I didn’t post last night because it was just a rotten evening. Everybody was exhausted, and I had some bizarre allergic reaction to I don’t know what that left my eyes crossed and my brain fuzzy, so we just came back to the room and went to bed early. Friday evening, though, the most amazing thing happened.
Because Friday afternoon in the mall was our first public access lesson as a class, Friday night was the first time we could take the dog out in public. It was also the first night our hotel did not provide a free dinner, so we decided to walk over to Taco Bell. Kender grabbed onto the harness on the way over there and fell in love right away. He held on tight all the way there and all the way back after, and he didn’t want to let go when the walk was done! He tripped once on a curb because he hasn’t yet learned how to read the ground through A’Kos the way he can with his cane, but he’s learning.
While we ate dinner that night, a little rain shower moved through just long enough to provide us with a brilliant full arc rainbow. That, combined with the beautiful rainbow and moon sighting I had on the way down here, really makes me feel like the Mother is smiling and cheering on with us.
All the walking in the mall and then to dinner really wore A’Kos out. The dogs have not gotten as much exercise as they would like these past few weeks as they finished their training. There are only so many trainers, and 4 Paws’ current facility has gotten quite crowded. (Plans and funding are underway for a big new facility to be built very soon!) So all the work with obedience training and tracking and walking about with us is more than they’ve been used to. A’Kos better get used to it, though; we tend to be a very walkabout family!
Yesterday, we got a little sprinkled on during tracking practice but it was much better than previous days. I hid with Kender while Brian followed as Jeremy handled the track. A’Kos still had a hard time identifying the scent, but he did pick it up near the end. This morning at the mall, I hid again while Brian handled the track for the first time officially, and A’Kos dida great job, pulling hard all the way. In the meantime, we’ve done a few short tracks around the hotel, alternating which of us hides with Kender and which holds the leash. I also make sure to grab his leash and play a short “Where’s your boy?!” game with A’Kos whenever Kender wanders off at a play area, always giving A’Kos treats when he “finds” his boy. He is still not the best, but he is steadily improving, and hopefully with enough practice we will soon see A’Kos finding Kender as readily as we watched him find Venus last week.
Back at the training center, we are constantly learning so many new things. Over the weekend, we have learned the “lap”, “over”, “nuzzle”, and “touch” commands, all of which can be used for calming and behavior disruption. “Lap” tells A’Kos to place his head (and maybe a paw) across a lap or other body part while maintaining a “down” position.
“Over” tells the dog to step over your lap and then lay down across it. This provides weight sensations similar to using weighted vests or blankets, and is a technique I’ve seen used in many photos posted by other families.
“Nuzzle” tells A’Kos to go stick his nose into your face. He has been trained to do this while the trainer pretends to be a child crying with head in arms, so A’Kos will go stick his nose up under the arms and break the position. “Touch” is similar to “shake”, but he touches the body part pointed to and hold his paw there, providing a distraction.
All four of these commands can be used for behavior disruption and calming, but we will have to train A’Kos to do them for Kender. First, we will need to practice the commands the way the trainers have been, to transfer the command to us. Next, we will practice while pretending to be Kender, imitating whatever behaviors we want A’Kos to disrupt. Finally, we will practice sending A’Kos to a third person pretending to be Kender, imitating the behavior. At that point, A’Kos will go perform the command on Kender when we tell him to, and eventually he will come to associate Kender’s behavior with the command and perform without the command word. It will take some work on our part, and there is no shortcut, but if we can stick with it we will have a pretty powerful tool. We could use “nuzzle” to break Kender out of his turtle position, or “touch” to help avert a meltdown before it really gets going. There are more commands, like “kiss”, that we will be learning later on for the same purpose.
Another thing we started working with this weekend is tethering. As you can imagine, almost all of us wanted tethering as one of the primary jobs for our dogs, and we’ve all been anxious to get started. Jeremy explained today that they don’t start it sooner because they don’t want it to disrupt the bond between the dogs and their children. We tether Kender to A’Kos using a special tether custom-designed by 4 Paws for their clients. It is about 3 feet long with about 30% stretch and a screw-lock link at either end. A’Kos gets it clipped onto a D-ring on the back of his harness, under the handle, or in a similar place on the tracking harness (which is what the other families are using full time). The other end we are clipping onto Kender’s Cabela’s vest, which zips and buckles onto him and has four different spots we can hook to. The dogs have all been trained to resist any pulling that comes from the back off their harness, to only pay attention to tugs on their leashes.
Before tethering in public we all practiced in the training center. First we practiced pulling on the dogs while they were in a “down” position, which would be useful when checking out at the store or when standing in circle at ritual. Other parents would come and essentially drag the dogs around by the tethers, just as the children try to do when attached. The dogs all just lay there. A’Kos could be playing dead and win a prize; he didn’t move a muscle! No special training was required for the dogs to do this, so this was more of a demonstration for us parents, one we all enjoyed. Next we practiced having someone pull on the tether while the dogs were walking with us, and we learned how to use the leash to counter a child’s pulling and assist the dog, which did take some practice.
At this morning’s track, all of us tried out our tethers, with varying success. One boy actually did keep dragging his dog across the sidewalk, and they had to put the tether away after only a few minutes. Kender did really well with it, though, after only a few attempts to take the vest off. I feel like the tether will be really helpful when we go places, as Kender lets go of the harness more readily when we stop moving or go through doors. The tether will keep him from wandering off during those moments when he is distracted and Brian or I can’t pay such close attention.
This afternoon was all about health and grooming. How often to brush teeth (twice a week), wash ears (weekly), clip nails (every 3 weeks), brush hair (daily), bathe (every 1-3 weeks). We need to use an undercoat rake, a slicker brush, and a furminator or other deshedding tool to brush A’Kos’ coat. Of course he will need heartworm and flea medicine every month, whatever works and is okayed by our vet. We learned about what toys were safe (Kongs and Nylabones) and unsafe (pretty much anything else), and most importantly why. We learned not to play tug of war or chase with our dogs because it would lead to unsafe behavior when they are working, and we learned how to get A’Kos exercise and allow him to play ball when we have no fence and we can’t use a tie-out or let him off leash outside (use a 50-foot leash hooked to a belt).
Meanwhile, the bond between A’Kos and Kender continues to grow. A’Kos comes to every meal with us, and Kender gets down and spends time with A’Kos when he is done eating, often without any screaming at all. When we go out, Kender walks with A’Kos holding on to the handle. I had a moment this evening where I fully realized how stressful simply going for a walk with Kender has been, constantly watching for him, always with a hand out to catch him or redirect him. Tonight we walked again to dinner, Brian handling A’Kos and Kender holding onto the harness handle, not even tethered. I walked along beside or behind them, hands in my pockets, chatting with Brian and admiring the scenery. I felt so relaxed, so peaceful. To finally have that peace with my family again for something as simple as a walk is such a precious thing, one I didn’t even expect or realize that I needed until it was there.