Thursday, August 21, 2014

23 Months: Proofing Behavior

Emma had been a rock star for a long time with the light switch.  She had quickly gotten the idea to push up and pull down to flip the switch and once I taught her to stand against the wall and work with a switch with an extender we had the first inkling of a full blown task.

She started to target and work the switch without the extender in my bedroom, but once again, I had to break the behavior apart to rebuild it.  I didn't mind.  She quickly got the idea again and was really enjoying herself.  It was time to start having her "help" around the house by doing light switches as I needed and to build distance.

I got her doing the light switch in the bedroom nightly and had built her up to about 5 feet from the switch, which still wasn't a bedroom distance to it, when it all seemed to fall apart.  She started to shy away from the task, refuse food and even began showing fear signs.  I was confounded.

I started to work with her to rebuild from the base up and she was shutting down.  I didn't understand.  I couldn't figure out why she was suddenly pulling out when, even with visiting dogs, she had been doing so well.

I have not, since then, gotten more than 2 feet away from the light switch and can only do one or two repeats with her before she starts to shy and pull out of the game.  I did one morning ask for the light switch and then ask for a well known behavior and then the light switch and three or four well known behaviors to build up her joy again.  It had been gone for a bit and I worried.

She went on vacation with her family for 6 days at one point and again for 4 days at another.  When she returned she was in a good mood and playful, but not in the game.  I had expected that and took the time to build her back up to playing the training game with me.

I also switched between the light switch and the door task.  I finally got her pulling with enough force to pull the door open, even with resistance, and got her consistently pulling it open on cue.  There is no distance on the task.  It took me all that time to build up good pressure on the pull cord and a consistent effort with the right amount of pull to get the task.  She tends to just mouth the cord and look for her reward and I had to carefully craft the task for a consistent sharp pull to open the door.

After that I noted that my door tends to swing back shut when she lets the cord go.  I went to train her to hold the door open by holding the cord and she became fretful.  I stopped at that point because I had to rethink how to have her open the door and keep it open long enough for her handler to go through it.  I have since solved that and will have her do a shoulder block instead, so I need to finish up and polish the task for her handler.

That leaves us with consistently crossing the bedroom to turn on or off a light switch.  She isn't close to it yet.  She needs to learn to block the door, which she's starting to get, but it worries her when it touches her.  This worry is less than trying to teach her to hold the cord, so I think we'll be okay.

But there is one other thing.  She's back to up and down training, which makes getting the behavior so much harder.  Some days she's okay and can handle the stress of the training and some days she's not.  Lately it's been more of the later.

I was informed by a member of the family that she'd been taken into public access recently, right around the time I started having problems with her overall training.  Though not very busy stores, even the low level public access training she's been doing has created long term fall out during the week when she returns to me.  She's barking non-stop again.  She gets going and simply cannot stop herself.  She's easily stressed and frightened again.  She's showing all the signs I saw after a single 10 minute outing when training her for public access and it's affecting her ability to learn - again.

Which leads us to this week.  I have started using Practical Application as a way to progress her learning and dropping the formal, more stressful, training to get her to advance.  I had to do this before with her retrieve when she found it unduly stressful.  It worked and today retrieve is one of her favorite tasks.

Today I had a man from Avista come and work on the house.  He was here for about an hour and during the last five minutes he went outside to check my meter.  Emma lost it.  Though she'd been friendly and calm with him in the house, the moment he was in the yard she completely lost her mind and was even growling at him.  She cannot do public access, she is stressing enough she is becoming fear reactive due to her insecurities with strangers.

All day long I ask for her best known tasks and throw in her newer ones to build up distance.  She's up to 2 feet, but it's a shaky 2 feet.  When I ask for her to get the light she goes and checks my Baker's Shelf first and then looks to me and then dances in circles and finally, with reassurance and guidance, gets the light.  I, by the way, get the same thing when I am right next to it.

Today she went straight to the light and with joy flipped it on and off when I needed.  This is excellent.  I will continue to work this until she can cross the room and do the light at night, which I still ask for and get the basic idea of doing lights built up.

Since her handler's light switch is too tall for her, I'll also take time next week to build the idea of standing on a stool.  This should solve the problem and make things easier on her overall.  I just want to split this fine enough she is successful.

She is opening the door with the cord on her own when she wants to find me.  This means she has the idea set well in her mind and next week we'll begin working distance on the door.  Right now, just working one item on distance should be enough for her.

