Posts Tagged ‘service dog training’

I’m going to start here with a basic truism that anyone who belongs to a minority or a disadvantaged group knows: nobody likes being told they are behaving in a bigoted manner, no matter how kindly the message is given.

Now, most of us don’t just say “wow, you’re a bigot!”  We say, “You said something problematic here, and this is why.”  Matter of fact, we often spend a great deal of time on explaining why something is problematic.

Recently, a dog trainer who writes for Dogster.com compared aggressive dogs to people with disabilities, in terms of being undesirable and requiring a ‘special person’ to adopt them and care about them.  Here’s the exact paragraph for you, so you can see why we were so offended:

The fact is that many of the best dog owners I know would not want to live with an aggressive or reactive dog.  This doesn’t make them “bad” dog owners, it makes them perfectly normal.  Many people adopt human children.  A small percentage of adopters of human children may be willing to adopt a child with Down’s Syndrome, severe birth defects, severe behavioral issues, a child who will always need someone to change diapers even into her teenage years, a child who is blind or deaf or may never speak.  Are the people who choose not to adopt these children horrible people or horrible parents?  Certainly not.  It takes a special kind of person to accept these additional responsibilities and limitations, someone who is willing to accept a variance of what is the “normal” parenting experience.

I’m sure at this point you’re wondering why on earth I titled this entry ‘On Integrity’.

Well, fellow service dog partner and person with disabilities, Sharon Wachsler of After Gadget, responded to the article where this comment was made.  She pointed out that it was a problematic comparison and explained why, including links to other sites that helped explain parts of the problem and how they can be avoided.  It was a very measured reply that explained what the trainer had said that was offensive, and the troublesome attitudes behind it.  The approach was I think friendly, and certainly respectful.  Sharon didn’t accuse the trainer of hating us, or of intentionally hurting us.  She simply stated that the trainer was perpetuating hurtful myths about what it means to be disabled, and what it means to be in the life of a person with a disability.  She also made a post in her blog including her original comment, which you can find here.

Now, I have to say this first.  Sharon’s response was far more measured and understanding than I would have been.  I am perhaps not the most mild-tempered person.  (Okay, so that’s an understatement).

So Sharon made her comment in the dog trainer’s blog.  The response, which was posted the next day, was extremely disheartenening.  I know, if you’ve come from that dog trainer’s blog, that you can’t see what I’m talking about because it’s been deleted – more on that later.  However, if you go to Sharon’s blog, the dog trainer made the same comment in both places – a comment that accused Sharon of slandering her, describing her as a hate-monger, and stated that she was not ‘the disabled community’s…Klan leader’.  To Sharon, who had tried to give the dog trainer links so she could educate herself on the issues, she said, “Which is worse? My making statements out of ignorance which are unintentionally hurtful or your statements which are intentionally hurtful yet misguided?”

Now, I know Sharon pretty well.  She’s a person who spoke only to educate someone she thought was open to learning.

A friend of the dog trainer leapt in, saying much the same but in harsher terms.  She started with the usual accusation towards people in a minority – that we were jumping to offense about something that wasn’t offensive.  Even the trainer herself admitted that some of the things she said could have been offensive but she hadn’t known that before she wrote.  This friend also stated that Sharon should have aired her concerns in private, instead of addressing a public post with a public comment.  It didn’t stop there, but I don’t think I necessarily need to get into the rest of the details.  You can read them for yourself on Sharon’s blog.

The trainer went to that woman’s blog, and referred to Sharon as ‘the hater’.  The hater, because she had chosen to try to educate someone about how hurtful their language was.  The hater, because she stood up for herself – and the rest of us – as being people.  The hater, because she said ‘we are no different from anyone else’.

Of course, some of us commented back on the trainer’s blog.  A woman named Rachel spoke out explicitly in support of what Sharon said, and in disgust at the response.

And I responded.  I wrote on February 16th about the fact that it doesn’t take ‘special’ people to love disabilities.  It’s a myth that hurts us because people choose not to engage with us thinking that our lives are just too difficult to deal with.

