Posts Tagged 'LLW'

Progress!

Today was a day of hope on some fronts and tangible improvement on others. I thought I’d share with the class.

Hope

I have been working with the consumer affairs division of the district attorney and attorney general’s office for my region to try to get some help dealing with my purple powerchair nightmare.

(If you’re new to this blog, just click on “Assistive Tech – Powerchairs” in the Dogegory cloud in the menu bar on the right, and you’ll find scores of posts. The upshot, though, is that I bought a specialized wheelchair in order to be able to walk Barnum in my rural area, and it has been dead most of the time I’ve had it, no matter how many times it gets “fixed.”)

It was not going well, and I was resigning myself to the likelihood that I’d have to hire a private attorney and sue. I’ve never filed a suit in my life, and the idea of the mental and emotional work it would take, not to mention the physical effort, is extremely unappealing. I really don’t want to spend my precious energy that way. I also just never thought of myself as the kind of person who files lawsuits, you know?

Today, however, I heard from someone at the business where I got my chair who is new to the organization and is coming on board to “put out fires.” Apparently, I’m one of the larger fires, and having the state’s AG involved seems to be issuing more smoke on my behalf. He listened and was sympathetic, which was a really nice change of pace. He also let me know that they are having a lot of internal problems that are interfering with them responding to my demands.

So, I don’t know what will come of this, but it was the first time I have felt like somebody at their end cared and remotely “got it” about the situation. I’ll be emailing him some documents, and we’ll speak again. I’m afraid to get my hopes up, in case this doesn’t work out, but at least there is a glimmer now that there may be some sort of resolution I can work with.

Progress!

I have finally decided to take my own advice and only do retrieve training (work with the dumbbells) for extremely short sessions. This had been my plan for a long time, but I’m so desperate to get our trained retrieve, that if he was enthusiastic and showing progress, I always wanted to do “just one more.” That is a very common pitfall among clicker trainers. I know this, and yet, I kept doing it!

It’s just crucial that a service dog is excited and eager to do the tasks that you need, because you can’t force a dog to help you, especially if he has to choose between doing a requested behavior versus playing, eating, or napping. Since the trained retrieve is the basis for the great majority of service skills, the foundation is supremely important. The ideal is to train for demand, meaning the dog isn’t just willing to work, but is demanding it. This is something Gadget often did, and I appreciated it, but I didn’t have to work for it with him; he was just naturally eager. With Barnum, oh yes, I am working for it!

My ideal was three sessions a day with the dumbbells, of three to five reps each session; but I was doing seven or 10 reps instead. This sometimes led to Barnum becoming frustrated or bored, and his performance would suffer accordingly. So, I finally stopped that and decided to follow my own rules. It’s going great!

Today, we have done two sessions so far (hope to squeeze in at least one more), and each time he held the dumbbell, on his own, without dropping it. I have also started doing distracting things like tapping the top of his head or  his lips (very annoying to him) or waving treats around in front of him, and he is keeping his hold. Hopefully I’ll get some video soon to post. GOOD BOY!

I have to go back and read the Training Levels for retrieve, because we are past where I’d read for Level 3 and Level 4, and I need to find out what comes next.

Improvement!

Barnum and I had another walk today, almost an hour long. Ideally, I’d like to get us doing two hours, but I’m working my way up slowly. (My body won’t be up to that every time, at any rate. But, fall is coming, so I want to get in as much walking as possible before I’m grounded again.)

He got all excited when he saw me putting on shoes — something I don’t do unless I’m going out. (Hand factoid: one of the bonuses of being inside and in bed most of the time is very soft feet!) When I got into a wheelchair with extended leg rests, his hopes were confirmed. Recently, he has not shown enthusiasm at being told he’s going for a walk, so this was a harbinger of things to come.

