Posts Tagged 'mobility impairment'

SD Training: “Bad Days” Provide Evaluation Opportunities

There’s a quote I like very much in Sue Ailsby’s books, Training Levels: Steps to Success*. It’s by Steve White:

“Failure” is just information. Thank your dog for revealing a gap in your training plan and get to work plugging it.

Taking this attitude makes me a better trainer, a happier and mellower person, and a more pleasant person for my dog and other humans to be around. Learning to actually adopt this philosophy has taken me many years. (Not that I am always able to have this perspective even now — sometimes I do get frustrated — but certainly I can see things this way much more often than I did in the past.)

This quote is in the explanation of testing. The Levels are a set of behaviors, divided into Steps, and each builds on the other. (Sort of like math, but much, much more fun.) So, before you can go to the next Step or Level, you test the one you’ve trained to make sure that you and dog are moving on with a firm foundation.

I have not been able to proceed quickly and efficiently through the Levels because I’ve been too sick, so we have done very little formal testing of Levels behavior. Instead, I have decided to focus on training these behaviors:

  • The behaviors I most need from Barnum on a day-to-day basis (service skills), and
  • The behaviors I can train most easily from bed or the toilet (or wherever I might be during the course of a day).

I’ll write more about how and why I’ve decided to focus on training like this in my upcoming post for the July Assistance Dog Blog Carnival which is being hosted by Brooke at ruled by paws. (And she will be giving a prize to one of the bloggers who submits an entry, which is another reason to go read the call for entries and write a post!)

Meanwhile, I thought I’d catch you up on how and what Barnum and I are doing by telling you about last Saturday (a week from yesterday). Saturday was a lousy day in some ways and a terrific day in others.

The lousy part was that I was in a very bad way, physically. It was probably one of the worst pain days I’ve had in a long time. It was the kind of day where I had to take several prescription painkillers in order to be able to sit up or move my limbs at all. Without pain medication I would have been reduced to lying in bed, crying, and unable to move all day. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I needed help to eat.

It was terrific in that it was a chance to “test” where Barnum and I are in his ability (and interest) in assisting me. Here’s what I learned.

  • Barnum was very eager to work. Every time I called (using my “kissy noise,” which is how I call him when I can’t speak), he rushed over in eager anticipation of working (and thus, earning treats). Even though it was 90 degrees out, and he has a thick, black coat and hates the heat.
  • He retrieved my slippers for me about a dozen times because I take them off when I get in bed and then want them on each time I get out (even just to transfer to my chair to go to the bathroom).
  • I also learned that he seems to have learned my hand signal for “Take,” which surprised me because cues are Barnum’s weak point, and this hand signal is one I only introduced recently.
  • He opened and shut my bedroom door many times. He responds with the same level of reliability to the hand signal as to the spoken cue. With opening the door, he knows both and is eager and efficient regardless of where I am or what else is going on. With shutting the door, either he absolutely knows what I want and runs and slams the door (always if I’m out of bed and sometimes if I’m in bed). If I’m in bed, sometimes he is confident and runs to slam the door, while other times he’s unsure and requires shaping to go around the chair, get behind the door, and shut it. We are continuing to practice this one so that he becomes more certain of this behavior and cue. I still haven’t figured out the variable that makes the difference to him.
  • He picked up several things I dropped — pens, an empty saline flush syringe (no needle), dog treat bags — satisfactorily, including sometimes needing to go around my chair to get it, and then jump on my bed with it in his mouth to hand it to me.
  • He turned on and off the bathroom lights for me several times. He is very solid on turning on the light when we enter the bathroom. Exiting the bathroom, he still sometimes turns off the light and then immediately turns it back on again. So, “off” needs work.
  • He can hear me blow the dog whistle in my room when he is in the kitchen even with the water running and the vent hood on, but he doesn’t yet know the whistle means “come.” Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. We need to continue to practice the whistle as part of the “Come Game,” reteaching it from Level One Come.
  • He is completely solid on stand-stay/brace; he assisted with transfers from chair to toilet many times and with toilet to chair and bed to chair a few times.
  • He carried messages to, and went to get, two PCAs at different times. He is solid on the cue to get them, opening the door, and finding them. With one of them, he is solid on the whole behavior of open door, find person, nudge them, sit, wait to be sent back to me. With the other, he needed to be cued to nudge her on the first find. I am discovering that not all my PCAs are consistent in their responses to him — sometimes forgetting to ask for the sit or to ask “Where’s Sharon?” at the end, so I have now written up a step-by-step “how to” that they can refer to for “cold” retrieves (when we are not in an official training situation and neither Barnum nor they are primed to expect it). During a training situation, everyone already knows their jobs, but randomly using or testing this skill when neither dog nor person were prepared has given me important information on tweaking behavior for both people and dog. (You can see a video of this skill in this earlier post.)
  • He removed my socks a couple of times while I was in bed, which is a different behavior chain than removing my socks when I’m in my chair. It requires several positioning cues that are different — a lot more communication is required than for sock-removal while I’m sitting.
  • He opened and shut the refrigerator and shut cabinets and drawers. This all went very smoothly. Both cues and behaviors are well established. It tells me it’s time to start hanging pull-cords on some of the cabinets and drawers I might want him to open so we can start working on that behavior, too.
  • I realized that while he has learned most of the behavior for pulling down my big, heavy comforters, we have never worked on him pulling down my lightweight summer blankets or sheets. It would also help a lot if he could learn to help me pull off long pants. These are new items on the “to do” list.

