Saturday, September 27, 2014

Public Access Test and Graduation!!!

At the end of our last training day, Jeremy handed out two times to each family. The first time was when our Public Access Testing would take place at the mall (our's happened to be 11 a.m.), and the second time (12:30 p.m.) was the time we would meet with Jennifer and go over all the certification paperwork.

Since Ben went through all the training with Sobe, we decided that he would do the entire test. I was going to be there to watch, and we would leave Benjamin with Gammy and Gobah. (you can split it up, have your kids there or not, whatever you feel most comfortable with) The testing can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, just depending on how things are going. 

Of course, we were nervous for the test, but it's really ok. They prepare you thoroughly and there is absolutely nothing to stress about (of course, I still did... and I wasn't even the one testing!) The testing is not based on you or your dog being absolutely perfect... sure there are a couple incidents that would terminate your test immediately, but more how and if you can handle your dog in public under any circumstance.

Here's Ben and Sobe with a chicken nugget temptation in that little black bowl:

Here's another part of the test and a big distraction for the dogs: (video below)

Part of the test we have to keep our dogs in an "under" for like 15 minutes. Of course, we chose Starbucks to bide our time:

Graduation was at 2:30, so we decided to go back to the hotel after the testing, grab Benjamin and my parents, and then we would all head to the temporary training building where we would meet with Jennifer and then just hang out til graduation. 

Jennifer goes over all your paperwork with you. You will get a complete packet with your SD's medical history and certifications. Here's Sobe's:

Did you now there was a 4Paws shop?? While we were waiting for graduation, we were able to purchase any additional items. The harness Sobe wears for mobility work with Benjamin, is all leather and big and bulky/strong. We purchased another harness that would be more comfortable for travelling and errands/appointments that Benjamin wouldn't need Sobe for mobility as much. We also purchased an additional mutt matt to use at school and some t-shirts! (remember to include this in your budget... they do take credit cards)

Ben and I each purchased one of these polo's. We thought they would be great for times we were invited to educate/introduce Sobe and 4 Paws around our community:

Next... GRADUATION!!! What a special time! There were quite a few people there. I sat next to the college student who fostered Soren (another dog in our class)! It was really cool to talk with her and hear her experiences!!

Jeremy handed out a certificate to each of us:

We each took a new photo with our service dogs:

And each kiddo writes their name and dog's name on the sheet behind us:

We took a class picture:

This is the sign we made for 4 Paws that has all the kiddo's hands on it and some doggie prints too:

We definitely wanted a picture with Jennifer (Sobe's trainer):

Cake time:

A family train:

It was definitely a big day. I cried like crazy. Each family went around the room and introduced themselves and said a little something about how this service dog has changed their lives. I'm really going to miss the 4 Paws staff and the families we trained with. We're already trying to plan a reunion!! 

Lauren and I (Excel's mommy): 

About half of the families left Friday night after graduation and the other half left on Saturday. I'll say this... there is no way if you're flying that I would fly out Friday night... You don't have an ounce of energy left! We left Saturday morning at 6 a.m. to catch a 9:30 flight in Cincinnati. 

***BTW!!! TSA was awesome at the airport. They told me that anytime I'm flying out I can call TSA Cares (at any airport) and they will set it up that somebody will assist us all the way through security. I'm definitely trying this next time I fly!! We always get stopped anyways with all of B's medications (a pretty much guaranteed full body scan) and now with a service dog we have the whole shebang going on!! 

