Friday, May 13, 2011

Graduation Day Photos, Take Two!

Our fearless leaders, the CCI instructors: from left Eric Fatka, Michael King, and Gwen Dudek.

The Barbers, Daniel and Jane, were Flash's puppy raisers. They live close to Chicago and were an absolute pleasure to meet today. We are so grateful for the gift of Flash!

Judy Myers, Executive Director of the North Central CCI center

Suzanne Sliclen, Puppy Raiser Program Manager, honors the puppy raisers turning in their puppies today.

Suzanne names each puppy and family individually, thanking them for their gift of time, talent and finances in raising the puppies for CCI.

Graduation Day: A New Beginning

Adrena Wilhelm, one of the intake coordinators at CCI, congratultes Jarod and Flash on their graduation from CCI's team training.

Jarod, Flash and I sit with one of Flash's puppy raisers, Jane Barber, of Libertyville, Illinois. Flash is the Barbers' 10th dog (and the 8th that made it to graduation). Dietzer, the blag dog pictured, is their current puppy in training.

At Tuttle Crossing Mall on Thursday for public access testing. Here Jarod poses with new friends John Paul (center)  from Illinois and Matthew (right) from Ohio.

After a long day of team training on Thursday, Jarod and Flash relax on the couch together.

Flash...the wonder dog. Now officially ours.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day Ten: What the heck happened to spring?

Practicing with distractions in our midst...

Everyone loves it when we have to command the dog with "Flash...Light!"

Flash opens the door with the Tug command.

Suzanne dons a goofy getup to check the dogs for fear and distraction.

Jarod, Flash and I check out the manatees....

Jarod and another CCI recipient, Matthew, at Columbus Zoo.

Jarod loved the zoo but, at this point, had enough of the heat! :)

Day Ten: Life is a Zoo

Jarod's Take: Today the staff was distracting the dogs. They had all kinds of noises to distract the dogs. They made funny noises like doorbells, people knocking on doors. They used hula hoops, umbrellas, a remote control jeep, a vaccum cleaner. One of the trainers dressed funny so she could see if the dogs were scared by her. Adrena held up big stuffed cheetah. Flash ignored all of it.

We had lunch today at a restaurant. Everyone went to different restaurants. We went to Panera Bread. I had roast beef. Flash laid down on the floor under the table while we ate. Lots of people were curious about my dog and were very nice.

We went to Highland Metro Park and I played on a playground with lots of little kids They were struggling to get on the playground equipment. I helped them. They all loved Flash, too. Lots of the little kids wanted to pet my dog. I told them that he is not a pet. He is a service dog. I let them pet him anyway.

We went on a field trip to Columbus Zoo. We saw the aquarium with fish and manatees. The manatees were really big. They were huge. Then we went to the reptile house. Mom didn't like it and we were the first ones out of the building. The trainers wanted to see how the dogs acted in public. They were very good.
My favorite part of the zoo was the aquarium because they had all sorts of amazing fish.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day Nine Photos

The task was to have all of the dogs on a simultaneous "Up!" command for 10 seconds. Such patient puppies!

Flash is helping to retrieve the can of green beans from the table.

Practicing the tug command with Flash and Jarod.

All of the dogs had to retrieve a "rain drop" from the line. The "tug" or the "pull" commands are best.

Flash helps to deliver the bags labeled with letters to the jump box. The letters spell out three different commands , and the team to complete this challenge first, wins!

The finished product--technically we won, though Gwen reminds us "we're all winners". Jarod didn't hesitate to remind everyone though, "Well, but we still finished first!" Competitive much? :)

Day Nine: Test Prep

Mom's Take: Today we began practicing outright for our public certification test. Our trip to Polaris Fashion Mall allowed the the trainers a chance to see us work the dogs out in public and begin preparing us for the kinds of tasks the dogs will undertake. I'm having a hard time imagining myself walking through Fox River Mall with a dog, but guess what--it's gonna happen. And if nothing else, Jarod and I have to keep Flash up to date on his skills, so I might just HAVE to go shopping, right?  (Uh huh--bringing no money with me, mind you!) :)

We enjoyed a more leisurely lunch today before our work began at the mall. I thoroughly enjoyed an opportunity to learn more about some of the other people training for dogs from CCI. Teal, a graduate of Purdue, is planning to begin pursuing her masters degree in marriage and family therapy with service dog Philbert at her side. Sarah, a television/broadcast professional, is enjoying spending time with her mom (who was with her for the first week) and getting back to work with her new dog, Hepburn. I doubt Jarod realizes it, but these two ladies (like many of the other individuals in trainng right now), set such a positive example for families affected by disabilities. They don't let things stand in their way, and they make each moment of their lives count--what a wonderful message for ANY child, let alone those with disabilities.

