Posts Tagged 'puppy pictures'

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)

After and Pryor: How Barnum Got His Name

Today is Barnum’s first birthday. He was born in the early morning hours of December 30, 2009. It seems an appropriate time to tell you how he got his name (and didn’t get the name I’d had in mind). I hope to put up a photo essay soon, too, with never-before-seen Baby Barnum pics. Here’s a preview.

Barnum on snow: "What's it all mean?"

What a character! Barnum during his first week home.

Before Barnum arrived, I thought I might know his name, but I didn’t. In fact, almost everything I expected (even though I convinced myself I had no expectations) was wrong. A lot of that came as a shock and a terrible struggle, but any dog will teach you a great deal if you let him.

A dog who defies all expectation and forces you to stretch and grow will teach you even more. Barnum has been, and continues to be, an amazing teacher!

While I loved Barnum from the first moment, was beguiled and infatuated, I wasn’t ready to blog about him until I’d fallen in love with him. By which I mean that I’d come to accept him, had begun to forgive myself for my mistakes in raising him, and had grown to find even his aggravating traits endearing. That took about two months, when he was about four months’ old. From then on (from his first moment here, really), I’ve grown to love him more every day. And suddenly, in the last week or two, lots of stuff is starting to “gel.” We are really communicating and enjoying each other, and we are burning through the Training Levels. (Really, I’ll post the updates and videos. I will.)

However, blogging is supposed to be a catalog of the day-to-day, the minutia of everyday life. From a blogging perspective, I’ve put myself in a pickle because I was both too exhausted and too busy to blog in Barnum’s first weeks here, and I was also not emotionally ready. However, the longer you know and love someone, the harder it is to remember the details of early infatuation! I have a lot of drafts that I’ll hopefully use to reconstruct our first few months together. But first . . .

What’s in a name?

I had no idea what I would name my puppy before he arrived. I was excited at the prospect because I’d never had the opportunity to name a dog before. My cats, Ferdinand and Velour, yes. My rabbits, mice, even fish, yes. But my three previous dogs were adults (two rescues and one rehome) who’d arrived with names they already knew, and I hadn’t the heart to add to their upheaval.

This time I had a clean slate. As soon as I’d decided on the litter and sex of the pup, friends, family, and readers wanted to know, “What will you name him?”

Many offered suggestions. I said I wanted to wait and see what suited him.

I didn’t tell most of them that I have rigid rules about naming my animals. But now the deed is done, so here’s my personal list of dos and don’ts.  (I don’t say this is the right path for everyone; just for me.)

  • Names must not be common human names. Particularly not names of people I know. For example, I know dogs and cats named Maggie, Ruth, Mary, and Laura, and I also know multiple people with these names. Who needs that kind of confusion? I forget the names of people in my life (including Betsy!) on a frequent basis. (I have “tip-of-the-tongue syndrome” as part of my cognitive impairment, and it occurs even with family members.) I also just don’t like human-sounding names for dogs or cats. Even if I don’t know someone named Alice, if I’m talking to someone and they say, “Alice just walked into the room,” I’m going to think they mean a human, and I’ll rack my brain to think of who that is, feeling increasingly embarrassed that I’m about to admit I forgot their best friend’s or child’s or partner’s name, before they continue, “Can you hear her tags jingling?” (Ohhh, that Alice. . . .)
  • I strive for a name that is as unique as my pup. Even a name that might otherwise be apt is O-U-T if I think I will run into another at the park or online. An excellent example is “Bear,” which is probably the most common Bouvier name there is, since they have such an ursine look about them. (And on more than one occasion, some of them quite hilarious, people thought my first bouv, Jersey, was a bear!) Indeed, Barnum did look remarkably like a Teddy bear when he arrived, but I already know dogs named Teddy and Bear.
  • Therefore, sadly, all Harry Potter names were lost to me. Yes, I am an HP fanatic; I got hooked when I listened to the first three books, and it’s been a passionate (though one-sided) love affair ever since. “Sirius Black” would have been an obvious choice for a big, shaggy, black dog. In fact, thirty years ago I read a science fiction book about an alien dog from Sirius (the Dog Star) and always thought I’d like to name a future dog “Sirius.” No longer. I have seen so many “Sirius Black”s on PetFinder, for instance. Bill Cosby owns a famous PBGV named Harry Potter that was shortlisted for Best in Show at Westminster a couple of years back. The service dog list I’m on already has a Hermione, an Ollivander, and probably several other HP dog names I’m forgetting. Alas!
  • It must fit something about the dog’s nature — personality, appearance, soul. Which is why I don’t like to choose a name until we’ve become acquainted.

All these deeply held beliefs were in place when, two weeks before the pup’s arrival date, I almost tossed them out the window. This was precipitated by my engaging in an immensely powerful, moving, and absorbing activity, something I almost never do:

I read a book.

(Note: I would like to paste in here a photo of me lying in bed, blissfully absorbed in a book, but we have no photos of me reading a book, which I’ll explain, below.)

Due both to my multiple chemical sensitivity and my cognitive disabilities, I usually listen to audio books only. When I do read a paper book, it needs to fit within these parameters:

  1. It’s a really old book that I own which therefore has no chemical smells (such as fragrance) or mustiness (mold) in the pages, OR it’s a new book which has not picked up smoke, fragrance, etc., from previous owners, but it has offgased long enough to not reek of ink, glue, paper, and other book materials.
  2. It’s “easy reading” — almost always fiction — such as a mystery. Thus, it doesn’t matter if I forget the characters, the plot, or other key components. I can just skate along (or rewind), and usually the relevant points become clear with repetition. In fact, sometimes I read — and enjoy! — a novel and then part-way through, I think, “Huh, this seems familiar. Have I read this before?” Sometimes the surprise ending gives it away. This is one of the gifts of brain injury.
  3. If the book does not fit into category 2, it must be a book I have read over and over in the past, so that my spotty memory is not an issue, because I am so familiar with its contents that it doesn’t matter if I forget a lot of it, again.

However, the book I read in February was a nonfiction, brand-new library book. I literally cannot remember the last time I read a library book. I don’t normally even handle a library book without using gloves or a tissue and covering my nose and mouth. (My partner reads library books, and sometimes I need to get to something underneath them, like the toilet paper. Ahem.)

I had been hankering after This Particular Book since before it came out. How come “before”? Because I’m on the author’s mailing list and was offered a reduced rate, advance, autographed copy, which I wanted so bad.

But, I did not buckle. I have been trying to be responsible. Gadget’s chemotherapy and my own medical bills the previous year were astronomical. The impending puppy came with a big price tag — not just the pup himself, but the new equipment, the air fare, and the powerchair I got to be able to walk him distances or in winter. (My other powerchair — the one that’s covered by Medicare — is only of use for getting around inside my home.)

Therefore, I told myself, “No books! No DVDs!” The author is a best seller. I was sure it would come out in audio eventually. (I’m still hoping it will.)

Then, while I was searching my online library catalog for a couple of books I thought might interest Betsy, I stumbled across The Book, right there, naked and inviting.

“Well,” I thought. “It just came out, so it must be brand new. If it’s new, maybe it hasn’t absorbed any patron’s cigarette smoke or perfume or fabric softener. Maybe it hasn’t crossed the desk of that certain despicable library that ‘sanitizes’ all books with fragranced, anti-bacterial baby wipes. And maybe, sitting on the shelves for a couple of weeks, it’s also had a chance to offgas just a little of that ‘new book smell.’ It’s worth a shot.”

The day came when my personal care assistant (PCA) picked up the one video and three books I’d requested. The video and the two books for Betsy, on top, all smelled like fragrance. Ack! Then, I picked up The Coveted Book. It had not been previously checked out! No smell! Well, okay, there was some smell — the smell of chemicals in new ink, glue, paper, binding, etc., but it was not prohibitively smelly. I had to use oxygen while reading, and the concentration gave me a migraine, but it was so, so worth it.

I should probably tell you the title, huh?

It is Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor. The subtitle is, “Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals.”