Sobe's first plane ride:

My Benjamin boy who loves take-off and landing:

On our second flight, I sat right next a Special Education Professor who flies around and trains about 10,000 teachers a week!!! I loved picking her brain and hearing her advice!! She was having dinner that night with Nancy Pelosi who was also on our plane (right behind Ben and Benjamin). We thought this was for Sobe Superstar but really for the Madam Speaker: 

Finally home!!! Everyone is adjusting to the new changes and the time difference. We ordered Sobe's kennel right before we left so Ben put that together tonight. However, I think Benjamin and Sobe have been masterminding this situation because Sobe wants to sleep in Benjamin's bed, and Benjamin wants to be in Sobe's kennel... like literally we have to keep it shut or he's in there:

Life is good:

So I'll probably be taking a break from blogging for awhile... need to get our life back in order and some checklists crossed off, but I'll definitely be on to share more adventures of Sobe and Benjamin!!! Thanks for following our trip! XOXO Now let the real journey begin!! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Last Day of Training!!

Today was the last day of training!! I started out by celebrating with this for breakfast:

This was morning snuggles:

We had a "before class" training session with Jennifer this morning. We went over more mobility work with Benjamin and Sobe working together.
Here's the best video ever: (another one!!)

During the A.M. training, we brushed up on anything we felt uncomfortable with. Jeremy went over the public access test in great detail until we all felt comfortable with everything. I thought we would be way more worried and nervous about the test tomorrow but we really do feel ready. We've had so much practice and feel confident in handling Sobe. Jeremy does a fantastic job in making sure you're ready. They offered extra one on one practice times before and after classes, during lunch times and the trainers were always there on mall days waiting and available for extra training. We went to three extra one on one training sessions. Excel and Sobe are both mobility dogs so Lauren would crash our training session and we would crash hers...just to catch extra info and questions that might come up. It worked out great!

After lunch we went through everything from our trip home to our service dogs eventually retiring. Jeremy really emphasized the importance creating a consistent training schedule for the next 6 - 12 months. We also went through some school integration advice.

This whole day was really bittersweet for me. Just the thought of not sitting between Excel (golden doodle) and Soren  (lab/retriever mix) tomorrow made me sooo sad. And not having dinner with all the families every night... not being able to hear Peg's stories and Jeremy's great advice. I'm definitely going to miss the time we spent here. It's been a great break from the every day craziness of life. So, so thankful for this journey!!

Our test is tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at the mall. Ben will be handling Sobe for the test. Then we meet with Jennifer at 12:30 to go over all the final paperwork and get certificates, medical records, tags and everything else on Sobe. Graduation will be at 2:30. It will be another big day, and probably a little emotional... as we've met some great friends here and made awesome memories!

Nighty night!!! Big graduation party tomorrow to get rested up for!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Training Day 10: Dreams coming true...

Today was a pretty special day. Everybody has been working so hard training Sobe. From the socialization team, her time in the prison, her adventures with Sarah at Wooster University, to the last few months of intense training with Jennifer right here at 4 Paws, and even the past 10 days of intense training with Ben and I... so much love and time has been invested in her. Well today, it all came together. It's one thing to have a cool dog who can do tricks. It's another amazing story to have this highly trained dog come in and transform a life. And this is what Sobe has done and will do for my Benjamin. And we are so grateful!!: (video below... you HAVE to get on a computer and see this)

We practiced some tethering with Benjamin... this will be life changing for us:

This happened later tonight... had to document the first bath:

And some live video of Ben dropping the nozzle and spraying himself:

This has been one heck of a ride... and we will never, ever forget the people who helped us get here, and we'll always give thanks to God for giving us this amazing journey with Benjamin. 

One day of training left... then testing and a graduation party on Friday!! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Training Day 9: Staying Focused...and Sobi-wan-Kenobi???

Day 9 has come and gone. We are exhausted! The dogs are pooped out (no pun intended), the children are worn out and this is the first day I really started missing home. But we're keeping on strong because we know these last days of training and practicing aremore important than ever! So thankful for my parents!! They are allowing us to give 110% to this tr aining and experience:

Driving around today, we definitely noticed the trees are starting to change. In fact, I'm really jealous of the October class. It's going to be absolutely gorgeous when you guys get here! Speaking of October... we've already started thinking about what Halloween costumes we could do for Benjamin and Sobe. So far we've thought of Prince Charming (Benjamin) and Sobe-rella. Or maybe Yoda (Benjamin) and Sobi-wan-kenobi??? 

