Monday, December 31, 2012

New year, new plans

I am not a fan of new year's resolutions.  I hated having to write them as a kid, and I haven't come up with any in a long time.  I live my life without regretting past decisions.  Everything I have done, everything I have lived through, has made me into this person I am today.  For better or for worse, there is nothing I can do to change that.

And the idea of a resolution is that you are resolving to do better at something next year.  As if the past year was a mistake.  Or you didn't try hard enough.

Instead, this year, I am going to write where I see myself a year from today.  What I hope to accomplish this year, instead of what I want to change. 

In one year I want to be a teacher.  I already am technically, I spent a year student teaching and I have my teaching credentials.  But in one year I want to have my own classroom.  I want to have a "real" job as a teacher.  I want to have students whose lives I can impact.  I don't know where I will be.  Before this trip to Texas, I would have said without a shadow of a doubt, I would be in a public school setting, hopefully at an Elementary school working with kiddos with severe developmental disabilities.  Now though...  I'm not quite sure.  I knew Texas had a lot of services for children with special needs, but I didn't realize quite how many.  There are private schools and special centers specifically for students with special needs here.  So then I have to weigh the options; do I work in a public school - dealing with all the paperwork and hassle with being a government employee and the struggling school system - and make more money?  Or do I work in a private school where I may not have as many "hassles" to deal with, but where I would make significantly less money...  I don't know.  I'm hoping to apply to many different schools, possibly including both public and private, and I'm confident in the fact that the right school will be made apparent.  A school where I feel comfortable with what they are doing, where I will be able to use evidence-based curriculum, where I like the team I will be working with, and where the principal is comfortable with me and Owen working as a team.

Next January 1st will mark one year that Owen and I will have been working together.  One year is the magic number; experienced teams say it takes one year to find your groove and to really work efficiently as a team.  Now, I find things where I don't know what to do.  We went out to a restaurant yesterday, and we asked to sit at a table in the back.  It was a large table, but we were a large group.  I put Owen on his mat behind my chair, where he fell asleep and sprawled out.  We weren't in anybody's way, because there was nobody else there, but I felt funny about having Owen in such a "in-the-way" spot and I wasn't really sure where I would have put him had the restaurant been busy.  But until I figure all these things out, I'm just going to square my shoulders and hold my head up and pretend like I know what the heck I'm doing.

Hopefully in one year, I won't be pretending anymore.

In one year I want to have an answer regarding my weight.  I want to know one way or the other if the pills caused metabolic damage.  I want to know if there is something medicine can do to help me, or if I am on my own.  Either answer I am okay with, but I need to know.  Owen and I will be going to a slew of doctors in the next two weeks, one of which is the doctor who can hopefully answer this question for me.  One year from now, I want this not to be something I am still looking for an answer to.

One year from now I will hopefully still be celebrating the holidays with my family, but I am hoping to have moved back to Texas and not be celebrating with a white Christmas.  Neither Owen nor I are a fan of the snow; I think we will both be happier somewhere where it doesn't snow and keep us cooped up inside all winter.

I wish I could say that in one year I will be done with school.  But, it is looking likely that if I come back to work in Texas within my first year of teaching I will need to add an ESL certification to my repertoire to work here.  But, in one year I will have both a teaching certification and a behavioral analyst certification.  I will be a board certified behavioral analyst (BCBA) which is a nationally recognized certification.  I am hoping that in a year I will have one (or more) papers published in peer reviewed journals.  This summer I am hoping to be going to the international Applied Behavioral Analysis conference in Minneapolis (with Owen of course!) to present two poster presentations on research projects I have done.

I have a lot to look forward to this year.  Tomorrow, Owen and I get back on an airplane to end our Texas trip and go back to California for two weeks.  I'm not looking forward to all of the doctor's appointments we have lined up, but I know it is a necessary evil.  And hopefully I can get one step closer to finding some answers.  After that we are back to Spokane to finish graduate school and start applying for jobs (yikes!).

Happy New Year!!

One Year

Exactly one year ago I wrote this.

I put myself out there and came out to my family and friends about something in my life I hadn't wanted to talk about.  A year is a long time.  On one hand, I can say: "Wow, it took a whole year to get Owen!  I thought we would have been here a lot sooner..."

Or, I can say: "Wow, all of this in just one year!" (This is how I have been feeling lately.)

One year ago, the majority of my friends and extended family had no idea what I was living with.  One year ago, the idea of a service dog was a dream.  Something I was wishing for.  Today, it is a reality.  Today, I am open about what I live with.  I share things with both my family and my friends about my disability and the hardships it brings.  And I am walking tall with a service dog.

In one year I have become a teacher.  I don't have my own classroom yet, but hopefully one year from now I can be writing that instead.  In one year I have graduated Magna Cum Laude from college and begun my graduate career.  A year from now, I will hopefully be writing that I graduated (dare I say it?) Summa Cum Laude from graduate school and that I have finished my thesis.  In one year I have flown on airplanes 11 times, twice with a service dog.  Next year, it's possible I will be on more flights (what with having to travel for job interviews and moving), but all will be with my service dog.  In one year, I hope to be able to write that I took a cruise with my service dog, something I have been looking forward to for a long time.  In one year, I have found inner peace.

