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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 11. Almost.

May 17, 2013

It was hard to top yesterday.  I am pleased to report that I didn’t.  No, it didn’t suck as bad.  But it still wasn’t quite laying on the beach in Fiji, sipping a Mai Tai.

Still, the last full day of Doggie Boot Camp had a few echos of yesterday.  A decent night’s sleep for everyone in room 2107.  Another morning spent tracking outside with Merrows.  More edginess courtesy of Alex.  More collateral damage to Kat and I.   Just Kat and I, thank God.  As far as I can tell, no one else was injured after an inadvertent run-in with the little guy.

That was pretty much the only difference.  Alex still whined, complained, punched and kicked himself to underscore that he had been feeling pretty lousy lately.  He also had another stomach churning poopocalypse today involving both hands, his comforter cover and a recently opened package of cookies.  (Eww.)  The shower and many towels were effectively utilized.

So I was tired.  No, I was exhausted.  Alex hasn’t lost any weight.  I evidently haven’t eaten my spinach either, so I’m not any stronger.  Still, Kat needed my help in many ways no one else could easily fall into as a substitute.  Essentially, I hovered my paranoid Daddy-copter over him for better part of the day.

Kat and I did have a bit of a strategy for this last day of class before the Big Test/Graduation Day tomorrow.  We decided it would be prudent for her to accomplish all tasks required on the exam.  I would keep an eye on Alex and to a lesser extent, Drew.  Recall that she has been with Merrows in class now approximately 90% of the time.  Although I have rehearsed each of the commands with her, we both felt it was prudent that Kat step up to the plate for the final pitch.  She’s had a lot more practice.

The exam is a “practical” exam–no writing (except for the paperwork afterwards).  Much like the “airplane” side of one of my pilot certificate check flights, Kat has to demonstrate mastery of the animal to an impartial examiner.

Officially, there is an agency called the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, or IAADP for short.  They have developed a set of Minimum Training Standards for Public Access.  These guidelines are much like the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) that us pilots have to abide by.  They stipulate how old the dog must be–at least 12 months–and how much training the dog must have received–at least 120 hours over 6 months of which at least 30 hours must be devoted to “outings that will prepare the dog to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places.”

These standards also include elements of the test: mastery of the basic commands required in obedience training (“Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Heel”) and a “dropped leash recall” in a store in response to a verbal command or hand gesture.  Additionally, general manners must be demonstrated.  No barking unless called for, no begging, no sniffing of people or objects, no socializing with other dogs and absolutely no defecating in public unless given a command to do so.  This last one is obviously important, as the entire practical exam is conducted at the same mall we have been practicing at all week.  If the dog poops or pees out-of-place, she fails the test.

Additionally, the dog and handler must be able to demonstrate an air of calmness–imperturbability–at all times.  The animal cannot be distracted by deliberate attempts to do so.  It’s one of those skills that make these creatures so well-behaved in our world.  Merrows will do fine here.  So will Kat.  I have no idea what happens in the event of a test failure because I wasn’t in the training center much today to ask.  It is fair to say that most animals demonstrate these skills well by this point.

And I will keep an eye on Alex, as I had plenty of practice too these past 12 days.  As I mentioned, Alex was having poop issues himself, still.  He also lost his first tooth today as evidenced by a little blood in his mouth along with a new bit of open real estate in his bottom row of incisors.  He probably swallowed it because I couldn’t find it.  Perhaps this has been irritating him the past week and a half or so.  I doubt it, though, because he was irritable well after this tooth fell out this morning.  I’m thinking it was his loose stool/discomfort that was pegging his PissedOff-O-Meter for the past few days.  Conversely, he gets grumpy when he’s constipated.  We can’t win here.

So, yeah, he was edgy all day today.  I handled him.  We even had a fire alarm at the hotel this evening after dinner–but not before bed time, thank goodness.  Alex was upset, but he didn’t appear alarmed by the klaxon blaring in everyone’s ears.  Merrows neither.

We are in the home stretch, for sure.  Tomorrow will find me packing the car, wrangling Alex, paying the tariff with the hotel and gassing up the car, as afterwards, we plan on pointing our vehicle westward to arrive at my brother’s home by dinnertime.

If all goes as planned, a ceremony will be held for all new handlers, their families, friends, foster trainers of dogs (ours will be there) and of course the dogs themselves.  Each one is well-deserving any accolades bestowed upon them.  Their new handlers, too.  It is a lot of work for us handlers.  Many families have never had a dog in their entire life.  As I mentioned previously, Kat was terrified by them–all breeds.  She has come a long way.  I am proud of her.

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