Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival: Lessons from Others

This post is written for the 13th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, hosted by Brooke Sillaby at Ruled by Paws.  Please check back at her blog in the next few days for more posts on the topic "lessons." Archives of previous carnivals may be found at the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival webpage.

As a first-time service dog handler and first-time owner-trainer, I've struggled at times to determine how to break down complex tasks and how to teach tasks that seem impossible to teach. For adding new concepts to challenge my dog (and me!), I frequently turn to Youtube videos offered by a number of trainers and teams.

One Youtube poster whom I particularly love is Donna Hill, who subtitles and narrates the action in her videos beautifully. She is extraordinarily good at breaking down tasks creatively and giving positive reinforcement via clicker. Because what she does is fun and often challenges her dogs to solve a problem, they love to work. One of her recent videos shows that some common habits of dogs, like leash pulling, are reflexes from being pulled in the opposite direction, kind of like Newton's law. For every leash pull in one direction, it seems there is a an equal pull from the dog or owner in the other direction. Donna demonstrates some ways to work with the opposition reflex to shape the behavior you would like from the dog:

So that you don't miss any, be aware that Donna has several different categories of videos; one grouping is specific to assistance dogs. Don't forget to click "Load More" at the bottom of each page, as I initially did--she has a lot of videos. (Update: here's a helpful index to her blog:

Recently, noticing that my dog doesn't alert as often to my dysautonomia, I wondered what specifically he alerts to, and if he alerted to my scent rather than slight changes in my demeanor, as I'd assumed. I knew that diabetes alert dogs use scent boxes to train but was unable to find more information until I turned to Youtube and saw that all you do to begin is put a small morsel or target item in a tiny container. I use little bitty tupperwares similar to what's shown in the video below, MultiAnimalCrackers' "Fun Nose Work Ideas." You click the dog for finding the targeted item using the command "find it," "scent," or another command of your own designation. I use a placebo container as well--and my dog is 100% accurate at targeting the correct container. So now I've wiped a tissue across pulse points or areas that perspire (yuck, I know) when my blood pressure and heart rate are normal and placed that in a container for my dog to find. Next I need to capture my scent when my dysautonomia is extreme--targeting when my heart rate is on the cusp of tachycardia or low blood pressure will only confuse him. I'll encourage him to find that scent box rather than the one with my normal scent. This may work to increase his sensitivity, or it may not work at all. It's good to experiment.

In the video, the trainer first places treats around the room for her dogs to scent and find. She hides them in cups and under containers. She then uses the small containers with one scent inside just one of the containers for the dog to find. She also works with a teabag, asking the dog to target/nose it, and then hiding it under a cloth, clicking when the dog correctly targets the item. She then rubs her own scent on a cloth for finding, working up to having the dog out of the room while she hides the cloth.

Next in our training, I'll start challenging my dog with some of the techniques Donna Hill uses, such as diluting scent and setting up a scent wheel.  

It's also nice to observe teams who have very generously videoed themselves. One service team I've particularly enjoyed watching is Veronica Morris and her dog Olivander, a standard poodle who moves gracefully and ignores distractions so very well.

Olivander walks smoothly through the aisles, keeping close at Veronica's side as she walks through the aisles. Veronica gives Olivander commands to leave the Pyrex alone, and to sit and stay while she examines merchandise. The tester gives Veronica periodic instructions, such as to try walking alongside Olivander with a grocery cart. Veronica gives him lots of "good boys."

Olivander also does a "down stay" in front of the escalator.  The tester applies very light pressure to Olivander's tail with her foot and steps over him--challenges a service dog may encounter in public regularly. I didn't know some Targets have escalators, but Veronica's does, and she and Olivander descend it together.

Hope for Christy is another good resource, especially for people interested in dogs for mobility work and to assist with TBI needs. Kikopup, while not a service dog trainer per se, is a dog trainer with an extensive collection of videos demonstrating an astonishing variety of tasks.

I hope you enjoyed some of these trainers and teams. Please feel free to share others you like in comments.  If you have difficulty commenting, please email me your comment, and I will post it on the blog (more about recent blogger spam difficulties on my last blog post, "Maintaining Accessibility While Managing Spam").

Blog Comments--Maintaining Accessibility While Managing Spam

Today I noticed had 20 new comments on my last post. These were all spam that made it through even though my setting is for every comment to be manually approved by me, a setting that is still unchanged. I then saw there were about 50 more spam posts on old posts. Since a lot of spam is inappropriate, I'm alarmed that it was there for months without notification to me.

Not all spam is going through, however--185 were still in my spam folder, though I delete those regularly; daily there's a stack of them. It's enough to make me not want to look at my blog.

The only solution I can find to be fairest both to me and to as many people as possible is to go back to Open ID/manual approval of comments so that anonymous comments never go through. That excludes most spam, but it will prevent some commenters who don't have or want a google ID or OpenID from commenting. If you are one of those people, please email me your comment at fridawrites @ gmail, as I want to hear what you say.  I will be glad to copy it and post it for you and put your name on it.

I don't want to add word verification back in--that excludes people with visual and some mobility issues. The word verification text is often hard for me to read even without being limited in those ways.

My apologies for the inconvenience to anyone! I love hearing what people think and don't want to miss your ideas/feedback, so again, please email.

And now I go back to finishing my ADBC post.