Posts Tagged 'service dog video'

With a New Service Dog the “Moments” Are Many, Stark, and Blended

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.

These Are the Moments

It’s Assistance Dog Blog Carnival time again, and from the moment Martha posted her call for entries, I knew what I wanted to blog about. The problem was that I’d just written that post at the beginning of the month — before I knew that would be the #ADBC theme.

What I immediately thought of are the moments that occur now, sporadically but frequently, when I think some version of, “Hey, Barnum is actually acting like a service dog now. He is actually making my life easier.” So, yes, I have written about this before, especially lately, but that’s the thing about these moments — they occur frequently, and each one is a little bit different.

Because I have a new camera that’s easier for me to use than my old one — and which can take multiple images in one second, so I can get several pics of Barnum when he’s moving fast — I thought it would be fun to “capture these moments on film.” All the pics in this post were taken within about five minutes tonight.

Sometimes these moments are sit-up-and-take-notice moments, when I am surprised to discover that Barnum knows something I didn’t think he did. Usually that’s a moment when I realize, “He actually knows this cue!” For example, now he will turn on or off the hallway light pretty consistently on the single cue, “Light!” Even with my back to him and me moving away from him. This is noteworthy because he has trained and used this cue mostly in my bedroom and bathroom, so this shows that he’s beginning to generalize the idea and he will look up high on walls now when I say, “Light!” To figure out what I might be talking about.

Barnum standing on hind legs, left front paw planted on the wall, nose on switch plate. Because he has to fit between the powerchair and the wall, he is at an angle, coming to the switch from his right.

When I am done taking pics, I ask him to turn off the light.

Sometimes it’s when I’ve been taking a skill or achievement for granted because I’m used to our level of fluency but someone else sees it in action for the first time. Last week I asked Barnum to open my bedroom door when Betsy was in the room with me, and he ran over and opened it. Betsy said, “Hey! He did that on the first try!” I was surprised because he has been very fluent in that skill for a long time. He almost never needs to make more than one attempt; I didn’t realize she didn’t know. (Such as in the video below, posted four months ago. I decided against making videos tonight; they take too much time. I just wanted to focus on individual moments!)

Similarly, a few days ago Barnum removed my socks when one of my PCAs was here. She smiled and said it was the first time she’d seen him do that. Again, I was surprised. She said she knew he could do it and she’d seen us train it, but she hadn’t seen the whole behavior as a complete working skill before that. I tried to capture the sock removal process on film, but Barnum was so quick, I couldn’t keep him in the frame to take pictures fast enough.

With his front half on the bed, Barnum grabs the toe of the sock on Sharon's left foot.

Beginning with the left foot….

Now standing on the bed, Barnum pulls the toe of the sock on Sharon's right foot. (Her left foot is now bare.)

Moving on to the right foot…

Speaking of socks, another moment is when I realize Barnum is more helpful (easier, faster, more pleasant, whatever) with a task than a human would be. (Please note, humans reading this who sometimes assist me, that this is not any sort of slight against you.) When Barnum takes off my socks, he grabs the toe and pulls until it’s off and then hands it to me; it’s pretty fast and painless.

Barnum pulls the right sock by turning his head and body so the sock is now stretching as it's pulled off.

And twist and puuuuuulllll!

Barnum is now turned diagonal to finish pulling off the very long sock (about two feet long).

And puuuuuuullllll!

An extreme closeup of Barnum's snout -- just part of his nose and the front of his mouth visible with the sock -- tan, red, and blue wool stripes -- protruding from his mouth.

Here ya go!

People, on the other hand, often make quite a meal of sock removal because they are trying to be careful and gentle. I’m in pain a lot, so they are worried about hurting me. I have big, sweaty feet, so removing my socks can be quite a chore, as it’s hard to find socks big enough.

Human assistants often try to loosen the sock, roll it down from the top, ease over my ankle or heel, tug here and there — all out of a desire to be gentle and caring. Unfortunately the process takes too long, which causes me more pain and exhaustion than I want to deal with. Barnum is not thinking about my pain or exhaustion. To him, sock removal is a fun game that might earn him a treat, so it goes fast!

Likewise, I’ve started having Barnum help me off with my long-sleeved tops (something I do several times a day due to fluctuations in temperature and to get to my PICC line).

Barnum is lying on the bed near Sharon's bare feet and pulling on a white long sleeve.

