Wednesday, August 28, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 166

Emma is well socialized with strange dogs and can easily
join any group of friendly dogs and find the right
play style for the dog she's meeting.
Socialization is so much more than meeting people or other dogs, but experiencing sights, sounds, textures and smells too.  For Emma we've taken a slow but steady approach to new things in her life, since she's a soft dog and can easily become fearful if introducing her to new things is done too fast.  She seems to thrive on going out into the world though, which is lovely to see.

This week I planned on two outings with her to work on calm behavior in public.  I had no intention of taking her into a store just yet, just working on walking calmly from the car to the store and back as many times as I could stand it.  But, as many know, the best laid plans can change and in this case a rare opportunity opened up for both of us.

Last night, after Jack had headed home, I was cruising my Facebook news feed when I saw that a fellow Diamonds in the Ruff trainer was headed to a local pool for Dog Pool Day and decided I would take Max and Emma.  Max because it is simply normal for me to take him where ever we go and Emma because I wanted her to experience a poolside setting and greet lots of friendly new dogs and dog friendly people.  In the end I left Max.  I had thought about it and realized Max would be miserable in such a setting.  He likes side by side play with other dogs, hates dogs racing around and playing chase and really doesn't enjoy the full body contact games Labradors play.  For his sanity I left him home.

I packed up Emma though, who loves ALL of those things and took her with me.  We arrived just after 6 PM and wandered to the front of the building after peering at all of the dogs and people playing inside the pool area for a couple of minutes.  She was curious and a bit shy, but not fearful.

In the front of the building was an over the top excited Labrador and Emma slipped behind me and put space between herself and him.  I respected this and blocked her and moved further away with her.  Once he was gone I encouraged her to enter the echoing area and reassured her she was safe.  I asked the cost to enter and realized I would need to go back to the car for the money.  Emma was still twisting around and peering about with clear nervousness, but not over the top fear.  I then cued her to Paws Up on the counter and she did.  All they saw was a pair of toes and a tiny nose stick over the edge, but the moment the woman leaned over to get a better look at her Emma's fear left and she started wagging madly.  I lifted her up to visit and then we went out and sniffed the grass until she shook off.

After I got the money from the car she got to meet a tiny black pup that was a month younger than her and then headed into the building again.  There were two dogs there, but they were calm and Emma greeted them happily.  She entered the building without fear or nervousness and pawed back up onto the counter so I could lift her so they could check her Rabies tag.  Then it was off to get a bit of water poured on her back.

I asked they didn't use the hose, so they used bottled water and wet her spine.  She wasn't happy, but didn't freak out about it.  Then inside we went.  Still shy and a little worried she let me unclip her and she went off to check a new dog she met.  Then she spent the next 20 minutes moving 15 to 20 feet away from me, meeting a person, child or dog and then coming back to me for reassurance.

In 30 minutes she wasn't checking in much anymore, but trotting with her head up, her body tall and her tail in perfect position.  She was smiling and sniffing and meeting new dog after new dog and new person after new person.  She wouldn't go near the water in the beginning, staying about 15 to 20 feet away, but by the time we left she would approach to within 2 feet before she darted away.  I never expected her to swim and wasn't worried if she did or didn't.  I did want her comfortable with a pool area and be able to eventually lay quietly while people swam and wait for her owner.

At the 40 minute mark I called her to me and we walked together around the entire pool area.  She was happy, exploring and willing to meet anyone, man, woman or child with a quick nuzzle and off to explore some more.  When we passed the diving boards I asked her to paws up on the rungs and she did without hesitation.  She even thought about a retrieve for a bit, but was too worried about the activity to complete it.  No biggy.  She got lots of praise for trying and sent off to play some more.

At the 1 hour mark she returned and sat beside me, tired and ready to head home.  We left after a bit of cuddle and relaxing by me on a bench.  She was tall, proud and confident when we left.  It was a fantastic socialization session for Emma and she flew through it with a building confidence I had expected to see.

She'll have no more big outings this week, but will be taken out tonight for a quick loose lead lesson in a quiet parking lot of a store that is closed or not busy.