With Owen, I feel at peace.  I'm not terrified to go out in public anymore because I know that Owen will help me when I need it.  He takes care of me.  Owen follows me around like a shadow, always there just in case I might have a chance to give some pets.  He makes me laugh on a daily basis, and I have to take care of him, which means leaving the apartment (or house) multiple times a day.  I feel safe with Owen.  I don't have to rely on family members anymore as mobility support.  I don't have to ask them to do things for me that I want to be able to do myself.  And I have a way of gaining back my peace when my brain threatens to take it away.

I wrote back at Thanksgiving time, all the things I was thankful for, and they all stand true now.  Part of me feels like Owen was a missing puzzle piece.  He fit right in immediately, it was like he was always there sleeping next to me at night and waking me up in the morning.  He and Toby acted like they had lived together their whole lives.  The other part of me feels like I still can't believe this is real.  Like I can't believe that I'm actually with my service dog and that I feel safe and strong going places with him.  I wonder when that feeling of newness will wear off, but I kind of hope it doesn't.  I love waking up with Owen everyday, and I'm excited to go places with him.  It isn't something I dread anymore, it's something I look forward to.  I look forward to seeing how he will handle a new situation and I look forward to running the same easy errands with him that we do all the time, because they're actually easy now.  I love snuggling with Owen and loving on him and getting to know his personality more and more every day.  I love feeling happy.

A lot changes in just one year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Team Training Recap

The day before team training started I promised to the "internet world" that I would be blogging every day of team training.  I would post photos and share what we did that day.

I have a new promise now.  I promise, to myself, to never again promise to blog for 12 days straight again.  Wow.

I know I will appreciate having this blogged in the future to look back on, and I like to comfort myself in the fact that somebody internet searching "team training Heeling Allies" might find my blog and enjoy reading about my experience.  But I'm done with the daily blogging for a while.

Here is the result of my late-night blogging; in case anybody is interested in having all of these in one place.  I'll pretend like somebody would like having all of these in one place.  Otherwise I just spent every night for the past 12 days blogging for no reason.  I'll pretend like there is a reason.

Day 1: Darcie and Owen are here!

Day 2: Now the Real Training Begins

Day 3: Sit... No... Sit... Good Sit.

Day 4: Classrooms and shopping and giant dogs, oh my!

Day 5: In which we practice more tasks...

Day 6: My Shadow

Day 7: Hi ho... Hi ho... It's off to work we go. 

Day 8: Let's go to the mall! 

Day 9: busy busy busy

Day 10: Surprise!

Day 11: The End

Day 12: On our own now...

Friday, December 21, 2012

On our own now...

Owen and I had our first official day all by ourselves.  We didn't have to check in with anybody, we didn't have to meet anybody for training, we were all alone.  And we were busy.

This morning, Owen and I had to go to the chiropractor.  He was a rock star at the chiropractor, he stayed where I put him and I really needed him afterwards to help me walk out.  Sometimes, when I get adjustments, it makes walking really difficult for a day or so.  Owen did his job perfectly, helping me get back out to the car.

After the chiropractor, we left to go get his dog food.  He eats both kibble and a dehydrated-raw food, and I had only purchased his kibble before he got here.  He lost his mind a little bit in the dog-food store over these giant bones, but other than that he did his job well.  The owner of the store was a little too chatty for my liking, and she was very curious about Owen.  It was the first time he was mistaken for a guide dog puppy today (we would have three misplaced comments by the end of the day).  On a side note, I'm still totally confused about how people mistake my 2.5 year old Labrador (who is giant) for a puppy in training.

After we got Owen's food - he was very relieved - we went to Hobby Lobby.  I want to make a tote for his orthopedic mat that he has for going out before we start traveling.  It's really unwieldy to carry around, and as I'm quickly learning, I need my hands as free as possible to use the harness and steward Owen in the way that I am supposed to.  When I was with Darcie she helped me carry things, and I know I can use my family when we are on vacation, but soon we will be on our own and I will need to be able to juggle everything I need in one trip.  Yikes!

Owen and I had some quality down time at home; because we are still new and figuring each other out, it's important for Owen that he has down time and that I don't push him to work all day.  Eventually, we will build up to a work day, but for right now he isn't supposed to be working all day.

Travel plans never seem to go as planned when you need them to, and my dad's flight was cancelled this evening.  They claim it was because of "weather".  They are lying.  Regardless, he isn't able to get here until tomorrow evening, so Owen and I found ourselves with a night off.

Instead of crashing at home like I might have before Owen, I texted my friend and we went out to dinner.  Owen was fantastic at dinner, I had to hold him back a little bit to keep him from diving under the table before I put his mat under it.  The staff were phenomenal, there weren't any tables where I would have liked to sit (in a corner), so they moved a chair for me so that Owen could fit comfortably under the table.  The other patrons however, were not so phenomenal.  As my friend and I were finishing dinner, a couple sat at the table directly behind Owen and I.  They saw Owen as they came to sit down, and as the man sat down he reached over his chair and started petting Owen!  Without even looking at me or talking to me or anything.  He pretended like he couldn't hear me the first time I said: "Please don't pet him, he is working."  So I had to raise my voice and repeat myself.  The whole time my friend was rolling her eyes.  The man then goes, "Oh, is he a service dog?"

