Winnie: Tricks and Treats

This one’s going to be super media heavy, guys, just a heads up.

So, I’ve been talking a lot in this series about Winnie and about Service Dogs, and I figured now’s the right time to show instead of tell.

Winnie is currently solidifying her obedience skills, and sometimes that can feel kind of frustrating because it can seem like she’s not learning anything “useful” yet. I fall into that trap sometimes. I think everyone does. But it really helps me to be able to see how the skills she’s learning now will turn into tasks later.

Oftentimes tasks are made of multiple steps, each which need to be trained individually before they can be put together. So, while the skills Winnie is going to show you may seem simple, keep in mind that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Here’s a highlight of Winnie’s basic commands:

Sit-

 

Sit is the classic command. It’s the first thing that most puppies learn how to do, and Winnie is no exception. She figured out that sometimes when she sat, magic food would fall from the sky, so she’d wander around, sitting randomly, hoping the food would come. It was adorable. Sit is a lot different for Winnie these days, it is used as a polite way to say ‘please’. She has to sit to get food, or treats, or pets, and because of it, she’s learning that she has to be calm, even if she’s excited about something. She can’t do it calmly yet, especially when what she wants as to see people of dogs, but she does manage to stay sitting while her tail whips back and forth and her butt vibrates.

Down-

 

Down is Winnie’s default move. It’s very difficult sometimes to keep her from going right into a ‘down’ from other commands. Which can be hard, when we don’t actually want her to be down, but it’s also good because when I’m at school and at work, down is going to be in the position that she’s in. So down is the first step. Right now, she’s not in the formal position that will be required from her later, but it’s a great stepping stone to build on.

Stay-

 

Stays are my personal hell. They’re probably Winnie’s hell as well, but since she can’t talk, I’ll never know. What I tell myself and what I’ll tell you is that she’s still a baby. She is five months old, and her self-control abilities are almost nil. They’re actually better than most puppies her age. Stay is definitely up there in the top 5 of skills that will be important when she’s working. I need to be able to stick her somewhere and trust that I can move around without her getting excited and bounding off. The combination of down and stay, (often called a down-stay command in the training world) will help her handle public access as she gets older.

Touch/Target-

 

Touch is one of the most important and most used commands when it comes to training service dogs. It’s a simple concept, you ask the dog to target, and they touch your hand, or a pole, or a ball on a stick, etc. Simple right? Say you want to walk nicely next to you, you can just walk with them targeting. If you want her to touch a part of your body, you just target your knee. This likely be a part of most of the commands that Winnie will learn.

Leave It-

 

The first time your 9-week-old puppy tries to make off with a poop bag, you realize very quickly that she doesn’t understand what “NO NO NO STOP DAMNIT” means. And you realize that “NO NO NO STOP DAMNIT” makes a terrible command, because you’d look like a lunatic saying it in public. This is where Leave It comes in. Leave it means, essentially ‘ignore that’. When Winnie was very little, we used it to (try) and stop her from eating garbage on her walks. But as we’ve all matured, Leave It has changed in a wonderful way. Winnie is a social butterfly to a fault, and all she wants in life is to say hi to every human and dog she can see. So, we use Leave It when we can’t stop and visit. And (mostly), she moves on. As we move toward more public access skills, Leave It helps her learn what is and isn’t ok for her to sniff or touch. This skill will likely never become part of a task, but it goes towards her general temperament and manners skills, which are just as important.

Look-

 

I don’t think anyone can know how many ways ‘Look’ can be used until they try to train a dog. I honestly thought that it was kind of silly when the trainers at puppy kindergarten introduced the concept. Why did it matter if the puppy looked at you all the time? Now, Jess did point out that my issue may have been an autism thing, and that just because I didn’t care about eye contact or looking at peoples’ faces, it doesn’t mean that Winnie didn’t either. So, I have half-assed it for a while; look, guys, I’m only human. But as Winnie started doing more complex things, I started to see the value. When she looks at me, she’s checking in with me. She’s asking ‘” is this okay?”, “am I doing it right?”. We’re communicating in a way that makes sense to her. I still find it uncomfortable sometimes. It turns out dog eye contact feels just as weird as the human version. I knew there would be extra training challenges because I’m autistic, but I think we’re getting through this one ok.

This is just a handful of the things that Winnie can do so far, and she’s learning more every day!  Do you have a favorite trick or command that your pet knows?

 

The Winnie Project

I think most of us have every intention of posting regularly, and if you’re anything like me, posting on a schedule (oh Monday and Wednesday posts how I miss you!) However, we also all know that life always finds a way to intervene. Life in this case for me is school and the puppy. But this semester you and me and this blog are in luck! I’m taking an English course that calls for a blog project. I was given the option to make a new blog or the use this one, and I thought I’d use the project do a series of posts involving media, which is something that I don’t do often.

Media, you say? What on earth could you use media for that has anything to do with autism. Or mental health. Or disability? Or anything? That brings us to my previously mentioned other life distraction: Winnie the Service dog.

It’s been 3 months since I talked about her, which seems crazy, given how she smushed herself into every corner of my life. And I’m going to be honest, this isn’t always a good thing.

I’m a cat person. I’ve always liked dogs, and while that’s still true, I think I can say with confidence that I. Don’t. Like. Puppies. Are they cute? Yes! Are they fluffy? Usually! Are they often biting little jerks? YES.

Luckily, the internet came through for me. There is a subreddit (r/puppy101, for anyone who’s interested), that introduced Jess and I to the concept of Puppy Blues, which is essentially post-puppy depression that leads you to hide from your puppy in the kitchen, crying about poop. Most new puppy parents get puppy blues, and they do eventually fade. Now, for us, eventually meant weeks and weeks, but we’re at the point where I finally like the puppy. Most of the time, anyway.