Today we worked on picking up socks, pens, shorts, paper, a credit card (need to work on how to make it easier for her) and a necklace.  The necklace worried her, so we worked on just being able to take and hold it and hand it back with a little movement.  She did great on all of that.

I am about to make a list of the most common things she would be picking up for her handler and begin teaching her how to deliver them properly to him.

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

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 4 2 1 2
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 1 Completed Completed 1

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 2 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 Completed 0

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

Step 0 0

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

11 Months: Training - Days 164 & 165

Emma loves playing in the yard.
Mondays are always a recap day here.  I evaluated Emma to see if she remembered her break through from the week before and sure enough, she was happy to retrieve for me yet again.  I had dropped a small key fob card on the floor when I was talking on the phone and pointed to it as she stood before me.  She quickly scooped it up and handed it to me.  We hadn't yet started adding the final steps to her retrieve, which is to step up onto the foot boards of the wheelchair and hold the item until cued to release it - but she was getting better about not spinning in spot and worrying about giving up a prize.  This time there was no spin and she was prompt in putting it into my hand.  I was so pleased I told the person I was talking too and we both rejoiced in her progress.

We worked for a bit on Target to refresh it - since I have several targeting behaviors she needs to learn and Target will be her primary way of learning new tasks in the future.  She was so thrilled to play bop the hand she was running from hand to hand to get the click.  She was lit up and In The Game as we played.  We moved to targeting a post it note, which at first she was a bit worried about and she tried to check out on me, but I called her back and reassured her she was right and soon she was bopping the duct tape on the wall I was using as a target.  A moment later we were pushing cabinets closed with gusto.  She's spot on with her target behavior and I need to look at Level 3 Target and see where we are headed next.  I also need to take Level 2 Target into Home Depot and have her close a few cabinets there to generalize the idea.

Each day I spend time finding new things for Emma to pick up.  I decided to pull out my keys and have her work on them.  Metal has been her bugaboo when retrieving, though she'll take it in her mouth without issue.  I think it's the weight and sound of the metal that is the problem more than the feel.  My keys have a cloth fob on them and I had her target it, but each time she moved the keys or felt the weight she would shrink a bit.  We got to her taking the fob and handing them to me, but not picking them up from the floor.  That's fine - it's a good start.

I'll work on a spoon with her soon and see if we can get to picking up silverware and work back to the keys.  At this point, I am no longer training her to pick up and hand me things when I am standing - her job will be to work with a wheelchair bound person and thus I am training her to work with him and not a general idea of anyone.  I am now asking for behaviors as she holds the item in her mouth to increase her hold.  She can do a sit and a paws up into my lap now when holding an item she's comfortable with.  I have not introduced the wheelchair until I have a solid default paws up and patient wait for release cue.

Emma is well on her way with her primary task now and just needs to build more confidence and experience now that she's decided to join me in the retrieve game.

On Tuesday I worked Emma outside.  I took her outside of the fence while the other dogs were in the yard and worked on loose lead while walking with a person.  She did fantastic and we'll take it to the next level and go to a parking lot and work on calm leash behaviors.

We also did retrieve with distractions in a new location.  This video will tell you how that went!

As you can see, Emma's retrieve is 90% complete.  What an amazing jump in only a week!

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

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 4 2 1 2
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 1 Completed Completed 1

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 2 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 Completed 0

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

Step 0 0

Friday, August 23, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 163

Emma Gets It!

There are moments when training a dog that just make your heart soar.  Today was one of them.  After months of a dog who was tentative, fearful, shut down and unwilling or unable to participate in training to retrieve the light bulb came on and Emma got it.  She understood that we wanted her to pick up things and hand them to us.  She knew she was right and it made us happy.  She was willing to go the extra step and problem solve and be persistent in achieving a goal.  She took the initiative and choose to pick up an item without prompting.  I cannot say enough about the milestone I saw happen today - it was a hundred tiny things that happened all in the span of 15 seconds!  It was amazing to watch.