Book Cover for Reaching the Animal Mind

It's a pretty cover, but what's inside is so much more exciting

Unless you share a similar fanaticism with this topic, or you know me very intimately, you’re likely completely underwhelmed. I already have encouraged everyone I know to read Karen Pryor’s book that started the clicker revolution, Don’t Shoot the Dog! (Which is not, for the record, about dog training; it’s about applied behavioral psychology, and what works or doesn’t work with humans, dogs, dolphins, Republicans, etc.) Actually, if you know me well, you are probably backing away from your computer, fearing that this post will devolve into a boring theoretical discussion or dog-training lecture. ‘Tisn’t so. Reading this book, and writing this post, are actually deeply personal. I put down the book to start writing because I was so choked up, I had to take a break.

Well, it’s several months since I took that “break,” during the first week of which I rapidly finished reading the book (a feat, in itself) and dealt with all of life’s other tasks, mental and physical, nerve-wracking and mundane. All of which pushed out of my mind what, exactly, in the book moved me so much, and why, and how it led to A Big Decision: What to Name the Puppy.

I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking and exactly what sections of text prompted particular thoughts and feelings, but here is what I do remember:

  • I was smiling, hugely, most of the time I was reading;
  • I was on the verge of tears some of the time I was reading;
  • I had to stop periodically because the sensations ballooning in my chest were so overwhelming that I felt like I might burst.

It’s hard to recapture a moment of true inspiration, and that’s what I was experiencing. If you don’t record it — in words or music or brush strokes — when it hits you, you likely need to move on to new sources. However, I know that part of what was so powerful for me was the awareness, all the time I was reading, that a new little life would be coming into my care, and he would be an endless source of challenge and inspiration.

So, it seemed only fitting that, as I was lying there, overwhelmed with joy and the explosions of little pieces of new information colliding with existing knowledge, that I was inspired with a name. For weeks — well, really, for years — I’d thought about what I’d name my next puppy. This would be my first service dog that I would raise from puppyhood. It was a big deal.

I was lying in bed, feeling like I wanted to laugh and cry all at once, just terribly excited; it was hard to sort out both why I was having these emotions and also what the emotions actually were. The feeling was, “Oh my God, this is wonderful. This is both what I have been doing and what I love and am so very hungry to do with my new puppy,” and “Oh my God, this is wonderful. Here is the crystallization of solutions to problems I didn’t even know I was creating, which will make me a much better mother, teacher, and partner to this baby dog who is entering my life.”

Feeling such a jumble of emotions, so elated and learning so much — how this book was making me feel — was exactly how I felt about getting the puppy. I looked down at the cover, and there was the answer — the author’s name, one of my personal heroes, Karen Pryor.

The puppy’s name would be “Pryor.”

As soon as I thought it, I knew it was right. Nonetheless, I steadfastly refused to commit to that name until the puppy arrived. I still told people, “I am not sure of a name yet, but I think, if it fits him, I will call him Pryor.” Then, when I was looking at pictures of his litter online a couple of weeks later, I thought, “But which one is Pryor?”

Boom! I caught myself. I was already thinking of him as Pryor. How did that happen?

I doubt most people react like this to Karen Pryor’s latest book. Betsy read it shortly after I did, and she really enjoyed it — it’s a good read, very accessible, with lots of useful and interesting information — but I don’t think it was a religious experience for her. For me, every chapter was a reminder of things I already knew (with a few exceptions relating to revelations about the neuroscience of why a clicker works so much better than a verbal marker), but which are so easy to forget “in the heat of training.” With every dog, I make mistakes, and I tell myself, “Okay, I’ve learned that lesson. Next time I’ll do it differently.”

On the upside, I do do it differently. On the downside, there are always new mistakes to make, not least because each dog is new and different, and each requires a different strategy. A puppy would present several new layers of newness I tried to prepare for; but on the whole, I completely failed to understand what the lived experience of puppy raising would be until I was in it up to my eyeballs. I have made so many more mistakes with Barnum than I would have thought possible!

What Karen Pryor’s — and other clicker trainers’ — books have done in the past was open my eyes to the range of possible ways to confront a problem, and see all the different ramifications for each way of responding. There are probably chefs who feel this way about certain master chefs’ cookbooks or schools, parents or teachers who feel this way about learning how to nurture children. My passion is dog training, and the relationship that comes from training and partnering with a service dog. I was loaded with expectations and sorrows and hopes and plans — for myself and for this unknown puppy — and Karen Pryor was offering me solutions. I just didn’t realize I didn’t know the problems yet.

Which is one of the reasons Barnum is named Barnum, and not Pryor. He didn’t turn out to be the lump of clay I thought I was going to mold. He turned out to be Barnum.

This is how he got his name.

Betsy drove from Massachusetts to Connecticut, then flew to Iowa. There, she picked him up at the airport from the breeder, and flew home with him. He was in a soft-sided carrier, a Sherpa bag. It was a long, long day. She was on crutches due to a knee injury, and she has multiple plane changes. (There are no non-stop flights from Des Moines to Hartford!) There was also a storm that caused a major delay. So, Betsy and the puppy really got a chance to bond. After leaving his litter and the only people he knew, of course, he came to love and trust Betsy. When they arrived home, I came out on the ramp to meet them. I couldn’t believe how tiny he was. Nobody could. We all exclaimed, “He’s so little!” None of us was used to thinking of a bouvier who was smaller than a little cat!

He did not look like a “Pryor” to me. That name seemed too serious for this funny-looking guy with the white tuft under his chin and stripe on his chest and his black hair sticking straight up from his head.

Baby Barnum first week home

Baby Barnum tries to look serious.

I thought we should start right away by giving him a chance to potty before he came in. We scooped him out of the bag and put him on the frozen, metal mesh ramp.

“AIEEEE!” Everything in the puppy seemed to say. “What is this cold stuff under my feet?! Ack!”

He jumped up and climbed Betsy. He climbed right to her shoulders.

Barnum on Betsy's Shoulder

His first night home, Barnum peeks over Mount Betsy

As he climbed, she tried to bend, because she was afraid he would fall off. He was so small, the ground was so far away. Every time she moved, though, he climbed to keep himself as far as possible from the ground.

Meanwhile, I was afraid he would fall off and get hurt.

“Grab him! Grab him!” I yelled from the ramp. (Wasn’t that helpful of me?)

“I can’t!” Betsy responded.

Wherever she reached, he climbed somewhere else. Clearly, he’d decided Betsy was his safety, and he was clinging to her. Finally, he climbed down her back, around over her hip and under her arm, where she was able to get a hold on him.

We tried putting him on the ground this time, thinking that it was the metal ramp that had shocked him, but he was no happier on the frozen mud than he had been on the ramp, and again leaped to the safety of Betsy’s back and did his climbing routine again.

“He’s quite the little acrobat!” she laughed.

I thought, “Hmm, acrobat. . . . Circus. . . . Barnum!”

Puppy Barnum with Head in Snow Foot Prints

Barnum shows his clownish side. (And his quick reversal of opinion about snow.)

That’s how he got his name, which he really lived up to. He showed himself right away to be an avid leaper, climber, and digger. He has great balance. I took him to an elementary school playground and he fearlessly clambered over metal grates and rolly-things and steps and all manner of shapes, angles, and textures.

At home, he showed his acrobat and clown side, too. I have a “backyard agility set” that comes with a collapsible tube of blue nylon. I set up the tunnel in the living room as part of his puppy socialization/enrichment experiences. Not only did he quickly and easily learn to enjoy running back and forth through the tube, with no fear at all, he also liked to go in the tunnel and, once in the middle, ,start running, like a gerbil on a wheel, causing the tube to roll across the floor. It was very funny.

Another favorite activity has always been to stand in front of one of the full-length glass doors and watch himself leap up and down. Bouviers are excellent jumpers, and Bouv enthusiasts refer to “the Bouvie Bounce.” Both Jersey and Gadget had good bounces, but Barnum leaves them in the dust. He likes to jump both from all fours and as if he were a circus bear, jumping on his hind feet.

Like most performers, he also enjoys watching himself. He knows that’s him in the glass. That became clear when he started responding to my image in the glass when I was behind him, instead of turning to look at me. I’d ask for eye contact, and he’d make eye contact with my reflection. Only when I ignored that behavior would he turn to look at me.

Sometimes, if there is something new going on, he will go to the glass to get another perspective. For example, when I started practicing getting him accustomed to gear, he did something funny. I put on an empty — and too large — service-dog backpack so he could get used to the feel of putting it on and wearing it, and doing simple things like sitting, walking, or lying down in it.

