Monday, April 20, 2015

Theorizing

I am working on a horse post. It's about collection. It's really haaaaaard (can you hear the whine?).
In the meantime, a theory about how Brockle has offered some of his behaviors has wriggled through my mind.

This is pure speculation on my part. It does come from the knowledge I've been absorbing since I decided to study dog training and behavior. I would love some feedback.

While learning to read dog body language, I came across a  stern warning again and again, from many different sources.

"A dog who looks directly at you, actually staring at you with a tense facial expression, is another matter indeed. A direct stare is much more likely to be a threat, and if you’re in close proximity to such a dog, it’s wise to slowly look away." PetMD

Recently, I keep finding articles telling me that people and their dogs both get a surge of oxytocin when they look into each others eyes. 

When I met Brockle, I hadn't studied any of this stuff. He stood tall, didn't give ground or cower, his mouth was tight, his ears were erect and his tail hung at half mast, with no welcoming wag. He looked straight into my eyes.

He made direct eye contact again and again.

I'm glad I was ignorant about what his body was saying.

If I go by my beginning book learning, this tense, tight-mouthed dog was challenging me, or even thinking about biting me.

His eye contact was unsettling. It felt like he was desperately trying to tell me something. I decided he was asking me to bust him out. So I did.

Obviously, I'm glad I made the decision. I have learned that I have a tense, nervous dog. He was almost paralyzed with anxiety when we met. I've had to get used to the eye contact, he's either got it or is seeking it almost 24/7. 

Since I was his fourth owner in the first 11 months of his life, he had good reasons for being wound a little tight. 

He is much calmer now even if he still likes to look deep into my eyes. I could humanize him by saying he's looking into my soul, but I have a sneaky suspicion he's an oxcytocin whore.

The training I've been taught to use with Brockle, is to essentially convince him I'm the biggest and best party in town. Hanging with me is better than anything else in the world, and listening to me is better than that. 

This approach has been working just fine, but how does it explain his offered behaviors to assist me? What reward does he get from bugging me to sit down when my blood pressure is dropping? What inspired him to help me get up off the floor, steady me when my balance goes and walk me up and down stairs?

Again, I could say it's because he looooooves me, and I'm not saying he doesn't, but that's too simplistic.

Here's what I'm thinking. Brockle is insecure. He guards me like a peanut butter filled Kong. He also has one of the pokier noses I've ever dealt with. He sniffs me often. Not a dainty little sniff mind you, but a deep, kind of damp snorfling, breaking all personal space boundaries. 

He's obsessed with pits. Not just crotches, but arm pits, elbow pits, ears, nostrils and knee pits. He wants to check my breath several times a day. He's finally quit crotch-diving every person he meets, but has perfected the drive by whiff.

He goes crazy with any kind of wound, on any person, dog or horse. He wants to lick it until it's healed. He chased the kidlet for days trying to get at a semi-infected oozy scrape on her achilles. She kinda hates him, I'm not going to lie.

I'm pretty sure my scent changes when I'm feeling poorly. 

I think the offered behaviors started with Brockle just wanting a snootful of the new odor. He was obnoxious enough to make me sit down. Once I sat, his reward was being able to sniff.

I realized he did this when I was going to crash and began rewarding him with food when he helped me out. It became an established behavior.

He becomes frightened when I'm not steady on my feet. Even more so if I fall. His first instinct was to crowd as close as he could. I think it was more of a "Hold me, I'm scared," than an offer for me to lean on him. 

I re-balanced myself by grabbing his ruff. He was happy because I got back on course and I reinforced him with praise and treats.  

In return, Brockle has made these behaviors his job. It has made him more confident. Is it because he knows what to do to stop situations that used to frighten him? I don't know.

His rude sniffing may be annoying, but I have a better understanding of why he does it. My pits are still off limits, but I have decided he gets all the oxytocin he wants.  

So there's my theory. 








Thursday, April 16, 2015

Service Dogs and Monkeys

I have found myself in an interesting situation. Brockle has stepped into the position of my #1 assistant.

He's gone beyond the status of a good companion and protector. He has voluntarily begun to help me manage my Parkinson's.

Parkinson's is a demanding monkey to carry on your back. It hates to be ignored and can get really pissy if it feels it's not being properly treated. I am not a gracious host, especially when my guest is an uninvited, rude monkey that keeps bonking me on the head with a banana. I tend to ignore my monkey's ranting, even though I know I'll be toting it's carcass around for the rest of my life.

My particular monkey likes to make my blood pressure plummet if it feels I should be drinking more water, getting more sleep, or eating better food. I'm not talking feeling a little dizzy. I call it "crashing." I know I've blown it when the room begins to spin, I fall flat on my face and am incapable of even raising my head for up to twenty minutes. Sometimes I pass out, sometimes I don't.

The first week I had Brockle, I crashed at 1:00 a.m. or so. I ended up in the hall. When I came to my new dog was stretched out next to me, with his body pressed against me as close as he could get.

It happened again a few months later. This time, I was outside and it was snowing heavily. It was maybe 3:00 a.m. I came to with Brockle jumping on my head, pulling at my arms and hair and pawing at my body. He stood still and let me use him to stand up, and I balanced off him while we made or way back inside. I hate to think what might have happened if he hadn't been so insistent.

Since then, my meds have been adjusted and I'm doing much better.