Blessed...always blessed. What an opportunity.

But before we headed off to the mall, we did spend time at the center this morning working on some tasks and listening to a lecture on the public relations aspect of CCI. Last year the CCI completed hundreds of demonstrations for more than 75,000 people across the 14 state region that this center covers. These opportunities are so valuable because, in addition to educating people about the value of service dogs for individuals with disabilities, it provides the organization opportunities to continue fundraising. Since CCI does not accept government funding, all money for raising the dogs comes from private donors who understand and believe in the importance of service animals. As the dogs are worth $45,000 (yeah, you read that correctly) by the time they are fully trained, each dog requires quite a financial commitment, hence the fundraising.

And Lord knows I'm happy to do my part. :)

This morning's practice session allowed for some friendly competition with our dogs completing various tasks that, frankly, you wonder how it could be possible. The dogs passed items from dog to dog, around in a circle, without allowing items to touch the ground. They simultaneously retrieved items from tables, delivered goods to other tables, and navigated all of the ensuing chaos with an eye on completing the job and the "Good dog!" that comes with a job well done. These dogs never cease to amaze me.

The end of the day we found ourselves navigating the Polaris Fashion Mall practicing for our publc access certification test. We have to be able to prove we have complete control over the animal while out in public, including handling various distractions, food items, etc. Flash did very well today, pushing buttons when asked, ignoring distractions, letting strangers pet him when requested. I have a Thursday's test will go well.

Now I just have to study for the final written exam, Oof!

The absolute final stop on today's extravaganza was Petsmart where we picked up a few items, including a Kong toy (highly recommended), a large container of poop bags (in funky colors--ooh la la!) and a blue dog bone shaped tag engraved with Flash's name and our family info. I'm not putting it on him until Friday, but when I do, I'm never taking it off! Flash is a Falk--he fits right in. We are so lucky to have him coming to live with our (incredibly insane) family! :)

Hugs to all,

Day Nine: Mission Possible

Jarod's Take: Today we got a yellow bag from CCI and inside it was some paper and a dvd about CCI. The staff told us we can do demonstrations, and this is the stuff we're supposed to take when we do that. They had some products today, too. They had shirts, yellow and black stuffed doggies, cups, water bottles, puzzles, and lots more. Oma bought me a black stuffed doggie and I named it Colt. Mom bought some things too, but they are surprises for dad.

We practiced doing a lot of different things today. The trainers made different jobs for us to do and it was like a contest. We worked in teams. Our dogs had to carry bags over to a table, and we used the bags to spell out words. We won squeaky toys for our dogs.

We had a field trip to a mall today. We were walking and practicing get, hold, give. We had to drop our keys on the ground and make our dogs get them. We ate lunch at the mall. We had pepperoni pizza. It was a giant piece of pizza. And I had a big breadstick. Then we practiced more for a test we have to take on Thursday.

After the mall we went to Petsmart. We bought poop bags and a Kong toy for Flash. We also bought a name tag for Flash. We made it out of a machine. The machine put Flash's name on it, and then our address and phone number on it. The name tag is blue and it is in the shape of a dog bone. We did not buy a kennel yet, but mom will have to get one.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day Eight Photos

Flash demonstrates his "tug" abilities in pulling a sock from Gwen's hand.

The May 2011 Team Training class photo

Jarod, Flash and me, posing for our certification ID photo.

All of this tugging you'd think Flash would be the tug of war champ of the world! But no, he's not allowed to play that game. Boo! :)

Recipient Adam commands service dog Holt to shake with a customer at Meijer.

When completing the "push" command, the dog keeps pushing until we say "release",
even if he cannot push anymore.

Flash shows us he knows the command "Get the leash!"

