Monday, June 25, 2012

Make You Feel My "Love"

"Love" is the word of the day.  It should really be the word of the day EVERY day, don't ya think?   Our world would certainly be a happier place.  Amour (French), Liefde (Dutch), Dragoste (Romanian), Amore (Italian), Liebe (German), Amor (Spanish), Karlek (Swedish).  It's just one little word, but no matter how you say it, love is still love.  There's no feeling quite as powerful as love.  There aren't any material things that I can think of that can truly equate to love because love is something that you feel in the depths of your heart; it's not something you can buy.  I tell my husband and children every single day that I love them because I truly do.  I've never experienced anything quite like the feelings of love I have for them.   I tell Zachary and Allison that love is something you feel inside that makes your heart happy and puts a smile on your face.  Simple but true in their little world of innocence.   
Me and my two little loves!  
When I watch Zachary interact with Twinkie, I'm seeing nothing short of LOVE evolving in the purest sense of the word.   Twinkie makes Zachary's heart happy and puts a smile on his face.  Simple but true.  He loves her, and she loves him...unconditionally.  Zachary looks for her, and Twinkie looks for him.  When Twinkie can't find him, she paces and isn't relieved until we show her where he is.  It doesn't matter if he's upstairs playing in his room or in the living room reading; she just needs to know where he is.  She loves him. The other night, Zachary fell asleep on the living room couch and was buried under his blanket.  There's a surprise, huh??!!  :) Twinkie began walking around the house and pacing.  When I brought her over to where Zachary was asleep, she jumped on the couch, nuzzled him then laid right on top of him.  Thankfully, Zach sleeps like death!  Although I kept saying "off", Twinkie would not leave her boy until I came back with a piece of Pupperoni.  Even then, she left him to sleep on the couch but did so reluctantly.  If we're out and Zachary starts to move away from where Twinkie is, she starts to pull towards him.  When Zachary is outside catching fire flies and Twinkie is inside, she runs from window to window following him around the yard barking and whining the entire time.   She constantly seeks him out with her toys so they can play together.  (It's really funny to hear Zachary tell Twinkie that he can't play because he's busy.)   They love each other like best friends, and it's been absolutely amazing to watch this happen....and so quickly.
A new behavior disruption command that we introduced to Twinkie after we got home last week was "LOVE".   Everyone should experience the happy, calming feelings that love can create, so I thought calling this command "LOVE" was most appropriate when I considered what a special love they have for each other.  When we give Twinkie the "love" command, we want her to lay down and cuddle up next to Zachary so he can either pat her or lay on her/with her.  Just like with any other command, Twinkie is expected to move into this position no matter where Zachary is sitting...the couch, floor, bed, backyard, wherever.  "Love" will be used as a form of behavior disruption when Zachary is struggling with something emotionally.   It will frequently be used, though, when Zachary is already calm and relaxed so he can associate these same feelings  of calm and relaxation with Twinkie .  Trying to explain to Zachary that Twinkie will make him feel better when he's already stressed and trying to process negative emotions is more than he can manage.  Less is more at that moment.  However, if we can give Twinkie the "love" command and she's just there for Zachary without us needing to say anything else, he can lean on her as he needs to both literally and figuratively.  

We started introducing this command with lots of yummy cheddar star treats and guiding Twinkie's body to the position we wanted her to be in each time.  It took a little bit of time and lots of practice for Twinkie to understand exactly what we were asking her to do, but she did it!!  Twinkie is 100% on board with her newly learned command and happily follows through with our request each time.   Zachary is so happy, calm and content to feel the "love"....Twinkie is just as happy, calm and content.  :)  What's really neat is that Twinkie will sometimes lay next to Zachary and show him the "love" without our prompting. 

This morning (Monday) while I was in the kitchen I didn't hear either one of them which likely meant that they were doing something they shouldn't have been.  :)  But, when I peeked around the corner and looked into the living room, this is what I found...
and more "LOVE"
Zachary gave Twinkie the "love" command so she'd get on the couch with him.  He calmly and quietly laid on the couch with her for about 15 minutes.  He didn't even ask me to stop taking pictures which he usually does.  

He was in that happy place we call LOVE. 

Make You Feel My Love (Adele)  (click here)  After I took these pictures, this song was playing on my iPad in the background.  This is when "love" makes you cry.    

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


So, as of tonight (Wednesday), we have been home now for 4 days.  In all honesty, it seems like 4 weeks!  Having a 12 month old Golden in the house is comparable to having a toddler again.  I haven't had a puppy since, well, NEVER.  Twinkie has settled in nicely....a little too nicely!  LOL  She hasn't stopped moving so neither have I.  She loves to play and seeks Zachary when she wants to play.  Twinkie is just adorable.  She knows it, and we love her for it!   We wouldn't have it any other way.  Zachary still loves her to pieces, and she loves him.  :)  But, good Lord is she exhausting!!  Thankfully her tags jingle when she walks so I sort of know where she is, or at least know she's getting into some type of mischief when I DON'T hear the jingle.  

