a length of chain and carabiner that is already on my lift to attach to that clip on the lift harness. I mean, really, who needs this shit? I am so done with going to the experts for powerchair-related maintenance, unless it is either (a) outrageously complicated, or (b) covered by Medicare.

My long miserable, miserable experiences with my purple powerchair have taught me that when it comes to powerchairs, I’ll either go to a truly professional, Medicare-covered dealer, or I’ll do it myself! (That saga is ongoing. I am working with the consumer affairs division of the attorney general’s office. They have turned out, so far, to be useless. If that changes, I’ll let you know. Unless my luck turns around, it looks like I’m heading to court with a private attorney. Oh joy. Just how I want to use my limited energy.)

But, you never know. Maybe there are good surprises in store. After all, today did not at all go how I’d planned the day to go — quel fromage! — but it was productive nonetheless. As dog is my witness, I will never be cheeseless again.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Behold! The power of cheese!), and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Deb found another squeaky ball for Barnum. Thank you, Deb! He is uncertain about the nubbly texture and smaller size, but he likes how squeaky it is. Here’s a short video of him playing with it.

Building Enthusiasm: Go to (Yoga) Mat

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been collecting tips to share for building more enthusiasm in your dog.

This really isn’t just about “enthusiasm,” per se. It’s about having your dog, as Sue Ailsby puts it, “in the game,” every time you train. In other words, a totally focused and engaged dog. Of course, this is the goal of every good trainer, and especially a service-dog trainer, upon whom so much depends.

If you’ve been following Barnum and me during our first year of training, however, you probably remember my struggles with Barnum’s lack of interest in food, extreme distractibility, and other quirks that made training sometimes feel as if Barnum was not only uninterested in playing my game, but was in fact, wandering out of the arena to find a place to nap or scare up a poker game.

In a future post, I’ll provide my “Building Enthusiasm” checklist and then tackle different tips in succeeding blog posts.

Today’s post is a “show and tell” of how different Barnum looks when he is in the game, versus when he is not.

I chose our “Go to Mat” work because I happen to have video of a quite unsatisfactory performance from last summer, when I was testing Go to Mat for Level Two, as well as a second video, from about a month ago, to contrast it with.

In the second video, we are working Level Three.

By now, I think he could probably pass at L3 and go on to L4, because we’ve achieved the default down-stay that’s being shaped in the second video, and he knows the cue, as well. However, I’m still tweaking other aspects of our mat work, such as proofing different “mats,” different locations, and other criteria.

First, the old video, which is captioned. (Transcript available here.)

If you’d like to play along at home to identify variables that made this behavior slow, ask yourself the following questions about my performance as you watch:

  • Where are my treats?
  • Where are my hands in relation to the treats?
  • How much time elapses between when Barnum responds to the cue, “Mat,” by running toward the mat, and my click?
  • How much time elapses between when I’m sure Barnum’s feet are all on the mat and my click?
  • How much time elapses between when I click and the delivery of the treats?
  • How do I deliver the treats? (Also, where do they land? And, how long does it take for them to get into his mouth?)
  • In the second rep, what does Barnum do during the time gap between the click and the treat delivery?

My list above are just some of the issues at play. I’m sure you can think of others.

At any rate, I went back to kindergarten and taught this skill from the beginning.

Part of this involved choosing a new cue — “Park it!” — because the old one was poisoned. (See Level Three homework post for explanation of poisoned cues.)

However, because I’ve changed the criteria for this session, and I’m shaping something new, you will not hear me use the cue at all.

I also decided to change the mat, itself. The one in the video above, which had been our main mat, was a relatively small square piece of material that slipped easily on the floor.

When considering a better mat to practice with, as well as what might be portable for when we are training or working in public, I wanted something lightweight, “non-smelly” (e.g., not a rubber-backed bathmat, which I can’t tolerate, due to my MCS), washable (so chemical fumes and residues could be removed from it), and “sticky” (so it would not slide across the floor when Barnum landed on it).

Someone suggested cutting a yoga mat to size. This seemed like a great solution, as I already have one that is outgassed and not being used for anything else. I just needed one of my helpers to clean it for me and let it dry.

