Down Syndrome, Guardianship and the Justice System

This post is worth a revisit. I am trying to get help for Amanda.

Diary of a Misplaced Yooper: Cliffy's Mom's Blog

Down syndrome, formerly called “Mongolian Idiocy” was named for a physician who described the condition in the 1860’s, Dr. John Langdon Down.

He wrote:

The Mongolian type of idiocy occurs in more than ten per cent of the cases which are presented to me. They are always congenital idiots and never result from accidents after uterine life. They are, for the most part instances of degeneracy arising from tuberculosis in the parents. They have considerable power of imitation, even bordering on being mimics. They are humorous and a lively sense of the ridiculous often colours their mimicry. This faculty of imitation can be cultivated to a very great extent and a practical direction given to the results obtained. They are usually able to speak; the speech is thick and indistinct, but may be improved very greatly by a well directed scheme of tongue gymnastics. The co-ordinating faculty is abnormal, but…

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The Chickadee Charmer

In memory of Dad. November 24, 1925 – March 30, 2013

Through the polar blast, the birds huddled in the nook of Dad’s old free-standing feeder. He had made it from steel, cutting and welding, shaping the tray and its own little roof. It stood on a pole about five feet long, just tall enough where if I stood on my toes I could see into it.

As a kid I had a cheap 110 camera I had purchased by saving up coupons. The bird feeder stood under a willow tree my grandfather had planted, right outside the kitchen window. The tree had flourished there, reaching skyward. Its massive trunk split into three columns that held the rattly tree house where I lay on the flat top, letting the sun warm me through the still-naked twigs of reluctant spring.

I used to rest my hand on the edge of the feeder and wait patiently, and if I stood very still, a chickadee would land on me. I would snap photos of the fluffy birds as they squabbled and pecked at the seeds. The pictures were always blurry; too close-up for the equipment of the day. Of course, I couldn’t tell at the time how bad they were going to be.

Among the gathering cardinals, jays, nuthatches and sparrows, the chickadees were the ones who feared me the least. In those days, the birds didn’t get handouts in parking lots or fast food joints. They were truly wild.

Years later, at camp, I saw one chickadee sitting on the feeder, pecking wistfully at a sunflower seed on the other side of the plastic. He could reach the millet but he didn’t want it. He wanted the good stuff.

I remembered the days, so many years ago, with Dad’s feeder, taking photos. I got a handful of sunflower seeds and sat down and just waited.

Eventually, the first bird, who I called the Rookie, did come to my hand. The first time he landed, I remember I thought he would just grab the seed and go. But he sat on my fingers for a long time, hunkered down defensively, eyeing me with care. I tried not to stare directly at him. He finally took one seed and flew off.

After that, it was easier to get him to come down. Once the other birds saw him doing it, we were bombarded. Dad and I made it our mission to always keep sunflower seeds in our pockets. The chickadees perched high in the poplar and spruce trees, their white hatch marks shining like tiny ornaments. They followed Dad around. They perched on the fence when I cleaned the corral and they followed me down the road when I dumped the manure. They would land on Clifford’s back, and on the seat of the tractor. One flew in the open window of Dad’s truck when he pulled in, sitting on the steering wheel and looking at him.

I had only to point at a particular bird, high in a tree, and it would fly down, land on my hand, take a seed and then go.

I thought maybe in spring, I would have to tame them all over again. But they remembered. When we opened up camp, they came around, flinging themselves at our heads when we exited the camper, flashing through the trees and calling their characteristic, “dee dee dee.”

The most surprising thing about these birds was that we could tell them apart. It was not so much by their markings, which were virtually identical, but their behaviors. Each bird had its own habits. The bird Dad called Spotty had a white spot on his head and preferred to eat his seeds from the ground. He would land on Dad’s shoe. The one I called Rookie I always knew, as he sat on the low cedar branch and would say, “Chip” to me softly. He brought a juvenile with him the second year, and fed him faithfully.

