At times, Sir Thomas and I practice a task we haven’t done together in a while. Weeks can pass, for example, without the need for Tommy to back up. Reverse is not a natural gear for canines but service dogs learn to maneuver hindquarters first into tight spots – think sizeable dog and non-handicapped restroom stall or a busy cafe with one booth open and nowhere for him to go but under it.The only way in is backwards. If we forget to practice, I’d need to find a roomier bathroom and pass on that pastry.
Practice, or what I call Reminder Training, is part of being a team. We work together. And sometimes it is hard work, but again, it’s all part of the partner package.
When I’m out grocery shopping or in line at the post office and people remark on Tommy’s training, I’m still caught by surprise. A question I frequently hear is, How long did it take? I typically smile and respond that it’s ongoing. What plays out in my brain, however, is closer to: There’s no magic number, no POOF and autopilot kicks in. This is a relationship. We’ll be learning from each other for a lifetime.
Another common comment is, He’s much better behaved than my dog. Again, I usually smile. I realize the statements stem from good-heartedness, but, Seriously? You mean your dog didn’t begin the rigors of filling in for a human’s physical or medical limitation beginning at a few months old? Your dog wasn’t drilled and tested and observed by highly skilled professionals for at least a year before his partner got involved?
My service dog is, indeed, well behaved. He has to be; it’s his job. He earned his vest, and Reminder Training ensures that each time I clip that vest on him, we’ll both be proud of how he steps in to help me when I need him.
The other day, a woman asked something and I couldn’t muster up my standard smile. She approached my husband and me as we were finishing up dessert. My plate of blueberry pie was much messier than his – the whole dinner had gone that way. One can never predict what twitch or spasm Parkinson’s will bring to the table, and I’d been wiggly all through the meal. Anyone within 100 yards could see that my body was either being taken over by aliens or I had some kind of condition.
I successfully managed a bite with no spillage when the woman leaned in close and said, “How did you get your dog in here? I had to leave mine out in the lobby.”
My husband pointed to Tommy’s vest as he lay beside the table. “Service dog,” he said. I chewed. She sighed and eyed the vest. “I’d so love if my dog could come in.” I tried to swallow. I said nothing but thought, Seriously? Do you want it badly enough to trade? I’ll leave Tommy home on a cushy bed and you bring your dog in. Oh, but you’ll have to take my neurological disorder, too. Oh, yes, and then there’s that training thing. It may take a while.
This article from Anything Pawsable says it best. Reading it has been a Reminder Training session for me on how to respond to comments.