At Meijer, Flash shows Gwen he knows up, get, hold, off, and give! I have no idea, however, why I look annoyed... :)

Day Eight: Practice Makes Perfect

Allow me to begin by saying I'm sorry I didn't post our Day Six adventures. We did have training on Saturday, but as we were very tired, we decided to skip a day. My apologies!

One of the ways we know we're progressing in training is that we now are taking the dogs on field trips. On Saturday it was lunch at the Cracker Barrel. We sat with Matthew, another little boy receiving a dog, and his mother, Monica. Matthew and Monica brought CCI dog Rufio for company. Rufio and Flash kept each hung out under the table while we enjoyed our meal (chicken and rice still rocks). It's considered a huge compliment to CCI when we leave the restaurant, and customers around us say, "Oh, I didn't realize there were dogs in here..." That's the point: the dogs are meant to be invisible. And every time they maintain that image they demonstrate that there's no safety or health risks in allowing service animals to participate in the community with their humans. In fact, there's much to be gained.

Today's field trip was to a store called Meijer (pronounced "Meyer"), which seems fairly popular here in Ohio. I like it better than Wal-Mart. Indeed it is a cross-breed between Wal-Mart and Target, and I think it's somewhat appealing. Anyway, our instructor, Gwen, took five of us through the store with our dogs to practice elements that will be on the public certification exam which we take Thursday (in addition to the written final exam). We practiced many commands (the usual stuff, under, jump, up, off, get, etc.). We have another trip planned for tomorrow to the Polaris Fashion Mall and we'll practice more for the same exam. Part of that trip will also include a swing by Petsmart for some schooling in the kinds of toys and products we're allowed to use with our dogs. Trust me--there's a lot to know about pet products!
On a side note, allow me to say that one of the most educational aspects of today's trip was in seeing how people with disabilities handle observers in public. This is all new to me, first because I've never taken a dog into public before, but also because there's nothing physically obvious about my children's disabilities that would cause such attention. But a lot of the people here are in wheelchairs and things, which means they've been dealing with public scrutiny for longer than any person should have to--and they do it with a tremendous amount of courage, grace and perseverence. I'm humbled by them every minute of every day.

Anyway, about the observers. Some people watched from afar, curiosity written on their faces, and others clearly expressing displeasure (or at least concern), about dogs in public. One very nice lady approached one of our group asking if she could pet the dog. Deann, the recipient approached, replied kindly, "No, he's working right now." A perfectly fine response. That's a bit of etiquette most people don't think about. It's actually impolite to pet a working dog (and possibly a safety risk as it distracts the dog from its primary responsibility to the recipient). At the very least, people should ask (which she did). Some people, though, don't like the "No" response Deann gave.  In fact, another of our group, Brian, told me once that if people only ask to pet the dog without greeting him first, he'll say no since he believes they should be more interested in the person than the dog. If people greet him and talk with him first and THEN ask to pet the dog, he always relents. Brian told me that this tells him everything he needs to know about the people he meets. He has a point. After all, you'd be surprised how many people won't notice the person with a disability, but WILL acknowledge the dog. Dogs are good for serving as a social ice breaker, but never forget there's a person there first!

See what I mean? I'll never forget these people and all I've learned from them.

Today's training included extended bouts of retrieving difficult items (loved watching Flash pick up credit cards!) and practicing a series of stations to practice many of the other commands. Dog handling requires planning something on level with choreography. Because a single task can require six or eight commands in rapid succession (and since I'm still learning), I found myself stopping in front of each station and mentally planning through each command I'd have to use in order to pull off the task successfully. So, practicing having Flash close a microwave sitting on a counter, I very quickly went through, "Flash, let's go! Up! Push! Release! Off! Let's go!" It all happens in 5-10 seconds, so planning ahead is absolutely necessary.

Someday, the automaticity will be there. But right now, we're like babies crawling, trying to pull ourselves to standing.

A fun aspect of today's efforts was that we took our class pictures and our individual shots for the certification ID's. These photos are a hallmark of the process, and it's exciting to have that experience. Of course watching the instructors squeak toys and make goofy faces to get the dogs to look at the camera was a huge bonus!

