Sunday, June 22, 2014

21 Months: Training - Days 337 - 341

Emma loves playing outside.
Monday - Friday

I love dogs and I love working with them.  I especially enjoy watching them solve a problem, be it one I give them or one they create for themselves.  I love the pure joy of a puppy just discovering it's world and exploring everything with reckless abandon as they paw, taste and poke something new.  I find a dog whose brain is engaged and desires to try something truly energizing; I also find a dog who needs emotional and mental energy from me to get them engaged extremely exhausting.

Chevy had returned prior to Emma's arrival on Monday and I had already trained Malcolm his morning lesson.  Malcolm energizes me.  He engages, tries, explores and makes me laugh.  He gives more than he takes in any lesson and I find myself walking away with a lightness that makes me feel great.

Chevy is not like that.  He actually reminds me of my son Walter, who is autistic, and I would spend the entire week yet again trying to get Chevy engaged.  He was a huge energy drain.  I had to watch him closely to ensure I rewarded the stuff I liked and redirected from the stuff I didn't want him doing.  I find that the constant monitoring stage of a dog who doesn't have all of the basic skills needed for good communication highly draining.

Emma is an energy drain of a different sort.  She is engaged, explores and desires to join the game, but finds it scary sometimes and is highly needy of emotional support.  Emma can tire me out fast when she's in the nose nudge, chin on leg, eyes pleading, jump in lap stage.  Even though I have given her lots of praise and rewards and comfort during Chevy's stay, Emma was strained and showing a lot of her high stress signs.  During the course of the week she would destroy no less than four toys, go into constant rounds of rolling barks and be extremely hyper and needy all at the same time.

She worked fantastic on her first day on her mat behaviors and got up to 8 out of 10 times of laying on the mat and beginning to relax by rolling her hip and putting her chin down.  We even got up to knocking on the cabinets.  She was enjoying the lesson and really working it, but she's never been 100% into the training game and I can see that caution that says "if I get this wrong my world will crash" in her body movements.  I have to force myself to smile when I train her (I am not a smiley person by nature) and make sure she's dead solid on on part of a skill before advancing it to keep her up and engaged.  It is exhausting.

I would spend the rest of the week working on practical application of her skills.  She's near completion and needs to begin "working" daily in my home to build confidence and proficiency on her skills.  She is bringing me my socks (even diving under my bed to get them if needed) and helping turn down my bed and make it in the mornings.  She's retrieving things around the house as needed and practicing her deep pressure task daily.  She's "working" for me at this point and doing a very fine job of it.

The Deep Pressure task, which I have yet to get a good cue for, is simply putting her legs and chest across my legs and letting me rub her back, neck and shoulders.  She's up to standing and holding that position for up to 15 minutes now and has that happy content smile I like to see on her face.  I have been training it all along, just haven't really spoken of it.  She loves to get attention, but had a bad habit in her youth (still does) of simply leaping into someones lap for the attention.  I converted that to "asking" for permission by placing her feet on my legs and then further directed it to her laying across my lap and then built duration up.  She's been practicing and building up duration now for months and is now ready to begin applying it to her handler when home.

This task has two benefits.  When her handler becomes upset it's a way for her to be with him and calm him.  He can rub his hands in her fur and she'll stay there as long as he needs to calm down.  She can also lay across his legs in a way that doesn't add pointy bits, but even pressure with warmth seeping into his muscles to relieve pain.  I am teaching Malcolm the same task (for pain in my case) and he's up to 2 minutes across my lap already.

Some weeks I use practical application of known skills to cement them in her mind and see if any of them need tweaking to make them better.  She's solid on the tasks she knows now and can do for her handler.  On Friday, when I sent her home, I asked that they have her begin her job in the home.

She is to retrieve for him if needed, take things to him if asked for (such as the remote control or clothing), turn down and make his bed, help him undress and practice and proof her "Go Get Help" task in the home.  She is to pick up his items and put them away, pick up her toys and put them away and help put his laundry in the basket for him.  If he becomes upset or is in pain and needs deep pressure she's to provide it.

While doing all of this he's to cue her and if she seems to not understand (after a pause) the family is to direct her and help her understand his verbal cues.  After about 20 or 30 times of cuing her himself with them cuing a second or two later they are to wait longer and see if she understands his cue; if not, they are to continue pairing the cues until she's following his direction.

Chevy is not returning next week, so we'll be able to work more on the door task and begin work on the light switch task for her.  I have some minor research to do to see what else she can to to help him, but at this point we are proofing, cleaning up and making her tasks as solid as possible for him.

We will continue to work on door manners and self calming techniques.

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