Posts Tagged 'Look at That game'

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

Eye Lock Log Days 3&4, plus Additional Progress!

Eye Contact Log

We start each day — once we’re both fully awake — with our eye contact training session. I keep them very short — 5-10 minutes, at most.

Here’s the very beginning of our day 2 training session. We have come so far! We made it to four seconds, and then at 1:19 he broke contact. I decided to get out the better treats, and there’s no point in watching after that because it’s just me breaking up frozen treats to get ready for the rest of the session. When I gave him that one jackpot, it wasn’t because of duration, but because it was a particularly intense stare — I wanted to reinforce that.

I’m not providing a transcript or captioning because there’s no spoken dialogue, and there’s so little to describe, I don’t think it would be of interest. What I’m signing at the beginning is, “My voice isn’t working today, so it’s a good day to train eye contact.” That’s not my angry face, by the way; that’s just my “exhausted-and-in-pain” facial expression.

Generally, since then, I start out with just 1 low-value treat (chicken) for looks until count of 6, then switch to multiple tiny cubes of beef heart.

Yesterday, after getting to count of 10, I wanted to make sure we were reaching 10 seconds, so I went back to 6 but counted “one-good-dog, two-good-dog,…” until we got to 10. Today, I just counted higher instead, up past 15, which is definitely 10 seconds, at least.

When we get to 10, I do some sort of jackpot, such as treats plus tug, or treats plus wild praise and tummy rubs. He is usually a sponge for affection early in the day.

I got confirmation today that he understands we are working on eye contact, and not, for example, sit-stay, because later in the day when he was doing a sit-stay, he looked away now and then, but held the stay, whereas when we do eye contact sessions, he is getting better and better at holding contact longer, and in down, standing, or sit positions. Sometimes he starts standing, and then he will move into a sit because it’s more comfortable, but he doesn’t break the gaze! Sometimes he rests his chin on my bed and looks up at me to get a click — very cute!

We also worked in a new location today for the first time — the bathroom connected to my bedroom, instead of working at bedside.

Major breakthroughs in other areas yesterday and today!

He now periodically checks in with me by making eye contact and running over to me when playing with other dogs — not cued by me.

LLW Breakthroughs!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, he has been increasingly giving me eye contact on walks, allowing me to include that in criteria for restarting loose-leash walking (LLW), and pulling much less, often going many yards walking beautifully at my side.

Most amazing, he has started offering behaviors for c/t on walks! When he startled and looked over at me for his food reward when I said “YES!” yesterday on a walk, you could have knocked me over with a feather! (I use the verbal marker, “YES!” on walks, because handling the clicker along with everything else is too difficult. Also, he seems to respond more to my voice when we’re in a distracting environment than to the clicker.)

I was finally able, for the first time, to reinforce the loose leash, the position next to the chair, etc., with more than praise or restarting the walk. We have had to rely so much on constantly turning, backing up, and reorienting, which has been dreary for both of us, and I think, painful. (It certainly has been hard on my arms and my powerchair. We’re using a harness so as not to damage his throat, but I still don’t like him getting jerked around when he pulls so hard, I have to swing right to keep him from tipping the chair.)

Eye Contact Leading to Other Skills!

All this has come about, I’m certain, because of our increased eye contact training. I c/t for eye contact when we practice “working walk” inside the house, and am trying to capture eye contact more throughout the day, as well as on walks. He finally started accepting food for eye contact reinforcement a few days ago on walks.

As a result, yesterday and today, not only was I able to reinforce a very eager Barnum for LLW and eyes, but also for sit, down, stand, and touch! He was so eager for the cheese (our treat of choice for walks, because raw meat is too messy, and he adores dairy), he was pinching my fingers sometimes! (Usually he is careful not to nip at the food.) But I let that go for now. I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm!

We are also starting to be able to play “Look at That!” which — thank you Donna of VIAD for the suggestion! — does feed back into eye contact. He has not been calm enough before — almost always above threshold — to play it, even in the house. But we were able to do it when my PCA was sweeping yesterday (he wants to chase the broom, and shred it, of course), and today and yesterday, we have FINALLY applied it to cars successfully, which he tracks with great intensity. (Therefore, it is so important that he learn to relax and be interrupted, or I’m sure he will chase cars if off-leash and given the opportunity.)

I feel so proud of him, and he is delighted with himself, too, and wiggles all over the place when we get home from a walk, covered in triumph!


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