There are probably a few other things I’m forgetting because by now it’s been a week, and I can usually only retain this type of information for a few hours. But, my overall point is that now, on a day when I really need him, he is actually helping me. We really are a team now. There are some skills he doesn’t know yet, or some situations in which he is still inconsistent, and those are more obvious to me on my “bad days,” too.

Not only do I now want to thank my dog for the information when he “fails,” but I can also thank my body on the days it “fails.” Sometimes it feels like there are three of us doing this training process: Barnum, me, and my body. The challenge is to coordinate the needs and abilities of all at once.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, home-style SD/public SDiT

*Should you want to buy the books, which I highly recommend, you can purchase the paper version here or the electronic version here.

QuickPress: Workig Dog

Today is one of those days when I woke up and couldn’t move much or speak. Here are some of the ways Barnum has helped me today.

  • Helped me take off turtleneck shirt. (New task that still needs a lot of work.)
  • Brought my PCA to me — perfectly. (Opened door, ran to her, nudged her, and led her back to me.)
  • Pulled off my socks.
  • Helped with bathroom transfers.
  • Shut bathroom door.
  • Took three messages to Betsy.
  • Pulled covers down. (Not all the way, but enough to be helpful.)
  • Opened and shut the fridge.
  • Shut bedroom door.

I think I’m forgetting some things, but the main point is that he is actually helping me now on days I need it. It’s good to be able to practice things and see what is really working and where the holes are that need further training.

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.

life w/lyme, mcs, cfids: a different kind of typical atypical

for an MCS, Lymie, CFIDSer blogger training her own service dog.

i’ve been trying to post every day, partly bec i have so much to say and partly bec my stats go way up when i do, and that’s just so reinforcing!

but when u have lyme and cfids and u overdo by blogging, tweeting, posting on FB, etc., and/or train your dog, then u crash.

this is the other side of the typical atypical day coin. a typical day when i’m super super sick, which is not my typical day anymore.

today is not quite a stuck day but it’s damn close. it’s the kind of day that often follows a good day, like the ones i wrote about yesterday and the day before.

can’t get out of bed (move legs) on my own/transfer/go to bathroom, feed myself, brush teeth, etc.  also can’t speak.

this used to be my typical day, when my lyme was bad. now it’s what happens if i overdo or have chem exposures or don’t get enough sleep, and i have done some of all of that in the past week. then i way overdid it and shaved barnum down last nite w/betsy. i knew i was ovverdoing, as the pain and jelly legs and vertigo set in during and after, but the ticks have  been so bad, it needed doing and this was the only time, so i just hoped i could bounce back.

so i was long overdue for a slapdown. and here i am blogging, which i shdn’t be.

but i have a lightweight cordless keyboard in my lap, my elbows bolstered, and reclining. i can’t lift a  fork of watermelon into my mouth, but i can type.

i can’t say, “blog,” but i can type.