“Oh, you’re so handsome!” I said. “Look how adorable you are!”

During a break, he went to the glass and looked at himself, turning this way and that. “Yes,” he seemed to decide, “I do look very handsome.”

He continues some of his acrobatish and clownish ways. He still likes to jump, and to run, very fast, pushing a ball across the grass or snow with his nose. He likes music, and will cock his head — sometimes to extremes of cuteness impossible to describe — at certain notes or instruments. (He seems to prefer brass to strings, for example.) He has lost some of his fearlessness — he had a lot of trouble figuring out how to navigate our very steep, slippery stairway — but he’s made great progress. (A post for another time.) Tonight, in fact, was his first time on the second floor of our house! So many smells to sniff upstairs!

Onward and upward (literally!) Mr. Barnum. We have mountains to climb, and I’m not sure if or how we’ll get to the summit. For now, though, we celebrate.

Barnum and Betsy on floor: Wheee!

Being grown up doesn't mean acting mature!

Eye Lock Day 10 + Vote for Gadg & Barnum! + New Service Skill?…

If you’re seeking info on the upcoming Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, please visit this earlier blog.

Today and yesterday I’ve been quite ill and migrainal almost all the time, so not much got done. However, I have managed to squeeze in some training here and there with Mr. Barnum.

Suddenly, we’re making Big Progress with eye contact, and I can now get us to 10 seconds pretty fast AND (drum roll, please) I have started to introduce our verbal cue (again). My voice hasn’t been working much the last couple days, so I’ve actually been whispering the cue, and I think that has made it less distracting for Mr. B.

We continue to work on our LLW, working walk, and stand-stay, which are the other skills we need to pass Level 2, as well as incorporating more zen, sit- and down-stays, etc. Two interesting new developments:

1. Barnum wants to train more now — more often — and seems more interested in offering behaviors and shaping. He seems to be gaining confidence and not feeling quite so much need to wait for me to tell him what to do. I’m trying to be patient and wait him out, make him think for himself. Sometimes when he seems to be cruising along and I think he really knows what we’re doing, he will suddenly go into “deflated” mode and — after offering a sit or stare — will just lie down and wait. Then I wait for something clickable. Or eventually I give him something else to do to move him around, like a hand target, and wait for an accidental behavior to click.

2. Today, pretty much by accident (looooong story), Betsy ended up taking Barnum for an extremely long run/walk (because I was too sick to walk him), and when he got home, instead of being tired, he was begging for training! Further support for my theory that maturity, hunger/growth spurts, and more exercise makes him more eager to train. I am taking advantage of that as much as possible! I hope I bounce back from this crash lately so I can give him more exercise again.

In fact, we have started working on our first real service skill! It’s an easy one, and one I feel relaxed about, so we can just have fun and go at our own pace. I’m very excited about how well it’s going! I’m actually starting to consider him a service dog in training (SDiT), as opposed to a “hopefully-maybe-potential SDiT candidate”!

Please Vote for Barnum and Gadget in the Dogster Photo Contests!

Please vote for my boys! It’s fast, easy and fun. Just click on the links/logos or the three pics below to take you to each of their pages. (Barnum has two pages because of a technical glitch, Gadget has one.)

Here is Barnum’s entry for “Smiles and Grins.”

Vote for Barnum in the World’s Coolest Dog Contest.

dog photo contest

Clicking on the pic above will also take you to Barnum’s entries for “Ball or Frisbee Player”; “Naughtiest Dog”; “Sleeper”; and “Jumper.”

VOTE for Barnum in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Here’s Barnum’s entry for “Tongue/Slobber”:

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Here’s Gadget’s entry for “Working Dog.”

Please vote for Me at The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show

Clicking on Gadget’s pic above will also take you to Gadget’s pic for “Car Dog”; “Water Dog”; “Patriot”; and “Costume.”

VOTE for Gadget in The 6th Annual World’s Coolest Dog & Cat Show!

Thank you!

Sharon, Barnum (SDiT??) and the muse of Gadget

Level 2 Tests, Part 2

Here are more Training Levels tests videos! By now it’s been three weeks since we made these, and we are still practicing and refining the skills at these levels, as well as building the other skills not-yet-tested for Level Two.

A note on accessibility: The YouTube captioning program is, um, extremely limited, to put it nicely. Their software uses an algorithm to match captions to spoken English in the video. This does not work if, oh, say, you usually have a lot of background noise (such as wind or powerchair motor noises); or important noises that are not language (such as the sound of the clicker); and/or you’re not speaking clear English (which is true when my voice isn’t working well or at all, in which case I might also sign). Thus, it took hours of painstaking work to make some badly captioned videos, while other videos were totally impossible to caption at all.

However, the lovely and delightful Anna of Forward/FWD and Trouble Is Everywhere, pointed me toward dotSUB: Any Video, Any Language, which has software that is so much better. You can caption any ol’ damn video you like, regardless of language. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed the dotSUB video directly, like I can with YouTube.

Sooo, from now on I’m going to embed the non-captioned YouTube videos, and provide links to the captioned version and to the video description/transcript. I wish it weren’t so clunky, but there it is — if we make the internet accessible, then anyone can use it.

Also, here is the captioned version of the video from my previous post that I was not able to caption via YouTube:

On to the fun stuff!

We are still working on Level Two (L2), but I’ve moved us ahead on Zen (“Leave It”) to Level Three (L3), because, in general, we rock the Zen. (If you decide to watch only one of these videos, watch the L3 Zen test, to see Barnum clowning it up about thirty seconds in.)

Please note: Normally when we train, I make sure there are no distractions (unless they’re planned), and Barnum is really excited to train. We are both focused. This is probably the most important factor I’ve learned from Sue Ailsby’s method [scroll down to the bottom at this link] — Is the dog In The Game?

However, when we test, there’s someone else there filming — sometimes more than one person — and I have to try to remember what the criteria are for each test. I get nervous about the camera, too. Thus, I have a hard time focusing on the training/Barnum. All of these things affect Barnum’s focus, too. So, please don’t think we are normally this flaky and distracted when training! (My timing with the clicker is particularly abysmal.) Barnum has an excuse — he’s only seven month’s old — but cognitive issues or not, there is never an excuse for the trainer! Ah well.

This is the first part of our L2 Crate test — the crate in my bedroom. The criterion for Level Two crate is that the dog enters the crate with no more than two cues, allows the door to be opened and shut, with no pawing or vocalizing.  This is the crate we use the most. We had a false start, but I decided to consider it a fluke, because we use this behavior all the time. The non-captioned version is below. See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

This is part 2 — the crate in the living room. Ironically, though we use this crate a lot less, Barnum does better in this part of the test, pretty much because we had the two previous sessions in the bedroom (practice!). See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

This is our L2 Distance Test. I never taught this as a distinct skill before, but I’m loving it. I already use it sometimes when I’m sitting in bed and I want Barnum to come around my wheelchair from one side or the other. I can tell we can use this one a lot in the future. The criteria are that the dog must go around a pole or other object two feet away from the handler, with no more than two cues. See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.
Finally, our L3 “Zen” Test. The dog must leave alone food in a stranger’s hand for 20 seconds, one cue only. (I wrote “40 seconds” in the description that accompanies the video, but that’s wrong.) He met my neighbor once before, but he was focused on her dog that day, so he doesn’t really know her. (Though we do still have some work to do with manners, as you’ll see when he starts to snorffle her pockets!) See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

Comments are always more than welcome!
-Sharon, Barnum, and the Muse of Gadget

Level 2 homework

If you’ve been reading my blog, by now you know that Barnum and I are hard at work on Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. In addition to mastering a set of behaviors, the trainer/handler has a written homework assignment for each level. Here is Level Two’s question and my answer, which I have livened up with some Barnum photos. Shortly I hope to put up a page with short videos of Barnum and me getting tested on eight of the L2 behaviors. (There are 16 behaviors to master in L2.)

Handler describes, in writing, the four “legs” of operant conditioning, and the definition of “reinforcement” and “punishment.”

The first leg is positive reinforcement.

