Sunday, June 24, 2012

Training and Owen Update

Very first on my to-do list this week is to get my reasonable accommodation requests sent off.  I know neither my apartment nor my university will have a problem with it, but it still seems like a cumbersome errand to get done.   I was hoping that the director of Heeling Allies would have a form letter to use, but to no avail.  She said she had plenty of examples of letters to send in case I ever have an accommodations request refused, but we're hoping that doesn't happen.  :)  I reached out to the service dog forum on Dogster tonight in hopes that one of the members will have an example of a letter that has worked that I can adapt to my needs.  This is all brand new territory for me, remember that I've never had accommodations anywhere, so while I believe in learning "on the job" so to speak, this is one thing I really want to get right the first time.

And in order to get that done, I have to apply for disability resources at my university.  I don't know if I've ever told the story here about why I don't have accommodations at school, but here is the short shorter version.

Once upon a time, when I was first diagnosed nobody in my family had any idea of what to ask for in school.  When I was being bullied and struggling in classes, instead of taking it to the school, I transferred to an independent-study school in the district.  Now, this was without a doubt the best choice I could have made in that situation, I loved that school and everything about the freedom it gave me.  But, it didn't exactly set me up for requesting accommodations in school.  Fast-forward through freshman year of college because that was the one year in my life since onset that I had "mild" Tourette's.  Middle of sophomore year however, my advisor finally bullied me into convinced me I should talk to the disability resources office because I was really struggling in classes at that point in time.  I dutifully took the form to my doctor and *poof*, it vanished.  I have no idea what happened after I went to camp to work for the summer, but it didn't get filed.  That year the funding at the disability resource's office changed.  They wanted students to self-advocate (which I already did) and they couldn't offer quiet testing environments (which I needed), so because of that and because I was taking almost all education classes where my professors gave me accommodations as needed, I stopped trying to become a client.

Fast-forward again to October of last year when they made some asinine comments about how a service dog is not "access technology" and how if I needed a special computer it would be different.  They also told me (and then retracted it later when I relayed the conversation to my advisor) that my professors who were giving me accommodations without me filing with the disabilities office were doing so "against the rules".  (Whose rules?  Seriously? gah...)

But now, I'm going to file if only to make my reasonable accommodations request for Owen go a lot smoother.  In addition to that, I barely passed (and I do mean barely) my last certification exam because of my Tourette's and how it affected me that morning, so I know I'm going to need to file for accommodations for my Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification exam next summer, and I'll need documentation for that.

On to bigger and better things though...


It's definitely Owen, and the director of Heeling Allies had all sorts of good things to say about him.  Like, he's totally massive!  He's an English Labrador, they're built more solidly than field Labrador retrievers and tend to get a bit larger.  Owen's healthy weight is 85 pounds, which is the top weight for this breed!  He also eats 5.5 cups of food a day.  Thankfully, the type of food he eats they sell at Costco, or he literally would eat me out of house and home.  Owen is still very young, which is really good - he's just over 1 and a half years old (I forgot to ask his birthday, but I will!).   As per Heeling Allies rules, I will need to retire him at 9 1/2 years of age, which considering the type of work he is going to be doing for me, makes sense.  So I'm really lucky that he's so young because that means we have a lot of good years as a team ahead of us.  It also means though, that he isn't allowed blankets in his crate or stuffed toys. :(  Apparently he shreds and eats them.  I'm sure I'll find other ways to spoil him though. :)

Here's the thing that blows my mind though.  This amazingly wonderful, well-bred dog came from a shelter.  He is AKC registered (his registered name is Levi something or another, but they had to change it because the director of the program has a dog named Levi and she said it was too confusing - and I think he looks like an Owen anyway!) and is a purebred dog.  How does somebody give up this dog?  The shelters are full of great pets, but that they are full of wonderful dogs that are ready and willing to become a service dog?  It's not an easy job and a lot of dogs wash out of programs because they don't have the right temperaments; if they're too possessive or alpha or lazy they'll wash out.  It doesn't mean they aren't great dogs, just that they won't make great service dogs or be happy as a service dog.  It blows my mind that they found Owen at a shelter, that he is totally healthy and young and up for this job.  (And I'm sure it would blow his previous family's mind to know how much we are spending on him!)

