Monday, May 9, 2011

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,

1 comment:

  1. Dot,
    Rose here again! I'm so happy that things are going so well. I'm sure Flash will forgive you for clipping his nail! Dorothy? A perfectionist? Not you?!! You are doing just fine! You are very brave to take on this AWESOME adventure with Jarod and I'm just so proud to be a golden girl with you! Best wishes on the test and get home safe. I'm excited to meet Flash, but I won't disturb his work, of course. Too bad Stanley and Riley won't be home to greet him too! :) Miss and love you Dot!