Dad said that having those chickadees around camp was one of the nicest things that had ever happened to him.  In thinking back, I will second that notion.

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Puppy Boot Camp – 6 Month GSD – Proofing the Stay

With a “soft” dog like Arthur, proofing the stay can be a trick because he likes to be right in your pocket. But teaching a reliable stay is a great confidence builder for a worried dog. It is also a great thing for a dog to have on his resume; you never know when a situation is going to come up when you need your dog to just stay put.

Also, it is great for posing for photos!

This post explains an easy way to teach a dog to stay. As I explained,
when I am at the farthest point away from the dog, I click and then return with the treat. I like the dog to maintain eye contact during this time. If he is watching me he is less inclined to be distracted by things that might tempt him to move.

Proofing the stay involves teaching the concept of what “stay” means. Sit here, even if I walk away. Sit here even if I call another dog. Sit here even if I go out of sight.

There are loads of ways to proof a stay. The “stay” command is like a muscle; it gets stronger in time as long as it is consistently reinforced.

Teaching the “down stay” is generally easier because it takes more energy for the dog to get up and move. “Sit stay is more difficult; so I tend to teach that first. As we go along, I up the ante, introducing more temptations and making the stay more difficult.

Arthur went to his first class with me on Friday night and made me proud by staying in place despite being in a totally new environment around a bunch of strange dogs. He was able to transfer all those lessons with Til in the farm store, to a new environment.

He did break a couple of times. But it is normal for a dog to get up and walk out of a stay in these early stages of training. If that happens, it’s not a big deal. He just gets taken back to the same spot and told again.

Here are some videos of Arthur in various stages of proofing.

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Puppy Boot Camp – What To Feed A Spooky Pup

Arthur the GSD turned 6 months old on February 7th. I wish I could say he was completely cured. He is doing so much better but he relapses once in awhile. He is still afraid of kids. In the kitchen the other day, while letting him out the door, I stepped on his foot and he let out a screech and ran to his crate. He didn’t want to come out, so he got to stay in there for an hour and recover. I just left him alone.

I found his reaction overly dramatic — I do not weigh THAT much, hello! But the next time he went to the door, he was much more aware of where his feet were, stepping out of my way as I reached for the doorknob.

He is panicky, but he is capable of learning. He has these moments but overall his whole demeanor seems happier.

We are continuing to work on training. His recall is coming along great.

Every day he comes out and helps me do barn chores.

He loves the cold and is the only one of my dogs who wants to be out there! He rolls and rubs his face in the snow. More power to ya, Arthur.

He is growing like a proverbial weed and he is still getting good nutrition, The Courage Meal. Part of this protein diet designed to help build confidence is made up of high quality kibble, to ensure he gets all the proper nutrients for his canid system. He is going to be a big dog, so it’s important to keep his weight down, not stressing his joints while still giving him everything he needs.

Several people have asked me what kind of dog food is best. It’s getting super scary out there with all pet food recalls and plus, the common ingredient not only corn, but the remains of euthanized dogs and cats!

ACK!!! Gives a whole new meaning to that vague phrase, “meat by-products”. Check your ingredients!

There are several great kibble candidates on the market. I decided to promote Life’s Abundance since the food does NOT contain preservatives. The food is super palatable; when you open the bag the fresh smell comes out. The kibble pieces are great as training treats also.

The addition of some home cooked ingredients can help make the cost manageable. Here is the link: The Courage Kibble

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Puppy Boot Camp – Arthur GSD and His Fear

A German shepherd is a dog that should not fear anything; least of all little kids. When Arthur came to me about a month ago he was riddled with issues. He was terrified of moving vehicles: Being around them, being in them, even the sound of them. He was afraid of people wearing hats. He had no interest in coming when called. He piddled on himself incessantly. He was terrified, and he was miserable.

The past month has involved a very regulated schedule; crate time to teach him to hold his bladder. Outdoor time to teach him the appropriate place to relieve himself. Training time to teach him how to pay attention and give him confidence.