Probably the most important part of today's experience, though, was my meeting with Eric, one of the trainers. On the Monday of the second week, each recipient and facilitator has an individual meeting with trainers to ask any questions, discuss the dog and any issues, etc. It's like a parent-teacher conference, really. And this time, I was the student, not the teacher--what a turn of events! The meeting went well. Eric, like all of the instructors, was great, and I felt at ease. Regardless of whatever I've written here, those of you who know me well know that, frankly, I am a perfectionist. If my name is attached, I want to be the best (one of my many mantras is "If you have to put an 'enough' after good, how good can it be?). So, when Eric said that Jarod, Flash and I made an excellent team, I was elated. I've been secretly harboring fears all week that we'd get to the end and somehow they'd say I was such an embarrassment they'd send us home without a dog, and this was all for nothing. No, they aren't jerks at all, but let's be honest--this is serious business. They never forget that what they do matters in a big way to people across the country. There is a tremendous standard here, and I wanted to make sure I was living up to it. It's nice to know that Team Falk gets the green for Go!

In the meantime, allow me to send a shoutout to my husband of 12 years (our anniversary was yesterday). I love you, baby. And to my beautiful girls, Maria and Natalie: mom, Jarod and Flash will be home soon. I miss you like crazy and love you little pumpkins even more!

Peace to all,

Day Eight: Back to Work

Jarod's Take:
Today we learned how to train our dog for different commands like fix-it, go to, speak, kiss, and get the leash. We used the get command to make Flash pick stuff up off the floor. Flash picked up a dumbell, a credit card, a spoon and a pen. He had to pick up a lot of things for practice. Flash also used the tug command to practice pulling things. Flash can even pull socks off! He bites the end and tugs until the sock comes off. Mom and I put socks on our hands and he pulled them off.

We had stations to practice commands. Flash practiced light, switch, and push. Then we went on a field trip to a store. We said under and Flash went under a table. We had Flash pull, push, shake with people and learn to ignore toys and treats. Flash was a very good boy in the store. Today there was no homework, and that made me feel happy. We took Flash home to the hotel and took him for a walk. Flash was happy, too.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day Five Photos

Jarod and Flash preparing to work for another day.

Flash shows how well he can tug!

Nick, and his new dog Crystal, demonstrate the push command.

Crystal demonstrates carrying the credit card, as if in a store.

Flash and Jarod snuggling on the floor of the hotel room. When I allowed Flash to "release", he went right to Jarod for cuddle time.

Day Five: The Thumping on the Ground

Wendy's Take:here's a thumping on the ground. And it isn't the maid in the hall or the sound of a helicoptor flying through the air (though we have many of those during Columbus rush hour).

It would be the sound of Flash's tail wagging happily, thumping on the carpeted floor of our hotel room.

It's quiet tonight, just how the CCI folks told us to be. Dinner's finishing iith the clinks of Jarod's spoon in his ice cream dish and the fan running in the room. Kay is playing on her computer, and I on mine. The plan is to keep things low key, simple, calm for the dog. So that's exactly what we're doing.

It was a little bizarre bringing the dog back here to the hotel. Somehow my life is supposed to go on and be "normal" (whatever that is), and now we just have this dog with us. But it feels really bizarre, like there's something strange going on--like I have my shirt on inside out and I haven't noticed the tag flapping in the breeze (and I've done that one enough to know...). It's all good, but it's so surreal. We're really here. This is really Jarod's dog. This is really happening. Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but even almost a week after getting here it's all still sinking in.

On the plus side, the dog is fantastic. He's very good, very quiet and sweet. People definitely notice when you're out with this dog, lots of eyes watching what we do. I noticed that already as we took Flash on a short walk through the nearby parking lots and around some fountains, just to get him some exercise. They weren't kidding when they told us we're ambassadors for CCI.

They also weren't kidding when they said we'd have to lay in a stock of serious lint rollers. Pet hair is an issue I'll be addressing daily!

Today's agenda at CCI focused on preparing us for more in-depth training and for these first nights with our dogs. We listened to a lecture this morning on the very specific rules governing safety and public etiquette with the dogs. We will have a very, very specific group of rules we're expected to follow with the dogs when in public, and even at home with family and friends. I'll update more about that later, but CCI forces us to adopt very specific regulations. Also, part of this lecture included instruction about the kind of toys we can use with our dogs (and not use), food to use, etc. The afternoon's lecture expanded on this all by discussing the daily routines of the dogs, including feeding, toileting, grooming, practice and recreation. We learned the best way to play with our dogs safely--and part of that includes absolutely no dog parks! Like I said, it's all about the rules!