Meanwhile, I’d been working on teaching Barnum that anything could be a mat (towels, canvas bags, sheets, etc.). It was going well until I discovered that Barnum was always orienting himself to face me: He would run to the mat and plunk down, facing me, regardless of what direction the “mat” was in, and this often meant the mat was going in one direction, and he was in the other, so he was making a cross, with just his middle on the mat!

By this time, Barnum knew to run to the mat; he knew that anything could be called a mat; and he knew to lie down immediately on it. But he didn’t understand that I wanted as much of his body contained to whatever the “mat” in question was. I realized that the yoga mat, in addition to preventing the slippage, could be an excellent tool for teaching the criterion, “all four paws on the mat.”

I set this up by putting the yoga mat, full length, against a wall. Because the mat is long and narrow, Barnum could run to either end or the middle, and as long as he lined up against the wall, there was plenty of room to have all four feet on. However, if he was not parallel to the wall, it would be very obvious (to both of us) which parts of him weren’t on the mat.

It worked really well. It was much easier for me to see where all his paws were, and I was able to click for two, then three, then four paws on. I raised my criteria to four paws quite quickly, and we did that for a few sessions, with me periodically shortening the mat by turning one end under, to keep focusing Barnum on keeping his whole body on the mat, no matter the size or shape. I also worked in the automatic down as a new criterion, when he became solid on “all four paws.”

Working against a wall with a mat that stayed in place was much easier for me, as well, because I found it much easier to get the treats in the right spot. If they hit the wall, they would still land on the mat. And if they went to the edge of the mat, they didn’t slide underneath, which had been a problem before, leading Barnum to lose focus by trying to dig the treat out from  under the mat.

Other trainers had suggested to me before that I use a corner (two walls), but that had always been too hard for me, physically. I found it awkward to throw the treats into a corner. Also, there just aren’t many usable corners in my home. Most of them are blocked by furniture or have doorways where the treats can slide under or are very cramped and small.

So, the yoga mat has helped a lot.

However, Barnum’s speed and eagerness, his “in the game”-ness has been most affected by changes I made in my rate of reinforcement, my timing, and multiple aspects of my treat delivery.

Check out what his mat behavior looked like a month ago (below), and compare it to the previous video!

(Note: This video was taken at the end of a session, so Barnum’s actually less bouncy and focused than he normally is for mat work these days; you can see this when he stops at one point to look out the window. I should have stopped this session earlier, but I wanted to get some of it on tape, and the opportunity didn’t arise till the end of our session.)

[Access note: I wasn’t able to upload this video to dotsub, where I normally caption videos. However, there is virtually no dialogue in this video, only the clicks, except for the three times I say, “Release!” Those are the times Barnum pops up and runs off the mat. If anyone is able to upload it to dotsub, let me know, and I’ll caption the clicks. Read the “transcript,” which is mostly a description of the action in the video.]

See how he jumps up and runs off the mat?

And trots back with focus?

Notice how I try to keep a higher rate of reinforcement (although I do miss many opportunities to click, and sometimes click late, partly because of the work in wrangling the treats).

We have done sessions where he literally leaps into the air, all four feet off the floor, when released from the mat, and runs hard back to it, but those aren’t on video.

The best part, of course, is when I can apply our skills to real life. We now practice Mat every week when the visiting nurse comes to change my dressing.

Hopefully in the not-too-distant-future, when I finally get my powerchair and van lift working again, we will start public access training. Mat — AKA “glue yourself to the floor” — will be one of our most important skills.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who never learned mat!), and Barnum, moderately enthusiastic SDiT

Level 2 Test Videos (Part 1)

I have figured out how to use Betsy’s camera to make very short videos! On July 31, when my parents visited, I had them test me on six of the sixteen behaviors of Level Two in Sue Ailsby’s training levels (which I introduced when I tested myself on L1, delved into further in “Click, treat, repeat,” then provided another update on our progress, and just a couple of days ago, provided the brain-twisting theory behind it all).

Now, as promised, the first batch of L2 test videos!

I wasn’t sure how strictly to judge myself, so I retested them the next day, August 1. I’ll give a synopsis of the criteria we are testing ourselves against, but if you want the details, read them here at Training Level Two.