Sitting in heel position.

My other dogs helped a lot in teaching him how the home routine works. Nobody HERE pees in the house. Everyone HERE comes when I call. The dogs, especially my border collie Til, have set a stellar example of how dogs act. They didn’t always appreciate having to teach a boisterous, oversized, lop-eared puppy how to behave. He required so much correction! But they do it, because that’s how a pack works.

I like to think back on our progress, because it gives me encouragement moving forward. I am very concerned about Arthur’s fear of children. It is just not a good thing to have a dog that will potentially be 100 pounds, behaving fearfully around kids that can’t even reach the tops of his ears. It’s just the little ones he reacts to. He’s okay with teenagers. He is finally pretty much okay with people in hats. He leans against them for petting and sits on their feet. He is a big baby. I want to get him to the point of huggable even for the little ones.

Today, while we worked on heeling at attention, sits and stays in the farm store, a couple of little kids came in with their parents and Arthur tuned in immediately. He heard their voices and his whole demeanor changed so visibly that the little girls’ father wisely told them, with no prompting from me, “Do not approach that dog, he is afraid of you.”

Arthur did resort to his old go-to of barking the alarm at the kids as we walked up an adjoining aisle. He could see them through the spaces in the shelves that separated us. I kept walking. I had some high value treats and just resorted to simple attention exercises. Sit. Make eye contact. Heel. Step over this way. Come around. Stay. Good boy.

Once I had him a little bit grounded I put him on a down and asked him to stay. He did stay put, even though the evil children were only a few yards away.

As the family shopped, I stayed in their orbit with Arthur, encouraging him to keep up the good work and just ignore the fact that they were there. When they approached the checkout, so did we. I had Arthur sitting at heel when the last child walked right by him and out the door. She was involved in her own stuff and seemed not to notice him. Big win for him.

He survived the encounter, but we need to see a lot more kids.

His sit-stay, however, is coming along great!

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Puppy Boot Camp – Revisiting the Stay

Sometimes when you take some time off, the puppy will relapse. Such was the case for Dom, now Arthur, who visited the store today and his walking with the cart reminded me of the first day I took him. A few turns into him for forging ahead, and turns away for lagging behind, and he was back in business. I hadn’t thought about it but it really does give him a good opportunity for body awareness. He did remember to sit every time we stopped.

These videos might be a little like watching paint dry. But you can see how every time he pulls on the leash, I stop and he has to sit. If he keeps a loose leash, we keep on going.

He is wet because it was raining outside. He got pretty muddy. After the cart session we left Til with the cart and I just walked Arthur around.

He did no barking at all this time, but the store was quiet. He saw a couple of people that he considered suspicious. People that he previously would have barked at would cause him to do a double take. He managed to keep pretty well focused on what we were doing.

My timing with the reward is pretty bad in the video because I have trouble handling the phone and the clicker at the same time.

We did some random downs and proofed the stay. The pup did well on these. Some people like to teach the down as a stay because the dog is more inclined to stay in position when he is lying down.

I usually teach Sit Stay first because it is easier for me to move around the dog, pop back and reward when they are sitting. If a dog can master a sit-stay first, then the down stay usually comes much easier.

From here we will move in to more challenging aspects of the stay. We will proof under all kinds of different circumstances like different locations, asking for the stay when I walk other dogs around him, asking for the stay when I go out of sight, etc. Today I squatted down to take his picture and I thought he might not stay there but he did.

So here is his first off-leash photo opp, in a sit stay with his friend, Til. Good boys!

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 20, Part 2: German Shepherd and the Random Down

The German shepherd pup formerly known as Dom, now called Top or more formally, Arthur, has been learning to lie down on cue. The hand signal is traditionally raising the right hand. But he is now learning to drop when I say the word, “Down.”

