Posts Tagged 'SDIT'

Prize Update! Call for Entries: 8th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival

Now there is a raffle, too! Anyone who submits a post to the Carnival will also be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! Read Brooke’s announcement here. Please spread the word about the ADBC!

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Brooke at ruled by paws has swooped in to take on hosting the July Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. Thank you, Brooke! Check out her this thorough and enticing call for submissions that she just posted.

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

March to Your Own Drum!

Brooke has selected a really fun theme with a lot of possibilities for diverse topics: Marchin’ to Your Own Drum. You can find out all the details, including how to submit a post, the deadline for submissions, and topic ideas at her call for submissions.

Please spread the word to other bloggers you know and people with an interest in assistance dogs. I’m optimistic that this will be a great carnival. Not only do we have a great topic and a very able host, but I think we will probably have some new participants because of the “buzz” I’ve already seen on this topic on Twitter and because the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) just published an article on the carnival in their newsletter.

So, fellow partners, trainers, puppy raisers, friends, allies, and others, please talk up the ADBC on your social media or elsewhere. And for those who want to participate, please start thinking about what you want to write. If you are new to the carnival and want to see past issues or learn other details about how it works, please check out the carnival home page. If you have any further comments or questions, please comment below!

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

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Karyn, My Human Partner in the Assistance Dog World

The theme for the upcoming Chronic Babe Carnival is “Best Friends,” and the theme for the upcoming Disability Blog Carnival is “Community.”

I thought I couldn’t participate in either carnival, because I no longer have friends in real life/”meatspace,” and, while I have many online communities, they are quite diverse and often don’t overlap. One of the communities that is newest for me — and a great source of joy — is the assistance dog blogger community.

Although I have been training and partnering with service dogs since 1999 and been a member of — and written articles for — the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners for many years, because my multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) prevents me from attending any assistance dog (AD) conferences or events, or even meeting other AD partners in my area, I never really felt a part of the AD community, until now.

Now, especially with the success of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnivals, I have connected to AD partners from all over the world, with all types of ADs, both program dogs and owner-trained dogs. I feel a special closeness to several, such as Kali of Brilliant Mind Broken Body, who, like me, is a disability-rights activist as well as service-dog partner, and L-squared of Dog’s Eye View, from whom I learned the daily ins-and-outs of training with a successor dog at a guide-dog school, as well as Ashley, Brooke, Carin, Andrea, and too many others to name. I feel I have a home in the assistance dog world, at last.

However, when I think about who has been there for me since the beginning, and with whom I have shared the most, there’s no doubt that it’s Karyn, of Through a Guide’s Eyes. Karyn has been my best, and often my only, assistance dog friend, for over a decade.

Karyn and I have a lot more in common now than we did when we first met online, most of it associated with loss, unfortunately. But sometimes the strongest friendships are forged out of hardship, and I do believe that one of most compelling aspects of our relationship is how we inspire each other to keep fighting.

We met on a list for people training their own ADs in 1999. I had never trained a dog in obedience or assistance work before, and I had serious doubts that my bouvier des Flandres, Jersey, and I were up to the task. I met a lot of people on the list who provided information and encouragement, but it was a big list, sometimes contentious, and often I felt overwhelmed, lonely, and scared.

Karyn soon started her own partner-training list, which is typical of both of us — if we can’t find what we need, we organize it ourselves — and invited me to join it. That’s when we became friends.

Back then, Karyn’s major disabilities were the ones she was born with, incomplete quadriplegia and hearing impairment, as well as a new one — vision loss — which she expected would progress. She had some stable disabilities and some unknowns, but she was full of energy, very independent, and went out a lot.

Her primary need was for a dog who could help her be safe and mobile in the world with decreased vision, as well as alerting her to sounds and providing physical assistance at home. Her assistance dog, Chimette (Met for short), was a border collie mix from a shelter. Karyn ended up going the owner-training route for the same reasons as me: No program would take us.

Met guiding Karyn across the street. Karyn, a thin white woman with brown hair pulled back into a pony tail, a pale blue button-down shirt and blue jeans, using a black powerchair, being guided by Met, who has longish silky hair, a lanky dog slightly larger than a standard border collie, with brown markings. He is panting, with his tongue hanging out and wearing a leather guide harness. Karyn wears large black sunglasses and is smiling with joy.

Met and Karyn, showing off their teamwork.

In Karyn’s case, this was because of her multiple-disability status. She spent years on a program waiting list for a hearing/service dog. When she realized she’d need guide work, too, and decided the program might never take her on anyway, Karyn took matters into her own hands.

