Posts Tagged 'loose leash walking'

Our Recent Public Access Achievements

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

We're achieving another great carnival!

The theme for the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “Achievement.” Barnum and I had two very exciting outings recently — one caught on video — which I’m very excited to share with you. It’s perfect timing for the carnival.

The achievements that Barnum and I celebrate are not the successes of a graduation or a title. Rather, they are small steps that are leading us — oh, so slowly, it often seems — along the path to a working partnership. I don’t think we have a single behavior that I can say is truly finished — not just service skills, but basic obedience and manners, too. Working on so many little skills day after day, it becomes hard to observe that any improvement is taking place. That’s why a day like last week — or last month when we first went into a store — is such a big deal: the improvements are a stark contrast to previous efforts, clear enough for me to notice and revel in them.

This past Thursday I had my biannual appointment with my primary care doctor. The appointment itself was completely useless. (More about that another time.) However, I brought Barnum with me — even though he couldn’t come inside — with hopes that we’d do some training in the parking lot after my appointment. My driver and assistant took care of him during the appointment.

Barnum and I have really only started public access work in the last couple of months. He went into a store — the small village coop in a nearby town — for the first time on September 12. I had someone along who could video the event, which is very unusual. Below is the movie I made of it. (Like the combination treat pouch/leash belt I’m wearing? I got it from Mimi of sheekoo.com, and I love it!)

(If you’re reading this post as an email, click here to view the video.)

Click here to read a transcript of the video.

Click here to watch the video with captions.

But wait, there’s more! Fast-forward to a week ago. As I mentioned, Barnum had to stay in the van with my driver while I had my appointment. In my state, there is no public access for teams in training, so where you are able to go is dependent on the goodwill of the managers of such establishments. My doctor told me that their policy is that a SD team is not allowed in unless the dog is finished training. (These policies seem much more prevalent today than when I trained Gadget or Jersey. I wonder whether this is due to the boom in partner-training SDs — and private and program trainers, too, for the record — who are not yet skilled enough trainers, or not familiar with and careful of laws and etiquette around public-access SDs, creating negative perceptions of SD teams or SDiTs.)

Anynoodle, there is still much that can be done in parking lots or on sidewalks or at the locales that are SDiT-team friendly. Thus, after my appointment, I dressed Barnum in his snazzy working gear. We had a couple of “oopses.” One, which has never happened before, and which I hope never happens again, is that Barnum jumped the gun on exiting the van. He has gotten pretty good at staying inside until he is cued to exit. For whatever reason, though, today he jumped out while leashless. This was scary because we were in “the city” (for my area), and there was actual traffic beyond the parking lot. However, my helper snagged him, I walked him back to the van, and he jumped back in. Disaster averted. First note of something to work on more!

Then, we did some automatic sits before exiting (which is what he should have done instead of just hopping out previously), and I cued him to jump out and sit, which he did. I was pleased he was so focused on me and that I got such a fast and snappy sit. I had him sit-stay while I moved around, and then we were off.

Here’s how Barnum made my day:

  • Focus. Barnum kept focus on me and loads of eye contact the whole time. That is the foundation for everything else. I was thrilled by it.
  • Happiness. Barnum’s tail was up and wagging. His step was springy. He showed no signs of fear or vigilance (except one startle issue, which I’ll get to shortly). He was totally in the game and enjoying himself. At one point, I said, “Back up,” and instead of just walking backward, he leaped backward. He does the bouvie-bounce/pounce/spring thing when he’s loving training.
  • Loose leash. I didn’t even realize until we were on the way home that Barnum never pulled on the leash except at the end, when another dog was right nearby, whining at us.
  • Positional cues. I asked for sits, downs, nose touches, chin targets, backing up, standing up, coming to my side, and Barnum was about 90 percent reliable on all cues.
  • Toileting. When we were first heading from the parking lot to the sidewalk, I could tell that Barnum wanted to go sniff and mark the lawn, bushes, and flowers we were approaching. However, I kept him busy and focused on me, and he either realized that marking and sniffing was not acceptable, or he was too focused on working to care. When we were finished training, I took off his pack and harness and brought him to the grass and cued him to pee. He offered a short squirt, which I was very pleased about. It indicated to me that he probably did know the cue (as soon as I said, “Hurry up,” he started looking around the grass, circling, and sniffing) and that he was doing his best to follow it, even though he didn’t need to go. It’s possible that he was just marking, now that he had the opportunity, but I’m okay with that as a stepping stone to a more solid elimination on cue. This is the first time he has eliminated on cue in a totally new environment!
  • Transferring new cues from home – Part I: Door Opener. These were the ones that really thrilled me. Barnum has never touched a door opener before. The door opener for the external door at my doctor’s office is a silver vertical rectangle — not at all the shape I thought I’d remembered! At home, we’d been practicing the moves that would apply to a door opener — the same ones as for turning on or off a light switch — but my faux door-opener was a big blue paper square! The real door button was about three feet high and placed on the pane between the glass door and window. I held my hand over the button and had him nose-target my hand a few times. He could reach it without jumping up, but only just. He had to stretch his nose all the way up. . . .
  • Then I pointed at the button and told Barnum, “Touch!” He just barely bumped the bottom of the button, but that was enough; the door immediately swung outward. Barnum jumped back in surprise. I gave him extra treats and praise, along with the initial click/treat, and we did that a few more times. He hit the button every time, and he was surprised by the door every time, but with successively decreased concern. I think we’ll have to practice this many times before he is totally comfortable with the door swinging open. It’s the one area he has always had anxiety — doors swinging toward him from the front or the rear. (When he was temperament tested at seven weeks old, a solid object moving suddenly toward him was the only part of the test that scored poorly on; everything else was perfect or near-perfect, and those results were surprisingly predictive of his future behaviors and tendencies.) So, the fact that he continued to press the door opener and did not wig out — in this completely new environment, to boot — seemed like a good sign to me.
  •  Transferring new cues from home – Part II: The Retrieve. We have not yet achieved a complete trained retrieve at home. Barnum will take something from my hand, hold it quietly for a pretty long time, and then — on my cue — will drop it. But he hasn’t figured out that picking things up off the floor can be handled the same way as taking things from me. So, our big effort has gone into the take/hold part of the retrieve. It had not even occurred to me to try this skill away from home yet. . . .
  •  Then, something happened — I can’t remember what anymore — where I was holding something out, and he went to take it in his mouth! I had not been looking for that, but I was able to click and treat it. “Why not?” Says I to myself. So, I held out a pen — the object he’s the most eager and comfortable taking and holding — and we did a few repetitions of that. Well, knock me over with a feather!

I was bringing him back to the van to load up and leave when a woman parked next to me with a boxer in her car. Barnum was still paying attention to me, not the boxer, so I was eager to get out of there before he could start practicing some bad behavior, such as pulling to get to the other dog, and for all I knew, jumping up to get a sniff. (Our biggest distraction is other dogs. Our second biggest distraction is people — strangers. Barnum feels the need to greet/sniff them and inquire as to whether they’d like to give him attention or food.)

Unfortunately, this woman wanted to chat me up about my “service dog.” I had to correct her that we were in training, because Barnum was not comporting himself as a trained SD should, and I don’t like to spread any more misinformation about SDs than already exists. Then, she wanted to tell me about how her dog, the one she is leaving in the car who is wearing no gear, is a service dog, too, and perfectly eager for our dogs to interact! Usually if I say, “We’re training,” in a very “read-between-the-lines-please” voice, people back off a bit, but not this woman. Trying to focus on getting Barnum refocused and loaded into the van while not getting downright rude to this stranger meant that I lost control of the situation, and Barnum decided that, yes, it would be acceptable to pull like a freight train to get to the boxer, who had started to whine.

Somehow, finally, I managed to ignore the other person enough to get Barnum loaded, and then he settled down. On the way home, we did lots more practice with taking and holding objects, and various simple skills, and I was just over the moon.

