J-Bear and Me

learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: autism service dog (page 2 of 3)

Life at Home

Welcome to life with the Bumpuss Hounds. I’ll be your host this evening…

So this is life with J-Bear and B-Dog right now. Whenever they are interacting together they are bouncing off the walls. It’d be funny if this apartment weren’t so small and crowded! They are interacting though and that is the important part.

When a lot of families might go into a process such as this they may have this Norman Rockwell-esque vision of the outcome.

I’m here to warn you that that’s highly unlikely to be the truth of what happens when you bring your dog home and there is a chance it might never be.

Having Brooklyn home this past week  has been amazing and exhausting. This week promises more of the same as we get into a very firm training routine. We did a practice track with her this afternoon that was… rough to say the least. She had the scent, she lost the scent, she had the scent, she lost it again, then she used her sight rather than her nose to find her boy. Not perfect, but I felt reassured that I could at least read what she was doing with a sense of almost complete confidence so that I can work on the problems we had. Training will be essential, which means hours carved out of the week to devote to it. Not tons, because a lot of her skills remain sharp by doing every day life things with us, but some of the others will need refreshers and reinforcing.

Their bond is not perfect, either. They seek each other out for fun, yes. They love to play with one another and to cuddle when J is in the mood for that, but they’re still learning one another. The affection is there, and the concern about one another is obvious. J cries, she generally searches him out to see what’s happening. Tonight he screamed over getting his hair washed and she bolted to the bathroom door, peering in with alert interest and ready to work. That’s a wonderful sign. He’s taken to cuddling her and patting her face and holding her paw. She enjoys the way he “speaks” with her when he does that so it’s very encouraging to watch.

Our life is a brand new sort of “work in progress”. Our familiarity with how each member of the family interacts is increasing to more and more comfortable levels, which is great. The more we can establish a strong routine, the better we can handle everything too. This week is a regular week. No days off school, no doctor appointments, no nothing but the usual stuff we do. That will be awesome for Brooklyn and for J.

Now let’s pray J’s little cold doesn’t turn into something worse. She’ll be there to comfort him if it does, which is great, but let’s not get our carts before our horses just yet!

So that’s life in the big city. Our world is covered in a fine layer of blonde fur and I could not be happier to have it so. She is a loving girl and he is so happy to have her, so every bit of work is infinitely worth it.

An Ending and A Beginning

offforadventure

Preparing to start our lives together. (Thanks to Jaki W. for taking this)

Today marked the end of our two weeks here at 4 Paws for Ability. It was not without random adventure, for we were forced out of the building we started in and back into a much smaller space for class yet in the end it all worked out perfectly as it ought to have.

We met a lot of kids, a lot of families and a lot of dogs. We met the dozens of people behind each and every dog who have been dedicated to improving the lives of our children long before they even knew them. We saw the faces of those who do not say “no” to children and families with very particular, very complicated needs… We found the one place that says “yes”.

It has been two weeks of acceptance, of hard work, of encouragement, of laughter and of tears. We have communicated in barks, in yells, in hand flapping, in clicking, in screams, in whistles and in sighs. We have stood at the start, shoulder to shoulder, nearly all thinking “there is no way I can do this” while talented trainers and staff stood in front of us saying “there’s no way you can fail” while taking our proverbial hands and guiding us along.

There’s not a tool left out of our toolbox to work with these dogs and our children alongside them now. If we find down the road there is, it just takes a phone call to work on getting it in place. The investment each member of the 4 Paws staff has made in each and every dog shines with every lesson given. They know these dogs carry a large burden and they know they can carry it and then some thanks to their hard work and most importantly, their love.

Their love shines through in their dogs. It shines through in the delight on our children’s faces seeing the only friend they might have known thus far in their lives. It shines through in the hope it plants in every family they touch.

All because they love what they do.

This isn’t just a punch the clock job for these men and women, these volunteers and staff. This is all heart. This is all passion. The dogs feel it from birth to the day they go to their forever family, whatever their future may hold and it shows.

