Friday, April 4, 2014

19 Months: Training - Days 290 - 293

Emma loves outside time.

Are we already nearly at 300 days?  Wow!  Hard to believe we've been on this journey this long.  A lot has changed since Emma first arrived for training.  Attitude, Emma's mentor for proper dog behavior has passed, Jack joined the family and we had a brief visit from Maura while she was fostered before heading off to find her new home and now Malcolm is being mentored by Emma on proper dog behavior.  What a change for Ms. Emma to be the adult in the family teaching the youngster it's rude to jump on her or try to take her bones or toys.  Emma went from a pup who barely knew to hold her bladder in the home to a young dog who aids her handler on the weekends and continues to learn important tasks to assist him.  It won't be long before a video will be compiled of Emma's skill set to show the world what she's learned on this journey.

Last Friday when Emma was picked up I was told by her owner that she would arrive at her normal time on Monday.  I was relieved.  As I stated in earlier blog posts, Emma's late arrival has affected the flow of the first day of the week, which seems to set off a chain reaction for the remainder of the week.  I don't do change well at times and with my disability flucuating any change can throw me into a loop.  I live by a schedule for a reason - if I don't things simply don't happen.

I am struggling to survive on a very narrow income and to do so I must make contact with clients who called during training time and left messages during business hours and arrange appointments to meet and work with them.  This is part of the schedule I set for myself and the dogs to ensure there is power, food and gas available for the entire household.  On top of that I finally have health insurance and can continue to explore what the cause of my disability is.  This means a series of appointments with physical therapists, neurologists and other doctors.  I have accounted for those appointments in my schedule also.  I have applied for social security disability and must meet those obligations as well - which includes appointments to determine the extent of my disability.  A seemingly minor change in my schedule can result in a major chain reaction in my week and that has been happening for the past few weeks.

At first I was told that Emma would be arriving closer to 9:00 AM instead of between 7:30 AM and 8:30 AM.  Since Emma regularly arrived at 8:30 AM I had worked my schedule around that arrival time.  A half an hour change actually changed the entire morning routine, but could be worked around.  In the end, Emma arrived regularly at 9:30 AM instead of the time I had adjusted the schedule to.  That half an hour made a huge change in the day and threw the entire works into a mess.

With Emma arriving on time this week it meant putting the schedule back to what worked best for me and the dogs.  I wake between 6:00 AM and 6:30 AM on weekdays.  I tend to hit the snooze a few times because it takes about half an hour to get my muscles to relax enough to allow me to walk more than the 1 to 2 feet to my alarm clock to press the snooze.  By the time 6:30 AM comes I have relaxed the muscles in my legs enough that a major crippling cramp won't happen and I can go to the front door and let the boys out for their morning potty break.  While they are out I get my first cup of coffee and prepare their meals.  I had used to wait for Emma to arrive for breakfast, but stopped when her arrival time became unpredictable and it left Malcolm, Max and Dieter extra excitable and grumpy due to a late breakfast. 

By 7:00 AM I have showered normally, fed Max and Dieter their morning meal and lately fed Malcolm half of his to calm his ravenous appetite due to a sudden growth spurt.  By 7:30 AM I have trained Malcolm and started the first of my morning phone calls.  By 8:30 AM I am exhausted but not hungry yet.  I have never been hungry when I first wake, not even as a child.  I generally don't eat my first meal until late morning.  Coffee is my  morning staple and keeps the migraine I am threatened with daily at bay most days.  On bad days, I do all of this with a blinding migraine that makes each movement of my body make me feel like I am about to tip off the planet and light and sound extremely painful.

By 9:00 AM it's time for the dogs to play in the yard.  I don't let them out sooner because of the bus stop.  It's still the school year and the kids gather between 7:30 AM and 9:00 AM for the various buses that come through the neighborhood.  The bus stop is only a few feet away from my fence line and I don't think it's fair to the parents or children to have 4 or 5 dogs barking their fool heads off at them.  I also have seen the unsupervised children come up to my fence and reach over it, even with the dogs going nuts and their ruffs standing on end.  For the safety of both the children and the dogs, I keep the dogs in the house during bus time.  I have 3 to 4 bus times during the day and must regularly check to see if parents or children are gathering near my fence before letting the dogs out.