Nine days later, the Disability Blog Carnival was posted.  It included a further post on the subject from Sharon.

That very day, the comments by Sharon, that dog trainer, the dog trainer’s friend, and Rachel were all deleted by the dog trainer.  All of the anger and nastiness that was poured out by the dog trainer and her friend was deleted so that it couldn’t be seen.

Instead, the dog trainer put up a note saying that I – I, who came later and made a single point about being loveable instead of talking about all of the issues with what was written – brought to her attention that the paragraph was offensive and deleted it.  She linked to my blog…and to a couple of other places that are about people with disabilities rather than written by people with disabilities.

I suppose she was trying to play divide and conquer.  Because I was being ‘nice’, I was the good cripple and she could leave my comment up on her blog.

If I got through to her, I suppose that’s one victory.

In the process of playing this as a game, the dog trainer has sacrificed her integrity, though.  She has removed her own vicious comments, she has erased someone who spoke the truth that she didn’t want to hear, and she has hidden the attack of one of her followers.

If you’ve come from the dog trainer’s blog, I hope you choose to read Sharon’s blog and see what was really said.  See what really happened.  Then judge for yourself.  I challenge you to put aside your indignation and anger that someone you like was ‘attacked’ and read what was written.


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This post was written for the second Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, which is being hosted at http://l-squared.blogspot.com/.

A lot of my blog is talking about this integration of Hudson-and-me, this pairing that mostly works very well and has been going on for a year and a half now.

But how did we get here?  And how do we stay here, and do we want to stay here, and what comes next?

Working with a service dog is a relationship, and in relationships, you have to make a lot of decisions.  Some of them are very intentional; others you kind of organically stumble upon and later have to try to decide if you actually want to stick with them.

For me, the decision to get a service dog was easy.  It was about a door.

I’m a law student, and have been since around the time I developed the secondary condition that really made me disabled.  My law school is contained in two buildings.  The first building has a totally inaccessible front door, up a flight of stairs, so it has a totally accessible side door with an electronic opener.  That’s where about 3/4 of the classes are, and the professor’s offices, and maybe 1/4 of the administrative offices for the school.  The second building has a stair-free entry, but at the time I started law school, it didn’t have an electric opener. 

At the time I started law school, the most heavily impacted part of my body was my hands, so opening heavy external doors that swung out was something I just couldn’t do.  I repeatedly got stuck outside until someone else was coming in or out and could hold the door for me, including numerous instances of being stuck in the pouring rain with no shelter while I waited for the door to open.

I decided then that I needed the full-time attendence of someone or something to help me.  The idea of having a person follow me around 24/7 seemed like a nuisance.  On the other hand, I’d had enough positive interactions with people who have assistive dogs for that to pop into my head pretty quickly.  Once I’d been this way for long enough that it seemed logical that it might be permanent, I started researching service dog schools.

I knew right away that I just don’t have the experience, the physical and emotional wherewithal, or the desire to train my own service dog from scratch.  Starting with a dog that had basic manners and skills seemed like a VASTLY superior option for me.  That’s not to say I think there’s anything wrong with training your own dog, but I think to do that you need to start with a desire I just didn’t have.  Also, though I love dogs, I know I don’t like dealing with babies – I want a dog who will reliably do its business outside and not chew up all of my shoes.

So then I researched service dog schools.  After a lot of thought, I decided a smaller school that was more able to adapt to individuals would be a better choice for me, because I have a very unusual disability profile.  I’ve had enough experience over the years with dog training to know that I’d want to get my dog somewhere that I’d have access to the trainers for problems in the coming years, so after-care and distance were major priorities for me.  I also needed to find a place that would be willing to match me with a dog without a name for my symptoms, because the quick answers were lacking in my case and I didn’t want to wait god-only-knows-how-long to get a diagnosis so I could get a dog.  I also wanted a program that matched dogs to people on a very detailed basis, and I was willing to wait longer to get a dog that suited my needs and my personality.  I was okay with having some financial outlay and getting a dog sooner, rather than waiting longer for a program that charges nothing for its dogs.

All of those priorities distilled one of the closest service dog schools being the best match.  I went and visited the program and met with the trainers, and I was very impressed with what I saw and with how thorough their matching process was.  The trainers seemed experienced, available, and friendly; the dogs were happy, healthy, and exceedingly well behaved.  It also pleased me that the head of the organization was herself a service dog partner.  One of the things I REALLY liked about the school is the harnesses they have, which are custom-made and loosely based on horse saddles in terms of structure.  They are healthy for the dog and really, really useful for a person who is ambulating but needs to be steadied or supported.  This service dog school has been around for 20 years, which I liked for a variety of reasons.  It meant there were a lot of graduates, some of whom were available to talk to me.  I saw the rate of return for a successor dog as very encouraging – after all, if you didn’t like your first dog, you certainly wouldn’t get a second from the same place!

I expected to get a lab, because the school I chose does about 80-85% labs, and I was perfectly happy with that.  I asked for a dog that would want attention and affection, and be playful.  I also knew that because my disability varies a lot day to day and week to week, I needed a relatively attentive dog.  Perhaps the most important feature of my partner-to-be was that he needed to be gentle.  I injure easily, and a dog that runs into me or tugs on me while we’re walking is just asking for dislocations and pain.  I had kind of hoped for a black lab, as I work in a field where we tend to be dressed very conservatively, which means a lot of dark colors, especially for pants and skirts.

I’ll admit, I really didn’t expect the partner I got matched with!  I was a little disappointed that I was being matched with a fluffy ‘doodle instead of a sleek, elegant lab, but it wasn’t a huge deal for me.  Hudson had all of the intelligence and desire for affection that I could have wished for.  Part of the reason we were matched is the fact that I’ve had dogs all my life, so I’m kind of familiar with how dogs learn and think; Hudson really needed a smart and emotionally supportive partner.  His training school had actually been worried about placing him, because he’s relatively fearful for a service dog and has to be worked through the things that scare him with gentle but firm understanding.

So eventually, I got my dog and I graduated.  I had a dog who had a very good basic skill set and the beginnings of a solid bond with me.  I then had to start figuring out what else I wanted him to do.  The beauty of a service dog partnership is that most of the dogs who are driven enough to make it as service dogs are happy learning new skills all their life.  Hudson is no exception, and he started learning things I didn’t even really intend to teach him.  Some have turned out to be extremely useful, like ‘here’ as a positional cue (I put one finger out, and he noses that finger; it’s very helpful when I need him precisely placed) and ‘move it’ as a cue that he is (or will be) in the way.  Others, like the hand signal to turn around, have mostly faded out of his memory because I rarely use them.  I think all together, I have developed hand signals for about 1/3 of his repetoire of skills – the ones I use all the time, the ones I need when I have a migraine and the sound of my own voice claws at the inside of my skull.

I never really had to make much in the way of decisions about our gear.  Our service dog school either provided us with our gear or had us purchase pieces that fit specifications, and I’ve never needed anything outside of that.  I do make use of almost all of our original gear, and have only added one or two pieces, like his long play rope (for when we don’t have a fully-fenced area available).

One of the drawbacks of the service dog school I chose is that it has VERY strict rules about one can and cannot do with one’s service dog and a contract to back them up.  I can’t feed Hudson anything designed for human consumption (except under very specific circumstances, like managing short-term GI issues), I am not allowed to let him off-lead except in fully-fenced areas, I must only use approved gear, etc.  To be perfectly honest, with very few exceptions, I’ve never really felt the restrictions were inconvenient at all, so for me, it wasn’t an issue.  Some of them seem a bit silly, but none have been really problematic.  I know for others, it can be a BIG issue.  I’m also obligated to re-certify every year or two, and during our first year, I was required to attend 6 follow-up classes, which was a greater difficulty than I expected.  It’s inconvenient, but the trade-off of having a trainer available by email or phone all the time (and in person if necessary) and about 20 follow-up classes a year available if we struggle with anything has been worth it bigtime.

I do think the biggest decision in our partnership was the school I got Hudson from, and I have to say, I think the school I chose was a good match for me.  No regrets there.  I’ll be honest with you, I’m proud of how the dogs from our organization turn out and I’m proud to be a part of it.  I think we’re one of the best schools that exists, and I think the way our dogs behave shows that.

There are a lot of factors that go into the decision of where to get a dog and/or how to train them.  For me, well, I’m physically fragile and easily injured, so I definitely couldn’t start with a puppy and deal with teaching things like ‘don’t jump on me’ and ‘I am not a chew toy’ and ‘walk nice means don’t hit the end of the leash at a dead run’.  I needed at minimum the basics taken care of for me, and I wanted to start with an adult partner rather than a service dog in training.  The past several years, I’ve been living in either rental housing or university housing, both of which you can navigate relatively easily with a full-fledged service dog but may have difficulty with a dog in training, so self-training became even less possible of an option for me.  And finally, I didn’t have the thing you need most to train your own dog – the desire to do so.  I was just fine and dandy with the idea that the dog would come to me with the majority of the tasks I would need already in place AND a training method inculcated that would act as a platform for any further tasks I wanted to train.  I also liked the fact that the majority of the graduates are within 100 miles of the school, which means there are a bunch of us locally, and we do get together sometimes.

If you’re thinking about getting a service dog, there are a LOT of questions to consider.  I think the one you should sit and put the most thought into is where the dog is coming from and how the dog will be trained.  Your whole partnership is affected very deeply by these first early decisions, and they’re ones you don’t get a do-over on.

I don’t think schools are right for everyone.  I’ve met good and bad examples of service dogs from both schools and owner-trained dogs.  While a lot of people evangalize about doing it one way or the other, I think it really has to come down to what will work best for you.  I think you should put hours into the decision of how your dog will be trained before you commit; do your research, talk to other service dog partners, and make sure you get to meet dogs who were trained by your potential trainer.  You won’t regret it.

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It’s official, folks, we passed our recertification exam!

I was a little worried about the day of the exam.  You see, Hudson was upset after the ER incident.  Specifically, he was upset at ME.  I guess he blamed me for him being left all alone for close to 3 hours.  So for the next couple of days, he alternated between trying to get my attention and ignoring me.  Sunday and Monday, he was all back-and-forth, but mostly ignoring me.  I can’t blame the pooch – he didn’t know why he’d been abandoned, and I’m the one responsible for everything in his life, so obviously it was my fault.  Like I said, I can’t blame him.  We’re finally getting things back to normal now, back to my dog who does things when he’s asked to instead of the dog who wouldn’t even get up off the floor for me unless I nudged him with my toe repeatedly.

Hudson and I now have 2 years until the next time we’re due to be examined.  Thanks for everyone who kept us in your thoughts.  It’s a huge weight off my mind.


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Yesterday was the open house for my service dog organization. Because we missed so many service dog classes, we had to make an appearance there to make up for it. Well, more than an appearance. We had to go and stay for 2 hours to get ‘credit’ for being there.

It was, on the whole, a fun afternoon. We had good food (pulled pork bbq, a ton of salads and sides, ice cream from a local farm that makes the creamiest icecream I’ve ever had, sweets galore), we bought Hudson a new toy, socialized with other service dog partners, took Hudson on a short carriage ride, won another dog toy in a raffle, chatted with Hudson’s trainer, spotted a future partner with one of Hudson’s halfbrothers, and generally had a good time. I got a little overheated at one point, but was able to get into air conditioning and recover.  Hudson did a lot of whining, because there were all these other dogs around that he wanted to investigate and play with.  He’s so funny – the dogs nextdoor scare the pants off of him, but other service dogs are nothing but interesting.

There was one dark spot on the day, and that was finding out that if Hudson’s delicate GI had shown up before he graduated, he would have been failed out of the program; his allergies would have been iffy. I say it was a dark spot because the amount of money we have spent on vet care this year has been extremely frustrating. He’s had to take multiple courses of antibiotics, and we’ve had to change his food twice, he now gets a medicated conditioner when he gets washed, and he needs daily allergy meds at the very least all summer. Not fun, believe me! I’m still not sure how I feel about that. I don’t think Hudson would have made a good pet – he needs people too much. I’m also, on the whole, very pleased with him. He’s smart, he’s very loving, and I enjoy his furry little personality. The vet bills are just hard when the people paying them are a pair of students! And pilling a dog who won’t just gulp things down is no fun. As far as I can figure, the only difference between pilling him and pilling a cat is that he doesn’t want to hurt me and doesn’t tend to run away. (as I understand it, cats are rather vindictive creatures when it comes to pilling!) I learned very quickly that it didn’t matter what I hit the pill in, he’d find it. Even those pill pockets that work so well for anyone else would fail with him. Bread, cheese, meat, it doesn’t matter, he chews everything he eats so he always finds the pills. At this point, I pry his mouth open, put the pills all the way at the back of his mouth, force his mouth closed, and wait for him to swallow, sometimes massaging his throat. Even with practice, I get chomped on hard enough to bruise every few days and I have to try multiple times to get pills down about 1/4 of the time. I got a piller, and am going to be expiramenting with wrapping the pills in bread (because they’re too small for the piller) and using that.

Sorry for the side-track there. Ahem.

The toy we bought Hudson is like this but a different brand.  He wasn’t sure about it at first, and couldn’t get the treats out.  He was getting frustrated and bored, so I kept showing him that if it tipped over the right way, it spat out treats.  He eventually managed to learn how to tip it over, but his method involves tipping it with his muzzle and then whapping it with a paw so it spins.  He hasn’t quite gotten that the hole has to be down to get treats out, but he’s figured out a way to make it happen.  Once he learned the trick, he was very, very enthusiastic about it and played until it was empty.

The other toy we got him was one we won in a raffle.  I had looked at it in the stall of the toy vender I bought the pyramid from, and he said it was a bit symplistic for a dog as intelligent as a working dog, but I know Hudson gets bored easily with toys he can’t get treats out of, so I figured it was worth a try.  Not worth the selling price for my purposes, but definitely worth the $5 I spent on raffle tickets. 

We drooled over but couldn’t afford the Nina Ottosson wooden puzzle toys.  They were georgous and some had multiple levels of difficulty that you could customize to the dog to keep the toy ‘new’ and exciting.  If someone wanted to get a special present for Hudson, any of her puzzle games would be perfect, to judge by how much he likes his 2 new toys!

Hudson really wasn’t sure about the carriage ride at first – he didn’t want to get up on the carriage!  It was a little single-horse drawn carriage a bit like this except that the seat could fold up for people to get in and the bottom extended past the seat.  The driver was also a service dog recipient, so her dog was settled up front.  Hudson eventually got settled half under half behind the seat.  His tail poked out so that the spokes of the wheel were brushing against it, but he didn’t seem to mind.  Once we got moving, he was no more nervous on the little cart than he is on the subway, which is to say, it was managable.  This was good news for us, as we hope to take a horsedrawn carriage tour of the old part of our city.  As we’re currently quite broke, it’ll have to wait for better times, but we know now that Hudson doesn’t mind too much.

We also picked up a little bag of gourmet doggie treats for Hudson.  They cost more than our ‘usual’ treats, but I figured for a small splurge, it was okay.  We only bought a quarter-pound, so it wasn’t too bad!

It was good to be among servicedog people.  Knowing that if you were asked questions, it was probably for an applicant.  Hudson, as usual, was quite the favorite.  He’s a handsome lad, and I think he gets more attention because there are only a few ‘doodles in the program – it’s almost all labs and poodles.  Even among his brothers, I think he may be the handsomest – especially the blondes just aren’t as striking as my silvery-black boy.  I may be a little biased, but he gets a LOT of attention from other people!

All in all, I think it was a fun day for everyone involved.  Especially Hudson.  He was so happy about his new pyramid toy that he dozed off with his nose touched up against it while we were watching TV last night.

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So, I am officially okay with my service dog organization. I have to attend open house on Sept 11 and a class on Sept 17, and I re-certify on Sept 21.

