Tuesday, September 30, 2014

24 Months: Graduation


This will be Emma's final blog.  She is graduating today.  She has moved from Service Dog in Training to Service Dog today.  The last task we were fine tuning has been adjusted to meet the needs of her handler and she now knows to stand on a stool and turn on or off a light on cue.  She's learned to go across a room when cued to do so and she's learned that the task is complete when the light switch is flipped and her feet touch the floor again.  It took us 2 months to build this from a basic understanding of flipping a switch to standing against a wall to overcoming a worry about the stool to finally combining many links in a chain to build the task for her handler.

In all, Emma has learned 52 cues in the time she's trained with Tao Service Dogs.  She's learned to retrieve, turn down a bed, make a bed, help with undressing, cleaning up a room and more.  She's learned to remind her handler to raise his arm when it hangs, to go get help when he needs and how to lay across him and provide comfort when needed.  She's learned a lot since she was 14 weeks old and starting this journey.

Today Emma heads home with her family to begin her career as an In Home Service Dog.  Tao Service Dogs wishes Emma the best in her career with her handler and much joy to the team.

Here is a list of the cues that Emma has learned since she began her training.

The Basics

Cue Meaning
Emma Turn and look at who called my name and give eye contact (focus)
Leave It Turn away and don't touch, pick up or sniff what I am looking at.
Sit Fold up my back legs and put my bottom on the ground
Down Put my elbows, belly and hips on the ground
Off Get off of what I am on
Come Run to my handler when my name is called or they say Come
Settle Settle down and relax
Stand Stand in place without moving my feet/stand up without stepping forward or backward or sideways
Back Step back several steps
Left Turn left
Right Turn right
Around Go around something
Stay Don't move or change position
Wait Puase but I can change position
Let's Go Start walking with my handler
Go to Mat Go to a mat and lay on it until released
Crate Get in my crate
Load Up Jump in Car, on scale or in tub
Heel Move to my handler's left side and face the same way they are
Side Move to my handler's right side and face the same way they are
Front Sit in front of my handler facing them
Rattle Shake off as if to release tension or remove water from my fur
Potty Go to the bathroom when told

Service Dog Cues

Cue Meaning
Take It take what is offered in my mouth
Hold It Hold the item in my mouth
Give It Give the item in my mouth
Get It Pick something up and give it to my handler
Bring It Bring what I have to my handler
Look Look at my feet or on the floor for something to pick up
Leash Pick up my leash and give it to my handler
Pull Pull something with my mouth
Push Push something with my nose
Close It Close something with my nose
Paw Give my paw or put my paw on something
Touch Put my nose on something
Light Turn on or off a light
Find It Find something
Go A moving command like "Go Give to" for delivering notes or giving an item to someone
Go In Go under a table or in my crate or even through tubes for agility
Shoes Go get my handler's shoes
Socks Remove my handler's socks
Basket Put an item into a basket or trashcan
Keep Going Keep looking for an item
That's It Found item, wait for instructions
Step Up/In step onto or into something
Get Help Carry a bringsel to the first person I can find to tell them my handler needs help
Show Me Lead the person back to my handler
Paws Up Put my paws up on something
Make Bed Pull covers to head of bed
Turn Down Pull covers away from head of bed


Cue Meaning
Shake Give my paw to someone so they can shake it
High Five Touch someones palm with my paw
Tada! Take a bow

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.

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

21 Months: Training - Days 332 - 336

Emma spends a lot of time watching the neighborhood.
Monday - Friday

A service dog lives in an ever changing world.  In a single shopping trip the dog may be bumped, touched or startled several times.  I have had Max, my personal service dog, hugged suddenly by small children, his faced grabbed by a pre-teen who then pushed her face quickly into his, a pre-teen roll by on those shoes with wheels in them and slap his rump as he went by, a child run up a bus aisle and trip over him (she kicked his face when she did) and more.  He's been attacked by several dogs, had strangers pet him without permission and at least once a trip to the local Winco had a child put out their hand and run it along his back as they walked past us going the other direction.  He's been barked at by other dogs, screamed at by children, stepped on by people and had boxes dropped less than a foot behind him, fallen on when someone lost their footing and landed on both of us (I was in my power chair), stepped on when sleeping in a movie theater, was pressed into a wall when the elevator we were in filled beyond capacity and yet more.  If you think it's easy being a service dog, it's not.  We ask these dogs to live in a world in which anything can come around the next corner or something unexpected and frightening may happen and we expect them to handle it without barking, freezing or attacking.  It takes an unflappable dog to work in public.

Emma is not unflappable.  I have taken her out on different types of public access training and she's never slept quietly at my feet nor has she relaxed once.  She can't just put her head down and tune out the world and focus on her job.  She does this thing with her head where she looks like a little bird glancing about.  It's cute until you realize it's her trying to take in every aspect of her world because she doesn't feel safe.  She either walks with her head up, her body stiff, her tail rigid and high while making these bird like movements as she tries to take in all points of the compass or head low, tail down, body arched and steps slow as she starts to shutdown and withdrawal from the stimulus overload.  In either presentation her mouth is closed.  If she didn't have the top knot she does, I would see knitted brows.  I see ears that are either flared so far forward she's in high alert or set back as she tries to make herself small.

These body postures go away when we go on regular walks, though I still see the quick glances and hyper alertness when walking.  She enjoys a good trot with the power chair, but the moment something changes in her environment, such as a dog or person appearing unexpectedly, she's on high alert and the happy Labradoodle smile (open mouth, tail slightly higher than her back or even and waving gently, body relaxed and fluid) leaves and the tense worried Emma returns.  She's fearful of strangers in general and startles without good recovery from sudden frights.  On the days she can go out to work toward public access she would, to someone who doesn't recognize the stress signs, appear to be doing fine, but once home the internal struggle she fought between her training and her fear shows.  She refuses to eat, begins hiding behind furniture, begins destructive chewing and startles even with the slightest movement on anyone's part.  She also becomes highly demanding for attention.  I refuse to take her out if I see overt fear signs in the home, which include classic body posture of ears back,  head low, body low and tail tucked.  I can't see adding to her stress for the sake of training; it's not fair to her.

She did extremely well on a quiet day in Riverfront Park, but still had stress signs.  She spent most of it with an open mouth, loose body and good ear and tail position.  I had occasions where she'd startle and curl into herself and I'd have to take the time to give her reassurance she was still safe.  She had times she became so alert she couldn't hear me or respond to known cues, but in a quiet park setting she had 95% good and 5% high stress as compared to when she goes to a store where it's turned the other way.

But it's more than that.  A service dog needs to handle stress in all aspects in their lives.  The ever changing life of living with humans, including visiting dogs and people, requires an ability to handle that stress and not have emotional fallout later.  Emma internalizes her stress.  She is super excited to see my friends and family she's grown to know as her extended family over the past 2 years.  She's madly in love with my mother and Ronda and truly enjoys a good cuddle with my friend John.  It's taken several visits with John and his dog Yoda before Emma was able to handle the stress of Yoda coming into the home - John commented on that.  My Mom has commented she's doing better, but she too has noted how easily Emma can shy away from something or go off and hide away when we are busy with a project around the yard.  Where my dogs and other trainees see the visits as a fun way to meet new people, become involved in what we are doing to the point of being a pest and then eat without issue later in the day, Emma does not. She stays away from the projects we work on, dashes to find a new spot to watch us from a distance when we move close to where she is and it's hit or miss if she'll eat later.  She only joins us when we are done with the project and are sitting quietly talking about the next project.  Emma is not secure in her world and asking her to enter into an even bigger, scarier world outside of home is not right.

I have taken her to the local smoke shop and even there, when it's me and the employee only, she cannot relax.  She's still looking around rapidly, unable to hold a position unless heavily paid for it and never just relaxes and puts her head down.  She simply can't relax when away from home.