Outings like this are extremely helpful in showing which behaviors have jelled and can be taken to the next level, and which need some remedial attention. The trip made it clear the areas we need to work on most: Leave it/zen for people, leave it/zen for dogs, more work with moving-door-related fear, and more work on default sit before and after exiting the van. But on the way home, the refrain in my head was, “Go, Team Barnum! Woohoo!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and future door-opener of my world

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the ADBC, read past issues, check out the schedule for the next few carnivals, or learn how to get involved, please visit this page about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

P.P.S. You know what was really an achievement? Completing this post! I had so much difficulty creating and uploading that video — it took a week! — and then when I finally did get it uploaded, I discovered I had left out a segment in the middle and had to create and upload a new version! All future videos will be much shorter!

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.

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)

Left, Left, Left! The Bittersweet Tweak of the SD Working Walk

I’ve been writing about Barnum and me practicing our service-dog walk, or as I call it, “working walk” (WW). (For example, here and here and here, among others.)

I have decided to try to focus on fixing our left turns. With Gadget and Jersey, they were most likely to maintain correct position in left turns, and going forward, and particularly right turns, needed the most work.

I’m not sure why the difference. I think in Jersey’s case, it was pretty straightforward: she did not grow up around chairs, and I had to introduce her to my four-wheeled mobility scooter very slowly. I only used it when I went out of the house. I didn’t need it indoors.

A scooter has a much longer base than a powerchair, so the dog has a natural barrier to line up with already. Then, with Gadget, he learned WW both with me walking and with me using the scooter, and then I switched to a powerchair, after he’d already learned the scooter. So, he had the advantage of that long base to learn on, too.

Barnum, however, has grown up around me using my pchair full-time, and he has had to learn how to stay out of its way to keep safe. Therefore, his natural tendency with a left-hand turn is that when I start turning into him (he’s on my left), he usually walks forward, out of my way, so that we are then facing each other, and then he “catches up” and gets back in line after I’ve turned.

If we are in a tight space, he will back up, instead.

So, he problem-solved this, himself, while he was growing up, and now I am trying to figure out how to tell him, “While what you’re doing was a good strategy for not getting your toes rolled over, if you want to get clicks and treats, you have to trust me that I am paying attention to your toes, and keep following next to me.”

I decided the reason I haven’t been getting this message across is that it’s very hard to do a high rate of reinforcement while also steering, moving, keeping track of his head and his feet, treating, and clicking!

Really, I need to be able to shape this by clicking every time a front or rear paw moves  with my chair when I am starting to turn, in the middle of the turn, and at the end of the turn. It’s impossible to click that often and turn, at the same time!

I’ve tried using my verbal marker (“Yes!”), but that’s not precise or fast enough, and it’s pretty exhausting, too.

I tried going super slow, but even super slow is too fast to be coordinated enough.

Tonight, I asked Betsy to click Barnum’s position, while I steered us verrrrrry slooooooowly around the living room, dispensing cheese, like a big, cheese-dispensing part-human, part-vehicle. My hands were very sticky, and I was dropping cheese on my footrest, my lap, the floor, and even into the dog’s mouth!

He started just trying to lick and chew all the cheese out of my hand as we moved, so I had to pull it back a bit.

Nonetheless, after fifteen minutes of this — which is quite long for such an intensive session — Betsy and I decided to see if I stayed put, if he would get himself back into position. A little free-shaping, in other words.

I sat there, and Barnum looked at me, waiting for me to move. I acted boring.

He sat. No click. He downed. No click. He stood up. At that point, I would have clicked, but Betsy was doing the clicking. I said I would have clicked that, and next time, she did.

Which was soon, because he did another sit, down, stand. Click!

I waited to see if he’d line up again. Eventually he did start to do that, but, Betsy pointed out, “He seems to think he should stare at you and sit, down, and stand when you stop.”

I agree. Here again, I have unwittingly taught an undesirable behavior chain! Barnum is such a master at learning the unintentional cue and the unintentional chain!

I take back what I ever said about him not being that smart. He’s smart, but in a different way than Gadget. Gadget and I had mind-meld. Barnum is a body-reader.  (Jersey, alas, was not all that smart, but she was very eager!)

Anyway, we made some progress, and now I’ll keep tweaking it. And, oh yeah, I’ll untrain that behavior chain. Argh.

