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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 6. Details.

May 12, 2013

I was pleased to write that we had reasonable success with Alex (and Drew) yesterday.  Drew is usually easy, but after being away from home for 7 days, it really is such a joy to have him with us.  He’s not bored, he plays well with other kids near his age, including two boys on the autism spectrum.  It just reaffirms to Kat and I that we have a very intelligent, bright and accepting, compassionate young man in our home.

Alex showed us some of what he was made of today, too.  As we left the hotel, I did have to place his helmet on him.  He mewled most of the way to the training center with a couple of half-hearted punches thrown at his slightly bruised legs, as if to say “This sucks!”  Well…perhaps it does for you, pal.  But you’re still gonna have to put up with this training for another week.  Sorry.

We started with tracking again.  This time I was sent out with Alex to a hiding spot at least a block away.  Kat was left back where we all parked our cars, waiting for the signal from Jessa to hunt us down.  Eventually Merrows found Alex and I, but it took some time.  With Kat holding on to the lead, it was up to her to try to rev up the dog to get excited about the impending search.  Unfortunately, if one does not have a similar way of speaking to the dog (inflection, tone quality, word choice), the dog might just look at you like you’ve got nothing but marbles in your mouth.  Not only this, once the dog is searching for the scent of the child, if the person who is holding on to the leash holds on too tightly, the dog might misinterpret this resistance as contradictory.  Like saying “Go!” but holding her back at the same time.  Give the dog too much slack on the leash and the dog won’t sense the proper urgency.  The dog needs to know that you, the handler, are “in on the hunt, too”.  The gods are in the details.

The weather today was cool and damp.  Conditions like this tend to be ideal for getting the dog’s best effort, but can almost be too perfect.  Merrows did find at least one dead bird and one dead frog, which seemed to really preoccupy her.  I will try as her handler tomorrow, hoping to effectively parrot the enthusiastic voice of her previous (successful) trainers.

During this time Alex’s helmet remained affixed .  Although looking mollified, he was still reluctant to allow me the deference to take it off of him.  While we waited for class to resume again at the center, I spoke with Alex’s head ABA therapist.  She agreed that Alex’s helmet might be meeting his need to feel pressure on his head.  In turn, it would offer the feeling of security and allow him to relax easier.  But, she said, I do need to attempt to remove the helmet every 5 minutes or so.  If he lets me, he’s doing better.  This occurred finally about 90 minutes after I needed to place it on his head.  Again with the details.

As the class lecture resumed, led by Jeremy the training director, Alex contented himself by poking at the same Fisher Price counting app on his iPad.  Whatever it takes.  He was good until we attempted to break for lunch with our friends at a local Chipotle restaurant.  We hadn’t done this before, so Alex was not familiar with the area.  He reverted to flying fists again at the thought of just exiting the car.  On went the helmet again.

This is another hurdle for Kat and I.  Having to shepherd Drew and Alex–and now Merrows–into a restaurant required more attention than we had today.  Alex won’t himself be sidling up to the order counter for a burrito yet.  And Merrows needs our attention, too.  Suffice to say, “lunch break” for me was confining Alex to a tiny stool in the corner of the eatery while attempting to interest him in a cheese quesadilla and some yogurt.  I ate 90 minutes later when I returned with my cold leftovers to the hotel room.  Kat was having difficulties of her own trying to keep Merrows beneath the table while she ate.  It seemed quite tempting for our pooch to want to sneak up towards any loose morsel of food that might have fallen to the floor like manna from heaven.  Although I love the idea of Merrows being a food vacuum cleaner for us, we are trying our best to keep her safe and healthy with her diet.  We failed to clear this hurdle today, alas.

The rest of the day went pleasantly enough.  Alex and I played together at our hotel room.  Alex loved to watch a few YouTube videos that I pulled up for him.  He would sit on my lap and pick up my hand, directing it toward the keyboard as if to say “show it to me again”.  I would then ask him to either use the sign language symbol for “more” or just say the word.  To my surprise and delight, Alex softly said “more”.  I love that.  Every so often, in the white noise of his whining, he will clearly, softly, enunciate very common words like this.  I hope speech therapy can pull more of this out of him.  Another loose end we must tie up soon.

This evening saw us winding down in a familiar ritual of dinner for Alex prepared and served by Kat while Drew and I went for a brief swim in the indoor pool at the Holiday Inn next door.  Our own hotel pool (outdoor) is not yet open for the season.  When we returned, we ate in the large, comfortable hotel lobby.  This time, we brought Merrows with us.  She did better here for Kat, but still attempted to position herself for any little snack she might find on the floor.  Afterward, she delighted everyone–especially Alex–by smothering him with licks while he rolled in ecstasy at our feet.  Alex’s laughter is like hearing angels sing.  And for Merrows to be enjoying herself, too…well I think we have found a good, good dog.

After heading back to our room, I decided to take Merrows to the local supermarket with me for a few things we needed.  She hopped into the car with little effort this time–she is getting better at this.  When I took her into the supermarket, my goal was for her to practice heeling and sitting when I stopped.  Often, Merrows would stop and just stand there–but not sit.  This is not the ideal.  Unfortunately, my ability to correct her seemed minimal tonight.  She would only sit with the greatest of effort on my part–repeated “no’s” with a simultaneous snap of her training collar.  And when she did sit, she would often slide into a “down” position.  Not what we want.  I get the sense that my not having much “leash time” with her has made her at the very least unfamiliar with my voice and directives.  Or maybe it’s some other detail.  I will discuss this again with our trainers tomorrow morning.

Regardless, it is not difficult in the least to fall in love with Merrows.  She is soft and smily and energetic and engaging.  A wonderful creature that you just want to put your arms around and hug.  Very endearing.  We hope, however, to get her to respond to our commands as easily as we are smitten by her personality.

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From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

One Comment
  1. Brian F permalink

    Thanks for sharing more of this learning adventure. You’re working hard but obviously getting much out of it and we’re riding along cheering each hurdle cleared and learning more about the daily mountain you climb together, family all. Your gift of expression is so well shared in this blog Dave. “Like hearing angels sing…”

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