He was very bouncy and perky for most of the walk, and he still  managed to keep a loose leash almost all the time, even though I tried us going at a faster pace (something that used to flip his “charge ahead” switch). Throughout the walk he gave me tons of eye contact and almost constant focus. I actually allowed him leeway to wander and sniff on the rare occasions he was inclined, even permitting minor leash tension, because I want him to enjoy the walks, and not just have them be an endless work session.

He also peed, on cue, before we left, and pooped during the walk, which he will not do if he’s stressed out, so that’s all good! We stopped periodically to practice sit, down, chin, touch, come by (come around to the left side of the chair), and side (stand parallel to the left side of the chair), and some very brief stays!

I used hot dogs for most of our work, and for the first half hour of the walk, not a single car passed us. When a truck appeared, I got out my cheese (unfortunately, I forgot the tube of pureed cottage cheese — doh!), and we played “look at that.” He is finally catching on to the LAT game.

During the rest of the walk, two more cars, a motor scooter (new for him, I think), and a bicyclist all passed by, and he was increasingly relaxed about them. He did less looking over his shoulder, but I also c/t him for doing that, and that gave him confidence that it was okay to check the environment. He is now getting in the habit of looking at the car, turning to me for his cheese, looking again, back for the cheese, and then when the car is gone, he gets c/t for focus on me.

I think we will only need a few more walks before his automatic response after seeing a car is to look at me for treats. From there, we will move to (an eventually cued) behavior of going to the side of the road and sitting quietly till the car has passed.

I also started incorporating some Zen (leave it) training during the walks, which he sorely needs. (More about that another time.)

There were two very exciting moments during the walk. The first was when the bicyclist, a neighbor, stopped to chat, and . . .

  • Barnum went to sniff his shorts, and I said “Leave it,” and he did!
  • Barnum eagerly performed sit, down, touch, and chin while I talked to the neighbor (a distraction, especially because Barnum knows his dog — and Barnum remembers everyone).

The second was when another neighbor was  out walking her dog and walking right towards us. In the past, Barnum’s behavior with this dog  has been obnoxious. He wants to play with every dog he meets, whether or not they want to, and whether or not his style of play is one they like. With this dog, he learned early to mount her, and she just put up with it. Bad scene. Neighbor did not like that!

So, when my neighbor saw us approaching, she asked if I’d like her to stop, which I answered, very gratefully, “Yes!” Barnum, amazingly . . .

  • continued to keep focus with me most of the time and
  • maintained a loose leash, though he was Very Excited to see this other dog.
  • When we got close, he did do a few lunges, and I’d back up, and he’d get under control, and we’d move forward again.
  • The most miraculous part was that he stayed by my side while I talked to my neighbor and —
  • with a gusto I cannot adequately do justice to — threw himself into sits, downs, chin and nose targets,
  • and even held a short sit-stay while I rotated around him, 
  • with another dog just a few feet away!

My neighbor asked if they could greet, and I said yes, but I realize now that was a mistake. I think I will start teaching Barnum that he is to ignore other dogs unless it is officially off-leash play time. He’d start out with a friendly nose-sniff greeting, and then he’d start jumping around in a frenzy, trying to induce play. I’d back up, he’d get under control, etc.

Overall, I was terribly proud of us both. I’m sure my neighbors — and most people in town — think I’m a complete weirdo, and that I have a wild, out-of-control dog, and that all I do with him is randomly shove food at him. I’ve come to realize that if someone doesn’t understand clicker training, and that the “behaviors” you’re clicking for can be so minute (not pulling, or a flick of an ear or eye indicating the briefest awareness of my existence) or even counter-intuitive (clicking for sniffing the ground or for looking at a car), that it’s really hard for them to understand.

Fortunately, what with all my disabilities and my “unique” personality, I think most people think I’m a weirdo anyway. But this is a town that is exceptionally tolerant (even welcoming) of weirdos, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. After all, it’s Barnum’s and my process and ultimate results that matter; it’s not a popularity contest.