In my case, programs would not accommodate my MCS. After being rejected by the only program that seemed like a possibility, I, too, decided to go it on my own.

Because our disabilities were so different, so were our lifestyles and the tasks we needed our dogs to do. I had MCS and chronic fatigue syndrome/mygalic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). I was ambulatory within my home, but had to spend most of my time resting. I used a mobility scooter on the rare occasions I went out. I had to avoid going out as much as possible, because exposures to chemicals used by the rest of the world made me sick. I wanted a service dog to help me save energy and avoid exposures at home, and to assist me in occasionally going to the store myself, something I hadn’t done in years.

I also needed a hypoallergenic dog that was happy to spend a lot of time snoozing. Karyn needed a dog who could learn a huge number of skills and keep sharp for extended periods. Therefore Karyn adopted Met as an older puppy from the shelter, and I got Jersey, a phlegmatic five-year-old former show dog, through breed rescue.

Jersey eyes Sharon

Jersey and me in her golden years, circa 2003

[Photo description: Jersey, with a silky black coat and cropped ears, sits in profile, her head turned toward Sharon. Jerseys fall covers where her right eye would be.]

The beginning of my relationship with Karyn was mostly that of a mentorship. She had the experience I lacked, and I was eager for information and support. She helped me find books and articles on training your own service dog (SD), places to buy SD equipment, and encouraged me to try new methods (including a weird new tool called a “clicker,” which I resisted!). Perhaps most important, Karyn helped me believe in myself and Jersey. She both encouraged me and led by example. After all, if she could train her first assistance dog herself, and teach him guide, hearing, and service skills then what was stopping me?

Not too long after I joined Karyn’s list, she developed MCS, and our roles reversed. Suddenly, the ways she’d structured her life around her other disabilities were thrown into disarray by the limitations imposed by MCS. In this new realm, I was acting as a resource and support, providing information and referral for fragrance-free products and instructions on how to detox and avoid exposures, and offering a virtual ear for her grief and frustration.

Another unfortunate experience we soon came to share was having SDs with significant health issues. Met had a number of health issues, including allergies and sensitivities, as well as epilepsy, all of which Karyn managed with incredible care and dedication, reading every book, researching any treatment, and joining any list that might help her assistance dog stay as healthy as possible. He struggled with health issues all his life, and it was a balancing act that Karyn was never free of until he died.

View from behind of Met guiding Karyn down the side of a suburban street. Met has black, silky fur and a nylon harness with royal blue. He has long, lalnky legs. Karyn's long brown hair is i na ponytail. Her powerchair is black, with a red bag hanging on the back of the seat. She wears a long-sleeved blue shirt that matches Met's gear. There is a tall black fence just past some sparse grass on their right, and above are a row of trees, mostly bare except for red leaves. The sky is blue. It looks like a beautiful fall day.

Met and Karyn set off to do errands.

In my case, soon after Jersey graduated from service-dog-in-training to SD, she developed glaucoma, and lost an eye. However, like Karyn, I decided to see what my dog wanted to do — retire or continue working? She chose work. Of course, Karyn was supportive.

Having another SD partner in our lives who understood MCS also came to be valuable to both of us. We could discuss how to make a dog shampoo that was safe for us or gripe about strangers who got their fragrances on our dogs. Karyn provided true practical assistance to me, as well, combining her incredible ingenuity, craftsmanship, and generosity with her care for my health: she constructed and mailed me SD equipment designed especially for my needs. One example is this amazing SD leash, which connects to a waist belt she also made.

A black belt made of nylon webbing with a D-ring on each side and a plastic quick-release buckle attached to a complex leash of double-thick inch-wide nylong webbing. One section is 28 inches, with heavy-duty metal easy-use clasps on each end, and a D ring three inches from the base. The other half of  the leash is 28 inches in two pieces, with a metal square as a "hinge" and at one end, and a metal clasp at the other.

Of course I asked for black. It goes with everything!

Knowing that the materials were coming from a non-scented environment, and having them arrive wrapped in aluminum foil (to prevent contamination during shipping), was a huge bonus.

When I moved into a new home and needed to modify the door handles, Karyn created and mailed over twenty door-pulls for Gadget to use to open and close my doors (closet doors; bathroom, bedroom, and refrigerator doors; doors to and from the outside), and later, pulls for cupboards and drawers, too.

A door  with a metal door lever with a red nylon webbing pull attached. It has a knot in the bottom. Next to the door is a cupboard, with a cabinet door and three drawers. Thin, turquoise nylon pulls hang from the cabinet doorknob and the knob of one of the drawers.

I have door pulls to match every type of door or drawer, color-coordinated with the decor of each room!

Then, I got Gadget, a one-year-old bouvier rescue, to train as successor to Jersey. By then, Karyn and I both had a lot of wisdom to share with each other. We both had converted to clicker training. We both had trained our first dog. Unfortunately, Gadget, like Met, was plagued by lifelong health problems. However, also like Met, he was a fantastic service dog. Met was Karyn’s heart-dog, Gadget was mine.

It never occurred to me to retire him. He loved work, and I loved working him and having his assistance. Because Gadget and Met shared so many similar health issues — vaccinosis, drug sensitivities and food allergies, and a related tendency toward seizures — I relied a great deal on Karyn’s knowledge of alternative veterinary care to keep Gadget healthy.

Gadget runs with grocery bag from van/end of ramp

Gadget was an amazing service dog.

In 2007, two major changes took place in our lives: Met died, and I got Lyme disease. Jersey had died almost exactly a year before Met. Although I was sad, and I missed her, her death was not traumatic. She had been retired for several years; Gadget was working like a pro; Jersey had lived past the breed’s life-expectancy; and she did not have a long, drawn-out illness. I also had my family and friends, my personal care assistants (PCAs), my human partner, and most importantly, Gadget, there to support me.

Karyn’s loss of Met was another story. She did not have a successor dog already trained. She lived alone and didn’t have the supports I had. Met had been her everything, and I was deeply concerned for her. For as long as I’d known Karyn, she and Met had been a team, and I worried about how she would cope without him, not just in terms of the loss of increased independence and mobility that Met had provided, but as the emotional center of her world.

Of course, I didn’t give Karyn enough credit, because she has been a survivor of hard times her whole life. Two months after Met passed, Karyn adopted Thane, a red and white border collie. It was a hard time for Karyn — raising and training Thane in the wake of her grief. He was an adolescent and had some of the typical behavior challenges that come with adopting a young dog, as well as health problems that Karyn had to play detective with and solve, as she had so often for Met.

A young border collie, with a medium-to-short coat, reddish-brown and white. He is lying on the floor chewing on something.

Enter Thane.

I was not able to be as much of a support to Karyn as I wanted at that time. Lyme disease took over and ravaged my life, leaving me with almost nothing to give. I was in excruciating pain, immobilized, affected cognitively and psychologically. Karyn later told me she worried she was losing me, too.

Thus, we developed additional commonalities neither of us would have wished for — new or worsened disabilities. Karyn’s vision and hearing both deteriorated, as she became deafblind. I went from being a part-time wheelie to a full-time chair user and experienced for the first time what it was like not to have the use and control of all my limbs. Having a friend who understood first-hand what this was like — someone who “got” what a catastrophe it was when my powerchair didn’t work — yet who never treated me like a freak or a tragedy for having multiple disabilities was very comforting.

I also lost the ability to speak most of the time. Because of being hard-of-hearing/deaf, Karyn could definitely relate to my frustrations with using TTY relay to make calls. She was one of the few people who was easy to talk to on the phone, since she used a TTY, too.

At this time, too, our shared philosophy of “overtraining” our assistance dogs really proved itself. We’d both trained Gadget and Met to perform extra skills that were “just in case” — skills that, most of the time, we didn’t use. But disabilities — and their attendant pain, fatigue, or chemical exposures — can be unpredictable. Some days those “frivolous” skills were downright necessary, and now we were both in a position to realize just how much we needed our dogs.

Karyn missed very keenly all the assistance Met had provided — not just the obvious skills, like guiding, but some of the occasional behaviors, too, as well as just basic house manners she’d taken for granted. It was an incredibly hard time for her, struggling to get Thane on track while missing Met so much; I read her emails with interest, but was often too sick to reply. Knowing her deafblindness was progressing at a fast and unpredictable rate, Karyn rushed to get Thane’s guiding skills established above all else. I hoped that she knew how hard I was rooting for her and Thane.

In my home, meanwhile, Gadget was performing many of those “bonus” behaviors every day. Because of my speech problems, the effort of having trained manual and voice commands for all Gadget’s skills also now paid off in a huge way. I relied on him more than I ever had. At my sickest and loneliest, my least functional, Gadget became my everything. He helped me survive.

Then, just as I was starting to improve, Gadget got cancer. Near the end of Gadget’s life, two years after Met had died, Karyn told me she needed some space from hearing the details of Gadget dying. It reminded her too painfully of Met’s downward spiral. I’ll admit, I felt particularly sad and lonely, not having Karyn’s support, but I appreciated her honesty.