This week, taking a slower and quieter approach has calmed her overall.  She's not doing the rolling barking nor is she constantly alert barking or destroying every stuffed toy she finds.  It's a step back to the calmer, more confident Emma I had achieved prior to her latest fall apart.

Hopefully I'll start seeing some forward progression again with Emma and get her to doing a solid and proofed behavior with the light switches and doors soon.

22 Months: Training - Days 346 - 349


Emma didn't arrive until Tuesday due to her handler sleeping late and Emma not being ready on time.  I had an appointment with Haute Paws Grooming for the boys and to train Pi and was due to arrive between 9:00 AM and 9:30 AM.  I received the call that Emma wasn't even on her way at 8:40 AM and told her family to keep her an extra day because I wouldn't be home to receive her due to my appointment schedule.

She arrived shortly before 10:00 AM Tuesday morning.  I again I had a full day planned.  My Mom and I are clearing out my garage so we can fix it and use it for proper storage.  I had spent the weekend sorting what we'd already removed from the garage and Mom had arrived early so we could clear out more of the contents and send them to my Mom's house for the upcoming yard sale we'll be doing.  I had already trained Malcolm and done my morning chores and now had to work with my Mom until the heat sapped both of us.  Since I would be doing lifting and carrying I knew my day was done.  I would be both exhausted and in pain by the time Mom and I was done.

I fed Emma when she arrived and called it a day.  Mom and I worked until Noon and Mom left with the truck loaded for bear.  I had to rest and take something for the pain, since the injury from my fall over a month ago is still bothering me.  After that I headed out to Spirit's appointment and on my return I was so wiped out I needed to laydown for a while to recover.  The day was over for all of us at that point.  I fed them when the house cooled and took a painkiller that night so I could sleep.  Emma received no formal training.


The painkiller wiped me out for a lot longer than I expected.  My afternoon appointment had been cancelled and that left me with just one appointment in the evening.  I worked with Emma on opening the bathroom door and light switch tasks.  Emma was able to pull open the bathroom door with it lightly closed, but needs more practice to get consistent on the amount of pressure she offers.  She is not one to put her weight into anything she does and it takes a lot of confidence building to get a consistent pull on a door to open it.  We have a ways to go still.

She is working the light switch on the wall.  To make it easier I have an extender on the switch.  She was able to turn on the switch 6 out of 10 times the first time we worked it.  The second time we got 8 out of 10 times and I was able to attach the cue by the third time we worked it and got 9 out of 10 times of her turning the light on.  It is time to work on her turning on and off the light on cue.

I do believe she needs the extendor to make the task easier.  The extender I am using is just a bit of tubing I cut to make hitting the switch easier.  Since she is just able to reach the switch, the extender gives her the length she needs for success when working a light switch.  The problem is, when she gets very excited she can knock it off right now.  I need to affix the extender permantly to my switch to see if that doesn't make it eaiser for her and Malcolm overall on working light switches.


Busy day today.  I worked with Emma on light switches today.  In the morning we worked on building distance for turning the switch on when cued.  At first I was directly beside her and slowly took one step at a time away from her until I was 5 feet away.  She was able to turn on the light 10 out of 10 times when I was beside the switch, but only 6 out of 10 times when I was five feet away.  I will continue to work both close and distance until I can cue her across the room and get a 9 out of 10 result.

In the afternoon we went for a walk.  She had no treats on the walk and ignored all dogs that barked at her, which included the Husky, Chocolate Labrador and Stompy Feet and his brother.  She never looked at the Chocolate Labrador or Stompy Feet and his brother, but she did react a bit to the Husky, who was a new dog on our walk.  She is now ready for a new route with a new set of dogs to build up her ability to walk by barking dogs on her walks.

We ended out day working the light switch.  She is having problems turning the light off when working the wall.  This has to do with height and the fact she pulled the extender free.  She did try using her paw and could turn off the light this way, but it seemed to confuse her about turning the light on and we went from 10 out of 10 times of turning the light on to 3 out of 10 times after the extender was off of the switch.

I will return to this task without distance and see if I can't affix the extender to the switch in a way that prevents her pulling it free when working it.


I must once again apologize, but I simply cannot remember what happened on this day.  I do know that Emma was doing okay with the 5 feet away on Thursday and it fell apart on Friday.  It stayed that way and my next blog post will discuss the issues I have faced with Emma and distance training for her final two tasks, but what exactly happened on this day is beyond my ability to recall.

21 Months: Training - Days 342 - 345

Just over a year ago we lost Ms. Attitude.  Emma, on the
other hand, still tries to help me type the same way.

I must apologize - I was overloaded and Emma's blog fell way behind.  Any video I commented I would include I am unable to at this time.  I am releasing these posts so that Emma's blog is updated and will write a blog post catching every one up to how she's doing soon.

I tire easily and can be over done by too much chaos in my life.  I have had a lot of chaos and with the addition of Chevy for 17 days of board and train, I was left over the weekend so exhausted that Malcolm and I used the weekend to recoup our strength.  I wasn't fully up to snuff by Monday morning, but at least I was dressed, showered and had coffee in my by the time Emma arrived.  She was on time and rearing to start her day.

She spent the weekend working as a service dog for her handler.  She did the tasks she's been taught and continued to proof her Go Get Help task.  She's polishing her skills, building the teamwork between her and her handler and learning to understand him when he cues her.

As per my instructions, she was to be cued by him and if she didn't understand, cued by a family member to help pair his cue with the ones we've taught her already.  This pairing won't take long and soon he'll be able to cue her to help him and she'll understand.

I gave her time to play in the yard and settle in before taking the crew in for breakfast.  I fed Max and Dieter their full meals and Malcolm half of his and while they were eating setup Emma's meal and got the material I would need for her training session ready.  She works for her entire breakfast now and it seems to cheer her up to do so.

This is the light board I have been using.
I setup in the kitchen with the x-pen blocking it off and the light board I made at the beginning of Emma's training to begin light switch lessons again.  When she was four or five months old I had introduced it to her for the purpose of teaching her to close a cabinet door.  At the time she got interested in the light switch and I let her work out how to flip it off and on.  I haven't revisited that lesson since.  When she saw the light board she went straight to trying to push the "cabinet" side of the board, but when that didn't work she went to the light switch and began working it.  Amazing how much they remember from their early training when you use shaping to get the behavior!

We also worked on Go To Mat.  She goes to it and lays on it, but tends to have most of her body off of the mat.  This behavior is being created so the family can have a default mat for door greeting and help her better control herself when people are at the door.

I had her approach the mat from different directions and settle on it and got her more on than off the mat.  I then started clicking for rolling over onto a hip and putting her chin down.  Once I could see her lay down and automatically roll on her hip and I could see she was more relaxed and calm I began knocking on the cabinets.  I did it soft at first and then built up to a solid normal knock.  She did fantastic, but right now it's a kitchen behavior and needs to be moved about the house to help her better generalize the behavior.  Once I have a solid generalized behavior I will attach the cue of a door knock for her going to the mat and waiting quietly until released to greet her guests.

She was flipping the switch by the end, but needs more work and eventually to learn to stand up against the wall to do the entire behavior.

Eventually Emma will be doing this!

I didn't set my alarm last night.  I didn't have an early appointment or anyone coming over early in the morning and late last night I started to feel sick and dizzy.  That feeling really wouldn't leave by morning.  I still have Emma's blog to update, but I was so done last night that laying in bed the bed was spinning.

This morning I was still dizzy and feeling like I was trying to walk through mud physically.  It wouldn't be until almost 5:00 PM that I figured out the problem.  I had rheumatic fever as a child and have valve damage from it.  Sometimes my heart goes into an irregular beat and that makes me feel sick and exhausted.  I remember a day when working for Benchmark it got so bad that I had to lay down right where I was and rest for about 20 minutes to be able to continue to work.  I had more than one of those days when working for Benchmark and thankfully, I was working from home and could stretch out and let my heart settle back into a normal beat.

We worked on Go To Mat and Light again today.  This time I gated off the office to make a new training room and brought the mat in with us.  The video attached for the day shows how Emma's lesson went.  Note:  Emma understood she was to settle and rock onto one hip and put her chin down, but she missed that we wanted her to do that on her mat as part of the exercise.  The fact she's settling off the mat as a behavior was lovely to see.

We went to the kitchen to work on Light again.  I setup the x-pen to block off the kitchen and we worked again on flipping the light on.  She was struggling a bit at first, but slowly got the idea.  In the end she was on fire and even though our time expired on the timer I didn't want to loose the sudden breakthrough she was having.  I had a few kibble remaining and we worked for them as I attached the cue.  She's doing good, but this is not a proof or even functional task yet.