Brockle has no faith in modern medicine and has taken it upon himself to manage my care. He can tell before I can when my BP is off kilter. He clings, nuzzles and pesters until I sit down. He hasn't been wrong yet.

Since Brockle has forced me to play nice with my monkey, I decided to start encouraging his natural inclination to help me. It hasn't taken much more than a heartfelt "Good dog," and a few treats.

So far he has learned to help me balance when I'm off kilter, steady me as I go up and down stairs and learned the command "Brace," so I can use him to get up off the ground or out of difficult furniture.  He alerts me when my med alarm goes off -- at five times a day, I'm really good at tuning it out. Well, I used to be, Not so much any more.

I did an awesome face plant in a parking lot last week. It was pure PD vaudeville. One minute I'm walking, then suddenly I'm kissing a puddle of anti-freeze. I was fairly sore and bloody.

The next morning, right in the middle of a detailed and dramatic reenactment of the event, my mother
said, "Would you have fallen if you had Brockle?"

"Probably not. Maybe. But it sure would have been easier to stand back up."

"Don't you think it's time to get a harness?" she asked.

What she means is a service dog harness.

I don't know how many of you are up on the current service dog controversy. I'll start with a brief rundown of the situation and am interested in your thoughts.

First off, here's the legal definition of a service dog:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Then, let's move on to where service dogs are allowed.:

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.


Here's the dilemma:
If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

What is happening is people are claiming their dogs are service dogs and taking them with them wherever they go.

Part of me says, "So?"

Except, from what I understand, if a person is enough of an asshat to fake a disability, they're generally stupid/obnoxious/jerky enough to not bother training the dog.

A professionally trained service dog lays quietly under the table while in a restaurant, doesn't fight with other dogs or pee on the plants in a theater, doesn't bark, scare or threaten other people, you know, has manners. Then, on top of all that, it does whatever it's job is.

Fakers are causing all kinds of crap. It puts those of us without easily recognized issues under constant scrutiny.

I can't help but wonder why there isn't a standardized test to certify a service dog. Not for the disability they assist with, but for basic civilized behavior.

There are strong arguments from the professionals who train service dogs. It's an industry in itself, complete with breeding programs, and very specific training.

If there was a standardized test, then anybody could take it and theoretically, pass it. Would that undermine the work of a professional?

Personally, I think it could and should expand the market. If I could find a class on training my own service dog I'd be all over it. With required certification, the classes would be full. This opens the door to training for the actual service the dog would perform. The inevitable wash-outs would provide customers for an already trained dog.

We had a kennel here in Colorado that sold diabetic alert dogs. These dogs, when properly trained can save the live of their owner. Unfortunately, this particular kennel didn't bother to actually train the dogs to do anything. People were paying $20,000 dollars or so for a happy house pet.

I think regulation makes sense in every direction.

For Brockle and I, it's not going to be that complicated. We'll get our harness and start slowly and easily working our way into a pair that can go everywhere.
We're going to get his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification this summer. Then we'll move on to Rally, and the Community Canine, an advanced CGC test (http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/akc-community-canine/test-items/).

My fear of being embarrassed will make damn sure he can cope with each step. We'll go as far as we're able, and I think we'll be fine.

As far as continuing to progress at home, we're working on picking things I drop off the floor, and ignoring people and dogs.

Somebody asked me, "Have you thought about getting a real service dog?"

I thought about everything Brockle and I have worked out between us already.
"I've already got one," I said.








Wednesday, April 15, 2015

WTH is Brockle and the Genetic Wheel of Fortune

I was asked in the comments - Why not do another test with a different company and compare?

My response was so long that I decided it was another post.

There are two short answers, and then there's the long one. I'll give you both.

1. Tests cost money.
2. I'm happy with the results.

Here comes the long one.

I have no desire to prove or disprove the accuracy of the Wisdom Panel test. What I read about the testing was enough for me to become curious. I believe the test comes as close as is currently possible.

We could go back and forth all day about whether the test is right or wrong. I can find great arguments on both sides and I'm sure you can too.

For me, this leads to unproductive and boring discussion. As you all know, when that happens around here,the conversation turns into an endless circle of argument. When I get bored I become snarky, then the trolls come slithering out and there we go.

What I got from this test went so much farther than the results. It launched me on a whole new learning extravaganza. I got the bare bones of dog DNA studies - and a brand new look at dog breeds.

I've gained insights on breeding, eugenics, form before function and vice versa, and it's leaked over to my horse world.

I've gone way deep into inherited behaviors. I've learned why a Chihuahua is almost the same dog as an Australian Shepherd.

I learned  way more than I ever wanted to about white-coated hairy dogs. I learned that the difference between masked white, extreme white, piebald, ticking and the Irish Spotting Gene. I know that one variation or the other of those white genes can be carried in every breed listed on Brockle's chart.

The study was fun. If he had come back as a beagle Bouvier mix it would still have been fun.

I'm guessing DNA tests will become more accurate as time goes on. When I can read about the increased accuracy of these tests, I might just do it again. That would be when I'd be interested in a comparison.

Wait! I just learned this one.

Both GSD and Keeshond can and often do carry the masking white gene. If two white carriers breed, even if they show no white, their litter can potentially be 25% white, 25% homozygous non-white and 50% heterozygous non-white.

The possibility is there for one of Brockle's parents to be white, and then all he would need is a white gene from the other side. I envision a back yard breeding of two dogs thought to be huskies, white shepherds, collies, wolf hybrids or some other thing.







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