I credit training to be a huge part of the improvement in her…pleasantness.

Training has also exposed her to a lot of really important things, like having to focus around other dogs, about having to be quiet even when she doesn’t want to, and how to listen, no matter where she is or what she’s doing. She also learned enough to get her first American Kennel Club (yes, the dog show people) training certification. Guys, as of last week, Winnie is a S.T.A.R. Puppy!

And that’s not all! Breaking news reports that after an intense evaluation by a trainer, our own little Winnie-poo (and by extension, me, of course) was accepted into a local program that helps owners who are self-training service dogs. They do all sorts of training events, and gives us access to trainers who have tons of experience with service tasks, let us network with other owners and their service dogs, lets us go places where we wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

So that’s where we are right now. Thanks to this blog project, you’re going to get to hear from me a lot more, and therefore more about Winnie! Coming up will be a List Day about what people might not know about service dogs and after that a post full of pics and videos showing what Winnie’s learned so far, and how she’ll build on it in the future!

Lastly, I know I always open it up to you guys if you have any questions, or want to share your experiences, but I’d also like to ask if you’ve got any experience about being a blogger or a writer (or both!) that you’d like to share to do so!

P.S. For the duration of the Winnie Series I will be including a puppy tax- the most adorable of photos of Winnie, in hopes that the cuteness will make reading about her so much worth it.

The Sound of Silence

The sound of silence is incredibly loud, that’s what hearing aids have taught me so far. They have also taught me that my voice is also super loud, and doesn’t sound the way that I thought it did. My audiologist says that I’ll get used to it- I’m not so sure.

So today, if you didn’t already guess, was hearing aid day! It’s been a couple of months since the audiological testing that showed that I not only have severe Central Auditory Processing Disorder but mild/moderate bilateral hearing loss. The hearing loss was…a surprise, to say the least.

It took all the time since then to order my hearing aids, which are Phonak (because they make the best FM Systems), and gunmetal grey (because they don’t make purple hearing aids for adults?!). For whatever reason, my audiologist only seems to have appointments at 8 in the freaking morning, so I wasn’t particularly excited this morning when we started to do the fitting, although somewhere deep inside, I was incredibly interested in seeing what would happen and how things would change. Because this is a big deal, right? 6 months ago I didn’t even know that I had a problem, and here I am now, with hearing aids and an FM System.

So, the first thing about hearing aids is that they are so. much. more. comfortable than I thought. I was really worried because I have small ear innards (I’m that person who uses the small-sized earbuds) and sensory wise it can be a really sensitive area, you know? Imagine the doctor checking your ears 24/7- that’s what I imagined it would be like. And between the things sitting on my ear and the things stuck into my ear, there are so many things that could go wrong. But they didn’t. Thank goodness. The only issue I’ve had so far is going to itch my hair a little too enthusiastically and bumping the receiver bit. Minor problems.

I’m not sure what to say about the actual hearing part of my hearing aids, I think mostly because I wasn’t really expecting a huge difference? Like, I know that I have hearing loss, but I’ve always seen the auditory processing part as my main issue. I figured if I didn’t notice that there was hearing loss in the first place, how bad could it be?

turns out, bad enough

Guys, everything makes noise. I spent my appointment tapping on things, rubbing things, definitely-not–on-purposely dropping things. I got home and there was so much background noise, which I’ve now been informed are the dishwasher and the heater. Also, the dog snores!

So it turns out the hearing aids work. You can say ‘I told you so’ if you want right now. You can also tell me that when you’re autistic, hearing more is not necessarily a good thing, I’ve already figured that one out. Do you ever feel like something good can’t just happen, there’s gotta be a downside? Maybe that’s life.

Or maybe I’m just being melodramatic. It’s about a 50/50 chance.

So that’s the hearing aids, now onto the FM System. This is meant to target the auditory processing disorder, which, as we discussed earlier, gives me the most trouble, especially during the semester when I’m in class all day. This system is easy, my professors wear a pen-sized microphone, and it transmits directly through a little receiver to my hearing aids, it’s pretty foolproof! Between this and having a note-taker, I’m really optimistic about school. Although it does seem like I said that before the beginning of the last semester, and look how well that went.

I don’t want to sound like these things are the worst thing that has ever happened to me because that’s so so far from reality. The truth is, that I have trouble with change, and this is a huge one. A huge one that involves sensory input. Double trouble.

So for now, here’s the plan

  1. Wear hearing aids for small amounts of time, and stop before I get overwhelmed
  2. Try to be curious about unexpected noises instead of being annoyed
  3. Talk a lot so that I’ll get used to the sound of my voice faster
  4. Avoid situations that might be overwhelming (sound wise) for a few days
  5. Don’t let sensory overload affect the rest of my life

A bonus sixth point is to not drive my wonderful, caring, understanding wife absolutely crazy by being inflexible about everything, just because my hearing aids are driving me absolutely crazy.

Well, that’s it, that’s the whole hearing aid experience so far. I’m already certain that the good parts of the hearing aids are very good, and that I would like to have them all the time. For example, Jess can talk to me even if I’m not facing her- and I can still understand what she says! I’d like more of that, please. On the flip side, I can hear the heat and the dishwasher and people coming down the steps outside and the dog chewing on her bully sticks, and that is just SO MUCH all at once. They say that neural plasticity takes care of this sort of thing after a few weeks, basically, I’ll still hear it but it won’t be at the forefront of my attention all the time, thank goodness.

So, for now, I’m going to hold off making judgments, and just enjoy the process of experiencing the world in new ways. Loud ways.

On next weeks episode of What’s that Noise? our contestants search for 45 minutes only to find that the humidifier beeps!