So proud of Team Barnum tonight!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (she was a lot less strict with me!), and Barnum, SDiT and *maturing young bouv*?!?!

The Difference!

Clichés are clichés because they’re true, usually, and “What a difference a day makes” is my truism for the day. Barnum was a much happier dog on our walk today than our last walk on Monday.

But first, another difference: The new Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up, and the theme this time around is “the Difference.” Each carnival has been different, with more people getting involved each time.

Kali at Brilliant Mind Broken Body did a terrific job pulling it together and presenting the extremely diverse topics and posts. There are several topics that have not been broached before in the ADBC, as well as some classic themes.

Please make sure to read the summer 2011 issue of the ADBC!

If you want to learn more about the ADBC (what a carnival is, what the ADBC focuses on, who can participate, links to past issues, etc.), please check out its home page. The next carnival will be in October, hosted by Cathy n’ Bosley at Life with a Hearing Dog. Please check out Cathy’s blog in September, or tune in here, to find out the theme, deadline, and other details for that edition.

Secondly, what a difference it makes to have a reliable powerchair again! Sure, it’s no great shakes at speed or power, but at least I feel fairly secure that when I leave for a walk, I will be able to come home on my own steam, and not be stranded in the road, waiting for someone to discover me and get a helper to drive my van out to pick me up!

Barnum and I had our first real, “normal” walk today, after many months of difficulties. I took him for a walk when there was no PCA or anyone else at home! I didn’t worry about getting stranded, the chair losing power, etc. So, that was lovely.

My dog was quite different today, too. Laura, you were right in your comments about my last post, Barnum did have more of a spring in his step after just one walk with me!

Last time, his loose leash walk was about 80 or 90 percent. I had wondered how much of that was him being slow and uncertain. I wondered if, when he pepped up, he’d start to pull again.

Nope! His LLW was practically flawless today! Maybe once or twice the leash got tight, and then he would automatically pause or take a couple of steps backward. It was the most effortless walk I have ever had with any dog! Yeehaw!

When we started out, he still seemed a little concerned, but a bit less than last time. I used lots of very animated happy talk, and clicked/treated for “looking happy.” I’m sure this is the kind of thing that would make a traditional trainer or someone who doesn’t think animals have emotions roll their eyes, believing that what I’m doing is “not scientific.”

But, it’s really pretty obvious, if you’re paying attention, whether a dog is confident or scared, relaxed or nervous, mellow or angry. I clicked Barnum for sniffing interestedly at the ground or roadside, for walking with a bounce in his step, for smiling (open, relaxed mouth), and for other tail, head, and body indicators of calm or enjoyment.

The most obvious difference was his overall body language. That improved very quickly as soon as I used my happy voice and started doing lots of clicks and treats. But he still had a bit of a concerned look in his eyes, though the rest of his body language looked relaxed. Eventually, he was bopping along, his eyes were bright and open, and he seemed engaged in earning his treats and being out in the world.

My initial guesses as to what was worrying him were cars, the loose dogs that rush out and bark a ways down the road, or getting swarmed by biting insects. The insects were not bad today, so that was not an issue. To make sure the dogs weren’t the problem, today and Sunday, I turned us around before we got near the territorial dogs. One thing at a time, after all.

I am now thinking the issue most likely is cars. Some of his worried look returned occasionally on the way home, after a couple of cars had gone by. As I explained in my post on rural living, cars are rare enough that when one goes by, it is a minor event (we have to get to the side of the road, if nothing else), but not so rare that we don’t usually have three or four pass us on a walk. And I took him out today at “rush hour,” from 5:30 to 6:15, so we probably had six or seven cars go by. (Sometimes we can take a walk, and no cars will go by, but that has to be at a lazier time of the day.)

He has always visually tracked cars, and I had hoped that over time he would learn that they are neither prey nor predator, and that he’d grow used to them. I used to try to play the “look at that” game from Control Unleashed with him, but of course, it’s been months since we’ve had consistent walks.

