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Monday, January 31, 2011

K9 Nosework Demo

Good job Treasure!

Treasure and I were lucky enough to take part in a demo yesterday showing various activities that people can do with their dogs to help improve their quality of life.  Treasure demonstrated her favorite activity - k9 nosework!  She found the right box very quickly and enjoyed her snack of chicken.  I'm sure everyone in the crowd was very amazed!

But that wasn't enough for Miss Treasure, who spent the next hour trying to figure out a way to jump down from her stroller and do more nosework!  She was being quite opinionated and would not stay lying down.  But after about an hour of only getting petting when she did lie down, she drifted off to sleep.  Just in time for the next break when everyone wanted to come up and visit with her!  Oh well, that's the price she pays for stardom I guess. 

Dreaming of more chicken!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A New Level of Learning

Snow, snow, and more snow here in PA!

I've been playing around with using the clicker with Treasure to see if perhaps she could hear it if I held it right next to her ear, or maybe she would even respond to the vibration of it.  I've tried it next to both ears. I've tried extra loud clickers. She is not associating the click with food, and she loves to eat!  She is also not even flinching her ears in response to the click.  So, I'm assuming it is not recognizable enough to her either in sound or vibration to be a useful training tool for us.  This was more for my own curiosity than anything else.  She does respond to some other sound vibrations in certain situations, so I thought, perhaps she might sense the click as well.  But it's not meant to be.

I taught a tactile marker to Treasure previously.  I tap twice quickly behind her ear.  But I find that this is not as clear as I would like.  She responds to it, yes, but it is not something that stands out to her in the environment. The other dogs often touch her behind the ear during play, etc.  I wanted something that would also allow me to mark and reinforce behavior when I wasn't close enough or in the right position to get those taps in behind her ear quickly.  Timing was also an issue.  I had to keep my hand out of her space (or she was constantly searching for it to see what it was holding or doing) but get it in there quickly enough to mark that exact moment of behavior I liked. 

I thought about using a vibrating collar as a marker signal.  It would accomplish my goal of being able to be farther from her.  Many people who have used vibrating collars with their deaf dogs told me there is quite a delay in pressing the remote control button and the actual vibration.  Most vibrating collars that are sturdy enough to last are bigger than what I want to put on a fifteen pound dog, and they don't work well with long-haired dogs.  Hair has to be continually shaved around the neck so the collar sensations can be felt properly.  Plus they are expensive! 

Then, the observant dog trainer that I am, I realized that she responds strongly to camera flashes, or to a sudden change in light/dark, such as turning a light on or off when it's dark otherwise.  I use a small flashlight as a clicker for my other double merle Grace with good success.  But it hadn't occurred to me until now to try it with Treasure.  How silly we can be sometimes.  Grace watches closely to see the light, but with Treasure, she is only able to see high contrasts in light and dark. 

Treasure knows she gets bedtime treats every night, so I started then.  I dimmed the lights so I could see her and her reactions, but it was fairly dark in the bedroom.  I flashed the light into her face and then fed the treat.  She was very engrossed in getting the treats, so it was hard to see any reaction to the light.  I kept at it anyway, trying to be patient, and over time I began to see that she was putting the two together.  Normally a flash or a change in light would cause her to spin repeatedly in an excited manner.  Now that was diminishing and she was beginning to show that she was sniffing to look for the treat.

Tonight, after several nights of flashing bedtime cookies, we had our first training session using the flashlight.  I was teaching my puppy to bring me a Kleenex out of the box when I sneeze (crazy dog trainer to actually TEACH a puppy to play with Kleenex!), and Treasure was trying to climb onto the coffee table to get the treats (again, crazy dog trainer to teach your blind and deaf dog to search for and find treats!)  So I put the other dogs away and turned out the lights in the living room.  The kitchen had a small light on in the next room, so I was able to see what was going on.  Plus the TV was on (nice that blind deaf dogs are not distracted by sounds in the environment!) so we had the glow from that as well.