Today, as I was preparing to leave for an interview, I pulled out a business card to check on an upcoming appointment with my hair dresser, since I would be across the street from her business for the interview and thought that a more pressing appointment was in conflict with my hair appointment next month.  Sure enough, I was right.  The appointment I had previously set was in conflict with a client appointment for training another dog.  I made a mental note to reschedule my hair appointment and went to put the card back in my wallet and promptly dropped it.

I was at the outside edge of needing to leave if I was going to be on time and decided not to call Emma to help me, which I would have done had I not been pressed for time, but Max instead.  I know Max can quickly and easily pick the card up and I wouldn't be placing Emma under pressure when I am in a hurry.

Max and Emma came into the kitchen.  Max, who recognized I was preparing to leave, passed the card and looked for his harness instead.  Emma, on the other hand, stopped and spotted the card.  Before I could cue Max to pick it up, Emma made the choice that it was the card I had called them in for and tried to pick it up.  She couldn't get a good grip on it and I figured she would back away and stop, but instead she turned her head a little and tried again.  I stayed quiet as Max stood by me and we both watched her turn her head one way and try, then another and try and finally pivot her body a bit and try again.  I was impressed with her persistence and didn't say anything as she thought this problem through.  A second's hesitation and she pawed it.  It works for Max, so why not.  She moved it with her paw, tried again without success.  Now she was serious, she pawed it hard twice more and tried each time she moved it without success.  I was caught in the struggle of solving the problem with her.  I didn't want to stop her, didn't want to move or say anything while she worked it out.  A final pawing of the card and her head came up, proud and high and she had the card firmly held in her front teeth as she MOVED to hand it to me!  Yes folks, Emma chose to retrieve a business card, solved the problem of how to get it up off the floor, stayed with the problem even after several failed attempts and with much flourish successfully handed it to me.

To say we had a party undermines what happened next.  I could feel how big I was smiling as I took it, told her Yes and gave her a huge hug.  I then did a dance with her and chanted "Emma retrieved" with her as we went to the treat jar and I gave her three treats for doing such a good job.  Not only did her confidence soar with each passing second, but she was truly smiling back at me.

But my smile and my party with her wasn't just because she picked up a business card.  It was because she was THINKING and PROBLEM SOLVING and PERSISTING with a problem until SHE solved it.  Emma made a huge emotional leap.  But that was not all of it.  There was a huge intuitive leap that I may have wanted something that was on the floor and she LOOKED to see what was out of place and SAW it and decided to RETRIEVE without fear or worry.  Emma is well on her way to becoming confident with her job and what is asked of her.  A hundred tiny things happened in that fifteen seconds for her and I am so amazed and pleased with her sudden leap forward.  Months of work accumulated into that 15 seconds of amazing.

I have been pointing to and giving her the option of picking up 1 or 2 new things all week.  No pressure, lots of support and praise for any effort and then suddenly she GETS IT.  EMMA GETS IT!

So, we end the week with a juvenile who is rapidly becoming a mature dog and doing so with amazing leaps in her training.  How fantastic is that?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 162

Emma excites easily.
So, what do you do with a Labradoodle who is part Lipizzaner?  Why, teach her to keep her feet down and planted firmly to the ground.  Emma is a major jumper.  She has gotten to the point she'll jump at me and rebound off of me in her excitement.  We've tried standing on her leash, removing her from the room, turning away and ignoring her and much more to convince her to keep her feet to herself.  Unfortunately, none of it worked.  We got to sitting and waiting to be released to greet and then cuing and immediate sit when greeting, but even that wasn't working with the person coming in the home gave her attention.  And none of that helped with the "I can't contain myself" jumping that happened about 100 times a day in the house.

Thus, clicker and the reward she craved became part of my training plan.  I have been for a while carrying the clicker or just marking the behavior of her feet hitting the floor and rewarding with attention and affection and removing both if her feet leave the ground again.  I have about 80% of the worst of the jumping solved with me personally, but not with other people.

I am now doing the same with other people, in this case our daily visit with Ronda, to re-enforce the concept and she's starting to get it.  It has been our all day training plan, since I can only do it when she's excited enough to bring her feet off of the floor.

