What a whirlwind the last week has been! I traveled to Portland, Oregon to get Jacob’s service dog and in just one week all of my expectations and plans have shifted. I can’t really explain what I expected from the dog…possibly that the dog would just magically change our lives and make everything ok…maybe just an added security…I don’t know. I do know that by day 1 of training, I realized that having a service dog was not going to be what I expected.
On day 1 of training I learned a lot. I learned that our service dog is a third-party service dog. This means that I am the main handler of the dog and the dog and I work as a team to assist Jacob. There will never be a time that the dog is tethered to Jacob alone. This is because Jacob does not have the ability to care for and command the dog on his own. If he ever gets to be the dog’s handler, it won’t be for years and years. So basically, I have a service dog. I learned that I would be communicating with Reid through his leash and series of hand movements as well as verbal commands. I also learned that Reid would bond with me even more than Jacob.
Many people have emailed me asking things like ‘how will the dog know what to do?’ or ‘how will the dog know that Jacob is his boy’. Well, in the beginning he won’t. What he knows is to obey the person handling him and the commands given to him. So, if Jacob tries to run I will command the dog to stop and then Jacob can’t run. If Jacob has anxiety, the dog may sense it in me and come to me, but I will guide the dog over to Jacob. Eventually, by being tethered to Jacob everyday he will learn a lot about Jacob.
As we walk through stores or parks or anywhere, I have many many rules to follow. I have to pay constant attention to the dog so that I can redirect his attention to me. I hold the leash in a particular way and move it in certain ways to direct him where to go and what to do. I give him treats when he obeys, I don’t allow anyone to touch him or get his attention, I do training with him twice a week. There were lots of details I had to learn and be critiqued on throughout the week during training. The trainers said that as I get used to handling him it will become second nature. I will feel the dog pull on the leash and gently command him back to heel. I will notice other dogs in the area and know to get Reid’s attention and keep it on me to redirect him.
Basically, on day one of training I realized that I knew nothing about service dogs and that I had no idea about all the work that would go into having this dog. I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t feeling a bit panicked there. I cried a lot. I totally fell in love with Reid, but I already have a full plate…how was I going to add on to my responsibilities with a very high maintenance dog? But by the final day of training, even though I was still processing this new job that I had, I realized that my plan was totally bogus compared to God’s plan for our family.
Although Reid will be a lot of work for me, I learned so much about how he will help Jacob in ways I hadn’t thought of and didn’t realize we needed. Although it won’t be easy, our lives and particularly Jacob’s life will be better, and he will have so much more freedom. I wanted a dog simply to tether to Jacob and to anchor to the ground when he tries to run. After all, that is the scariest thing that he does.
That is not how this dog will help Jacob.
They told me that for clarity and the public they say the dog is a physical anchor (and yes Jacob can’t run off tethered to the dog), but we will no longer refer to the dog in that way. There are autism anchor dogs, but ASDA doesn’t believe in having a service dog to only prevent Jacob’s maladaptive behavior. The reasoning is genius. Jacob is supposed to bond with Reid. When Jacob runs and I command Reid to stop, I am also telling Jacob to stop and that he cannot run off. Jacob associates me with the no. I then tell Jacob to slow down and grab Reid’s handle and then allow him to gain access to what he wants if it is appropriate. That is teaching him self-control, impulse control, and to calm down, rather than teaching him that he has a big dog that is preventing him from getting what he wants. That would possibly make the dog a negative thing for him and we want Jacob to love and be loved by Reid. The dog also provides emotional comfort and support. In just one day I have seen the dog curl up with Jacob in his bed and Jacob fell asleep in 10 minutes rather than his hour long of chanting before sleep. I don’t know if that will be the norm, but I can see that Reid has a calming effect on Jacob. Service dogs are research proven to lower blood pressure, and we have seen at the doctor’s office that Jacob’s blood pressure increases when he is under stress. Jacob will have jobs to do to care for the dog. In addition, because I have so many behavioral techniques that I am using with the dog, it just naturally will make me use some of those with Jacob. Simple things that I should do with him, but don’t always find the time to do such as walking slowly, praising good behavior, correcting negative behavior, self-control in all environments instead of just rushing through to get through it.
So far, day 1 and 2 with Jacob and Reid have been amazing. Jacob took to Reid almost instantly. He hugs all over him and loves on him. He gets a huge smile on his face each time he walks in the room. It absolutely melts my heart. Reid did great in church and all has gone smoothly. This week Reid will be with me everywhere I go. On Friday, a trainer from Portland will fly in for the week and train Cret to be the secondary handler and then we will begin tethering Jacob to the pup. I am so excited to see how that goes! It's all very new and exciting.
So throughout this new adventure I have seen that in God’s loving kindness, He has given me more work. He's given me a new hard job and I am truly thankful for this challenge and blessing because I can see it is what's best for Jacob and for our family. I am grateful because God knew exactly how Jacob needed help and in ways that I didn’t even know. It made me realize how puny my mind is and how big my God is. Although an anchor dog would have been ok for Jacob, an autism service dog from this company is so much better. Through the use of this incredible animal Jacob will start learning and exhibiting behavior that is more appropriate and helpful for his well-being. We can begin going places together as a family and an added bonus is that Reid may just reduce some of my anxiety that comes along with being a caregiver to a child with special needs. It amazes me to think of the ways Reid will bless our family. It amazes me even more that God loves and has provided for Jacob again in such a tremendous way. I appreciate all of the love and support and kindness so many people have shown us. It is so encouraging to know that people are rooting us on and so excited about Reid joining our family. I can’t wait to share all about Jacob and Reid’s journey. God is so good.