We practiced some things she already knows with the flashlight as a marker - sit, stand, down, come to a stomp on the floor, spin and twist.  It was obvious that she was responding to some of the flashes and anticipating the treats.  We worked on getting her to step up and put her front feet on my leg while I sat on the floor, and we started working on a play dead behavior.  I was trying for a roll over, but she offered me a flat on the floor behavior instead, so we went with it. She was so proud of herself for figuring out how to get the treats!  She is very smart and will do things that I cue her to do, but she never really got the idea of offering those things on her own. 

I have a feeling she and I are both going to have a lot of fun with this!  And I'm getting used to training in the dark!  Not very feasible for long term, but great to be able to teach new behaviors.  Once they are on cue, then it won't matter anymore.  I can use the double tap or just petting with the treat.   

Monday, January 24, 2011

Time to Vote Again!!

Vote for Treasure again this week 1/26 through 2/1!!  Help her win some money to help sheltie rescue be able to help more shelties like Treasure!  It only takes a minute of your time to vote and once you’ve signed in the first time with your contact information, you only have to supply your email address every day to vote for her!  You can vote once every day per email address, so please tell your friends to vote for her too!!  I put it on my calendar so I remember to vote every day.  You might want to too.  If you or your friends are worried about getting junk mail or emails from Bissell, there is a box to uncheck as you are registering so you won’t receive updates from them.  I did the contest last year as well, and I have not received any unsolicited emails or junk mail from Bissell, so I do believe they take that seriously.  We just missed getting into the top 5 in week one, so please tell everyone you know to vote for Treasure this week!  Put it on your facebook pages, websites, twitter accounts, … everywhere!!  Help spread the word!  Thank you to all for your support of Treasure and sheltie rescue!!  Here's the new link

Treasure says WOOF!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nosework week three ...

Wow, we're moving right along with our nosework classes!  If you remember, we had some trouble using the leash last week, so this week we tried something new that worked very well.  Instead of giving Treasure the entire room to search in, we used ring gates to section off a smaller area to give her a more defined area.  She has a hard time knowing where she is in space when she's some place new because she doesn't have any mind-map markers to tell her where she is, like she does at home.  She can't see the walls or gates like the other dogs can, and she can't hear sounds around her to give her a clue as to where she is.  By using the smaller area, she was once again happy to be able to work off leash!  She was able to focus more on scenting and less on avoiding her leash. 

At one point, after our turn, I looked up and everyone was crowded around the smaller gated area watching us.  They seemed so surprised and delighted when Treasure found the hide.  I had to remind myself that everything Treasure does is a surprise to them.  I was very confident to allow her to do her job and knew she would find it easily on her own.  But I live with her, so I see her amazingness everyday.  The others do not.  It's nice to be able to bring a little bit of that to everyone's attention now and then.

We used roast beef at class.  I always give her a variety of food when we train.  It's never the same thing as the day before.  This keeps her interest up and offers her more enrichment and variety in her life.  When Treasure seemed to get a bit off track, I used some stomps to bring her back in my direction towards the area I wanted her to search.  I'm not sure how well the vibration carries in a direct way at class.  She seems to be a bit confused by stomps at class even though she always comes at home.  I wonder if the vibrations travel differently.  But it did get her attention and she sniffed until she found my direction and came back that way. 

We worked with open boxes again, practicing for our demo next weekend.  We started using a magnetic clip (like a refrigerator clip magnet) to hold food in a plastic lid.  It could then be stuck to the metal grooming table legs to offer more variety for hiding.  This part isn't as tricky for Treasure, since the other dogs tend to learn to look for the boxes and only hunt there.  Treasure can't see the boxes, so she relies on only scent from the start.  But it's handy to get the food up off the floor and will be nice to use to train my other dogs as well.  The lid we used for class was a plastic lid from a coffee cup and it had a small hole in it for drinking.  When Treasure found it, she came to that tiny hole first and was trying to lick the food out of it.  We also did food hidden in the unzipped pocket of a bag on the floor, which she found easily.