I use these cues at random times because Down really comes in handy. It is excellent as a replacement for other undesirables. For instance, if your dog is about to jump up, or getting too excited, an in-motion Down is a great alternative.

There are all kinds of reasons to teach Down as a cue to be executed on the spot. Plus, if you ever go into advanced obedience, it is one thing your dog will have to know.

I have used it with Til while out hiking, if he is running off to greet people and I don’t want him to, I can shout out, “Down” and he will drop in place. It is good as a preventative measure but also comes in handy at other times, such as when you are taking photos.

I like to mix the Down up with other cues. For instance, today when we were working on recalls I added a couple of downs, just as a change-up. It helps to keep things fresh.

Arthur is doing pretty well with his random downs. And today, he made his first catch.

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Puppy Boot Camp, Day 20 – GSD – One Way To Fix Coming When Called

The German Shepherd puppy called Dom has been with me for nearly three weeks. He is now five and a half months old. His recall, while vastly improved, has only gotten to about the 60% mark. When he does come, at times, it’s slow. When I call the dog’s name, I want to see an immediate response.

Since he is a fearful dog, I have used all positive methods in his training and avoided using many corrections. This is especially important with the recall. You never want to discourage or scare a dog who is supposed to be coming to you. It’s one sure way to create a dog you can never catch.

I have been using other dogs in training Dom and the results are very good. It puts a competitive spin into the exercise, as well as offering tantalizing distractions that are good for proofing.

While I take the other dogs out walking, I call them, too. This shows the pup that others respond to my voice, and also teaches him the names of his “roommates”.

Dom gets a bonus when Jasper doesn’t make it to me fast enough. This gives Dom added incentive for paying attention to me and what is happening around him.

When Jasper succeeds, everybody wins, although Dom is more interested in chasing his idle, Til the Border Collie.

It’s a good example of how Dom would rather pay attention to the border collie than to me. He does come when I call him… Sometimes.

When he’s good, he’s really good. Other times, he’s like, meh.

I’ve had to take Dom back to kindergarten. Since he came with the name, Dom, he was already kinda conditioned to ignore it. So I have started retraining him with another name, Top. Since this is an entirely new word for him, he is responding much better to it. He has to identify it amidst all the other names.

This Name Game is a great way to introduce your dog to whatever word you want to use to call him in.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 19 – GSD Pup Learning to Stay

The saga of Dom, the fearful German shepherd puppy, continued through this morning training session when I decided to introduce the notion of staying put.

It isn’t too difficult for most puppies. For the ones who have confidence problems, it is asking more because the pup tends to want to cling to you and move when you do.

For some reason, he has issues with this exercise. It didn’t help that I slipped up and said the word, “No” during one of the times he got up. That was all he could handle. He heard that word and fell apart. I was in no way stern with him, but he squatted and started peeing when I said it.

Despite my attempts to bring him back from that dark place, he kept quitting on me and went to lie down in his crate. He was shutting down.

I decided to give him a time out, rather than just allow him to wallow in his crate, so I put him outside. He was sad out there, too, until Til went out to join him.

After that, it was back to normal.

I’ve identified several triggers by this time. They are the word “no” when training, and talk about pee, both of which cause him to fall down and give up. Other triggers which incite his aggression are little kids and certain adults, mostly adults wearing hats.

By keeping him focused on the job at hand I have managed to bring him out of his reactive state. I think it’s going to take more work.

We went to the farm store to train the “stay” and as I suspected, he handled it there better than he did in the kitchen. I used high value treats; some bits of lamb roll. Despite the sad morning he did remember what he learned there, just the beginning concept of Stay and he allowed me to back away from him a couple of steps. When I am at the farthest point away from the dog, I click and then return with the treat. I like the dog to maintain eye contact during this time. If he is watching me he is less inclined to be distracted by things that might tempt him to move.

Once the dog is consistently staying in place for a couple of seconds, I might change direction as I move away from him, stepping to the side or moseying around behind him. I always back away from the dog. During this early training, if I keep facing him, it lets him know that I am not really leaving him and that his job is to just wait for me.