I have a friend whose dog was much the same and in hindsight realized the alert, quiet dog that she worked was really a stressed dog who was holding all of that stress inside.  The dog showed many of the same issues Emma does.  He didn't eat well or at all if he was stressed by public access training and at times wouldn't join the training game because of stress.  He knew his cues, performed them flawlessly and worked for his handler out of love, but he never relaxed when in public.  He had been taught how to put his chin down and appear relaxed in public, but when touched the tense muscles could be felt.  He is no longer with us.  He had a breakdown at 3 years of age and went into full Additions Disease.  He had passed his public access training at 16 months, worked from 16 months until just prior to his 3rd birthday and was a solid working dog until then, but he was internalizing all of that stress and it resulted in the ultimate price - he had to be euthanized because he couldn't control his bowels, shook when a leash was touched, even if it wasn't for him, and had lost 15 pounds because he refused to eat most of the time.  He was under constant medical care at the time, but his crisis was so serious that no medication helped him.  The first signs of his breakdown was his starting to refuse to walk more than a block from his home; six months later he was gone.  He was a Standard Poodle.

Poodles tend toward Additions Disease as a breed.  Emma is part Poodle and thus at higher risk.  I do not want to push her into a job she's not suited for, though she is trained for, just to raise the number of graduates in my program.  Her health, mental and emotional wellbeing is far more important to me.  I have spent most of her life building up her confidence and we've built it up, but not enough.  Emma simply is never going to be confident enough to deal with the challenges of public access.

I have worried for her, had her sleep next to me, fed her, cared for her medically, physically and emotionally and loved her since she was 14 weeks old. I have sat back and felt great sadness when she's shied between one click and the next.  I have felt frustrated when she's sniffed her food and given overt fear signs and walked away, though she's eating in a different area from the other dogs and there is nothing to be afraid of between one feeding and the next - she simply has days that focusing enough to eat is too hard.  I have cuddled, reassured, reinforced and rode the roller coaster with her from one day and sometimes one minute to the next.

Don't get me wrong, she doesn't live in a constant state of fear.  I would say most of the time she is a happy dog who loves breathing and enjoys life, but there are things in this world that frighten her badly and those things will be faced daily in public.  Tight spaces, people standing over her, people bending toward her, strangers touching her, sharp sudden sounds, rattling sounds, strange dogs, odd surfaces and quick movements all frighten her.  She loves to play, she lives to run, she enjoys a good bone and truly enjoys contact with the people she loves.  She's willing to try, even if she is fearful, to make her people happy.

When she was six to twelve months old she found learning to retrieve horrifying.  She withdrew, fear peed and spent an enormous amount of time behind my recliner.  It took lots of consults with lots of trainers to split her lessons thin enough to make them reinforcing and not adversive and once she learned the task she loved it.  Today she finds great joy in retrieving objects, but some objects still frighten her.  When she was younger a metal bowl was the most horrifying thing on the planet and it took me 8 months of fine splits and lots of DS/CC work to make metal bowls okay for her.  It took a year to make her comfortable with traffic and walking by it.

She just doesn't do change well.  I run a business in which I must take in board and train dogs to work with.  Max, Dieter and Malcolm all welcome the new guest and continue to train, eat and play well.  I see Malcolm join the new guest in play and eagerly work on his lessons without issue.  He's young and sometimes the new guest will bang on the x-pen I use to block off my training area and give my trainees space to train and think and he'll tell me by his ears and his leaning away that it makes him uncomfortable, but when I redirect the noisy guest he returns to training without concern.  Emma cannot do that.  She can't focus on the training with the new guest outside of the x-pen for a day or two and needs confidence building lessons again to bring her back on task and if the guest bangs on the x-pen she's done with the lesson, unable to take treats and needs physical reassurance she's safe.

Buddy threw her for a total loop when he was boarded for 7 days.  She and I worked on confidence building skills and by the end of Buddy's stay she was able to return to task training with a bit more confidence, but I could still see she was worried about Buddy.  Chevy wasn't as bad of a disruption for her.  She continued to eat, unlike when Buddy visited, but I did have to add moist food to make her eat.  She did train, since Chevy is crate trained and thus was out of sight during her lessons.  She returned to over reacting to changes in her environment again - barking without being able to stop at small changes outside of the fence line, destructive chewing (she destuffed my chair and killed 3 stuffed toys) and spent a lot of time either demanding attention or staying a distance from the group of dogs.  I continued to give her the physical, mental and emotional support she's always gotten from me, but that simple change of a new dog was enough to disrupt her.  Malcolm, Max and Dieter shrugged off Chevy and Buddy's arrivals, continued their training and eating and normal behaviors like they hadn't arrived.  Malcolm even engaged both Chevy and Buddy in long games of tug-o-dog, Catch Me If You Can, Keep Away, Tag and for Buddy wrestling and Chevy laying quietly watching the neighborhood and communing - all of this while still doing excellent public access training, in home training and acting like himself without stress fallout.

Emma loves doing her tasks.  She lights up when she gets it right.  She LOVES to pick up items I have dropped, closing cabinets, playing the Go Get Help game and Turn Down/Make Bed game, Nudge Arm game, helping with pulling off socks, pants and jackets/shirts and showing off her advanced basic training.  She has a fantastic sit, down and stay.  She has an exceptional recall and truly loves playing Touch as a game.  She is willing to try learning something new, but each time we approach a new task or an advancement of a task she becomes worried, shy and withdrawn for a bit until she solves the puzzle.  Each task I have listed has been carefully crafted while working with a dog who approaches learning with both joy and fear.  She loves the attention training gives her, but when she thinks she may be wrong she stresses herself into shutdown.

This means Emma has been career changed to an In Home Only Service Dog.  She can go on trips with her family to hotels as long as she isn't taken out for public access work in the stores and restaurants.  She doesn't do restaurants well.  When I had taken her she growled and barked softly under her breath when new people were seated nearby.  She was fearful of being under the table and never did relax and go to sleep during the meal.  She will be fine in a hotel room where she's not pressured by sudden changes and can perform her tasks in a controlled environment.  She'll enjoy her walks with her family, be a huge help to her handler in the home and provide unending love and laughter with her silly, sweet, soft and bouncy personality.   Emma is not a failure, but a young girl who just needs a soft hand and predictable world in which to thrive.

Emma worked this week on her confidence building skills by working on Go To Mat (shaping it) to begin some work on self calming behaviors and finalize her door greeting manners.  She also worked on her tug task for opening doors for her handler so she can either go get help or even help him leave his room or a room when working in the home.  She had to return to basics and relearned the task with the cabinet and has started again at working it on the door to my bathroom.  Once she's comfortable with the door on the bathroom I'll have her family work with her in her home to learn how to work those doors when cued.

She has light switch tasks, finalizing her Turn Down and Make Bed tasks and deep pressure task to finish.  The deep pressure will be used to calm her handler when he becomes upset and helping to relieve pain on bad days.  The light switch task will be to help with turning on and off lights as he needs.  She needs polishing on Clean Up and Laundry (which is taking his clothes and putting them into a basket for him) and final polishing on greeting guests in a controlled manner.  I will look to see if there are any other in home tasks she can do to make her handler's life more independent in the home and work on them.

Emma has learned to learn and so as her handler discovers new things he'd like her to do for him, she is fully able now to learn those things and add them to her list of tasks.  She will become stronger at her job and they will become a team once she's graduated at the end of summer and they've spent six months on being a team together.

Please remember, Emma didn't fail.  Emma worked through strong fears, built confidence and learned a lot of amazing things to get where she is and where she's going.  She's a remarkable, loving, sweet girl who simply needs a more predictable world than public access was able to give her.  Emma's story has not ended, but is just beginning as we learn what all she can do to make her handler's life fuller.

