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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 9. Time to obey.

May 15, 2013

Totally cliché, but it really is hard to fathom the not insignificant fact that we’ve been here at doggie boot camp for nine days now.  We are three-quarters finished.  Almost all of the families I’ve spoken to in our class have similar perspectives on our time here, especially as it relates to our time away from home.

Specifically, most of us have never been away with our son/daughters for this length of time.  For kids on the autism spectrum, there are countless triggers for upset anywhere they might travel.  What their bed feels like, how lunch is prepared and served, where the hotel is, what those strange sounds that they keep hearing at 2am are caused by.  But surprisingly, I haven’t heard too many complaints about what each child might be going through down here.  Instead I hear from their parents.  “Too long.”  “I’ve got so much going on at home right now.”  “My wife wasn’t able to make it, so here I am.”  I’m sure there are many, many more.

We get to chat a little bit with the other parents during break time and between tracking exercises.  Most everyone is our age, maybe a little older/younger.  Whatever, each of us wants some semblance of order to the wind-whipped maelstrom that is most of our lives outside the training center.

So, what we did…  First, we loaded up on time, 0930, then pushed over to a local Beaver Creek, Ohio public park.  Again we were to practice the fine skill of tracking.  As it happened, it was the same park as yesterday.  While our convoy of cars rolled into the park, I reminded Kat how we needed to be prepared when Alex undoubtedly reacted to the locale.  Sure enough, when Alex detected us coming to a stop, he started to hit himself.  By the time I shut down the car, it was clear that his helmet was needed.  I got it on him.

He slid out of his booster seat and onto the macadam, still whining.  God, I hate when he whines.  Anyway, it was typical whining which appears to diminish with a little distraction.  Two cookies offered, but only if he sits back in his booster, which he did.  The whining subsided.

I know now that keeping his helmet on his head as he calms down, then leaving it there until he doesn’t object to me trying to remove it is a sign that he has regulated himself to the situation.  Still, I don’t know why he reacts with flying fists almost every time stop somewhere to practice tracking.

Again today there were two trainers, so all 6 families in this “morning” group of trackers got to practice tracking twice.  Given Mr. Sensitivity and his whining, I elected to get Alex tracked as quickly as possible.  Together with Jessa, a little sprite of a trainer, I set out to get lost with Alex.

The weather today was glorious–a light, fresh breeze with low humidity, mid-level overcast which quickly dissolved to cerulean skies and a temperature straight from San Diego–about 75 degrees.  No bugs, either, save for a few plump bumblebees who happily minded their own business in the execution of their duties.

Alex and I disappeared behind the outfield fence of a baseball diamond and hid between a couple of concrete culvert sections.  Soon, Merrows arrived, pulling strongly on her flexi-leash held firm by Kat.  As an extra reinforcement of a job well done, I gave Merrows slices of cold hot dog, an extremely yummy treat to her, as we all walked back to the parking lot.

While we waited our turn to go again, another family was busy giving their daughter Cara a ride in a bike trailer much like we have at home for Drew and Alex.  The difference was that this trailer had been modified to handle this girl’s 14-year-old frame, which obviously was larger than Alex’s.  As I paused to admire the contraption (one of which I intend to procure for Alex because he has outgrown the one we purchased before he was even born), Alex decided it was time for him to go for a ride in it.  I stopped him because Cara was still sitting in the seat, though there did look like enough room for him to sit with her as long as Cara held on to Alex.  And of course I asked permission from Carol, Cara’s mom.  She enthusiastically replied in the affirmative.  Snuggled in front of Cara, another sweet child with autism, Alex and her smiled and giggled as Carol tooled around the parking lot.  I took a picture of the event, with Cara and Alex riding together as friends–Alex still wearing his helmet and Cara smiling along.  Beautiful.  Thank you, Carol and Cara, for this.

Our second tracking session happened soon thereafter, this time with me ‘talking up’ Merrows and holding on to her retractable flexi-leash.  This talking up is just the quick little “Where’s he at?  Where’s your boy?  Track!” Kat and I excitedly say to Merrows after she is latched to the flexi-leash and sent to find Alex.  It is literally like pressing a launch button on her that says “GO!”  To the end of the tether she goes, her body pulling me forward, her head snapping left and right as she senses Alex’s trail.  Any slack in her line means she is trying to decide which way to go next.  But, if she keeps pulling at the leash, she likely is sure about which direction to head.  She pulled me to Kat and more importantly to Alex, at her feet, hiding behind a baseball dugout.  More showers of praise and a few nibbles for our girl.  Merrows does like to be rewarded with treats.  A job very well done.

We loaded up in the car, Merrows preferring to sit between the two kids’ booster seats behind us instead of the way back, behind their seats.  Dunno yet if this will work for more than the 15 minutes we’ve tested her so far, but we will find out Friday afternoon when we head out of town.

Speaking of which, it does seem shocking that there are only two more days until Merrows “graduates” from her service dog training.  She has to pass a test, too.  Rather, Kat and I have to pass this test to prove that we know how to correctly handle her.  I must say that I don’t feel quite ready yet.  I’d ask Kat if she felt ready yet, too, but she’s snoring next to me in bed…

The rest of the day was good.  Alex’s helmet came off when we reached the training center.  Kat took Merrows inside for our afternoon class lead by Jeremy, the head trainer.  There, he introduced “roll over”, “play dead” and “bark”.  All of these were fun to watch the dogs practice.  “Bark” was especially hilarious.  It is not essential that each dog bark on command.  In fact, a few of the parents in the room did not want the dog to bark at all–which suits their individual wishes fine.  But Kat and I did, and Merrows delivered.  I held a piece of tasty Beggin Strips in my hand, brought Merrows to a “sit”, then simply said “bark.”  Merrows responded with a loud “bark!” and I gave her the treat.  In fact, this was the first time I had ever heard her bark at all–she is that well-behaved.  And the look in her eyes and on her face said she would do this all day long as long as the treats were doled out.  Actually, she started reacting to anybody who said “bark”!  We will use this command sparingly.  But it’s nice to know she can bark if she has to.

Back at the hotel, the evening routine played out seamlessly.  Alex was smiling and playful.  I took Drew swimming, then we had dinner back in the room.  Some ice cream, a few showers and the kids were in bed.  Kat took Merrows back to the mall again by herself to practice her obedience.  Merrow’s obedience.  If I could only get Kat to obey when she goes to the mall…

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From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

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