Then Gadget died, and I was beside myself. Some days, I thought I would just explode into pieces. Karyn was truly there for me.

When I was grieving Gadget, Karyn knew better than anyone else the utter desolation of having lost my assistant, heart-dog, partner, and companion. The bond between a person and the dog they’ve trained to make the world more navigable, less exhausting, less pain-filled, is one that few can grasp. The rending of that bond is terrible and impossible to convey. Only someone else who has suffered such a loss can truly comprehend it.

To this day, I don’t expect true understanding from most people about my ongoing grief over Gadget’s death, except for Karyn. It’s a loss of a part of ourselves. Our furry boys had assisted us, day in and day out. They were at our sides all the time. We had trained and learned with them, fitting their skills to our particular needs and styles; so when we lost them, we lost our students and teachers, as well as our friends, companions, and assistants.

Likewise, when I got Barnum, the bouvier puppy I hoped would be Gadget’s successor, and was full of both fantasies and fears about his ability to grow into a service dog, Karyn understood. When I was buffeted by grief and my inevitable disappointment that Barnum was not Gadget, Karyn understood that, too. Karyn didn’t judge me for my frustration, anger, confusion, and grief that Barnum was not Gadget. She knew the desperation of needing a trained service dog now, and instead, having to respond with patience to a puppy who was taking every last drop of energy and goodwill I could muster.

By now, Thane is an accomplished guide dog and has some service and hearing skills under his belt, too. Karyn continues to hone their teamwork and expand his repertoire.

Thane in a red nylon guide harness, crosses the street with Karyn. There is a full canvas bag hanging off the back of her chair, suggesting that they are heading home from shopping.

Thane knows his stuff these days!

A continent divides Karyn and me — with her in Oregon and me in Massachusetts, and neither of us able to travel — yet we have spoken on the phone, even though I couldn’t speak and she couldn’t hear. She sent me a video of Met and her working together, which gave me the idea to make a video of Jersey and me, which I sent her. (Unfortunately, I also sent it to other people, who didn’t return it, so I don’t have any video of Jersey.)

Karyn still sends me pictures, and I try to describe my pictures and videos of my dogs so that they have some meaning for her. We have supported each other through celebrations and losses, triumphs over adversity and deep despair. Between the two of us, we have dealt with more disabilities and health conditions than you could imagine!

For a dozen years, through big differences in our disabilities, where we lived, who was in our lives, and five different dogs between us, she has been the one constant in my online life. I am so grateful to her for everything she has given me, knowingly and unknowingly, the role model she has been, and the confidante. This is my love letter to you, Karyn. Thank you.

Karyn sitting indoors, a laundry basket behind her. Thane is wearing a magnificent cape of powder blue, with reflective white stripes, which extends from his neck to his rear, and which has a metal guide handle extending from the left side of his back. He is on his back legs, with his front legs on Karyn's lap, looking straight up into her face, as if he is just about to kiss her. Karyn is laughing and talking to him, with her hands on his ears.

Karyn and Thane enjoy a moment of mutual adoration (Of course Karyn made all of Thane's gear!)

– Sharon, and the spirits of Jersey and Gadget (thank you for making her a better handler, trainer, and mom for us, Karyn!) and Barnum, SDiT (forevermore trying to catch up to Thane)

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.

Field Trip Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I have a doctor’s appointment. I’ll be bringing Barnum — not in to the appointment, itself — he’s not ready for that. But he’ll come for the trip.

My plan is to arrive early, so we can train in the  van and then in the parking lot before my appointment. I’ll test him on the Level One behaviors (come, sit, down, touch, and leave it) as our Level Three On the Road test, and whatever he fails (and probably whatever he passes, too), I’ll train with him more, as well as loose-leash walking in a totally new environment.

During my appointment, my PCA will watch Barnum (when she isn’t helping me with transferring, un/dressing, un/loading the chair, etcetera). I’m bringing frozen, stuffed Kongs for him to occupy himself in my absence, though he probably won’t be interested in them because he’ll be too excited about being away from home.

Because my PCA and I don’t each have cell phones (there’s no reception where I live), I’ll bring my two-way radios. That way, my PCA and I can communicate when she’s dog-sitting, and I can let her know when I need her and check in on how she and Barnum are doing.

If Barnum performs well during our “pre-game” practice session — if he is able to focus on me and respond correctly to cues — I might even take him inside the building for additional training, either before or after my appointment, depending on timing. I won’t take him inside unless he’s truly ready for that and can be calm, under control, and paying enough attention to learn anything.

