My Velcro Dogs

My Velcro Dogs
Louie, Bradley and Echo

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
888-426-4435

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 :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

We got a LITTLE practice in today.

We just did a little work on "wait" and "come" from a distance. He's pretty reliable at as much as a 50 foot distance (as long as no one walks within 5 feet or so of him or as long as another dog isn't within 50 feet or so of him). We're back to the clicker and I hope it's consistent this time. Our last try wasn't but that was my fault.

He let another dog walk by (who he already met) while he was sitting but that was with me practically holding him in place. He may have stayed without me so close but I didn't want to set him up for failure so I played it safe. It was another Golden who is 8 months old and MUCH calmer than Bradley, as far as greetings are concerned. Bradley practically ate up the dog and his owner, he was so happy to meet them. He's doing pretty well with waiting to be released for a greeting (once I can get him to sit in the first place) but then he goes at it full force. I'm not sure if it's a puppy thing or if it's something that may present a problem in the future.

Anyway, the short time we did have to practice today went well. He's taken very well to the clicker training and as soon as I actually get some time to dedicate to building on it!

P.S.
Apparently Bradley has an unrelenting desire to jump on the bed because the past many times I've released him from whatever he was doing, he interprets "OK" to mean "Get on the bed". He just recently learned how to jump on the bed so I guess he's excited about making use of it. I don't mind him being on the bed, as long as he has permission :)

I'm surprised I'm still conscious, let alone upright.

It's been a very busy couple of days. Work (dog walking/pet sitting) has been very busy and other things keep coming up. My dad is in town from Florida and we've been trying to spend as much time with him as possible, which unfortunately, isn't as much as I'd like. Bradley hasn't had any training sessions in the past 3 days because of the business. I know, shame on me. I get so anxious when we miss valuable training time. Unfortunately, I don't think he'll get much today either, as today is another busy day and I'm exhausted.

My vision has gotten worse with no real reason why so my eye doctor sent me for an MRI. I went for it last night and it wasn't the most fun I've ever had. I actually wasn't too worried about it at first, until I got to the hospital and realized it was much more of an ordeal than I thought it was going to be. I'm not particularly claustrophobic but I do have a slightly high level of anxiety so the MRI machine wasn't a fun place to be in. By the end, I was just about ready to jump ship but luckily as soon as those thoughts started crossing my mind, the technician said it was over. Phew!

Bradley has gone back to playing shoes. He stopped doing that for a while so he earned the privilege to sleep in the bedroom with us, unconfined. So far this morning, he has brought me two full pairs of sneakers. Ugh! :)

I started to build on his "compulsion" to retrieve a little this week. I've been using his toys and other household items that he can easily pick up (like a tv remote, glasses case, etc.) and instructing him to "get" them. The command I plan on using to instruct him to retrieve an item is "get". He does it pretty well but doesn't completely reliably bring the item back to me (he does with some verbal encouragement) and sometimes if he's not ready to part with the item, he'll withhold it as I instruct him to "give" it. I should be able to fix this relatively easily if I remember to keep some treats or another of his toys available for trade :)

During our last training session, he learned to sit in front of me upon recall. For his public access test, he needs to touch me. I need to figure out how to incorporate that into his recall.

On a side note, he's getting big! He's already 51 lbs! He's not tall yet but he's quite solid. We've decided to be proactive about behavior management and put off neutering him until he is full grown. Here's some information why: http://www.caninesports.com/EarlySpayConsiderations.pdf

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A post for the sake of an update

The past couple of days have been uneventful. We haven't worked on any of Bradley's formal training but hopefully we'll be able to do some tomorrow. We're continuing our new habit of going to the park and play practicing. We just got a Kong frisbee, which Bradley loves but sadly can't pick up easily. It cuts into the excitement of the training session because half the time he's trying to pick it up off the ground!

