Friday, March 14, 2014

17 Months: Training - Days 268 - 271

It appears that is no longer my chair.

So, Jack is spending the week at his home and I am down to 4 dogs for the week.  I have appointments almost every single day this week and Ronda and I discussed what would be best for my stress levels, especially since I am down a crate now that Tilly is going through her adjustment of moving into a new home and Roxie is still of the belief that Tilly is breathing her air.  For Tilly's safety, the wire crate at her home is very important and once Tilly doesn't need it anymore it will return, but until then, I am down a crate and until the weather gets too warm, I will have to take one of the dogs with me and leave them in the car when I run an errand.  Thankfully, the weather is perfect for that right now - a month sooner and it would have been too cold and in a short time it'll be too warm.

Today I had an appointment with an orthopedist to get me a brace for my left leg.  Though you can't see it well in the videos because I am not taking many steps, I drag my left leg badly.  Sometimes in the video you can hear the foot scraping along the floor.  I have foot drop and weak muscles in my hip which result in one of two things happening when I take a step forward - sometimes both in a single stride.  I either have my toe slide along the ground from the point I start to bring my foot forward to the point I start to put weight on it and/or I have the entire ball of my foot scrap along the ground if I am moving slow and don't shift my weight far enough to the right to fully bring my leg back for a stride - kinda of walking like a demented penguin.  Either way, when taking a step without the assistance of a cane or Max providing full counter balance, I have to lean heavily to my right to bring my foot around so that the toe it scraping and I am not just pushing the foot forward in a shuffle.  This has resulted in my not walking properly for a long time now and thus not using a lot of the muscles in the side of my hip or my buttocks properly.  On top of that, due to the weakness that is primarily in the front of my leg, my left leg tends to buckle some and at times my knee just collapses under me.  I tend to shift quickly to the right to stop from falling and Max has been taught to step into my leg or stand before me sideways to prevent that leg from buckling when I am standing still.  I hadn't realized until today how much it buckled before Max took over keeping it from folding out from under me when standing or stepping off a curb.

I was given a AFO called a BlueRocker.  It is a carbon based brace that goes under the foot, wraps by the ankle and then has a shin support that stops just below the knee.  The design is such that if my leg does try to buckle the shin support stops the process.  It also keeps my foot at a 90 degree angle to my leg and has a little lift to the toe, thus keeping my toe off the ground more when taking a step.  It absorbs the energy of my step and returns it on each forward stride to improve my overall walk.  It was strange at first working in it.  I was so used to my old method of walking I was struggling to take a step in it and everything felt strange, but with time I was returning to a more normal stride and suddenly felt the burning in the side of my hip and my buttock.  So, THAT'S where those muscles went!  Wow!

There is more going on with my leg and feet.  She wants to set me up with something that assists my hip in bringing my leg up higher so my toe no longer scrapes the ground at all and I need special orthopedics for my feet due to tearing in the tendons and muscles in the soles and spurs in the heels.  Overall, this should relieve a lot of the pain I have been having with my legs, just leaving the nerve pain.  The tearing in my ankles, sensation of feeling like someone has beaten the bottoms of my feet with a board all day and the deep bruised and stabbing pain in my heels should all be reduced if not eliminated.

Since I don't have Jack this week, I didn't have to play the "whose staying in the car this time?" game with the dogs.  I had an odd start to my day as it was and so my training time was off too.  Instead of starting by 8 AM, I was starting closer to 10 AM.  Emma's owner is working at a tax shop near by and told me that she was starting at 9 AM in the morning and would be dropping Emma off closer to 9 AM than 8:30 AM as they normally do.  I had spent a lot of the night before fussing in bed trying to sleep.  After all of the walking at RadCon I was in a great deal more pain than normal.  I hadn't used the chair for a majority of the weekend and though I rarely went out or far from the hotel room when I was there, I did walk the length of the hotel more than once and worked in the hall several times and stood on hard, cold pavement in slippers for a period of time - all of that had left me with lasting pain and spasms and sleep on Monday night was hard to achieve.  I didn't fall asleep until well after 1:30 AM and woke near 8 AM.

Since I didn't expect Emma until near 9 AM I quickly jumped into the shower between 8: 15 AM and 8: 30 AM.  I was just out of the shower and just starting to dry off when Max barked the bark that says "someone knocked" and I had to wrap myself in a towel and go to the door.  It was Emma's owner looking annoyed and not understanding why I was hiding behind the door - mainly because I was in nothing but a smile and a towel.  I later checked my voice mail and learned she'd knocked for several minutes at the door before I became aware she was there.  If I had known she was coming at the normal time I would have been available, but I was led to believe that Emma would, for sometime, be arriving later than she did this morning.