Now J is a part of it. J and Brooklyn are a perfect match. Brooklyn is not who I necessarily envisioned but then again, I do not know what I envisioned… They gave us exactly the dog we needed though.

The torch has now been passed as Brooklyn is now a full-fledged certified 4 Paws service dog. It is in our hands now to continue with what they started. We must maintain her impeccable training and manners and show those we encounter just how incredible and life changing these dogs are. I would say it is a daunting thing to face, turning to look towards the future, but it’s not. The love the 4 Paws for Ability staff gave our dogs in their upbringing they gave to us as families during the training. Jeremy, Brit, Shelby, Jessa, Y, Lindsey, Jennifer, all the kennel and training staff… They gave us everything we need. The future can only be amazing from here, all for the love they showed.

Thank you, 4 Paws for Ability. Thank you for believing in our children and our families. Thank you for this gift of hope, love and joy in the shape of a beautiful golden retriever named Brooklyn. Thank you for what you do every day.

goodmorningma

gradiating

present

Training: Days 9 and 10

I am not even going to attempt anything close to doing a full and detailed account of each of these days separately. I can’t. My brain, she done checked out and ran for cover somewhere far from where we are at. It’s been 10 days now of intense information, practice and trying to accommodate maybe half of the stuff you do in your regular life into busy training days.

It’s tough stuff. Forever and always worth it, but this is my boot camp and I am getting schooled hard in service dog handling life.

The past couple of days have included two practice tracks, one of which J was allowed (while supervised) to run pretty solo towards a playground on which he could stay so Brooklyn and I could track him. This is one of the single most real world scenarios we’ve done yet for J in terms of how we’d use Brooklyn’s search and rescue skills. J is attracted to slides, swings, bodies of water, trains, large vehicles and buildings that look like farms (sheds, etc.). Him being in constant motion on the playground was extremely like him and gave me a very, very good idea of her true focus – was it on J or on another family member?

I am pleased to report she sure did find her boy. She waffled a little when the path got overwhelmed with scent from an outbuilding but picked it right back up. A squeaky swing also drew her attention but not only did she snap back to tracking mode, we had a learning opportunity to bring her to the swing and create a positive experience so she’s less likely to be distracted by it again.

We have done a lot of obedience work. This does not end when we go home, nor does tracking or tethering training. We will always be finely tuning our skills as a team and her skills as a service dog. Here are some of the newer commands:

  • “force push”/side: When commanded with a hand gesture while she is in a “down” position, she will roll onto her side, relaxed like she were knocked over by someone using “the force” Star Wars style. Brooklyn struggles with this and ends up laying on her back paws in the air. It’s pretty funny. I told the trainer I broke my dog.
  • roll over: Exactly as the command implies, Brooklyn rolls over. She loves this command! She does it giddily!
  • over: J is a deep pressure guy. When he’s unsettled, there’s little that calms him more than squeezes or a weighted blanket or both. Enter Brooklyn. When J is sitting with his legs straight out or on the bed laying down, she can be directed to lay across his legs, applying her body weight like she were a warm, fuzzy, loving weighted blanket. She adores this as well as the lap command as she knows it means cuddles. Cuddles are huge to her, their own treat really!

We’ve done a lot of our beginning commands off leash as well as just on a training collar now (commonly referred to as a choke collar but suffice to say if it’s earning this name, you’re using it wrong). Brooklyn aces this in class but kind of goes full goofball at home. Like J in a new place, she’s testing her limits and learning them piece by piece.

The not so glamorous part of dog life is that Brooklyn is young. We’re new to her and she is new to us. Accidents were highly likely and we’ve had two now. The head trainer explained that whenever something goes goofy, analyze the befores and afters. What was different? What was the same? Can you establish a pattern? We’ve now learned when to take up Brooklyn’s water and also that she needs to go out a few more times. She does not have a distinctive “pee impending” set of behaviors. It’s calm one moment, the dam breaking the next. Now we know, and now we also know how to play cool, clean up and move on with our lives.

Here’s some pictures, none of which are of potty fail:

carride

racing and stimming!

dawwkitty

Totally NOT going to touch the kitty (and she didn’t, she aced this test by completely ignoring her)

pawhold

J’s favorite thing to do with her? High fives or holding her paw. <3

Training: Day 8

The days, they blur.

This morning, as we will continue to do I think through Thursday, we did obedience first at the training center. What I hadn’t predicted Brooklyn and I actually had worked on today’s skill last night: We braved Target by ourselves and used a shopping cart when picking up a few things.

Friday night, Brooklyn was the anti shopping cart dog. Today, she’s rocking them! Last night she was skittish around a particularly loud one for a few minutes but with some intensely awesome treats (Bil-Jac dog food*) we went onwards without an issue. She maintained a great heel position with little correction and I let people really approach her to prepare her for real life experiences. She struggles sometimes, especially with little girls, but every opportunity we have to work with that scenario we take advantage of it. We even put J in the shopping cart at training today and she acted like she’d never ever been scared.

Perfect.

The second half of this morning was an outdoor track. I mentioned this on the Facebook page but wow. Just wow. Half of children with autism are prone to wandering. This leads them easily into dangerous situations as they move generally towards locations of fixations: water, train tracks, busy roadways or they move heedlessly across dangerous areas like highways and parking lots to reach desired locations. This is just a fact of life we must understand as part of loving J. He will always be at risk for this until the awareness of choosing differently dawns. I have full faith my son will one day life a secure and independent life, and Brooklyn’s nose being available to secure his safety is critical to that.

This dog is a little mother. She dotes on everyone around her and is a perfect example of the beautiful love only an animal can give: unconditional, undemanding and whole-hearted. The moment we started the track she was off. She was determined to find her boy, and quick. She let me determine a speed safe for myself and heeded my handling after I got the hang of it. She got hung up once when the scent trail wavered but quickly found it again, showing every tell-tale sign of having an excellent grasp of the path her boy took. The reward she receives for finding J is her most beloved treats, her most beloved ball and even more so a rain of enthusiastic praise. We really do pretty much throw a ticker tape parade every time, minus the ticker tape.

This afternoon she performed three tracks in a department store. It was incredible. We only have our small five foot leash, so it works slightly differently. We don’t hype her up quick so much but the shift in her demeanor is the same: She goes from tender docile lovebug to boisterous dog on a mission in a split second with her commands! She found J quickly and loved getting her treats even without quite the loud and crazy party she gets outdoors. J is not a fan of practicing this skill but we wouldn’t even be trying it if he hadn’t wandered in the past. He has tried to throw himself into open bodies of water, into pools, into touch tanks at the aquarium, towards roadways to see construction equipment… Now, between the tracking and the tethering, my worrying has diminished by half if not more.

I can explain tethering better later when I can show pictures. This is something not to ever, for anything, be done with a child and a pet dog and never to be done without strict adult supervision. Child and dog can find themselves either hurting themselves or hurting each other if left unsupervised. Brooklyn has spent months learning how things will work with being tethered with someone even stronger than J-Bear. He’s easy by comparison, and he’s always got at least one adult with him as well. This skill prevents him from bolting the moment I might need to attend to something like paying for groceries and gives him independence and security as well. It has the fringe benefit of being fantastic sensory input to him, for every tug fills his need for sensory input. Tug is a favorite game of his to play and she doesn’t even realize they’re playing it, she just walks along like he wasn’t there.

No pictures tonight because I have to confess, I am tired. This is Day 8 of non-stop training and even Brooklyn is wiped. It will be nice to finish the laundry I have going then lay down my head and rest. I wanted to go out to Walmart and practice alone with Brooklyn in a more stimulating environment but it can wait til tomorrow. Walmart will still be there, after all. Maybe we’ll even do an indoor track. 🙂

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If you would like to learn more about Autism please check out http://awaare.nationalautismassociation.org/

*= Bil-Jac is a frozen dog food that is… well, I think it’s super gross. You can make little pea sized meatballs for the dogs with it and they go over the MOON for it. It’s called doggie crack for a reason! 

