My Velcro Dogs

My Velcro Dogs
Louie, Bradley and Echo

Monday, August 24, 2009

Our summer so far...

Bradley has matured significantly since I last updated. By no means has he reached full maturity, but he's much closer! A few weeks ago, we started working with a trainer. It was long overdue! Not for lack of effort or action on my part, but I just couldn't find a trainer who would work with us on the level I needed. I'm so grateful to have found a trainer who has experience with service dogs! I'm very happy with her and have a lot of confidence that we'll make a lot of progress with her help.

Unfortunately, the trainer, Laura, isn't a guide dog trainer. That means I'm still going to have to find someone to help us once we get to the point of training guiding skills.

Right now, we're still working on public access skills. I expected to be much further in progress than we are at this point, but that's because I underestimated the time it would take Bradley to psychologically mature. As I said, it's getting better and ever since we started working with Laura, he's making a lot of progress.

The biggest problem we're having is my anxiety. He works well and is right on target during training sessions at home and at quiet locations, but the more activity there is going on, the more anxious I get, and he picks up on it. He then gets anxious himself, and things unravel from there. I really hope this is something I'll be able to get more control over the more I work with him. For now, I'm having Laura handle him during our training sessions at crowded places, and he does wonderfully with her. But then, as soon as she hands him off to me, my anxiety causes him to regress.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any intention to have someone else train him and then expect to be able to work him myself. I do want to be involved in his training, and I take him out on my own on a regular basis.

I'll continue to update on our progress in this area.

In other news...
Joe and I are in the market to buy our first house! I've never been so excited. This is something we've both wanted for a long time. Renting is not fun and it's definitely not conducive to having a lot of dogs around like I'd like to. We have an appointment to see a house we've had our eyes on for a few months now that happens to be steps away from where we live now. Although we have yet to be inside it, we already have our hopes up about it, as the location is ideal for us. It's located in a suburban neighborhood, yet is within walking distance to stores and other businesses, which is great for me. It's a cute little red cape with an interior that needs updating, but has character and potential. We're hoping for the best! Otherwise, we'll have to keep hunting and we're tight on time- we want to close before November 30th so we'll be eligible for the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Practice, practice, practice.

And we're going to need LOTS of it!

We took Bradley out with us yesterday and, let me put it this way- he's done much better! It wasn't a complete disaster, but he wasn't SuperDog.

First, we went out for Lunch at Ruby Tuesday. Yes, we eat out WAY too often! He has been there before when he was much younger and did well. However, as I failed to remember, during our first visit, he did not lay under the table. Back then, I was allowing him to lay next to the seat. For safety and consideration of others, it's usually best to keep the dog under the table. I had him stay under the table yesterday, as I have been doing for a while. Unfortunately, the table only had one center leg and 4 bars extending around the base. This left very little room for Bradley to lay comfortably. He either had to lay with his legs on a bar or had to stretch out so the bar was under his armpits. Option number 2 meant there was less pressure on his body and he was more comfortable, but it also meant his nose was almost sticking out into the aisle. This created that much more temptation to sniff around and do a move that I call a "scootch". I'm sure anyone with a dog has witnessed the scootch before! This is when a dog is placed in a down stay and not so subtly inches toward a source of interest, like an object or a smell. When he did this, he ended up with his whole head sticking out into the aisle. Overall, he was well behaved. I can't hold it against him that it wasn't a comfortable environment for him.

Our next destination was Barnes and Noble. This is an environment he's very familiar with. It's a good place to practice because it's usually pretty crowded but still quiet and relaxed. He did very well here, for the most part. Unfortunately, there were just too many curious people who couldn't resist initiating contact with him. This is his biggest weakness and I'm actually a little worried about how hard it will be to move past. He loves people so much and as soon as someone starts interacting with him, he literally goes nuts. He pulls on the leash, lunges and makes every effort within his power to get to the person and become best friends with him or her.

I can't wait to buy an actual guide dog harness for him. I want to train him and practice with him with the actual equipment that we'll be using so I won't have to retrain things to suit the harness.

The posted photo shows Bradley under the table at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant. This is the position he was most comfortable in, with the bar almost under his arm pit, instead of where his weight was focused.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A long overdue update!

Well it's certainly been a long time since I've updated here. We've had some significant changes in the past several months but there's a little too much to cover in a single update, so I'll keep it focused on the main purpose of this blog; Bradley's guide dog training.