This threw my schedule off a bit and I was still feeling weak; it takes me days to recover from the amount of walking I did over the weekend.  I fed both Max and Dieter and preped Malcolm and Emma's meals and finally, after getting my medication in me and some food, got to the dogs.

This weekend I got to watch some lovely videos on proofing behaviors, counter conditioning and working at and through thresholds.  Each video gave me a better idea of how to work on improving skills that the dogs already have.  I have been proofing Sit/Stay and Down/Stay with all of the dogs once they got an good idea of what I want.  The previous posts of my making noises, banging walls, cupboards and drawers and bouncing balls as well as moving around and picking up items and putting them down have all been proofing techniques and over the weekend I saw how those had indeed paid off as Malcolm practiced a stay at the side of my power chair in a high distraction environment and was extremely successful.

The video I saw was of a woman proofing a dog doing all kinds of strange body movements from arms waving to spinning to flopping on the floor.  I can't do all of those and would later in the day be able to visit with my son Walter and show him the video and discuss his doing that proofing technique with the dogs for me and how to build up to the level we saw in the video.  The counter conditioning video showed how to find the dogs threshold and then work up to and through it and the other video talked about working at and through thresholds also.  Timely as ever, these videos helped me today in working with Emma.

When proofing Malcolm's Sit/Stay I found out for him that the oven door opening while I was turned away from him caused him issues and we had to work at and through his threshold until he could do the Sit/Stay with the door opening all the way.  I also found out that the tool I used to close the oven door caused issues and I needed to do the same with it until I could open and then close the oven door without his breaking his stay.

I decided to do the same lesson with Emma.  I have never proofed with the oven before and thought she may have the same problems.  I was right.  She was more fearful than Malcolm, but she was willing to work with me and I slowly built up her threshold and worked until she could sit calm and confident as I opened the door and then closed it.

For her the door as not as much of an issue as the tool moving over her head.  We worked on that and she got it and was gaining confidence throughout the lesson.  She was a trooper and stayed with me all the way through the lesson.  It was a great session and Emma was up and happy with herself when we finished.

Had too much fun in the snow!

Poor Emma spends the first 24 and some weeks up to 48 hours having to be near me but not on me, touching me or close to my face because of the perfume in her coat.  I am allergic to it and it gives me a blazing migraine and makes my sinus' hurt when she's just in the room; if she cuddles with me I have problems breathing and can feel my throat start to tighten and mucus start to clog my airways.  Malcolm is not much better off.  For the first 24 hours he ends up with major scratching episodes if he touches her, and he does touch her because he wants to play with her.  On the second day he doesn't scratch as much or as long (on the first day each physical contact results in 15 minutes of tearing at his skin with his hind feet or chewing on himself to the point of crying) but there is still a mild reaction as the perfume dissipates from her coat.  Generally by the third day both Malcolm and I can be around her and not react, but by then she's certain I am shunning her.  I'm not, but I also don't want to bath her weekly just to clear her coat of the perfume and have her wet for half the day while she dries.

A friend is bringing me a dryer for her so when she arrives I can bath her and use a vinegar rinse on her coat to descent her and make it possible for both Malcolm and I to be near her.  She really desires physical contact and is craving it by the time her coat has aired out over here.  As a matter of fact, it affects her overall mood when she can't get the type of contact she desires.  She wants to be close to me, laying in my lap or tucked tight against my chest and held tight for a bit.  She wants to press her head into my face and get loves.  She can't do these things - what had started as a mild irritant with the perfume has slowly developed into a major allergy and I can no longer have her within a foot of me for almost 2 days without reacting to it.  To make it worse, I am starting to have a skin reaction too, my skin also starts to itch and I get a rash if I pet her without her getting close to my face, so it won't be long before I can't touch or handle her for 2 days when she first arrives because of the perfume in her coat.

That meant today's lesson came without any physical contact with me.  I couldn't give her pets or affection for a job well done when working on her task training.  She gets a huge emotional boost from a simple pet or stroke under the chin, but with my palms starting to itch and my already showing a reaction that affects my breathing, I don't want to keep pushing my allergy to the perfume in her coat.  By tomorrow I can touch her and will need to groom her, since she is looking a bit rough, but for today, she's still in the no fly zone.  I hate seeing that sad look in her eyes when I have to tell her not yet, but I just can't risk it anymore.

Even so, her muzzle touched my palm today and it was itching after the lesson.  It won't be long before I can't even hand her her treats.  I will have to pick up some apple cider vinegar for next week and do the rinse, whether I have the dryer or not.  She simply can't go for 2 days without direct physical contact anymore, it's not fair to her.