Twinkie is into everything just as a verrrrrrrryyyyy young dog should be.  Well, at least that's what people are saying to me.  Maybe it's really not true but they feel badly for me.   At any rate, she's taken a strong liking to Legos in particular.  I can't even tell you how many Legos I've fished out of her mouth since Sunday morning.  Today alone she practically ate a small space buggy.  Unfortunately for Zachary's Alien Conquest Space Ship, Twinkie has actually eaten some Lego pieces so the space ship may be a little off kilter.  It's a small price to pay for such a stellar service dog though.   I've become quite adept at prying her mouth open and retrieving whatever it is she's got in her mouth.  Although, I have to say,  it's not an easy task because she'll go from chewing on something to "hiding" it in her mouth.  I have no idea how she does it, but she does.  She's like a prisoner stashing pills in their mouth.  Cute dog.  

Needless to say, Twinkie made herself right at home very quickly; the transition to her new home was smooth and happy.  The transition for Elfie on the other hand....not so much.  KARMA.

Karma is a word that comes from Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  (click here!)

Karma: Totally innocent victims are rare  
If we had to pick a word to describe Elfie's reaction to Twinkie  becoming part of our family, that word would be despondent.  (See above picture).  Our typically happy, bouncy, dancing and SMILING dog was absolutely floored...and still is at times.  Saturday night after we got home and all day Sunday she just stood there with her head hanging down.  Elfie was not smiling, she was not dancing around, and she was NOT happy with me.  And, boy, did she let me know it.  After we came inside from the backyard introduction on Saturday night, she barely looked at me, and, when she did it was in utter disbelief.  She wouldn't even curl up next to me on the couch.  Joe and I discussed this and decided we needed to put Elfie on a 24 hour, supervised watch!  LOL  Elfie was now looking at Twinkie's arrival to NJ through Aubrey's eyes.  KARMA.

"Maybe KARMA wouldn't be so nasty if we stopped calling her a bitch."  -Unknown

Stay tuned, friends!  :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

DAY TWELEVE (Saturday): A bittersweet good-bye.

Today we left Xenia, Ohio and made the 540 minute trip back home to New Jersey.  It's always bittersweet to leave 4 Paws.  After a total of five weeks of training and three dogs since December 2009, this time around was especially bittersweet and emotional for me.  As much as I love the staff at 4 Paws, I do hope, though, that the next time I'm in the area it will be for social reasons only.  :)  We wound up leaving the training center last.  The only people left were the trainers.  We decided to give Twinkie a bath before we left and thought we should wait til most everybody was gone. We didn't want a wet dog running around the room and shaking the water off it's fur.  In retrospect, maybe this was our way of taking our time to say good-bye to the trainers for what will be the last time.  I hugged each and everyone of them like I was saying good-bye to an old friend and managed to hold back the tears until we got into the truck.  And, boy, there sure were a lot of tears for a lot of reasons, I'm sure.  

4 Paws sees the ups and downs of your life.  They see your child when they're a shining star.  They see your child when they have horns coming out of their head.  They see you laugh.  They see you cry.  They see you happy.  They see you frustrated.  They see it ALL because they have to.  There are very few people you allow to look through this window of your life, and it's usually the people you're closest to because you know they won't judge you or your children.  In kind, 4 Paws is one of the few places you'll ever visit where you'll feel this same level of comfort and understanding because no one there would ever judge you either.  Spending two weeks with the staff at 4 Paws is very much like being with the people you're closest to because by time you leave, they very much feel like family.  

4 Paws REASON #1 (Aubrey)

4 Paws has given Zachary so much more than you could ever imagine.  Although he's had to contend with a type of loss that most people would never truly understand when he lost Aubrey and will experience again when he loses Elfie, the gift of love he's been given from each of them is like no other.  Dogs love you unconditionally; it doesn't matter what you do or say.  Dogs bring you feelings of comfort and happiness that a human simply cannot because if you love a dog they'll always love you back no matter what.  Dogs just love you.  Plain and simple.  No ifs, ands or buts.   Aubrey and Elfie have done just that, and I am absolutely, positively sure that Twinkie will do the very same thing.  We've already seen it, and it's been beautiful to witness once again

4 Paws REASON #2 (Elfie)

The saying goes that "Everything happens for a reason."  I don't know about that to be perfectly honest with you.  I don't believe there should ever be a reason for people to face adversity, feel pain or experience a loss.  The word "everything" isn't synonymous to "positive experiences only".  Maybe I'm just not spiritual enough and don't have enough faith to actually believe it.  Having said that, the very reason Zachary has felt the unconditional love and companionship of these furry, four-legged miracles is because of the amazing people at 4 Paws.  I guess everything is relative. Plain and simple. 
4 Paws REASON #3  (Twinkie)
Thank you 4 Paws for Ability.  You all will always hold a very special place in our hearts.  No ifs, ands or buts about it!!  

Friday, June 15, 2012

DAY ELEVEN (Friday): Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Oh, The Places You'll Go!
by Dr. Seuss


You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

You'll look up and down streets. 
Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.

It's opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.


Love, Mommy  XOXO

DAY TEN (Thursday): The Week In Review

Today was exactly that....a major review of everything!  Wow, we've learned a lot and have come a long way from when we walked into the doors at 4 Paws just ten days ago.  The first part of this morning was spent  on all of the commands we've learned since our first day of training.  It doesn't even seem possible that we've been here ten days and will take our public access test tomorrow.   Time stands still for nothing.                  