Training: Day 6 and 7

Not going to lie, it’s starting to all blur together so bear with me at this point.

The Fabulous Command of Day 6:

  • Under: When you bring a service dog to somewhere like a restaurant, the safest place for them to be is under the table. This is where the under command comes in. When I command Brooklyn to “under”, she walks under the table, turns around and lays down. It’s working great in practice but I will surely get back to you all on how it works in real world situations!

Meanwhile, all days are starting to take on a very predictable pattern (which is good): In the morning, we do obedience then practice tracking, then in the afternoons we have a full class session including questions and answers and new material. Day 7’s new material was grooming, health care, toys and treats.

It’s pretty incredible to realize how much you can know about your dog just by hanging out with them. Once you know your dog’s normal way of being it’s like knowing your child’s well-being with simply a glance or simple interaction. You just will know when something is right or wrong, and know when it needs to be escalated to emergency levels. We’ll be like parents to a new baby for a little while learning how to measure it but it’s reassuring to realize things will feel natural quite quickly.

The grooming of a Brooklyn is not all that complicated but requires regular maintenance. We learned about her ears, her nails, her coat, her eyes, her nose… We covered everything from ear cleaning to boot wearing and it was wonderful. I hope to learn how to properly dry her post bath before we leave but I know if I don’t get that chance our wonderful friends at The Dirty Doodle in Reading, MA, will help me learn it once we’re home.

I think I will save discussing toys, chews and various Day in the Life of Service Dog Brooklyn(tm) gear in another post because everything, from food to harness to toys to chews, is carefully chosen for various reasons. It’s fascinating to me and hey, it may even be good for people to consider for their pets too! You care for a service dog much in the same way you would care for a very expensive vehicle: you want the finest care to keep them at their peak health and demeanor. If they are not feeling their best or looking their best, their public impression will be quite poor, something that is counterintuitive to what we are doing when we use Brooklyn as a social bridge for Jacob.

I am brain fried so here’s some pictures 🙂

prettygirl

I’m at school on Sunday, ma. NOT HAPPY.

dragonling

Just posing to cheer up a friend!

jbearboy

Waiting to track. Notably, J hates tracking training :/ He hates being out there waiting.

doneeating

She finished eating and did this with her bowl. Wut.

Training: Day 5

Today’s agenda was obedience, harness fitting, tracking and finally public access!

Here’s Brooklyn’s most serious and important job in action. Remember, right now she’s still tracking Lindsey, one of the training staff. She is slowly identifying J as her boy and we’re reinforcing it with lots of praise and special treats but it’s a process. Here’s a look at what we work at. Please forgive the shaky quality of the video, I was wearing the camera on my head. Notice at the end that even though the targets are within line of sight her nose never lifts – she relies on scent over sight to reach them.

After we did the morning session of reviewing obedience and fitting the dogs with their harnesses we hit the mall. This was both awesome and nerve wracking. Awesome in that all the distractions were fabulous practice for us as handlers but nerve wracking due to the same. People stop you constantly and unlike seeing eye dogs, we are allowed to let people pat her. The choice will ultimately be J’s when he is with us but for now, we let anyone and everyone pet her especially kids and babies to work on distraction with her. She did wonderfully! We also know we need to work on stairs and work on being near other dogs, stuff that is more about us learning each other than her having any weakness in her training.

A little insight imparted to us by the training director Jeremy: The belief that one should never pet a service dog comes from the rule with seeing eye dogs. Their work requires them to always be focused on task. The slightest distraction could imperil their handler as their handler relies on the dog moving in a straight line with no deviation but for obstacles. When you have a dog working the way Brooklyn is, petting is actually encouraged when the child is comfortable. This enables them to exercise their social skills using the valuable asset of the dog. If we’re too busy clearly we won’t stop for anyone but whenever we can, we’ll let J practice his skills by putting her in a “down” command and allowing for people to love on her a little.