Really?  Like I would just bring my giant dog who is in a mobility harness (which looks a lot like a guide harness to an untrained eye) to dinner with me?  Ugh.  I was more shocked than anything.  I was taught to never ever pet an unfamiliar dog.  And I know that Owen is completely bombproof, but Owen was sound asleep when this guy invaded his space.  I'm sorry, but you are asking for it if you pet an unfamiliar dog while they are asleep.  And yes, by "it", I mean a dog bite.  Owen would never ever bite, but you don't know with an unfamiliar dog, so why would you risk it?

I just can't understand how selfish somebody has to be to think it is appropriate to reach over and pet somebody's service dog (because really, what else would Owen be?  We were at a restaurant for crying out loud).  Did he think I was blind and wouldn't notice?  Did he see a young girl and think I wouldn't speak up for myself?  Did he think at all?

Trust me.  If you touch my dog without asking, you will be hearing from me.  At least he stopped and turned around, and at least my friend and I were almost done with dinner.  I totally ignored him on my way out because I'm sure that my facial expressions wouldn't have been nice given the chance.  I don't respond well to people touching me without me expecting it, and I really don't like people I'm not very familiar with touching me.  It's asking to get hit - if you touch me and I'm not expecting it, it will interrupt the thought process I use to control my tics, and tics will get out of control.  I already view Owen as an extension of myself, so I view touching him as invading my personal space.  And I don't take well to people invading my personal space.

There are a lot of people in the service dog world who embrace the persona of "ask before petting".  I disagree.  Asking implies that I will say "yes", and it puts me in the position of having to be the bad guy and say "no".  And I will say "no".  Every time.  I'm sure that there will be times where Owen can "say hi", and at school in my graduate level classes, after we have gotten into the swing of things, we will probably allow Owen to take a break (take his harness off) to say hi to my friends at school.  But the general public?  Heck no.

Just don't ask.  Admire us from afar.  Comment to whoever you are with about how pretty Owen is or how well behaved he is.  Don't get in his face and tempt him to break concentration.  Don't pet him without even asking me first.  But really... I'd appreciate it if you were able admire Owen from afar and be thankful that you don't have to walk with a service dog.  And let me and my dog do what we are supposed to do.

Owen is totally passed out right now (he worked really hard today) and I'm sitting on the floor next to him because he still isn't allowed up on the couch and he was acting like he wanted some cuddles.  So I obliged.  :)  Toby is on the prowl, he is acting like he wants to follow us outside each time we go somewhere, so I am having to keep a closer eye on him than normal.  He has made it out of my apartment once (last winter).  He made it a few feet down the hallway before he stopped and had the look that said "I think I made a mistake", but lately he is looking like he will make another try of it.  Owen and I are going to bed soon, we are both really really tired.  I had forgotten what it felt like to be tired from actually going places and doing things!  I was thinking about it today, and I realized that in the last week, I have been more places than I had probably been in the last month.  And when I was going places, it didn't involve the hours of mental preparation to get myself out the door and into the car.  Wow!

Owen and I are going to take a short break from blogging, but we will definitely keep you updated on how our travel and vacation goes.  Wish us luck!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End

Owen is quite skeptical of the snow
Well folks, today is the end.  As of a few hours ago, Owen and I are officially on our own.  We could go anywhere by ourselves and we have nobody to be accountable to.  It's just us.  Darcie is driving back to Seattle tomorrow; the weather is supposed to get really bad Saturday and as much as we both wanted her to be here for one more day, it just isn't smart when Owen and I are completely through with team training.

Tomorrow night, Owen and I will pick my dad up from the airport and then we will go to dinner together; our first restaurant by ourselves.  And then Sunday we take our first flight that starts our whirlwind holiday vacation.

Things with Owen are going really well; I feel like he is already an extension of myself.  It feels natural to be bringing him everywhere with me, and as hesitant as I am to say it, I am already noticing a difference.  I'm hesitant to say this because every other time we thought we had found something that would help, it didn't.  And that let down gets worse every time.  This time though, I am in a better space mentally (if not physically) and I can look at Owen and see him for what he really is.  He isn't a cure.  He helps me to do the things that the Tourette's makes difficult.  And that is the difference.

I am positive we will have setbacks along the way; there will be times where I want to communicate something to him but don't know how.  And times where I am telling him something and he doesn't understand the manner in which I chose to communicate it.  We will both have days where we are tired and don't want to work; and if those days overlap we may just take a mental health day and snuggle at home.

Today felt so easy though; Owen went with me to get my nails done this morning.  Darcie came with us to help us get situated, but she left shortly after.  Then, we went out to lunch with Darcie.  The manager (I think) seemed well-informed, which was nice after yesterday.  She asked me if Owen was a service dog, I said yes, and we ate lunch.  It was a small restaurant with small tables, so it was good to see how to handle Owen in that situation.

Owen and I showed Darcie the two things from yesterday that we needed to re-test and Darcie, Owen, and I hung out for a while.  Eventually though, Darcie headed back to her hotel and Owen and I stayed home.  It's bittersweet in a way; I am so excited to be on my own working with Owen tomorrow, but there was so much buildup to this week happening, that I am sad to see it go.  I can't believe that the end of the year is almost here; by Monday, Owen and I will be in Texas, then back to California, then back to school.

