Training dogs and puppies has always been an interest of mine. I really enjoy working with the dog or puppy and watching them succeed and how much they enjoy succeeding. Glacier is a classic example of this.
When we first moved here, Glacier had a new challenge in that I needed him to get me close enough to the cross walk button so that I could push it. We hardly ever used cross walk signals before and this was a new concept for him.
For the first month or so we struggled with this new task. It was hard for me to praise him just at the right time because I never knew if he got me close enough. Eventually, I got to know the cross walks around our area and it was easier for me to tell when I was close enough or not; just by how far we had moved on to the tactile bumps, the sound of the traffic Etc. Once I was more comfortable with the area and my praising became much more accurate, Glacier caught on very quickly. I had used the clicker since he seems to respond the best to the device when training a new task. Now, Glacier only needs a little encouragement by me,
"Glacier, hop up, find the button"
and nine times out of ten he gets me close enough on the first try.
Despite it taking us a bit longer to find our groove, I really enjoyed teaching him this new task. He was so excited the first time I clicked and that was a real turning point for us with regards to finding the buttons.
The same notion of things taking a bit longer and having to be creative with training can be applied to house training Hermione. Some tasks, such as teaching her to sit/down/stay are much easier as it is trained in a controlled environment; I know where she is and she is focusing just on me. Potty training, as with the cross walk training, occurs randomly and cannot be utterly controlled. Thus, accidents happen and the process takes much longer than I think it would if I could see. To be honest, I haven't blogged much or been reading blogs because I've been trying to follow my puppy around to ensure she isn't going to the bathroom in inappropriate spots. Raising a puppy as a blind person is, in my opinion, so much more involved than if you can see; in certain ways.
If she's on the floor playing, so am I. If she's roaming about on the couch, I am right there with her. Touching her or being close enough to hear her paws start circling are the two things that I use to help her be successful at house training. She's asleep right now and so that is the only reason I'm able to write.
I understand the concept of house training and could tell a sighted friend in my sleep how to do it, but being totally blind and deaf in one ear usually causes me to miss signals, which usually leads to me on poop removal duty. Thankfully our flat has hard wood floors and it is easy to clean up, but the area rug we had bought will be having a date with the garbage can later this afternoon because no matter how much I've cleaned it or stopped Hermione from using it as her personal wee pad, it has fallen victim to puppy pottying.
So, why is it being thrown out today as opposed to another time?
Today, we can finally start Hermione's outside training. For the most part, she was going consistently on a puppy pad inside, but if she had decided that the pad was too dirty for her liking then she would refuse to use it. She also had a habit of having all four paws on the pad and pooping off the edge. You almost have to praise her because she's got the concept, but the execution is a little lacking.
But not anymore.
Today she has the whole wide world to use as her wee pad and it doesn't matter if her butt is pointed in a certain direction or not. All she needs to do is go outside; probably easier said than done, but I am going to do everything I can to ensure she is successful.
Another challenge is being able to tell when she goes outside so that I can praise appropriately. Inside it is easy for me to hear if she pees on the pad or even poops. Mr. K and I also go by smell and not just for poop. Outside, it is going to be harder to hear since there will be more noise, such as traffic, and that may mean that I miss when she goes sometimes. I may think she has relieved and take her in and she hasn't, probably resulting in her going on the flat's floor. I may also miss when she's gone and not praise and then keep her on leash inside until the next outside break. Consistency is the key to training and sometimes I can't be consistent.
Yesterday was a beautiful day here and Carmen and I wandered over to the park across the street from her flat that she shares with Tenie and L. I had been visiting because it was Carmen's birthday and Hermione was refusing to poop. I knew she had to go, but she was not convinced she needed to go on the three different pads provided for her. Puppies are not good at generalizing when first learning a concept, so I could understand why, but I really didn't want her going in the girls' flat. So, we took her to the park, along with Glacier, and she finally went. She also peed outside when Mr. K and I returned home last night. She promptly pooped on the area rug when we got inside, but small victories, right?
This morning I ran her outside as soon as she woke up and we had success with her doing both of her duties. It was quiet out there this morning as it was 5 AM, and so I could tell when she went. The nice thing is that she stays still when I touch her when she's going and I was able to pick up after her. I thought that I'd have to teach her that as well, but it may be something she does naturally. Guide dogs, at least the ones from Leader Dogs for the Blind, are taught to stay still while they are going and to be used to being touched as they go. This way, the blind handler can line their toes up with the dog's back paws. This position allows the handler to know where to go to pick up.
I think the key to Hermione's house training is going to be me being incredibly vigilant. She's begun to let me know if she has to go when she is up on the couch by sitting at the edge of the cushion and making little noises. She is also on a fairly consistent schedule, which will help. Mr. K and I have also discussed training her to ring a bell. I know a lot of people do this and it will help us in that it will be an auditory signal. The next few weeks may be a bit crazy with me running her down every two hours, but I think the more effort I put in now, the faster she will grasp the concept. It also helps we have the two big boys who relieve in the same area. Their scent will be a marker for her and should signal to her that this is the area to go.
I would have to say that house training is probably the hardest thing for me to teach as a blind person. Perhaps there are other blind people out there who have devised a way to make this much simpler, but I have not. That said, if I take her down and she does not go, I will be keeping her on leash in the flat. That way, if she starts sniffing or circling, I will be aware through the movements of the leash. It will also teach her that going means freedom. It's sort of the same idea as using the crate. I think house training may be one of the most difficult concepts for anyone to teach in that it requires a lot of consistency and patience. It's certainly not impossible to house train a puppy as a totally blind person, but it may take a bit longer. Hermione is a really good puppy though and really wants to work hard to please us, which means we'll have that on our side.