On the training and behaviorist lists, abbreviated “R+.” Positive reinforcement is giving something to the learner (adding something to the learner’s environment) that the learner needs or wants. A positive reinforcer makes the behavior more likely to happen again because the learner wants to get that reward again.

Note: ALL forms of reinforcements and punishments are intended to alter future behavior, however, their success varies depending on which “leg” is used and also on other factors, especially whether the reward or aversive is effective/relevant/appropriate to that particular dog/learner, and also whether the timing makes it clear what is being punished/rewarded.

For Barnum, R+ are food, play with other dogs, playing tug, being let outside, chasing a ball, praise, belly rubs when he is lying on his back, walks, being let off leash to run, or being allowed to dig in soft dirt or climb into the tub when it’s only partly full.

The nice thing about R+ is that there is no “fallout.” If you screw up and accidentally reward when you didn’t mean to, or miss an opportunity to reward, it might create or strengthen an undesirable behavior that will have to be extinguished, but it doesn’t tend to cause distress for the learner, inhibit further learning, damage trust, etc.

I will use the same three real-life examples of applying these forms of reinforcement or punishment (sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional) with Barnum for each of the three legs.

Examples of Positive Reinforcement

Behavior: Jumping on my bed. (Undesirable)

R+ responses:

  • Click/treat (c/t) for getting off the bed (four on the floor) with hand and/or voice cue or lure of food treat.
  • C/t for standing, sitting, lying next to bed. C/t for going into kennel. C/t with stuffed Kong or meal for lying quietly in crate or next to bed for extended period instead of jumping on bed.
  • Barnum jumps onto bed and won’t get off, so I get up and leave as an attempt at positive punishment, forgetting that I left chicken salad on bed; Barnum eats chicken and is positively reinforced for being on bed. (Oops!)
  • Being on the bed seems to be both self-reinforcing as well as a means to an end: Getting on the bed brings attention (I stop eating or working at computer to get him off), food (see above), closeness to me, and also seems to be enjoyable in itself as a soft, high location. (Nevermind that he has four dog beds of his own, Barnum still wants to get on my bed or the couch, even when I’m not on them.)
  • Since it’s impossible to launch a clicker session every time Barnum’s around my bed (that would be all the time except if we are out playing, training, or going for a walk), I try to notice when he seems like he is about to jump or wants to jump, and then I praise, play, or c/t him for having “four on the floor” and try to initiate a game or give him something (appropriate!) to chew.

Behavior: Walking on a loose leash. (Desirable.)

Why is pulling on leash undesirable? Exhibit A:

Broken leash clasp

"There's Lucy! I want to play with her! I'm coming, Lucy!" CRACK! Ka-PING!

R+ techniques for getting a loose leash:

  • C/t any time leash is loose.
  • Praise when leash is loose.
  • Walk toward desirable food or other source of pleasure (another dog) when leash is loose.
  • Offer a walk or game as reward for loose leash.

Behavior: Letting himself out by jumping against the screen door. Desirability: It’s complicated.

While it was never my goal for Barnum to learn this neat trick (ahem), it was more desirable to have Barnum let himself out than for him to have accidents inside — when we were still doing toilet training — since I have not always been good at reading his (to me) often subtle indicators that he needs to go out.

However, now he has bladder/bowel control, and we have better communication, so it’s not necessary. It’s bad for the door and screen, especially now that he’s so big and strong and doing damage; it’s bad for our communication and working relationship (too much freedom without earning it); and when winter comes and he can’t let himself out that way, I don’t want him to have accidents inside again (although I don’t think he will because toileting outside has become so ingrained, and we have worked out other options).

This behavior was born when Barnum one day scratched on the door to indicate, “I want out,” and the door swung open. That was very reinforcing: the power! The control! He learned that if he exerts enough force (jumping up with both legs and really putting his weight into it works almost every time!), he didn’t need to wait for me. Having the ability to let himself out at will is a very powerful reinforcer, not just for offering bladder/bowel relief but for playing in the yard, greeting people coming in the gate, freedom, change of scene, etc. This behavior is self-reinforcing.

R+ I’m using to change the situation:

  • Don’t allow him access to the screen door, thus cutting off the self-reinforcement of him being able to let himself out.
  • C/t him for any behavior other than jumping/swiping at the screen door (when the screen door is available to him).
  • Trained him to ring a bell (by targeting the bell with his nose and earning c/t for successively harder nudges till he is ringing it loudly enough to be heard) which I then hung by the door. Whenever he rings the bell, I ask him if he wants to go out (R+); I toss the treats outside for him to eat (R+); and I let him out (R+), even if I know he doesn’t need to eliminate. (At this point, I’m just working on communicating, “If you want to go out, slamming into the door won’t work, but ringing the bell will.”) It’s a long process because any time anyone (my four PCAs, my partner, or I), forget and allow him access to the screen door, there is the possibility of him letting himself out, thus putting that behavior on a variable schedule of reinforcement, making it über hard to extinguish.

The second leg is positive punishment.

I assume this is abbreviated P+, though I have not seen it on the lists. Positive punishment is adding something to the learner’s environment that s/he dislikes in order to stop an undesirable behavior. P+ might make behavior less likely to occur again because the learner wants to avoid the punisher.

Positive punishment has the most likelihood of causing fallout. Not only is it always unpleasant for the learner, it is often also unpleasant for the trainer (although, if people were honest about it, a lot of the time it is really just venting anger or frustration on the dog in the name of changing behavior, when it is actually more like revenge). The learner often associates the aversive experience with the trainer, which might teach the learner to avoid the trainer or to only do the behavior in the trainer’s absence, as opposed to extinguishing the behavior altogether. It’s also hard to time correctly, and an ill-timed punishment often creates more problems than it solves, as it can punish a desirable behavior that happens after the undesirable one has ceased.

Examples of Positive Punishment

Behavior: Jumping on my bed. (Undesirable.)

Muddy Bouv Face

"I see no reason at all why I shouldn't be allowed on your bed whenever I want. What's the prob, dude?"

  • Yell at him for jumping on bed. (Doesn’t work, he doesn’t care and is often glad of the attention. Potential fallout: Barnum learns to dislike being around me or learns to tune me out.)
  • Try to push him off the bed. (Doesn’t work, he thinks it’s a game, like tug, and can therefore be R+ instead!)
  • Get up and leaving the room. (Works if his goal in jumping up was being closer to me or getting attention; doesn’t work if he just wants to be on the bed to get a better view out the window or a change of pace or to get at my dinner.) He also doesn’t seem to learn from this.

Behavior: Walking on a loose leash. (Desirable.)

Positive punisher: Accidentally run over his toes when he is walking very close to the chair, giving me good eye contact, and we are both so focused on clicks and treats that we lose track of his paws and my wheels. (Aagh!) The result is that, until I counteract this mistake, he walks farther from my chair, hangs back instead of walking next to me, and enjoys himself less. Not intentional!

The traditional punisher for pulling on leash is using choke chains, prong collars, etc., when the dog pulls, but I don’t do that.

Behavior: Letting himself out by jumping against the screen door. (Undesirable.)

Positive punisher: Mildly scold (Eh!) him when he jumps on door. (Sometimes works if I catch his attention and he stops before he goes out, but usually I am too late — there’s that timing thing again!)

The third leg is negative reinforcement.

Abbreviated R-. Negative reinforcement is removing something from the environment that the learner dislikes (finds aversive) in order to make the event that comes with the removal more likely to occur again. Although negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment, using R- necessarily requires an aversive. In other words, until the aversive is removed to reward the change in behavior, whatever came before was being punished.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement

Behavior: Jumping on my bed. (Undesirable.)

  • While Barnum is on my bed, I silently turn my back to him, giving no eye contact. When he gets off the bed, I shower him with praise, petting, c/t. (The aversive is me ignoring him, the removal of it = negative reinforcement/R-.)
  • I make grumbling/growling noises when he’s on the bed. When he jumps off, I smile and stop grumbling. (Grumbling = aversive; stopping grumbling = R-.) This worked the first two times I tried, and then he realized I was silly and no actual threat, thought it was a great game; in other words, not effective because it did not alter the behavior and very briefly, was actually probably R+!)
  • I get up and leave the room, shutting the door behind me. Barnum is alone in my bedroom. (He doesn’t like to be apart from me — or alone in general. Social isolation is usually a big punisher for dogs.) When he jumps off the bed, I come back into the room, smiling warmly, and give him eye contact. (Social isolation = aversive; ending social isolation = R-.)

