Friday, April 19, 2013

7 Months, 3 Weeks: Training - Day 82

Emma, being a teenager.
I want to discuss Public Access Training and a dog's age and abilities today.  I have a friend, Robin, who is training a Poodle named Sherman, who is 2 months older than Emma, to be her guide dog.  He'll be taking over the role as full time guide from his older brother, Jonathon, when he's 18 months to 2 years of age.  Robin has been training Sherman since he was 10 weeks old, which is 4 weeks younger than when we started training Emma.

Robin has a set training plan for Sherman, which includes the Training Levels and additional skills he'll need before he learns to guide her, and has been following it since she started with him.  She takes him out for public access outings at least 5 times a week, which at least one of those includes his group classes, and she works with him daily on his basic skills he's learning through the Levels Training.  The same protocol and training methods she used with her current guide, Jonathon, when she trained him.

Why is Sherman out so often?  Robin will be depending on Sherman to safely guide her in public and depend on his keeping her safe - her life depends on his ability to perform under distraction no matter where he is.  Emma's handler will not be depending on her for his life, just his independence, and therefore we can take her through her public access training at a different rate and still achieve our goals.

Sherman is now 9 months old and Robin makes his trips short and sweet.  She and I talk weekly and share our experience and mentor each other.  It's a beneficial relationship between us where we have an ear for our frustrated or confused moments, a cheering squad for our successes and a brainstorming session for how to expand our respective dogs understanding of the goals we are working too.  What we do not do is compare the two dogs - Sherman and Emma are working toward very different goals and are very different ages and though there are similarities between them in emotional growth and basic skills, there are just as many differences.

Sherman is an outgoing and happy go lucky boy who enjoys meeting people (loves meeting people) and has yet to find anything that frightens him.  He loves children of any age and adults of any age.  He's warm and friendly with other dogs and mischievous and playful when not working.  He's a training monster and would rather train all day long than do anything else and when not training he finds things to do that are not always what one would want.  He's not a bad dog, just a very intelligent one who needs a lot of outlet for his curiosity and boundless energy.

Robin and I talk about how she's taught more than one dog the basics of public access.  She and I are in agreement.  Tiny bites of one area many times helps the dog better understand and cope with a new location.  It took her 10 trips to her local McDonald's before she ever ordered anything and sat to eat it. It started with her taking him to the parking lot and asking for Level 1 behaviors and then going home.  She took the time to walk him to the door, but didn't enter the second time and on the third they went in and left after a sit and a down.  She continued this way until she was certain he wasn't over-stimulated and could handle the location before she ever ordered food and sat down.  Ten trips.  Ten times he got to practice his Level 1 behaviors and learn to work and not just bounce around and get over excited.

She's taken him to a local feed store where he's learned to ignore items on the floor that she and her husband set out as obstacles and practice his Level 1 behaviors.  She took several trips to the feed store before they ever stayed for any length of time.

She says he can go to church with her because it's a low stimulation location.  The people at the church respect her enough to not talk to, touch or interact with Sherman.  The stimuli in the church is low enough Sherman can, at 9 months of age, attend the entire service.  She has taken him to Walmart, but they've taken several runs at Walmart before ever entering.  Like McDonald's it started with just going to the parking lot and then home and then to the doors outside and then home and finally into the store and then out.  Sherman is up to walking into Walmart,walking the outside aisles and then going outside. He's never inside the store for more than 5 to 10 minutes and never on a weekend and/or when it is very busy.  Walmart is a high stimulation location with all of the smells, people, sights, textures and more that is happening there.

I mention this because Sherman has considerably more public access training that Emma does currently and yet Sherman is not ready to go shopping for items or spending extended periods of time within a location that has high stimuli in it.  Sherman goes to these locations to train - nothing else.

When Robin takes him she has what we trainers call an exit strategy.  What this means is that she has a way to leave and take Sherman home if Sherman is unable to work in the location she's chosen to train. If she is, by chance, going to pick something up when she's in store she has a friend or her husband attend her and they get it and she works with Sherman; she doesn't do both.

Sherman has more training and more public access training than Emma does.  Sherman can do a sit/stay for 3 minutes with Robin standing 20 feet away.  Sherman can do a down/stay for 5 minutes with Robin standing 50 feet away and Sherman can do a 50 foot recall and sit in front of her.  Sherman has strong loose leash skills and a strong understanding he's working when he's out, but Sherman is not ready to go everywhere she is for as long as she's going.

When I take Emma out I have an exit strategy as well.  I don't have any pressing need to get anything done and I am there for Emma.  I am focused and working on her Level 1 behaviors and giving her rapid rewards for working with me and slowly fading them until she's walking longer distances in zone I want her to work beside me.  I select low and mid stimuli locations to work her and once she's comfortable with them I build up the level of stimulation and help her cope with it.  Sometimes an outing isn't to a building or a store, but just around the corner of my home or the park nearby - these locations afford the level of distraction and stimulation I need to help her learn more focus and strengthen her work ethic.

Both Robin and I are in agreement that Emma is at the age that she can easily be washed out of service dog work.  Too much stimulation or too long in a high stimulation situation can lead to a breakdown and her becoming nervous and unable to work.  I saw some of that this week - today I was working on a mid-level stress exercise and she shutdown on me.  It's her age - it happens - and it's her stress levels.  She's entering a new fear period and she's at the "don't wanna" age in her growth, but only last week she would have enjoyed the mind puzzle I offered while training her instead of tuning out and showing fear signs.

I ask that the family not take her out into public situations for a while and let me build up her public access skills.  I want Emma to succeed and after two reports of her out in high stimulation situations for extended times I am concerned for her.  Please respect that Emma is not ready to be a service dog and needs training, not just tagging along on trips with the family.

Thank you,


Today's Lessons:


I checked Emma's homework sheet to see what we could work on today and found she is to learn to stand from a sit without moving her front feet.  I have a stand from a sit currently, but her front feet move.  I decided that fine tuning a known behavior would be a good mid-level stress situation and worked with her on that.  I sat on the floor and worked on teaching her to stand without moving her feet.

She was goofy and pawing my hands and flopping around on the floor.  I carefully lured her into position time and again and was just getting to where I had minor movement in her feet when I reached out to block her from stepping forward and Emma wilted and shutdown.  She became fearful and sulked off to behind my recliner where she refused to come out.  I had done nothing more than block her from moving forward and it shut her down - this is not a good sign.

I have been unable to get her to re-engage in training for the remainder of the day.  I ended our lessons as a result.


Have B work with Emma on Level 1 behaviors - this includes Zen, Come, Sit, Down and Target.  Have him use his speech device to cue the behaviors.  Think creatively and figure out how he can deliver the treats when she's done the behaviors for him.  Can he flick them to the floor for her?  Can you put a bit of PVC pipe on his chair with an elbow at the bottom that he can drop a treat into?  Can he use a button to push and make the Manners Minder work?  If you don't have a Manners Minder I would recommend buying one - they make training some behaviors much easier.  The goal is for B to be able to cue and have Emma help him, this can only be achieved is she learns to listen to him - it's time they begin working together.

At the end of each step in the book there is a section called Comeafters - I had mentioned on Monday to read through and make a list of the Comeafters for Level 1 and Level 1 Sit and Down.  Work on these over the weekend.  It doesn't have to be formal training, but creative application.  If you are in the tub soaking and she comes to visit can she do a sit when you cue it?  If not, train for that situation.  If you are cooking a meal and she's behind you can you cue a sit?  What about if B is on his bed?  What about if you are laying on the floor, on your knees, hanging over a counter?  The Comeafters are vital for her - think of as many ways you can change the picture for her so she truly knows the behavior.