The friend who made me the service-dog leash I wrote about yesterday has offered to make me new gear. I hadn’t thought of that, because that leash is actually in excellent shape. Part of the reason for that is that I have only now started using it with Barnum. It was kept safe from him during puppyhood and teenagerhood.

Here’s what happened to the leashes I used while Barnum was growing up. . . .

This is an organic hemp leash, dyed with nontoxic dyes, that I bought especially for widdle baby Barnum, to match his widdle organic hemp collar.  (Next time I’ll know better.)

Red hemp leash torn in two

Notice the teeth marks all along the leash (even where it's not completely severed).

[Image description: A dirt-stained, six-foot, brick-red soft leash, one inch wide, of a thin cotton-appearing material (which is actually hemp), with a heavy brass clasp at one end, arranged on a waffle-pattern beige blanket. One foot from the clasp, the leash is torn apart, frayed, with a couple of longer strands trailing from the torn part. There are small holes and rips in the rest of the leash as well, giving the impression other parts of the leash may not last long, either.]

Below is the service-dog leash I bought for Gadget, near the beginning of my partnership with him. I also had another, forest green, that I originally bought for Jersey, that I also used sometimes with Gadget, and then with Barnum. Both the green and the pink leashes survived all those years of use, and now they each look like this:

Broken clasp on pink service-dog leash

This is one of two service-dog leashes that used to have clasps at both ends, and now have functioning clasps at only one end.

[Image description: Two ends of a hot-pink nylon webbing leash each with a silver snap at the end, lying on a white background. The clasp on the right looks fine, the clasp on the left is broken, with only the stem and a half-crescent of the outside of what was formerly the clasp still attached.]

By the way, all three of these leashes met their doom in the same manner: Barnum was out for a walk. He lunged after something exciting (in all cases, I think, it was another dog he just had to play with, right that very instant!), and the leash went “Ping!” (in the cases where the clasps snapped in half) or “Pffft!” (in the case where the leash ripped in two), and away Barnum ran, to play.

So, yes, I could use some new leashes, especially for attaching to my outdoor powerchair. I got all excited at the possibilities, then confused by a mixture of feelings.

I feel quite bitter-sweet about Barnum starting to fill Gadget’s footsteps in a literal way. There he is, by my side, as we practice what it will be like when we are in crowded, close corners in grocery stores or doctor’s offices.

Sometimes, now, he’s even wearing Gadget’s old harness or pack or leash. It’s very exciting, and it also causes what was initially an unnameable twinge. When I paid attention to the twinge, it blossomed into recognizable heartache.

Maybe it’s good that it’s taking us so dang long to become a SD team. It gives me time to adjust to Barnum doing the job differently than Gadget.

I think I might want a different colored leash for Barnum, just to help me emotionally transition from Gadget. Whatever their color, they need to be very, very strong.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (and you thought I was strong!), and Barnum, SDiT and Reformed Leash Destroyer

One Step Closer: The Service Dog Leash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was very excited!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a good day!

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

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

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

Peace,

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

A Grand Day Out: Barnum and Sharon Hit the Road (and Find Training Partners!)

A Speedy Pee, a Walk, a New Training Partner, and Improved LLW and Recall, all in one go!

What an unexpectedly wonderful series of events Barnum and I had on our walk today!

It started terrifically, when I took Barnum out to pee.

We have been in rather a battle of wills, I’m afraid, over peeing on leash. Barnum has incredible bladder control. I’m convinced he has the bladder of a dog three times his size, because he can — and will — hold it for 16 or 18 hours, even when given numerous opportunities to pee.

You see, now that the weather is better, I have been very dedicated to not letting him out to relieve himself off-leash. Ever. If I’m not able to take him out, I have one of my helpers do it.

Longtime readers know I’ve been obsessed with having a service dog who will eliminate on cue, on leash, on every surface, since before Barnum arrived. Although, as a puppy, he was always taken out on leash to eliminate, and did learn to eliminate on leash, on cue, he seems to have forgotten all of that over the winter, when I got sloppy and too sick to stay on top of it.

Thus, we began again. . . .

