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!)