21 Months: Training - Days 327 - 331

She loves her outside time.
Monday - Friday

After a long hard push to catch up the blogs, get new material into my business site and input media so the blogs could be published (meaning, I spent my entire weekend doing nothing but working on blogs) I ended up so exhausted I forgot to set the alarm for the morning.  It was Emma's arrival on Monday that brought me around from the land of the dead.  She arrived at 8:25 AM and I was groggy and exhausted.  After a quick shower, meal and coffee on board I set out to train Ms. Emma.

Each day I go to train her it's a gamble if today she will work for her food or not.  She took the first kibble I offered, though was worried by my inviting her into the bedroom to work on her Turn Down task and start to train her Make Bed task.  She kept jumping on the bed and then rushing off to stand by the door and I finally called her onto the bed and we got into a rousing game of bitey hand and pawing me.  After that she was up to try her training.  It took about 2 minutes to calm her enough to get her focused to work on her task training.

She is doing well on her Turn Down task.  She takes the blanket and walks it back to about halfway down my king sized bed and pulls it almost far enough back for me to climb in.  She clearly thinks this is a funny game and gets all kinds of playful when she does it.  It is clearly a task she enjoys and I am glad to see that.  I really don't want her to hate her job and I try to train the joy into the task each time I train a new one; sometimes training that joy can take longer than training the task.  If my approach to a task when training it saps the joy out of the task itself, I stop the training, evaluate and retrain until she finds the joy.  It's important that any working dog enjoy the work they do.

I then reversed it and had her take the blanket and carry it back to the head of the bed.  She's not very good at making a bed, but it's at least a great effort and should give her handler a level of joy.  He can, for the first time, turn down and make his own bed with simple cues.

I then took her into the living room to work on her tug task.  I put Malcolm up in the crate and we worked on tugging open the bathroom door.  She can now stand between me and the wall on the other side, but she's still a bit worried by my blocking her that way.  She had been flying high after a second rousing game of bitey hand and pawing at me and doing rollovers on the bed, but now wilted a bit and refused her kibble, which she'd just been eating with relish a minute before.

I worked with her for a few more seconds and she finally, after the third offered kibble, ate one and then got into the tug game.  There is a reluctance I don't like seeing.  She's waving her tail at me, but she's not as into this game as she was with the last one.  I think I need to take her back further and rebuild the joy in tugging open doors.  This could easily become a task that results in fear and shutdown if I don't step back and build the joy in the task.

In the afternoon I had a long client consult.  I had to run to Elk to evaluate if Chevy, a silver sable German Shepherd, could come and stay for a few days to begin training for becoming a service dog.  He is a seven month old pup who has a very ill and disabled handler who has been unable to maintain his training like she'd planned when she first adopted him.  She'd been stronger when I saw her last, but due to major health changes, she's in a state that she needs serious help with Chevy's training.  I spent two hours doing the intake consult and then returned to pick up a new collar, food and other items I would need for his stay.  In total I was gone for 6 hours (2 spent in travel, 2 spent on the consult and 2 spent on getting required items for Chevy and the household).  Emma did well with the prolonged stay out of the crate, but I could tell she really needed some attention and spent the rest of the night giving her affection and playing with her.

Tuesday brought Chevy into the household.  Since I knew he was arriving and suspected the adjustment period to a new dog in the house would throw Emma for a bit of a loop, we trained prior to 7:30 AM.  I worked on Turn Down and Make Bed again and Door (for working a door).  She loves the bed tasks, but is still struggling with the door task.  She is targeting the cord and was more willing to work with the door, but isn't really pulling hard enough to open it yet.

When Chevy arrived I introduced him to each dog separately and spent the first 2 hours after his arrival just getting the household adjusted to the new family member.  Malcolm and Chevy had way to much fun learning how to play together and running around the house.  Max and Dieter made it clear they were fine with him as long as he left them alone and Emma was spending a lot of time with me because Chevy really liked her and kept pressing his chin on her back or hips and trying to hump her.  I kept directing him away and protecting her until he lost interest and went about his business.

