Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Elf Training Day 2

Today started out with almost as much anxiety as yesterday did but for different reasons.  Anxiety seemed to stem from:

  • The fact the breakfast buffet was different this morning. Nothing like starting out the morning trying to explain to a 4 year old (with autism who doesn’t much appreciate any deviations in his daily routine or encounters) why the apple juice is now cranberry juice and why the biscuits are now pancakes.  Of course I also made the mistake of explaining the fire safety sign on the elevator to Caden when he asked yesterday so now we go through an entire list of questions including what if the elevator is on fire, what if the steps are on fire, what if the windows are on fire every time we go toward the elevator. Interestingly enough, everyone always says that they will be wait for the next elevator when we are in line now. 
  • Another one of my Kodak moment visions. Realistically I knew that Elf had only known us for one day but I also still really hoped that he would be as excited to see us this morning as we were to see him.  The universe (or my own stupidity) helped me out on this one. I couldn’t get the crate open so I had 5 minutes of talking to Elf through the crate before I could actually get him out so naturally by that point he was thrilled to see me or really anyone who could actually open the door.
  • The realization from yesterday that there is a lot to learn in a fairly short period of time.  On average the dogs know 60ish commands and we need to know the exact word for each, the signal or motion for each and create enough of a bond with Elf so that he will perform the command for us.  This would be a huge task in and of itself but now combine that with a learning environment that is a sensory overload.  Although there are only 8 dogs in our class, the facility houses many more dogs from the ones that are currently in training, the potential trainees, and the dogs that are a part of 4 Paw’s rescue work.  There are also 10 kids on various spots of the autism spectrum (wait, wait, I can explain, this ISN’T one of my math moments—one dog is being trained to work with a family’s 3 children…hence 8 dogs, 10 kids) and numerous siblings. Each family has at least 2 adults present plus the trainers and 4 Paws Staff.  Needless to say there’s a lot going on at any time and it’s pretty darn loud at any given moment.
·         Finally and probably the most difficult to describe, is that I am personally feeling a lot of pressure.  So many people, many we don’t even know, donated either their time or money to help us raise the money necessary to make this wish/dream/need come true.  I feel like I owe being successful to all of those people as well as really wanting to show the disbelievers how much of an impact that service dogs can make in the lives of children with asds and their families. I want to be successful so that we can give Caden the chance to be a normal kid with the bestest furry friend possible.   I have a feeling that the caffeine infusions that I am doing from sun up to sun down probably doesn’t help the feeling of anxiety and nervousness either. Of course Dan is also pretty anxious and we’re figuring out if you make a mistake it is really much easier to point out what the other has done wrong rather than seeing it for yourself. While this works well as a learning tool, not so much so for a marriage particularly when you are in such close corners for such an extended period of time.  Thankfully facebook reminded us today that our anniversary is Monday so I’m sure with more help from facebook we’ll get through this fairly unscathed (for good measure, we’ll just be sure to add in more caffeine and lots of chocolate).

Today was another action filled day. We added to our repertoire today heel, heel with an automatic sit on stopping, shake, give me five, high five, jump, kennel, off, and working with ignoring distractions (Can you imagine the possibilities if we could teach the kids this one.  No more homework fights because the to-be 6th grader got distracted by the television, her ipod, or anything else that looks like more fun than homework which essentially is anything and everything in her opinion). We also reviewed everything from yesterday and yes I am still absolutely fascinated by the potty command.       

The day ended with the realization that we were taking our dogs back to the hotel with us. This is absolutely terrifying but I have to say we have an awesome dog. Even the trainers keep being impressed with Elf and how little correction he needs. He seems to really be falling in love with Caden and has returned the pacifier to Caden as well as brought me socks from the floor (again imagine the possibilities---I think I have found the solution to my family’s desire to make laundry entertaining for me by hiding it all over the house.  Elf’s take it command is absolutely awesome; wondering if he could also take the kids to other rooms if I asked---I can almost imagine a life where I might get to go to the bathroom by myself). 

As I finish typing this, Elf is laying at my feet sound asleep. I can only imagine what must be going through his doggy brain at the moment with all of the changes he is facing.  At least at the moment he is having happy doggy dreams about playing ball with his boy on our lunch break tomorrow.