For the first few weeks, I’d take him out in the morning, knowing he had to pee, but I think because he gets so distracted by being outside (exciting!), and because he prefers to relieve off-leash, he would not “go.” I’d take him in after a couple of minutes, and an hour or two (or five) later, I’d take him out again.

Often, he would ring the bell, indicating he needed to go out, but when I took him out, he wouldn’t go. So, back in we’d go.

Finally, sometimes not until evening, he’d pee, I’d give my cue word as he squatted (“Hurry up!”), click when he was done, give high-value treats, and then let him off leash to run around. I “ran around” too, if I was able, zipping up and down the ramp, pretending I was chasing him, or encouraging him to chase me, and he loved it.

All that running around naturally led to him needing to poop. Eventually I need to have all elimination functions on cue, on leash, but I decided that the reinforcer of being able to run and play off leash after peeing was more important than a Cold War of waiting for him to poop all day, every day.

When I started this process, a few weeks ago, I had to take him out several times a day, all day, before he would pee. Within the last few days, he has more often been “going” on the first or second attempt.

Today, I took him out, and  he peed within one minute! Then, in addition to the click, praise, and treats, I could offer the best reinforcer of all: “Do you wanna go for a walk?!?!”

Puppy Barnum races Sharon in the superpowerchair

He's a lot bigger now, but this is how we ROLL.

[Image description: Five-month-old puppy Barnum races next to Sharon across the lawn. He is running full-out, with his ears flying straight behind him, his red tongue hanging out and to the side, his legs fully stretched out. Sharon, in her big power chair, watches Barnum as she zooms alongside. They run through the grass, with a metal fence in the background. Sharon wears a straw hat and shorts, suggesting a sunny day.]

Indeed, the fact that we were able to go for a walk was a joy in itself.

Mostly, lately, we have been just practicing loose-leash walking (LLW) up and down our driveway, or — if I have someone to load the chair and drive me — an off-leash run at the pond. (I have video of one of our driveway walk sessions, which I hope to edit and post eventually. It shows quite a dramatic change from our LLW training videos from the fall.)

I’ve been doing driveway “walks” for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to practice LLW and “leave it” (Zen) in this less distracting environment.
  2. My chair has not yet really been fixed, so I wanted to wait until someone was home, on the other two-way radio, when I went out.
Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, and running!

So, even though it was a short walk, this was our first real walk in a long time.

We started out on a good paw, with Barnum doing quite well in his LLW and even managing to take treats and stay in position. Then, the smells got too interesting, and he didn’t take treats anymore, but he still kept pretty good track of his pace and the leash.

Although it is mud season, and thus the roads have not been graded yet and are full of gulleys, the chair managed well. We were going up an extremely steep hill, with only occasional reverses from me if Barnum got ahead when one of his dog friends, a sweet and lively Vizsla rescue, came pelting onto the road.

She was off-leash (as most dogs are in my area), and she kept “dive-bombing” us to try to play with Barnum. Of course, Barnum completely lost his head and tried to pelt after her. Repeatedly. (Thank goodness for migraine meds.) It was very difficult to keep him from pulling with such a temptress coming and going in all directions.

Nonetheless, we eventually made it up the hill to the Vizsla’s driveway, where her person appeared. My neighbor held her pup so Barnum could have a chance to settle, sit, make eye contact, stay in a sit, make eye contact again after I’d unclipped his leash, and then give him the release. (I have patient neighbors.)

Barnum had a wonderful time playing with his friend, as well as running around and marking every place he could.

I was very pleased that his play was overall appropriate and friendly. He has really only played with one dog for the past four months, a rough-and-tumble dude who can be a bit dominant and resource-guarding around Barnum (the resources being me, his owner, snow, and any food his owner or I might have on us).

(Just for fun, here is a ten-second video of Barnum playing with aforementioned buddy a couple of months ago.)

I had been concerned that Barnum’s play manners would have eroded as a result — that he wouldn’t play with the same variety and good doggy manners as he used to. But, no, with the exception of two aborted humping attempts, he was quite the gentleman.