This will be a process with her, since it's been so highly rewarded to jump up and get close to the people she wants to greet with wild abandon.  I will work on the lower levels of excitement with people other than family to build a foundation of understanding and then introduce the idea to family itself.  Hopefully, this won't take long now that she's older and has better ability for impulse control, but she is still young and excitable and it will take time.

Meanwhile I am evaluating where she is.  Her sit, down, target and stay are pretty strong.  She has a good recall and a solid crate foundation, though she needs to learn not to howl when left during the day.  She has a beginning loose leash with minor distractions, but needs to build up the solid behavior she offers in my home and yard in the street and out in public.  She also needs to practice it when meeting people she loves, but again that goes with the training of self control with her front feet and will be worked on with low to high levels of excitement.

I am still encouraging Emma to explore and try picking up new objects every day.  It's no longer a formal thing, but a no-pressure game where I point out something and see if she'll try to hand it to me.  I encourage the family to do the same, but with no overt expectations.  We want her to begin to think about picking up and handing things to her handler, but right now we want it with confidence and if she is consistenly rewarded for effort she'll soon learn failure is not an issue and her confidence will grow.  This has been, far and above any other lesson, her hardest and most stressful.  She grew worried she was in trouble or being scolded when we pointed things out before and the more we point, she looks, sniffs, attempts to pick up or picks up items and is praised the higher her confidence will grow.  Once she's gained confidence, her willingness to make bolder and longer efforts on more difficult objects will increase.  I don't wish to get to difficult objects for her to pick up with only a patch on her confidence, but instead with a fully restored level of confidence that she knows and can do what we ask of her.

I am also giving her breaks during the week to user her powerful latent learning after retrieving a new object.   I want her to think and fuss through it and realize she did right and she can do whatever she attempts.  Thus a day of play and no training allows her this ability to think through and resolve these complicated issues for her.

So, Wednesday was a day of rest while today we work not on retrieve, but self control when greeting me in a more formal manner.  I am also going to polish off sit, down and target so she has the solid foundation to begin formal task training.

Meanwhile Emma is using known skills in real life with fewer food rewards and more life rewards.  Praise has become a strong reward for Emma and so when working in known locations I have faded the treats and begun using praise and life rewards (going outside, greeting people) instead.  In new locations we are working on a high to low reward rate with food rewards, starting at a rapid reward rate and slowly extending the time between them until she's focused and working with little to no food rewards by the time we leave.  She is doing well with this approach as I replace one food reward with praise or a life reward instead.

I will be working on her learning she can tackle strange new places to sit, such as on logs, stumps, rocks and other items, without worry.  I am in the process of a major confidence boost for Emma and then will begin taking known tasks out in public to proof them as she learns them.

Outside of retrieve, Emma's next task to learn is to use her very powerful and natural habit of nudging with her nose to rise my arm or foot and place them on the arm or foot rest of my chair.

These next few weeks will be very exciting.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 161

I dropped a pencil today and Emma picked it up without thinking!
I gave Emma Monday off since I had appointments all day.  I also wanted to take the day to take stock of where we are in her training and where we need to go.  After months of building up to a retrieve and finally getting the budding foundation of one, I want to ensure I am not ignoring other important parts of Emma's overall training.

On Monday I was told she picked up a piece of paper, carried shoes to her handler and picked up her leash among other items during the weekend.  The family was amazed and pleased with her progress and willingness to help.  I was very pleased that their gentle requests lead to a positive result in her retrieve training.

On Monday the most I did with her was ask her to attempt to pick up items already on the floor.  She handed me a piece of paper, a bread tab and a wash cloth.  Amazing for a dog a short time ago would shut down and urinate if you wanted her to pick something up.  She's showing more and more confidence with each minor success and I am seeing her standing taller, with a happy wave of her tail and making eye contact.  Each retrieve is met with a happy cuddle moment and over half the time with a treat.

She seems to get stuck when the item is in her mouth, so I need to build up her give better, so I'll slowly work on that and build a positive feeling into picking up AND giving the item to a person.

