Sunday, May 3, 2015

Relaxation with a twist

March 30, 2015

This is only our second time back to the prisons together since September. Tammy and I still have our routine down. On the drive up we brainstormed how we'll execute Tammy's lesson plan:
  • puppy presentation
  • paperwork (Tammy) / meet & greets, handler's exams, questions (me)
  • group discussion
  • relaxation protocol
  • exercises with treat delivery and impulse control using a ground tether
  • obedience practice for all and In-For-Training (IFT) assessments for FLDs Bandit, Andie, Adell and Teysen
  • rally course, ladder and distractions exercise (teams) / finish IFTs (Tammy and I)
  • "blind" touch
  • musical chairs
  • Bandit's good-bye

It always amazes me that we manage to get through the entire list.

After the puppy presentation Tammy takes care of the paperwork with Rial. I circle the room to practice meet and greets and handler's exams. I ask each team, "Tell me something good about your puppy and then tell me something you are struggling with." Their answers should drive the group discussion, but there are no big issues.

Everyone in the room is interested in hearing an update on FLD Ashley. The black lab returned to Leader Dogs for the Blind in December for formal training and now she's ready to move into an "advanced" level. At the next step she'll be matched with her new partner. (No one knows it yet, but Ashley is destined to be matched at the end of April.)

Tammy starts off with a twist on the standard relaxtaion protocol. Normally the puppies sit, down or stand in heel position with the handler standing during the exercise. Tammy instructs the handlers to stay seated. "Tell your puppy under," she says, "or have your puppy lie down at your side."

A light colored golden retriever and a yellow lab are lying on a tile floor in between the legs of two men. The first man with the golden is weraing green pants and the second man is wearing maroon pants. Both puppies are looking up at their handlers (who are mostly out of view).
FLDs Andie and Diesel look at their handlers like they are thinking, "What are you doing? We usually do this with you standing up!" The idea of trying this while sitting is to simulate situations where their handlers are sitting, like at restaurants or meetings.

Four men are seated on lunchroom stools. The man on the far left is sitting up and looking at the other three, who are bent over at the waist and touching their toes. There are three puppies lying on a tile floor beneath the men. The puppy on the far left is a yellow lab and is looking back at his handler, the next puppy is a german shepherd and his facing out, the third puppy is a light colored golden retriever and he is facing out too. Three of the men are wearing with t-shirts, the third man is wearing a maroon sweatshirt.
The seated relaxation protocol has the handlers do things like touch their toes, turn to the right or left, stamp their feet, or cross their legs. The puppies stay in position throughout the entire exercise.

With the relaxation protocol finished, Tammy puts me to work demonstrating the treat delivery and ground tether exercises, and helping her with the IFT assessments. I'm too busy to get any photos, but once the music starts for musical chairs I am free to shoot away. 

In this game, there are chairs for everyone. When the music stops, the men must sit with their puppies "under" the chairs...last puppy down is out!

A group of men and their puppies cirlce around two lines of light blue plastic chairs. A woman wearing a grey t-shirt and blue jeans is on the far left.
Tammy's CD has dog-themed songs, like "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and "How Much is that Puppy in the Window?"

A low shot of a golden retriever/lab mix puppy walking toward the camera with a loose leash and looking up toward his handler. The man handling the puppy is only visible from the waist down and he is wearing the blue prison uniform. There are a few men sitting down on the right side.
FLD Henry keeps a nice loose leash and a keen focus on his temporary handler.

Now the men are sitting on the chairs with their puppies "under" the chairs facing out. The woman is in the background on the left side.
The music stops...who is out?

A low, close up shot of a small stuffed weiner dog in the foreground and a larger black lab puppy walking by trying to sniff the stuffed dog. In the background on the right side is a german shepherd puppy also looking at the stuffed dog, being held back by a man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants. The black lab is being held back by a man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants. The lab is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana.
I set a distraction down for the puppies. FLD GeeGee is very interested in "Travel Deacon," as is FLD Chance in the background.

A group of men and their puppies are sitting in the background and right side on lunch room stools facing the room. Two men are sitting in the light blue plastic chairs, facing opposite directions. The man in the foreground is an african american man wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants, his black lab puppy is lying under the chair. The man behind him is almost out of view, his german sheperd puppy is on his way to lying down under the chair, but is not all the way down.
We have a winner! FLD GeeGee is under her handler Ro before FLD Chance hits the tile under his handler Eric.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

"R" is not for "18th"

March 30, 2015

Leader Dogs for the Blind's prison puppy-raising program at the Chippewa Correctional Facility has now been in operation for over a year and a half. The first puppies have returned to Leader dogs to meet their destiny. Like puppies that are raised on the outside, some of these inside puppies "graduated" and were placed with clients as working Leader Dogs, some found other jobs (one became a bed-bug detector!), others were "career-changed" for medical or other reasons (one was able to return to his raiser who is now on parole).

As we like to say, each dog ends up just where it needs to be.

The program has grown, and Tammy and I have not been visiting the prisons each month, so it is difficult for me to keep track of the teams. I remember when it was decided that the puppies raised in the Baraga Correctional Facility would be named "alphabetically." I wasn't sure what to think about that practice, as raisers in the Chippewa Correctional Facility were free to name their puppies however they chose.

Now I see that naming alphabetically can make it easier to remember exactly how many puppies have been raised.

Before we can do any training, Tammy presents FLD Rebel, the latest addition to Unit 8. If Chippewa had followed Baraga's method of naming, I could assume that Rebel is their 18th puppy. But they didn't so I don't know for sure - I think he might actually be their 23nd puppy!

