deza: (Tassie)
"But she's so tiny! What can she do?"

It's a question I hear a lot. Tassie, my service dog, IS tiny. She's 6 pounds, a fully grown toy poodle. My husband took some ribbing about revoking his man card when we got her. After all, toy poodles are the annoying little yappy dogs that terrorize visitors to Great-Aunt Gertrude, aren't they? Nippy little balls of fluff that hide under the sofa and attack unsuspecting ankles, when not being fed bon-bons?

Not quite.

Poodles were originally developed to be hunting dogs. That frou-frou show cut that's become synonymous with pointlessly extravagant hairstyles was actually developed to trap warmth around the joints and major organs while retrieving birds in icy water. Even when the hunting dogs were bred down in size, the intelligence, drive to retrieve and desire to please that make a good hunting partner remained. Canine behaviorists believe poodles to be one of the most intelligent breeds of dog, second only to border collies.

So what does Tassie do?

Her primary job is psychological support. When my first service dog, Guinness the Wonder Dobie, had to be retired for medical reasons, I didn't handle it well. I don't think anyone, including me, fully appreciated how dependent I was on Guinness. Faced with losing him, I was suicidal. After a poor decision on my part that ended up in a hospital stay, my psychiatrist was pretty concerned at the medication levels I'd need to be even close to stable - unless I got another dog. Yes, getting Tassie was a requirement for getting out of the psych crisis ward.

As a psychiatric support dog, Tassie's work doesn't seem all that important from the outside. She is my 24/7 companion. She cuddles me when I'm down, makes me laugh when I want to cry, and provides me with the companionship I need to stay on a much lower dose of medication. My therapist says her effect on me is nothing short of miraculous.

Of course, that really doesn't impress people who can't figure out the need of a dog like this. And being in a wheelchair with severe back and neuropathic issues, there are plenty of physical tasks that I need help with as well! So I'm training Tassie to perform physical service tasks. Obviousy a toy poodle isn't going to pull my chair like Guinness did (unless I hook up a team of them... hmm, I may have to look into poodle mushing...), but she is perfectly capable of picking up and carrying objects on demand. One of the first physical service tasks I decided to work on is retrieving the gloves I wear to protect my hands when I'm wheeling around.

The first step in this is training the concept of a retrieve. Tassie has a good drive on her own. She loves chasing after a ball and bringing it back to me to throw again. I started associating this behavior with specific commands. "Go get it!" when I throw the ball, "bring it here!" when she's returning with it in her mouth. It didn't take long for her to understand what the commands mean. Get it means there's something to be picked up, bring it means whatever object needs to be given to me - and will generally get a reward, either more play or a nummy treat.

The next step was to identify the gloves as something to be retrieved on command. Tassie sees me wearing these gloves whenever we leave the house, so she associates them with the fun of going somewhere together. I started using the gloves as a play item, making sure I used the term "glove" whenever we did. I paired putting the glove in my lap with getting a food treat. Yes, my gloves have tiny teeth marks in them from playing tug-of-war, but Tassie knows what the term means now.

Then I combined the two. I'd toss a glove and use the get it and bring it commands. Doing this gets wild praise and treats. We started off doing very short retrieves from one end of my bed to the other. Now I can throw a glove down the hallway and Tassie will happily bring it to me. She knows that bringing a glove to me makes me wildly happy, which makes her wildly happy as well.

Racheting things up a notch, I started hiding the glove and giving the get it command. Now the glove wasn't just flying through the air, it was hiding under blankets as well. Tassie loves the extra challenge. She's figured out how to push her nose under the edge of the blanket and use a flip of the head to toss it to the side. And of course when she brings her found prize to me, she still gets praised and treated.

A few days ago, when my husband came home from work he accidentally knocked my gloves on the floor. Tassie grabbed them and brought them to me, ready to go. I was ecstatic! She got it! Bringing my gloves got her wild crazy amounts of praise, treats and we went out together.

We're still working on it, of course. Tassie and I are just staring our journey together, so we're nowhere near the team we can become. Starting with one simple concept, though, we can break down training any task into simple steps. It doesn't happen overnight but it does happen.

What can Tassie do? The answer is really only limited by my imagination.

This has been my entry for Week 2 of LJ Idol. The topic was Deconstruction. I hope you enjoyed reading it!
deza: (Default)
Hey kids, guess what time it is!

What time is it?

It's LJ Idol time!

The crowd goes wild.