Today, Tuesday, we visited retrieve again.  Why so much work on it?  It is a huge part of her job.  She'll be using it to open drawers, doors and helping her handler dress and undress.  She'll be using it to get items he needs or return dropped items when needed.  She'll be using it to carry a bumper to a helper when he needs someone to come to him and carry messages to and from people when asked.  Retrieve is a foundation which builds into important tasks for someone who needs them.

Today I saw a tiny rubber tip to one of my eSmoke cartridges on the floor and pointed it to her.  She picked it up, held it in her mouth, but was again stuck trying to give it to me.  I finally had to gently open her mouth and scoop it out.  So, off we went with a dead cartridge and had her pick it up and offer it to me.  When she got her mouth over my hand I said, "Thank you" and then offered a treat.  In short order she was spitting the cartridge into my hand as I said Thank You and before I moved to give her a treat.

We then worked for a bit on her leash manners.  They have been lacking lately and I wanted to see where they are backing down.  It's distraction - she was spot on with moving to release pressure on her collar and walking and staying on a loose lead when in the house.  This means I need to work those same skills in more and more distracting areas with a higher rate of re-enforcement and then slowly fade the amount of re-enforcement until she is automatically walking on a loose leash.

The rest of the week will be evaluating not only where she is, but determining what I need to work on to finish her training.  Emma is well on her way - I just need to fine tune for where we want to to end and begin the final steps for finishing her training by the time she's approximately 18 months to 2 years of age.

What an exciting development for Emma!

10 Months, 4 Weeks: Training - Days 156 - 160

DJ and Jack spent the last half of the week with us.  Their
Mom had gone on a trip - the house was full and busy by
Friday night!
Spoons - how precious they are.  With the weekend over and home projects in the yard near completion I found I had over spent all summer long and faced a week in which I barely had enough energy to deal with daily upkeep on the dogs basic manners and learned skills. 

For Emma I was offering her chances to pick up and hand me different items as I went about my daily business.  I did a bit of laundry early in the week, though found my energy was so low that the idea of getting it out of the dryer left me drained - I didn't remove laundry from the dryer until Wednesday, and promptly dropped half of it on the floor.  Emma came to check what I had dropped and I offered her the chance to pick any of it up, but she decided not too.  I praised her for her curiosity and called Max to me to help.

Every time something fell to the floor and Emma came to explore I praised her.  She even tried a couple of times to pick it up, but didn't actually do it.  That was okay - I want the curiosity and even a failed attempt is more than she used to offer.  The no pressure chance to retrieve seemed to be a tonic for her and by Thursday she was carrying toys to me to examine and taking them back after much praise and excitement about what a prize she'd shown me.

She was praised and loved for every sit and down.  She was given lots of praise for her politely waiting for me to make a meal, or not run out a door just because it was open.  She was given lots of cuddles and slept several times upside down beside me in my chair while I read or watched the TV.

She enjoyed playing with Max and Jack and was rewarded with loads of praise when she came when called - even if it was in the middle of a game.

Though I didn't do any planned "formal" training sessions what I did do was employ known behaviors in daily living and reward her with something other than food.  She learned that she gets to go outside faster if she sits and gets more cuddles if she asks to get in my lap instead of just bounding into it.  She learned that waiting for me to finish my meal and not exploring it at all got her the first tidbit off of the plate when I went into the kitchen to clean up.  She got to play games with me when she asked to get on my bed instead of just jumping on it without permission.

As much as raising and training a service dog means teaching them tasks to help the disabled, it also means teaching them manners when living with the handler.  Things one wouldn't think of, such as laying quietly when in the home or not barking at the neighbors when outside, moving out of ones personal space and asking to enter a person's personal space are all items Emma needs to learn, above and beyond how to help her handler.

Emma is well on her way.  She knows how to get out of my way when I am working in the home.  She knows to not beg for food from me or my guests.  She is learning from all of us that if she just bounds into our laps she is put on the floor and must wait for permission to be on our laps.

One of the things I am working on with her is not winding up into a bucking horse when excited.  She rears up and bounces around barking when I pick up her leash, go to let her outside or when she meets people.  I have been working on a plan to better explain to her what I want - now that I am starting to see a modicum of self control when she's overly excited.