We practiced commands as Jarod said, and it included learning to pick up more difficult items from the floor, including small medication bottles, keys, and credit cards. You'd be amazed what the dogs are trained to do and how well they follow their commands.

In the meantime, it's time for me to help Jarod feed Flash and then get ready for bed. Good night to all. And good night Flash.

Day Five: Flash Comes "Home"

Jarod's Take:
Today we brought Flash back to our hotel. I'm snuggling with Flash right now. And he's wagging his tail. I love Flash. He licked my nose.

Flash wears two different collars. The prong collar is for making bigger corrections. And the training collar is for everyday. Flash also wears a blue and yellow vest. It says Canine Companions for Independence. He wears it so other people know where he comes from. The vest has two pockets. We put poop bags in one pocket, and we put information to give people about CCI.

Oma put the kennel together for Flash. They gave us a kennel yesterday, but the door didn't fit. So they gave us a new crate and Oma put it together. We tried it already and Flash went right inside. He will sleep in his crate.

We learned the commands light and switch today. We also learned push and tug. Flash showed us he can pull something heavy. He can open doors, and flip light switches on and off. He showed us he can close a microwave and open a refrigerator door. He helped us clean up, too. There were toys on the floor, and we told Flash to get the toys. And then he gave them to us. Flash is a great dog!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day Four: Photos

Gwen, one of the trainers, demonstrates grooming with dog in training, Lukodi.

Jarod begins grooming Flash with brushing.

Flash was actually quite cooperative with the tooth brushing. We were told the meat flavored toothpaste is like a treat to them. Yummy! (Ick!)

Flash decided a bear hug was appropriate for this morning's reunion lap command!

Jarod and Flash hang out under the table during the vet's lecture. :)


Jarod's new friend, Flash (sorry--can't rotate this one--tech problems!)

Day Four: Now it's getting "real!

Mom's Take:
It was fun heading out to CCI this morning because this time we knew who specifically was waiting for us. Flash was happy to see Jarod and they had a quick, happy reunion with Flash waiting politely before happily responding to a lap command. This dog sure loves a good hug!

We had a full lecture at the beginning of the day about the importance and semantics of grooming the dog. A lot of importance is placed on good grooming for many reasons. First, and most obviously, to preserve the health of the dog. Second, the psychological benefits include a deeper bonding with the dog, making the dog feel cared for, and reinforcing my role as the "pack leader". Finally, and understadably, since the dog goes out into the community representing CCI, it's vital that we do everything we can to represent the best of the organization, demonstrating our dogs are clean, well cared for, the kind of dog that could be a good match for anyone with a disability. I could go on, but I think you catch the drift. You'll never see a messy, smelly Flash!

Grooming lectures are one thing, but grooming in practice is something else. Cleaning the dog's ears admittedly grossed me out a bit, but having changed hundreds of baby diapers, I was well prepared. We cleaned Flash's ears and eyes together, brushed out his coat, trimmed his nails (I knicked the bloodline on one of them--sorry Flash!), and brushed his teeth with what I am sure is an extremely tasty meat flavored toothpaste. Delish! :)

All during this, Flash just sat there. He liked it. He savored and relished each moment. It never fails to catch me how well trained these dogs are. There are tremendously high expectations and the dogs meet them. What a testament to this organization!

Anywho, back to the dog. We enjoyed yet another lovely lunch provided by volunteers, and this time our dogs sat with us. It was funny to watch everyone negotiate the buffet differently today. After all, do want really want to hold your full plate in the same hand with which you're supposed to do corrections? And it's an experience to have to use the restroom with a dog staring at you (TMI, I'm sure--sorry!). But this is reality, and it was staring at me right in the face with two extremely brown eyes.

We managed fine, but it's a whole new process. Everything seems new, like having to learn to walk all over again. Right now we stumble along, getting our bearings. Give us a month, and we'll be ready to run!