It’s like a sock — for your arm!

I didn’t used to ask him to do this because I thought calling him, getting him in position, and polishing the skill would be more trouble than it’s worth. But I realized last night that actually he can do it quickly and easily, making it less painful than doing it myself or with human help.

I focus my training on the skills I need when I can’t do them alone. When no human assistant is here. When I’d be stuck without Barnum’s assistance. It often seems like overtraining and sometimes I question that choice — until one of those days happen when I really do need that help. But more often I find that I ask him to perform a skill just because he enjoys it, I enjoy it, and it’s easier and more fun than relying on a person. And sometimes because he actually does a better job.

Often it just comes down to attitude or communication. It’s not that people in my life have “an attitude” about helping me, but if Barnum’s in my room, and my PCA is in another part of the house, it’s just more enjoyable and less emotionally tiring to have Barnum help me, which he finds thrilling, than to — for example — pull my PCA away from making my food or doing my laundry — to come over and do something as simple as shut a door or turn off a light or pull down my covers.

Sometimes — usually on a day I’m doing badly — Barnum and I will work together without my really paying attention to how much he’s doing until the series of skills coalesce and I realize, “Hey! He’s making this day a lot more doable.” One realization usually starts that thought train going: “Huh, I only had to ask him that once. Hm, he will do this behavior in a chain with that one and I don’t have to reinforce them separately. . . .”

It took me a long time to get down to writing this post, and then it just flowed out of me, and I think the reason for both the procrastination and the ease is that the moments happen so often now, they are easy to miss. So, on one hand, it’s taken me a while to pick out what to write about, to remember, “What were our recent ‘moments’?” On the other hand, there are so many that once I call them forth I could write an endless post about this moment, then this moment, then this one.

But I don’t want to do that to you, readers. I might put you to sleep!

Barnum sleeping on the bed, Sharon's bare foot in the foreground.

Goodnight, everybody.

Besides, there are a lot of posts to read in this blog carnival, and I know you will want to get them all. I only wanted you to stop here for a moment.

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

P.S. Guess who’s hosting the next #ADBC? Get ready!

The Dance Begins Again

Barnum is one year old now, and I am constantly pleased and impressed with his progress, and mind-boggled and discouraged by discovering new (and seemingly bizarre) problems. (Yesterday, Barnum refused to walk through mud, which he has walked through many times before in his life. So. . . . Huh?)

I love Barnum for who he is. (He is exceptionally lovable.) I probably won’t know for a very long time, however, if he will ever approach service-dog readiness, let alone Gadget-ability.

So, what worked so well with Gadget? What made him my yardstick?

He was a training machine, for one thing, and then we worked together so well as a service-dog team. We really had “the dance” down-pat. Not that we were perfect. We had our rough edges: Skills I trained at the end of his career, as new needs arose, were not 100 percent. I never shed my “clicker dependency” of not trusting that if I didn’t have it in a novel situation, I wouldn’t get what I needed from him. Gadget hated my van, etcetera.

Now I have introduced a different dance — Sue Ailsby’s “Leading the Dance” protocol — with Barnum; because I foresee trouble if I don’t change our routine. In a nutshell, he’s in that bratty, teenager stage where he will try to get what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it. Which is a typical teen thing, and a typical dog thing, and a typical, um, living organism thing, too. So, who can blame him?

Unfortunately for him, that lifestyle doesn’t fit in with my plans.

Part of the problem is that he is bored and under-exercised. I’m working on that. It will really, really help a lot when I get my bad-ass powerchair working, too, so we can go on long, winter walks.

Pchair with headlights

Since my chair is made of used, recycled parts, it hasn’t been clear how to proceed with replacement parts.

You’d have thought I’d have had it fixed by now, but there always seems to be some new minor crisis to contend with that prevents me from wrapping my head around the chair repair issue.

What does “The Dance” Barnum and I are doing now entail? Keeping him leashed to me throughout my waking hours (“the umbilical cord”), singing him a silly song (really!), practicing eye contact, obedience, and downs (all stuff we were already doing) and various other odds and ends. One key factor is to make my PCAs less exciting to him, and to make me the center of his universe — more than I already am.

