[Below are excerpts from Michelle O’Neil's blog about her daughter Riley’s autism service dog, which she got earlier this month. In these entries, O’Neil writes about the second half of training at 4 Paws for Ability  with Jingle.]
Day 5, Behavior Disruption
“Riley, why didn’t you ask for help?” I asked.
That did it.
“I’m not a baaaaaaby!” she wailed.
I sat her on the mat in front of me and immediately gave Jingle the “lap” command. Jingle sprung to action, she started down by Riley’s knees, and I gave her treats as she inched her way up to Riley’s lap. After the treats, she just stayed there, her body providing deep pressure. I talked to Jingle in a soothing tone, telling her what a good girl she was. Riley started to pet her. We just sat like that, petting Jingle and I could feel Riley’s body start to relax. It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes, definitely less than ten. Then, when she was calm, Riley just got up and marched herself out of the room and back to the play area. We didn’t need to discuss it. She was okay.
This is exactly what we were hoping for. I sit here trying to think of a pithy ending for this post, but there are no words.
Go to Bed
She knows who her girl is.
Day 6, Can I pet your dog?
We’re going to have to figure out what feels comfortable for Riley. So far she has been open to it, but we will absolutely let it be her prerogative, and I guess she might feel differently about it on different days. Perhaps we can put an “I’m working” sign on Jingle when Riley doesn’t feel like interacting with people out in public, and take it off when she does.
We made our second trip to the mall today and Jingle was the perfect angel. She held the heel command even when I took her into loud busy stores. She is so smart! She didn’t want me putting the Gentle Leader back on her!
Riley had another upset today, came in crying from the kid’s area, and we practiced the “over” command again. We got Jingle to put her body over Riley’s lap, and Riley pet her as we praised her. Jingle is definitely motivated by the treats at this point, and not by an altruistic goal to help Riley, but they are bonding more and more with each passing day. Todd is still her sweetheart (full tail wags when he comes in sight), but she’s responding better to me.
Jingle sat on the seat in the car today with her head on Seth’s lap, which thrilled him to no end. We also let him give her the peanut butter filled Kong, but are saving the Pupperonis (doggie crack) for Riley to give. Todd and I are using biscuits for the obedience piece. We are all feeling a little bit more relaxed about the whole thing, and not like we have to get everything perfect, right this minute. It is a process, one that will continue to evolve long after we’ve left 4 Paws and headed back to Cleveland.
Jingle is such a good dog! Today we practiced more obedience, and the “touch” command. When a child is upset/crying, the dog is taught to touch them on the leg, “Tap, tap, hello? Look at me kid! Whaddya say we change the subject? Aren’t I cute? Got any treats?”
We are having to modify the command, because we found out today (thankfully on me) Jingle’s nails are powerful! It’s like she’s digging a rake into your thigh. So, Jingle is only touching Riley’s sneaker for now. We will work on touching the side of her paw, to the side of Riley’s leg, more like a brush with the back of her paw rather than the clawing action she’s got going on now. Jingle is intense. You tell her “touch,” and she wants to do it. With gusto!
“See what a good girl I am? I will really touch like I mean it!”
Yesterday, we watched the dogs practice tethering. It was amazing. The tether strap is attached to the child’s belt, or vest, and the dogs lie on the ground and will not budge. This gives kids with autism so much more freedom out in public. The parents don’t have to constantly hold onto their hands. Riley doesn’t need tethering, but Todd and I both helped by acting as the kids for the training. We tugged and pulled and those sweet dogs, just did what they were trained to do. Even if they were pulled, they stayed in the down position, being dragged slowly across the floor if need be. For those autistic kids who are escape artists, it is like lugging a 50-100 pound weight depending on the dog. It really slows them down. All of the dogs have had basic training in tethering but we were fine-tuning. Tethering is going to open up the world for these families.
Wait, where was I? Ah yes, Jingle peed.
Even though she is a well-trained dog, there are always going to be situations she is unfamiliar with. She is not a robot. She is a dog, and she has fears and feelings. This is why it is important to get her out as much as possible, in as many situations as we can while we are here, and after we go home. The great thing about Jingle is she’s a quick learner. First time in this particular elevator, she pees. Second time. She was fine. She was scared of a certain set of stairs at the mall too, but we went over them just a couple of times and she did much better.
We’re back at the hotel now, chilling out. The kids are watching Arthur, and Jingle is snoozing on her Mutt Matt. The Mutt Matt is Jingle’s “place.” A “place” is a little rug or matt the dog uses when put in a stay-type mode. It is the spot she will stay on in class if she goes to school. The “place” command is a stay command. They are allowed to move around, stand, stretch, but they have to keep at least two paws on the matt. Jingle will push it, she will be completely off the matt with just her two hind paws on the outside seam, but she’s technically still on her “place,” so we can’t get on her. If Jingle has been put in a “place” command she has to stay for as long as we tell her, until we give her the “free” command. It can be minutes or hours. All of the dogs understand “place” and it is incredible how they stay on those matts, even if someone deliberately drops a treat a few feet away to test them.
It will never cease to amaze me how you can have 13 dogs in one room, all of them behaving.
Hmm….a doctor blowing off a “parent’s” concerns. Sounds vaguely familiar.
Listen to your Inner Guidance. Got it. Absolutely. Will do.
Tomorrow is the big test. If Jingle passes she is officially our service dog and we can take her home! She’ll be at the mall with Todd (since between the two of us she loves him best) demonstrating all the commands. She’ll be walking through crowded stores, dealing with strangers, navigating the food court, sitting under a table, heeling, sitting, staying down. She’ll be doing the elevator again (please don’t pee Jingle or you won’t pass)! Todd has to demonstrate he can handle her well.
Yes, she loves Todd, but she knows who her girl is. Any time Riley comes near her the tail goes wild, and today at training Riley crossed the room on her way to the bathroom and Jingle never took her eyes off of her. She watched the bathroom door until Riley came out and watched her again as she walked all the way back to the play area.
So, if all goes well, tomorrow we head home … and Jingle meets the cats. Insert scary music.
Pray for us.