Behavior Disruption: "Nuzzle"
After this we went tracking for the last time with the trainers.  I had a bumpy start for the first track.   I know where it went wrong in the beginning, which is good, and once Jeremy backed me up, and I was good to go.  Twinkie was on it and found Zachary without any problem.  Jeremy still ran with me and answered my questions all of which have definitely helped me.   I began the second track more deliberately and slowly which is what I need to do each time.  It was a shorter track since Twinkie was tired and there wasn't much time between both tracks.  Joe and I will each run a track with Zachary tomorrow morning then head off to the mall for the public access test.   Our test is scheduled at 11:30am at Fairfield Commons Mall.   The test takes 30 minutes.  

We went out to lunch with Twinkie at Applebee's again, and she was great!  It was a fast lunch, but we wanted to get one more eating out experience under our belt before we left.  This is the time to practice and get help if you need it.  After lunch, Jeremy gave us a run down on  bringing our dogs home.  He covered flying home with your dog, driving home with your dog, how to manage your dog if they go to school with your child, transitioning from 4 Paws to your home environment, introducing other dogs/pets and tracking.  Everyone had lots of laughs this afternoon.  I think we're all  slap happy at this point!  :)
Behavior Disruption: "Over"
There is just so much for us to learn and do while we're training, and it will continue once we get home.   It has to continue.  Zachary will ultimately get out of this experience what Joe and I have put into it.  And, when we look back at ALL of the time and effort we HAVE put into our 4 Paws experience it wouldn't make sense not to continue working hard once we're home.  As much as we love Twinkie and as adorable as she is, this experience was entirely about Zachary and Twinkie becoming the very best of friends, and we think they're well on their way!!  :)  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

DAY NINE: (Wednesday): "YES, it's YOU!"

Today was the day that tracking started to click for me.  I began to figure out how to read Twinkie while she was tracking Zachary.   I couldn't be more relieved about it.  Twinkie is clearly starting to move from thinking, "Zachary, WHO?" to, "YES, it's YOU!".  This all takes time, and the more Twinkie tracks Zachary the faster she'll reach scent memorization specific to Zachary.  FYI:  Scent Memorization can take anywhere from 25 to 50 tracks before this happens!!  (That's a whole lotta running!!! LOL)  My local peeps will surely see us running through our neighborhood many, many, many times over the next few weeks.  You'll also find us in your yards, behind your play sets and possibly on your deck (Colleen).  No need for any of you to come outside; we'll be on our way before you know it.  LOL  Ideally, we're supposed to track everyday for a couple of weeks after we get home.  Ideally, we should be running a track within the first couple of days of returning home (Happy Father's Day,  Joe!).  Ideally, I should be a size 6 and a long distance runner.  The first two ideals are far more likely than the last.  Can't win 'em all....

Anyway....I digress.  Tracking has been a source of confusion and frustration for me this time around, and it's shaken my confidence a bit.... a lot.  For starters, Twinkie tracks much differently than Aubrey ever did, so I've been thrown off each time I've tracked since I've expected Aubrey and was actually following Twinkie.  Since Aubrey was party Hound, she was very intense and her body language and signals were crystal clear.  Hounds find things; it's just what they do.  I never questioned where Aubrey was taking me because I knew it was going to be wherever Zachary was.  Period.  No questions.   As Jeremy put it, "A blind person could've tracked with Aubrey."  She really WAS that good which was certainly helpful on our end.  :)  Hounds were bred for trail scenting, so when Aubrey picked up just a little bit of Zachary's scent she knew it and so did I.  I was pretty much along for the ride.  :)   Even with changing variables such as wind direction and speed, humidity and temperature, Aubrey always looked 100% confident.  

Don't get me wrong, Twinkie is very confident, too.  She knows what she's doing,  but her body language isn't nearly as intense, so my confidence isn't quite where hers is at this point.  I have to think a lot harder about what we're both doing.  She's also gotten confused on a couple of tracks with me.  Since we're all in the same location,  and she's more familiar with the trainer's scents than Zachary's, there were a couple of times that this interrupted Zachary's scent trail, and I got a little jammed up.  Jammed up as in I probably would not have found Zachary if I were on my own.  This is all part of the reason you start learning this skill almost immediately and have one on one instruction as you're running the track.  Jeremy or Jessa run with you, coach you along the way and touch base with you about what they saw or what questions you have just after the track.  To me, the biggest mistake you could make as you learn this skill is not asking questions.  Since I'm not nearly as confident as I was the first time around, I am asking a lot of questions...bless these poor people. LOL They'd much rather you ask questions than not put the amount of work into it that you need to.   I'd much rather be "that" person than not be able to find Zachary.  There's two sides to ever coin.  Tracking is a tough thing to be dropped into.  I'd imagine that most families coming to 4 Paws don't have experience in K-9 Search and Rescue.   It's still pretty amazing to think all of sudden you're given this dog on Day Two and they can find your kid by Day Nine.  

Since dogs will happily run with you endlessly from the get go, the start of the track is the most difficult and, obviously, the most crucial component of tracking.  It's very easy to take off with your dog since they're so excited to run.  The thing is, though, that you cannot do this until you KNOW they've picked up your child's scent.  You need to know your dog and what they're "telling" you before you start sprinting with them.  It's very easy to run way too fast and completely over-run the scent cone from the start.  What you hope for at this point is that your dog calms down just a bit and recognizes that the trail is cold. This makes more work for you and creates a greater distance between you and your child if this were the real deal because now you have to very methodically back track.   This is a very common mistake that we've all made in some way.  

