All of the 4 Paws dogs are wonderfully trained. The training room is full with nearly 20 families, some of them with more than one child, and we all have our dogs out at the same time. Our dogs spend most of the time at our feet, and two or three teams will be practicing a particular command in the center of the circle. All day long, the kids and their caregivers are in and out of the room, and there is screaming, throwing, hitting, chasing, kicking, everything. Today, one child threw a plastic “lava lamp” type of toy across the room, and it shattered right next to one of the dogs out in the middle walking. No matter what the distraction, these dogs stay where they are. They may look up, but they never move their bodies until they are explicitly freed, and many of them won’t even look up.
Our biggest objective these first few days is transferring A’Kos bond to us. Today, we again practiced the basics, adding “potty” to the “sit”, “down”, and “free” we learned yesterday. The other dogs in the class also added “heel”, but for us this will be an extra step. Brian is totally blind on his left side, so any person or dog he walks with needs to be on his right or he can’t see them. Kender is opposite, blind on his right side. We will be retraining A’Kos to primarily walk with us on our right side, so that he is on Brian’s good side and Kender’s as well. For today, this meant just practicing a close walk with gentle corrections and lots of encouragement as A’Kos unlearns walking on the left. Tomorrow, we will add a “Close” command for that position on our right, so that we can retain “Heel” for the left if we need it.
In between working on walking and heel, we all practiced the stay. 4 Paws dogs are taught an implied stay, so they learn to remain in a sit or down position until they are given a “free” command. Our dogs practiced their staying power while the trainers gave them all kinds of distractions. In addition to ignoring our kids, the dogs completely ignored bouncing balls, squeaky toys, and even half a bag of Beggin Strips scattered in front of their noses one piece at a time! All of the dogs are so well-behaved, and they are all quickly learning to see us as their new family.
Although the dogs have been trained to not be frightened or startled when their trainers mimic the behaviors our kids showed on the videos, they still have not met our actual kids before. We have to work to teach the dogs that our kids are good things to be around, even when they scream and kick. Jeremy says the best way to do this is to have the kids give their dogs the best-tasting treats, while parents use the dog food. Today we finally got Kender to give quite a few treats to A’Kos while we repeated his name and “good dog”. Kender is starting to get the idea a bit, and when he turtles up on the floor I can bring A’Kos over to him and make him smile.
We will have to work even harder to get the dogs comfortable with meltdowns and things. Whenever a child acts out, we praise the dog and give it treats. If our child kicks the dog, Jeremy says we should pet the dog with our feet. Give the dog treats if the child comes and lays on it. Kender hit A’Kos accidentally with his cane this afternoon; Jeremy suggested putting treats on the cane and letting A’Kos eat them to make the cane a happy thing.
Kender spent most of the day outside today. Every time we go in the training building, he shouts to go outside, kicks and screams. Toward the end of the day, as he got more tired, Kender would just turtle or plank in the middle of the training floor. Hopefully over the next few days we will get better at learning how to use A’Kos to comfort and distract Kender.
I’m going to have to get somebody to take a picture of Kender giving A’Kos a treat tomorrow. I didn’t really take any pictures today, so here are some more from yesterday: