I have to start out by saying that Elf did amazing last night. He worked well with us on our homework and we even got to show off a few of our “tricks” in the parking lot last night in terms of shake, give me five, and high five which was fun. He and Caden continue to amuse one another although I wouldn’t say they are bonded yet. They do enjoy playing ball together in the fenced area of 4 Paws so I’m hopeful that they are on their way. For me the hardest part of our homework though was practicing heel. Heel is foundational in making tethering and walking in public possible; essentially it is when the dog’s head is in line with the seam on your left pant leg. The tricks are that you can’t pull the leash because the dog needs to do this on command and not out of leash tension and that you need to praise and reward the dog every time they look at you and demonstrate that they are focused on you and your commands. I can’t walk a straight line to save my life and now I have to manage to walk down the hallway practicing this heel command with a relaxed arm and not run into anyone else. Honestly it’s not the service dog people need to worry about in this scenario—I most definitely am a danger to those around me.
Today was intense in that we started out the morning at a local park and did our first track. Dan, Caden, and one of the trainers hid in a bathroom across the park. Elf, another handler, and I waited on the other side of a baseball field. For the first time out, the handler managed Elf. Once the track command was given we were off very quickly. Once Elf picked up the scent we ran. I’m thrilled with Elf’s enthusiasm for the task and am also pretty sure that I’ll never wear sandals, flipflops, or heels when I’m with Elf and Caden. It was very exciting to see how quickly Elf took to the task but also was a bit rough whenever I would stop to think about why we were practicing this command and the circumstances under which we would use it. I finally had to push those thoughts out of my head for a while the best that I could so that I could focus on learning as much as I can.
Back at the facility we reviewed the commands we had thus far learned and talked about any problems/questions that came up over the night. It really is rather reassuring to realize that everyone is in the same boat and that no question is stupid (okay some of the questions are probably pretty stupid but the trainers never make us feel that way). After a late lunch we learned new commands including “under” which will help us place Elf under tables (good news—don’t have to teach this one to Caden because he prefers under tables on the rare occasion that we eat out) and “lap” which is one of our behavior disruption commands. Elf continued to do beautifully but Caden definitely had a much rougher day. He spiked a fever last night and has been dealing with some of his gi problems. Thankfully the constipation meds finally worked but as you can imagine he had a disagreeable stomach all day which in turn led to a generally disagreeable attitude. He laid on some of the mats most of the day although he did manage to announce to the class after one bathroom trip exactly how big his poopsie was and how many there were (yep, we’re still keeping a running total). He asks a few times a day if we can go home and where Ry Ry is but so far we have been able to redirect his attention before he really melts down. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, we are using flat out bribery. Every night he gets a small present (some supplied by grandma and grandpa and some we picked up from the dollar store, each wrapped, usually is some sort of toy that provides entertainment for the next day. Since he gets them at bedtime and we are rushed in the mornings he doesn’t usually get to try out the new toy until we get to the facility which helps a bit. Oh wait we call this positive reinforcement with the dogs, so maybe that’s what I am doing. Heck I told Caden to come this morning when I wanted to get his shoes on him; not surprisingly Elf was the only one that came.
One thing that I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy being around other parents who have children with asds. It kinda reminds me of my study abroad experience in high school. I was thrilled to be in France but sometimes I got homesick and the language challenge was always a stressor because I wasn’t ever as fluent as I needed to be. Every once in a while the American kids would sit together in the lunch room and it was such a relief to be around people who understood my references and with whom I didn’t have to apologize for my words or actions. I don’t know anyone in my face-to-face world that has a child with autism. My only connections are with people on facebook and they are absolutely amazing but I’ve never got to be around other kids with asds or parents who have the same experiences at the same moment as I do. No one blinks an eye when Caden crawls to the top of something instead of under like other kids would or vice versa. No one minds a kid in the dog crate or him pulling his pacifier out when the stress gets too high. There’s nothing to explain, just notes to compare. I think that’s something I might miss a bit when we get home. Interestingly the one place people might actually understand is also the one place he decides to keep his pants on….go figure.