We had one small success at the park today. It may or may not have just been a fluke. A dog walked by and it wasn't very close but when it expressed interest in Bradley, rather than going crazy, Bradley sat politely. Lately I've been having him sit before greeting dogs but I haven't been as diligent as I should be. Sometimes dogs are passing within touching distance on the sidewalk and since it's impossible to avoid them, we have little choice but to let the dogs say "hi" to eachother. I'll have to be much more strict about introductions and ignoring. I understand he's a puppy but he's getting rather large now and it's getting to be so if he's not easily manageable, his advanced training may suffer.

There are a few things I have to put some serious thought into over the next couple of days:

1. Proofing polite leash walking. He's gotten so he pretty much understands that tension on the leash and pulling is not acceptable. However, if something strikes his interest, he'll pull in that direction. We take the same route every day so he more or less knows what to expect. In order to proof his polite leash walking, we'll have to start taking different routes and longer walks.

2. He does not yet know a true "heel". I can hold his leash close enough to me so he's pretty much in a heel position but we need to teach the command itself and he has to learn it flawlessly. Once we introduce this concept, we're going to have to work on it constantly, until he has it completely down, before we work on any new skills.

3. I have to establish some distinctive differences between behaviors I will allow when he's not working and behaviors I will not allow while he is working. I haven't been as consistent as I should be because I don't want to reinforce any undesirable behaviors to prevent him from adopting them while working. However, it's not fair for him to be in working mode constantly. For example, I used to keep him at my left side in a heel at all times when walking. Realistically, he should be allowed to wander and sniff as he wishes if he's on a walk intended for his enjoyment. On the other hand, there are certain behaviors that need to be enforced at all time because it's so important that they are completely ingrained in him; like sitting before crossing the street, sitting before entering a doorway, etc.

We have to start practicing skills in working mode (with the vest on) at least once a day. We haven't been doing any work in vest lately unless he's going out in public. However, that will require twice as much time commitment, as skill need to be taught while he's not working. Working mode is for practice, not learning new skills.

Before training any of his guide skills, we have to have all the skills learned as administered in the Assistance Dog International public access test. Dogs aren't legally required to have proof of passing this test but it should be considered a minimum standard of training for any service dog in public. Here's the test from the ADI site. I'll comment on our progress regarding each part or make a prediction as to how training for that part will transpire.