i’m blogging because it’s hard to be stuck in ur brain, unable to speak, surrounded by people who don’t know asl, in pain, etc. i’m blogging because i want you to know what it’s like to have these illnesses, which you never will as long as i blog because that gives a fall sense of how functional i am. the act of blogging belies that i’m too sick to blog.

but i want you to  see wha hppens on the days i don’t blog,or i do but i shdn’t. in fact, when i was writing this i kept abbrev and making typos and fixing it but i have decided now as i finish this up (have  done several sessions w/rest between,jumping around) to leave them bec its so much harder for me if i have to move my fingers off asdf  jkl;

i have already fixed so many typos, so many wrong word choices because my brain doesn’t always connect to what my fingers are typing (e.g., if i think “taller” and right “father”). it’s so hard fo rme to leave the errors — i keep fixing them! – but i want u to see the reality.

my pca fed me watermelon and my protein drink, which we did in shifts, over sevaral hours — it is exhausting bec of chewin g and swallowing, bec if she doesn’t put it right directly into my mouth w/out pausing or waiting for me to make minute stretches forward, it’s even more exhausting. and i can’t tell how to do it diff bec i can’t  talk and it’s too exhausting to try to explain bec nobody who has ever fed me has understood these nuances anyway.

and typing or swallowing or chewing gives me palpitations, makes me dizzy, makes me pant. and breathing becomes more of an effort — the diaphragm moving, the rsise and fall of chest, those are all muscles working.

this is lyme and mcs awareness, too (and  cfids, even if it’s not cfids awaereness month)  — the days when u can’t do most things at all and what u do is a huge struggle. this is so much better than what used to be a typical day, where i wdn’t be able to write this blog at all. when i couldn’t  move my hands sometimes. today i can flop them around a bit, i can click, and i can type , as long as my arms are supported.

being a lyme survivor who is also an assistance dog trainer means overdoing it to try to protect barnum and myself from ticks, from further infection, which means making myself sick, doing too much.

these reminders are good for me because last night in the glow of my overfunctioning adrenaline rush, i thought, ” i really don’t need to be teaching barnum to shut and open cupboards or the fridge or all sorts of other skills i’m planning because i’m doing so well now. but it’s better if he’s overtrained just in case.”

then, today, i needed to pee, and my pca was shopping, and i wished so much that barnum knew how to help me with transfers. and he needed to pee, and i couldn’t let him out, and i wished he knew already how to open and shut doors on cue. but not yet. so we waited 45 mins for my pca to get back.

and i ran out of toilet paper after my pca left, and i knew it was in the cupboard five feet away, but barnum doesn’t yet know how to open and retrieve things from cupboards, and there it is — skills i want to teach for the days i need them, all while hoping i never need them, some part of me believing i will never need them and some part of me remembering all the things i needed gadget to do, some of which i’d trained him for and some of which i hadn’t, when i got lyme. reminding me that i can never trust that i will never  have a day liek that (liek this) again.

he did something interesting today. my pca came in and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk, and instead of bouncing around all happy and heading right fo rthe door like usual, he just looked over at me, which was odd. and i thought, does he know i’m sick, and he’s weighing how much he wants this walk against worrying about me?

i don’t know. i could be projecting. but i’ve never seen that before. sure as heck gadget would  never have done that! but barnum is a very sensitive guy, so i’m not sure.

unfortunately, the nurse had to come today to change my dressing. we were supposed to do a blood draw, but i guess even my blood is too exhausted to move because we couldn’t get blood return.

having CFIDS means i’m too exhausted to have facial expression, so i look like i’m angry or don’t care, when really my facial muscles are too tired and weak.

having lyme means i’m in so much pain that i can’t move 90% of my body because the pain and weakness just takes away my ability to move. it’s hard to get this across:

the nurse (photos below) said, “ur in a lot of pain, huh?” and i nodded, and she said, “u haven’t taken your pain meds today?” and i moved my mask so she could read my lips and said/mouthed, “no i did take them, that’s how come i’m able to be out here” (not in bed), but i don’t know if she understood me bec sometimes when people don’t understand they just nod and act like they do bec they don’t want to make u repeat.

but i always desperately want to be heard and understood, so i signed, “understand?” but of course she doesn’t know asl, but she nodded, so i have no idea if she understood my question.

