Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shilo and Melissa: Our First Month

Shilo and I have now been together for one month. This month has been interesting to say the least and much different than anything I had expected, in large part due, to changes in my life. The week before I left to train with Shilo I was laid off from my job of four years. I went from know exactly what our life and daily schedule would be to having no idea what we would be doing when we got home. As it turns out, other that the having no pay check part, being unemployed has given us the time to adjust.

Shilo completed her training and is a very skilled girl. However, it can take many months of working together to truly get service dog and partner working in true tandem. These months require both sides to come armed with patience, forgiveness and willingness to meet the other where they are not where one wishes they would be. Shilo was trained to retrieve dropped items, push buttons, take clothes/shoes off, turn lights on/off, open/close doors, and more. However, she has to deal with a human who has had a dog before with whom there is a different set of vocabulary. Almost once a day I ask her to do something with a leftover cue from my first service dog, Bastien. She looks at me like "I have no idea what you want" and sometimes takes a guess. She is also in a completely new environment with all sort of interesting and sometimes scary things. The skateboards that are prevalent in this a college town, had her believing the world was coming to an end for a few days. Skate boards are not something she saw a lot of in the small town she was trained in and when you combine the weird noise, speed, and aggressive posture needed to ride them by humans what dog wouldn't be a little worried? I worked to change her opinion by giving her treats every time we saw a skate board and after a few days she thought nothing of skateboards.
There is also a need to transfer her training to our home environment. For example learning where we keep the emergency phone and bringing it to me anywhere in the house, using enough force to open/close our doors, and identifying the light switches. Summit is but a phone call or email away to assist with this process.

In the last month Shilo and I have been on many outings that will be apart of our life together and each one presents its own opportunity for us to learn about and work with each other. We have been grocery shopping, to the laundromat, out to eat, on job interviews, and to the dog park. We also send regular updates to Summit about or progress. We have to send a report each month during our six month probation period. Many programs have such a probation period to ensure the match is a good one and neither portion of the team (dog or human) shows an inability/unwillingness to meet the demands of the life of a service dog team. There is never a gaurantee when living beings are involved though through experience service dog programs do their best to ensure both dog and human have the training and support they need to function as a team for many years to come.

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