Social Apologies

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Last night Tom and I went to the Boston Tree lighting event with my husband and mum. It was fun, we had a good time, and Tom was great (he finds such adventures challenging and fun). He was prancing around the house antsy antsy all afternoon once he realized we’d be going out.

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Photo of the crowd and the skating rink where they had ice dancers performing

But the ‘social apologies’ for lack of better term that some of my family members engage in bug me.  Really bug me.  My coping skills so far over the years have been attempting to talk to my family about (successful with some of them, less so with others), ignoring it when they do it, and avoiding situations where it is likely to happen with them. But sometimes I forget about their tendencies, and sometimes I want to enjoy a fun activity with the people I care about.

What exactly are social apologies? Well, let me give you a couple of examples from last evening.

We are leaving the event at the Boston Common and making our way through the blocks to the train station with the crowds. The sidewalks are packed and Tom is doing an excellent job of weaving me in and out around people, stopping for curbs, navigating, listening to my cues, etc. And as we go I can hear my mum apologizing to no one in particular, just a running “Oh so sorry, he’s just guiding her through, no problem.” Yea, it’s not a problem because he’s doing a great job and no one in this crowd is even realizing he’s there until she started talking about him being there! Then because she is doing this, people in the crowd start to move in erratic ways to ‘avoid’ us completely unnecessarily making Tom’s job all the harder. And now making problems happen! Like the lady who stopped dead in front of us and then stands there blocking our way apologizing for being in the way. Lady stop talking and just MOVE or stay still so we can move around you, please. As my mum was doing this I remembered why I tend to not invite her to such crowded in town events with us.

Or that the fact Tom and I wait for my assessment of traffic and then forward at every crossing is really really stressful for my husband. Because you know when we do that someone in a car might have to wait an extra few seconds and that would be an awful inconvenience for them don’t you know. (that’s me writing in sarcasm in case it wasn’t clear). In suburbia where there aren’t in his view ‘people waiting’ very often he doesn’t fuss about it so much (plus reality is he just doesn’t go on our walking routes with us all that much, hence avoiding the issue), but last night with the crowds and traffic of the city it rears it’s ugly head. He starts in with “We have the light, it’s safe, let’s go, come on, people are waiting for you, you have the light!” pressure, as I wait and listen. Then I hear the car turn in through the crosswalk and the people around us gasp as another pedestrian is narrowly avoided, so no it wasn’t safe, glad I didn’t give to his pressure and go! 2 crossings later, he’s doing it again though. I love my spouse to pieces, but his perception of social pressures thing is sometimes really stressful, especially when it comes at the potential risk of my safety in traffic.

To be clear in these situations, I ignore all that I’m being told by my family members and focus on what Tom and I need to do to stay safe, but I’d really wish they just didn’t do these things to start with as they are completely unnecessary and I get tired of talking to them about it time and time again. And tired of hearing their justifications that they are right, “Well someone was waiting for you to cross!” “SO WHAT?! They can wait another 5-10seconds it won’t kill them! Otherwise, they’d already be in an ambulance!” Or “Well I didn’t want someone to be startled when you and Tom passed them.” “WHO CARES?! That’s their problem, not mine or yours and 8 out of 10 people have no clue we’ve passed them until they are now following us, people just aren’t that observant and Tom is really good at what he does!” It’s like they forget the reality that every day when they aren’t around Tom and I go about our routes, routine, and lives without having yet been seriously injured (knock on wood) and without the general public trying to crucify us for perceived slights or rudeness, so Tom and I can probably still manage it when they are there too.

I know that these social things say more about their own anxiety and perceptions of people than about me, but still I find such rather frustrating. Because at the bottom of it what it feels like they are saying is that my safety and my right to be as unnoticed as I care to be aren’t as important as the random strangers around me.

On the positives of last night, Tom was a rock star, even when the unexpected fire works display when off from ground level about 20′ in front of us! As always I love this dog more than I ever thought was possible.  And overall we all did have a good time, and I am glad I was able to go and share the festivities with my hubby and mum.

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1:43

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This video at 1:43 makes me (and the couple of people I’ve shown it to) laugh so hard.  Damn she is cute!!

I love how training plans and breaking skills down into progressive bits makes training so much fun. Just a couple of weeks ago (for real, seriously, not making this up) out of the 10 exercises shown in that video Zora could do to that level 4 of them based on prior training and life- touch a vertical target, jump a jump, go around a cone and the stay with distraction one. Everything else, learned from scratch bare bones basics.