Barnum lies on a black yoga mat next to Sharon, who is in her powerchair with the back reclined all the way and her feet slid off the footplate. She's wearing a large white mask covering all of her face but from her eyes up. One arm is hanging over the side of the armrest, the other is outstretched on the table where a nurse in a medical mask and gloves is changing Sharon's PICC line dressing.

Nurse visit

i sepnt most of the appt w/my eyees shut and reclining as much as i could, but of course i also wanted to use it as training oppty so i clicked and dropped cheese onto barnum’s mat, but then that was too exhausting so my pca stood in front of mat and dopped cheese after i clicked. i have a box clicker with a light touch.

having MCS makes nurse visits a really big deal. u might notice i’m wearing a mask and a black air  filter on a cord around my neck. that’s because even tho my nurse tries to be fragrance free, she lives with people who use fragrance, so it gets on her. and she sees other patients in their fragranced homes. after she leaves, the whole house reeks, and we keep all the doors shut we can so it doesn’t get into the bathrooms or my bedroom. she sits on a wood chair, never on the sofa or putting her stuff on the sofa, because it would absorb the smells. and i can’t let her into my room bec she would contaminate it, and i need a place i can rest and breathe.

now my pca has brought me “lunch” even tho it’s evening bec i forgot to talk to her abt food until the end of her shift, bec i’m so out of it, and now she’s gone and i’m doing better but not well enough to really be able to food myself, so i try to prop the plate on my chest and overbed table and eat with my fingers a few pieces then put plate on bed and rest.

barnum was on my bed, which he’s not supposed to be when i’m eating. the rule is he gets ignored while i’m eating unless i ask him to do something or he alerts to something, but i have no way to tell him to get off, so i just let him be there. besides, it feels comforting. but this is another reason why i am not the consistent trainer i  wld want to be: sometimes i’m not able to be consistent. i know what i’m doing wrong and there’s nothing i can do about it.

i just realized something. i want u to know this bec it’s  important.

i don’t want u to feel sorry for me. i hate pity, honestly. I want to be KNOWN.

because actually,in this moment  i’m happy. maybe that sounds  hard to believe, but really, despite being so sick today, it’s not a bad day. i’m enjoying watching and listening to the birds ouside my window (have a blog post i’ve been working on about birdwatching and lots of photos.)

i feel content. the pain is not as bad now. i have had help mos to fthe time i needed it today and my night pca will be here later.  barnum has been adorable and actually did a few desirable behaviors. i’mnothaving bad payback (reaction) from the nurse visit exposures, partly bec i have all the windows open bec it’s warm today.  a barred owl has started its strange call (they are active during the day – strange birds).

i feel satisfied and glad i was able to do this blog.

i got to listen to a  phone call  (it’s a class — NVC — and i couldn’t say much but i was included, nonetheless; theyh’re my community, everyone else is chronically ill, and i can just listen and be part of it and know i have companionship). i got to tell a friend i love her.

and iknow this will pass. this is my body wisely saying, “sharon! chill the fuck out! stop doing so much! lie around and do nothing! stop thinking! stop training! stop  blogging! stop tweeting! rest and sleep as much as u can. dammit.” after i post this, that’s what i’ll do. because lyme and mcs (and cfids) awareness means people knowing that those of us who enter thepublic sphere in any form, including internet, are making a CHOICE to do that and not do other things, or to suffer physically as a result.

and it means trusting u all, which i do, ur wonderful, to still be there when i get back when i am not posting everyday and trying to be someone i’m not, someone who doesn’t have cfids, lyme, and mcs. and trusting u to know that i love ur comments, but it’s an effort to reply to them, bec that takes work so if i’m slow or don’t reply, that is why. because i have cfids and lyme and mcs. i treasure them. i smile with almost every one.  my heart is full, thanks to ur support and sue eh’s support and barnum and others.

the migraine is setting in now; my body is pissed that i’m not heeding its call. do me a favor, will u? pls post and fwd this link to everyone you think could stand to know about lyme, cfids, and/or mcs. because i’m not up to it, and i know you get it now, because you’ve  seen me at both ends of my spectrum. thank you.

this is me. radio silence.

love,

sharon, the muse of gadget, and barnum, quietly concerned sdit

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)


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