You begin your track at the last point you saw your child, so it's kinda important you get it right the first time!!  This starting point could be a sidewalk, baseball field, parking lot, your front door or school.  It doesn't really matter because at the end of the day you must begin your track correctly or you could be running til the cows come home and never find your child.  Not too much pressure, huh?  Thankfully, the two tracks I ran with Zachary this morning were awesome!!  I needed the boost, that's for sure!!  The first was over the river and into the woods...literally.  For whatever reason, I conjured up more confidence and got it!  Jessa was with me the whole time, but she really took a back seat and let me try to figure it out on my own.  Twinkie did briefly overshoot the scent cone because of the wind, but she very quickly recognized it AND  made it really obvious to me.  Once she lost interest in the area we were in, she started to arch, make head snaps and made a new commitment back up the trail and to the left and found Zachary.  Yea for me!  

The second track I ran independently.  Jessa left with another family to run their track and told me I could wait a minute or two and go find Joe and Zachary if I were comfortable with it.  The mentality of being 100% on my own and 100% reliant on Twinkie was a little unsettling since I haven't done as well starting the track myself, but I did it...and did it quite well if I do say so!  I checked the wind direction by throwing grass in the air.  This told me Zachary's scent cone would be over to the left regardless of where they started, and it was.  This track took me through a gravel parking lot,  running up along the grass/brush line, into a construction area, around gravel piles, between a dumpster and metal things, around and through a small tree line and next to a utility shed and fence to find Zachary.  It happens so fast, and you are so relieved to find your child even though you know it's practice.   

I very much rally under pressure.  I also told myself I wasn't going to over think everything I saw Twinkie do; my therapist would be so proud!  LOL  (just kidding.)   I just happened kind of naturally.  I put trust in Twinkie and in myself.  If Zachary were truly lost, there wouldn't be anybody else for me to trust.  I followed Twinkie's lead once I heard her say, "YES, it's YOU!".  Just like with Aubrey.  It's funny how things come full circle sometimes.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

DAY EIGHT (Tuesday): AP Obedience

Today was another successful day with Twinkie!!!  She's such a smart girl.   Today is also the day I've felt more exhausted than I have since we've gotten here.  I was barely able to keep my eyes open at dinner, but we still had to go out and work Twinkie in a public setting.   Telling Zachary we were going to take Twinkie to Barnes and Noble after dinner sounded like a stellar idea at noon but not so much at 7pm.  On we go. Everybody is starting to feel the effects of being tired....we're all dragging at this point!  The days are long and intense.  If I could've curled up on Twinkie's Mutt Mat for an hour or two, I would've absolutely seized that opportunity!  I think my Facebook status last night was Drooling tired.  That about summed it up.

Well, today we worked on more advanced concepts of sit, down and heel both on and off leash.  Twinkie needs to understand exactly what we're asking her to do wherever and whenever we give her the command.  She also needs to understand that we expect her to follow our command whether or not she's on leash.  With each day of training, she becomes more familiar with our tones of voice, body language and expectations which subsequently creates a more solid working relationship and greater level of respect.  At the end of the day, our working relationship comes down to a mutual level of respect.   The reality of it all, though, is that this is a process which requires practice and takes time.....much more time than the two weeks we're in Ohio.

Despite the fact Twinkie sometimes gives me a run for my money, she knows exactly what do when I give her a command.  Now we need to be sure she can follow these commands when we're at a distance and standing at different positions in relation to her body.   We also need to be sure Twinkie's not 100% dependent on the hand signal and understands and will follow just a voice command.  When we first began training last week, we always used the hand signal together with the verbal command as we stood in front of her.  At this point, we're standing across the room from Twinkie, behind her and to her left or right giving a command and expecting her to maintain that command until she's either "free" or we've given another command.  For example, if Twinkie's in a down and we walk away from her, she should not only hold that command, but she should easily move from down to sit with our command from across the room.   Or, if she's in down, and we verbally prompt her to sit while we're standing behind her, it is expected that she will follow our command even though she can't see us.   It's also expected at this point that the she'll maintain a command for longer periods of time and someone can step over her without her moving while she's down.   Having a stranger at the mall walk over Twinkie as she maintains a down is part of our Public Access Test.  So, I apologize in advance for stalking the unsuspecting patrons of the Fairfield Commons Mall on Friday.  LOL
Another piece of obedience that we worked on was having Twinkie walk in a heel with more distractions, at varying speeds and in tight spaces.  When she's walking at a heel, Twinkie should be walking right next to me and never pull forward.  This is by far the hardest skill to learn as a handler.  She should also pace herself and remain in the correct position regardless of my current pace and changes in speed.  What we wound up doing was start walking at a regular pace, begin running then quickly heeling left around a chair and walking sllloooooowly.  With each change in speed, Twinkie was expected to remain in a heel.   No exceptions.  She did beautifully; we're so proud of our little stinker!  :)  

The only thing I really struggled with was having Twinkie walk in a heel and turning in a tight space.  This is meant to simulate shopping and turning in an aisle or moving around something.  It takes more coordination than you'd think.  I kept nearly tripping over Twinkie, or she was was just confused by my body language and randomly did things like bark, touch and go into a down with the hopes of getting a treat.  :)  Randomly performing unprompted commands is a very common behavior for our dogs when they're confused and confused she was!  By time we were halfway through this exercise Twinkie was practically doing back flips because I just couldn't get it.  Ugh.  It will come all in good time.  