The first day of testing (which has not been recorded for posterity here), Barnum was very peppy. Probably a combination of cooler weather and the presence of visitors (Oh boy, oh boy!). The following day, in the videos below, he is very mellow. Well, that’s the two sides to the Bouvier des Flandres — bouncing around and athletic, or floor spud, and not much in between!

Here’s our handling test. Test requires handling all paws, ears, and tail, without the dog fussing. On day one, I did it with him standing (because he was hyper), but that’s not typically how I do handling. I feel like he did pass it — he let my dad pick him up (twice!) so he could hold him to weigh him. I thought that was pretty good for someone he’s only met about three or four times. (For the record, Barnum weighed 64 pounds.)

But I wanted to redo it the way we normally do.  Here’s the video-taped test, showing our usual style. Even though you can’t see it, I did do both hind feet (one I pulled a burr out between the toes) and his tail (what little of it there is got wagged, gently pulled, lifted, etc.). I didn’t caption it because my voice wasn’t working, so there’s no essentially no audio. I look like I’m speaking, but really I’m mostly mouthing and squeaking. Read the transcript/video description here.

Next is our “trick.” You can teach any trick you want. I chose ringing a bell to indicate he wants to go out. Barnum also knows various verbal and signed cues for ringing the bell. He did it better the previous day, but I felt that today’s was a pass, too. It’s closed-captioned. Read the transcript here.

This just in! August 10, 2010 —

Three times today, Barnum went to the bell, while I was in bed, and rang it to indicate he wanted to go out. Even better, each time I took him out, on lead, he PEED or POOPED immediately, and on cue! Woohoo! The “trick” is no longer just a trick — the connection has been made!

Now, back to the testing videos of 10 days ago. . . .

This is our Come Game test (captioned).

The dog has to come eagerly, straight to you from forty feet away.

When he did it yesterday, he ran faster/harder, but I still felt this was a pass. Read the transcript here.

This is our Zen (“Leave It”) test. Dog must stay off a treat in your hand for 10 seconds and off a treat on a couch or low table for five seconds. One cue only.

Barnum always does great with Zen. I wanted to make it clear I was not “guarding” the treat by being near it, which is why I moved it and moved far away from it and looked in another direction. That is raw beef heart he’s ignoring; even though he looks like he doesn’t care, it’s one of his favorite treats. I’m calling this a pass.

(It’s captioned, but not well. I did try my darndest; apologies.) Read the transcript here.

This is our targeting test — target sticks.

Dog must touch the end of a target stick.

I used the stick from the Alley-Oop (yellow tip), then the Manner’s Minder (love that one! — red tip), then the old-fashioned Karen Pryor stick (just metal, and mine is missing its tip).

I didn’t know I was holding some of them out of the range of the camera, but he actually did the very tip on the KPCT stick both times, which I was happy about, because it doesn’t even have its tip anymore, so it’s not as obvious as the other two. 

Note: I’m doing something wrong in this video, see if you catch it!

Apologies — I could not get the captions to work with this video. They ended up being so ill-timed I thought they’d be more distracting than useful. Read the transcript here.

After seeing the video above I realized I often move the stick away as he’s going to touch it! Need to work on that! Also, since it’s in my left hand, I asked for many more touches on the left. Need to work on that, too. I still consider it a pass. We will continue to work with the sticks, and I’ll be more careful with those two issues.

Finally, after retesting “Go to Mat,” I decided it’s a fail!

Both days, he did not run to the mat, like I’m looking for, even though it’s not technically in the criteria (which is the dog goes to a mat from five feet away, with two cues or less, all four paws on the mat). I want a more enthusiastic response to the cue.

Here’s the closed-captioned video, anyway, of where we are in our process.  See the transcript here.

Update: Some on the training levels list say he did pass this behavior, so I decided it’s technically a pass, but I’m going to keep working at it at this level anyway.

Thanks for watching! (And more videos on the way, as we have tested and passed three more behaviors, so far.) As ever, we welcome your comments!

-Sharon, Barnum, and the spirit of Gadget, who would’ve rocked the Levels, if he had but been given the chance!


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