Owen and I shared some cuddles after Darcie left; I finally had my breakdown that I knew was imminent since Darcie and Owen arrived.  It's back to business as usual tomorrow though; I have a chiropractor appointment in the morning that Owen will be going to.  It's the first place we went with Darcie; and it was when she was still stewarding Owen.  This time, I will be by myself and Owen will be in the rooms the whole time with me.  We have some errands to run afterwards - I have to pick up his dehydrated food he eats because we are almost through the stash Darcie gave us and it's back to Hobby Lobby yet again for some last minute craft needs.  Then we'll have some downtime at home before heading to the airport.  I promised Darcie that we would go to the airport early (the one thing we didn't get to in team training was an airport visit) with treats to work with Owen.  My anxiety spikes immediately upon entrance to the airport; I don't even have to be flying.  Because Owen has never been to an airport, tomorrow I will work on making it a positive place to be (with food) so that as we start traveling, he doesn't automatically associate the airport with anxiety.

I'm planning on one last team training post tomorrow, kind of as a summary, and then after a short break from blogging, I'll put up a post with links to all of the blogs and some "best of" photos.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I had this cute idea for a blog post all ready to go for tonight.  It was going to be 'Twas the night before the Public Access Test and I was going to write a poem about getting ready for our PAT tomorrow.  However, Owen and I don't get to write that tonight because...


Darcie came over in the morning and we ran through all of Owen's words that are applicable for him to use at home (which was a lot).  He was perfect and did almost everything just right.  We have some homework to do tonight though, and tomorrow we will do "over" and "rest" for Darcie again.  Owen got a little too carried away with his kisses during the "over", so we have been working today on putting my face right next to his, but not letting him lick.  He is okay to lick when he is working (as long as I don't mind), but it got excessive today so he is on "licking probation" for a little while.  His "rest" (resting his head on my leg) was a little rusty today.  He acted confused during it and kept trying to do a "paws up" instead.  Darcie thinks it may be because we keep doing the two commands in rapid succession, and the position he is in for them looks identical, it's just that rest is without his paws in my lap.  And in Owen's world, it's always better to be in his person's lap.  So we are going to practice those things tonight, and even though we passed, we're going to do them again tomorrow.

snuggles after our "over"

We took a break after running through all of his commands (he did an hour of solid work) and then we went to the grocery store again.  The plan was to take a pretend PAT so we knew what to work on tomorrow, so Darcie walked around with her clipboard having us run through each of the items.  It was pretty easy stuff; mainly just about my handling abilities.  Owen didn't have to be perfect on everything, but I had to be able to correct him when appropriate and get him to perform the task correctly.  We had to do things like demonstrate we could load up and get out of the car safely, walk past traffic, go through doors in a safe manner, walk with a shopping cart, etc.  Owen was absolutely perfect.

"stay" in the middle of a Safeway aisle

The test scores items two different ways; some items are "yes" or "no" things and you have to get all "yes" to pass.  Other items get scored on an "always", "most of the time", "sometimes", "never" scale and you have to have all "always" or "most" to pass ("most of the time" meaning more than 50%).

Owen and I had all "yes" and "always" except for one item (which we scored a "most of the time" on).  It was "ignores the public".  Whoops.  Owen is just not one of those dogs who is going to ignore everybody.  If somebody so much as looks like they might come over and give him pets or talk to him, he hones in on them.  He knows he has a job to do, and he does it spectacularly, but it would be stupid for me to expect that he would always ignore everybody.  Darcie said he gets a lot more attention than a lot of the other dogs because he is really handsome and has that huge blocky head that makes people wonder what he is (he's a Labrador...) so we tend to get a lot of attention out.

My favorite was the Safeway employee who came over, got on his level, and was like (in a super high-pitched voice), "Oh, what a good doggie!  Good doggie!  Oh no, you can't touch me.  You're working!"...  I didn't say anything because Owen was doing a really good job ignoring her (he was interested, but not pulling or looking like he was going to do anything) and what I had to say to her would not have been nice.  Especially after I told her he was my service dog, giving no illusions of him being in training or anything.

Unlike the man who we asked to be the stranger who had to greet Owen for the test; he was awesome!  He was hesitant to come greet Owen, even after we asked him to "because he knew he wasn't supposed to pet working dogs".  Thank you!  He was super nice and kept the interaction really brief; just the way it was supposed to be!

Owen also got tested on all of his out-in-public tasks while we were at Safeway; he did a perfect "switch", "cover", and "front".  We also did "leave it" practice at the Starbucks in Safeway; we got his kibble out and put it on the floor next to him when he was in both a sit-stay and down-stay.  Darcie also had to take Owen and walk him out of my sight and back again, to prove that if we were in an emergency situation, a first responder could take Owen and he wouldn't react poorly.

Celebratory Starbucks drink!

On our way out, we walked by the Salvation Army volunteer who was singing Christmas carols; Owen was pretty sure that the singing was for him and we had to stop to listen for a minute before continuing.  We went on our way to go to a pet store; one of the items on the test was that Owen had to remain in the car under my control with an open door while another dog walked past.  We found a dog in the parking lot with some very nice people who agreed to walk by my truck for us.  Check!