That’s the nuts and bolts. The feel of it, though, is actually quite a bit like trying to drag an awkward teenage boy onto the dance floor: He doesn’t want to dance, it’s stupid. Why can’t he just hang out with his friends? Oh, well, actually, maybe this is fun. Maybe I’m an interesting dance partner. But no. “This is so weird, do I hafta? Oh, now that I’m focusing on the steps, actually, this is pretty cool. I’m awesome.”

Gadget was more like one of those young ‘uns who runs out onto the dance floor and has no idea that he is a hot mess. He yanks you here and there and flings you about, having a great time, with no idea that you’re not. But, he’s also got the rhythm in him, he just needs some tutoring, and he’s willing, very willing, if there’s something in it for him. He discovers he likes to move and that his partner is actually quite cool.

Over the years, “dancing” together every day, Gadget and I were like an old, married couple. We anticipated each other’s moves and moods. Was the relationship perfect? Of course not, but it worked.

To see how Gadget and I worked together — the smoothness of our dance as well as our stumbles — video is the best. I’m incredibly grateful that Betsy and I were able to make a video of Gadget and me showing off many (but not all) of his skills. My friend and former PCA, Ryan, put the video on youtube for me, divided into two parts.

In this captioned video, Part 1, Gadget retrieves the phone, brings water from the fridge, helps with falls, and more.

Here is the transcript of the video.

Now, for the exciting conclusion: Part 2! In which Gadget alerts me to the oven timer, turns off lights, opens and shuts doors, delivers messages, and more.

Here is the captioned version.

Here is the transcript of the video.

Will there come a day when Barnum and I can waltz as well, or better, than Gadget and I did? It’s possible. I’m listening for the music. . . .

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum

Two Sides of Guardianship

Those who knew Gadget only in his later years remarked on how “good” he was. They saw him in action on youtube or in person and exclaimed over his braininess, calm, or obedience. Even rudimentary obedience skills drew admiration at the grocery store or in the doctor’s waiting room. This short video presents some of the basic behaviors that were so often remarked upon.

[Note: The excerpt referred to above is no longer available. However, you can view the captioned video as part of a longer (7 minute) video here.]

(Click here for a transcript of the video.)

I frequently heard, “I wish my dog would listen to me like that,” or “Where can I get a dog who’s that smart?”

These comments implied that I just happened to adopt a “good” dog, a naturally reliable and obedient being. Of course, this was not the case at all; this behavior was the result of a great deal of training.

Nonetheless, like everyone, Gadget was an individual. He had a unique personality. He was naturally very smart, that was obvious from the first. Further, as we all do, he sometimes made choices based primarily on his inclinations, instincts, or personal judgment.

In this week’s blog, two of my favorite anecdotes that demonstrate Gadget choosing how he interacted with people other than me, based primarily on his reason and instincts, not his training. Two very different sides of his personality emerge; what they share is Gadget acting on his insights.

Guardian, Side 1

Research indicates that perpetrators are much less willing to break into homes or attack people with dogs, especially large, dark-colored dogs. Since Gadget fit this description and had a serious bark as well, he was a terrific deterrent, without ever having to raise a paw. However, on one occasion he also proved to me that he was a thinking guard dog.

Four years ago, I was resting in bed, at night, when I heard my front door open, footfalls, and a man call out. I wasn’t expecting anyone and didn’t recognize the voice.

“Who is it?” I called. I’m sure my voice telegraphed my fright.

I couldn’t make out the response, because Gadget had taken off barking. When I crossed the few steps from my bed to the kitchen, I found a very tall man in heavy boots and a jacket halted in his tracks, Gadget protecting the entrance to my bedroom. Gadget was growling and barking bloody murder, which I heartily supported!

When I drew near, Gadget pinned himself to my side and stayed there.

The man, holding still, but yelling to make himself heard, introduced himself as our town’s fire chief. He was checking on me because I’d called the station earlier in the day. (Smoke from burning brush had been carried by the wind and  penetrated my home, making me quite ill.) Now that I could think for a minute, I saw the firefighter patches on his jacket and cap.

Relieved — and appreciative of the fire chief’s concern — I told Gadget to “down” and “quiet.” Gadget complied and held his stay, but he also held the man’s gaze. The fire chief didn’t act afraid of Gadget — in the country, and in his line of work, large, unfriendly animals probably came with the territory — but he also didn’t make any sudden movements or get any closer to me. That was fine with me because the chief’s clothing smelled of smoke and laundry detergent, which was further aggravating my multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms.