Going back to the search and rescue training each night at the hotel now we’re playing a practice game to help Brooklyn equate “find your boy!” with finding J. We get a handful of treats she favors and gets no other time (Beggin’ Strips) and get her really excited, talking in a happy and exuberant manner then bring her to J and shower her with the treats like she just found him. It’s a slow process but ultimately worth it obviously. In time, the scent tracking will not just be shifted to him by what we do when we do practice tracks but also by this game.

Training is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. My PTSD is a little rough this week, not going to lie. New environments, new people, new everything is something I can manage reasonably but add in a massive trigger (fear of reprimand/failure) and it’s been a strong exercise in how to manage my own issues. I find myself going to shy away from Jeremy when he talks to us but correcting myself, trying to mentally talk up how nice he is and how he’s not harsh, etc. It’s a bizarre thing to cope with, I’ll tell you that, but the fostering atmosphere of training is helping a great deal. We have great families with us and truly friendly and fun people. It’s a blessing to be here.

Now let’s see if I beat the wonderful Pastor Shane to today’s training update! You can read the chronicles of training from their perspective here: http://pastorshane2013.wordpress.com/ – His daughters are beautiful children and he and his wife amazing, especially with the focus they keep on their girls and their well-being.

Training: Days 3 and 4

I sit down to write this with Brooklyn laying not too far away giddily going to town on a nylabone given to her by grandma. She’s elated and relaxed, which is wonderful to watch. We just finished some distraction work downstairs and though she is struggling with a few little things, it’s me struggling alongside her. I am finding that it is me more so than her that needs training and guidance. Brooklyn knows her stuff, but I am unsure of her language and just have to practice, practice, practice.

Yesterday, day 3 of our 12 day training cruise, was a lot of obedience work plus an overview of scent work especially as it pertains to our classmates receiving seizure alert dogs. Another parent and the class and myself tonight had a brief conversation on Facebook that truly highlighted the different goals using the same means with our dogs. Their family is receiving on of Brooklyn’s siblings as a seizure alert and tracking dog while Brooklyn is an autism service dog who can do tracking. Both dogs use their noses to help us keep our kids safe at the root of it, just in different ways. I will write more on the similar skills later.

The commands we learned this day were as follows:

  • place: Brooklyn has a mutt mat, which is a quilted blanket about 3’x4′. This is her “place”, her spot that she can go do whatever she wants on when commanded there so long as she always has at least two paws on the mat. She can do paw stands or cartwheels if she so chose, so long as those two paws are on “place”. She is commanded there when someone comes to the door and you need to answer it, for example, or if she were working in a classroom and needed to stay out from underfoot but not in her crate. She is a pro at this and prefers to lay on her place even when she’s just monkeying around with a toy bone.
  • heel: This is very important to us when we work in public. “Heel” commands Brooklyn to walk with her ear or shoulder in line with my left leg. It keeps her close and secure when we are in say a store, a restaurant or any other public place. It is different from a “free” walk because she must at all times stay within that certain proximity of myself. We are working a lot on this, she and I, but I am pleased at the progress she is making. It is my skill, or lack thereof, at giving corrections that makes this harder on us both but I’m slowly gaining my stride I hope.
  • bark: Exactly what it seems like. Sweet Brooklyn can bark on command! I could not get her to do it easily yesterday but boy, when her trainer Shelby showed me the hand gesture she used today I can now get her to do it every time and giddily! Like I said, I’m learning her language as I am learning J’s.