Two other two obedience commands for the morning were "back" and "stand".  "Back" is getting your dog to literally back-up at your prompt.  You may need for them to take a few steps backwards as opposed to turning around in certain situations so it's important they have the coordination to do this.  "Stand" is a command to bring your dog to an upright position from either down or sit.  Some situations may warrant them standing upright and not immediately going into a heel, or it just may be necessary for them to stand so we're able to put on their harness.  

This was just our early morning training session.  Sheesh....we haven't even gone tracking yet. 

Drooling tired.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DAY SEVEN (Monday): Here comes the sun...

The weather in Xenia, OH was nasty a good part of the day.  It was raining and soggy and just down right gross out.  Incidentally, as miserable as the morning was for us, the weather conditions were perfect for the dogs to go tracking in.  Moist weather makes it so much easier for the dogs to pick up the scent they're looking for.  The weather has been so dry up til this point that Jeremy told us our pups have had to track harder this past week then they've really ever had.  The heat also makes it more difficult for them;  they cannot breathe in through their nose to pick up the scent at the same time they are panting.  Interesting stuff.  At any rate, Twinkie ran a perfect track this morning with Joe.  She hit the ground running and nailed it!  

Twinkie was loving life....she was running in the pouring rain, finding her boy, eating hot dogs, getting her orange tenny and smelling like a wet dog.  I don't think it could've gotten any better for Twinkie!  The flip-side to this is that my poor Zachary struggled the entire time we were at the park.  Although a day like today was perfect for Twinkie, it was was a sensory nightmare for Zachary.  He doesn't like the feeling of getting wet from the rain hitting him.  At nine years-old, he still doesn't like washing his hair, so you could imagine how happy he was about walking in the pouring rain.   He also hates the grass....most especially when it's wet.  The combination of the pouring rain hitting us even though I had a big umbrella and having to walk through the wet, sticky, prickly grass was just awful for Zachary.  We had to walk entirely through the grass for 200 yards.  Brutal.  Zachary cried and, literally, begged me to stop walking.  For a kid with Sensory Processing Disorder, ordinary sensory experiences that you and I don't even notice cause significant distress.  Zachary specifically has Sensory Modulation Disorder.  He is both hyper-responsive and hypo-responsive to certain sensory stimuli; he also CRAVES certain types of sensory input.   What this essentially means is that the world as he  processes it can sometimes be a scary, uncertain and painful place to live in.  This is a large part of the reason he struggles with anxiety.  It's not always easy being Zachary.  It's not always easy being Mommy watching Zachary struggle.  What I wouldn't do to make it all go away...

With a lot of deep breaths, constant reassurance and "promises", we finally made it to our destination. Whew!   Midway through, I had to change our track so I could get Zachary onto pavement.  I saw a sidewalk around a utility building not too far away and changed the game plan at that point.  Once I pointed out to Zachary where we were walking to, he saw a little light on the end of the tunnel, but he continued to struggle none-the-less.  To help him out and show him I understood how he was feeling, I took off my flip flops, talked about how much I hated walking in wet grass  and rolled up my leggings.  :)   When I watched Zachary cry and yell out in what looked like real pain, it just broke my heart into a million pieces.   I still cannot being to understand how people in our medical community don't believe that Sensory Processing Disorder is real.  I would welcome any of these MD's or Ph D's to come live with us for a few days and walk 200 yards in the pouring rain across two football fields with me and Zachary.   For more information about Sensory Processing Disorder, you can click on this link:  Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation  

What started out as a cloudy and rainy morning turned into an afternoon full of bright and beautiful sunshine!  We really try to find the bright side of things!  :)  After tracking at the park, we went back to 4 Paws for a little while, ate the Mc Donald's lunch that Zachary was promised and certainly deserved, then we were all off to the the mall.  Zachary LOVES this mall.  There's a million things to look at, elevators, frozen yogurt with sprinkles and a real train that you can ride on around the first floor.  He hits the mother load each time we go!  :)  

We not only worked on public access practice and obedience but indoor tracking at the mall as well.  This is exactly what it sounds like.....Twinkie tracking Zachary in the mall.  We worked in Sears, and Twinkie was once again awesome!!  She nailed it both times. Even though it's a little easier to track inside, I'm still trying to build my self-confidence when it comes to tracking with Twinkie.  Aubrey was such a different dog when it came to tracking.  I'm not always sure what Twinkie is "telling" me.  I know this will all come with time.  Have I mentioned how much Twinkie LOVES being out in the community for as much grief as she gives me about wearing her harness??!!   LOL  Well, if I have not....she LOVES it and is amazing when we're in the community.  Everybody tells her how pretty she is, and a million people both big and small ask if they could pat her.  She eats up every bit of the attention which makes my job that much harder the next day.  :)    Zachary is also lovin that his girl can come with him.  He loves walking with her, and I mean that literally.   Part of Zachary's sensory processing difficulties are related to his vestibular system.  This is what helps him understand where his body physically is in space.   Kids like Zachary are often clumsy, unsteady, "trip over air", don't like sitting on seats without a back and riding a bicycle.  So not only is he lovin Miss Twinkie being able to be with him all of the time, he's lovin the fact that when he's holding on to the one foot lead we have for him, she "grounds" him and gives his body the prompts it needs to recognize where it is in space.  

Twinkie is that bright ray of sunlight in Zachary's sometimes cloudy days. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

DAY SIX (Sunday): Match Point

Laughter is the Best Medicine: The Benefits of Humor and Laughter  (click on this!)

