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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 3 and 4. On the outside looking in.

May 10, 2013

I took the night off from the blogosphere yesterday because I couldn’t keep my eyes open to type.  In fact, I’m having trouble doing so now, so if this gets published with basic rules of grammar/spelling/punctuation flagrantly disregarded, please accept my apologiessssssssssssssssss.

Whoops.  I guess I must have dozed there.

Fatigue is probably one trait each family in our class has in common.  Sleep comes irregularly to Alex, though–surprise, surprise–he has slept well so far this entire journey, six nights and counting.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not worn out.

Alex is still out of sorts.  Kat and I have noticed that even short trips in the car will cause him to react with sudden whining, fist-clenching and eventual self-injury.  Many times these tantrums devolve into such fits that donning his protective helmet becomes a necessity–which usually makes things worse for a while.

You recall, dear reader, when day one here at Doggie Boot Camp arrived Alex was reasonably fine while class was underway.  But only a few minutes later his unrest began to settle in.  Wandering aimlessly, Alex would whimper and cry with no provocation at all.  He must not feel good.  I made the correlation that he was constipated.  After Kat cleared that log jam, Alex was fine.  For a little while.  In fact, day 2 of class was better.  Hardly devoid of negative behaviour, but better.

Still, day 3 and 4 saw Alex upset easily.  This even though he had usual bowel movements.  What was causing his acting up now?  About all I can reckon is that Alex must still feel very anxious about where he spends much of his waking hours.  This hotel, however comfortable, is not his home.  The training center is not his school.  Xenia, Ohio is not his neighborhood.  And I am not his usual beloved teacher/bus driver/aide/therapist.  Yes, I am “daddy” to him, but that’s about all that is still “regular” in his days right now.  Absent any physiological need like hunger or sleep, his world is frighteningly challenging.

Which is where, of course, Merrows comes in.  Our new little girl affably leapt into Kat’s car after day three and spent her first night with us.  Upon arrival in our hotel room, she proceeded to check out each of our beds, bathrooms and sofa, surmising each one for comfort and size.  I don’t blame her.  I guess we as humans tend to do that when we first walk into a hotel room.  Why shouldn’t she?  She won’t have such freedom to sample at our home, though.  Alex’s bed along with her own bed will be her approved ‘places’.

One of the concepts that Kat and I envisioned a service animal like Merrows providing was a sense of comfort and familiarity for Alex.  Her presence would help make these transitions between Alex’s comfortable “known” world and the infinitely larger unknown world a little easier.  This hasn’t happened yet.  As I said, Alex has just been feeling more anxious–not less.

But Merrows is still in training.  And Kat is doing beautifully with her.  Our sessions at Doggie Boot Camp now begin as “tracking” exercises.  This requires us meeting in our vehicles at the training center with our dog, then following the training leader convoy-style to a local county fairground.  There, we take each child from where the dog can see them to a place where they cannot.  Essentially, it’s a game of hide and seek.  The point is for the animal to “track” down the child, a very desirable skill given Alex’s propensity to slip away from us in case we let our attention to his whereabouts wane.

This game each dog performs astonishingly well.  Dogs have a keen sense of smell which they utilize to literally sniff where the child might be.  About the only difficulty I encountered was having to carry Alex into the woods–literally–and holding him there in my arms as he whined and wiggled.  Eventually, Merrows would arrive at the tip of a long lead held by the trainer who would be imploring her excitedly to “keep going, keep looking…”  Then, when Merrows successfully “found” us, we would drench her with effusive praise, rubbing and stroking her to underscore her job well done.  It was great fun.

After each dog/child combo had played this game, we headed back to the training center for more indoor instruction.  Kat would take Merrows and I would lead Drew and Alex in.  Drew would head off to play with his new friend Robert.  I would attempt to hold Alex on my lap as another instructor would begin to demonstrate new commands for the dog.  ‘Place’ and ‘under’ were introduced, both quite useful.  This, in addition to a review of ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘free’ and of course, ‘heel’.  Merrows would perform well, though sometimes she would need a little goading with a spoken “no” and a tug on her “gentle leader”, a special collar each dog wears for better adherence to commands.

Still, most of this was with Kat holding the leash.  Usually Alex would allow me or her to hold him on our laps for only a few minutes until he began to whine in some sort of discomfort.  Away he would trot, or melt into a little puddle of boy at my feet, requiring me to heft him into my arms and carry him away.  As I did so, I would ask him, “What do you want?  Are you hungry?  Do you want to play on the swing?  Would you like to go for a walk?”  Of course Alex would not respond.  At least not directly.  But if his whining diminished suddenly, I would surmise “Ah hah!  You’re thirsty!  Lemme get you a drink…” or whatever.

I did this for the rest of the sessions both today and yesterday.  Why?  Because Kat doesn’t have this ability I do when it comes to Alex.  She cannot hoist him up into her arms any longer without difficulty because of his weight.  Besides, she takes any of his random punches, pinches or bites much more delicately than I do.  This is not a knock against her–just a fact.  Plus, I don’t have any long blonde hair for Alex to yank.  I guess that’s one good thing about being bald…

But I do feel like I am missing out on many of the nuances of dog control.  Simply where one holds the treat in ones’ hand can have more sway with these animals.  I caught that.  But these nuggets of wisdom I only catch when I am in the room with the rest of the parents, which is only about 10% of the time.  I’m on the outside looking in.  And with Alex out of sorts and not really allowing anyone else to help him when he is uncomfortable, that’s where I have to stay.  I don’t feel cheated–I will learn these commands and gain control over Merrows in my own fashion.  But I’d rather learn now, not later, when everyone else is resting.

From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

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