Behavior: Walking on a loose leash. (Desirable.)

Why is pulling on lead undesirable? Exhibit B:

Torn Leash

"I want to get to the pond NOW!" Pffft-BOING! "Ah, that's better!"

Any time Barnum pulls on lead, I walk backwards from whatever is desirable that he’s pulling toward (food, another dog, an interesting smell). When he comes back to my side, and the leash goes slack, I stop pulling him away from the desirable smell/object/dog and begin walking toward it again. (The aversive is having to retreat from desirable smell/dog/food; discontinuing the march backwards = R-.)

Behavior: Letting himself out by jumping against the screen door. (Undesirable.)

Don’t let him out when he flings himself against the door:

  • Hold the door closed.
  • Block the screen door with the winter door.
  • Put him on a leash that’s too short for him to get outside even if he manages to open the door.)

All of these efforts are aversive because they are frustrating his desire to 1. have control over going out, 2. go out and play, and/or 3. relieve himself. When he stops trying to slam the screen door and/or rings the bell instead, I give him access to the outdoors. (The aversive is inability go out; the removal of that restriction is R-.)

The fourth leg is negative punishment.

Again, I presume this is abbreviated P-, although I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it discussed outside of theoretical discussions. (Since I’m on R+ lists and read R+ blogs, that’s mostly what I hear about.) Negative punishment is taking away something the learner wants/needs in order to reinforce the opposite of that behavior.

Behavior: Jumping on my bed. (Undesirable.)

P- responses:

  • Turning my back/looking away/ignoring him when he is on the bed. (This actually does work, though slowly, in combination with R+ when his feet hit the floor.)
  • Can’t think of anything else except maybe moving any food away from him so he doesn’t get to sniff and/or eat it, but I try not to let that happen in the first place.

Behavior: Walking on a loose leash. (Desirable.)

Any time Barnum pulls on the leash, I back away from our focal point, which is something he wants: A bowl of pungent food, another dog, something he wants to sniff. This is slow going, but combined with R+ of c/t when leash is slack and of eventually getting to the object of his desire, it’s effective.

Behavior: Letting himself out by jumping against the screen door. (Undesirable.)

Eliminating access to the yard has been an effective P-, in combination with R+ for ringing the bell to indicate he wants to go out instead of slamming into the door.

Barnum flopped on the lawn on his side

"Lying in the grass feels soooo good! Why wouldn't I want to get out here and enjoy it whenever the whim strikes me?"

* * *

Oy! That felt like I was back in psychology class, taking an exam! My brain hurts! Also, a lot of these overlap so much that some of it seems to be engaging in a bit of (as my college academic advisor once shocked me by saying), “mental masturbation.”

This cognitively impaired, hard-trainin’ chick needs a rest!

However, we have tested and passed and videotaped(!) several of the L2 behaviors. I just need to do the closed captioning and transcripts, and I will post those, too. Then you can see the practice, and not read so much theory.

Taming the Shark, Part 1: Bite Exhibition

I have finally learned how to download photos from Betsy’s camera onto my computer, so now I have a slew of Barnum pics to share with you. I’m hoping to do a few “photo essay” blogs in the coming weeks.

If you read my last two posts, you know I’m using Sue Ailsby’s Level Training Book to train with Barnum. It’s really going well! The book doesn’t address things like toilet training, mouthing, and such. However, the Training Levels listserv refers all newcomers to Positive Petzine, which gave me more useful, concrete, step-by-step directions for using positive training to correct “puppy issues” than my extensive book, video, and bookmark collection had provided me with before. I recommend it!

See if you can guess, from the photo essay below, what major problem was the last puppy frontier we had not yet conquered?

Barnum chews bucket lid

"Mm, the lid to the bucket tastes as good as the bucket, itself."

Barnum chews hose.

"Now it's a hose -- AND a sprinkler -- all-in-one! See? I'm already so helpful...."

Barnum prepares to launch Shark Attack.

"I'm gonna get the arm! I'm gonna get it!"

Barnum bites Betsy.

"Got it!"

If you’re still not sure, here is a multiple-choice quiz.

The puppy behavior we had not successfully tackled by six months was:

A. Mouthing

B. Chewing inappropriate objects

C. Attacking people’s shoes (whether there was a foot in them or not)

D. Jumping up and biting people’s pants (whether there was a butt in them or not)

E. All of the above

Let’s just say that Barnum acquired the nickname, “The Shark” early in life, and it has stuck to him like a remora on a great white’s dorsal fin. (I’ll address the “chewing inappropriate objects” in another post, because it is sort of a separate issue. But it all leads to the Jaws-like atmosphere around here and the “taming the shark” efforts that are finally paying off.)

I won’t go into all the details of why we still had this mouthing problem except to say that someone did try to tell someone else in their household that that someone else was reinforcing the problem, and that that someone else said that she could not do what the first someone had read in her many puppy books was the way to correct the problem. [Ahem.]

[Note: In proofing this essay for me, someone inserted the following comment: Hey! I have legitimate physical reasons why stomping out of the room is a challenge! It’s especially hard when a puppy is hanging off your ear.]

Confused? In all fairness to both someones, so were we. One area of confusion was when we should switch from bite inhibition to bite prohibition.

For those not familiar with these terms: When you have a little puppy, you don’t just teach it never to bite or mouth. Instead, you start by teaching “bite inhibition.” Teaching bite inhibition means that you let the puppy mouth you, as long as it doesn’t hurt, because this teaches the puppy to have a soft mouth. If the pup does bite down too hard, you yelp and pull away and look wounded. If that doesn’t work (and after a while, believe me, with a rowdy Bouvier des Flandres, it doesn’t), then you’re supposed to get up and walk away. Then you come back and play again. The lesson is, “If you hurt me, you don’t get to play with me, but as long as you’re gentle, we’re cool.”

A dog with good bite inhibition who lands in a situation where he’s scared, hurt, over-excited, resource guarding, or otherwise has potential to bite, instead of using a full-force bite and inflicting serious damage, will just snap, snarl, nip, growl, etc. This can feel scary and upsetting to humans, but it will not send them to the emergency room (or the dog to be euthanized).

My first dog, Lady, who was probably some sort of Border Collie mix, showed terrific bite inhibition. She and I used to play a game where I would chase her, or she would chase me, and if she was chasing me, when she caught me, she would very, very gently hold my hand in her mouth for a moment. It was her way of saying, “Tag! I got you!”

It was quite beautiful and tender, actually.

But the proof of the pudding was when Lady had a bad eye infection, and I had to put ointment in her eye twice a day, every day, for a week. Holding her down and squeezing in the ointment was scary and very painful for her. She always whimpered when it went in. The second day, when her eye was at its worst, she growled and snapped at me when the ointment touched her eye, which shocked and upset me. She had never done anything like that before. However, she did not bite me, which she certainly could have, and inflicted serious damage because my face was right over her head. Instead, she just said, in dog language, “Ow! Stop! You’re hurting me!”

Jersey and Gadget, my previous service dogs, also had reliable bite inhibition. Obviously, I knew Barnum needed to learn that, too. This was my first time having the responsibility of teaching bite inhibition, because it’s something that has to be learned in puppyhood. All previous models came with it installed.

However, my interpretation of the timeline and bite force involved in teaching bite inhibition was not the same as Betsy’s. For one thing, what I consider “painful” and “too hard” are not the same as she. (She’s willing to put up with more than I am; I am more aware of all the people Barnum will have to come into contact with and behave perfectly around in his future role as service dog; and she also does not have a full-body chronic pain condition.)

I felt that by four months Barnum’s mouth should be very soft, and Betsy thought he should still be given some leeway. Also, she played with him on the floor, and she maintained that she couldn’t leap up and stride away the very instant an infraction occurred, the way the books all say is required to make the point. And I certainly was in no shape for leaping the first few months Barnum was here.

