Thursday, October 27, 2016

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Drunk Cleaning

It's a thing, drunk cleaning. 

We've had a rough week, we second-year vet students, with two extremely difficult midterms on top of an unrelenting schedule of lectures and labs. But there is a very good likelihood that most of our houses and apartments will be much cleaner by tomorrow morning, all thanks to drunk cleaning. 

There were quite a few animated discussions this afternoon about exactly what is the best beverage choice for drunk-cleaning sessions, and the various merits of this or that beverage with respect to enhancing drunk-cleaning results (consensus: most of choose beer since spilling wine would only increase our cleaning task list). We also talked about when we usually drunk-clean (Saturdays, because Sundays are excellent study days). 

But we've been knuckling down for quite a while to prepare for these two exams, and cleaning one's house falls pretty far down the list when that happens. So: drunk cleaning on a Thursday night.

I stopped into the big grocery store on my way home from campus. In different parts of the store, I ran into several of my classmates gathering pizza, candy, ice cream, and of course beer. No shame, and no judgement.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Archie: Making Good Choices

Archie has been making a lot of good choices lately. He is bringing me toys while I study to initiate play (bringing them right to my hand, not a coy drop in my vicinity). He is bringing me toys during play, also right to my hand. He is dropping toys on command during play, though sometimes I have to wait a few seconds before he complies. The latter two choices are particularly interesting because he is definitely past stimulation threshold when we play tug and retrieve. He is still able to think and respond even though he is very wound up.

Monday night in class, he made yet another good choice. As I mentioned in the previous post, the doing of agility is becoming the reward for him holding his start line stay. Even though I have stopped giving him distracting treats, I still have one major distraction: his collar and leash. I run him naked so I remove his collar (flat, nylon buckle collar) with the leash attached. If I drop them on the ground or, heaven forbid, toss them towards the end point of the sequence, he will jump out of his stay and run to investigate them. And once he breaks his stay, he tends to run around a bit checking out other things and even doing an obstacle or two. (I've added "not breaking stay when collar/leash are removed" to the list of things to work on this week.)

This behavior was initially quite extreme, and he missed his turn to run a few times when I had to go get him from the other side of the facility. It has been steadily decreasing over the past weeks. But he had a rather big breakthrough on his first run in class on Monday night. 

The first run is always the hardest for him. He's high as a kite, ready to go, but unfocused. I walked him out to the start point, asked him to sit, made eye contact, unclipped his collar and leash, told him to stay, then stepped away. He immediately took off in another direction, heading for a jump and some interesting boxes to sniff by a pillar in the training facility. I called him, once, calmly, "Archie, come!"...and he whipped around and came straight back to my side without even taking the jump.

That was an amazingly good choice. Combined with all of his other good choices, it tells me something very important. He is starting to value playing with me over self-rewarding by sniffing and running about. 

Of course, the desired behavior is that he not break his stay at all. But Archie is a work in progress. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Archie: The Need for Speed

The comment from Archie's instructor in class last night: "He's learning to love his speed now..."

While it's great that he is finding agility super motivating (no more treats at the start line--the release to play agility is the only reward that he wants now), this new-found need for speed is affecting his contacts and his weaves. He enters the weaves super hot, but he's not quite experienced enough to maintain that. And when he loses his rhythm, he hops in the air and pops out of the weaves. (I'll be the first to admit that this is hysterical to see. It's as if he is saying, I'm going, I'm going, oops, I missed something, oh fuck it, I'll just call it a day! And up in the air he goes.) I am now watching for this--when he lifts his head in preparation for that hop, I tell him "easy" to get him to refocus. He did 24 weaves last night (we were playing a weave pole challenge game) so I know he understands his job.

His contacts have completely degraded too. He had beautiful two on-two off contacts but he's now jumping off the end or running past the end, not even trying to rock his weight back to stop. So back to basics on his contacts. Now is the time to build those good habits. 

I had such good luck training his teeter with the clicker that I think I'll add that to his contact training to make it crystal clear to him what it is I'm rewarding him for. He's very responsive to the clicker--his distance work is improving quite a bit with simple exercises using cones and the clicker. He demonstrated that last night in class. I was able to send him out to a jump, out to a difficult tunnel entry, and out and around a barrel without moving in right next to these obstacles. Anything that shortens my path and allows me to stay in front of him is a good thing!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Dogs, Vomit, and Folly

"As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" --Proverbs 26:11

Money matters are a permanent focus of concern for vet students. Most vet students accrue more student-loan debt than they can realistically pay back (treating Fluffy and Fido pays for shit, and don't even think about being all idealistic and trying to survive by working as a vet in an animal shelter...if the debt doesn't crush you, the burnout will).

While I did earn a modest salary for working on my chicken ovary research project, it was not even enough to pay rent for the summer. So I decided to start looking around for some other ways to make money.

To that end, I applied to a student job offered through the College of Vet Med: teaching assistant for gross anatomy. 

Yes, like a dog returning to its vomit, I'm going to be helping first-years in the gross anatomy labs.

I am perfectly aware that gross anatomy was my weakest subject during the first year, the one that I struggled with the most, the one that brought me to tears more than once. But anyone who has had the privilege of stepping to the front of a classroom will be able to confirm that you learn as much or more when you teach. I experienced this when I was a teaching assistant for Physical Geology lo these many decades ago during my first stint in graduate school. I also told the gross anatomy instructor that I would have "considerable empathy" for the students struggling through the dissections. 

He bought it, so I'm in. In fact, Monday will be my first day back in the lab. Thankfully, the topic is the thoracic limb. Fairly straightforward. 

This isn't a real money-maker. There are 10 or 11 of us second-years appointed as TAs so we each only get three labs, perhaps a total of 10 hours for the term, not even $100 after taxes. But you never know where these kinds of things might lead.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: The -ologies

To continue to receive AVMA accreditation, vet schools tend to adhere to the same curriculum. Schools that have adopted a "case-based" curriculum, such as Cornell, might deviate somewhat from the traditional schedule, but for the most part, vet students use the same textbooks and take the same classes in the same sequence no matter what school we are attending.

First term of the second year can best be described as the "-ology" term: systemic pathology, bacteriology, virology, parasitology, and pharmacology. 

All except pharmacology have associated labs that involve the usual seeing, touching, and doing. We have to don way more PPE than we did in any of the first-year labs (PPE is the acronym for "personal protective equipment"; I used PPE while contributing to a group presentation and was surprised to find quite a few of my classmates didn't know what it meant; oy, they can't experience the real world soon enough...). Our lab PPE includes the usual requirement for close-toed shoes, long lab coats, gloves, eye protection (glasses don't count; have to have another layer over them), and sometimes face masks. We also have additional protocols such as washing hands before putting on gloves, washing hands after taking off gloves, and wiping down all lab bench surfaces with bleach before and after every lab. All of this is standard BSL-2 (biosafety level 2) protocol. These actions are good habits to acquire--far too many of the "illustration" images used for vet med presentations are of people handling diseased animals with no precaution or protection at all.

I think most of my classmates, after seeing slide after slide of disgusting infections with arcing pus fountains and candid photos of parasites (did you know there is an entire family of gut worms that have LIPS? This is the stuff of nightmares, I assure you), are now washing their hands rather compulsively all day. I certainly am.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: The Struggle is Continuous

I just texted this to my friend:
On the fourth fucking iteration of this fucking skin assignment and [instructor] emails yet another fucking clarification.

She texts back:
And yet I still cannot do it.

I reply:
Nor can I. 

I feel like I am just getting more stupid by the day.