No truer words have beens spoken!  Following this statement, I should never, EVER be sick.  Maybe this is why I have such a strong immune system.  All of these years I thought it was the flu shot I got at the beginning of a new school year.  Who knew?  Depending on how well you know me, posting this link may or may not seem out of context since this is a blog about Zachary and Twinkie, his new service dog.  I can promise you, though, if you ever saw us at the Kohl's in Beavercreek, OH last night, you would understand the context of this link since there wasn't much else I could do BUT laugh...and laugh hard!!!   :)   

So, we had decided that after dinner I would take Twinkie to Kohl's while Joe took Zachary swimming.  Afterwards, a couple of the girls were heading out to Cheesecake Factory for dessert and a drink.  Nice!  I could definitely use a drink.  :)  It's a solid plan.   We completed a very successful track when we got back to the hotel tonight, we ate dinner, and Joe had work to do so he was thrilled with the prospect of me leaving for a few hours!  :)   All good, right??!!  I thought so and left the hotel with Twinkie pretty confident that I'd be to Kohl's and back in about 30 minutes.  We don't need to stay out in the community for hours, but 20 minutes or so each night is helpful and necessary in terms of your public access success.   Depsite the fact Twinkie was pouting about the fact she had to put her harness on, we were off to Kohl's....

We get in the truck.  No traffic. I didn't get lost basically driving in a straight line from the hotel to Kohl's.  Got a parking space just a couple in from the entrance.  It was still sunny and early enough to get to Cheesecake Factory.  LIfe is good, and we were all set until Twinkie flat out refused to get out of the truck.  I'm not talking just a little hesitant; I'm talking Twinkie would not even look at me and stand up much less exit my vehicle.   She decided to stage a silent protest and play the game, "I can't see you.  I can't hear you."  She essentially gave me the finger with all four paws.  Cute dog.  Point one for Twinkie.  I didn't laugh in front of her, but this is definitely where all of the laughter began! now what??  I tried everything I could think of.  This is the third time we've gone through training.  Surely I can figure this out on some level.   I didn't want to correct Twinkie and make this a negative experience so I was showing her all of the love in the world....and the Bill-Jac.  She quickly tapped me out of all the Bill-Jac and Pupperoni I had.  Still no success.  Not even close.  UGH!!!  After 7 minutes of practically begging Twinkie to get out of the truck and looking like a lulu bird standing outside of my truck, I wound up calling Jennifer from 4 Paws.  She gave me a few suggestions while we were on the phone.  They sounded good and I was hopeful, but Twinkie was still one up on me and refusing to budge.   Another point for Twinkie.  Jennifer offered to meet me in the parking lot at Kohl's so we could address this little "issue" we were having.   Point one for Mommy...well sort of.

Twenty minutes later Jennifer arrived.  Now this has become a serious "match".   Prior to her getting there, she had me take everything off Twinkie except her training collar and flat collar.  For a brief moment Twinkie forgot she was staging a silent protest and perked up when she saw Jennifer.  Then she seemed to process the gravity of the situation and started to dig her paws in.   I mean this both figuratively and literally.  Twinkie meant business...but so did Jennifer.  It was a draw.  So, we open the door to the truck, and Twinkie is less than enthused.  She wouldn't even make eye-contact with us.  However, the two of us spoke in the happiest, squeakiest voice we could.  We wiggled our bodies doing a happy dance and tried to coax her out of the truck with absolutely no success.  Twinkie was still not impressed and not willing to move.  Another point for Twinkie.  

So our side show continues, and much to the delight and amusement of the spectators in the Kohl's parking lot, we started more squeaky talk and doing the happy dance outside of the truck again.  I actually had to yell across the parking lot to the guy staring at us laughing that this was my son's service dog, she was refusing to exit my vehicle and we weren't high.  He seemed to buy into this because he eventually made his way over to us laughing telling us he figured there was a dog in the truck.  Seriously, buddy??  What gave it away??  The fact that we were holding onto a leash and using the word DOG??  LOL  Good times, friends.  Good times.  Humiliating me...yet another point for Twinkie.  

Well, now  all bets are off and Jennifer moved passed the passive "let's not stress her out and make this negative"  spin on it to physically removing Twinkie from my truck.  We tried to entice Twinkie with a tennis ball which she loves, however, she still wanted nothing to do with us.  Seconds later, before Twinkie even realized what had happened, Jennifer hoisted her out of the truck and onto the pavement.  MAJOR point for Jennifer.  Now the whole squeaky talk and happy dance resumed and so did the side show for the residents of Beavercreek, OH.  We had Twinkie jump back into the truck and out to the tennis ball.  She did wisen up a little bit and started to willingly leave the truck as long as we bounced the tennis ball outside.  We wound up over correcting Twinkie and following this process  over and over and over and over.  For a brief moment I felt as if I were back in my classroom.  LOL  This was definitely a Discrete Trial session.  

Well, as only my luck would have it,  once we put Twinkie's harness back on THE WHOLE THING STARTED AGAIN.  This dog is going to be the death of me.   My personal fave was watching Twinkie go as far back to the other side of my truck as she possibly could and sit in Zachary's booster seat in a solid, logical effort to avoid exiting the truck.  She is too smart for my own good....sound like a little boy we happen to know!!??   :)  Twinkie clearly felt a false sense of security up until Jennifer practically climbed in the truck and hoisted her out...again!  I can't make this up, people!  LOL  Another point for Jennifer.