Plus, he viewed my chair (depending on which direction it was going), as either a potential menace to be avoided, or a quickly retreating prey-like object to be chased. In fact, when Betsy, my PCAs, or my guests did try to turn their backs and stride away, Barnum delighted in jumping up to bite their butts, leaping onto their feet to attack their shoelaces, and otherwise continuing this glorious game.

I blame Ian Dunbar (Why not? He’s not here to defend himself; I don’t have to live with him; and his book was woefully inadequate for my puppy-raising needs). I forced Betsy to read his book, practically to memorize it. Dunbar really hammers on and on and on (in a repetitive, redundant, and repetitious way) about the importance of bite inhibition. I think this contributed a lot to Betsy’s concern that bite inhibition was fully installed before we taught him to stop biting at all, AKA bite prohibition.

This is when you teach your dog that humans are (as Dunbar says — probably the best quote in the book), “soft and ouchy.” You convince them that even barely grazing your hand with their tooth hurts you so so so much, omigod! How could big, bad, savage puppy have done this to his loving momma? Ow ow ow!

Family photo: Betsy, Sharon, Jaws

Family photo: Betsy, Sharon, and Jaws... I mean, Barnum.

Yes, we love him. We love his natural exuberance, but there are limits. I finally decided that enough was enough. One of my PCAs had had her former dog phobia rekindled in a big way by Barnum mouthing her hands and biting her butt and hanging onto her pants as she tried to work. Another, who adores Barnum but who has skin like tissue paper, was sporting horrific-looking gashes just because Barnum’s teeth had grazed her arm or hand. (So, really, she is a litmus test for our success at bite inhibition: if she’s not bleeding, we’re succeeding.)

This is quite serious. I have received a local cultural council grant to take Barnum to the elementary school, where I will show my video of Gadget performing service-dog skills, talk to the kids about life with a SD and SD training, have Barnum show off whatever he’s learned up to that point, and get in some good socialization and training for Barnum. (Nothing like a mob of children to work on distraction and self-control issues!) As things stood, I imagined a classroom full of sweet little children running up to pat the nice doggy — and having Barnum playfully bite ears and lips, grab and chew ponytails and braids, and rip adorable little outfits. The children would scream and run, sobbing hysterically, which Barnum would interpret as a wonderful addition to the chase/catch/tug game he was starting, and I’d hand the teachers the business card of the lawyer I’d hired for this inevitable lawsuit.

No way!

I turned into Sharon the Enforcer. (A not-infrequent role for me.) Henceforth, I decreed, any time Barnum put his mouth on any skin, clothing, or shoes (that a person was wearing), that person must immediately turn away and walk out the nearest door, where they would count to twenty. If we couldn’t leap away in a split-second, so be it; he would get the picture in time. Any other person in the vicinity must also march away, so that Barnum would be left alone with nobody to mouth.

I didn’t limit the prohibition to full-on mouthing. Also off-limits was any tooth-to-skin or tooth-to-clothing contact, no matter how insubstantial, as well as Barnum making moves toward mouthing, even if he didn’t actually make contact.

For those situations when he was likely to attempt to chase and/or hang on to shoes or pants, I set up training sessions: I leashed him to the ramp railing. We would pet him, and I would click/treat for not mouthing during particularly tempting moments, such as when someone was petting his head or face or sitting on the ground or riling him up with play. For just calmly accepting more sedate petting, I offered heartfelt praise. If Barnum went for a hand or sneaker, we would turn our backs and walk out of leash range, giving him ten to twenty seconds to chill out. Then we would return with lavish praise and petting again.

The first day that I put the kibosh on mouthing, I had to turn around and zoom to my room several times in a half hour. Barnum would follow me happily, but when I shut my door with him outside and me inside, he was truly puzzled and distressed. He sat outside my door, barking and crying. I have another rule (See? I am the Enforcer; bratty behavior does not get rewarded — in dogs or children). Thus, I’d wait till he was quiet; then I’d come out, a friendly smile on my face, ready to offer more praise and love. I’d usually find Barnum sitting quietly — confused, concerned, and eager to please.

Honestly, I think Barnum learned more about not mouthing in that first half-hour of boundary setting than he had before or since. After that foundation was laid, the rest has just been teaching him that the same rules apply to other people (Betsy, PCAs, and guests) and to other situations: indoors and outdoors; with people sitting, standing, or lying down; moving fast or slow; and to anything a person might be wearing or carrying. I’ve also been playing tug with him every day, usually a few times a day, to give him practice with “give” (dopping the toy), and to interrupt the game any time he even accidentally lets a tooth touch my skin.

One particularly memorable moment, the first day he was confronted with this puzzling new behavior, Betsy was sitting on the floor with him, my PCA was petting him from a standing position, and I was sitting in my chair, praising all involved. Barnum swung his head to mouth my PCA’s sleeve, and we all instantly scattered in every direction. It was like someone had dropped a pebble into a bowl of guppies. Barnum was the pebble, sitting in the middle of the bowl, looking around, thinking, “Where did everyone go?”

I’m very proud of us. Obviously, this training is not as fun as the positive clicker training, where I’m shaping and rewarding desirable behaviors, instead of extinguishing an undesirable one through a process that is both quite tiring for me and sometimes somewhat stressful for him. However, Barnum is showing his usual great bounce back and has learned that just because the fun stops or I withdraw my attention for a few seconds, it doesn’t mean that the game won’t restart or I won’t be lavishing him with affection as soon as the time-out’s over.

I give Barnum a lot of credit. He learned very quickly that mouthing would get him nowhere. Often, I have seen him wanting quite desperately to do the forbidden, but holding himself back: He watches a PCA’s shoelaces very intently as she walks by, but he doesn’t pounce. He wants to grab my arm when I am tick-checking his ear, but instead he licks me gently. (You can practically see him thinking, “Okay, sublimate, sublimate, sublimate. . . .”) Slowly, my PCA of the paper-thin skin feels safe in lowering her hands to swing at her sides. Slowly, the PCA who used to fear dogs (whom Gadget seemed to have cured with his sweet and gentle nature), is again smiling when she willingly pets Barnum.

Today, I took Barnum to play with Bug, a neighbor dog he hadn’t seen in a few months. My neighbor had never met him before. Like the other owners of Gadget’s dog friends, my neighbor used to say, morosely, “I don’t think Gadget likes me.”

This was because Gadget basically ignored her when he went to visit Bug.

“No,” I would say, “It’s a Bouv thing.”

Then I’d explain about how Bouviers typically don’t have much interest in people unless they are their people. Especially if there are other dogs around — who has time for people? Feh. Even I was not interesting to Gadget (and now to Barnum — although Jersey was another story) when there were other dogs to be met.

However, because Barnum is still a pup, and because we super-socialized him to people by having him meet, and get treats from, 100 people in his first two months home, he is far more actively interested in people than Gadget or Jersey ever were. Thus, when Barnum and Bug were finished playing, Barnum went waggling right over to my neighbor.

She knelt down and petted his head and hugged him. I was holding my breath — just a bit — because if she’d done this two weeks ago, Barnum would have mouthed her in a serious way! Instead, he just wagged and smiled, and then gave her face a good washing.

“Oh,” she laughed, “I haven’t had kisses in a long time!” Apparently Bug was not an extremely demonstrative dog, either.

She was very pleased. I was very pleased. Thank Dog! I can stop looking for a lawyer. . . .

Gooooo, Team Barnum!

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon, Barnum (still a tiny bit sharky), and the Muse of Gadget (who was not standoffish, just dignified)

The Puppy Ate My Keyboard

[Barnum arrived February 27. I started this post on March 2. I added to it and revised it many times throughout the month of March but never published it because, well, you’ll find out when you read it that I was a mess and couldn’t keep track of anything, which also included that I forgot I wrote it and just came across it. Thus, please keep in mind that these were my thoughts when Barnum was between nine and twelve weeks’ old. He’s now four-and-a-half months’ old and a much different dog!]

I wasn’t going to write a blog today because I can hardly form a thought, let alone a sentence. Typing these fragments had barely occurred to me. In fact, I am moving my lips as I type this (I just realized) because apparently some part of my brain has regressed to a first-grade level.