During their first playtime I go out and pick up after the dogs.  With 4 to 5 dogs in a small yard it is important to clean the yard as often as the weather permits.  This is where things had started to fall apart.  Though I had moved up Malcolm's training during my wait for Emma and fed the dogs on time despite her not being present, playtime was held at bay waiting for her arrival and it led to a riot in the house.  After a long night of sleep and being awake and at the prime time for their physical and mental activity, the boys were going crazy waiting for permission to go out.  Malcolm, a young teenage dog with a lot of energy and after a nights sleep truly needs to go play.

I had kept them in so they wouldn't interfere with Emma's arrival and coming into the yard, but was left with Malcolm running laps in the house and banging on the front door begging out.  Max was grumpy with Malcolm's antics and wanted to run in the yard too.  Dieter was grouchy too with Malcolm banging the chair he lays in and trying to get him to play.  By the time Emma arrived the boys were in a heightened state of excitement and were reacting to any sound they heard.  Today I decided I didn't care anymore.  If Emma couldn't arrive on time the schedule that had kept the house in balance and the boys happy would be kept.

I had finished my morning routine by 8:30 AM as per normal and received the phone call from Emma's owner that she was leaving the house at 8:47 AM and would be arriving after 9:00 AM to drop her off.  I took both Max and Malcolm out to play.  Dieter was offered, but decided to snooze on my chair.  Both boys were running and playing in the yard while I picked up behind them when Emma arrived.  Malcolm was overjoyed to see her arrive and I had to call him three times before he let me take his collar and allow her in without being molested.

I let them play for almost half an hour in the yard after her arrival.  It was just afte 9:30 AM when we went back into the house.  By now my blood sugars were down and I had to eat myself.  I gave Emma a 1/4 cup of her food to keep her stomach from becoming upset and made myself breakfast so I could take my medication and keep my pre-diabetes under control.  By the time I had finished eating it was 10:00 AM.  By this time my mental clarity and physical energy is at it's lowest and I have to push to train Emma and not just push it off to another day.  A simple change in schedule can affect the entire day for me - I have only so much I can give with clarity and by 10:00 AM I am entering my daily muddy thought process and nearing my required rest period.  I had taken many breaks during the preceding hours, but by this point my pain levels have risen to an all time high and I simply need to stop for a prolonged period of time to prevent my collapsing for the remainder of the day.  Training through that required rest period means I am spending energy I'll need for the rest of the day and thus by the end of the day spending the next days energy and thus the cascade starts.

It may not seem like a huge thing to many, but when working with chronic pain and fatigue and a limited amount of energy that can be spent during the day and during certain times of the day, a simple shift of half and hour to an hour in a schedule can lead to a huge change in the entire week.  For me, it can be the difference between having the energy to take the dogs out for public access training or not and even if I can train with any level of focus.  The past few weeks the cascade has resulted in my training plans falling apart and my focus evading me.  I am truly hoping soon my schedule can get back to normal so both Emma and Malcolm can benefit.

I spoke earlier about Emma's excitability.  Emma is, by definition, a very excitable dog.  She can easily be wound up with a happy voice or a stroke along her body.  She can go from perfectly calm to bouncing off of the walls in a single second.  She finds the handling of her leash or harness extremely exciting and for her it's like waking on Christmas morning and finding a 100 presents under the tree every single time.  For Max and Malcolm, my picking up their leashes and harnesses is like waking on Saturday morning and its cartoon time.  I prefer the Saturday morning excitement.  That excitement has a level of control and thought involved; the Christmas excitement is out of control.