Bradley is now 14 months old. I can't believe how time flies... He's now about 65 lbs, has gotten taller and has filled out some more. The consensus is that he's also very good looking :)

I became much more relaxed with his training regiment over the last several months. I came to realize that he was still very young and immature and didn't want to expect too much of him too soon. I took him to places like the movies, and stores every so often but not frequently or for long periods of time. I think the reduction in pressure on him paid off. He's now much more relaxed in new environments and looks at our training sessions at various public places as extra fun experiences. (I'm starting to think he likes showing off almost as much as I like showing him off.)

Last night, he made his first trip to Home Depot. I couldn't be happier with his performance. We warmed up a little outside with some short down/stays and recalls and he shined. Once inside, he was eager to explore and get acquainted with the environment. He's been to the grocery store and Target before but Home Depot has a much different atmosphere- different smells, different sounds, different objects... I was very relieved to see how well he adjusted. I was a little worried about the sounds of machines spooking him but we kept a reasonable distance and the sounds confused him but didn't upset him. We'll definitely have to take some more trips there for training sessions since it's such a stimulating environment and perfect for proofing.

While we were there, he demonstrated his newest skill. I was extremely impressed for how well he did it without ever having done it in a formal training exercise before. This new skill is to seek out Joe and bring me to him. The command is "go to daddy!" I was utterly shocked at the enthusiasm and unquestionable demonstration of complete understanding Bradley exhibited! As we work on it more, we'll definitely have to work on a more controlled response. He'll have to guide me to Joe calmly and directly, rather than running to him like a bat out of hell like he did last night. That was fine for last night though- it was his first time practicing the skill outside of home and our primary goal was confidence boosting. As overtly enthusiastic as he was, I was really surprised that he finished in the same manner he finishes a recall; sitting and waiting to be released. I neither expected, nor instructed him to do that so he got major brownie points for it! Another intuitive improvisation he made was waiting for praise from me, rather than Joe. When I give him this command at home, Joe is usually in another room so I tell Joe to give him the praise when Bradley reaches him. However, when Bradley is working, he needs to keep his focus on me and only me. Bringing me to Joe last night really showed me how quickly he's starting to grasp this concept. I'm so proud of him :)

The "go to daddy" command will be very useful to me. Something I've always struggle with is going to stores with someone and having a hard time finding that person if we separate. Not only is it frustrating, but it also often results in anxiety. Joe is almost always with us when we go to various public places for training sessions and he has a good understanding of my needs and Bradley's training, so he's the perfect assistant to train the foundation for seeking specific people out. Eventually we'll move on to teaching Bradley to go to other people.

The posted photo is Bradley, tongue and all, sitting happily in Home Depot last night.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ok, Ok, time to fess up.

I have been seriously, unforgivably negligent in keeping this blog updated and to anyone who actually reads it, I sincerely apologize. I have no good excuse.

It's been hot and humid for a while here and Bradley really does not perform well in those conditions. Therefore, we haven't been doing much outside work, as I felt that pushing him when he didn't want to do it would only have a negative impact on the finished product.

It has cooled down substantially in the past week; cool in the mornings and still pretty warm in the sun during the day. If it keeps up this way, we'll be able to work a lot more than we have been and I'm really looking forward to it.

I started taking Bradley downtown almost daily for the past week and he's done fantastic! He has been suspicious of unfamiliar objects like USPS mailboxes, big trash bags, etc. However, once I "introduce" him to the object, he accepts it rather quickly. We still haven't returned to Victoria's Secret to reintroduce him to the stuffed dog but we probably will within the next week.

We have resolved to take him with us everywhere from now on, for the most part. When we started out on this endeavor, we only took him places when it was convenient for a partially trained dog to be in toe. However, now we recognize how vital each new experience is to his socialization and training so we're bringing him almost everywhere.

I think part of the reason why I was hesitant to bring him so many places before was because I'm not a confrontational person and I dreaded being challenged by businesses. However, I have yet to have a serious problem bringing him anywhere and I hope for that to continue throughout his training.

The "little", and I use that term loosely, guy is getting big! I haven't weighed him lately because that involves me weighing myself (I weigh both of with me holding him and subtract my weight) and that's not something I'm really excited about doing :)

If I was to guess, he's probably between 55 and 60 lbs right now. He was just over 50 about a month ago and he has grown a little so that's my best estimate. To be honest, he is a bit chubby but not any where close to being FAT. He's just very solid. He's not very tall but he's probably grown an inch in the past month or so. I'll measure his height when I have Joe weigh him :)

We're getting close to needing a new "In training" vest. His current one is orange but I prefer red and that's probably what I'll get...unless that implies a different area of service? I'm getting excited about him reaching his full size because then I'll be able to get his harness, which is very exciting. I've told myself not to even get a harness until he's 18 months old so I'm sure he's done growing but I'm not sure I can wait that long!