We talked a lot about what he's being trained to do and how the tasks will work.  He is apparently learning how to maneuver around with the mobility harness on, because in order to make sure it is a stable harness, it can't have a collapsible handle.  So Owen is having to learn how to get under things with this giant handle on his back, I wish I could see it!  The director was worried about teaching him how to "cover" me, because they were afraid if I got jostled I might fall down.  A "cover" is when the dog stands behind you, either parallel to you or perpendicular (with their head at your hip and their hips out behind you) in order to create a physical barrier between you and other people.  Luckily, because I was really looking forward to utilizing that command, the only tic where I think I would fall is the toe-walking tic, and if I'm doing that I'm going to need the harness which means Owen will be in a heel and not in a position where he could jostle me.  We decided, so that he could be in a heel fast if I thought I was going to fall (and due to his giant size!) that it would be best if he covered standing parallel behind me.  He is also being trained to "switch".  If I say "switch" he will (apparently - and I can't wait to see this because we've always been lucky if our family dogs heel, much less on one side or the other) quickly switch which side he is heeling on and just keep going.  This will be useful when I have one arm or another acting up so that I can swap where he is and keep going without worrying about hitting somebody.

His favorite thing to do is "paws up", where he puts his front paws in your lap.  This is being taught to help with grounding, and they said he loves to nibble you (lovingly) when he does this.  He will also pick up his leash when I drop it, and they said he won't wander off!  I've purchased a hands-free leash so I don't have to worry about what happens when my hands tremor and I'm holding a leash, but it's good to know if I ever weren't "hands-free", Owen would know what to do.  If I fall, they are teaching him to brace to help me up.  Which seems kind of useless, to those of you of the neurotypical persuasion.  After all, I can get up off the ground on my own.  However, if I am ticcing bad enough to end up on the ground, I am typically so disoriented it takes me a long time to try and get up.  They have the dog sit next to you in order to brace and you use them to help get up.

We also talked at length about training him to lay across my chest.  He is 85 pounds after all.  We decided though, that this would be a useful task to train (and I just feel sorry for the trainer who has to pretend to be me!).  When I fall because I'm ticcing I need something *big* to stop it, it isn't something I can self-restrain for.  The tics are so giant that I just have to wait them out.  I think, and I'm just hypothesizing because I don't currently have a giant Labrador at my disposal, that by having him lay on my chest it will help stop the tics.  He will be so big I won't have to worry about my tics dislodging him and hurting him, like I would with a smaller dog, and the crushing weight should help refocus my brain.  Once the tics have stopped, I can release him from that command and wait until I feel stable enough to get up.

We also spoke about him doing something to apply pressure on my legs when I'm standing still.  This is the one task I'm not sure they will figure out and it's because of the extensive nature of his other task training.  They are training him to be stable all the time, in motion and standing still, and asking him to lean or apply pressure while standing could undo some of that training.  He wouldn't be able to sit between my legs with the mobility harness, so they were going to look at training him to lay between my legs.  Which may or may not work. 

And as I'm typing this I've remembered a lot of other questions...  Is he being trained to recognize tics as commands?  Can we teach him to nudge until I pay attention to him when I start ticcing?  Is there something he can do that is less obtrusive than me sitting down with him in my lap when we're out in public?  His head in my lap?  Licking or nudging?  I'm picturing me at a restaurant with a giant Lab in my lap and not thinking that will work out...

So I'm off to email the director of Heeling Allies yet again and see if I can find out more about his training.


  1. Sweet Owen....he looks like the dog on "Up"! So happy for you!

    1. He does, doesn't he? I can't believe how lucky I am. He is unbelievably gorgeous and HUGE! Which is what I needed (size, not looks. I'd love him no matter how cute he was.)

      I have to admit, that when they first posted his picture I hoped (with a little detective work) that he was going to be my dog. Right around the same time his picture went up, I got an email saying that they had a promising dog for me. Hopefully his training continues to go well so I can meet my life-size "Doug". :)