Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Six days to go

Six days to go to get ready for Trooper.

My new service dog arrives next Monday, and yesterday a thick packet from Dogs for the Deaf came in the mail: a letter, a placement guide, a booklet of training instructions, and a questionnaire that amounts to a take-home test.

That extensive paperwork immediately upended my admittedly vague expectations.

Quite unlike a toaster oven that just needs to be plugged in, Trooper will not perform flawlessly right off the bat. He has been trained to “work sounds”—the phone, the doorbell, the smoke alarm, etc.—with the person who trained him. Transferring that training to a new handler—me—will take the better part of a week, with some fits and starts.

On Sunday night Laura, his trainer, and Jessica, a new certified trainer coming along to see how placements are made, will arrive by air with the pup from Central Point, Oregon. Starting Monday morning we will go over the fine points of what I can only describe as an operating manual, like that for a locomotive. For the next five days we will practice Trooper’s tasks inside and outside, including visits to restaurants, shops and supermarkets. We will pay a call to his new veterinarian for a meet-and-greet.

In this bonding endeavor, I am the one being trained. It’s going to be like boot camp, only without a drill sergeant to rip me a new one every time I screw up.

Next month Trooper and I will start obedience school. Of course that’s part of my training. I have to be taught how to keep the dog’s skills sharp, and if we are both lucky, we will learn some new ones. A skilled service animal needs a skilled service human.

It'll take the better part of a year, the manual says, before Trooper and I can be considered fully trained.

Tomorrow I’ll be dropping a small fortune at PetSmart for Trooper’s necessities—food, treats, a bed, dishes, toys, pee neutralizer just in case, poop bags, and the like.

This isn’t going to be cheap. But it’s clearly going to be an adventure. I hope I'm up to it.

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