For having such a clueless handler, Bradley is progressing beautifully. While he doesn't yet know how to guide and will occasionally give into the temptation to make friends with a passerby, for the most part, he really does present himself as a trained service dog. He knows that when he has his vest on, it's business time. I'm so proud of my boy!

I'm going to share some pictures I've taken in the past few weeks; mostly from hiking trips.

And here's the BIG NEWS:
We finally adopted our Greyhound!!! We named her Ruca, after the song by Sublime, Waiting for My Ruca. She's incredibly mellow and sweet. She has been the perfect addition to our pack so far. She's a pretty alpha female but she's not stepping on anyone's toes/paws. She's very submissive to humans- just not our boys :)

I'll include some pictures of her too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Valuable Resource

We dodged a huge bullet tonight. When I came in from being out for a couple minutes, the TV remote was on the floor. Both batteries were missing. I frantically searched around for the batteries, while I called the emergency vet. They gave me the number for the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center.

I can't even explain what a wonderful service this is. I was connected with a vet almost immediately who walked me through everything. She told me to do what I expected I would have to; induce vomiting by feeding hydrogen peroxide. I was certain that if one of the dogs got the battery, it was Bradley. While we were on the phone, I found one of the batteries. That was a slight relief. Once I got of the phone and induced vomiting, I found the other battery! Thank goodness!

We had a near poisoning incident about a year ago with Louie. We were at my grandfather's house and Louie ate one of my grandfather's pills that had accidentally been dropped on the ground without anyone knowing. We were told to call regular poison control. It makes me much more comfortable knowing that there's a resource that is geared specifically towards animals. Although I certainly hope never to need to call again!

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bradley's first fearful experience

Bradley is, for the most part, your typical Golden Retriever puppy; happy, confident and friendly. There have been times when he's been unsure of something but once he's figured out that the new experience isn't dangerous, he accepts it. However, a few days ago, it was another story.

We took him to the mall for some practice and unfortunately, it was much busier than I anticipated. It's back to school shopping time and in CT, it also happened to be tax free week (for the back to schoolers). The mall was packed. He actually did very well considering how much chaos their was. Once we attempted to go into Victoria's Secret PINK store, things went downhill.

The logo/mascot for the PINK line is a dog and they have an abstract dog mannequin at the entrance. It was almost the size of Bradley. Two things I've learned about dogs are:

1. Sometimes they don't understand that when something changes shape or form, it's still the same thing.
2. Sometimes they don't understand when something is in the same shape or form as one thing, it's not the same thing.

Bradley apparently thought the stuffed dog was real. He immediately refused to approach it and wanted nothing to do with that store. Normally, he loves real dogs but I guess the weird appearance of this one was too much for him to handle. Joe turned the dog around, which was an excellent idea. This gave Bradley the confidence to slowly approach it and sniff its butt. He still wasn't sold though so it was hard to get him into the store. We went into the store, browsed for a couple minutes and then left. Bradley was still afraid of the dog when we left. We go to that mall pretty frequently and will have plenty of opportunities to desensitize him gradually.

On a more positive note: His clicker training is going great! He pretty much has hand targeting down to a science. We just started yesterday and he has already started standing up on his hind legs to reach my hand if it's up high. That's a great start! We haven't had any treat refusals in the past few days either. (Thanks for the advice about that, Logan!)

I think I'll video tape his hand targeting and some of the other skills he's practicing so I can share it.

(By the way, we're definitely going to adopt a retired Greyhound! I'm so excited about that!)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Making some progress

We've gotten a little more training time than we got last week (Thank God). He's doing pretty well with the clicker training as long as he's hungry at the time. At other times he'll flat out refuse the treats, which defeats the purpose. He's getting the hang of "heel" but not quite on command yet.

His performance really depends on the temperature outside. If he gets hot, he'll have no interest in training whatsoever. I can't blame him. However, it makes me wish I didn't get him right before summer :) Hopefully he'll be able to tolerate the cold more than the heat, as it's cold her in Connecticut much longer than it's hot! I'm anxiously awaiting the cooler weather.

I just ordered Teamwork by Stewart Nordensson and Lydia Kelley and a DVD/CD set called "How to Clicker Train Your Own Assistance Dog". Hopefully these resources will get us off to a good start.

*Minor success of the day (and it's only 8 AM!): I think he's starting to learn that he can't explode with enthusiasm every time he meets another dog. He still gets extremely excited and jumps all over the place but once I get him to sit, he remains under control for the most part. This gives me high hopes for the progress he's capable of making :)