We walked around the pet store with a shopping cart, steering clear of all the unruly dogs in the store (I'm not just being stuck-up about my super dog; there was a dog in the cart howling when we walked past and then again when his person stopped to look at the cats in the adoption center, and a very skittish looking herding dog who we encountered on our way out).  Owen was super interested in the very cute puppy who we saw (but so was I!), and there were a lot of interesting smells and things in the store, but he did really really good.  Darcie and I tormented him with reindeer antlers that lit up, but he would not oblige us with a good picture.  He slunk backwards into a display nearby because he was so embarrassed!

doggie heaven

We came home and Owen got a celebratory peanut-butter Kong; wow, was that a jackpot treat.  He licked and chewed on the Kong forever, long after the peanut butter was gone.  Finally, he gave up and fell asleep, which is what he is doing right now!  Tomorrow, we get to take it easy.  In the morning I have a nail appointment that Owen gets to go to, and then after that Owen and I will show Darcie the two tasks we need to do again and after that, who knows?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

busy busy busy

Busy busy busy today!

Darcie and I moved up the date of our public access tests to Thursday morning; the pass might be closed Saturday - the day Darcie was initially going to back to Seattle - and to make sure that we finish everything in time, Owen and I will be doing our public access test Thursday instead of Friday.  I hope Darcie gets to stay in Spokane through Friday, but I've driven to Seattle in bad weather, so I totally understand. 

In fact...  we passed one item on the public access test tonight!  One of the things we have to do is have a child greet Owen while he is in a "sit"; which is difficult since most of my friends are all my age (i.e. no kids).  At the vet tonight, there was a very sweet little boy who was enamored with Owen ("doggie doggie doggie"), so we let him greet Owen to check that item off our list.


Owen loves everybody, but kids are the best!

Owen and I started off our day by going to Gonzaga; Owen already loves Gonzaga and we've only been there three times!  He's pretty sure everybody there is there to see him, and he tries to solicit as many looks (and he hopes pets!) as possible.  He did so great at school; we worked in the computer lab for a while (he did a perfect "under" as soon as we walked in without being asked) and had a lot of practice opening doors to go talk to people - opening a door with a dog can be pretty difficult. :)  He also got to show off some of his tasks to my friends; I think he knew he was showing off too!

We went home for a quick nap, and then met up with Darcie for our afternoon training session.  Poor Owen; we worked on his "leave it" command with his food.  He is highly food motivated so it's something we have to practice a lot.  First we did it where he was in a down-stay on the floor and I placed food next to him; then he had to walk around the apartment with me while I dropped food...  Then he had to be in a down-stay while I dropped food around him.  You would think it couldn't get worse... until this.

Can you spot the kibble?

Poor Owen!  I felt really bad for him, but he did awesome.  (And he got to eat the kibble afterwards for a good job, just not off the floor or his paws; I had to pick it up first.)
We then went to Target because I needed some things and we needed to practice walking with a cart.  We weaved in and out of the aisles so that Owen learned how to adjust to my pace.  He did really really great and by the time we left there were very few reminders needed.  Owen was very pleased with this trip because I finally remembered to buy him peanut butter (I don't eat it), so now we can do peanut-butter Kongs.

 After leaving Target, we went across the street to Safeway to practice walking around food and to remind Owen that he needs to "leave it" when we are at the store (he needed a reminder in the meat department!).  Darcie says we will go back tomorrow to practice walking in the grocery store with a cart.

The bread smells really tempting to both me and Owen!

We then went to lunch (both Owen and I were pretty tired at this point!); Owen was pretty stoked to get to nap under the table.  There were so many crumbs under the table, and he ignored all of them to sleep.  We had to eat quick though, because then we were off to the vet.  Owen and I will be going to Texas Monday, and he needs to be on heartworm preventatives before we go.  I know the risk is pretty low in the wintertime, but the medication we got also works for fleas and internal parasites so it's just easier to put him on it and know he is protected.  I am planning to keep him on these medications because we will likely hopefully be moving to Texas this summer, and I can get some of the medications free with an IAADP membership (which I need to remember to file for).

A perfect "under" - he was ready for a nap!

As usual, Owen was spectacular today.  There were a few times he was a "butthead" (as Darcie put it), but he's not perfect and he is allowed a few moments like that because he is such a good boy most of the time.  Tomorrow we are going to practice the items on the public access test so that on Thursday we are ready for everything (and so if there is something we need to work on, Owen and I can practice!).  It feels like we just started, and now Owen is almost here to stay!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let's go to the mall!

A billion imaginary bonus points if you recognize that reference. :)

Another photo-less blog tonight; Darcie has been taking pictures with her phone but I need to remember to ask her to send them to me. 

And for that matter, another short blog tonight.  I still have papers to grade that are due back to the professor tomorrow morning. 

Today Owen and I went to the mall.  I don't remember the last time I set foot in a mall of my own volition; it is not somewhere I would go willingly.  Ever.  But today, Owen and I went and it wasn't a negative experience.  We walked around and went in some stores to practice both commands and navigating through tight spaces.  We also got to ride a rickety elevator; Owen wasn't a huge fan (he didn't do anything bad) but for that matter I didn't like it either.  My tics went a little haywire in the mall, so I got to use the mobility harness for real for the first time.

