Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 8 of Elf Training

Today has been the day that the dogs and kids alike seem to be testing their limits every time we turn around. Strangely this is a positive sign in regards to the dogs because it means that they are starting to realize that they are really with us now and not their original handlers.  On the trying side though they are testing their boundaries to see what they can get away with; this is the time we have to prove that we are boss and almost kind of sort of qualified to be handling them. While I think most of us are doing well, I did notice today one mom trying to use the mom look to get her dog to behave and I found myself adding please and maybe to my commands.  Ironically much like with my kids, will you please just come here and listen doesn’t seem to be effective with dogs. Even more ironic is that I keep using one word dog commands and hand gestures with Caden---Caden come, Caden sit, Caden potty….if he reminds me one more time to say please and that it isn’t nice to use a mean voice (see, the kid doesn’t even recognize an authoritative voice from me) one more time I might scream.  My goal for tomorrow is to save come for Elf and please come here for Caden.  Sounds simple but I have to admit I am totally and completely exhausted—physically and mentally.  Although it will totally and completely be worth it if we pass our test on Friday and get to take Elf home, the training is intense.  How could it not be though—trainers with degrees and years of experience are charged with getting us up to speed in 11 days.  No pressure---wonder what they think at the end of each day with us?

Tracking went well today—we did 2 longer outdoor tracks. Elf isn’t like the bloodhound/lab mixes who live for the track. Those dogs starting pulling at leashes when they hear another dog get the talk up (where’s your boy, where’s your boy, where’s he at, track…or something similar to that). Elf sometimes needs more encouragement at the beginning but he is absolutely thrilled when he successfully finds Caden. His whole body wiggles; we make the find a special occasion so that he associates finding Caden with party time (special treats, playing ball, etc.). 

We ate lunch back at the training facility.  One of the things that has helped us with sanity (and money) is that we eat breakfast at the hotel (it is hot and there’s a variety each morning), pack our lunches, and then fix dinner in our little kitchen area.  Our kitchen has a full fridge, stove top, dishwasher, and basic cooking utensils. We just eat our packed lunch out in the kids’ outdoor play area. We can let Elf off leash for a good run and let Caden enjoy the playground equipment as well.  He and Elf usually play ball which is good bonding and fun play for both of them.  The dogs work hard when their vests are on but they also play hard when the harnesses are off.  I wonder if they will miss their doggy buddies when we all leave at the end of the week—they’ve been training together for months and definitely recognize each other across parking lots and in the mall. 

This afternoon we spent time in the classroom working on obedience. Jeremy put us and the dogs through our paces in what I think will be a similar format to our public access test. I was pretty proud to say that he actually said that Elf and I looked good.  Now we are working on all of the obedience commands off leash and so far so good but of course we only practice this one inside the facility, in the play yard, or our hotel rooms. I just can’t imagine that losing the dog at this point in the process would be a good thing---I think I’d rather leave the state in the middle of the night without blankie and pacifier than have to call one of the trainers and tell them one of their babies was missing.  

After obedience we worked on some of the fun commands that the kids can show off with at school and in public as well as more of the behavior disruption commands.  Again Elf was the model service dog and I took a ton more notes in hopes of remembering all of the commands and hand signals.  I have visions of making flashcards Thursday night to study from and maybe to keep in my purse for the next 10 years for when my mind goes blank.  We also talked a lot about ADA and service dog accessibility.  This is something that I’m nervous about; confrontation isn’t my strong suit and I’m afraid my nerves will show weakness to those who might confront us and most definitely affect Elf’s confidence in those situations. Jeremy kept reminding us that in some ways the dogs are living breathing durable medical supplies and you’d never ask permission to take your wheel chair into a public area and you don’t need to for the dogs as well. I definitely think that public awareness is needed in regards to service dogs so I think I am going to try to address that a bit on our autism awareness page on facebook (Caden’s Autism Heroes).  Definitely something I also want to incorporate into my professional and organizational communication classes as well.  Maybe this is another facet of the awareness we seem to have taken on when we heard Caden’s autism diagnosis. At the end of the day teaching compassion and diversity awareness seems as important for our students as the core concepts and theories that we cover in class. I’ve definitely got a lot to think about as I design classes for the fall. 

Tonight’s homework involved going to a public place that we hadn’t been into yet so we choose a bookstore.  I have to say the public outings after class are a huge challenge. We are exhausted, Elf wants to go to the hotel to get dinner, and Caden just wants to be done. Thankfully the bookstore had a few Spongebob books so that amused Caden slightly.  All of the kids really seem to want to go home.  Sometimes that is one of the harder mental parts—we all know that we are doing this for our kids but at the same time have to put them through a process that is difficult, challenging, and uncomfortable for them. We understand the payoff will be worth it but for kiddos who are living in the moment, they can’t necessarily see or understand how life will be different and hopefully better when we go home with service dogs. On our end we are trying to maintain as much of Caden’s schedule and routine as we possibly can and I have to admit that I’m proud of him. He has been able to pull it together much more often than I expected. Oddly I think his own fascination with school is helping him understand that Elf needs a few more days to finish school.  And mommy, well I just need some sleep.