After approximately 30 minutes or so of addressing this situation and having Twinkie jump in and out of my truck and walk in a heel around the parking lot, we called it a night.    I drove back to the hotel ponder the events of the evening.  The conclusion I came to is that Twinkie is a tough nut to crack, and we should consider working with an ABA therapist when we get back home with her!  LOL  Oh, wait!!  That's gonna be three years!!  Maybe I won't even need to leave my own house to complete my field hours.  

A few minutes before this whole debacle ended, I asked Jennifer that with all of the dogs 4 Paws has placed if she's ever had to come to a parking lot to assist a client.  As expected, the answer was "No."  Hearing that one little word was most definitely the MATCH POINT for Twinkie.  Let the laughter continue....

...and the unconditional love grow!  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

DAY FIVE (Saturday): Keeping track

Today we continued to work on obedience in the morning and the rest of the day was mostly about tracking.  Our morning track with Twinkie was successful, although she was a little confused at first since it was just Zachary and I laying the track this time.....Sarah was not with us.  Part of the learning curve for Twinkie is beginning to discriminate between other people's scent and Zachary's.  She showed confusion for the first half of the track, but once Twinkie clearly picked up Zachary's scent, Joe said she was on it and found us....which really means she found her hot dog and orange tenny.  :)  Tracking comes down to practice makes perfect which is why we do it every single day, and the trainers want us to practice short tracks at the hotel at night.  The more Twinkie is exposed to just Zachary's scent, the more confident and accurate her tracks will become.  

Jeremy gave a more in-depth discussion and instruction about tracking after lunch. As always, you learn so much from Jeremy!!  He's been a professional dog trainer for a long time, and it shows!!  It's amazing that people like me and you can walk into 4 Paws without any experience in search and rescue and actually be able to find your child with relative easy by time it's all over.  That's what makes him so good at what he does.  And, patient...Lord is this man patient.  :)    Everything Jeremy talks about makes complete sense, is super interesting to listen to and looks good on paper, but boy oh boy is there A LOT to understand, remember and actually do once you're behind the lead with your dog.  It can be as overwhelming as it is exciting.  Tomorrow we'll be going to the mall and doing an indoor track.  Stay tuned...

The nose that KNOWS!!

Our major accomplishment of the day was taking Twinkie to Applebee's for lunch with us!  The first thing Zachary asked when we told him we were going there for lunch was if Twinkie could come with him.  :)  After the little body shaking incident from breakfast, I had a plan, and it went well.  Since Twinkie doesn't love her new harness which needs to be used for public access, she shakes A LOT especially when it first goes on.  She also pouts and makes us work harder for her attention and responses!  She's a piece of work for sure!  LOL This harness is fairly new, so Twinkie is still breaking it in which is making her shake more frequently.  I followed Jennifer's advice, which was to place some pressure on Twinkie's shoulders when she stands up to prevent her from shaking.  What I did not realize at breakfast time is that Jennifer meant to continue holding your hand on her shoulders until you EXIT the area where people were eating.  Ooooops!! There's a huge learning curve to taking your dog out in the community, and we're still learning!

Twinkie was a champ and a half at Applebee's!  We made sure it wasn't crowded for our first experience.  She followed the "under" command which tells her to go under the table and lay down.  Once Twinkie was under the table, she didn't move other than to readjust her hips.   We were there for an hour, and she wound up sleeping nearly the entire time.  It was a very calm and peaceful lunch.  It was as if she wasn't there which is exactly what how you want it to be.  No one knew Twinkie was there but our server because I let him know what we were doing in the event this did not work out as we had hoped.  :)    He told Twinkie how beautiful she was, and she, of course, accepted this compliment as a statement of fact versus kindness!  LOL  Zachary loved that she was with him.  He kept peeking under the table to make sure she was there.  Zachary has always liked a great deal of sensory input through his feet, so he took off his Crocs and rested his feet on her back.  This not only keeps his body grounded, but he likes how it feels when he rubs his feet on Twinkie's fur; it's all very calming to his sensory system.
The only way I can explain taking Twinkie into a restaurant like this is taking your baby out for the first time.  We were watching every single thing Twinkie was doing.  We were  keeping track of the time and everything else we were doing so we knew what worked and did not work for the next time we attempt something like this.  Even getting ready to leave the restaurant was like packing up your baby for the first time!  

The moral of this story is that whether you're working out in the community,  training at 4 Paws or tracking with your child, there's a ton of stuff you have to keep track of, and it's exhausting.  It's all 100% necessary to you and your dog's success, but it's enough to make you cry sometimes....and I'm getting there!  :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

DAY FOUR (Friday): Never underestimate your match

I can't explain how truly beautiful and natural the bond between Twinkie and Zachary has become.  They look for each other and love it when they find each other.   When Zachary went to bed tonight, he asked Joe to leave the door open "in case Twinkie needs to find me".  :)  I know he's mine, but hearing that was just too cute for words!  Since Twinkie destroyed the two special toys for her and Zachary to play with, I went back to Pet Smart and bought two more durable toys.  Truthfully, I think Twinkie needs to be playing with the full spare tire we have for our Trailblazer, but that would be kind of cumbersome to cart around with us each day.  LOL  We'll see just how durable these toys are in the coming days.  