Public access laws in my state don’t cover teams in training, so the clinic is not legally obligated to let me in with him to train, but I’ve been going there for many years. Thus, the staff are used to seeing me with a service dog, so I don’t think they’ll object.

If we do go inside, we’ll practice working walk, go to mat (I’m bringing one of his mats with us), and whatever else we can manage. I’ll probably use the waiting room and the bathroom. If he really blows me away, I might ask to go up and down the hall or into an exam room, for just a moment. All in all, we will probably be inside for only a few minutes.

Still, it will be a huge accomplishment if I’m able to even bring him inside. Heck, it’ll be an accomplishment if he can pay attention to me in the parking lot! He might be so distracted that I just have to click and treat for not pulling on leash or acknowledgement of my existence.

Tonight, in preparation, I dug out my “In Training” patches to put on his harness, as well as one of the “Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patches. It’s been almost a decade since those “In Training” patches were used! Whether they see the light of day tomorrow depends on how we do in the parking lot.

I felt a ripple of excitement and pride seeing those white crescent patches, with the neat black lettering, “In Training,” velcroed in place on the harness.

A lot of people focus on when the patches come off — when the dog goes from SDiT to SD. However, there’s a huge step that comes before: arriving at SDiT in the first place.

My big fear is that he has not generalized toilet training — that he doesn’t know the concept of “inside” applies to buildings other than our house — but he won’t learn that without exposure and practice. You can bet I will be extra, extra vigilant about any movement that might potentially lead to a lifted leg or a squat! Please, please, please don’t let him pee on the waiting room rug. (That’s one reason I might just head directly for the bathroom.)

Whether or not he actually enters the building, our public access work is finally beginning! Please cross your fingers and paws for us!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I remember my first official SDiT outing, it was fun! I earned a lot of hot dogs!), and Barnum (The car? We’re going in the car? Oh goody-goody-goody-goody!)

P.S. I’ll try to get some pictures or video of our adventure, if possible.

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)

QuickPress: Barnum’s First Service Skill! (Well, sorta.)

This was not at all planned. Today I am having another “stuck day” like I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

Today was not as bad, in that I have more range of motion (ROM) in my arms, but still cannot pull myself up into a sitting position to transfer or to prop myself up to use the computer. Problems with legs and torso (especially abdominal muscles).

Unfortunately, the PCA working today has injured her back and is currently unable to help with transfers. What to do?

Before she arrived, Barnum was hanging out with his front half on my bed, looking out the window, enjoying the fact I was awake. I tried to lure him toward me, but we were not communicating. Note to self: Teach Barnum how to come closer to me on the bed, put behavior on verbal and nonverbal cue.

Anyway, when the PCA got here, by writing notes, I was eventually able to ask her to give me one of Barnum’s tug toys, which we seldom use (to keep it special). It’s not one of his favorites (which is surprising, because usually there are few toys Barnum doesn’t love), but having kept it from him most of the time still makes it interesting enough for the occasional tug game. It never occurred to me I could use it as an assistive device, but I needed someone to help pull me forward, and Barnum loves to tug and is very strong!

So Gloria handed me the toy. It’s a yellow slightly-stuffed “tuff” toy, about two feet long, called “Ultimate Tug-o-War” made by mydogtoy.com. I got it as part of my quest for toys that Barnum could not destroy in five minutes of aggressive chewing. (I’ve been working on a post about Barnum the Destroyer for quite a while, with ratings and pictures of which toys I suggest for other large, aggressive chewers, and which toys I don’t recommend, and why.) This one’s rated nine-out-of-ten on the toughness scale of “soft toys,” with many, many layers of fabric and stitching to make it hard to shred. It has a ring on each end and a bar in the middle. Below are some pics of Barnum with the toy.

Barnum chews on the center bar of his yellow-and-black tug toy, decorated with black and white bones. He is sitting on a tan dog bed, with his head down.

Mm, chewy.

Barnum lies on tan dog bed, looking into the camera. The yellow tug toy is laying between his front legs. His right paw sits over the ring on one end of the toy, while the other end lies across his upper left leg. He has a "caught in the act" startled expression on his face.

What? You said I could have it.

Anyway, Gloria gave it to me. I showed it to Gadget, who got very interested. I held it out. He gripped on. I pulled. He pulled. He thought we were playing tug first thing in the day. How lovely! His favorite game! I used his counter weight of pulling to pull my upper body into sitting position.  Yay!