The afternoon continued with a lengthy but highly informative and interesting lecture from the local vet CCI uses. He covered about every possible concern an owner could have about the dogs. We learned that these dogs are specially bred for this purpose by CCI, and only 4 out of every 10 dogs makes it into the program. We learned that our dogs are checked by board certified opthamalogists to ensure their sight is perfect, and they've been tested and x-rayed for any signs of hip displaysia. In short, if these dogs were atheletes, they would have had Olympic quality care, and nothing short. And, by the way, did I mention the dog is free? Yeah--this is all paid for by donors.

We practiced multiple commands today as Jarod mentioned, and the fun part is that they keep growing the difficulty of the command sequences. Three days ago we were thrilled with "Sit!" Now, a common sequence involves the following: "Flash, let's go. Flash, Up! Flash, get! Flash, hold! Flash, Off! Flash, Let's go! Flash, lap! Flash, Give!" Remember, that each command is meant to first be said by Jarod, and then by me immediately following. Then, if Flash doesn't follow through (and he usually does), it's my job to quickly (and harshly) correct the dog, saying No! But never repeating the command. Trust me. The dogs know. It's a rapid barrage of commands I hadn't realized was possible, and it's only going to grow from there.

Tonight we left with a 20 pound bag of dog food and the crate in the van so we could get the hotel room ready for Flash's first night. We also brought the grooming bag and supplies (including a spray bottlle if it's needed). Everything about this shows we're ready for the reality of bringing the dog home. And sometimes, I still can't believe it's happening--but the sparkle in Jarod's eyes say that it is. Thank God for Flash--Jarod fairly glows!

Day Four: The Real Work Begins

Jarod's Take:
Today we learned grooming. We got a kit from the staff at CCI. It was a Wal-Mart bag with cotton balls, bowls for food and water, nail clippers, a toy, a measuring cup for food, a big toothbrush, meat-flavored toothpaste, a brush, ear cleaner, plastic bags and dog shampoo. We also got a really big leash. We have to brush Flash every day. And we have to clean his ears and brush his teeth once a week. We also have to trim his nails once week. When mom trimmed Flash's nails, one of them was bleeding, but we fixed it.

We learned more commands after grooming. We went outside in the parking to teach the dog "car". I will sit in the back, and Flash will sit by me. Mom says "car" and Flash gets in and sits by me. Flash put his head on my lap.

We took Flash outside to go to the bathroom. When you want Flash to go to the bathroom, we say "hurry", and he goes right away.

We had lunch. Then we listened to a vet talk about keeping our dogs healthy. We learned about when to take the dogs to the vet, ear infections, heart worms, and eye injuries. I wanted to pet Flash, so I sat on the floor and played with him while the vet was talking. Mom said it was ok.

We practiced the commands get, hold and give. You can't point to give a command because it knows the drill. The trainers say we owe them $50 if we repeat a command. So Mom doesn't repeat commands.

We practiced outside in the parking lot because there was more space. They put things all over the parking lot, like cheetos. They also played with tennis balls and Flash ignored it. Good for Flash!

My principal, Mrs. Cochrane, asked what was a hard command to learn. Flash has a hard time with side. He doesn't want to sit on my side and face forward. He wants to sit by me and put his head on my lap. We will have to practice.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day Three: Photos

Finally! The first moments after Jarod's match with Flash is announced.

 Flash likes to cuddle! Here Flash completes the "lap" command. His buddy, Nick,
enjoys the lap command with new canine companion, Crystal.

Flash practices the "visit" command. "Visit" implies the dog only places its head on your lap.

See? I wasn't kidding! Sassy the cat sits surrounded by a bunch of dogs ignoring her!

Our instructors are excellent! Eric and Gwen demonstrate how to complete the "jump" command with service dog Clay.

Here he is--Flash (II). Somehow, "Flash Falk" sounds right, doesn't it? :)

Day Three: The One We'd Been Waiting For...

And the winner is..... FLASH!

Flash, the very large male yellow labrador was Jarod's preliminary match up today. I know it probably sounds ridiculous, but I barely slept last night. And, when I did, I dreamed about dogs. Man, this place really sinks into your psyche!

Anyway, about Flash. We listened to a brief lecture this morning regarding canine resistance and how to respond. The trainers stressed the importance of ensuring the dog is in the proper emotional state before commanding it so as to ensure success (especially since dogs are highly emotional animals). Plainly, the happier the dog, the more likely it is the dog will respond to commands.