Today I was ready with not just hot dogs and cheese, but a tube of pureed cottage cheese, which is his favorite thing in the world. When he saw or heard a car, we played LAT. By time we were nearing home, and the last truck went by, he was almost exclusive focused on me and the cottage cheese.

I think I will just work on desensitization and counter-conditioning, because we don’t seem to do well with LAT. I want to find someone to sit in a car at a distance and creep up on us a few sessions, using cottage cheese as my counter-conditioning tool. I have a feeling that with enough desensitizing sessions, combined with happy walks, he will get over his car concern. It will also help if I can take him to the city, where there are so many cars, they won’t be such an event (flooding).

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Carnival, especially Kali. I have a lot of reading to do in the next few days!

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

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.

Winsome Wednesday: Encouraging Words

I’m not up to writing Part II of “A Typical Atypical Day in the Life…” because I’m too sick today. That’s pretty typical of living with CFIDS, and Lyme, and MCS, though!

I can only manage a short blog right now.

Today was another good day, if not physically, then emotionally. It was a winsome Wednesday, therefore I’m not feeling particularly waspish, so I’m taking the week off from Waspish Wednesday.

I wrote to Sue Ailsby (AKA Sue Eh?), creator of the Training Levels, my dog-training guru whom I so much admire. (In addition to being a great trainer, she is also kind, honest, and very funny.)

I sent her the video I posted on youtube yesterday, although with the link to my post from a couple of days ago about how I think Barnum may work out as a service dog (or SDiT, right now), after all.

This was her response, which she gave me permission to publish:

Oh Sharon, that’s SO good. The biggest, most important thing you said in your blog was that he’s lost his Zen. That says it for me – and says it about you, too, because most people just get annoyed when something like that happens, and don’t go far enough to see WHY it happened. I can’t think of anything more hopeful you could have said than that he’s losing his Zen. That’s WONderful!

I felt so happy when I read that. This is the paragraph from my previous post that Sue’s referring to:
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!
There are some behavior problems that I’m delighted to have, and this is one of them!

Barnum and I worked our retrieve training. He’s making much faster progress now with the new dumbbells. I combined some aspects of Sue’s method with some of Shirley Chong’s, and that approach has really improved his enthusiasm. More on that another time.

We also practiced door shutting — mostly working on stimulus control (shutting the door when I ask and not shutting it when I don’t ask) — as well as learning to listen for the sound of the latch clicking shut as an indicator that the door is truly shut. He loves this skill so much, that he continues, about once a day, to trot excitedly into  my bathroom and shut the door, necessitating that someone let him back out!

I managed to get a few photo albums up at my FaceBook After Gadget page and have 20 followers now. (I just need five more to officially make it a fan page!)

Plus, the good news on the loose-leash walking just keeps coming. Today was a personal best for Barnum and my helper who walks him. They went all the way to the mailbox and back, which is about one-and-a-half miles, round trip, loose leash all the way!

My helper said he only need a couple of “gentle reminders” on the way there and the way back. He is even learning to control himself when his favorite doggy playmate dive-bombs him in the road (while she is loose, and he is on leash) and not fling himself at her, trying to play with her.

Wahooey!

Tonight, Betsy and I shaved Barnum again to make tick-checking easier. I’m so pleased that he is getting easier and easier to groom. He is more relaxed about it most of the time.

However, I need new clippers. The old Oster clipper and its blades that I have just aren’t cutting it (no pun intended). I send the blades out to be sharpened, and within a cut or two — or sometimes with no use at all — they are too dull again.

However, Barnum looks extra adorable, especially because now you can really see his eyes. I will try to put up photos.

Lastly, though I was wiped out, I joined a teleconference with Shirley Chong, which one of my wonderful readers told me about and invited me to.  (Thank you!)