ASSISTANCE DOG PUBLIC ACCESS CERTIFICATION TEST

NAME OF DOG AND RECIPIENT: ________________________________

NAME OF TESTER: _____________________________________________

DATE OF TEST: _____________ DATE OF PLACEMENT: _____________

TESTED ON (PLEASE CIRCLE ONE): PLACEMENT FOLLOW-UP

PURPOSE: The purpose of this Public Access Test is to ensure that dogs who have public access are stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public. It is to ensure that the client has control over the dog and the team is not a public hazard. This test is NOT intended as a substitute for the skill/task test that should be given by the program. It is to be used in addition to those skill/task tests. It is expected that the test will be adhered to as closely as possible. If modifications are necessary, they should be noted in the space provided at the end of the test.
DISMISSAL: Any dog that displays any aggressive behavior (growling, biting, raising hackles, showing teeth, etc.) will be eliminated from the test. Any dog that eliminates in a building or shows uncontrollable behavior will be eliminated from the test.
BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line of this test is that the dog demonstrates that he/she is safe to be in public and that the person demonstrates that he/she has control of the dog at all times.
TESTING EQUIPMENT: All testing shall be done with equipment appropriate to the needs and abilities of the team. All dogs shall be on-lead at all times except in the vehicle at which time it is optional.
This test is to take place in a public setting such as a mall where there are a lot of people and natural distractions. The individual will handle the dog and can use any reasonable/humane equipment necessary to ensure his/her control over the dog.
The evaluator will explain the test thoroughly before the actual testing, during which he/she will follow discreetly to observe when not directly interacting with the individual on a test related matter. The only things an evaluator needs are a clip board, an assistant, another dog, a plate with food, and access to a shopping cart.
COMMANDS: Commands may be given to the dog In either hand signals or verbal signals or both.
  1. CONTROLLED UNLOAD OUT OF VEHICLE: After a suitable place has been found, the individual will unload the dog and any necessary equipment (wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.) out of the vehicle. The dog must wait until released before coming out of the vehicle. Once outside, it must wait quietly unless otherwise instructed by the Individual. The dog may not run around, be off lead, or ignore commands given by the individual. Once the team is out of the vehicle and settled, the assistant should walk past with another dog. they should walk within six (6) feet of the team. The Assistance Dog must remain calm and under control, not pulling or trying to get to the other dog.
    The emphasis on this is that the Assistance Dog remain unobtrusive and is unloaded in the safest manner possible for everyone.
    We have worked on a controlled unload from a vehicle. Bradley is generally well under control when being unloaded but would probably unload on his own if not given a command to wait. He needs to make a lot of progress before he'll accept another dog walking by calmly.
  2. APPROACHING THE BUILDING: After unloading, the team must maneuver through the parking lot to approach the building. The dog must stay in a relative heel position and may not forge ahead or lag behind. The dog must not display a fear of cars or traffic noises and must display a relaxed attitude. When the individual stops for any reason, the dog must stop also.
    Bradley does relatively well walking through parking lots. He hasn't shown any stress about the goings on in parking lots. He's pretty good at stopping when told but is not yet at the point where he'll stop automatically upon the handler stopping. We're working on an automatic stop.
  3. CONTROLLED ENTRY THROUGH A DOORWAY: Once at the doors of the building, the individual may enter however he/she chooses to negotiate the entry safely. Upon entering the building; however, the dog may not wander off or solicit attention from the public. The dog should wait quietly until the team is fully inside then should calmly walk beside the individual. The dog must not pull or strain against the lead or try to push its way past the individual but must wait patiently while entry is completed.
    Braldey is generally very well controlled when passing through doorways but he will usually solicit attention from the public if someone is entering or exiting simultaneously. This falls under his overal interest in interaction with others and will definitely take some time to manage.
  4. HEELING THROUGH THE BUILDING: Once inside the building, the individual and the dog must walk through the area in a controlled manner. The dog should always be within touching distance where applicable or no greater than a foot away from the individual. The dog should not solicit public attention or strain against the lead (except in cases where the dog may be pulling the individual's wheelchair). The dog must readily adjust to speed changes, turn corners promptly, and travel through a crowded area without interacting with the public. In tight quarters, the dog must be able to get out of the way of obstacles and not destroy merchandise by knocking it over or by playing with it.
    Heeling has yet to be worked on, although he's so-so when it comes to walking politely though buildings. If something really catches his interest, he'll seek it out. If others express interest in him, he'll solicit attention from them. Once we work on a reliable heel, both issues should be mitigated substantially.