Obligatory intro info: Navy wife currently stationed at a NC Marine base, mother of an-almost-12-year-old girl (who's already being mistaken as Not Jailbait by the Marines, EEP!) and a 9-year-old boy, pushing *gulp* 40. Disabled, with a list of autoimmune, neurological and mood disorder conditions a mile long, in a wheelchair about 80% of the time. Currently training my second service dog, an 11-month-old toy poodle. Service dog 1 was a 90-pound Doberman mix, so this is a change. Waiting to see if I'll get disability on the first try or not. Participating in LJ Idol for the third time and NaNoWriMo for the 9th. Published author of bad paranormal romances, retired librarian (you bounce one picture book off a toddler and the career goes downhill from there), all around bothersome know-it-all.

My biggest challenge this year is the arthritis in my hands and fingers. Often my fingers will spasm when I type, so expect lots of typos in my posts. They didn't used to be that way, but it's what I live with now. If Idol runs as long as it did last season, we'll be keeping up with my annual tradition of moving during Idol (sometime in June, likely to the Chapel Hill area). You have been warned.

I'm not sure what stories I'll have to tell this year. There's the ongoing medical stuff, which is great for horrorfying people, and the dog training for the ""awwww, cute" posts. No doubt there will be "my kids are driving me crazy and we don't have far to go" posts as well. Oh, and let's not forget the ever-popular "my husband is out of town for work AGAIN and I want him home NOW plzthnxbai" posts. I may very well work in bits of my NaNo plot, about a sweet foster mom inadvertantly given a just-orphaned werewolf cub and caught in the middle of a tribal struggle over custody. My werewolves aren't immortal, so they don't have the luxury of patience.

And just for the cuteness, here's a picture of Tassie in her Halloween costume - I colored her green and purple to look like Gir from Invader Zim. The colors are kind of faint (I used kool-aid; next time I'll got for cake icing coloring), but she definitely has a green body and purple ears, legs and tail.

And from the coloring process.

This has been my intro article for Week 0 of LJ Idol. I hope you enjoyed reading!
deza: (Tassie)
Tassie has had a busy few days.

On Wednesday, we went to Kmart to pick up a prescription. The Navy hospital doesn't carry all of my meds (hooray for being the weirdo), but the local Kmart is willing to order in whatever weirdness I'm taking. It was just a quick trip on lunch, and Tassie was a perfect little angel. She completely ignored the 3 year old who insisted on roaring at her. His parents thought it was cute. I thought WTF? Why the hell would you roar at a dog? I mean, I expect small fry to verbally harrass my service dog, because that's what small kids do. But I expect woofing or cries of "PUPPY!", not roaring. Maybe he thought she was a lion of something?

Today was the big test of general behavior. First we had therapy, then a trip to Petsmart, then a trip to the commissary. On payday. *shudder*

The therapist was astounded by the change in my mood in two weeks. Yes, the meds help, but Tassie makes me laugh daily. She gives me a focus I've been otherwise lacking. I am quite honestly a different person with a dog in my life. Maybe it's a sign of deeper insanity that the presence or absence of a dog can make such a differece, I don't know. I do know that it's much easier for me to maintain my mental stability with a dog around. The therapist was pretty clear that this is something I need.

One of the problems I've had when we've gone out is the leash we have for Tassie is hard to hold on to when I'm rolling around, so we picked up a small leash coupler. One end clips to my belt loop, the other to Tassie's collar. That way she's controlled, I can let her down easily to get something for me, and I still have my hands free. Not that I've really needed to worry about control - Tassie is perfectly happy to sit or lay in my lap when we're out together, even with distractions like other dogs and roaring kids.

Then there was the commissary trip, and our first challenge. It didn't come from an employee, though - a random shopper took it on herself to tell me pets aren't allowed in the commissary. Cause yanno, the chick in a wheelchair couldn't possibly have the dog along for a reason. I told her Tassie's a service dog (and at this point, she's fully functioning as a Psychiatric Service Dog, even if she's still learning tasks for physical service work), and she got this really sour look on her face and said she'd have to talk to management about that. I hope she did, and that they set her straight. By law, I don't have to inform management to go in a store, nor do I have to have a vest or bandanna on her marking her as a service animal. Management is allowed to ask me two questions - "Are you disabled" and "is this a service animal." If the disability is visible, like say being in a wheelchair, they aren't even allowed to ask if I'm disabled. Still, I should be getting her vest soon, so random busybodies will have even less of an excuse to be obnoxious about her. We did get followed around by cries of "PUPPY!" everywhere we went, but I can live with that. Tassie was her normal sweet self, even letting me pile some small items on her when Andrew and I went in separate directions for a bit. Considering what a madhouse the commissary is on any given payday, I was very impressed by how calm Tassie was the whole time.