Wow, what a difference it made.  I can't wait to see the difference my new one makes.  But even with our make-do harness, I was able to keep walking at a normal pace regardless of what my legs were doing.  Owen was, as always, a rock star at the mall.  We got to practice 'front', 'cover', and 'switch' and he did them all flawlessly.

Front is where he stands horizontally in front of me (Owen has also been conditioned to lean into my legs when he does tasks or we are just standing still).  Cover is where he stands horizontally behind me.  And switch is where he switches sides he is heeling on. 

Owen and I also practice 'under' under different surfaces and we practiced what to do at airport security with the metal detectors.  He has to be in a down-stay while I walk through, wait, and then come when called.  We also practiced randomly dropping the leash and telling him to "stay". 

People pretty much stopped and stared everywhere we went; a few people came up to talk to us, but Darcie fielded those questions.  The funniest was probably when we went to Walmart though after the mall.  I had to get more holiday cards, but the person running the photo station was busy, so Owen stayed in a 'front' for a long time while we waited our turn.  There was a mom with two little boys (maybe around 6-years-old) who was using the photo kiosk and one of the boys was spinning in circles and singing and would randomly point to Owen and make comments about the "doggie".  Owen though they were soooo interesting, but he never moved from where he was supposed to be.

We went home where Darcie showed me the importance of practicing 'leave-it' with food for Owen; food is his kryptonite and we have to practice regularly 'leaving-it' so that I know he is solid if we are out in public.  It isn't just to leave food on floor alone, I also don't want him to accept food from people I don't know because it may not be safe.  Toby was not helpful during this training as he decided whatever Owen was being told to leave alone, he wanted.  Poor Owen had to watch as the cat tried to steal his kibble on the floor.

My homework with Owen is to practice his 'paws up' task as we were having trouble finding our sync with it this afternoon and to work on making my commands more light and friendly while still carrying my voice and meaning business.  We practiced a lot of Owen's basic commands tonight, using a bone as reinforcement, and now that I know what to listen for, it makes a big difference.

Tomorrow we are off to school in the morning to get some work done, and the in the afternoon we are meeting up for Darcie for more public access training and then we are going to the vet to get Owen set up on heartworm medication for our Texas trip.  We are almost there!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hi ho... Hi ho... It's off to work we go.

Today Owen and I went to work.  I teach Sunday School and today was our holiday party right before the winter break.  It was probably a good week for Owen to come for the first time; we had about a third of the kids we normally do (the roads were really snowy this morning and it's highly likely a lot of families already left for vacation) and we were doing center-based learning so we ended up only getting two groups of students (instead of the usual four).  Owen and I had a lot of downtime at work, and got to do some deep pressure tasks after cleaning up our center before rejoining the rest of the kids.  I also introduced Owen to the kids who were at school today and we went over the rules for Owen (don't talk to him or pet him when his harness is on because that means he is working).

Owen was spectacular, he slept on his mat the whole time I was with kids and tagged along with me when we were done with centers.  I have to admit though; most of the time I prefer having my kids in the classroom to doing center-based learning days.  I am excited to have Owen in my classroom with me at Sunday School where we can take things at our own pace (which is slow because I teach the little ones) and where I can work with Owen to be with me at work and help me, instead of putting him in a down-stay in the corner because I don't trust him not to get trampled - which he almost did until Darcie moved him!  Yikes!

On our way home, Owen and I had to run a quick errand (picking up stamps - which unfortunately, I still need more... but I digress).  He was a rock star in the store, and we were able to accomplish the task quickly without me feeling like it would be quicker without him (which is what I was feeling at the start of the week about some errands).

doing and "over" for me
We got home, and unfortunately I had to get some work done.  I didn't get nearly enough done (there were too many snuggles with Owen), but it was a start.  Owen and I got lots of good snuggles in today; he did an over with me this afternoon and it was fantastic.  I am loving the deep pressure tasks, and I think I will love them even more when this cold goes away and I can actually breathe.  Owen is such a sweetheart, he tries to give lots of kisses during his tasks, but he will always give kisses when you tell him "all done".  He also is the master of the sad-puppy-dog-eyes that he tried to employ last night when he decided he wanted to sleep in bed with me instead of on his own bed.  Whoops!  That was my fault because I let him up on the couch earlier in the day which blurred the lines of where he is and is not allowed.  He is allowed on surfaces, just only when I say so.  Which is not right now.  Our "pack" needs to be more clearly defined before he can do that, and as I discovered last night, Owen can be very stubborn and tenacious when he wants to be.

Toby almost played with Owen today; he was racing back and forth in the apartment and hiding in his cat furniture while Owen looked on.  Then Owen would get up, perk his ears, and trot over to where Toby is.  Toby would stop playing for a while and look unsure.  And then repeat.  They were so close to playing that they both got fired up so Owen started furiously chewing on a bone and Toby came over to attack me.  Oy.  They need to figure out how to play together soon.  Afterwards this is what we did for the rest of the night.