  5. SIX FOOT RECALL ON LEAD: A large, open area should be found for the six foot recall. Once found, the individual will perform a six foot recall with the dog remaining on lead. The individual will sit the dog, leave it, travel six feet, then turn and call the dog to him/her. The dog should respond promptly and not stop to solicit attention from the public or ignore the command. The dog should come close enough to the individual to be readily touched. For Guide Dogs, they must actually touch the person to indicate location. The recall should be smooth and deliberate without the dog trudging to the individual or taking any detours along the way.
    Bradley has a relatively reliable recall. I have good expectations for his progress in this skill. We have not yet worked on touching when recalled.
  6. SITS ON COMMAND: The team will be asked to demonstrate the Individual's ability to have the dog sit three different times. The dog must respond promptly each time with no more than two commands. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior on the part of the people is expected.
    The first sit will be next to a plate of food placed upon the ground. The dog must not attempt to eat or sniff the food. The individual may correct the dog verbally or physically away from the food, but then the dog must maintain a sit while ignoring the food. The dog should not be taunted or teased with the food. This situation should be made as realistic as possible.
    This should not be an issue. He has a fairly reliable "leave it" command.
    The second sit will be executed, and the assistant with a shopping cart will approach within three feet of the dog and continue on past. The dog should maintain the sit and not show any fear of the shopping cart. If the dog starts to move, the individual may correct the dog to maintain the sit.
    Bradley has been exposed to shopping carts but not within 3 feet of him. I don't foresee any problems with this.
    The last sit will be a sit with a stay as a person walks up behind the team, talks to the person and then pets the dog. The dog must hold position. The dog may not break the stay to solicit attention. The individual may repeat the stay command along with reasonable physical corrections.
    This will take a lot of work. He gets very excited upon meeting new people and likes to interact with them over-enthusiastically.
  7. DOWNS ON COMMAND: The down exercises will be performed in the same sequence as the sits with the same basic stipulations. The first down will be at a table where food will be dropped on the floor. The dog should not break the down to go for the food or sniff at the food. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections to maintain the down. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior from the people is expected.
    This will have to be worked on but I don't foresee it being too difficult.
    The second down will be executed, and then an adult and child should approach the dog. The dog should maintain the down and not solicit attention. If the child pets the dog, the dog must behave appropriately and not break the stay. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections if the dog begins to break the stay.
    This will be most difficult of all. He gets beside himself with excitement upon the approach of a child.
    The third down will be accomplished, and then either a stranger or the assistant will be asked to step over the dog. The dog may not break the stay to solicit from the stranger. The individual may give corrections as indicated above.
    Not yet worked on but very possible.
  8. NOISE DISTRACTION: The team will be heeling along and the tester will drop a clipboard to the ground behind the team. The dog may acknowledge the noise, but may not in any way show aggression or fear. A normal startle reaction Is fine--the dog may jump and or turn--but the dog should quickly recover and continue along on the heel. The dog should not become aggressive, begin shaking, etc.
    I do not expect this to significantly faze him.
  9. RESTAURANT: The team and tester should enter a restaurant and be seated at a table. The dog should go under the table or, if size prevents that, stay close by the individual. The dog must sit or lie down and may move a bit for comfort during the meal, but should not be up and down a lot or need a lot of correction or reminding. This would be a logical place to do the food drop during a down. (See #7)
    This has only been worked on once and went well. However, we do have to work on remaining close to the booth, rather than laying in the aisle, facing me.
  10. OFF LEAD: Sometime during the test, where appropriate, the person will be instructed to drop the leash while moving so it is apparent to the dog. The individual must show the ability to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back in its appropriate position. this exercise will vary greatly depending on the person's disabilities. The main concern is that the dog be aware that the leash is dropped and that the person Is able to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back into proper position.
    Will not be a problem.
  11. CONTROLLED UNIT: The team will leave the building in a similar manner to entering, with safety and control being of prime importance. The team will proceed across the parking lot and back to the vehicle. The dog must be in appropriate heel position and not display any fear of vehicle or traffic sounds.
  12. CONTROLLED LOAD into VEHICLE: The individual will load the dog into the vehicle, with either entering first. The dog must not wander around the parking lot but must wait patiently for instructions. Emphasis is on safety and control.
    We've been working on this and it has been going well. Sometime's he's hesitant about entering the vehicle but not enough to cause a problem.

