Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 4: Elf Training Continues at the Mall

I think the phrase dog tired is about the best descriptor for Day 4. The dogs are tired because they aren’t use to working all day every day; given the number of dogs to be worked with every day, the trainers work with each dog for a few hours each day but the rest of the time is for sleeping…..not so much now. The kids are tired; the novelty of new spaces and toys has worn off and they want to go home. I think any child would feel this way about now but for kiddos on the autism spectrum those feelings are magnified through the roof. And let’s not forget how tired we are trying to balance being a parent/handler/student/spouse.  

Today was the perfect autism storm. We started out breakfast with juice drama—it was another cranberry juice day and there weren’t biscuits OR pancakes.  We were already nervous because it was the first time we had taken Elf down with us and the added difficulty over breakfast choices certainly didn’t help.  Elf, as usual, was a champ but it was hard to keep an eye on him while dealing with Caden and trying to inhale my requisite dose of caffeine. It was a service dog land mine in there….crumbs everywhere and licking or eating crumbs is considered breaking a command in favor of a distraction and must be immediately corrected. I know that probably sounds harsh but the last thing you want is to give the track command to your service dog because your child is missing and the dog stops to pick up some loose French Fries in the food court. 

We began the training day with another track session. We went to a much larger area with more wooded areas and tall grasses. We also didn’t hide a trainer with the child today so the dogs really had to search for the child’s scent and not the more familiar handler’s scent. Caden and I hid in the woods (I held him to keep him out of the weeds---the last thing we need is to trigger another hive episode); we had “bug bands” on but that didn’t protect my legs in the slightest. I look like I have the measles or the plague or something horrific—I have a hypersensitive reaction to mosquito bites so I look lovely in addition to itching like crazy.  Elf didn’t suffer the same fate and did a remarkable job of finding us even as he was interrupted by a neighborhood dog and incredible heat. 

Back at the training facility Dan dropped us off and ran to the drugstore to find any and every anti-itch cream he could find for me.  Meanwhile Caden melted down again and any hopes I had of taking notes or listening while the trainers covered how to put the service halter on was long gone. When they handed me the harness to put on I think I could probably have come up with a seafood menu quicker than I could figure out all of the snaps and clips and pulls and pieces of the harness and that’s saying a lot since I’ve been a vegetarian since my fateful 3rd grade field trip to the meat packing plant (hey don’t laugh it’s a true story and I’m still traumatized).  Elf seemed to know I wasn’t going to get this one anytime soon because he just laid down and refused to get up (Poor dog was probably remembering my inability to get him out of his kennel the other day and was thinking ah man I got the stupid one again today). So I did what any dignified person does in front of a group of people that they’ve known for 4 days…I sobbed like a baby.  Yep, r-e-a-l-l-y proud of that move. Eventually Dan was back and we got the harness on Elf and demonstrating our commands went well.

After a late lunch we headed to the mall for our first public outing. Now I love a good mall and not much makes me smile quite like retail therapy but the prospect of heading into the mall with Caden and Elf was a bit more than my stomach could handle (thankfully most people seemed to have the same stomach elephants). It is one thing to go through the commands and work in front of people who are in the same boat but a totally different story to do all of this in public where it feels like EVERYONE is watching you. I’d love to say that it’s just a feeling but in reality when you walk into a public place people do stop and stare at the service dog and while most people are really quite kind you do attract a lot of attention.  Interestingly though it is more positive attention than you get when your child is eating his lunch under the table or is spinning his way down the store aisles.  

Dan and I each took a trip around the mall with one of the trainers for individual critiques and feedback. It seems like our certification test will most likely occur at one of the malls---that test/certification process is hanging over our heads every day.  I’m sure the trainers will more than teach us what we need to know and the dogs are already trained but it is just a matter of not letting nerves take over. 

I still feel weird walking into stores with Elf but I did manage to overcome my anxiety and nerves long enough to pick up a pair of really cool pants at one of the stores. Maybe they’ll help with the morning track or better yet maybe we’ll actually think to take the OFF out of the jeep and actually put it on.