It was very informative, as well as entertaining (much like Sue, Shirley is very funny and personable and seems kind to humans as well as dogs). It was also neat to “meet” several of the people I’ve gotten to know online via the Training Levels List.

Now if I can just get some sleep.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, freshly shorn and snoring loudly

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!)

A Loose-Leash Walk!

I know my post yesterday was about grief, so it may seem odd to be posting this practically euphoric post today, but that seems to be how my life is, generally: up and down. Either that’s the way I am, or that’s the way life is. I don’t know.

In the midst of sadness, there is joy. In the midst of fear, there is hope.

I have a lot of happy and/or hopeful posts I haven’t finished  yet, partly because I’ve been busy or there have been other topics, and partly because of the “will he or won’t he?” question about Barnum continuing as a SDiT. I’ll post about that issue — “What do the posts mean?” — another time. Hold that thought.

[Cue choir of angels singing.]

Today we had an actual loose-leash walk! It was probably the first time I’ve enjoyed a walk with him in — I don’t know how long — a year? Ever?

I have been working on “loose-leash walk” (LLW) with Barnum forever! Really, since he arrived. I could not understand why we were not making progress, despite all the issues I knew about (his distractibility, his low food drive, my pchair issues, etc.).

A while back, Sue Ailsby posted on the Training Levels list that if you’ve been working at LLW for three months and not making progress, it’s because you are not backing up far enough when the leash gets tight. You have to back up so far that the dog loses hope of getting to the spot he wants to get to.

I decided to tackle this with a two-pronged approach.

Issue #1: Focus

Since the “point of interest” for Barnum is pretty much “everything outdoors,” that meant he was always “over threshold,” so I decided to start training indoors. Not training the walking part, because he’s been doing perfect LLW indoors forever, and it never translated.

The problem was focus. I started a program about three weeks ago of heavily reinforcing eye contact, and especially, using a red light/green light approach to going outside every time.

You could also call this “door zen,” or “outdoors zen,” or “using life rewards.”

Basically, we’d get to the door and I’d wait for him to make eye contact. Click/treat. After a few of those, we’d move forward. Eye contact? C/t each time, and I’d open the main door. That leaves the storm door, which is much more exciting, because it is transparent, and then he can see outside. If I didn’t get eye contact within a few seconds, I’d back us up, and if necessary, shut the big door again.

once I was getting eye contact at least every three seconds or so, I’d move us outside, and do the same on the ramp, down the ramp, and to where he toilets. (I’ll save the toileting for another time. Big news there, too.)

I also incorporated c/t for looking when I said his name or for sustained eye contact when I gave the eye-contact cue, “Watch me!”

That has definitely helped.

Issue #2: Too Many Cooks

Barnum gets walked by three people in addition to me: One of my helpers, who walks him two or three times a week; his dog walker who comes once a week to take him to the pond; and occasionally, Betsy, to take him to the pond.

They all say that he walks on a loose leash with them. I question them, and they all give answers that suggest that Barnum is a perfect angel with them. This has been going on for many months.

So, I have been thinking, “What the hell is wrong with me?” Is it the speed of the powerchair? Is it me? Is Barnum really so dense that after a year he has not generalized the concept of walking next to an ambulatory person versus walking next to a chair (which my other dogs learned just fine)?”

The last time his dog-walker came to take him to the pond, I got a tip-off. Usually I’m in bed when they leave, but this time I was watching them walk down the ramp. I saw Barnum pulling, tight leash all the way, down the ramp!

Surprise!

I don’t think she thought of this as pulling, because he wasn’t hauling her around, as is typical for most dogs you see on leash. She was also focused on other things and not obsessed with LLW, like I am.

I decided to ask each of the other two people to show me how they walk Barnum.

Let me be clear: I did not think any of these people were lying. (And they weren’t.) I just wanted to evaluate what they were doing, what Barnum was doing, and see if I could  learn from it.