She worked today on learning to pick up her bowl.  I was using Dieter's bowl to train her with, since it's less likely to worry her as she learns the task.  I offered her to touch the bowl and rewarded that and built up to her putting her mouth on and her teeth on the bowl.  We didn't get much further and she's not taking any weight of the bowl herself yet, but she is willing to try and that is fantastic.  I will continue to work this until she can take and hold the bowl and the slowly lower it to the ground until she picks it up and hands it to me and then rebuild the task with her metal bowl.

She's doing a great job of joining the training game, but I do want to make her first two days in the house more pleasant, so I will be setting up a bath station for her and hopefully have the dryer soon so she's able to dry off all the way after her baths here.

LOVE play days!

I am not just a dog trainer.  I am a disabled handler who uses a service dog.  I am a dog owner.  I am a puppy raiser.  I am many things and when it comes to Malcolm's growth, I need to remember he needs to be a puppy as much as he needs to train to become my next assistance dog.

Today was puppy day for the whole household.  Emma too needs just a day of play and cuddles and just to be a dog.  With the strong reaction both Malcolm and I had this week to her perfumed coat, she spent two days getting verbal praise and basic task training, but not a lot of the other vital things she needs for emotional health.  She hadn't gotten the time to sleep against my leg or curl in my lap.  She didn't get the pats and rib thumps and physical contact that makes her feel safe and secure.  I had noted yesterday a return of her shy and slightly fearful self because of this and it's the very last thing I want to see.  I want her up and happy and as secure in my home as my dogs; this isn't happening when she spends 1 to 2 days having to keep her distance from me while she airs out.

Today was a make up day for all of that attention she was missing.  I groomed her and spent time talking to her and giving her 100% of my attention.  I had her curled against my leg in the chair and spent most of the day giving her verbal and physical attention.  She was near shutdown this morning when I began this and ended the day up and happy again.  That's it.  I am bathing her when she comes next week so she doesn't have to go through such a long period out of contact.  She can't handle it.

Malcolm enjoyed cuddles and play and just being my baby too; as did Max and Dieter.  We enjoyed some movies and just lazing about and hanging tight as a family.  Overall, all of the dogs settled out nicely by the end of the day.  Each and every one of them were displaying their own form of "but all I want is your attention" behaviors and giving each 100% of my attention off and on all day really was a needed part of raising healthy, happy and secure dogs.

Some times the best thing for the dog isn't pushing through a training plan, but meeting a basic need of love and affection so they can train later.  I have dogs who are emotionally balanced tonight because I simply became a dog owner and took off my other hats.


I ended the week with Emma having her practice Level 2: Step 1 Communication.  Emma is learning the harder tug tasks she needs for her job.  I had decided against taking her out for public access while I worked on these harder tasks due to her emotional state.  She is in that up and down emotional state of an almost 18 month old dog which means some weeks are better than others.  This week she was off due to my keeping her at a distance so much the week prior.  To make things worse, the past couple of weeks have been colder than a brass brazier and my symptoms flared up badly.  With the cold ranging in the low teens or single digits the idea of bathing Emma and having her damp for most of the day, thus also cold for most of the day, seemed unfair and I didn't bath her at the beginning of the week like I planned; it simply wasn't fair to her to ask her to be chilled and risk illness.

After a day of cuddles she was doing so much better and I started her on Communication again.  She needs to back up to pull of jackets, pants and shirts for her handler.  She'll need it to pull down covers and again to pull them up.  She'll need it to open doors and she'll need it for many of the harder tugging tasks she can do for him.  Her feet are stuck.  She's not backing up when pulling the jacket off my arms.  She's instead doing a head jerk and using her front paws to pull the jacket off.  To make this task easier I need to have her pull by backing up.  To do this, I need to remind her she can back up.

I had her doing a lovely back up before, but we haven't practiced it and she's forgotten.  I spent the morning just getting her feet moving and getting her feet moving backwards.  Remember, we'd been working on swinging into a finish and she was offering that over and over.  She had me laughing with her silly butt wiggles, but it was all sideways movement.  In the end we started to get backwards movement, but she'll need more work on it to get a good back up on cue.

I want to work this until she can take five or six steps backwards without thinking when cued.  Once she can do that, I'll work on her taking a tug and back up with it in her mouth and then apply it to the jacket task and then the pants task.  This step should make her life much easier in learning these tasks.

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 Completed 2 Completed 2
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 3 Completed Completed Completed

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 Completed 2 1 1
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 4 0
Jump Relax Handling Retrieve Communication
Step Completed 2 Completed Completed 1

Level 4
Zen Come Retrieve Target Relax
Step Completed 0 Completed 0 0
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 5 0
Handling Communication

Step Completed 0

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