SO MUCH FUN!!! Damn I love training with this dog.

The tail.  And that back up.  Makes me laugh every time.  So stinkin’ cute!

Who Needs Snow?

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To use a sled?

For obedience training.

Because of course.  Right?

Thinking outside the box (or inside the sled) is fun!

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Stock image of 3 plastic flying saucer sleds

One thing I have learned in my dog training journey is if I’m getting frustrated and the dog isn’t understanding, I’m doing it wrong.  I train because it’s fun, enjoyable, rewarding for me and for the dogs.  If it isn’t that, then what the hell?

So Zora and I have been working on our pivots.  Me pivoting around her, we’ve got that.  Makes sense to me.  Makes sense to her.  Can do it on a pivot front feet platform.  Can do it without.

Her pivoting around me.  Quite another story.  After numerous “AHH!  Why isn’t this making sense to you dog!!” attempts.  “Other people seem to have dogs that understand using this approach or this one or this one, why isn’t this making sense to you?!”  Until I had the epiphany to try the sled.

Eureka!  Makes sense now.  “OH you want me to move my rear feet?  Why didn’t you say so earlier human!!”

For a few short sessions I stood on the sticker in the middle of the sled.  Zora beside me.  And we moved with the goal of her staying beside me while also keeping herself within the bounds of the sled.  Which is impossible unless she actually moves her rear feet back.  Which because of the contrast bright orange sled and black and white dog I could tell instantly when the feet moved, mark and reward it.  Clarity!  For us both.

Couple of times pivoting with the sled, we transferred to the floor.  She can do it!  She is excited!  She goes, “This, right?”  And I go, “YES!  You are brilliant you little dog!”  And we both smile and wag our tails.

Relief.  Training is fun and exciting and rewarding.  Yay!

And that is why it’s always good to keep a sled lying around.  Because dog training.  Of course.

Stability (or lack there of)

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One of the pieces of living with the conditions I do that frustrates me the most is the lack of stability. It often feels like the only thing I can absolutely count on is that it is going to change. Day to day, moment to moment. How my nervous system is going to process, respond, work to the world around me is something I can’t count on. And sometimes I can’t shove just how much it frustrates me into the back recess of my mind, the way I do most times.

I can and do, as most people, normalize a lot. But I find it hard to normalize when things are in constant flux. Now, I’m grateful I’ve gotten to a point in my life after lots of support services such as OT and lots of management and work where I can have periods, usually a couple of months at a time, of some degree to stability. They are a huge progress from where I used to be and definitely make life a lot more enjoyable, comfortable and workable.

But during times of flux, it can be really easy for me to get frustrated. When I feel I’m being forced to adjust to a new normal (that might change again tomorrow!) and I don’t want to! When it feels my body is in revolt. And nothing outside is cooperating to help my cause either, like the weather or sunlight. And my old tricks aren’t as or at all effective. When I feel trapped and limited. I get rather grouchy during the adjustment phase.

(To be clear: I will adjust. I always do. Right now, I’m venting.)

I’m presently in such an adjustment phase. And I’m really grouchy. I try not to take it out on those around me, or at least do my best to communicate that it’s really not about them. I try to make myself smile as I talk to or pet the dogs, because it’s really hard for me to sound or act nasty if I’m smiling. I feel bad as the dogs also adjust to my new normal. Yes Zora, you’re right 2 days ago, if you stood there I could still see you and not trip over you. Now I can’t and I’m sorry I stomped your foot as a result. Yes Tom, thanks for double checking I really get what you are telling me, I’m sorry I was grouchy about it to you, I’m frustrated that I can see and process even less, but am grateful you are so used to this and flexible.

Some days life with SPD pisses me off more than others. Now is such a time.

Defining House Broken

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Over the years I’ve worked with many many clients on toileting concerns.  Many with puppies, and many with adult dogs.  Some who have been toileting in undesired places for years, some that just began the behavior.

Absolutely there is the foundation tenant of: rule out any medical or physical causes first and foremost.  Then there are the various environmental management techniques as well as actual behavior modification.  And in the vast majority of cases we end with client satisfaction.

But from my perspective at least, a real key though is defining what a house broken dog actually is.