Our next round of classes, we will start adding Birch odor, so we got information about ordering the scent kits.  I will continue with Treasure in the process.  She really enjoys having a job to do and of course, the food reward is fun too!  But I'm not sure she will ever be able to qualify for competitions without some type of accommodation.  If she is expected to search a very large area in a short period of time, most likely that will not be feasible.  She moves slower around a new area than a sighted dog because she can't see where she's going.  She has learned that it hurts less to run into something when you are going slowly than it does if you are going fast! 


Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Very Busy Day!

We started today with nosework class, week two.  I had Treasure on leash for her searches today.  She does get annoyed with the leash, especially since she spins and it hits her in the face.  I think it distracted her from scenting and finding the food.  Every time she hit the end of the leash or it brushed against her, she stopped to see what the leash was and lost her train of thought.  We were trying to keep her more in the area of the boxes, so she wouldn’t go wandering away while she was searching.  It worked in that regard, but she took longer to find the boxes overall today and I can’t help but think it was because she was distracted off her task. 
She still found her hides ok, with the last one up on a chair.  She had the scent long before she actually pinpointed where it was, but soon enough her nose was pointing up to the small box sitting up on the chair.  I helped by bringing the box down a bit where she could reach to eat out of it.  I could have waited and let her try to climb on the chair, but it was a folding chair and I wasn’t so sure how sturdy it was.  I didn’t want to have it move away from her or tip and cause her to not want to try it again.  So I helped her to reach. 
I find myself with a free day tomorrow, so I think I will try her with some boxes outside, and if that goes well, I will hide some food in the snow for her to find.  Because I have a small house, I’ve already used up all the rooms and hallways, so I don’t really have any place new to practice where Treasure hasn’t already been.  So I’ll do a hide out on the deck, and then in the snow and see how things go.
After class, I headed to the pet expo with some friends of ours.  Treasure got to ride in her stroller.  She was of course, the princess riding around, sometimes with her nose in the air to sniff all the wonderful smells.  Everyone had to pet her or stop to ask me about her, so she got a lot of attention.  There were so many people and dogs to smell!  And the food smells!  Dog food and people food, treats and bones of all sorts.  And there were other smells, too, strange ones for her.  There were little pet pigs, and bunnies, and skunks and alligators!  Oh my!  Snakeskins and birds and various animal pelts that the zoo brought for show and tell.  She smelled them all.  I think her favorite was the alpaca, though.  I couldn’t let her say hello up close and personal, but I let her smell a teddy bear made from its wool, and she sucked in a huge breath, burying her nose all the way to the center of its fluff. 
I have taken dogs to expos before and I know it is a very overwhelming place for them to be.  But I never looked at it from the perspective of purely smell before.  What a wonderful buffet of smells Treasure must have had before her today!  She took everything in stride. 
I did have something funny happen today.  I was getting bombarded with questions about Treasure – She’s an albino isn’t she? She’s blind isn’t she? Etc.  Mostly the usual.  But I had one woman go on to ask me, “How does she get around?”  The question actually shocked me.  I wasn’t expecting it.  Believe it or not, no one had ever asked me that before.  I gave her a surprised look and then out of my mouth came, “With her legs.”  Well, the woman looked at me with just as shocked of an expression!  “Oh, no,” she said, “That’s not what I meant.”  What she wanted to know was how did she manage to not run into things and how did I communicate with her.  After the fact, I got a chuckle out of the whole conversation.  I guess I had taken the question literally, and I couldn’t imagine what she meant.  I mean, don’t most dogs get around on their legs?  Very funny! 
Please don’t forget to vote everyday through 1/18/11 for Treasure to try to win money for sheltie rescue!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vote today!