In addition to going out and about, we're still working on basic commands (sit, down, dance, get it, tug, lap) and bonding. She is with me 24/7. Surprisingly this hasn't driven her bonkers... yet. She's fetched my gloves once so far; considering we've been working together for a week or so, I find that pretty darn impressive. She's a good dog.
deza: (Default)
Oops, missed a few days. I'm sure ya'll survived.

One of our challenges has been the wheelchair. It's a big scary thing from Tassie's point of view! She doesn't have a problem with riding in it, but it took some liberal applications of treats to get her comfortable around it. Now she'll "paws up" when I'm sitting in it, "vanish" underneath it, and jump in my "lap" from the bed when I'm in it. We're also working on getting my gloves on command, playing tug on command (which will lead to shutting doors) and the basic sit/down/come.

Tassie and Jack take turns chasing each other down the hall. It's hysterical.

Tassie learning the "tug" command.
deza: (Tassie)
Tasks worked on:
Paws (sitting and standing)

Introduced the dumbell today. So far she likes it - or at least the treats I stashed inside it. ;) Also did a close-up introduction with Jack, after sprinkling Tassie liberally with catnip. Jack's still not happy, but he's coming around.

We carved pumpkins today, and Tassie hung out on the porch with us. She did a little exploring of the front yard, but it's all good. I wanted to do more training than we did, but the new muscle relaxer I'm on knocked me for a loop.

Tassis is being horribly neglected. She's only got three people loving on her!

Not the best picture, but it does show her face post-trimming. She's not too sure about this camera thingie.

Sleepy puppy. :)
deza: (Tassie)
I knew Tassie was a good choice!

Today, she's been sniffing at, pawing on and licking my right elbow a lot. Looking at it tonight, there's a strange knot of tissue just south of the joint. It feels almost like scar tissue, but there's no reason for scar tissue to be there. It's definitely worth asking the neurologist about, since it could be related to the loss of nerve function in that arm.

If this little girl can identify medical problem areas, I'll count myself very lucky indeed!
deza: (Tassie)
I'm keeping track of the training I do with Tassie here. One of my issues is forgetfulness, and hopefully this will help me be consistent with her training and with tracking her progress up to a full service dog.

We got her this morning, and immediately whisked her off to the local big-box pet supply store. She came with a pink collar and leash so that had to go! Her new collar is black and aqua, with a small bone print that from a distance looks like Celtic knotwork. They were out of matching leashes, so she has a patterened black leather one now. We also got her some more food (she'd been fed one that is decent for supermarket food, but has too high a grain content for me to be happy with it), training treats and a few toys and training tools. The entire time we were in the store, she was perfectly happy with laying in my lap in a moving wheelchair and watching what was going on around us, even when a strange dog came over to say hi.

Once home, she settled right in. Jack the cat was less than amused; his attitude has been "Ceiling H Cat on a pogo stick, woman! We just got rid of the last one of these things and here you are bringing another one home!" Still, his body language has made it clear that he doesn't see Tassie as a threat. Give it a few weeks, and they should be friends. Tassie has gone up to say hi to him several times, so it's up to him now. Other than meeting the cat, she's been perfectly happy to follow me from room to room, explore the back yard and stay on the bed to snuggle. Andrew had been worried she might not be able to get on and off the bed by herself, but no worries there! Little girl can jump! There's definitely something to be said for having a dog small enough that she can play fetch without having to jump off the bed. She likes chasing bed mice, too.

The previous owner was in the process of growing her facial hair out for a teddy-bear cut. I'm not overly fond of the look, so I pulled out the same clippers I use on Kyle and trimmed her muzzle down a bit. She's not shaved, by any means, but now we can see her pretty green eyes.

Andrew only got to spend a few minutes with her before he had to head off north for the weekend. That's all it ook for her to start charming him, between the enthusiastic dancing when he came in, the kisses and the sprawling on her back asking for belly rubs. He's gone from "If we have to..." to "A small dog is better than no dog" to "I can see why people like these guys. It's like having a perpetual puppy around." Score one for Tassie! It also helps that having her here is making a very obvious difference in my mood. I've gone from being weepy and sniffling over Guinness not being here to actually laughing again. It may not sound like much; believe me, it's huge.

Tasks started today:
Paws (place both paws on my knee), seated and standing
Lap (jump in my lap and stay there)
Load up (jump from my lap to the car seat)
Take it
Bring it
Get it
Hold (be still)

Small steps, but nearly all disguised as play so she's having a good time. I think she likes it here.

Tassie just getting home.
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