We also did a lot of work with distractions. Jeremy, the head of training, brought his big bear of a German Shepherd, Brody, with him. Brody has to be one of the most laid back dogs on the planet. He’s 8.5 years old as opposed to our dogs just about 1 year of age and just sighs at the class of rookies around him. His presence was a great distraction challenge for the dogs. They had to be in the command they were placed in and ignore him, ignore us being loud and obnoxious or tempting them with treats and affection and so on. Our girl rocks this in class…. At the hotel? Work in progress. She’s so new to all of this environment too but as Jeremy had told us it gets better each day.

Today was the start of something amazing though. This morning, we got to see Brooklyn’s search and rescue skills in practice. The dogs learn this skill by tracking a staff member. Now, during class, we transfer that to J by having the staff member hide with him, then change out the person hiding with J, always making sure of course her target is in place. We work on this even when we’re at the hotel too by baiting J so to speak: He is the coolest thing EVER and we talk up finding “her boy” like we were finding the secret of life and when we walk her over to J, we rain down a treat she gets no other time.

A lot of people may be familiar with watching dogs do search and rescue on TV shows or in movies. It’s a little different in person. The way the dogs track is by catching the scent attached to skin cells that come off our bodies constantly. When Brooklyn starts on a track she moves in a sort of wide semi-circle on the end of a long, loose flexible leash. The moment she finds the scent she snaps to it and moves back and forth in an “S” shape, following the scent. It does not matter of J walked a straight line from “a” to “b”, she’s not going to follow that because the scent does not fall on the ground like rocks. It spreads like leaves on a breeze and she follows the width of the smell. Sometimes, she might lose the scent, circle and start anew. Other times, she might never lose it and go along that wide path to J without a waver but today, she stayed rather far to the right of where we who are visually oriented might have predicted.

Now, excuse my crude humor, but the track got rather…poopy. You see, Brooklyn is a highly skilled and highly trained dog but she’s still a dog… So post track she left me three presents to remember our track by. I elected to leave them at the park, in the rubbish, for something else to enjoy while I stick with just my memories of the day.

J was behind a building struggling with a meltdown when Brooklyn found them. The boy turned to her quickly though and helped Lindsey, the training assistant Brooklyn tracked, reward her heartily for her effort. You see, dogs do not attach severity to tracking, alerting or any task. They attach reward and the bigger the reward, the more loved the task. Search and rescue means we all but throw Brooklyn a ticker tape parade when she finds her boy. She gets Bil-Jac, which is pretty much the best treat ever to these dogs; she gets a ball and J to throw it for her and she gets tons and tons of excited praise. Our girl is a sensitive girl and she responds beautifully to praise, so getting all of this for a track makes her so excited to do it.

Now we’re back at the hotel and we’re learning that J is running out of gas fast during training. He gets so tired he skips most afternoons, and when we get Brooklyn back to the hotel post training he is excited to see her but so much so that he is quickly overstimulated. It is the novelty of her I think. He is obsessed with holding her leash right now which sadly is not good for her. J tugs, and he doesn’t realize those tugs mean something negative to his girl and make her sad. We now take off the leash when we are not immediately working until we get a training collar sorted out. That will mitigate the tugging issue… we hope. He’ll have his own leash that goes on her service harness shortly.

And that’s that. Rambling, likely riddled with typos but ta da! Here’s some pics:

aftertrack

dog and boy

goodjobb

“I sure did do a good job tracking, yes I did!”

pooped

Pretty much all the dogs had a long period of this during the afternoon session. We’ve spoiled her and use her plush pillow as her “place” in class.

The Moment

I should be writing about training but for now this strikes me as more important. I can write about today and tomorrow together in one post, right?

Brooklyn came back to the hotel with us tonight. J did attend the morning of training today but not the afternoon, so he was surprised in a major way when I came through the door with Miss Brooklyn herself by my side! Now, as fascinated as he is with her, he’s til now been reserved. He’s enjoyed her, but always in a very controlled manner. The only environment he had access to her in was chaotic and confusing to him, so it was too overwhelming for him to truly know her.

Then she stepped into his world.

I was nervous. Not going to lie, I was very nervous. I was uncertain how she would take to the hotel room and more importantly, how they would take to each other now that they were in a more natural environment for him and a completely new environment for her.