At any number, the "hand off" is always fun...

Two men are facing the camera, a woman is approaching from behind them just over the shoulder of the man on the left. The man on the left is wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt and is bald with a gray beard. The man on the right is wearing an oranged jacket and glasses. Both men are smiling.
Rial (right), FLD Rebel's main raiser and his assistant, Pick (left) wait with their back turned toward the door as Tammy brings in FLD Rebel.

The woman who was approaching is handing a small black lab puppy over the right shoulder of the man wearing an orange jacket. The man is leaning his head to his right against the puppy's head. The puppy's front paws are resting on the man's shoulder.
Following the tradition started in the Ford Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa, Tammy hands FLD Rebel over the shoulder of his raiser.

The man dressed in blue on the left is now looking at the black lab puppy, which is being held by the man on the right. The man on the left is petting the puppy under it's chin with his right hand. The man on the right is holding the puppy's left paw in his left hand and lookng down at it.
Assistant raiser Pick meets FLD Rebel. Rial looks like a father counting the number of toes on his newborn.

The man on the left has looked up to the camera with a surprised and excited look on his face while he continues to pet the lab puppy with his right hand. The man on the right is holding the puppy in his right arm and holding the puppy's front paw with his left hand. The puppy is snuggled into the man on the right's chest while looking at the man on the left, his eyes wide open.
Pick has come a long way. He joined the program as a self-proclaimed "helper." He wanted to be involved, but did not want to raise a puppy himself. He ran for poop bags, he cleaned up messes, he participated in all of our training sessions. I was glad to see that he was finally going to serves as FLD Rebel's assistant raiser.

The man dressed in orange is holding the lab puppy with his right arm. The man and the puppy are both wide-eyed, looking toward the camera.
The eyes have it! Rial and Rebel both look like they are not too sure of what they have gotten themselves into.

The man dressed in blue is now cradling the puppy in his left arm and holding the puppy's body with his right hand. The man and puppy are looking to the right. In the background are two men sitting on lunchroom stools with puppies lying on the floor at their feet. The woman and another man are standing behind them looking over paperwork. These people are slightly out of focus.
Pick shows off FLD Rebel to the others.

This is a close up shot of the man dressed in blue holding the puppy close to his face. The man is looking down at the puppy and the puppy is looking at the camear. Someone else's hand is petting the puppy behind his left ear from the right. The puppy's left paw is stretched out toward the camera.
FLD Rebel is in good hands. He came to Chippewa with a flaw, a small bump on his head that was treated by the veterinarians at Leader Dogs. The inmates showed concern, but overlooked the bare spot on the little guy's head and thought him adorable anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

As of the end of March, 2015

March 30, 2015

A group shot of 25 men and one women, with 13 puppies. There are four overlapping rows, the first row are ment kneeling or sitting on the floor with 7 puppies, the second row is six men and one woman (she is second from the left) standing or sitting behind the first row holding three puppies, the third row is eight men, mostly standing behind the 2nd row to the right, with on man sitting on the far right holding one puppy, the last row are five men standing on chairs behind the rest with the man on the far right holding a puppy. There is a big flat screen television on the white brick wall behind the group.
Chippewa puppy raisers (and retiring MDOC employee Joyce) and their charges pose for a group shot.

March 31, 2015

Nineteen men and 10 puppies pose in two rows. The first row of men are kneeling or squatting on the floor with seven puppies, the second row of 12 men are standing behind with three puppies. There is an edge of a lunch room table in the foreground and a metal door in the background.
Baraga puppy raisers pose with their pups.

Monday, April 27, 2015


April 27, 2015

A behavior chain is an event in which units of behavior occur in sequences and are linked together by learned cues. Back-chaining, which means teaching those units in reverse order and reinforcing each unit with the cue for the next, is a training technique. We use this technique to take advantage of the intrinsic nature of the event.
Thanks to Karen Pryor, from her Clicker Training website:

This was my chain:
  1. I received an email from Tammy with the dates of our next monthly visit to the UP prisons. That was my initial "cue."
  2. I accompanied her on the long drive north.
  3. We worked with the inmate raisers and their puppies, and sometimes furloughed puppies.
  4. I took photographs and notes.
  5. I returned home to process the photographs and notes.
  6. I wrote and published blog posts.
Each event in my chain was cued and reinforced by the previous event. Getting Tammy's email meant that soon we'd be meeting on I-75; driving north meant we'd soon be working with the guys and puppies; taking photos and notes meant I was getting ready to return home and process them; getting that work done meant I could write and publish my posts.


Here are some breaks in my chain:
Step 1. Emails from Tammy stopped after September 2014, when Leader Dogs for the Blind stepped in to get a handle on what was happening in the growing-too-fast program. While it is true that I received emails from Leader Dogs (I was, after all, allowed to accompany Deb during her October and December 2014 visits, and later, Tammy and I were asked to cover the January and March 2015 visits), communications were not consistent. I have no clear definition of what to expect in the future.
Step 5. Too often when I returned home life got in the way and I was unable to get right at the photo and note processing.
Step 6. I was not consistent in publishing posts! The more "behind-er" I got the more overwhelmed I felt; the more overwhelmed I felt the less motivated I felt, even though I challenged myself a few times to catch up.

So, I'm going to try "back-chaining" to build myself a new chain. I'm going to start at where we are today, and work backwards until I bring things back to where I left off in 2014.

Here we go...wish me luck!