I’d tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had anything remotely resembling a normal night’s sleep (which, given my multiple forms of insomnia and sleep disturbance, is not so normal to begin with), but I have no idea what day it is or when Barnum arrived and the toileting accidents and his heart-rending yelping of being crated without litter mates and dog mama has occurred and at what frequency and which days, except I have lost all sense of time. And I’m not even going to attempt to edit or proof this, and I know I’m creating appalling run-on sentences, but you’ll just have to put up with that for a while.  Maybe a year or two.

As an example, while I was typing the above sentence, I reached for my “lunch-time pills,” and it is now 6:54PM, although I did — thank you so much, my PCA Gloria! — actually eat lunch around half an hour ago. But of course I forgot to take the pills with the food, as I’m supposed to. So, I had the cup with the dog kibble, and my fingers digging into it, halfway up to my mouth before I thought, “Wait a minute. Why . . . am . . . I . . . eating . . . kibble?” I waited for that thought to gently float to the part of my brain that could handle it, and realized that I was trying to swallow a handful of other small, round objects. “Pills! Yes! . . . Wait a minute, these are not my pills.”

I have a nice, swollen purple bruise on my right hand where some puppy chewing got a little out of hand, next to a scratch that I’m assuming must also be puppy-play related, but I have no idea when I acquired it.

I am fighting off an incipient migraine and have over-exerted at every level far beyond anything I’ve done in at least a year. The floors are covered in mud (because, of course, I would get a new puppy whom I have to take out practically every ten minutes during mud season), because that my p-chair tires are completely caked with mud, which eventually dries and falls off all over the house.

I’m exhausted and grouchy and babbling. I’m ridiculously happy. I sing goofy made up songs — using real songs but with made-up lyrics. Example (to the tune of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?“):

“Don’t you want it Barnum?
Don’t you want the squirrel?
Don’t you want the hedgehog?
Let’s give them a whirl.

I was looking for a puppy out in Iowa
when I found you.
We picked you up and flew you here and gave you a bath,
cuz of your smelly shampoo.

Don’t, don’t you want it?
You know I can’t believe it when you don’t want your chew toys!
Don’t? Don’t you want it?
You know I can’t believe it when you push aside your Kong toys!”

Our main focus has been on house breaking. That is such an understatement. We keep a log of dates, times and locations of output (and which type), indicators that he needs to go, and results once he’s gone. Someone in the house is always announcing, when they bring him in from outside, “He peed! But he didn’t poop,” or “He pooped! He pooped!” We are obsessed with it.

It’s been a very humbling experience! Foolish, foolish, egotistical me — I thought because I’d trained long behavior chains like, “Take note; run 1/4 mile to landlord; bark; down when landlord opens door; stay till landlord takes note; run straight home,” that I would be able to teach a puppy to poop and pee outside and not just randomly on the floor the split second I look away for one moment when he is out of the crate even though he just pooped and peed five minutes before.

I actually wrote the first part of this blog a few days ago. And now several more days have passed since I wrote a few more sentences, then a few more days, a few more sentences. Don’t ask me which days — that’s just cruel. I had Barnum up on my bed for a brief spell because he was an empty puppy — oh yes, the holy grail of house breaking — a puppy who has just peed and pooped and is therefore (theoretically) safe to be out of his crate and playing, snuggling, training, etc. He immediately started chewing my keyboard buttons. When I moved that out of reach, he attacked the telephone headset, then chewed on the mouse wire. Then it was time for puppy to go back in his crate for a nice stuffed chew toy he might or might not figure out how to chew.

Random thoughts that flit in and out of my mind:

– How can this tiny puppy ever be a service dog? I’m still teaching him that if he nudges a Kong or Biscuit Ball, kibble falls out. I didn’t think this would require actual clicker training to teach, but it has: look at ball, click/treat; move toward ball, c/t; nose ball, c/t; eat kibble that pours out of ball, c/t…. I had thought that the mere fact that kibble falls right out of the ball if you even breathe on it would be a good hint, but no.

– What was Gadget like as a puppy? Was he like this? He couldn’t possibly have been. I bet he figured out toilet training in one day. (I’m sure he didn’t, but still, I miss him. I want Gadget back. I want him here to show Barnum how it’s done.)

– Does anyone want a really cute, snuggly, adorable, pee- and poop-filled puppy?

– It’s weird to go to a door and have a dog next to me who has no earthly idea that he could learn to open it or even gets confused about how to get out of the way when it opens. In fact, one of the hardest parts of the toilet training has been getting Barnum and myself in or out the door — involving opening and shutting it, each time — before Barnum has an accident. If we pause for any reason that’s when disaster (in the form of a small, easy-to-clean-up, but oh-so-frustrating puddle) strikes.

– If I drop something, not only does Barnum not retrieve it for me, he will — if I’m lucky — not be able to find it (because, apparently, even if you drop something directly in front of their noses, puppies often can’t see it it). If he does find it, he will chew it, especially if it’s something fragile or expensive or dangerous to him, or all of the above. [Note: Eventually, I learned from reading a website what none of the many puppy-rearing books I’d read had bothered to mention — new puppies can’t see! At eight or nine weeks, their eyes are still maturing. In fact, Barnum’s were still blueish at the beginning. His eyes are now brown, and he is perfectly capable of seeing or sniffing out treats on the floor. The amount that I didn’t know about puppies was astounding. I know so much more now, and I still feel completely ignorant!]

– God, he’s so adorable, it’s practically indecent.

Baby Barnum first week home

See what I mean? Beyond, beyond cute.

– It was weird to go for my annual physical and leave a dog behind and be there without a dog and then come home to a dog who is not Gadget (and who then pooped on the floor).

– It also felt like a blissful relief to get away from him for a couple of hours and leave someone else in charge of him. Gloria, who was driving me to the doctor, said that’s how she felt when her son was really little — that going to work felt like a vacation. That’s how I felt: getting a pap smear was a vacation!

– All the women in my life who have kids keep saying everything I’m going through is typical of being a new mom: the anxiety that I’m ruining him for life with every mistake, the guilt that I sometimes just want someone to take him away for 12 hours (or perhaps forever) so I can sleep, the complete inability to think, the zombie-like facial expression, the relentless pursuit of following all the instructions in all the puppy raising books that tell you your puppy will become a horrible, out-of-control, dangerous, miserable wreck if you don’t accomplish all eight million absolutely necessary training, bonding, and socialization efforts in the first four weeks you have him; examining every single behavior or nuance as a predictor of the glorious/tragic path that lies ahead; my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Gloria keeps telling me I have “milk brain” because I can’t think worth a damn. Maybe this is the oxytocin connection??

– I think I’ve smiled and laughed more in the last two weeks than I have in the previous five years, combined. I also think I have cried — or been too exhausted to cry, and just laid there, crying in my mind — than I have in the past year, too.

– Will all this overexerting build up my strength or tear it down in a huge crash?

– I am so not up to this task. I was a fool. I had taken leave of my senses (which I no longer possess, at all) when I decided to get a puppy.

– I love when he sticks his whole head into the snow, so all you can see is fuzzy puppy butt, back and legs.

Barnum with head in snow.

Barnum loses his head.

– I love when he pounces and leaps.

Baby Barnum leaps in snow

A bouncing baby Bouvier.

– I love when he kisses me and curls up in my lap.

Baby Barnum Kisses Sharon in the Garden


I love when he is sleeping, lying on his back with his paws in the air and his little white chin poking up.

Barnum at 14 weeks, sleeping on back

One very relaxed puppy!

– I love when he is tired and lies down with his back legs sprawled out behind him. We call this “Superman,” because he looks like he is flying — front and rear legs extended, very streamlined. (Don’t yet have a picture of it, or I’d show you.) He also does “frog leg,” where one leg is extended behind and the other is pulled up.

– I love that I am having to force myself to invite over every single person and dog who might remotely be willing (and even those who are not) to meet, treat, or play with him. I have socialized more in the past two weeks than in the previous few years combined.

– I hate having to deal with all these people — the exhaustion, the noise, the sensory overload, the exposures, exposures, exposures.

– I will never again take for granted a dog who is able to pee and poo outside and not inside, and to indicate when they have to go before relieving themselves on the floor, or who can “hold it” for more than two hours — or five to ten minutes or 30 seconds, depending on the circumstance.