Emma really didn't like the special attention Chevy gave her and I don't blame her.  She doesn't know him from Adam and he was being way to friendly.  I could tell she appreciated my protection and after Chevy finally settled in she spent time laying in my lap soaking up pets while the house spent the day playing.  I needed the break as it was.  I had a migraine and needed some downtime to recover before Spirit's consult.

Chevy is crate trained, so when it came time to leave I crated him and headed out.  Emma was happy to see me when I returned 2 hours later and happily ran in the yard and then settled to chew on toys.  It was a quiet day with the dogs playing.

Wednesday was play day.  I plan one play day a week for the household.  I find they all do better with a single day off during the week and can really focus on lessons if they have a full 24 hour period to think over what we worked on.  Emma enjoyed playing with bones, doing some wrestling with Malcolm and barking at everything in sight.

It was a good choice, since Emma ate only half her breakfast, even with the moist food in it and no other dog invading her space.  She was wired for sound and almost everything she saw not only sent her into barks, but so over threshold she couldn't stop barking even though she clearly was trying.  She was in higher need of physical affection, more skittish with movement and overall showing high stress signs.

I ran with Malcolm to pick up dog food with the help of my son Wayne.  In the short time I was gone she destuffed my recliner.  She hasn't been destructive like this in a while, so I noted the stress she was feeling and spent the rest of my time with her while the boys played.  That evening I had a client consult, so I left her loose again while Max and I went on the consult.  We had no further incidents with the recliner, but I had to hand feed her dinner because she was unwilling to eat from her bowl.  The extra attention helped and she started to relax by bedtime.

On Thursday we worked on confidence building skills using Level 1 behaviors and play.  I fed her her breakfast as a whole and spent the time training using praise and affection and play as her rewards.  She did very well, but was unable to do a down, even with Chevy crated and the training area blocked, so I knew trying to ask for anything requiring concentration would be out.  Instead we worked on her strongest behaviors and build up her happy feelings to improve her confidence and sense of safety.

That evening we went over to Auntie Ronda's house for a play date.  Emma loves to visit Ronda's house and spent a lot of time sniffing and exploring and then played a bit of Catch Me If You Can with Malcolm and Jack.  After another long exploration she came and curled up in Ronda's lap and then when Ronda got up to work on dinner she came to my lap and napped for a bit.  She spent a lot of time enjoying good sniffs, barking at people passing and off and on just running to run.  She was tired, but happy when we left.

Friday was grooming day.  I just fed her breakfast and we worked on play for fun and used her Level 1 behaviors to improve her mood.  She happily played with the x-pen down and Chevy crated.  She was able to do a down finally and was truly enjoying the playful games I asked of her.  She even offered to target cabinet doors and cords on the doors as part of the games.

I find leaving her at the groomers hard.  I know her groomers are good to her and take very good care of her, but she finds the place frightening, despite how well loved she is there.  Please understand, she has one of the best groomers in town and they are very good to her at all times, but the noise and racket which is standard with a grooming shop is unsettling to her and every time I take her in she's happy to trot in with me and then suddenly is trying to pull me to the front door to leave.  She is subdued when she visits my groomers on the times I have taken her in for a day of hanging out while Max and Malcolm get groomed and I work with Pi.  The difference at my groomers and hers is, my groomer has never done more than let me put her on the table to brush her coat or trim her nails if they need to be done.  No bath.  No blow dry.  No long clippings and trimmings.  My groomer is a location she gets nothing but treats, while her groomer is where she gets a bath, dried, clipped and trimmed without me or her family present.  She finds her groomers a scary place, not because they do anything bad to her by our standards, but they do groom her and she is not happy with how much care must go into her coat.  Poor baby makes me sad whenever I see her trying to leave and I must hand her leash over to her groomer and she's walked into the back room.  I wish she felt better about the place, but I know the people there take the best possible care of her they can.

It's been a long week, but one that have given me a lot to think about.  I have Chevy for another seven days and see I need to find a better way of building up Emma's confidence so she feels more secure in the home when she's with me.  Poor girl just doesn't do change well.

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