Last week I worked on her accepting my touching and then lifting and finally putting on her leash with Saturday morning excitement and she did very well.  I also reminded her she could give into the pressure on her collar and not pull.  This week I will expand on that concept and explain to her how she can exit the door of the house and go to the car with calm control and still enjoy herself.

I worked for one 3 minute Round on just giving to the leash.  Last week she was tense and would lock her muscles and fight giving to the pressure.  This week she was fluid and moving nicely with the leash.  The only direction she's still resisting is forward, but the time it took her to unlock her muscles and move into the pressure was only a few seconds, a marked improvement from last week.  We'll continue to explain the need to give to the pressure and make it a natural behavior for her again.

I worked for one 3 minute Round on just walking with a loose lead beside me in the house.  While I work with Emma I have Malcolm crated, since his "Other Dog Zen" is weak right now and she doesn't need him pushing in right now.  I will start working him on Go To Mat (GTM) to help explain this behavior over the course of the week.

I then worked on several 3 minute Rounds of her exiting the house without bolting out the door.  The first time I opened the door she shot forward, but hit the end of the lead when this happened.  It surprised her and she was taken a bit back by the sudden stop.  I hadn't given her a leash correction, but the effect was much the same and for such a soft girl it was a bit over the top for her and she wouldn't take the treat I offered when I clicked for her sitting down next to me.  She actually wouldn't take a treat when just inside the house, but would just outside the house.  I truly wish she hadn't done that to herself; it clearly upset her.

She figured out the concept of walking under control beside me out of the front door.  We then worked up and down the ramp to the gate for two 3 minute rounds and then finally for 2 three minute rounds we worked going in and out of the gate under control.  Kibble, by the time we reached the gate, no longer worked for her.  Between the first and second round working the gate I raised the value of the kibble by adding some chopped tripe to it.  She was very keen on the food by then and more than willing to work with me.

We ended the last of her food by working on Sit, Down, Stand and Pull (using the cabinet door) with Malcolm out of his crate.  I used these skills because they are her strongest and her distractability with Malcolm is very strong.  She did very well actually and finished on a high note.  I, on the other hand, was finished for the day.  It was 11:30 AM by the time we finished her training and the hopes of going to the local playground in the early afternoon with her and Malcolm to work further on leash skills was no longer on the table.  I was exhausted and had pushed too hard and had used the last of my energies for the day and yet still had work to do with the blogs.

I am pleased with the better control Emma is demonstrating now that we are breaking it all back down for her.  I am happy to see her leash manners coming back faster than I expected.  I am hoping by the end of the week to get her out of the yard and into a new location to continue working on proper leash manners so we can begin to go to public locations to work on her public access skills.  The goal is to have her calm and thinking from start to finish without an extreme reaction of excitement before ever leaving the house.

She did great today and her mood for the remainder of the day was fantastic.  With the warm day I was able to give the dogs two very long play sessions in the yard, which helped everyone's mood.  My Mom dropped by in the late afternoon and we were both pleased to see that despite Emma's Christmas morning excitement at meeting her, she kept her feet on the floor and tried very hard to visit without jumping too much.  More work needed, but she's trying and I am happy to see that.

Here's hoping I didn't spend tomorrow's spoons.

Watching the neighbors.

It's 10:02 PM and my neighbor just started with the music thrumming through the neighborhood again.  I tend to spend my time waiting for my legs to stop spasming and my pain levels to lower enough for sleep doing the nights entries in the blogs - if my mental clarity and energy permits.  On the bad days or weeks I don't even have the energy to type up the day's events and lay in bed waiting for my body to permit me to sleep and my neighbor to get past his tribal drum solo so I can sleep.  Though I wake between 6:00 AM and 6:30 AM in the morning, there are nights I don't get to sleep until 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM due to pain and/or my neighbor making so much racket I can't relax and stop the spasms.  On a good night I generally don't get to sleep until after 11:00 PM or Midnight.

That was the case last night.  I spent the night typing up the day's events for both dogs and waiting for the pain in my legs to subside and my migraine, brought on by the deep thrumming of drum and bass through my walls (enough to rattle my dishes) from 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM.  The noise had ended by 10:00 PM, though it would rise and fall off and on until nearly 2:00 AM and something would set the entire household off barking at 3:00 AM.  I felt rung out when the alarm went off at 6:00 AM and actually couldn't relax again after I hit snooze the first time and got up at 6:15 AM.

Emma has always been excitable when I first wake.  She takes my first deep breath of the morning as invite to launch out of the bed like an acrobat and start bouncing and barking, thus setting the rest of the house off.  I have worked different ways to tell her this is not acceptable, but she didn't believe me.  It's just too self rewarding to act that way and it always seems to get me up - ah, yes, then I am indeed rewarding the behavior.

For the past two weeks anytime she went off and set the house off I would just pull the covers back up and pretend to sleep.  It seemed to startle the whole household.  The goal was to hurry me to the front door, not get me back in bed!  It worked.  Malcolm, who was never a barker in the morning, but a world class wrestler and thus riler up, even came to a stop and poked me to see if I had died suddenly.

The silence meant I would get up, which would set off the riot again.  It took time, but they put it together.  Acting up made me go to bed, being quiet got me out of bed.  This morning I took that deep breath and rolled to find both Malcolm and Emma watching me with a "oh good, you survived the night" look on their faces.  Cute, their comics.

As Malcolm's blog states, by 6:45 AM I was showered, 7:00 AM Max and Dieter got their full meals and Emma and Malcolm got a portion of their meals (Emma got 1/4 cup to keep her tummy awake and prevent dry vomiting and Malcolm 1/2 his meal to prevent sudden starvation during a growth spurt) and I had my first cup of coffee entering my system.  By 7:30 AM I had Malcolm trained and by 8:00 AM it became clear that Emma had no intention of training.

I started on loose leash work again by clicking good behavior when I touched her leash and offering her a kibble and she pursed her lips and refused to eat it.  I offered it a second time and she turned her head away.  Fine.  I ended the session and put her bowl up.  It surprised her, but she needs to work for her meal, not be picky about what she eats - which she is doing again.

Emma is under weight.  It is because she is such an active dog and burns calories like mad and doesn't eat near enough without a lot of coaxing on our part.  She is one of those "anorexic" dogs and needs to learn to eat on a regular basis.  It can be maddening.  Emma has never been a good eater, not even as a baby, and if we don't keep up the attitude that she won't get anything better if she doesn't eat what she's offered she will become very picky about her food and wait for it to improve.  I also think she really doesn't like her food in general.  She prefers the food I feed the boys, which is a different protein than what she gets in her food, but both are from the same company.  The Salmon and Sweet Potato formula has a rich and lovely scent to it and never smells off or stale like the Turkey and Sweet Potato formula she eats.  I actually find the smell of her food very unpleasant and it is very likely she does also.

I have asked she be changed to the Beef and Sweet Potato formula for two reasons.  She was for a while eating my dogs food when she'd run out of her own here.  She was calmer on the Salmon and Sweet Potato and more focused and she ate it very well.  When she returned to the Turkey and Sweet Potato she became unbelievably excitable again.  I think the Turkey, which should be calming for most dogs, is not for her.  I think the Beef and Sweet Potato formula will be better overall for her.  Hopefully she'll like the smell and flavor of that formula better also.

I intended to get to her training sooner, but between paperwork and phone calls I didn't return to her training until late afternoon.  I offered her a kibble and she greedily took it. Yup, she just needed to get hungry.  I took her out and walked her to the gate on a loose lead, mostly.  She is walking too far forward (her butt is about half a foot before my knees when she's allowed to tell me where she things she should walk) and she likes a small amount of tension on her lead.  This can become exhausting if walking her for several hours on lead and thus needs to be fixed.  Walking that far forward doesn't give her the level of feed back for properly turning with her handler either.  In a wheelchair a bit forward is good, but it should be at her shoulder, not 6 inches in front of the handler.  At least she's walking calm and has her mind in place.

She was able to take treats once we exited the gate, which she did with calm control and worked nicely finding and working at the right spot for loose lead beside me.  She had a nice J in the leash and was resetting herself when I stopped and she wandered too far ahead.  She can quickly forget she's attached to a leash and is supposed to keep track of where I am.

We were doing great working in the street before the house and my next door neighbors empty lot when the neighbor dog came over.  I have one neighbor who cannot contain any animal she owns.  She had ducks one year and they both went wandering by my house wing in wing chatting it up as they headed for heavy traffic on Park road.  Her pig escaped.  Her ferrets got into my yard and were attacked my Attitude and Dieter.  Her male dog has been sponsored in my blogs many times - he was the one bugging the crap out of me last year by breeding in the lots beside me and running loose and challenging the dogs all summer.  He's gone now as so many of her animals are within a year or two.  She had a lab mix that was hit and killed on Broadway.  She still owns a Pom who was also hit that day, but lived and was moved to live with her parents.  He was out daily and running the neighborhood prior to that.  She now has a new puppy, her favorite time of a dogs life (she rarely keeps the adults for long) and he came bustling over to check us out.  It's going to be another long summer.

He looks like the offspring of the dog they owned previously.  Tiny head, big body and dorky looking, but still very young and playful.  He's lucky he rushed up to Emma and not Malcolm.  Malcolm would have been over threshold with the boldness of this pup.  Emma and he greeted nicely and Emma lost focus on the lessons.  The pup play bowed and jumped on her head and barked at her.  I went to walk Emma away, but she couldn't walk without watching him closely and he was following trying to entice play.  I picked Emma up and carried her back to the yard with the puppy hot on my heels.

He tried to get her to play for a bit outside of my fence and then left.  I worked Emma in the yard for a few more minutes and she was fantastic.  I had left Malcolm loose in the house with Max and Dieter and decided it was time to let him and the other two out.  I unhooked Emma and worked her loose while Malcolm and the other two played in the yard.  She kept finding the sweet spot beside me and really worked on staying at my side the entire time.  She was really into the lesson and did fantastic.

I then had her do Level one behaviors while sitting between Malcolm and Max and she was top notch.  Her confidence working around Malcolm is improving and I am happy to see it.  I am still doing very short lessons when Malcolm is present and it's things she knows extremely well.  This has boosted her willingness to offer behaviors around him.  This will later translate to working in public around things that may be a bit frightening for her normally without feeling the stress she has in the past nor shutting down as she has in the past.  Malcolm, for Emma, can be very overpowering when he's focused on earning treats with her and for Emma this is a challenge that we've been working on in small steps to prevent her being overwhelmed by it.  She is doing very well and her confidence is improving as a result.

We ended the day with play and cuddles before dinner.  I offered her dinner, but she is again refusing to eat from the bowl.  I gave her a count of five and picked up the meal.  I do hope a change in food will improve her appetite.  Emma is about 3 pounds underweight and on her it is noticeable.  I can easily feel her skull bones, ribs and back bone and there is simply not enough cushion on them.  I have increased her daily allotment to 2 cups a day from the 1 1/2 cups a day to account for the increased activity Spring has brought on, but if she won't eat it it won't put the weight she needs on her.

I am hoping tomorrow she'll be more inclined to eat and thus work more distance on loose leash work and preparing to practice in a new location this week to prepare her for going to the Safeway parking lot and working on calm entry into the store.

Last year she barked at every sight, now she just watches.

The most disheartening thing I face is Emma turning her nose up to her food.  Her weight is too low and I am struggling to get enough calories into her to get her weight up where it belongs, yet she simply won't eat all of the food I offer her.  We had done the entire protocol for teaching her to eat, which had improved her appetite, but for the past three weeks I have seen her appetite again wain and her choose to not eat at least one meal a day.  I again faced her not wanting to eat.  She'd been fussy about her food all week, but it hit it's peak on Wednesday morning.