The first person was Betsy. As with me, Barnum walked nicely inside the fenced yard, and then as they headed up the driveway to the road, he’d go to the end of his leash. Which is what he always did with me. In fact, he might have done it sooner with Betsy!

I had to stay back a good distance to watch, otherwise Barnum kept looking at me. I called, “Is that what he normally does?”

Betsy said they never walk up to the street. She always takes him right to the van, which is just a few steps outside the gate. So, he really was not getting any practice with her.

Lastly, my helper, who walks him more than anyone else, and takes him on long walks. We started in the yard.

Right away, he went to the end of his leash. In the yard, already. My helper stopped, waited for Barnum to stand still, and when he did, she moved forward, thereby creating a loose leash! Barnum didn’t have to do anything but wait. He got to continue from where he was pulling.

Predictably, after a few more steps, he was at the end of his leash again.

I stopped them.

First, we discussed timing. I explained that she needed to act before the leash was tight, when the snap was still hanging down, or the leash was making a “J” shape. She knew this, but what she hadn’t realized was that this meant she had to start walking backwards before the leash was remotely tight — when she could tell that it was going to get tight at the rate he kept going. That way, she could change things up before the leash was truly tight — just when it was threatening to be tight.

Once she had practiced that a couple of times — she learned the timing very fast; she’s an athlete, so she has great reflexes — we moved on to the “backing up” part.

I told her to back up ten steps any time the leash got tight. That was not remotely far enough.

I told her try backing up ten feet. Again, not far enough. Barnum still did not have his attention on her.

Also, she wasn’t backing up fast enough. That’s one of the problems with powerchairs — they always back up slower than they go forward (blasted safety features!) — but it’s something a healthy ambulatory person should be able to do.

I told her to back up quickly, as soon as she started backing up, and to back up fifteen feet. That was better, but still not good enough.

I said to back up twice as far as they had moved forward — so far back that Barnum had given up hope of getting anywhere. I said, “It doesn’t matter how far you get. If you spend the whole time in the driveway, that’s fine.”

I think that last instruction was a key element, because she had been worried about doing her job — giving him exercise. When I gave her permission not to worry about that, she was able to relax and focus completely on training.

Another cool thing that happened was when my helper backed up far enough that Barnum was looking up at her face to try to figure out what she was doing, I said to mark that (click or say, “YES!”) and offer a treat. She did that, with me coaching (“He’s looking at you! Click! Click now!”), and he took the proffered cheese!

I told her, if she could manage to mark and treat for eye contact, great, and if not, don’t worry about it. I watched to make sure she had the hang of backing up, and I left them to it.

I know Barnum’s not getting enough physical exercise. That’s not my priority right now. I play and run him around in the yard every day after he has peed and pooped (his reward for pooping on leash) so he gets to work off some energy, but I know that’s not enough.

However, even if he doesn’t go very far, an hour of walking is still an hour of walking, even if it’s covering the same patch of dirt, again and again. He is also getting a lot of mental exercise; a solid hour of LLW practice tires him right out!

I’m taking the long view. Eventually, this practice will pay off in him getting more exercise and walks. I’ll be able to walk him even when I’m not at my best, physically or mentally. And one of my other helpers, who used to really enjoy walking Gadget, but who hasn’t been able to risk being yanked around by Barnum, will be able to walk him, too.

Today, we made it past one neighbor’s house, and almost to the second. However, the black flies were really starting to get to both of us, so he was just as happy to turn around. We spent fifty minutes going just a few dozen yards, but it was a few dozen yards with almost no pulling!

Oh! Lest I forget: he also took treats the whole time! He even deigned to accept hot dogs, when I was between bags of cheese! He was much more focused and mellow, all the way around. Good dog!

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

QuickPress: Pissing and Whining

But in a good way! (Well, not the whining.)

[Note: I wrote this last night, right after The Events, but I fell asleep before I managed to click “Publish.”]

This has been a, uh, well — a shitty day. It started with Barnum whining, repeatedly, and continually, from the moment my PCA arrived, until I got up, hours later.