Scoring Factors of the Public Access Certification Test

A= Always
M= Most of the time (more than half of time)
S= Some of the time (half or less of the time)
N= Never

  1. CONTROLLED UNLOAD OUT OF VEHICLE Dog did not try to leave vehicle until given release command.
    __YES* __NO The dog waited in the vehicle until released.*
    ___YES ___NO The dog waited outside the vehicle under control.
    ___YES ___NO The dog remained under control while another dog was walked past.
  2. APPROACHING THE BUILDING Relative heel position, not straining or forging.
    __A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
    ___YES* __NO The dog was calm around traffic.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
  3. CONTROLLED ENTRY THROUGH A DOORWAY
    ___YES* __NO The dog waited quietly at the door until commanded to enter.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog waited on the inside until able to return to heel position.*
  4. HEELING THROUGH THE BUILDING
    __A __M __S __N The dog was within the prescribed distance of the individual.
    __A __M __S __N The dog ignored the public, remaining focused on the individual.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily adjusted to speed changes.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily turned corners--did not have to be tugged or jerked to change direction.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily maneuvered through tight quarters.
  5. SIX FOOT RECALL ON LEAD
    ___YES* __NO The dog responded readily to the recall command--did not stray away, seek attention from others, or trudge slowly.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control and focused on the individual.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog came within the prescribed distance of the individual.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog came directly to the individual.*
  6. SITS ON COMMAND
    __A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control around food--not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed--did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonable, not dramatically.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.*
  7. DOWNS ON COMMAND
    __A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control around the food--not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.*
    ___YES ___NO The dog remained in control while the child approached--child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.
    ___YES* __NO The dog maintained a down-stay while being stepped over by a stranger.*
  8. NOISE DISTRACTIONS If the dog jumps, turns, or shows a quick startle type reaction, that is fine. The dog should not show fear, aggression, or continue to be affected by the noise.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained composed during the noise distraction.*
  9. RESTAURANT
    ___YES* __NO The dog is unobtrusive and out of the way of patrons and employees as much as possible.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog maintained proper behavior, ignoring food and being quiet.*
  10. OFF LEAD
    ___YES* __NO When told to drop the leash, the team maintained control and the individual got the leash back in position.*
  11. DOG TAKEN BY ANOTHER PERSON To show that the dog can be handled by another person without aggression or excessive stress or whining, someone else will take the dog's leash and passively hold the dog (not giving any commands) while the dog's partner moves 20' away.
    ___YES ___NO Another person can take the dog's leash and the dog's partner can move away without aggression or undue stress on the part of the dog.
  12. CONTROLLED EXIT
    __A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
    ___YES* __NO The dog was calm around traffic.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
  13. CONTROLLED LOAD INTO VEHICLE
    ___YES ___NO The dog waited until commanded to enter the vehicle.
    ___YES ___NO The dog readily entered the vehicle upon command.
  14. TEAM RELATIONSHIP
    __A __M __S __N When the dog did well, the person praised the dog.
    __A __M __S __N The dog is relaxed, confident, and friendly.
    __A __M __S __N The person kept the dog under control.

Scoring:

The team must score all 'Always' or' Most of the time' responses on the A-M-S-N parts of the test.

The team must score at least 80% "yes" answers on the "yes" "no" portion of the test

All questions marked by an asterisk must be answered by a "YES" response.

Were there any unique situations that made any portion of this test not applicable?


I plan to take this test several times as a means of training and practice. Each time we do so, I'll update you on the results.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Out to eat and eating raw






Yesterday was a great day for both dogs. Bradley took his first trip to the bank, where he did wonderfully. He tried to say "hi" to someone once but once he laid down and established our reason for being there, he was perfect. He was pretty attentive, although curious (who can blame him?). A couple people walked by him while he was laying down and were obviously taking in and appreciating his cuteness. Usually, when Bradley notices that he's being gawked at, he turns into Mr. Personality and tries to give the people what they want, a big, snuggly Golden Retriever puppy greeting. He's getting much better at differentiating between when to charm and when to focus. This is a HUGE accomplishment on his part because he's such a lover! Some times when he's laying down, while working, he'll notice someone smiling at him and focusing on him from across the room and he'll maintain eye contact with them and wag his tail profusely. That's usually a precurser to him breaking his stay and seeking out the person of interest. It used to happen constantly every time there was a child around. He loves kids! (Sorry, Bradley, I wish I could say the same for myself.)

After the bank, we went into a clothing store we frequent. Unfortunately, there was constrution being done on the exterior of the building and there were pretty loud noises inside. He was uneasy about the sounds so we decided to leave, not wanting to sour him of the store we go to so often.

We then went out for a very early lunch. This was our first attempt at a sit down restaurant with him. He had been to a Subway with us before and we sat down, but that was only for about 10 minutes tops. We have been hesitant about giving restaurants a try, as we weren't sure he could stay settled down the whole time and if he couldn't, we couldn't easily walk away from our meals and leave.

We asked to be seated in a secluded area. They sat us near the bar, which one would hope wouldn't be too crowded at 11 AM on a Thursday. We were the only ones sitting in that area, which I'm sure contributed to the positive outcome of the experience. He laid down, pretty readily, despite being interested in exploring the new environment (again, can't blame him). A couple times, he tried to lick/sniff things he noticed on the floor near us. After a few reminders that it wasn't the time and place to do so, he ceased to do so. He didn't sit under the table, as service dogs are normally expected to do at restaurants. He also didn't sit flush against the booth so if it was more crowded, people would have either had to step over him or go around him. I didn't dwell on these details this time though, as the important thing at this point is simply exposing him to the experience. Struggling with him to maintain a position he hasn't yet been trained to assume, neither would have been fair nor made the experience positive for him. One thing I've very proud of is that none of my dogs have ever been under the impression that they are entitled to the food people are eating. Therefore, begggin is nonexistant. However, we'll definitely need to put some serious time into refusal of food offered by others, as well as tasty morsels found on the ground :)

The day ended for both dogs with some juicy, raw ribs. We try to feed raw as frequently as we can, although we normally feed dry kibble (Canidae and Innova). Last's meal was Louie's first time getting the hang of how to eat meat off a bone. The first time we offered him raw meat, he barked at it! This time, he started by licking it as if it was a lollipop. After a few minutes of confusion as to the foreign object's purpose, he started picking at it. Before long, he was eating it like a natural; albeit dragging it around from room to room. Bradley immediately had at it and was tearing the meat off the bone almost as efficiently as our previous dog, Sydney.
video video

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bradley's training up until this point

We started training Bradley early. Nothing too complex, just the basics. The most important things we had to focus on were polite leash walking and not seeking attention from passersby, as these are the minimum skills necessary to take him out into public. He needs the exposure to various public venues so he can adapt readily to new experiences in his working future. To be honest, we haven't taken him to as many places as I would have liked to. We've taken him to the Subway restaurant a couple blocks from where we live, Barnes & Noble, Target a mall and a movie theater. Throughout the several visits to each, he's had his ups and downs. However, he has still done much better than you could expect from a puppy.

We haven't trained too many commands yet since he doesn't quite have the basics down yet. The commands he's fair to good at are:

"Stop": Rather than meaning stay in place, "stop" means to stop and sit. We use this more than anything. He stops whenever I stop walking, at doors, before crossing the street and before going up or down steps. So far he only stops on command. The goal is for him to do so in all these situations without being told.

*This is a very similar command to "sit" but carries more weight, as it is most necessary when working, as opposed to sitting to be pet or have a collar put on, etc.

"Sit": This is just a basic sit. Less formal than "stop" and is intended to be used for much shorter periods of time than "stop".

"Down": A basic lay down.

"Up": Return to sitting position from down.

"Wait": Similar to a basic "stay" but means 'wait in this place until I say further'. A concluding command like "down" or "come" usually follows shortly after "wait".

"Stay": Intended for longer periods and not necessarily under constant supervision. We have not yet worked on a formal stay. At this point, he thinks it's the same as "wait". We'll start working on "stay" for longer periods of time once he masters "Sit", "Wait", "Down", "Up", and "Come" at a distance.

