Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Long Road Up to Recovery

Okay, so I was all excited to get home and write about Julie Hecht's talks at the APDT conference. But then the day I got back, four of the seven dogs caught a stomach bug, two of my projects had reviews due (like taxes, only these don't give me money back), I got a whole pile of new data to sort through at work, Cannon had his surgery, the husband got hurt at work (not seriously, but seriously enough), I started teaching classes again, and OMG! you guys, this is why I can't write nice things.

So in the interests of writing anything at all ever again, I want to tell you about Jai's yesterday.

Yesterday, Jai facilitated his first Dog Safety Program. We, along with another Laurie and dog teammate Brock, and facilitator Jennifer, spoke to a group of fifteen special needs kids at Tartan High School. This is the first program I've ever done where I wasn't 99.9% certain how it would play out. Oh, I wasn't worried that Jai would do something horrible and we'd make the nightly new or anything. Jai has issues, but I'm not that crazy or ignorant that I'd endanger a group of kids. When I say I wasn't certain how it would go, I mean that I wasn't certain Jai would enjoy it.

Although he's come a long way, Jai is still pretty environmentally sensitive. Sudden environmental changes can still throw him for a loop as well as exacerbating other issues, like his borderline dog reactivity. And while I genuinely believe Jai likes people, he's shown me in the past that he doesn't always trust them not to hurt him.

I chose the Tartan High School kids for Jai's first program with these weaknesses in mind. I've gone out to this school several times, so I knew I wouldn't be worrying about how to get where when. The Tartan special needs kids are a smaller group, and they're always exceptionally well behaved, so I knew I wouldn't need to worry about controlling them. And the room they're in is smaller, which means that Jai would have less space to worry about if he did become anxious. The program itself is also set up nicely for dogs that need a little time to adjust to new places; before the kids are allowed to approach or interact with the dogs, everyone sits down for a while and talks about dog safety and care.

It is important to me that I set my dogs up for success as much as possible in these dog safety programs. Not only because it create a safer and better experience for the kids, but because I want to be sure that my dogs are having a good time as well. It takes more than just good behavior to create a good therapy dog. Therapy work involves just as much - if not more - teamwork, training, and uncommon sense as any other sport you and your dog can participate. And of course, in order to make a great team, you both have to enjoy what you're doing. For example, Maus has all the behaviors and training necessary to do ARLP's Dog Safety Programs - he won't be making the news, either - but he also considers them one of the lower levels of hell, so we don't do them. If he's not having fun, it's not worth it.

As for Jai?

He LOVED it. He whored himself mercilessly for anyone who so much as walked by. He didn't freeze even once, which is still kind of a big deal for a place as stimulating as a high school. He was relaxed and comfortable in the room, repeatedly rolling onto his side for belly massage and putting his head down for naps when we weren't actively working. He didn't react to Brock at all, even when Brock made funny piggy noises. Jai's tail wagged pretty much the entire time. Jai! The dog who, when I got him, I assumed just didn't wag his tail ever because maybe the muscles were broken or something. The dog who pancaked the first time my husband walked into a room with him, and who would flinch every time someone would say the word "no" in a conversation.

Nailed it.

I have so much proud, I think my chest might just pop open and spew happy out into the whole world. I love this dog, who he is and who he's trying to be and how far he's come, so very hard. Good boy, Jai. You're the best.

Photo by Paige.


  1. Posts like this give me so much hope!

  2. So. Awesome.

    Congrats, Jai.

  3. So, I was having kind of a bad day. But then I saw this and it made me happy. Yay dogs!

  4. Hmmm, sounds like he might want to come to the Bridge, huh? You can car pool with Seth/Andy! ;) I love this BTW and am so happy for you and Jai! That had to have been amazing to see that kind of joy coming from him! I love it!

  5. Ugh, I completely heart that dog.

    Way to go, Jai!! And many, many clicks, praise and yes's to you, Laura, for leading him to this point!