* * * *

Guess what? I now have such a dog! (His name is Barnum.) We still have the occasional accident, but it is the exception, not the rule. He will even eliminate on cue — in our yard, that is. Elsewhere in the world he gets too distracted to pee or poo, so he holds it till we get home. Seriously

Barnum is also able to sleep through the night and is adjusting to my Vampire Girl schedule. (It’s a CFIDS/MCS/Lyme thing.)

I have only almost eaten kibble — thinking it was my pills — once or twice in the last couple of weeks.

He still attacks the headset, mouse, and keyboard when he gets on the bed. In fact, here is Barnum’s first After Gadget contribution:0000-                                                           32.

Now I just have to put his typing on cue.

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget (and Barnum, puppy-in-training)

P.S. Commenters of the previous post, I have not forgotten you! Responses forthcoming.

The Experts Are Full of It (and the Puppy Is, too)

You might have noticed there have been no After Gadget blogs in a month, which — not coincidentally — is when I got my new puppy. That’s because things like, um, sleeping, thinking, not weeping with frustration, were hard to come by for a while.

I was sobbing on the phone to my therapist (with whom I’ve been speaking much more often lately) and to my grief support list, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” Some people were just an eensy bit judgmental about this.

Even more obnoxious are all the people who have been saying to Betsy and me, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to have a puppy? Isn’t it so much fun?” We just look at them with very, very tired eyes and mumble, “Yes, he’s adorable and sweet, but, um, it’s a lot of work.” The people who have survived raised puppies themselves tend to switch into sympathy mode.

Betsy and I each asked friends whose dogs are less than two years’ old, “How long did it take you to toilet train?” We hoped, on one hand, that they would say something like, “Six weeks,” because we’re entering week five now, so that would mean there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, we hoped they’d say, “Six months,” because this definitely would mean we are not failures because we are already at about 75 percent toilet trained.

However, what both people said was, “I don’t remember. I must have blocked that time out.” Practically verbatim.

Worse than this was when Betsy asked her employer (when our puppy had already had about 17 accidents in his first four days), how many their goldendoodle had during housebreaking.

“One,” she said. We both cried. I think they should have lied.

I tried to convince Betsy we were Not Failures. “We’ve gone 24 hours without an accident! We didn’t know what we were doing at first! We’re doing so much better now!”

I believed myself, too, until the next (inevitable) accident. About an hour later.

But despite sobbing, “I hate the puppy! I hate the puppy!” the first two weeks, to anyone who had ever showed me any kindness, I really do love him, as you can see in these two pictures of us bonding on his first day home:

Little bear - Barnum's first day.

Isn't he a snuggly little bear?

Barnum in Sharon's lap
Looking lovingly into each other’s eyes on his first day home.

Honestly, I promise, I don’t hate him. I just hate the pee and poo that appear on floors throughout the house, even when he has not been in that vicinity that we know of and he has either been in his crate or under supervision 99.96 percent of the time. (It’s that 0.04 percent that gets you.) It’s not even that I hate the pee or poo, because I’ve become rather resigned to that by now (even as the puddles/piles get bigger). It’s more the constant vigilance we’ve had to maintain for over five weeks.

This is primarily because I read — and forced Betsy to read — a book by a world-renowned dog behaviorist, veterinarian, and expert in puppy training who writes over and over how you can achieve “errorless housetraining and chew-toy training.” Errorless. His exact words. He also calls any accident “a potential disaster” and says that “you can start ruining a perfectly good puppy in one day.” So, no pressure.

The errorless chew-toy- and crate-training are to be achieved with Kongs and hollow bones stuffed with kibble and the occasional treat, such as freeze-dried liver, “the Ferrari of dog treats,” he says. No need to use anything other than kibble because puppies are “food-seeking missiles.”

Well, great idea, except if your new baby is so stressed by his life’s biggest upheaval that he refuses to eat in the beginning, and then has barely any interest in kibble, and doesn’t even LIKE freeze-dried liver, and has no idea how to get kibble out of a bone or Kong, even when there is nothing blocking the Kong, so that kibble just falls out if you breathe on it. It’s taken a month of clicker training to teach him how to get the biscuit balls and Kongs to give up their goodies by nudging them around. This has not made him, as the author promised, a “chewtoyaholic.” He would so much rather chew everything else — our flesh, our clothes, our furniture, his leash, ANY electrical cords — than his chew toys.

His favorite toy — thank God for it — is a bucket. Not a full-sized bucket. Ironically, it’s a big plastic tub, about half the size of a real bucket, that freeze-dried liver came in — for Gadget. Gadget, a dog who LOVED liver. A dog who, if you accidentally spilled a big pile of liver dust and bits on the floor next to his crate, would not have left it there for two days until you resigned yourself to vacuuming it up! Anyway, we punched holes in the bottom of this plastic bucket last year and used it as a planter. Barnum found it under the snow and fell in loooove. (Yes, his name is Barnum. I’ll have to write a second blog on how he got his name. Right now, there are more important things to focus on, obviously.) Because it was distracting him from his excretory duties, I brought it inside, and now we use it a lot as a toy.

Before Barnum arrived, I bought a bunch of organic, nontoxic, fair-trade dog toys for him — and he prefers to chew a plastic (and therefore, toxic) bucket. All I can say to that is, “Get your bucket!!! Where’s your bucket??? Git it gitit gitit!!!”

I have so much more sympathy now for parents who take their kids to McDonalds or plunk them in front of the TV.

The puppy-raising book also says that the first twelve weeks are the puppy’s socialization window, and after that, everything you do will be playing catch-up (and with rather poor results) so that you have to make sure your puppy meets 100 people in his first four weeks at home! And that the puppy should not leave your home, and all guests must remove their shoes, because they could track in a dog disease. (For the record, Barnum has met about 75 people so far, though they were not all people in our homes with their shoes off, and it was not all done by the moment of 12 weeks. Horrors!)

I was fool enough to believe all this bilge! So, you can imagine, what with the massive sleep debt, and the impossible expectations, there has been a lot of stress! Stress! Stress! AUGH!!!!

I’m able to type what you’ve read so far because I pleaded with Betsy Betsy offered to watch the puppy for the night, so I got 11 hours of sleep. The last time she puppy sat, I got 13 hours of sleep. This is because a new puppy is not only a great cure for sleep, but also for insomnia. I’m hoping this lasts. I’m hoping now for the rest of my life, whenever I want to go to sleep, all I have to do is become slightly horizontal, and I will instantaneously drop like a rock into slumberland. Yes, all the sleep disturbances caused by my many chronic illnesses that include insomnia, hallucinations, nightmares, early wakening, etc., as symptoms, might be cured just by puppy motherhood! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I have taken up the saying my friend Julie introduced me to in high school: When all else fails, lower your expectations. We have done a lot of lowering. Now, if the accident is near the door, we rejoice, because it seems to indicate he knows he should try to head in that direction when the urge hits. Or, if we catch him in the act and interrupt him, so that he does half the poo inside the house and half outside the house, we are thrilled that we were able to indicate that pooping in the house is not what we want (poor guy looks so confused as everyone in the vicinity converges on him and says, “OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE!”) and even better, that we are able to reward him for doing the second half of the poo outside. Isn’t that terrific?!?!

Another thing to feel good about is if I’m thinking, “I should take him out right now,” or asking someone to take him out (if I can’t), or if I am actually bringing him to the door, and we’re delayed because I have get to the door, grab the pull cord, then back up to open the door but very carefully so as not to roll over him (more about that another time), and when I turn to check that it’s safe for me to back up, he is peeing! So, I was correct that I did need to take him out right then; that counts for something, doesn’t it?

So, in the spirit of lowering my expectations, I have also decided to try to get blogs out when I can. If they are not beautifully written and poignant and error-free, well, neither is life, right? It is messy and dirty and full of mistakes, but we still have to find meaning in it and love it despite its faults. Hopefully you feel some of this love and forgiveness toward this blog, even with the long gaps and the mistakes and the lack of beautiful, deep, thoughtful writing, but most especially, because of the pee and the poo.

More about Barnum, his name, pictures, etc., the next time I have a full night of sleep (or two or three or eight).

As always, we welcome your comments.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

P.S. Please, please, please do not post any housebreaking advice! We really do know all the theory and the things we should be doing. It’s just that sometimes life happens, and then you step in it.

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