Work.  What work?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My shadow

Owen has turned into my shadow overnight.  Even in my teeny tiny apartment, if I get up and go somewhere, Owen gets up and goes somewhere.  If I go to the bathroom, Owen goes too.  If I go to cook in the kitchen, Owen flops down behind me with a big sigh.  If I go sit on the couch... Owen thinks he should come too. :)  Once he realizes that big sad puppy-dog eyes won't work, he lays down on his bed and falls asleep.  (He did get up on the couch this afternoon when we were napping, but he got down on his own after a while - I guess I wasn't a good napping companion!)  He isn't supposed to be on the couch or bed without me asking him up, and I am being careful to not set a precedent on his first day here that he is always allowed up when I am.

He was pretty convinced that he was allowed in bed last night.  He sat by the side of the bed and rested his head on the mattress and stared at me.  Once he realized it was a "no" and I gave him lots of pets and praise for being on his bed, he settled in for the night.  Poor Toby had this look on his face that said something along the lines of "I thought the dog was just visiting!"  But he seems to be over it today.

Owen is a great sleeping companion, he slept all the way until my alarm went off, and then was perfectly happy to go sleep in the living room while I got ready this morning.  He was also very good at napping this afternoon; we both were.

Today was our day by ourselves and it went really well.  I'm exhausted.  Owen is exhausted.  But it went really well.  First thing this morning, the maintenance guy came to the apartment to fix my washing machine so Owen and I got to practice his down-stay while the guy was working on the machine.  After that we got ready to go.

First, we went to Hobby Lobby (I needed something for holiday gifts).  It was really busy and we pretty much got stared at by everybody we ran into, but Owen was a pro.  He naturally did a "front" for me when I stopped to look at things (front being where he stands in front of me horizontally) and did very good heeling throughout the store.  As we were trying to go to the checkout though, a woman came barreling down an aisle with a cart and didn't see us until she was practically on top of us.  Owen didn't startle or anything, but he did try to sniff her cart while I was trying to keep walking.  I'll talk with Darcie on how best to handle things like that tomorrow.

After Hobby Lobby, we went grocery shopping.  I know that eventually Owen will make errands like this easier, but it was very mentally taxing trying to hold a list, push a cart, and worry about Owen while navigating the store.  Thankfully, there was one of those mini-carts available.  I really don't know how I would have managed a big cart and Owen.  One of those things I'll ask Darcie's opinion on tomorrow.  I think a lot of this will get easier with time though.  Owen did great at the grocery store, he tried to sniff some produce and I think I had him totally confused while shopping because I kept backtracking and turning around (something I do anyway when I shop - I'm just not used to having a dog follow me around while I do it!). 

Owen was fired up when we got home and decided to try and play with Toby again.  Toby was not expecting Owen to chase him (and as much as I love my cat, he isn't very graceful) and somehow they managed to slam an end table into the wall at just the right angle to break an outlet cover.  Luckily my dad is visiting next weekend, I normally leave projects like that for him to worry about when he gets here.  After chasing the cat, Owen and I both settled in for a very long, very much needed, nap.

Eventually though, dinners needed to be eaten, so Owen and I both got up so I could fix both of us food.  After he ate his dinner though, I eventually relegated him to his bed because he kept following me around the apartment, even though I wouldn't stay anywhere more than a few minutes, and I could tell he really just wanted to sleep in his bed.  We did some cuddling in the form of deep pressure, and we are about to go out for the last time tonight before everybody in my apartment turns in for the night.  I have some very tired and over-stimulated animals.

Owen and I have an early morning tomorrow, he and Darcie are coming to work with me.  Should be fun!  I hope...

Sorry for the lack of pictures today, that was too much to worry about while we were out.  I'll try and take more pictures tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In which we practice more tasks...

Right now I want to do what Owen is doing (snoring on his bed), so this will be brief.  Today Owen and I started work on his deep pressure tasks.  All I can say is WOW.  The amount of pressure he exudes is unbelievable; it is going to make such a huge difference in staying in control of my body.  I'm making sure to stay very still right now while he gets used to my body and me while doing these tasks, but next week I will start ticcing while he does these tasks.  If I move underneath him, he is supposed to sink in and give more pressure.  He totally loves doing it too; he kept falling asleep on me (we practice each task for a long time so that he knows when I ask him to do a deep pressure task it will be for a long time) and didn't want to get up when I said "all done".  Though he consistently gives kisses when you tell him all done, as if to say "I did a good job!"  It's totally sweet and endearing.

Here's some photos of him doing an "over" in various positions.

Owen, Darcie, and I finished our day by going to Hannukah services at my synagogue.  Owen did SO GOOD.  It's in all caps because I otherwise it wouldn't express how good he did.  There was a music group that I was not anticipating and Owen was mildly interested in their music at first, but after he heard it for a little bit, he didn't care.  There were a lot of different sounds and the whole service was just loud, too loud for me, but he didn't even bat an eye.  He just slept on his mat by my feet the whole time, and had lots of giant twitchy dreams!

He did try to solicit attention from people while we were there, so we will be working on not paying attention to other people when he is working.  So if you see us out and about in Spokane, please don't make goo-goo-eyes at my dog!  Owen tries to make eyes at everyone and wags his tail and looks so handsome that people can't help but talk to him, but it really doesn't help me any.  I'm also not being rude when I don't answer your questions, but if I have to choose between answering a question and focusing on correcting/rewarding my dog, I'm picking my dog.