I would have been happier waiting until I no longer was using the scooter before my re-cert. I hope between now and then to have my scooter’s wiring checked, because it keeps doing this jerky, slow-and-surge thing with its speed. It’s hard on me, and it makes it look like Hudson isn’t pacing me well because he has trouble staying right next to me when the scooter does its annoying ‘thing’.

All the same, it is a relief to know that I will be okay and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

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We got home from our vacation yesterday.  It really was a nice trip, and my parents and the boyfriend’s parents met for the first time.  They liked each other.

So we get home, and we’re both kind of tired.  The boyfriend brings in all the stuff, including my new-to-me scooter.  My parents brought it out; it belonged to my grandmother, who passed away a little over a year ago.  It’s good to have a mobility device that will allow me to get around more, though this is a bigger, heavier scooter than I would have bought myself.  That’s kind of a mixed blessing – on the one hand, it’s more powerful and can do more (like managing hills and going over grass); on the other hand, I can’t lift the thing myself – we’re considering getting a carrier we can hook up to my car’s tow hitch so that I’ll be able to have it when the boyfriend isn’t around.  Money we don’t really have, but on the other hand, the scooter will be at its most useful when the boyfriend isn’t there to help me.

Anyhow, all of this is kind of besides the point, because I was going to give you a typical moment of having EDS.  It was around 9:30 last night, and the boyfriend and I were both downstairs.  I was relaxing with a novel, he was theoretically surfing the net with his phone but dozing off a fair amount of the time.  I got up to go to the bathroom, and as I started up the stairs…POP!

Yeah, that hurt.  My left knee…something was definitely wrong.  I’d gotten about 5 steps up, so I was kind of stuck.  I called the boyfriend over, and he helped me down the stairs, my arm over his shoulder and him one step below me.  We managed to partially dislocate my left shoulder as I stepped off the last stair, because of the difference between his height and mine.  I needed to get down to the ground to assess the damage to my knee, because the place it popped in wasn’t where it usually does, but I couldn’t bend my left knee without pain or support any weight.  The boyfriend had to catch me under the arms from behind and lay me down, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Once I was on the ground, I could definitely tell it wasn’t the usual, and that’s a bad thing.  ‘The usual’, with my knee, is my kneecap partially or completely dislocating, which is painful sure but easy to fix.  This, though…the pop was centered over my patellar ligament.  And oh yeah…I still needed to go to the bathroom.  I tried to sit down and just scoot backwards up the stairs, but our stairs are relatively steep, narrow stairs, which is really hard to get up that way, especially when you don’t have great upper body strength.  In the end, I had the boyfriend fetch my crutches, which at least let me manage my weight in a way that is easier on my upper body.

I’ll tell you, it was one of those times when I was willing to accept the humiliating possibility that I might need a commode on the 1st floor.  I haven’t needed to use a non-toilet ‘potty’ since I was a little kid being dragged along on road trips by my parents when I was old enough not to be in diapers and but young enough not to be able to give much warning before I needed to pee.  (Their solution to that, as I recall, was to use a collapsible kiddie commode type thing)  Well, I haven’t with the exception of the one time with the really, really bad flu that landed me in the ER and almost had me kept inpatient for a few days.  The idea of needing one in my house?  Not a pleasant one.  I doubt the boyfriend would like the idea much either, as he’d be one of the people who had to empty it, as I only have an attendant for 2 hours a day.

I got in with my doctor’s office today (though not my usual doctor) and there’s concern that I may have partially torn either my patellar ligament or my lateral collateral ligament (that’s the one on the outside of the knee, and a typical tackled-from-the-side football injury).  I get an MRI done Friday (yay, let’s put the mildly claustrophobic girl in a tube again!) and we’re really hoping that either I haven’t torn anything and just inflammed stuff or it’s a small enough tear not to need a repair.  Surgery is a definite possibility on my horizon.