It is important to know that Emma winds up easily.  She's a happy dog who can go from calm to bounding off your stomach in a blink of an eye.  She winds up further with high pitched voices and happy tones - which makes ramping her up when she's scared of something easy, but can result in a dog who goes from work mode to out of control in a second when she's not.

Though it makes her "too cute" when a pet dog, it won't work for a working dog.  To handle this issue, I will be tracking when she looses her mind the most and then working individual plans to better explain to her what is expected.

I mentioned to her owner to pick up and carry her leash with no intention of putting it on  her as much as possible.  The goal is to take the charge out of the leash.  I am doing the same here.

I also mentioned to offer her chances to pick up and hand things to them, but not to cue it by anything other than pointing or tapping the object at this time.  If she looks, tries or picks it up it's all good right now.  We are building up her understanding of retrieve by giving her a lot of chances to get it right and right now anything from looking and sniffing to picking up and handing over is a success.

10 Months, 3 Weeks: Training - Day 155

In large programs the puppies who are destined to become a service dog are sent to Puppy Raisers who teach them the foundation of basic obedience and give the puppy a broad socialization foundation.  It is an such an important part of a puppy's socialization that the puppy is not returned for task training until it is between 14 and 16 months of age.  Basics, such as Sit, Down, Stay, Loose Leash Walking and Leave It are the foundation to the final dog who exits the large program with their disabled handler.

This means the foundation for task training is building a confident and stable dog who has had a long history of rich positive re-enforcement and has been taught to learn.  They've seen and experienced many types of surfaces, sounds, smells and sights in their early months.  They have also been introduced to many types of people and crowds.  Even so, some of these young dog exit the programs having never seen someone in a full body suit or wearing a odd shaped costume.

I read a story of a dog who, having already graduated from a large program, was taken to Disney Land in Florida and was very frightened of the Mickey Mouse costume.  Disney, a wonderful supporter of the disabled community arranged to have Pluto, Mickey and other costumed characters work with the handler to help the dog learn that they would not hurt him - he left happy and confident and enjoyed many other trips to the park.

When I started training Max I took him to a local Science Fiction  Convention which, at that time, was held on the Gonzaga University campus.  The concentration of people was in different buildings with access to large open areas outside that gave up many breaks from the crowds.  Because of this, I could, at that time, take him for a majority of the day.  He was, to say the least, tired by the time we headed home for our breaks at noon, dinner and then finally bed.

The convention, SpoCon, moved after the second year I was working Max to a hotel downtown, the Double Tree, and the access to open areas remained - River Front Park or just outside the building.  For Max, who wasn't raised from infancy to handle large crowds, I spent a lot of time working him in and out of the crowds until he could in the last three years just enter and be okay with the press of people.

The greatest advantage of SpoCon is the number of full body costumes and other types of appearance changing outfits.  For Max, the hardest thing to handle was the sounds of people walking by with belly dancing bells jingling.  It took us three years to get him indifferent to them.  This year, I had two more dogs to introduce to SpoCon.

I took Emma with me for pure socialization.  With treat pouch packed with cheese, hot dog, Howies Turkey and chicken breast I took her with me to the hotel to pay for my membership and introduce her to various costumes.

Emma arrived in a state of heightened excitement.  It took some work to walk her in on a loose lead, but once in she was nothing but wiggles and wags.  She didn't react to any costume she met, though she did seem to have a thing about sticking her nose into the pleats of Victorian Era dresses.  She was a bit worried at first when she saw a man with a multi-colored beard (which I kindly pointed out to her) but before she could go much beyond a pause in her tail wagging I was stuffing chicken into her mouth and she decided the man with the strange beard was okay.

She was able to meet people in chain mail, wearing crabs on their heads and many other types of strange outfits and took it all with a wiggling sense of joy.

What amazed me was when I saw a pen cap on the floor and my step-daughter pointed to it and Emma picked it up and handed to me.  I had only just the day before broken through whatever block she had about retrieving and suddenly she was doing something I hadn't even prepped her for in a public forum with a crowd of people around her.  She got five rapid fire treats for doing such a wonderful job.