It was also great to be out and to talk to another human being, away from my house! I really like my neighbor, and as we chatted, she mentioned that she needs to train her dog. Apparently, she is a cat person, her husband is a dog person, so they got a dog to be her husband’s. He trained her, but now my neighbor is at home with her most of the time (although she also works outside the home) and has no experience with training and dog handling in general. She has an infant, and seemed a bit daunted by the prospect of learning dog training with so little time, in this “baptism by fire” situation.

I couldn’t believe this amazing opportunity was presenting itself!

Regular readers of this blog know that I am following Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Some of the Levels skills require working with other people and/or dogs. I have tried to find a training partner, to no avail. While Betsy and my PCAs pitch in when possible — a tremendous help — usually they are too busy with other necessities, and also, none of them have a dog!

I asked my neighbor if she’d like to be my training partner, and she said yes!

Since we had just gone through her trying to get her dog to drop a dead rodent she’d unearthed, I decided to teach her about doggy Zen.

She was very easy to work with because she is wild about whatever training treats I have with me, whenever I visit. (Whereas Barnum usually could not care less.) This girl is very food motivated! And she’s plenty smart and caught on quickly.

She tends to jump up on me a lot to try to get treats, so I went back and forth between four-on-the-floor and Zen. (By this time, her person had her hands full with her baby, so she said she preferred to just watch me train her dog.) While I was training, I explained what I was doing and why, how to use the clicker and treats, and how to practice zen on her own.

“Where can I get a clicker?” She asked.

This question surprised me so much I almost laughed; because my house is full of clickers, it never occurs to me that someone might not know where to get one. (I told Betsy that our neighbor asked this, and she said, “Come to our home and look under the sofa cushions. They’re everywhere, like loose change.”) Right now, just rotating my head in bed, I have counted six clickers visible — four different kinds — three of them within a few inches of my hand!

“I’ll give you one!” I immediately told my neighbor. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give her one right that moment, because — for the first time ever? — I only had one with me!

But, we decided to keep in touch, and we would try to set up a time to do some training together.

Another wonderful bonus of our conversation was that Barnum eventually saw that I was not paying attention to him, but to another dog, and that I was clicking and treating this dog, and — most importantly — the other dog was not paying any attention to him!

So, he came over.

This gave me the opportunity to click and praise extravagantly and shove some cheese in his mouth before he could question my motives. Then, I gave him his ultimate reinforcer: “Release! Go play!”

Away he went. After that, he started checking in with me more often, and even coming when called for some cheese and a release back to play. I was thrilled. This is the best he’s ever done in a new environment, with another dog around, to boot.

Eventually, my neighbor took her baby and dog inside, and I did several more recalls and releases in their yard before putting Gadget on the leash to go home.

Now he was truly tuckered out, and he walked so nicely by my side, I had to keep telling him how proud I was of him, and what a good dog he was. He was even interested in clicks and treats for proper position for about half the time, then he was too full.

We even did a couple stops (with automatic stand-stay) and a few sits.

He’s spent a good portion of the evening snoring, having received lots of sensory stimulation and exercise of his body and mind. Ah, tranquility.

I had a session with my empathy buddy for my telephone nonviolent communication (NVC) class, and as she helped me figure out my emotions, I realized I was proud, not just of Barnum, but of myself!

It seems ridiculously obvious that the point of training is that improvement occurs, goals are reached, and, well, the dog gets trained. However, when I’m in the midst of it, it’s often hard to see that training is, indeed, taking place.

After four months trapped in the house, only able to train indoors, I had no idea if our indoor LLW practice would bear fruit outside. Now I know — it has!

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all we still have to work on, I lose sight of how far we have come. Today was a gorgeous reminder of our progress, along with some unexpected gifts bestowed by my neighbor and her sweet dog. Barnum received lots of reinforcement: food rewards, play time with another dog, play time with me, and the multitudinous joys of a walk.

I received the reinforcement of seeing my hard work pay off. But I wouldn’t mind some more. If you’re in the mood to cheer on Team Barnum, please comment and click me!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I lost my head around other dogs, too), and Barnum (Mr. Full-of-Surprises SDiT)


Receive new blog posts right in your email!

Join 572 other followers

Follow AfterGadget on Twitter

Want to Support this Blog?

About this Blog

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival

Read Previous After Gadget Posts