Did you vote for Treasure yet today?  She is already getting many votes!  Please vote to help us win money for sheltie rescue.  It appears that you can vote once a day this year, so please also stop back each day to cast another vote.  Voting for this period is only for one week so get those votes in!  Treasure sends sweet kisses to thank you!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nosework Class One

Saturday we had our first official nosework class.  The rest of the class had already done one six week session, but Treasure and I had been working on our own at home, so I hoped we were up to speed.  I really didn’t have anything to worry about.  This girl can find food anywhere!  Not only did she find food in open boxes, but she found food in a bag hanging on a jump post up off the ground.  Everyone was impressed.  I always have to giggle when other people are impressed with Treasure and her abilities.  I was very proud of her, but I know from seeing her at home that she can literally find food anywhere! 
There were times when I felt a bit pressured to help her out and bring her back to the boxes.  I have not been helping her at home in that way.  My feeling is that I don’t know what she smells or exactly how the odor and air currents are traveling.  So I’ve just been letting her figure it out on her own.  She always finds the food.  But I realized that if I expect to go on and possibly compete, that time is an issue.  So if she gets off track, it can cost us valuable time.  I’m not sure I’m comfortable intervening at this point.  I know that Treasure knows the game and can find the food.  Who am I to tell her whether she’s actually following the scent or not?  I have no clue.  She is actively sniffing and searching, so in my mind, she is still on the scent somewhere. 
I am allowed to use a leash and to guide her slightly towards the boxes.  How I see this being useful is when I first set her down and send her to search.  She is in a new area, so needs to get her bearings. She is not like the sighted dogs there who can see the boxes and props around and have an idea of where to start looking.  Sometimes she lunges forward like a horse coming out of the starting gate and then realizes that she is not in a familiar area and has to stop and get her bearings before she can start to search for the scent.  I may play around with using the leash to get her grounded and stable in the new environment until she catches the scent. 
Treasure did very well, even conquering new finds, like the hanging bag, that we had not practiced before.  I am very proud of her and she had so much fun!  It is the first time I have seen her not want to stay put in her stroller.  She wanted to go find more, more, more!  
So this week, I am going to start adding new objects.  I suspect this will not be as big of an issue for her as for the sighted dogs that have learned to look specifically for boxes.  And things at different heights.  I’ve also started to hide things in corners to encourage her to search the whole room.  If I ever get home while there is some daylight left outside, I am supposed to try it in the snow too. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vote for Treasure!!

As those of you who are following my blog know, I adopted a magnificent and amazing sheltie this past summer.  Treasure was born blind and deaf.  She has graduated from a basic obedience class, is now a therapy dog with PAWS for People, and is taking a k9 nosework class.  She is truly an amazing dog, and one whose life may have been lost forever without the help of many amazing people.  As you probably also know, sheltie rescue is near and dear to my heart and I know that they, along with many other organizations, are really struggling right now to save and find homes for the many dogs who are victims of the nation’s money and job crisis. 

Treasure and I are trying to win some much needed money for sheltie rescue.  Bissell has a contest with voting periods running weekly.  The winners go on for a final judging and get money towards their favorite charity.  Please vote for Treasure this week starting Wed, 1/12.  Pass this email along to all of your friends and ask them to vote as well.  We need your vote!  Thanks to all of you for supporting Treasure and I and sheltie rescue! Here’s the link to Treasure’s page  
We thank you in advance for helping so many dogs by voting!!

Thank you so much,

Deb and Treasure

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nosework Fun

What dog activity is there for a dog that can rely on neither sight nor sound?  It's called K9 Nosework, and Treasure is loving it!  We are both looking forward to our first official nosework class starting this Saturday. 

In preparation, I started introducing her to the activity at home in November.  I had an old box that was headed to the recycling bin.  I started feeding Treasure pieces of roast beef from inside the box.  I wanted her to get used to putting her head down inside the box.  And I wanted her to get the idea that boxes might have food in them, so it was a good thing to check them out.

Well, it didn't take long before she was actually climbing into the box with her front feet to look for more food.  She does love to eat!  I moved the box slightly ahead of her and she found it right away.  After a few minutes, she was quickly finding the box and food as I moved it around the floor.  By the end of her first session, she could find it from three feet away in various directions, with no help from me.  She was almost getting to the box before I could even get it placed where I wanted it.