Only one time out of the four times we took him out, did he pee. And that was the third time, when my PCA took him out. He didn’t pee the first two times, when I took him out. Augh!

This is an ongoing issue — the “holding it” issue. The not-getting-elimination-while-on-leash-let-alone-on-cue issue.

It seems that Barnum’s compelling reason for waking me was that he had had difficulty getting his cone-head (Elizabethan collar) into the crate overnight, and he was bored, uncomfortable, and grouchy on the floor, so he wanted me to be uncomfortable and grouchy, too. No, not really. I think he just wanted something interesting to happen to take his mind off of his discomfort.

I have been trying to view these 10 to 14 days post-surgery when Barnum has to be kept quiet, including only very minimal exercise — on leash — as an opportunity to work on our loose-leash walking and elimination-on-leash/cue. In the beginning, it wasn’t looking good. He went several days without pooping, and barely ever peed.

Barnum has a perfectly lovely LLW when anyone but me is walking him, on foot, because he learned never to pull on leash as a puppy when he was walked during the winter, when I couldn’t take him for walks because of snow. When he was older, and spring came, and I took him out, using my pchair, he pulled like a freight train, and I have tried like hell to establish a LLW in the out-of-doors, with zero success.

So, when I twice today tried to take him for a walk, and neither time got past the driveway, it was pretty damn disheartening. However, during our second “walk,” when I had given up and turned toward the gate, he pooped!

I was ready with my cue, clicker, and jackpot of treats. Then, after taking his treats (!), he peed! A one-two punch! (Or, a two-one punch, if you want to get technical.) More treats! Then he pooped again! Cues and clicks and treats, oh my!

Then, we came in and had our evening. He was been pesty and whiny again. Sometimes he can make it into his crate, and sometimes it just wigs him out too much to have the cone banging into the sides. So, he has decided the solution is: my bed. He’ll just hop on up here when the mood strikes. And if I tell him to get down and don’t let him back up, he whines. Urg. Eventually he made it into his crate and settled.

I got to work on my BADD post and started infusing. When the pump alarm goes off, Barnum does a brilliant job alerting to it (going to heroic lengths to get out of the crate and hop on my bed with the unwieldy cone banging into the crate and bed sides). I feed him his dinner as his reward, and then. . . .

The human finally clues in to something Barnum has probably been trying to communicate to me for a couple of days.

The poor dog.

I have light-switch extenders on most of the light switches, which Gadget used to turn the lights on and off. Barnum has been accidentally pulling the anchoring screws right out of the walls when he bonks them with his E-collar. Since they’re not in use, I’ve just let them hang like that.

My bedroom light switch is right next to my door. When I’m in my bedroom, my door is usually shut, which means Barnum can’t get to the bell that hangs next to the outdoor-door to indicate he has to pee.

I was blogging away when Barnum started acting up. He put his paws on my bed. He whined. He paced around, bonking into things, like the light-switch extender.

Then he went over to the door, whined, sat (which got my attention, because he has learned to sit before going through doorways, and it’s the clearest indicator that he needs to go out), then intentionally bonked the light-switch extender with his cone. The long, thin rod swung back and forth . . .

like a bell.

Barnum looked pleadingly at me.

Poor dog.

“Do you wanna go out??” I said.

He did.

I took him to the door, realized I’d forgotten my hot dogs, went back to my room to get them, so he rang the bell to indicate, yes, he really did need to go out.

I took him out.

As usual, we stood around, him sniffing the air, me sitting in my chair, staring off into space, waiting and wondering how many times I’d have to take him out before he actually peed. Then he went over to the spot where he has been peeing most often — and peed! Wahooey!

I decided that rather than take him in after his hot dogs, we could wander around in the yard, as an additional reward for peeing the first time I took him out. We trotted here and there, and then, he headed toward the area where he likes to poop — and pooped!