I wanted to hug him and praise him and give him treats, but I wasn’t able to. I put down the toy, too, and didn’t continue to play, which I realize was a mistake, in hindsight. However, at the time, I was in pain, and I really had to pee. I just wanted to get into my powerchair and get to the bathroom.

So, that was very exciting. Obviously, this is not a finished service skill in any way, shape, or form, but it gives me some ideas of what may work as a service skill in the future. Later, I tried to interest him in the toy again when I had clicker and treats and was functioning a little better. But he didn’t want to take it.

I think there were a few factors causing this unusual desire not to grab a tug. One is that it’s not a favorite. If I had held out his spider, I’m sure he would have pounced. Another thing is that earlier he got no reinforcement for tugging with me. He tugged, and then afterward, we didn’t keep playing, he got not praise (because I couldn’t make a sound), no clicks, no treats, etc. Also, now I did have the clicker and treats, so he went into training mode, meaning he kept targeting (nose touching) the toy.

He was also not getting the usual cues for tug. We don’t normally play in my bed. I’m not normally lying down. I wasn’t making any of the noises he associates with play. For example, I couldn’t say my usual cue for tug: “Git it!” Another note to self: Teach tug in bed and nonverbal cue for “Git it!”

Finally, our default for me holding anything out to him is for him to gently touch it with his nose. So, that’s what he did. I tried to shape it into a grab, but I wasn’t up to it, physically.

Nonetheless, there we have it. Barnum has helped me in a useful way for the first time! I still don’t know if we will make it as a service dog team, but I hope so! It felt really, really good to have faced that problem, figured out a way he could help, and then put it into action.

Planned upcoming posts (not necessarily in this order, and not necessarily on time!): Barnum videos of food versus games; memorial to Gadget on the anniversary of his death; and intersection of Lyme and my other diseases — which cause what?

Your comments are always warmly received.

Peace,

Sharon, Barnum (SDiT), the muse of Gadget, and the spirit of Jersey (who never played tug a day in her life)

stuck day

today is a stuck day. i haven’t had one in a long time. i thought i was done with them. that’s lyme for you. once you think you’re doing better, it returns and kicks your ass.

you probably can’t tell today is different from my writing, except that i’m not using caps. if i tried to use caps, i wouldn’t be able to write/post. that’s because all i can move right now are my hands, my facial muscles, some minor head/neck movement like small nods, and the lower part of my right arm. with great exertion and pain, actually, i can move more of both arms, but that’s only for necessities, like signing, typing, positioning. i’ve also reread this later when i was more functional and corrected the huge number of phrases that made no sense.

here’s what a stuck day is like: i wake up and think, “oh, i have to pee.” i realize that i’m in a lot of pain and feel weak, and the idea fleetingly crosses my mind that i might need help to get out from under the covers. “nah,” i tell myself. “don’t be such a drama queen. once you get going you’ll be fine.”

So (oh look, i did a caps! the drugs are kicking in!), I roll onto my side, and i get stuck. i can’t get the blankets off me. i can’t even move my arms or my legs, i realize. i can’t talk. ohshitohshitohshit.

then, i have to find my call button. this is the doorbell i wrote about in a previous post. no, i’m sorry, i can’t put the link in right now. maybe later, when i can move. [note: i’m doing a bit better now, so i’ve put in said links.]

anyway, i need to hit the button which is now loose on top of my overbed table. with great effort i get my left hand up onto the table, and it crawls around like a crab, searching. i hit my “clik-r” clicker button, and i hear barnum pop up. sorry buddy. bad trainer. no cookie. eventually i find and press the doorbell button. thank god!

here’s the problem: i’m lying on my side with my back to the door. i can’t talk or really make any sound. i can’t move at all except my left hand. so when i hear carol, my pca, open my door, i know she is waiting for me to say something or indicate something. and i appear to be all snuggled up, asleep. i try to sort of flap my left hand, opening and closing it, hoping she can see it from where she’s standing, but apparently she can’t, because I hear the door shut. DAMMIT!

“well,” i think, “i’ll just have to ring again. eventually she’ll realize i wasn’t ringing by accident in my sleep.”

yeah, right. cuz i can’t find the fucking doorbell button this time. i press the clicker again another couple of times — barnum’s really curious as to what’s happening now — and i can’t find the button. through tremendous effort i pull myself up a few inches to better search the table and find the button. i grab it — not letting it go anymore today — and ring it repeatedly.

i try to roll onto my back so i can communicate better, but can’t. fortunately, betsy comes to the door. yay! I had assumed she was asleep. she asks if i rang. i sign “yes.”

she asks what’s going on. i sign, “stuck,” which is a v-hand shape, finger tips on either side of adams apple.

her sign is rusty. she can’t remember that word.