I can’t go to work because I can’t get to my office in my scooter (you can only get to about 1/2 of the offices on my floor without going up 3 stairs and down 3 stairs).  It’s just as well, since I should be icing down my knee, and shouldn’t be walking back and forth between the room I work in and the room my supervisor is in, and it’d be mighty inconvenient to keep getting on the scooter, going 20 ft, turning around, driving back 20 ft, and then hopping off the scooter and back to my desk.  Because I’m technically a volunteer intern, I don’t think the ADA requires them to figure out a way to make it work for me.

Yup.  That’s a typical EDS moment.  Most of the time, we look just fine and maybe even are fine, but every now and again, BOOM, it gets you.

It’s also leading to some not-so-good service dog partnership moments.  Hudson isn’t used to me walking with crutches, and moving at a much slower pace than usual, so he’s not pacing me well, which means he gets ahead of me and crosses in front of me and tangles both of us up in his leash.  The really bad part of this is that we’re supposed to be getting re-certified as a team this week, and what they measure is how well you work as a team – and right now, we aren’t!

This, I think, is the real pain in the butt about EDS – the unpredictability of injuries, the severity of random injuries, and the way it interferes in your life.  It happens, you can’t avoid it, you can’t plan for it, and man does it interrupt things you DO have planned!

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Sunday, June 28: Day 9

Two days a month (most months), there are ‘graduate support classes’. They happen on a Friday and the following Sunday. During team training, they only have a Sunday class, which is what we did today.

We arrived an hour before team training to share our journals, and to be honest today’s was a very hard one for me. We were supposed to talk about our friends’ and family’s concerns and questions. To be perfectly frank, my family has asked nothing beyond ‘How would a service dog help you?’ (as if they couldn’t imagine, usually – sometimes in tones of incredulity that suggested a service dog couldn’t be any real help). Most of my friends have stopped at the same question, though I suspect that some of you stopped there to be polite. The only other questions that I remember fielding involved where he would sit in various places (at school, on an airplane). I have the vague impression someone may have asked me about grooming him, or cleaning up after him. To be fair, the boyfriend never really had any concerns because he assumed that of COURSE he would help me with the dog, so questions of the dog’s care didn’t even need to be asked. The most memorable ‘event’ with a person about me getting a service dog, I don’t count. My crazy then-roommate (who decided I was a hypochondriac because the doctors hadn’t been able to offer me a diagnosis at that point) railed on me for half an hour as I prepared food about how I shouldn’t be getting a service dog because other people ‘really’ needed it, and I should get a dog from the pound, etc, so on. It was really quite horrifying, and it may very well have made me more reticent to talk to people I know about the service dog beyond broad strokes in my journal.

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a whole lot about what we did at the graduate support class, other than to say that we had a LOT of graduates there – there’s something of a tradition of wanting to see how the new teams are doing. It was an obstacle course again today, which included a minefield – an area strewn with toys and people-food to tempt your dog into misbehaving. I have to say, for only having one week of training, I thought we did pretty good. We were not the fastest team, but we were one of the most consistent – Hudson rarely refuses to do things for me, and does not often need to be begged into doing much (except retrieving items he doesn’t like!)

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Saturday, June 27 – Day 8

Today we went to a minor league baseball game. It was take your pet to the game night, so there were a LOT of dogs there. We got pounds of kibble to use as treats – we’re only allowed to feed foods that are approved by our service dog organization, as these dogs are the canine equivalent of very high level athletes and need to eat the best, but we can use anything for treats. Hopefully he’ll like them! He now won’t touch the first treats I was using – as soon as I gave him a few of a different kind, he wouldn’t have anything to do with them. They tell me that’s the poodle in him.

The game went fairly well, though I overheated and had to be stuck in the shade for the second half of the game. Most of us were really glad when the game was over – to be honest, both teams were AWFUL. While AAA teams are sometimes pretty good, this was an ‘A advance’ game, and frankly the high school games I’ve watched have been better. Strangely, we got much better soft-serve ice cream there than I’ve ever gotten at major league games, which seem to serve the cheap stuff. Even after sleeping in late in the morning and being pretty lazy all day, I was BEAT by the time the game was over!