Today was a big day for us.  I got to run with Twinkie on a track, and later in the afternoon we went out on our first community outing to the mall.   Jessa was the trainer who took us out to track this morning.  Joe, Zachary and Sarah (one of the trainers) layed the track, and I ran it with Twinkie.  I was happy Jessa let me hold the lead so quickly...the more practice the better!  At first, you always know where your child goes.  You know exactly where they are going and exactly how they got there.  Your dog not completely knowing your child's scent combined with you not knowing your dog, their tracking signals and body language makes it nearly impossible to go on a "blind track".  At this point, Twinkie has only tracked Sarah's scent for months while training, and now we're transitioning Twinkie to identify just Zachary's scent.  We want her to start running the track and say, "Hmm,  I know Sarah is out there, but this other scent is very familiar, too!  Let's check it out!"  

Since we start tracking by watching where Zachary is going and letting Twinkie watch him walk away for a short time, it's a little difficult to completely trust her nose when we, as humans, process the world so visually.  Where I thought I saw Zachary and Joe walk to from around 200 or 300 yards away, and where they actually wound up was different.  Different as in the opposite direction!  Based on my visual observation, I may or may not have found Zachary.  Truthfully, I probably would not have which is a pretty horrifying thought in retrospect.   I would've been in the general vicinity, but when your kid is lost you don't want to speak in terms of "general";  you want exact locations which is where Twinkie was leading me. From the angle I was looking from, I thought they walked more over to the left.....which they did not.  Twinkie was on to their scent pretty quickly and was definitely pulling and snapping her head to the right as she moved into the scent cone.  Even though I knew this meant she was on to their scent,  I was still trusting my eyes as opposed to her nose.  I guided her more to the left a couple of times until Jessa told me to follow Twinkie's lead since she snapped her head back and pulled me to the right each time I guided her otherwise.  It was hard to release that control and thought process  because in my mind she couldn't be correct....I SAW where they went.  Well, clearly I did not because once I trusted Twinkie and what she was "telling" me, she barreled through the field and found her boy.  Just. Like. That.  It never gets old seeing this happen.  As difficult as it is to have complete trust in this dog that cannot verbally communicate with you and say, "Check it out...this is my gig, and I've got it.", you need to because they clearly do "got it."  

Twinkie is certainly smart, but she does not have the ability to tell the difference between a practice track and Zachary gone missing. It's always the real deal for her, and we need to treat tracking that way without exception.   Each and every time we track, Twinkie needs to think this is THE most exciting thing she'll ever do, and when we find Zachary it is a major PAR-TAY!!!    As a reward for finding Zachary, Twinkie gets a sliced up hot dog and her orange tennis ball which she loves!!   Twinkie isn't allowed to play with this particular tennis ball.  The only time she sees it is at the end of a track since it's so rewarding to her.  Once she locates Zachary, we need to jump up and down in excitement,  hug her, praise her in the most excited voice possible and give her the hot dogs and tenny all at the same time so that she understands that what she just did was THE  BEST THING EVER!!  You look and sound like a complete lunatic at this point, but it is so important that Twinkie knows that she's nothing short of awesome. (Since she already thinks this, you can imagine just how excited we have to be!) LOL   If she doesn't have this level of motivation to track, she simply won't be so eager to do it.  Needless to say, she needs to always be eager to do this.  

Our dogs are trained as scent-specific search and rescue dogs.  They would never be trained nor used in the same capacity as a K-9 drug sniffing dog or search and rescue dog from your local police department.  Our dogs are trained to begin their track immediately and ONLY for their child.   To reinforce this, Zachary needs to hide with someone different each time.  Sometimes it will be me, sometimes it will be Joe.  Sometimes we'll take another kid with us or another parent.  The only variable that remains the same each time is Zachary's scent.  With each track, Twinkie will become more and more confident about who she is looking for which will subsequently make us more confident and not underestimate her ability to find Zachary.  
So.......for all of you who are waiting with bated breath to find out if I had an asthma attack or wiped out as I did with Aubrey, the answer is no, I did not!  (so there!!)  LOL   I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I braced myself for it, though.  Twinkie definitely showed mercy.  

After lunch, we all met at the Fairfield Commons Mall.  We were a sight to behold...9 Golden Retrievers and one black Lab converged on Entrance D with the 4 Paws trainers, and we were off.  Zachary needed some wiggle time and took off with Joe.  He enjoyed walking around, riding the real train around the first floor and getting a snack at Yoo-gurt.  Once they went on their merry way, it was just me and Twinkie (and Jennifer the trainer).  Surprisingly,  Twinkie did better than I would've ever anticipated.  Based on how she busts my chops as frequently as possible back at the training center, we were completely prepared for this to be a nightmare!   Walking into the mall for the first time was very distracting to Twinkie, but girlfriend pulled it together, with a little help from Jennifer, and it was pretty smooth sailing.  She and I walked and  walked and heeled and sat and downed over and over and over again for about two hours.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's mentally draining.  The last thing you want is for your dog to misbehave while in public.  Twinkie definitely had her groove and once again showed me mercy.  So much so that she and I hit the Hallmark store and bought Joe's Father's Day cards.  I was feeling confident enough that she and I hit Starbucks and sat outside of Starbucks for about 25 minutes.  All sorts of people came to talk to her, and she loved every minute of it.  When you know you're as awesome as she knows she is, it's fairly easy to hear people tell you that over and over and over again.