“is it your heart?” she asks.

I shake no, then fingerspell S-T-U….

“You’re stuck!” she announces.

Relief. Nod.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

Affirmative.

Thank god, betsy knows the drill. carol does, too, but she has back issues and is getting over the flu, and betsy understands me when i’m nonverbal better than anyone else does. also she’s strong as a power-lifter. she pulls the heavy blankets off me. she pulls my legs toward the side of the bed. she moves my pchair into position. she grabs my hands and pulls me into a sitting/slumped position. I take a moment to rest, then she lifts me onto the chair. i’m no lightweight. i’m always surprised how strong she is.

barnum is overjoyed to see betsy — and me out of bed — and he throws himself between us, wriggling, wagging, kissing, pressing against us. he is soaking up betsy’s attention primarily, because she’s more capable of good butt-scratching than I am. i ask her to stop so i can give barnum some attention, have him just focus on me for a bit.

refreshed by puppy love, we get back to business. i take the call button with me to the bathroom. once there, betsy picks me up off the chair while i pull down my pants (fortunately the muscle lock has eased enough now that I can do this), and i pee . . . for a long time! (you know the scene in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks pees endlessly and Mae/Madonna takes out a stopwatch to time it? it was like that, except i wasn’t all hungover and gross.) we chat a little, mostly consisting of me mouthing/signing, “this sucks. why is this happening?” and exchange more dog love. Betsy helps me back onto the chair and then settles me in bed (without the quilts, which are too heavy, and even when i’m doing better, could immobilize me just by their weight alone). i just keep my light organic cotton sheet and blanket.

then she leaves me to go do other things and carol steps back in. my first priority is getting pain and muscle relaxant meds in me, so I can function better. i do a lot of mouthing and miming to get across what i need. carol and i get my laptop computer open and readjust my position, overbed table, and screen so i can communicate with her by typing.

one of the worst parts about stuck days is when they are apparently caused for no reason. i have no idea why today i’m doing so much worse than yesterday. i don’t know if this is my fall crash, and now i will be wrecked for weeks or months to come, or if this is just a blip. i don’t know if this is a result of the new Lyme treatment drug i started Thursday. fortunately, i am too exhausted, painful, and crappy feeling to care much about what it all means. i’m just focused on getting through, minute by minute — or actually, task by task. i feel relief that i have carol and betsy here to help me. it feels so much better to have peed and have the right bolsters supporting me in bed. writing this blog gives me something to occupy my brain, other than worrying what the cause of Mystery Stuck Day is and whether it will stretch out into weeks or more from here.

(the meds are really kicking in now, which is good because i can move better and feel less crappy. but it’s bad because i took them on an empty stomach, so i’m getting sleepy and dopey, and i want to finish this blog before i go back to sleep.)

several times since waking up, i have missed Gadget so bad it was a physical ache. if i’d had the energy to spare, i would have cried. but that would have wrecked the small physical gains i’d made, and i don’t even think i have the lung capacity for deep breaths, so i just locked those feelings in. in my heart, i was crying. it’s 20 days till the anniversary of his death, and i feel so heavily the weight of his absence today. he could have helped me transfer — to and from the bed, chair, and toilet. he could have gone for carol or betsy so i wouldn’t have had the stress of not being able to indicate i needed their help. he could have carried messages to them telling them exactly WHAT i needed. he could have opened my door again and again so that i wouldn’t have had to endure what i did to find the call button the second time.

the only “help” barnum provided was licking my face a LOT. i certainly appreciated that, even more than usual, but a little emotional boost and distraction only gets you so far on a day like this.

there’s also the hindering Gadget would NOT have done. (For the record, Jersey wouldn’t have helped me much on a day like this, because she was trained and worked when I was much more functional, but she also would have been very easy — no demands.) gadget wouldn’t have jumped up with his forelegs landing on my legs after i was back in bed, causing severe pain. he could have let himself out to pee and then come straight back in. he wouldn’t have stepped on my burning feet when i was sitting on the toilet. and then. . . .

when carol left me after i was resettled and typing this post, barnum started The Barking. Lately, once a pca (especially carol, his favorite) leaves, he tries to demand their return. after all, i am Boring Lady, stuck in bed, not playing or giving love or attention, while he could be following carol around the kitchen, watching her prep my meals. hearing lovey-dovey talk. getting rubbed behind the ears. etcetera. so, the second they leave my bedroom, he sits at my door and barks.