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Friday, June 26: Day 7

He was so excited to see me today! He ran to the end of his leash and half jumped up, then spent a while snuffling at my hands and my legs, shoving his face against me and panting happily. While dogs pant when they are stressed, that doesn’t seem to be a habit of Hudson’s – he yawns, but when he’s panting, he seems to be happy.

We talked about yesterday, and I just about cried when I told them how different the public responded to me. I know that for people whose disabilities are invisible (like our two with seizures), it can be uncomfortable to have your disability become visibly manifested in having a service dog, but for me, it was so liberating to not have my disability be the focus of the majority of my interactions with strangers.

We did more obedience work today – heeling correctly, down-stays (where you have your dog lay down and stay there, even if you walk away), food refusal, so on. Then we talked about how dogs play together, and the best way to introduce strange dogs and figure out if it’s safe to have them play together. I thought to myself well, Hudson hasn’t had the chance to really play, so after class I’ll see if I can get someone else to stay and let our two dogs play!

We got all kinds of instructions on what to do this evening, when we go home. I felt bad for the poor dogs – they haven’t eaten for 24 hours, so that they can be switched over to their new foods if their new person is feeding something different (I’m not) and so that they’ll still eat their dinner even if they’re being fed the same thing.

Then there was a talk about the daily ‘well dog’ check we should be giving. Phew, I swear we check every part of the dog, nose to butt! Hudson was NOT keen on this.

Finally, we were done for the day. Ye gods these days are long. N and Claire stayed to play with Hudson and I. The two dogs know each other well, and as soon as we had them out of harness and off leash, the two took off running for all their doggy worth around the play yard! I think we were there for 20 minutes before we called it quits, and from all appearances they had a good time.

It was a little hard to convince Hudson to step on his bed – I had to lure him with a toy – but once he was on it, he didn’t want to get off! After a year of living in a kennel, it must have felt like a great luxury to him, and he heaved a huge sigh before he started nuzzling into it. He spent most of the rest of the evening curled up on it, and wasn’t much interested in the toys I’d brought for him. Oh well. I tried! His trainer says he likes these ones, so maybe he was just too nervous.

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Thursday, June 25: Day 6
Okay, today he was really excited to see me! He ran all the way to the end of his leash to greet me. Maybe he’s not as aloof as I thought!

As the day continued, it became clear that he wasn’t…he just hadn’t decided I was worth bothering with before then. While he’s still not as cuddly as the labs and Valiant, he does at least seem to enjoy when I pet him.

We did more obedience training today – the next step in retrieval. This time, we had them picking things up off the floor. Hudson confidently picked up what I asked him to, but when it came to sitting to hand it to me, he made it clear on no uncertain terms that he cannot sit while holding something in his mouth. I disagreed, and made him work for his treats. Eventually, we came to an understanding – or rather, he came to the understanding I already had. Mostly. He did well with everything until we came to the plastic bottle. He wanted to play with it – knock it around with his nose, mouth it and chomp on it. I despaired of getting through to him, and in the end he had to take it from my hand and return it to me rather than getting it from the floor. When your dog is being difficult (either intentionally or through confusion), you work through and when you have some success, you call it a day.

So then we went off to the shopping center trip. We wandered around a TJ Maxx (where I found a really cute dress!), a Staples, and a grocery store and picked up random items the trainers dropped in front of us. I must have told a dozen people that he was a labradoodle, and yes he’s cute gee how sweet of you. I’m sure this will get old but right now it’s almost fun. I’m so used to the stares being at me, young and covered in braces and using crutches, the questions being ‘what’s wrong with you?’ or some variant thereof. Instead, today, all the stares were at my handsome four-legged partner, and all of the questions were about him.

Oh god, I get to take him home tomorrow! Tonight, I have to finish making the cover for his bed – I made it myself, to try to keep our costs down a little, and it’s quite cute if I say so myself. Also very fluffy, and big enough that even a dog as big as Hudson can sprawl on it. Shoot, he and his kennelmate, River, would both be able to fit on it if they were being cuddly!

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