My definition is, “a dog who will delay toileting despite needing to go until taken to an appropriate place.  Who will also toilet on cue both on and off-lead on various types of surface.”

For many people their definition is, “a dog that won’t toilet in the house and will signal me when they need to toilet so I can get them outside.”

In my definition, if the dog can’t hold it until you can get them out, then they aren’t fully house broken.  And ‘appropriate place’ is more specific than just the general ‘outside.’  For example, even if it’s outside I do not want them to toilet in an agility field.  Or on someone else’s lawn while we are on a walk.  Or in the middle of the trail in the woods.  Or on my deck.  I also don’t care about teaching my dogs to actively signal me when they need to go, instead I want them to trust I will anticipate their needs and take them out routinely, and that when we are outside and I cue them to toilet they should take advantage of that opportunity and go.   (and while I don’t teach them to actively signal, all of my dogs over the years have figured out ways to make clear to me they really need to go if for some reason their schedule is off due to illness or other).  And I do care that my dogs are comfortable toileting on all kinds of surfaces including gravel, dirt, sand, concrete, asphalt and the like.

I’ve learned many people don’t think about the toileting process as how to teach it in such systematic ways.  Many assume this ability to hold it will just happen.  And for many dogs it does.  Most people have this overwhelming desire to teach their dog to tell them when they need to go as early in their live’s as possible.  But I find that can complicate for some dogs the learning to hold it part.  For example Rosie the basset hound currently seems to have learned house broken means ‘I bark at the back door.’  If we don’t immediately take her out, she will then toilet in the house.  For me, that doesn’t meet the definition of a house broken dog, especially for one her age.  Her age appropriate education on the ability to delay toileting until taken to the appropriate place is incomplete.

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Rosie laying in her dog bed looking at me “What?  I barked at the door!  You humans didn’t listen fast enough!”

Many people don’t think about whether their dog toilets on or off lead, until they need the dog to toilet one way or the other and realize it’s a struggle.  They also don’t think about where their dog is going to the bathroom, until again they realize they need them to go or not go in a certain place.  Like a highway rest stop.  Or a boarding kennel run.  Or their grandmother’s house.   They don’t think about their dog toileting on cue, until the vet wants a sample.

Defining the end behavior or goal I find can be really important.  As it helps to clarify the steps you need to make sure the dog learns what you really would like them to learn.  So for me, I don’t assume a dog will automatically somehow learn to hold it.  I’ve worked with too many dogs over the years to assume that will be automatic.  I don’t assume there will always be grass available.  I’ve traveled too much to assume that.  I don’t assume I will always be able to have a safe fenced area for my dog to be off lead to toilet in.  I also don’t consider a dog housebroken just because they haven’t toileting in the house for a month, unless they can also meet the criteria of my definition.  Instead I make sure I add pieces into my toileting education of the dogs in my life to help them realize it’s more than just going outside to use the restroom.

Do you define your training goals before you embark on training a skill?

Little Sisters are the Worst

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Brady the basset hound made himself a nice soft toy pillow to catch some shut eye on. His little 10m old basset hound “sister” Rosie is gleefully trying to sneak the toys out from under his head as he sleeps.

Large Black and Tan basset hound Brady asleep on a pile of toys as smaller basset hound Rosie tries to take them out one by one

Brady is not amused.

But I am. Their dynamic is hysterical.

I don’t often sit for multiple dogs from the same family. When I do I love being able to observe how their interactions and relationship transfer to my home. Brady has stayed with us countless times over the years, this is the first time for Rosie and for the 12 year old chihuahua in their family now as well. Fun long weekend for us! 🙂

Power of Positive Reinforcement

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This is a story about my husband, W.  He’s a quiet, introverted soul, with a wicked sense of humor and a tendency to perfectionism.

3 years ago he was laid off from a job with a company he’d been with for about 10 years.  In his previous job if you asked him if he liked his work he’d shrug and say, “It’s a job.”  In his previous job there was very little feedback from the higher ups.  Very little instruction.  No encouragement to learn new skills.  Very little interaction really.  As a result, my very intelligent spouse often felt like he didn’t know what he was doing.  That he had no marketable skills.  That he was employed not because of the fact that he was skilled, intelligent, good at his job but because at his very first interview 10 years prior he got the initial interview because another employee he happened to know recommended his resume.  None of which was true, but the set up and work environment was such that he received incredibly little reinforcement for what he did other than a regular pay check and a small gift card from his boss around the holidays.

His project ended, the company didn’t have any more in the works, he and loads of others were laid off.

He then 3 years ago got a job doing software quality assurance for another company.  He’d heard mixed reviews about the company on-line, mostly about their pay scale and that they had high turn over because of it, but he felt like he got the job on his own merits and it was an offer that worked for our life and budget so he took it.

In this job he’s encouraged to learn new things, and rewarded when he does.  The management isn’t overbearing but also not completely hands off.  And he randomly gets these nice ‘we appreciate this x,y,z thing that you did.  your input and work is appreciated’ letters, or other acknowledgements.  For example last year at a quarterly meeting of some kind he got this little star shaped trophy thing for acknowledgement from his boss for his work on some part of a project.  He laughs about it, yet there is a reason he didn’t throw it out or bury it in a drawer.

These things make a huge difference.  Seriously, my husband who in his old job never talked about work, talks about work.  Yesterday he was all sheepish smiles when I asked how his day was and he said he got one of those ‘we appreciated your valued input’ letters for some specific input he’d given on a proposed program feature a few weeks back.  He didn’t do anything major, and he wasn’t the only one who had been asked by this particular manager to give input on the proposed feature, and yet the manager (who was manager of a different group than his, so not even one of his direct supervisors) made a point to thank and acknowledge on an individual level those who had given input.

It was a letter.  No money.  No award.  Not even instantaneous.  A letter of acknowledgement and appreciation for his input.  A simple piece of paper (it might even have been an email, I have no idea).  A brief letter, yet one that said exactly what he had done and why it was appreciated.  Not a generic ‘thanks for what you did’ letter, but a pointed specific ‘you have been seen, heard, and we appreciate all that you do’ note.

This and other similar practices at this company, make such a huge difference in how he thinks and feels about this job.   Makes a huge difference about how he acts in this job, he doesn’t spend the day watching the clock, he doesn’t do the bare minimum, he doesn’t drag his feet getting out the door each morning.  Instead he seems to genuinely enjoy his job and what he does.  He’s at a job now where he doesn’t want to leave because he feels like he’s good at what he does.  He feels competent, that he knows how to do this and do it well.  He was good at what he did at his past job too, but because no one ever told him that, never acknowledged it, he always felt like an imposter, that he had no real skills, that anyone could have done what he did (not true at all).

When I think about this in terms of dog training, it simply reminds me of the importance and power of giving input.  Acknowledging hard work, effort, thought.  About the power of feedback and acknowledgement for encouraging people and dogs to enjoy their work, to want to improve, to take risks and try new things.  Showing value and appreciation for the things your dog does both large and small, can make a huge difference in your relationship and the work you both do together.

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My wonderful hubby sitting with his favorite corgi dog snuggled on his lap

 

 

Unobtrusive

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Last night hubby and I went out for my belated birthday dinner.  I’ve been sick with a bad cold for over a week and last week I was in no shape to be going out.  But last night the lure of sweet potato fries, gluten free pasta and yummy soup got me out of the house.

Tom of course came with, tucked himself under our table and snoozed as he does while we ate.

Tom has a tendency to migrate as he sleeps.  I have no idea how he does it.  He’s in a down the entire time and he’s sound asleep.  His sleep migration tendency is one of the reasons I usually request booth seating when we happen to go out to dinner, as then there is a wall for him to sleep against and avoid migration.  Otherwise I always have to keep a foot against his back so I can feel when he starts to migrate and wake him up to get back fully under the table.  It’s like he turns to ooze when he sleeps and that combined with well varnished floors of a restaurant means migration.  Anyway in this 1 particular booth at this particular restaurant if he sleep migrates in a certain way he ends up stuck under the seat and I have to help him out.  There is a gap under the seating booth of about 6″ and he somehow manages to ooze under it.  My 63# retriever cross manages to slide himself under a 6″ tall opening as he sleeps, and people wonder how he fits under an airplane seat when he’s awake and actually trying, easily he fits under an airplane seat easily.

Regardless, as I’m fishing my guide dog out from under the booth seat last night after our meal, a couple seated nearby exclaimed, “If we hadn’t seen you folks come in, we would have had no idea your dog was there!  He is so good!”