Now working up to greater distances, five steps away from the dog. I do an “uh oh!” no reward marker sound when he gets up. He is catching on to what that means and he is pretty crushed by it. This is a dog who needs to succeed.

In order to keep his spirits up, I play games with him between sessions, allowing him to run after me and jump up on me. This helps a lot.

Now that he is cheered up some, I give him another chance to succeed.

I can see by the way he responds to the word “Stay”, shutting his mouth for a second, that he is listening and comprehending the meaning.

I was happy that we made it through another store visit with no barking. There weren’t many people out shopping. When we were headed for the checkout line, I heard the unmistakable voice and clumping boots that meant a little kid was in the store. I abandoned the checkout line and made a beeline for the sound. Sure enough, as we turned up that aisle, the pup let out a soft, “Woof!” and I said, “No, there is no barking in here.”

He stopped instantly and we made another pass, down the aisle behind the kid and his parents. I was asking for attention and clicking and treating. The mother shouted out that it was a beautiful dog, so I stopped and asked her if she would like to pet him.

The boy was afraid of the big pup, who was nearly at eye level with him. He stood like a statue and made no move to pet the dog. Dom sniffed his chin and then came away. “He’s a shy boy,” the boy’s mother explained.

“It’s okay,” I said. “They both are.”

I find that the thing that has bothered me most about today is not the training or whatever mistakes were made. It’s the sadness in the dog. He is so serious. Some dogs love obedience because it gives them a sense of purpose. Just like with people, confidence grows with accomplishments. I don’t think obedience makes this dog particularly happy. He doesn’t live for toys, or even food. There may be a niche for him… Dock diving? Agility? Scent work? …I just don’t know what it is yet.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 18 – Dom GSD – first bark-free store visit!

We hit a milestone today for the fearful German shepherd who rushes people and barks. By the way both his ears stood up briefly today. At 5 months he’s still too fuzzy to look too grown up.

My friend Cindy and I made a stop at Menards following a movie. We were accompanied by the pup’s mentor, Til the border collie. Cindy handled Til in the store.

Dom made it through the shopping trip without barking or nipping at anyone. He did meet several people and allowed petting. He did a couple of sits and downs. I carried no food, and they didn’t hand out treats at checkout. It was a totally new location and no familiar people. Even Cindy was new.

I wish I could say that he skated through the whole day without barking, but when we first got to her house I had let them both out, off leash, to potty. Cindy stepped out the garage door and Dom ran in the garage up to her, barking aggressively. She stood still and told him to knock it off. He did stop and ran back outside looking for me. I told him, “There is no barking here.”

Now that he has a good idea of what to expect, I will start encouraging better behavior and normalizing encounters that don’t always involve food. I have been eliminating the barking attacks through a process called extinction; it means there is no longer a reinforcement for the behavior, so the behavior gradually goes away. (Any type of human reaction — screaming, jumping back, reaching to pet him, can constitute reward. The fact that the reaction is unpredictable and varies from person to person can be even more stimulating.) He has gotten very little reaction from the barking, even from people we meet, because I don’t react much. If the owner of the dog is pulling on the dog and yelling at the dog, it tends to elicit more of a reaction from the target person. By staying calm and not saying too much, the Handler is subliminally cueing the target person to do the same.

Now that the behavior is fading, and Dom is paying more attention to my words, I’ve started telling him to stop it. He cares more now about my opinion than he did when the training started.

That rush at Cindy was his last bark today. He had a long afternoon of riding around in the van. In the store he was well-behaved, no piddling either.

At the end of the day we took Cindy home. Til and Dom went with us into her house, then came out. I had left the back door of the van open and I told the dogs to go get in the car, and Dom immediately ran and jumped in even ahead of Til.

No throwing up in the car, no accidents, only one barking incident. We added one more marble into the scale of good experiences.

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