Occasionally, though, the dogs get stubborn, usually because of poor handling. This means that it is vital Jarod and I work as a team to ensure we command the dog properly, and it means that my corrections must be firm, well timed, and meaningful. Let's just say there's a reason it's taking us two weeks to train. Mentally we're exhausted!

But, of course, the big moment finally came, and after a brief break, we proceeded to the training room to complete preliminary placements. Most of the other recipients had begun discussing the day before which dog they hoped to receive. Many were interested in the same dogs, which we knew would lead to some broken hearts. Regardless, how we feel about placements matters little. The trainers have been at this for a long time, and it's their say entirely over which dog is placed, and where.

I knew going in that Jarod hoped for Flash, and we talked this morning (and last night again) about how even though we want Flash, we'll be happy to get whichever dog they offer. Jarod agreed. But when Eric, the trainer who had the leashes for Flash in his hand approached us and said, "I think Flash likes best the sound coming from Oshkosh, WI", we were bowled over completely. Jarod wrapped his arms around Flash right away and said, "Oh Flash, I will love you forever and ever."

OK, I admit it. I cried. So did my mother-in-law, Kay.

Everyone cheered for each placement announced, and we took time for the first photos of placements. Then the real work began. We spent the rest of the day practicing numerous commands, enjoying a lecture with video on canine communication, etc. We also watched as the trainers tested the control of the animals (and the control we have over them) by releasing Jack Jack the bunny and Sassy the cat in the room. As the bunny and cat approached each dog, the dogs are expected to completely ignore the cat and bunny. And every one of them did. If the dogs even begin sniffing, we are expected to correct them. I did do a quick correction (when in doubt, correct) on Flash, but it was minor. They tempt the dogs daily with treats, toys, treats, attention and other animals--all of which the dogs ignore. It's astounding what they've trained these dogs to do.

Flash is a wonderful dog, and I couldn't be happier about the placement. Still to come this week, tomorrow we learn about grooming and another laundry list of commands in preparation for our field trips out next week. Also, we bring home the crate and a 20 pound bag of dog food in preparation for Flash's first night with us in the hotel, Friday night. :) Stay tuned!

P.S. For those following along, just so you know, it means a lot to us both. Jarod loves the comments, and just to put any doubts aside, although I type for him, the words on "Jarod's take" are truly his own. He talks, I type, and the end result is our beautiful boy sharing this wonderful experience with all of you. Thanks for tuning in. :)

Day Three: The name of the game is FLASH!

Jarod's Take:

We got matched up with our dogs! I got Flash. He's a yellow dog and he's really big! He does what I tell him to do and he really loves me. When I say "visit" his chin goes on my legs. When I say lap, his legs go across my legs and he stays that way. I hug him really tight because I love him so much. My sisters will be too excited to have Flash at our house.

Today we learned special commands like back, roll, off, jump, bed, up, and out. We watched the dogs play together off their leashes. They were fighting and wrestling and having fun. The staff were bouncing balls and the dogs played with them. We watched because we saw how dogs play on a movie, and we are supposed to learn what is appropriate for a dog to do when they play. CCI dogs are appropriate but some dogs are not.

They have a cat named Sassy here and a bunny named Jack Jack. They were down the floor and the trainers would hold the bunny and cat out in front of the dogs. Flash ignored the bunny and the cat. Good job for Flash!

My teacher Mrs. Jerome wanted to know why I thought Flash would be a good fit for me. I think Flash is a good fit because he did what I told him to do. We had to give him only a few corrections. I hug him really tight, but not like I would choke him. I would hug him really tight like I love him.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day Two: Photos!

Canine Companions for Independence Trainers Gwen and Erik demonstrate corrections for the class using the "towel dog". Gwen has to hold on pretty tight!

The trainers also had us practice on the "towel dogs" before actually trying corrections on the dogs themselves. In this way we don't injure the dogs nor do we confuse them with improper corrections. 

Jarod and I prepare to work with Wicker.

Notice Wicker has two leashes attached to her. Jarod's leash is to give the child a sense of control and help in leading the animal. Mine is for actually correcting and controlling the dog.

Wicker up close--these dogs are so pretty!

Waiting to begin the next rotation with Rufio!

These lovely ladies are the volunteers who provided today's lunch. You cannot imagine the kindness of the people here, so warm and generous. We are all immensely blessed.