We could use our special "force" powers on Sobi: (video below - make sure your volume is up so you can hear the "WHOOSH"!)This is one of the several commands/tricks we learned in class today! 

We arrived to class early this morning to spend some extra time practicing "door" with Sobe. We're going again early tomorrow to practice real doors at 4 paws and maybe some light switches too. Here's Sobe practicing "door" tonight in our hotel room: (video below)

We also practiced using voice commands only and then using sign commands only. This will be especially helpful say if you're in church or a school meeting and you need your dog to obey a command without using your voice. 

Tomorrow morning we have a class session so we are going to keep Benjamin at home with my parents. In the afternoon, we are going to do our last and final session at the mall as a class. We are going to be working on tethering and anything else we feel we need additional work on!! We're going to bring Benjamin to the mall and see how we do with Benjamin and Sobe combined!!!  

Nighty night! And may the force be with you! (we're not huge Star Wars fans... but when the force is happening... and with a dog!!! ) ;) 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 7 & 8: Soooo Busy!!

I didn't get a chance to blog last night. The air conditioning in our room quit working and we ended up having to move rooms and then... move rooms again! It was a little hectic to say the least but our room is great now and I'm really thankful my parents were here to help us! 

Day 7: Yesterday, Jennifer, Sobe's trainer, taught the first half of the class. We worked on behavior disruption. "Nuzzle", "Over", "Kisses", "Lap", and "Touch" are the 5 different behavior disruption commands. We will be using all of them except for "touch" because that is where the dog comes and places there paw on the child's leg and with Benjamin's mobility, we don't want to train Sobe to come and "touch" him while he's standing and knock him over.

We went outside with Jessa in the afternoon and worked on distractions. Here's Sobe and I: (video)

I just want to say, I realized again today how important it is to wait for training and instructions from 4 Paws before trying to learn everything or worrying about different commands until you're here and have been correctly trained. Each dog is so different and each of their tasks are specific for their kiddo. Today we learned that we should never have Sobe "sitting" while she has her balance harness on. She is a mobility and balance dog so she should always be standing or in a "down" while she is working. We only have 4 or so dogs in our class doing this specific kind of work so this rule only applies to us. 

Sunday night, we headed to the mall with Excel (dog - huge white doodle!) and Lauren (handler) for some serious mall time. We left our kids at home and it was some great training time! (btw, the mall closes at 6 on sunday) We practiced retrieval, distractions, nuzzling, and door buttons. It works out great to have a third person there to help out. That happened to be me last night. I would "drop" my shoe for them to retrieve or at one point I started excitedly talking and freaking out trying to distract them. I grabbed a shopping cart and whizzed about them. We really put them to the test. We even put them in an "under" in the food court area and walked several yards away and made them stay like that for several minutes and then "come" to us. It was a good "work out"!!! 

Training Day 8: We left Benjamin at the hotel with gammy and gobah today. He definitely needed a down day. It was awesome for Ben and I. We could 100% focus on Sobe and training and know that Benjamin was having a great time as well. 

We started by going over seizure alerting. This was pretty amazing to watch! The dogs can alert to seizures in several different ways. They pre-alert: which is where they smell/sense a seizure going to happen before it does.  (this could happen two seconds before the seizure or 24 hours!!) They also are trained to alert when the seizures happens. So we practice for both. Obviously, Benjamin doesn't understand imitating his own seizures so that will leave it to me to practice at home. The dogs start going crazy when they see you "seizing"! It's amazing! Ben says I need to practice "my seizing" cause Sobe just looked at me funny and then sat on me when we were practicing tonight! hahahah We were cracking up! We're going to have the trainers help us tomorrow! (btw, seizures are not funny at all... and you can only joke about them if they happen to you/your child - otherwise you don't get to joke... sorry! that's just the rules!! :) 