"Come": Come to me immediately and sit in front of me. He's at about a 95% success rate during training sessions but we have not yet worked on "come" when he's not focusing. At this point, he'll come when called if he's involved in something else, as long as that something else isn't more interesting :)

He get's the idea of all these commands. However, we give him latitude, as he is young and we do not want to demand more of him than he can offer. He's quite mature for his age so we'll be building on these skills rapidly, yet in fun, short bursts. I'm a firm believer in neither overwhelming a dog with more than he can absorb, nor boring him with skills he's already mastered if he's not enjoying himself.

Bradley regressed significantly in his training progress during the month of July. During June, even at his young age, he was right on the ball. He was easily motivated by food rewards and was happy to cooperate. During July, it was almost like he was another dog. he would spit out and abandon his treats and acted as aloof as if he was on another planet during training sessions.

I was frustrated. I was so proud of everything we accomplished and then it was ripped out from under me. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. Bradley's training was my first experience with primarily positive training and it was hard for me to remain positive when there was so little to reinforce. There are two things I attributed his regression to:

1. The heat; he really doesn't enjoy training if he's too hot.
2. His age; he was no longer in the "baby" mindset that young puppies are in when they are so dependent on their caregivers. He was growing into his mature personality and didn't need as much validation.

Both or neither may be true. Either way, I'm glad I stayed positive. In the past 2 weeks he's an angel again. It's like it just clicked. He's still a little resistant in the heat or when he would rather be doing something else, but what puppy wouldn't rather be playing?

That's why I changed my method of training. I just changed 2 days ago and it's already going wonderfully. Rather than going around the block as if it's drill practice, we go to the park 3 times a day and practice the already learned skills over a game of fetch. Rather than giving a food reward (which at this point he could take or leave), his reward is the ball. I've only trained 3 dogs in basic obedience before. One was trained with praise alone. Bradley is my first dog who relishes a toy reward so it's new to me. I'll have to recondition the clicker to be associated with the toy, rather than food.

I really want his training to be fun for him. I understand it will take a lot longer than a dog trained by a professional, since I'm still learning myself. As long as he's enjoying it though, I think it's worth it.

A video of Bradley Growing up

Too many dog pictures+too much time on my hands =

video

Enjoy!

(There will of course be more to come as he gets bigger!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

About me (and my dogs)



I'd definitely describe myself as a dog person. I'm fascinated by literally everything that has to do with these amazing creatures. As far as I'm concerned, I'll never know enough about them. I'm sure that from week to week, each topic of interest in my posts will change dramatically.

I'm creating this blog with the primary purpose of logging the progress I'm making with my currently 5 month old Golden Retriever, Bradley. I'm in the process of training him to be my guide dog. I have little experience in training dogs in general, let alone such advanced training like guide work. It's probably the biggest challenge I've ever accepted and it's well worth the effort. There are two benefits to keeping a public blog about this journey:

1. Documentation to prove that a service dog has undergone extensive training, while not necessary, can always be helpful. Service dogs don't need to be trained professionally, but the more independently the training is done, the more you have to make sure you dot your i's and cross your t's.
2. I'm not one for following through when I loose interest in or get too stressed by something. Losing interest in this endeavor is not something I intend to do, but I know it's going to be a difficult process. A public representation of our efforts will definitely help keep me accountable.

I'm sure I'll blog about things other than Bradley's training progress though. I really do hope to keep subject matter at least loosely related to dogs though. I intend to keep my personal life uninvolved if it's not relevant to dogs.

I live with my husband and our two dogs, our sons. My husband's name is Joe and he's amazingly tolerant of my obsession with dogs :) You already know about one of our dogs, Bradley. He's a great puppy. You wouldn't believe how mature he is for a puppy- and a Golden Retriever puppy at that! Our other dog is an 18 month old Papillon named Louie. Louie's a total momma's boy. He's the true definition of a lap dog. He's a big dog in a small dog's body. I know that phrase is insanely over used but it's so appropriate for Louie, regardless of how cliche it sounds.

We're in the process of finding a retired Greyhound to adopt. I'm so excited about adopting one. Of course, I'll keep you updated.

Let's see if I can figure out how to add some pictures of Louie and Bradley :)