Here's a picture of super-dog Owen at the synagogue.  He was a rock star.  If you look closely at his harness you can see the doubled-up fleece padding underneath the handle and the fleece strips on the top of it, those are my additions to his harness and they worked really well.  Not so well that I would feel 100% confident relying on it for support if my tics got really bad, but supportive enough to use for balance work and to steady myself when I get dizzy.  It is just tall enough that I can reach down and grab the handle; I have to say I really really like walking around holding onto the handle because it makes me feel much more stable than before. 

Tonight Owen is spending the night for the first time and tomorrow we are on our own all day.  Wish us luck!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Classrooms and shopping and giant dogs, oh my!

Today was another crazy day.  It's starting to wear on me a bit, I had an almost-cold last week and last night I started in with the yucky dry hacking cough.  I don't think I'm contagious or anything...  But it is still not fun.  I'm so so so tired, I guess the plus-side is that I'm sleeping really really well!  My head feels really good though (or as good as it ever does) and I don't feel like I'm going to get a migraine anytime soon (hopefully).  My anxiety is doing really well too, I did get a little over-anxious yesterday morning while I was on campus waiting for Darcie and Owen, but in general it is very mild.

I feel really really good about this.  Darcie keeps checking in on me to make sure I'm feeling okay, but the truth is I really do feel pretty good.  I feel more at peace and I love having snuggle time with Owen.  My tics seem to be diminished when I get to snuggle with him, and I am noticing that out in public I have so much to focus on that my tics have to take a back seat.  All of this and I haven't even had him do any tasks yet!

Tomorrow we will get to do some of his pressure tasks.  Owen really seems to love doing these with Darcie, in fact he tries to do them without her asking a lot of the time.  I haven't gotten to do any of them with me because we were waiting until our "pack" was established.  Having a dog lay on top of you to apply pressure is putting them in a position of dominance, but even though Owen is helping me I am the alpha in the relationship.  Owen is doing really well heeling next to me and listening to me for commands (he even stayed in a down-stay today while Darcie played with the cat toys, Owen's toys, and Toby - he really really wanted to get up, but he didn't), so because he is listening to me and respecting me, we get to start with deep pressure tasks tomorrow.

This morning Darcie and Owen came over to my apartment and we worked on having Owen do more basic obedience tasks for me.  Toby is getting more and more interested in playing with Owen as time goes on, a few times today he almost initiated play with him!  Darcie and I also outlined the next week today; tomorrow night Owen will start staying with me all the time which means anywhere I go, he goes too.  We will get to be on our own from Friday night until Sunday morning, so we will get to do things by ourselves (kind of like a test to flush out any problems we are having).  So far, I think the plan will be to go places I normally go - the grocery store, hobby lobby, and perhaps out to lunch or dinner somewhere - and just take it easy and go at a very slow pace without any expectations or pressure.  We also decided - tentatively - that I am going to take my public access tests a week from tomorrow (scary!).

Snoozing in the computer lab

I had a meeting this afternoon, but afterwards Darcie, Owen, and I met up at Gonzaga to do some work around campus.  We walked around the education building and then went into various classrooms so that I could see where Darcie recommends placing Owen depending on the type of desks in the room.  I got to practice placing Owen in and under under some of the desks and we got lots of good practice heeling.  We also started to practice with the mobility harness which was... very short lived.  I'm about two inches too tall for the height his harness is at, and because it is such an important piece of equipment, it really has to be just right.  So tonight, we measured Owen and I ordered my very own (very very expensive) Bold Lead Designs mobility harness.  It is totally beautiful and is the best harness available right now.  Darcie was telling me that even with the harness that Owen has now (which was the best one available at the time they bought it), dogs can still physically break down using it.  Whereas the BLD harness (while albeit very expensive) is much better because was designed by service dog handlers with veterinarian input to make sure it is as safe as possible for the dog.  They are also custom-made for each dog/handler partnership so it will take approximately four weeks to get it.  In the mean-time I'm going to use my super-crafting skills to jerry-rig a fleece insert of sorts that should raise the handle height enough that I can use the harness to stabilize myself (but not brace or anything heavy-duty) while I wait for my state-of-the-art, did I mention very expensive, harness to arrive.  I will also have Owen's handsome Heeling Allies vest to use if I want to.

(Probably) The biggest dog in the world!
So... in order to get the fleece to jerry-rig the harness we all traipsed to a feed store (there is a thing they use for horses that would have been the perfect size/material, but they didn't have it). On our way into the store we encountered a huge dog.  A giant dog.  Probably the biggest dog Owen had ever seen.  It was the second time I'd heard Owen vocalize (the first being when he tried to get Toby to play with him yesterday).  Once Owen figured out it wasn't anything to worry about, he thought Darcie and I were pretty silly making a big deal out of "What a good boy" he was for going near the big dog without worrying.

From there we went to Walgreens to pick some things up, a super quick in and out trip, and then we went home.  Thankfully.  I think both Owen and I were pretty wiped out by the end of the day.