I offered her the 1/4 cup of food I do most mornings to keep her stomach from becoming upset and she gave it a half hearted sniff and walked off.  She's always been fussy about food, but she's more fussy about the Turkey and Sweet Potato food than she ever was about the Salmon and Sweet Potato.  I picked up her food and felt a level of defeat sink in.  I can only get so far with praise and affection with her training and really need to work with some food to help her advance; I also need her to eat enough food to keep her weight up.

I waited about an hour and offered her a kibble from her bowl.  She sniffed it like I was about to poison her and turned her head away as if to say it turned her stomach.  That got me to thinking and I went into the kitchen, put her kibble back and played around in the kitchen for a moment while she laid in my chair.  I returned with a kibble from Malcolm's bowl and offered it to her.  She gave it the same sniff and then ate it eagerly.  That did it.  She doesn't like the food we are feeding her and would rather starve than eat it.  Not a problem, I decided that Malcolm could eat the amount of food she would normally be getting from her stash of food and she could eat her amount from Malcolm's.  I can't afford to feed her out of my dog's bin without replacing that amount currently - the exchange solves all of our problems.

I returned her food to her bag and replaced it with Malcolm's and she happily worked for it.  I had done half of her normal morning amount to start with and when I went to get the other half cup I mixed her food and Malcolm's half and half.  She actually spit out the Turkey kibble each time she was given it and only ate the Salmon kibble.  In the end, she chose to eat some of the Turkey kibble, but it was only after the Salmon was gone and Max showed interest in her kibble.

Since our day started on such a weird note I decided to shape her to touching a post it note on the floor with her foot.  She happily worked for the food and enjoyed the lesson.

In the evening I gave her a cup of food in her bowl and she ate it without issue.  She's still a bit hesitant to start eating, but at least she's eating.  What I did note is with the increase to 1 cup of food in the morning and 1 cup of food in the evening she's actually emotionally more stable and calmer.  She's not barking at sounds as much and she's showing better self control.  It'll be nice when I feel meat over her hips and ribs again.  I hate feeling how thin she is right now.

Watching Dieter play.

My neighbor started the music again at 10:00 PM and ran it until 2:00 AM.  In order to hope for any sleep I had the TV running to deaden the sound of the thumping, but it didn't help.  I slept poorly, woke several times during the night and woke with my neck muscles locked and my skull on fire.  I struggled to wake and tried to push into training.  I had showered, fed the dogs their morning meal which Emma ate without issue and was struggling with Malcolm's training when I felt the first waves of dizziness and brain burn start.  A few minutes later I felt like I would be sick and light and sound made me absolutely ill.  Any movement made things worse.  It was a migraine to beat all migraines and I told the dogs I was done for the day.

I fed Emma and Malcolm the last of their morning meal and sent everyone out for a quick potty break and then crawled into bed and covered my eyes to stop the pain from the light.  It was clear I wasn't doing well when Max curled up against me and Malcolm gave me soft kisses and Emma laid her head on my feet.  They all stayed quiet while I slept off the worst of the migraine.

No training happened today, but we spent the day curled up watching movies once my head allowed it and enjoying each other's company.  Emma ate the entire cup of food for dinner without issue and enjoyed an evening of X-Men movies curled against me and regular trips out for potty breaks.  It was a quiet day of cuddling that ended with my head not hurting near as bad as it did this morning.

I am just happy to see her eating well finally and enjoying her food.  Hopefully in a week or so we'll finally have her weight where it should be and she can finally put on the muscle she's supposed to for this stage of her life.

Tomorrow is grooming day and as a result our week ends here.  It's been a good week for Emma and I have seen a lot of progress in her excitement level and her ability to focus and work.  Solving the issue with her food has helped and I believe we are again moving in a forward direction.  Let's see if we can't get the tug tasks finished over the next week or so!

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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