As it should be, as it should be.

I remember a long time ago when I was first researching service and guide dogs hearing the term unobtrusive used to describe an assistance animal.  And it’s one I go back to time and time again, a working assistance animal should be as unobtrusive as possible.  They do their job, help their person, and act in a manner as invisible as possible to the general public.

Unobtrusive.  The word fits Tom to a T.

Except when he wants me to pet him.  Then he’s as obtrusive as all get out.

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Pet me.  I NEED all the petting.  Right now!  Tom’s large black head nudging me to pet him.

 

Sounds of Puppy

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I remember when Zora was little I’d say to my husband “what is she doing?” He go check, sure enough she’d be thinking of mischief. He would ask, “How did you know that!?”

The sound of puppy of course

There are distinct sounds that mean all is well

The sound of teeth in nylabones

The sound of teeth on antlers

The sound of teeth on soft toys

The sound of balls being bounced

The sound of dog play

The sound of sleeping

Brown puppy Willy sound asleep on the dog bed surrounded by toys

And sounds that mean not is all well

The sound of teeth on rug

The sound of teeth on chair rungs

The sound of teeth on couch cushions

The sound of teeth on leashes

The sound of teeth on slippers

The sound of pitter patter feet moving the wrong way down the hall

The sound of puppy by the back door

The sound of puppy slithering under the tv stand

The sound of puppy in the closet

The sound of feet on the kitchen cabinets

The sound of adult dog harassment

The sound of silence that is not sleeping puppy

Having Willy here reminds me fondly of the sounds of puppy.

Willy sitting in the toy box

Level 1 Run Thru

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With my winter goal of teaching Zora formal obedience heeling, during my research phase, I came across the Fenzi Team Titles Program.

This titling program is geared to progressively building skills required for formal competition obedience and is broken into 6 levels with 3 additional + levels, so really 9 levels total.  After reviewing the program, I thought it would really help me to stay on track and focus on foundation while giving Zora and I a variety of skills to practice.  If I decide to do the levels for scores, it is all done through video submissions and apparently the judges give various feed back and critiques, a practice I tend to find very helpful because I usually train alone.  There is also a really supportive Facebook group, where the people are very knowledgeable and great about giving caring constructive feedback.

So far we have been working on elements required primarily in level 1 and some exercises from levels 2 and 3.  It’s a lot of fun!

This morning I decided to do a complete run thru of the 10 exercises required for level 1 in order.  Up to this point we have been practicing elements separately and in pieces.  As we are getting more confidence with various pieces, I wanted to do a run thru to see where I need to focus our practice even more.

The run through showed me a lot and pointed out things we do indeed need to practice.  A big one I saw repeated in various parts was cue stimulus control.  For example when I cued “set up” at the pivot target she both times moved to the platform first.  When we did the vertical target first, then I 2 exercises later asked her to go around the cone, she tried to nose touch the cone instead as she had the vertical target.  Which ‘around’ the cone is a behavior she is regularly very consistent and strong on.  But I’d never before asked her to go do a ‘touch’ then a short while later asked her to do an ‘around.’  Cue stimulus control is something I tend to struggle with training for behaviors on verbal cue only, I simply don’t do it enough and in real life and in dog agility I don’t find it necessary.   I am good at it for hand signals and body language cues, but not verbals.  But in obedience competition verbal stimulus control is very necessary, so a skill for me to really practice and improve upon.

We also need to work more on her position cues, which I knew.  Her default is a down, and we haven’t had enough practice on sit cues in general.  She also doesn’t do a tuck sit.  Which I am at the moment on the fence about teaching her, as I’ve tried to teach it to her since she was a puppy and have been unsuccessful, hence why I basically stopped asking her to sit ever for the past 2+ years.  She of course still sits on her own, I just don’t ask her to move into that position.  I’ve tried various ways to teach it to her and none have made any sense to her.  So we shall see what I end up doing.

I was super pleased with her scent articles though.  Super super pleased!  Especially because this was only the 2nd time practicing them in the basement.  I taught her the scent game in our living room.  And her fronts.  Fronts are something I’ve struggled with teaching past dogs, and I’m really liking how Zora’s are coming out so far.  Her back up, we are still using a channel, but WOW!  Such an improvement from where she was.  I feel like the rear foot target has made such a positive difference in her understanding of back up.

Now back to training.