I was an idiot. I am so, so happy to report that.

He was timid at first with approaching her, giggling nervously and jumping away. He repeated again and again “J doggie, good doggie” or “Brooklyn J” in his singular manner of speaking, growing less nervous and more overjoyed the more time passed. I got her settled and shown around then gave them a ball stuffed with some good treats for them to play with and all walls and reservations between them crumbled. They could have played that game all night! He rolled it, she dutifully trotted after it, snatched it up, snuck a treat out and brought it right back! Those of you who follow us on the J-Bear and Me Facebook page have already seen a little video of this… It went on and on.

That was not the moment that it became clear just what this all meant to J. This was (forgive the terrible quality of the photo):

babies

 

You see, while Brooklyn rested on her mutt mat J disappeared into the bedroom. Moments later, out came J with three babies in his arms.He set them down carefully and gently introduced Brooklyn to one of them. He did this all quietly and seriously, holding it while she sniffed. She had tried to pick one up earlier while J wasn’t around and was corrected so this was not even an issue when he did this. She was tender with him and he was simply in love.

I only got hints of the beauty of this decision before. The moment he sat on her mat showing her his best friends, that was the moment. They found their language and he found in her not just a dog but a friend, showing her incredible trust by allowing her to “share” the stuffed animals with him.

My son has a new best friend. What could be any better than that?

Training: Day 2

Welcome to day 2 of training: corrections, distractions and tricks.

Today was a lot of teaching we handlers how to be the people our dogs need to be. The dogs are trained. They would not be in this class if they  had not learned all the skills they need. It is the adult handlers who truly need the training because even if you have had another dog you need to learn to speak the language, for a lack of better word, these dogs speak. They are praised and corrected in a specific manner and we spent a lot of today going over that.

The thing I am having the hardest time with is judging my leash. I need to leave enough slack to let Brooklyn know I am confident in her and her skills but have enough hold on it to be able to give corrections as needed. I tend to hold too snug, which I would imagine is a typical newbie thing. When we have the dog actually coming back to the hotel with us I will get ample opportunity to practice this and I cannot wait for that. Brooklyn is a gentle soul through and through – she does not need a tight hold and does not need strong corrections. I do not want to upset her by being clumsy to such a gentle lady so practice will ensue!

We went over sit and down again, this time with distractions. Oh, the distractions. They challenged these dogs with everything they love: pupperoni and balls! The goal is for them to not break command to go after the beloved item. You offer distractions that are far more abundant than they are likely to get in public. They threw pupperoni all around them, threw the ball around the room, bounced it right in front of their faces and hey – kids even ran around them yelling and acting out and the dogs did great. We all had to learn how to keep them in line to prove that we’re holding them to the same rules their fantastic trainers and fosters did.

We did more of the corrections when we were working on how to help the dog follow our lead when we are walking. When the dogs are not in a “heel” command they can walk at our side in any position provided they aren’t pulling on the leash. It’s a “free walk”. Our dogs have not learned our pace yet however, so we have to teach them. They adapt fast though as we bring the dogs around the room turning 180 degrees to go the other way to make sure the dogs are paying mind to our movements. You master this in the training room not because they think it’s fun to have the dog walk around a confined space with you for a prolonged period but it makes you more prepared for the moment you walk out of the training facility. Brooklyn and I did great in the middle of the room but at the door, she wants to run ahead. Outside is fun and different, so she is ready to go. A little correction is needed to bring her back into pace and she does a beautiful job afterwards.

Also, on the topic of outside, I have to say she’s a potty time rockstar. That’s all the details you all need.

The day ended with the fun stuff. We did “shake”, “five” and “high five”. Brooklyn is so giddy to do whatever you ask, especially when she sees the treat bag. She gave any child who asked any one of those three commands… but she preferred J. It helps that the best treats come out around J. These commands are part of a group of fun tricks the dogs all know to help create social bridges for the children. Children with special needs often have a difficult time making social connections with peers and adults but with their dog, they can offer to show them the tricks their dog can do to start a dialogue. This will open a lot of opportunities for them, and J just loves getting “five” from his girl.

I know I am missing things. The day was hectic but tomorrow we bring our girl back to the hotel with us. This will be when it sinks in with J that this is for real, even though he did call her his dog a few times today.

As ever if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

For now a couple of pictures that you might have seen already:

jbearandbrookie

A boy and his girl.

thuleface

Like this face won’t melt hearts.

Training: Day 1

Well, we’re going to start a little further back than training. We drove over 14 hours to get to where we need to be for training. It was … long. New York is bigger than you think and so it Ohio. We were exhausted, but we added an extra day to our journey on each end just to be prepared to recover from such long drives. The hotel we are staying at is nice: Friendly staff, clean and wonderful premises and an easy enough location to find close to where we are training made it a great choice. We were extra lucky that on the day after we arrived we were able to meet three 4 Paws for Ability fosters and two service dogs in training. J was delighted but is now under the distinct impression t hat dogs are supposed to come visit him in the hotel courtyard.

We’re working on that.

This morning training began with meeting all of our dogs and hearing a little bit about 4 Paws and the experience the training director has. All of the families involved in this class are just tremendous. They are kind, engaging and all “get” it. We’re all there together to do the best thing we can for each of our kids and we all accept our children exactly as they are. That’s a feeling you cannot bottle when you’re raising a child with any challenge. It is a rare gift to see them in a place of total unconditional acceptance and you are presented just that the moment you walk through the door.

Each dog is introduced one at a time and there is a lapse between every couple of dogs. This is because they are introduced to you by their trainers. The two women who trained our class’s dogs each brought one dog in at a time, spent some time chatting with the family then went out to get another. We were one of the last families but the wait was worth it. As the previous post shows, Brooklyn is gorgeous. She is as gentle as she appears, excitable only over high value treats or her beloved ball. She settles quickly, loves easily and is keen to just be adored by those around her. She made herself right at home with all of us easily, which is a rare treat. Remember, most of these dogs are most intimately familiar with their specific trainers right now. That is to whom they are bonded. They will be distracted by them during the first days of training and constantly have the desire to be with them. We are strangers, us families to whom they have been matched.

That’s where food comes in.

The children are given bags of dog food that are their dog’s breakfast. They can feed it to their dog to start their bonding process. It’s small, but every little bit matters and these dogs love their food. The child and the parents can do as they wish to give the dog their food: Place it on the ground, let the dog eat out of their hand, sprinkle it like fairy dust… Whatever gets it from point a to point b. Jacob handed a few pieces out of his hand but mostly put Brooklyn’s food on the floor. She loved it. I fed her from my hand* and she loved that too.

By the time this was done J was done, too. There were so many people, so many new things, so many new interactions that he was overwhelmed and frightened. He chilled at the hotel with his dad while his grandma and I returned to training. The afternoon was just the basics like how the gentle leader works, how a training collar works, how to hold the leash and how to confidently and appropriately give the dog basic commands. We all had a chance to practice and it doesn’t matter if you’ve handled dogs before or not, you learn a lot and they help you along where you need it. I learned how to work with Brooklyn when she’s presented with something new and extraordinary to keep her calm and accepting of such situations, which is wonderful to know as J’s behaviors change regularly. We practiced “sit”, “down” and “free”…. Sit is self explanatory, “down” means to be down with all four elbows on the ground and “free” releases the dogs from commands.

It was a busy first day but amazing. She is just so beautiful I am in awe of her. She will return with us to the hotel on Wednesday and I feel that will be the day this starts to really become permanent in J’s mind.

—————-

*= I have a really nasty apple allergy. Brooklyn’s food contains apples. Guess whose hands were blowing up like balloons during training from feeding her? Laugh all the laughs, people. I know I did (and I am better now thankfully!)

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