Each Monday I will list what I want you to read for the week to be ready for the weekend's homework. Every weekend I want B working on cuing Emma for her basic behaviors and working on both he and her learning to communicate together.  If she doesn't understand him help her by training her to understand him - you don't have to read the whole book at once, just each step for each behavior.  If she can't sit when he cues her, then read Level 1: Step 1 Sit and help B teach it to her himself.  Let him know that the man who wrote Teamwork I and II also had CP and he not only taught his own service dog when no-one believed he could, he also helped other's teach theirs!  B can do it, give him the confidence and chance at success to prove it to him and yourselves.

Every weekend Emma should be playing the hide-n-seek game I described before - since I was told you haven't kept up on the blogs, which are written to help you know what to do and what to work on, I have included that text here and why the game is important.  After this week this section will be shorter and to the point and any reference to a game or lesson that you don't understand will have been explained in an earlier blog - to get to those posts use the menu on the left which provides each training day we've worked or use the search function and search for the name of the exercise.

From Day 66:

Special Training Assignment

Soon Emma will be able to help B with some of his needs.  By now she should be able to do a Sit, Down, Touch and Recall when B is using his speech machine to cue her.  He should be flicking treats to her or using a drop tube to land them at her feet (Check the attached YouTube video for ideas on how to build something like that for B to use on his chair or bed).  It is time for B to start a game with her called "Find".

The goal of the Find game is to train Emma to find people by name - in our case the names she'll learn are Mom, Dad, Sis and Help.  Chose a person to start teaching Emma to find - let's assume the first one is Mom.

Mom will stand close to Emma and B.  B cue "Mom, Find" and Mom will make a noise to turn Emma's head and give her a treat.  When Emma is turning her head as soon as she hears the cue have Mom move 1 foot away and cue Emma to "Mom, Find" and when Emma looks to Mom, Mom will get excited and give Emma a treat when Emma runs to her.  Keep adding Distance as Emma starts to run to Mom each time she's cued.  Over time Mom should be able to "hide" around a corner, but just enough Emma can find her.  When Emma does, throw a party and give her love and treats for running to Mom when she's almost out of sight.  When she's able to find Mom around the corner when she can't see her start adding distance again, until Emma learns to look around the house for that person by name.  Each time she "Mom, Find" have a big party and play and love on her and give her a reward (a special one only used for the Find Game).

Repeat this with Dad, Sis and then have her find Help by using random people like B's caregivers or visiting family.  The cues will be:

  • Mom, Find
  • Dad, Find
  • Sis, Find
  • Help, Find

In time this will morph into a huge service dog skill for Emma.  When she is older we'll teach her to carry a bumper she wears on her collar to the person she's been sent to find to tell them that B needs them.  We want this cue to be a happy cue for her, so making it a game of hide and seek right now will be fun for her and help her learn to search the house.  Don't go too fast and don't hide to hard at first, but build up to longer and longer finds in different locations in relation to B until she can search and find someone when cued.


Emma has a long run with the Wilting Willows when she was 5 months old and I took it slow and careful with her to get her out of them and bolster her confidence.  She's entering another long run of the Wilting Willows again and again I will have to take it slow with her and bolster her confidence so she exits this round with a stronger sense of herself.

This means that I need to approach each day as if it was a first day with her.  I need to train the dog who is in front of me and not train the dog I would like to see.  She's not bold like Max or able to recover like Jack, she is herself.  She's a happy and bouncy pup who quickly shies away from situations she's perceives as frightening and the only way to help her through this is to work at her speed and her threshold and give her a lot of success at the level she is at.  Flooding her with stressful or highly stimulating situations will not improve her confidence, but instead confirm she has a reason to worry.

I will work on fun activities next week and see if I can't find a playground for us to play on and build some personal confidence with.

Level 1
Zen Target Come Sit Down
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 5 2 5 5 Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 2 2 1 1
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 1 1 Completed 1

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 0 0 0 1
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 0 0 0 0
Jump Relax Handling Retrieve Communication
Step 0 0 0 2 0

Level 4
Zen Come Retrieve Target Relax
Step 0 0 0 0 0
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 0 0 0 0
Handling Communication

Step 0 0

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