Next, we practiced tethering. Tethering is the process by which the child is prevented from wandering away or eloping due to being tethered to the service dog. I'm super excited about this. As Benjamin becomes more mobile, yet doesn't understand concepts of "getting lost", or standing still for a few minutes or waiting patiently, this will be extremely helpful. People often just think, "well, why don't the parents just keep a better eye their children?" It's really not that simple. I'll never forget the day I was at Doernbecher's Children hospital trying to talk to the pharmacist! There was a line behind me, Benjamin was super cranky and did not want to be held and was trying to get away. I kept grabbing him back but he was screaming and I could not hear a word the pharmacist was saying. Finally, I just let him crawl around so I could finish my conversation and get out of there. I swear it was only a few short minutes but when I looked around he was gone!! And it's not like he responds or comes when  I call his name... I was freaking out!! I finally found him down the main hall in some other kid's wagon looking at the fish tank!! I still can't believe it! I lost my non-walking 6 yr. old kid!

Here's Ben and Sobe practicing tethering with Peg. Sobe's job is to stay in a "down" position no matter what: (video)

This afternoon we hit the malls again. We had some great one on one time with Jennifer and Sobe did awesome!! (If you notice, I'm not getting as many pictures... that's because I'm so busy working!!) 

After dinner, we headed to the service dog park! It's super close to the Homewood Suites at Wright University. It's the only "service dog park" in the country! (awesome, since we are NEVER allowed to take our service dogs to a normal dog park). 

Here's Sobe and Benjamin playing ball... one of their favorite things to do: (video)

We're headed to bed early tonight because we have an early morning mini training session before our actual day begins!!! 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Training Day 6: Half way through!!

Oh my goodness... it's hard to believe we're halfway through our training!! I think the "tired" part hit me today. I cried like 7 times.... hahahaha we're all exhausted, but in the best way possible!! (in fact, I apologize right now for my grammar and punctuation!! my eyes are half shut!)

Every morning we have a Q & A with Jeremy to see how all our nights went. We learn a ton from hearing other families experiences and all of Jeremy's thoughts and responses.

Today we upped the distractions!!!  We've definitely learned what Sobe's two distraction weaknesses are. Tennis balls and other animals!  Jessa, one of the trainers, brought her adorable kitty in!(hahahah oh my goodness... video below): 

We spent the afternoon talking about Healthcare, Grooming and Correct Play. HUGE topic!! I knew 4 Paws was strict about chew toys and "play" time with our doggies but I didn't know exactly why. It was really interesting and beneficial to get the training and thoughts behind this. 

There is just so much information coming our way every day. Thankfully, they give you hand-outs every day on the material that was covered. In fact, this was tonight's quick project:

I just picked up a cheap binder from walmart, and Homewood has an office room where I printed off a temporary photo and they have a three-ringed hole punch! I figured I better get organized with all this paperwork!! Lord knows I'll need it later! This would be a great project to start with your kiddos before the trip while you're anxiously waiting!! Kind of building a journal/training book as you go!! 

*BTW, this is totally my opinion, but everyone kept telling me to wait to get supplies, (toys/food/crate/brushes) until after we get to 4 Paws and I'm really glad we did. The only supplies we have at home is our crate (which we waited to find out what/who our match was) and a food and water bowl. 4 Paws will give you quite a few recommendations specific to your dog and her breed and her personality. For example, Sorren the dog next to us in class is a big time chewer... they'll probably end up having nylabones and kongs everywhere!! Sobe, not so much. She is good with one nylabone but we might need to have tennis balls at home, in each vehicle and probably in my purse just in case!! ;)  We even bought a brush the second day we got here in Ohio and it's not the one to use. Now we have the names of two other brushes that will be perfect for her coat! (During class today, Ben was literally on amazon putting items in our cart!!) It feels weird not being all prepared before you leave for two weeks but it's really ok and I'm glad we waited.