We spent approximately 45 minutes visiting with people, meeting, sniffing and examining new costumes and just learning to refocus on her handler while in a distracting situation.  Whenever I let someone say hi to her I offered her a treat, by the end of the 45 minutes she went to meet a friend of mine and after a quick "hi" she turned back to me.  Mission accomplished.

While talking to that friend I noted she laid down at my feet and watched people go by without trying to interact with them and finally, without prompting from me, put her head on her front paws and relaxed - the excitement of the environment she was in had subsided and she was able to relax and take it easy at my side.

With this as her final act I brought her back to my place and waited with her while she played in the yard to process the very exciting event she had just attended.  She had been lit up, enjoying herself and showed no fear or worry, outside of a second or two with the multi-colored beard, but hadn't processed everything that had happened to her yet.

When I passed her off to her owners I told them to give her the weekend off and just let her work through the excitement of the convention and realize she did something amazing and it didn't kill her.

What was more exciting for me was how well Emma did with everything.  I knew she would be rubber necking when I took her in and it gave me the perfect opportunity to reward her for seeing so many things all of a sudden.  Each time she looked at a costume or make up I said her name in a happy voice and gave her a treat.  We started with her taking a treat once every 3 seconds and ended with her taking treats once every 7 to 10 seconds as we moved through the crowd.  There were points when I had 15 to 20 seconds between treats when she was laying at my feet and at one point there was a gap of nearly 5 minutes between treats while she relaxed by me.  It was the first sign that Emma was truly going to thrive in a public setting.

She's still going through a lot of emotional and mental changes as she moves into her second year of life, so there is not promise she'll be able to work full time in public venues yet, but she's showing the first signs that she has the foundation needed to succeed as long as we continue to make the trips into such settings positive.

Enjoy the pictures of the different costumes Max and I have seen over the years (many of them present at every convention) when attending SpoCon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

10 Months, 3 Weeks: Training - Days 150 - 154

I have a neurological disability that waxes and wanes and some days I wake feeling like someone has set every nerve in my body on fire.  I can have good mobility days were my balance isn't that bad and my foot movement is okay and I can have bad mobility days that make me look like the hunched hag shuffling along the streets in old movies.  Monday arrived with a bad mobility day, which kindly included a low energy day.  I was barely able to manage feeding and caring for the dogs and providing simple guidance without setting every nerve on fire.  I worked a bit of Zen and Target with Jack and included Emma in a refresher on her Target behaviors also.  She was spot on, not only remembering how to do a solid target on my hand, but closing cabinet doors and touching post it notes on the walls.

I then moved to a bit of Retrieve work with Emma, presenting a plastic egg to see if she would try to take it in her mouth.  I had no plan for her to pick it up, and was watching her body language to see if moving to oddly shaped objects would throw her off her rapid progress.  She was willing to try to take the egg in her mouth, but after one or two times of doing so shrunk into herself a bit.  I decided to play a bit with her instead and make things fun again.

On Tuesday I had no choice but to do laundry, even though I was worse than Monday.  The week before I simply didn't have a lot of energy, but knew a flare was coming.  I had rested as much as possible in hopes to keep it minor, but by Tuesday I couldn't even stand my arms resting on anything because it sent bone deep aches through my elbows or felt like I was rubbing my skin off.  My legs were burning as were my feet and anytime I stood it felt like I was tearing the skin and muscle off of the bone.  I was exhausted from the pain and nearly in tears.  I have nothing I can take to lighten the load when this happens and must endure the agony as best I can without becoming a sobbing mess.

I did no training with the dogs on Tuesday, but I did encourage Emma to try picking up clothes that fell from my hands when I was working with Max to retrieve my laundry.  Emma decided instead the bra that had fallen was a mat and laid on it.  I laughed at her and had Max retrieve my fallen clothes.

On Wednesday I could at least walk again and be outside without feeling like I was roasting.  I let the dogs play mostly, but worked with Emma on holding and handing me the pen when I moved my hand a short distance from her.  She did a great job with it and only got a little shy about the whole game.