I started to really feel out of whack during Spirit's appointment. I had felt pretty bad before I went, but during her appointment my chest was hurting and I was feeling flushed.  When I got home I returned a phone call to a potential client and I was having problems tracking and even speaking.  It was after the phone call I decided to lay down.

The dogs followed me in and I changed into my night clothes and laid down - it was then I checked my heart beat and could feel it taking three or four powerful beats and then a long pause and then repeat the sequence.  It then went into normal rhythm for a few blessed beats (probably about 20 or 30) and then it would beat normal, not as strongly as it had been, and then speed up and then slow and speed up and then back to the three or four powerful beats and a long pause.  Well no wonder I felt like crap!

It would be a major effort on the dog's parts to wake me 2 hours later.  I had Malcolm get up on the bed and lick my lips (I jerked, gently pushed him away and went back to sleep) and then was starting to wake as I heard a lot of tap dancing on the floor by all of them, especially Emma.  I was considering getting up when my Mom called to check on my schedule for the week.  I think she realized that trying to work on my garage when I am not home isn't working out and is trying to work within my work schedule.

I am feeling much better now that I slept and my heart is beating normal again.  It looks like it's time to make another appointment and talk to my doctor about this.  This will be Malcolm's first appointment at my doctors, so it will be interesting.


Emma is up to consistently turning the light switch on and is now working on turning the light switch off.  She got it the first time, but seemed to forget what she was doing afterwards.  She makes me laugh as she's trying to solve the problem.  She grips the switch and growls low in her throat at it.  It's the first time I have ever heard her get frustrated.  She used to just give up when she couldn't get it the first time, but now that the pressure is off of her she's working twice as hard to solve the problem.  She's wagging her tail more, is out from behind the recliner more and is starting to speak out in frustraion while working hard to solve a problem.  It's great to see.

She is also working hard on the Go To Mat lesson and really enjoying it.  I see her wheels turning and instead of folding into herself she makes a new effort and checks in to see if she got it right.  It's all new and the first edges of being 100% in the game.  There is still a level of hetancy in all of her behaviors, but I am seeing more of her emerge now that she's not pressured into being something she's not.

I am about to move her to standing against the wall and working on a switch once we have a solid stand with duration.  Until then, we'll keep working on flipping the switches and getting the behavior under stimulus control.


Emma has grooming on Friday, so Thursday was her last formal training day.  Grooming days are hard on both of us.  She starts her morning happy to head out and explore the yard and then munch on her breakfast.  She's overjoyed I am taking her somewhere and can't wait to get in the van.  Once in the van she rides well, though I can see a level of stress that Malcolm doesn't display.  She doesn't just lay down and relax like he does, but stands stiff and watches closely as we travel down the road.  She loves to go, is a bit worried about the travel itself.  At the groomers it starts.  We pull in and she begins to shake.  I put on her lead and take her in and she paces in a frantic attempt to get me to take her back out.  She's low to the ground and giving overt stress signs, yet her groomer doesn't really recognize them.  When the groomer takes her lead she presses her nose against the door leading into the kennels because it's the nearest door, but she's still showing strong stress signs and her groomer just says, "She looks fine to me" and shurgs off my concern for her growing fear of being at the groomers.  Poor girl is afraid and no one there is really aware of it.  Unfortuantely, she needs to go and it's the end of my week with her, but I hate seeing her so stressed and fearful each time I take her.

Thankfully, I wouldn't face that until the next morning.  On Thursday we worked on her mat behaviors again and this time I did it at the front door.  I crated both Malcolm and Dieter and placed Max on his mat.  I knocked on the door once she was relaxed on the mat and Dieter started to bark, which caused Malcolm to bark and thus Emma began barking under her breath.  I waited until she calmed again and rinse and repeated until she was just boofing lightly, but not trying to get up.  It went well enough.

I go up to opening the door and pretending someone was there and rewarding her for staying on her mat.  I did a lot of strange things at the door and the entire time Emma stayed on her mat and worked the lesson.  It went well overall.

We then went to work on light switches.  I had decided to work on Paws Up to the light switch in the hall.  Emma easily stood against the wall and after several times being rewarded for standing against it I began building duration.  She started to try the light switch, so I put an extendor on it and worked with her.  To my utter suprise Ms. Emma flipped the light on!  WOW!

It was a fanstatic end to the week.  She's off next week with her family, so we'll return to this when she returns.