Hallelujah!!! Silverman reinforcements came in today!!! Meet Gammy and Gobah (my parents): 

After we got them checked in we headed to Maggie Moo's for a local fundraiser. Mark's 86 year old grandma put on a 4 Paws fundraiser for him! Mark and his family actually live in Alaska but his grandma lives right here in Ohio. A bunch of us in the September class tried to stop by to show support:

Of course, this is one of the times I cried. I very much remember how much work fundraising was and how touched and amazed I was by the village surrounding and supporting us. Still can't believe we're here and our dream has come true!! I want Mark to get his service dog NOW!! Here's his fundraising link:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Training Day 5: Mall Day!!

First thing this morning... these two cutie pies:

Today was a blast! We started out at the training building and practiced new commands and got to see our seizure dogs in action! They put a "seizure shirt" (a shirt a kiddo had a seizure in) in a room and took one family at a time with their dog into the room and watched the dogs react! Sobe found the shirt and barked! This takes practice and continual training with the dogs... We'll be learning and practicing more about this later. 

Then...Sobe received her service harness!! The harness we are starting with is all leather and has a sturdy handle on the top that will help Benjamin walk next to her. We didn't try this out today because Benjamin was exhausted, but we will get a video of it later! Benjamin can also be tethered to this harness. (more coming on this later too!) We are also going to purchase another harness that is a little more comfortable for Sobe when we won't use her for mobility. (Like the plane ride home!) Service animals are not required by law to wear vests or harnesses in public but 4 Paws does require it as an agency.  

Our big adventure today was to the mall! Ben and I were both nervous... and I didn't even have to do anything except watch Benjamin. Ben did all the work with Sobe. It was actually really fun! I would say each family had their issues and things they need to work on and improve, but that's exactly why we're doing this! Peg, one of the trainers, walked around with us and gave us cues and helpful hints as we shopped, took the elevators, stairs etc. 

Here's our new and definitely improved family:

Towards the end of our mall session, Jeremy took us to work on some doors! Sobe is a multi-purpose dog. She is trained in seizure alert, behavior disruption, and mobility. One of her tasks in mobility is opening ADA doors for Benjamin. Here's her and Ben practicing: (video)

The command for her to hit the button is "Hit it", and as she gets more comfortable with Ben and I as her handlers, we can give her the command and she will do it from a greater distance. We will be practicing this a bunch!!

Tonight, there was  no dinner offered at Homewood suite so one of the families bought pizza for all of us! We had a blast! (There's a couple families missing):

I can not even tell you how much I love the families in our class!! Wonderful, lovely people! 

After talking to everyone tonight I just want to offer some advice to future classes. 4 Paws requires you to bring at least two adults to the training for two weeks. However, if the two adults that are coming are both going to be equal handlers, like Ben and myself, I would HIGHLY suggest bringing another caregiver for your child especially if they're extremely dependent on you. Right now we have it set up where Ben is mainly participating in all the training and he will do the test at the end and I am trying to sit in on as much as possible. But Benjamin is a full time kiddo and it's super hard to try and care for him and not miss any of the training. Ben fills me in as much as he can, but Jeremy is a wealth of knowledge and I hate missing one thing he says!! So families, seriously consider this when planning your trip. I know it might be an added expense, but really, you only have these two weeks committed to just training and then we'll be thrown back into life and it's craziness. My parents are flying in tomorrow night and I can't wait for the help! Ben and I will be able to practice at night by ourselves and know that Benjamin is being cared for. Or like today, Benjamin didn't sleep very good last night and was exhausted... It would have been a good day to leave Benjamin at the hotel with grandma and grandpa! If your child is pretty much dependent on you all the time, it can be a little overwhelming to have the service dog and the child and try to put everything all together. You definitely need some practice time with just you and the service dog, so commands and corrections become second nature so when your child throws the tantrum of a life time - you're confident enough to manage your dog who will help you manage your child! I think some of us moms are going to take a night and hit the mall with our service dogs and no kiddos, and get some good practice time in! 

Can't wait for tomorrow! Every day is such an adventure!!