When Ronda came to pick up Jack that night I had Emma take and then carry the pen to Ronda.  She would call Emma to her (Ronda was about 3 feet away) and Emma would wend and weave through the dogs and give her the pen.  Ronda would hand it back to her and I'd call her and she'd return to me.  She was having so much fun getting praised for giving us the pen she didn't realize she was training.

I was amazed and pleased with how well she carried the pen from point A to point B.  She kept a soft mouth on it, didn't drop it and held it until we clearly told her to give it to us.  What an amazing hold Emma has when she's carrying objects.

Today was the first day I felt human and had any form of energy in almost two weeks.  I spent a large part of the day catching up on paperwork and return phone calls, but wanted to address Emma's Retrieve one final time before Friday.  This weekend is a Con weekend (SpoCon is a science fiction convention I attend and will take Emma too early in the day for her public access outing) and I wanted today to be mostly relaxed and restful for the upcoming stress I will be placing her under when we go to pick up my badge.

The video attached is what happened when Emma had most of the week to think over what we've been working on.  Amazing progress!  Emma is now automatically picking up and handing me the pen!

What a wonderful breakthrough for Emma!

10 Months, 2 Weeks: Training - Days 147-149

Now Emma can pick up items and give them to me!
I know I had stated Emma's daily blogs were restarting and I had fully intended that, but then I had a major flare of my disability and the last two weeks have been a struggle to simply get through the day without falling over in tears and exhaustion from the pain.  As a result, I am behind by almost two weeks of blog posts, which I decided, since I am just starting to see my head rise above water again, to do in two large posts to catch everyone up.

Emma, on Tuesday, got the idea that maybe what I wanted was for her to take and then hand me the pen we'd been training with from progressively lower positions.  She didn't get the idea she could pick it up off of the floor and hand it to me, but she did figure out she could reach down almost all the way to the floor and then raise her head and hand it too me.  Too many repetitions of the same behavior still made her worried she was not doing it right, so I kept the 4 training sessions we did very short and with high energy and lots of praise.  Emma thrives on praise.

On Wednesday I didn't do any formal training.  With two hard days of retrieve work I wanted her to process and work through in her mind what I wanted.  I knew she was working hard on solving the problem because she became butt puppy again and was plucking plant leaves and chewing everything in sight, a sure sign she was working out stress and solving problems.

On Thursday I got some very high value treats and the pen and worked quickly from her head up and facing me when she took the pen and gave it back to her head near the floor and taking it from my palm and raising her head to hand it to me.  It didn't give her time to think MAYBE she was in trouble or MAYBE she was wrong and suddenly I just put the pen on the floor and she scooped it up and handed it to me.  I did some big hugs and lots of loves and praised the heck out of her and ended the lesson.  I didn't revisit it again until that evening.

In the evening we went from head high to head low in two rounds and she picked up and handed me the pen 3 times from the floor.  She was happy, engaged and enjoying her hugs and kisses when she gave me the pen each time.  I then went and got a dish cloth and put it on the floor.  Smart tat that she is, she decided I must be working on Mat behavior and laid on it.  I laughed with her and then taught her to quickly take and give the dish cloth and within three rounds had it on the floor.  Emma picked it up and handed it to me 2 times.  I was over joyed and we had a huge snuggle session after that.

On Friday Emma left for her grooming and went home afterwards to her family.

The break through of picking up and handing me both the pen and the dish cloth was huge.  Emma was, without question, not fearful or worried when we did these short sessions and the day off to think and work through the earlier lessons helped her solve the problem and realize she was making me happy when she did hand me items off the floor.  What a wonderful break through.

Emma has picked up two different types of objects from the floor and handed them to me at this time.  She is 2/3 of the way through Level 4 Retrieve!  She has done a plastic and cloth item and we'll work on metal and wood next with her retrieving.  After she confident with the smaller retrieve items I am working on, I am going to start adding new shapes, sizes and weights and build up her retrieve until she can and will retrieve, on cue, items I want off of the floor or other locations and bring them.  Emma is learning her first and primary service dog task!