Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 9 of Elf Training....the countdown to (hopefully) graduation begins

At the moment Caden and Elf are chasing each other around the hotel room; every time Elf licks Caden, Caden tells him I love you too Elf.  It is absolutely adorable.  The dynamic between these two is great but I do wonder what things will be like when we return home and have the other dogs, cats, and sister to add into the mix.  It will definitely be an adjustment for all involved (particularly for my cats who are already going to be so mad at me for leaving them for almost 3 weeks—the added insult of another dog, and a large one at that, should mean that I will be begging for their attention with treats for a few days before they decide to forgive me).

The morning started out with a bang as Elf and I were out walking and using my favorite potty command. A terrier off leash came running at us.  One thing to realize is that service dogs have never been exposed to dogs who are anything less than friendly. The owner, who wasn't interested in getting up and helping out, just kept saying the dog wasn't a threat. Remembering Jeremy's advice not to leave a situation that the dogs were nervous in without first reassuring them and trying to make the experience positive, I kept talking to and treating Elf. When it was apparent the dog was aggressive I stepped between that dog and Elf.  The dog grabbed a hold of my pant leg (thank goodness I had jeans on) while the owner was still reassuring me that the dog wouldn't bite....umm guess we had a different perspective on that one.  Finally I was able to move Elf into the hotel and definitely talked him up again. We did see several dogs out this morning at the park and he didn't demonstrate any fear so I don't think the experience was too traumatic for him but it was a good reminder that we should always be carrying a water bottle when we are out just in case one of those dogs who don't bite does a really realistic demonstration of how they don't bite by biting.  

Today has been an interesting day of ups and downs.  On the upside the morning weather was beautiful for 2 outdoor searches. Elf did a great job and Caden had the opportunity to play a bit on the playground before we headed back to the facility for some one-on-one practice.  There we both worked Elf on off-lead commands as well as distractions. Elf can ignore most distractions fairly easily but anything involving food is a bit tempting.  At one point they actually put the treats on his foot but like a pro he ignored them although the look on his face was priceless…it was almost like he was thinking does this qualify as cruel and unusual punishment?


We did get the chance today to talk to one of the trainers about how they matched Elf to our family.  The trainers really do watch the hours and hours of videos we submit and watch the dogs to see who will match with whom. Jeremy said it best yesterday when he said he knows all of his dogs are perfect for some family, he just has to figure out which family. It seems like they identified Elf for us because of Caden’s energy level and the sheer number of different environments that we spend our time in (hospitals, schools, and cheerleading competitions many weekends that may have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people in a very small space and always are very very loud). They felt like Elf could handle most any situation and so far I’d have to agree with them. 

After an uneventful lunch at the mall, we each worked an indoor search and rescue.  Thankfully these were much easier for us to handle than the last 2 days as we are starting to be able to read Elf better. I think the key is just going to be continued and consistent practice; I’m not as stressed about finding practice time now though as I’m realizing that every outing and outdoor or indoor playtime can be a small training activity as opposed to actually scheduling training time each and every day. I do think he is starting to realize that it is Caden that he is looking for but we’ll be able to better test this in familiar territory where Caden can hide by himself.

 At the mall we also worked on basic obedience and public distractions. One place we hadn’t tried to take Elf yet was one of the public restrooms. I took him in and the bathroom was full. He was ignoring most everything as we waited in line except that he was fascinated by one particular stall. I was starting to freak out because I couldn’t distract him from that stall and was wondering what I was going to tell the woman who walked out.  Thankfully Jessa, one of the trainers, walked out and I’ve never been so relieved to see someone that I knew—his interest made total sense and I didn’t have to try to think quickly on my feet which probably wouldn’t have happened given that I just haven’t felt good the last 2 days and exhaustion is settling in nicely. 

My mental state was seriously tested today though at the mall and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I once again fell apart not only in front of others but in a very public place. I was working Elf while Dan and Caden hung out in the children’s play area.  A woman stopped and asked what kind of dog Elf was. I replied a lab and she said yea but what does he do. I proudly stated that he was an autism service dog and she never missed a beat. She turned to one of her kids and said those kids with autism “aren’t all there.” I replied actually they are all there but just see and understand things differently. To which she responded that it was really a waste of time and money to train dogs for “those” kids since they should “just be put away somewhere.”  I’m not sure what was worse: her attitude towards autism or the fact that she was teaching that attitude to her children.  Sadly I’m sure that this is her attitude toward anyone or anything different than what she expects and I can only imagine what will happen if anything is ever wrong with her kids or how they will respond to difference in school, on recess, at the local park, etc. I wish I could say that I stood my ground and used the moment for autism education but honestly I was just plain heart-broken and exhaustion has significantly reduced my coping mechanisms. 

Thankfully that was an isolated incident and most people just wanted to know if he was a trick dog (may need to work this one in public…for $5 a trick, he might be), if there was a dog show at the mall (yep, but it’s a small one with only 8 dogs and the show is so elite that the only dogs invited were 1 lab, 1 goldendoodle, 1 german shepherd, and 5 bloodhound/retrievers), and similar questions. The one that absolutely cracked me up though was a woman asking if he was a blind dog.  I knew what she meant but I couldn’t help myself. I replied, yep he is and when he needs to do some shopping at the mall he brings me along to help.  Thankfully she just laughed and said I didn’t quite say that right, did I. 

It is really hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day of training before our public access test on Friday and hopefully graduation.  In some ways I feel like we’ve been working with Elf for years—clipping a treat bag on my belt loop is just about as second nature now as making sure we have Caden’s bag when we head out the door. In other ways there’s nothing routine about this evidenced by the fact I made sure I had my son and cell phone as I got up from the breakfast table this morning and would have forgotten the dog if I wouldn’t have fell over his leash.  Hey what can I say, I’ve always told you this blog would be about our lives, the cute stories, the ugly, and the just plain every day of Caden’s tales.