Three poops in one day! Three pees in one day!

Yeah, we’re having our struggles, but we’re having our moments, too.

And I just know y’all reading this are as fascinated by my dog’s urinary and bowel movements as I am, right?

OK, but humor me anyway?

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I ripped the light switch extenders out accidentally only — when I was overzealous with my nose), and Barnum (SDiT? and little pisser)

On the Road, For Real

Today, we had our first adult dog “on the road” excursion.

I worked Barnum in the parking lot of my doctor’s office before my appointment. Since we normally work indoors, in a quiet, rural setting, it was quite a departure to work on pavement, surrounded by speeding cars, police cars and firetrucks roaring past with sirens and lights, people of all varieties, an electric door opening and shutting, etc.

Barnum was very excited to be going for a ride, and in the beginning, I had to work on getting him to stop whining with excitement. I think once it became clear we were not going to the P-O-N-D (because we drove for 40 minutes instead of three), that helped some. When we got to the highway (about 25 minutes into the drive), he started to chill.

He was very good about not unloading until the chair and I were out, and sitting before he jumped out. There was a moment of relative calm until, as we headed toward the sidewalk from the van, he bolted to get to the grass. Why the grass, flowers, and bushes were so exciting, when he sees flora all the time at home, I do not know. He didn’t even have to pee.

The unfortunate result, however, was that his sudden charge directly ahead catapulted me right out of my chair, and if I hadn’t managed to 1. use my legs to keep from face-planting into the pavement, and 2. yelled in shock and pain, “Ow!” It would have been a bad scene.

So, I accidentally gave a very harsh verbal and leash correction, because of my yelling and pulling back with my arms and legs to keep from smashing my face into the asphalt. Barnum looked around at me with total surprise and worry, like, “What was that for?”

He did calm down considerably after that. He was still not loose-leash walking (LLW), and he wouldn’t take treats, so I just kept changing direction to get him noticing me and the leash, and eventually he remembered, and he made eye contact, and then I rapid-fired about ten pieces of cheese into his mouth, verbally marking for standing next to  me. Then he was in the game!

We did pretty well after that. He was able to give me eye contact some, and he was surprisingly good about keeping a LL. I got many sits from him. I’d say he was at about 70-80% reliable with the sit cue (combined hand and verbal, usually). He even did some downs, touches, and zen, stand, and eye contact, though none of those are reliable.

He was quite distracted  a lot of the time, but it would have been a miracle if he wasn’t.

He was totally not ready at all to go inside the clinic, even just through the doors, in and out of the waiting room. This turned out to be fine, because when I got home, I got a message the clinic left before we came that I could not bring him in if he wasn’t fully trained. Oh well, I have a dentist to see eventually who is very dog-friendly.

He spent my appointment in the air-conditioned van, and afterward he was so happy to see me! “Mom! What can I do for you? Let me show you how fabulously I can pay attention!”

We did another ten minutes of LLW in the parking lot, with lots of eye contact, lots of accepting treats, some sits, downs, a few honest-to-goodness “leave its” of interesting things to sniff in the environment, hand-targeting, and more taking in the scenery.

He certainly is very confident! I don’t think anything really bothered him. He was curious and watchful about all the unusual sights, sounds, and smells, but he didn’t seem anxious at all. I’m chocking this up partly to his great personality and temperament, and partly to all the early socialization we did when he was teeny.

We got home at 5:00, and he laid down on the living room dog bed while I bathed and changed. Then, when I got into bed after detoxifying myself, he crawled into his crate, and he hasn’t moved more than a couple feet since then! This is one tired pup!

He matches his very tired (but still adrenalized) human (who will pay for this tomorrow, big-time).

My doctor said, “I think the dog has been good for you in a lot of ways, but also maybe taken a lot out of you, hasn’t he?”

Yeah, doc, that’s about right!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I was always well-behaved there), and Barnum, SDiT and world-traveler (a bit)


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