After I’d made it clear that I was okay and thanked him for his visit, the chief left. I released Gadget, hugged and praised him, fed him treats, and invited him onto the bed for a belly rub. I was shaky, recovering from the adrenaline rush and the chemical exposure, but I was also filled with pride. Gadget had acted with terrific discernment. He had appropriately responded to a threat with the very clear warning, “Don’t come any closer.” Yet, when I told him I was in charge and needed him to back off, he did, while remaining watchful.

In previous blogs I’ve written about some of the ways Gadget assisted me with the skills I’d taught him. That night, he showed not only that he could check his instincts and follow obedience commands, but also that he was prepared to defend me even when frightened, himself.

Someone unfamiliar with dog body language might not have noticed it. Though Gadget essentially stood his ground and was definitely ready to lunge if the situation called for it, his periodic hops backward as he started a new series of barks told me he was trying not to show his intimidation. Not every dog, not even every Bouvier, would have stayed by my side. In fact, his predecessor, Jersey (also a Bouvier des Flandres), when faced with something that frightened her, turned and ran!

Long ago, when my body was young, strong, and biddable, I was a self-defense instructor. There is a self-defense aphorism I passed on to all my students: Feel the fear and do it anyway. The point in learning self-defense is not that you lose your fear. On the contrary, someone who has no fear when facing danger is at greater risk of misjudging the situation. Instead, you learn how to use your fear as fuel.

That night, Gadget showed his strength despite fear in two ways. First, he was ready to defend me at his own peril. Second, he allowed me to take over the situation, even though he was still uncertain it was safe to do so. That is the true nature of courage.

Guardian, Side 2

The second example comes from my mother. When preparing Gadget’s memorial, I asked friends and family to email me memories of Gadget. One segment of my mother’s tribute touched me deeply:

I had come to stay with you for a few days last winter, just about a year ago. It was a very difficult time for you, you were so incapacitated and sick, with no voice. I couldn’t understand your signing, which stressed both of us even more.

One morning I was sitting in your living room crying softly. Gadget was on his futon, across the room by the window watching me. He came over to me and put his paw on my knee, looking into my eyes. He seemed to understand that I needed comforting. He was so genuinely sympathetic and kind. At that moment his gesture was the greatest solace in the world for me.

I always wondered if he knew my relationship to you, whether he realized I was your mother. . . . I wondered if he remembered his own mother . . . in his earliest days. Did he have a good, kind mother? Or was he instinctively, basically, kind on his own?

What is most poignant in this story, to me, are two pieces of background you wouldn’t suspect.

The first is that before this visit, my mom wasn’t especially fond of Gadget. She didn’t dislike him. She knew how important he was to me, she was impressed by how much he’d changed from the wild youth I’d adopted (and whom she’d sincerely doubted, in the beginning, was a good choice as an assistance dog — or even as a pet!), but she isn’t an indiscriminate dog lover.

However, within a week, not only did Mom come to recognize just how important Gadget was to me as a skilled assistant, but she also came to appreciate his dear, sweet soul. Mom metamorphosed into one of Gadget’s biggest fans, and when he was diagnosed with cancer six months later, she was one of our staunchest supporters in the fight for his life.

The other piece of background is that Gadget’s comforting behavior toward my mom was largely an aberration. He did not tend to bother himself with people’s mood swings — especially mine! I’m a very emotive person. If I was having a cry, Gadget let me get on with it. (I also think he felt that, as pack leader, I could take care of myself).

On the other hand, my partner, Betsy, rarely displayed her feelings. Sometimes, if she was upset, Gadget ignored her as he did me. However, on the rare occasions Betsy exhibited true distress, Gadget showed great concern, coming to her and nudging her.

Liner Notes

In my last blog, I wrote about how much I miss Gadget. Those feelings have intensified, which is why I don’t write a daily blog. It would just say, “I miss him. I miss him. I want him back. I want him back. He can’t can’t can’t be gone. I miss him. I want him back.”

That would get pretty boring for you.

In the last few days, what I miss most is the gentle presence my mother captured so well. Yesterday, February 19, was the three-month anniversary of Gadget’s death. It was also occasioned by an unexpected trip to the hospital for a very unpleasant procedure. Returning to a dark, quiet house made me yearn even more for both sides of my big-hearted guy: the guardian who barked at anyone coming to the door until he identified them, and the guardian of my heart who made arriving after an exhausting appointment a true homecoming.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget

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