which is why the pcas all have to ignore barnum until i get up for the day. but i am still dealing with the extinction barking while barnum tries his damnedest to change my tyrannical rule.

lately, i’ve been dealing with this by working on “bark” and “quiet” with him, but being nonverbal, i couldn’t say quiet. HOWEVER, having learned from the past, he knows 3 cues for quiet: ASL for quiet, the word “quiet,” and the sound, “shhhh.” I taught, “Shhh,” because it’s a sound i can make even when i can’t speak. the ASL for quiet requires lifting hands to mouth height, which I can’t do right now.

so, after he has started the very loud, very sharp barking, it occurs to me that i can actually do something about this. i try to call him over to put his front end on the bed near my upper body, but he really only knows all the many ways i have of telling him “off,” for all the times he tries to get on the bed, because normally he wants on and I want off. of course, today i am patting the bed and making kissy noises and he just stands there, waiting for me to make my meaning clear. I can’t communicate “up” nonverbally. something to remember for later: need to teach signed cue for “paws up!” but i have my clik-r, which, despite its other faults (not my preferred clicker), is good for a day like today for two reasons:

  1. it takes very little pressure to depress the button, so even on a weak day, i can usually manage it
  2. it’s very, very quiet. barnum has excellent hearing, so he can hear it even if i click during one of his ear-splitting barks.

fortunately, i always have treats close to hand, so i click and treat for a silent moment. then we start practicing “shhh,” which goes well. he’s bored, and now i’ve given him something to focus on. occasionally i throw in the cue for “bark,” just to keep things interesting.

i am having trouble pitching the treats onto the floor, so i hold my open hand, palm up, on the bed, a treat on it, and barnum takes it that way. much easier. also, interesting note: he was ignoring most of the treats i threw on the floor, because they weren’t “good enough.” But when i offered them in my palm, he took them. could it be the energy expended was not equivalent to the value of the treat if he had to chase it? Or that, love-bug that he is, the contact involved in taking from my open hand added value? or that he liked the chance to “eat off the bed” which he normally isn’t allowed? the novelty?

at any rate, this gave me an idea. i do want him to learn to have paws/front up on the bed when i need his help, when invited, but not to have any part of his body ON my legs or feet — or other body parts — as that’s too painful. so i moved my hands back, closer to my body, for treating, and he jumped up and settled his torso parallel with my legs. actually warmly just barely touching them. felt good, physically and emotionally. perfect.

then i c/t him for making eye contact, for being quiet and still, and started shaping him to rest his chin in my palm. i mostly used luring. usually i try to use targeting or shaping more than luring, but if there’s anything a stuck day teaches, it’s that you use what you can. when i offered the treat in my palm, i’d click when he put his chin in my palm to eat the treat. i did this many, many times. eventually, i pretended to put a treat in my palm, and when he went to get the nonexistent treat, i clicked for contact and treated in my palm. c/t for that, continued. sometimes actual treat in palm, sometimes luring with motion that suggested treat. after a while i shaped the beginnings of a chin target in palm.

as his eye contact got more frequent, i started introducing my hand signal for eye contact, which is ASL for “look into my eyes.”

it felt really good to be accomplishing something when i was able to do so little. i had gone to sleep with all sorts of schemes and plans to work on recall remediation, using the great outdoors and Premack principle stuff i’ve been learning on the training levels list, because barnum’s recall (meaning, coming when called) ranges from great to eh to abysmal/nonexistent. but today’s physical and communication issues put the kibosh on that.

sometimes, actually, it seems like the best training occurs without plans, without grand expectations, but just by using my instinct, my thumb on the raised clicker button, and whatever the dog’s willing to offer. life with disabling chronic illness is unpredictable, and as wheelie catholic put it in a blog recently, that’s the thing about access — it isn’t a problem until it is. much the same as with everything with a severely fluctuating disability — it isn’t an issue until it is.

suddenly, nothing could be taken for granted, and it forced me to get back to the fundamentals of clicker training: see what the dog is offering, and shape it using just a click and some food. no target sticks. no body movement. no voice. it granted me a great feeling of power and control, of communication and making things happen, on a day when i otherwise was pretty well powerless and struggled to make myself understood by the people around me.

i still missed gadget terribly, because we already had a working language, and because he could have actually helped instead of just offering a challenge to overcome. On the other hand, i did tell barnum’s breeder i like a challenge. be careful what you ask for.

Please comment, if you feel inclined.

-Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget (and Jersey)


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