I did many sessions with the same box and different types of food.  Before mealtimes, I even used some of her regular meal in the box.  I put the box in different areas of the living room.  She found it every time.  I added more boxes - some with lids, some without, a few with tissue paper in the bottom, and some tipped on their sides. 

I changed which box had the food inside and she always found the right box.  She learned to push her head into and under the lids to see what was inside.  Meanwhile, I very quickly discovered just how much Treasure loves this game!  I didn't teach her to find food up off the ground, but due to the nature of living, there are many food smells up high - coffee tables, laps by the TV, refrigerator door left open, open dishwasher, counters, and so on.  She can find them all!

I'm also discovering a lot about air currents and how smell travels.  It's not always how I would expect.  There was the time I thought Treasure was really close to the correct box but she seemed to be smelling something else, only to follow her into the kitchen to find there was food on the counter!  Or the time I hid food around the far side of my bed and instead of going the way I thought was logical, she followed the smell under my bed to the other side. 

So this week our game is to go back to just one or two boxes in new areas to prepare Treasure for working in class.  I'm not expecting she will have any trouble.  After all, food in involved! 

What a wonderful activity for all dogs.  It gives them something to occupy their minds and noses, something to do inside during the long winter months, and it doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment!  And it gives dogs who might be at a disadvantage in other activities a chance to shine!  Stay tuned for updates!  

A Green Resolution!

There's been a strange concoction on my dinners lately.  It smells a little sweet (mom says there's some fruit in it) and tastes a little creamy.  At first, I was intrigued but I wasn't sure I liked it.  I licked at it tentatively and moved it around in my mouth.  It wasn't horrible.  I took another taste. It started to grow on me. 

Mom says it's a green smoothie and it's good for me.  She says it's a way for us all to get our veggies.  Why do I need veggies?  I'm a dog.  I like my meaty bones.  But it tastes good, so I keep licking until it's gone.  Truth be told, I'd really like to have more, but mom only gives me a little bit.  She says we have to get used to it slowly.

Everybody gets some smoothie in their dinner.  Mom giggles and says we're going to all turn green!  She's hoping the fresh veggies will help my cysts to disappear and will keep us all healthier.  I'm not sure why the veggies have appeared all of a sudden.  I never had them before.  I've heard the words new year and resolution.  Are dogs supposed to have resolutions too?  If so, I guess mine will be to keep finishing my smoothies!  Mom will think I'm doing it just to make her happy.  But really, they're quite delicious!  Shhh, don't tell her! 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goodbye to the Holiday Season

Today Mom took the Christmas tree down.  I had gotten used to it being there, and now it is gone.  The boxes of ornaments and decorations are now put away and the floor is open and clear again.

This was my very first Christmas as a family dog!  I sure didn't know what I was missing!  Here I am surrounded everyday by love.  I'm allowed to be warm and dry inside the house with everyone else.  I'm learning to enjoy the snow now that I have someone to shovel it for me.  And, I no longer need to break through the ice in the water bowl every morning to get a drink.

The holidays have brought many new adventures - trips to visit friends, both old and new; guests coming just to see me and cuddle me, and to bring me special treats!  There were Santa suits and hats, and marvelous smells (and sometimes tastes too!)  The tree confused me at first, and it poked me in the nose if I got too close.  But it had special toys hanging on it that sprung back when I tugged on them!  And it was fun to sleep under too. 

Perhaps the most surprising of all was that I got my very own bone!  I don't have to share it with anybody!  And I got a sock full of tasty stuff!  Mom says it's called a stocking.  It got caught on my nose when I tried to eat the goodies, but it was worth it!  I also got my very own steps (but the others use them too), so I can get up to the big bed every night.  No longer huddled with my buddy in the cold, now I can cuddle with my Mom in the warm covers all night long! 

I've heard it said that the holidays are a magical time.  Now I know it is true.  I hate for it to come to an end.  But Mom says it's now a new year.  A time for new beginnings.  I can't wait to see what the new year has in store!