Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trooper's fifth day . . . and Laura's last.

Troop's first ride in the Odyssey. (Photo by trainer Jessica Reichmuth.)
Yesterday was a bittersweet day for Trooper, my new hearing assistance dog.

Sweet because he nailed most of his sound work during a lively half-hour of training in the morning. 

When Jessica, the assistant trainer, knocked at the door outside, he ran first to the door to pick up a treat laid there as bait, then ran to me in my recliner and at my “hup!” jumped up on my knee (he is a small dog) to alert me to the knock. I gave him a treat and said “What? What?” He then led me to the door and collected a third treat as well as enthusiastic praise.

We repeated the task with me lying in bed. 

We did the same with the phone. This one’s a little more difficult, because all three of the phones scattered around the condo plus the special CaptionCall captioning phone in my office ring at the same time. Trooper has to lead me to the CaptionCall.

Then we tried the calling of my name. I sat in my recliner in the TV room and Debby called “Henry!” from the kitchen. Trooper, at my feet, jumped up and ran to her for a treat laid at her feet, then to me for a “hup!” and another treat. Upon which I said “What?” and Trooper led me back to Debby.

The idea is to practice and practice until it’s second nature for us both—and neither of us needs a treat except lots of praise.

After that there was an hour of paperwork. Laura, his trainer, presented me with a training plan and sprang a pop quiz, most of which I answered correctly. Each wrong answer resulted in a mini-lecture. Then I signed a contract promising not only to care for Trooper but also continue his training. Every two weeks I must file a lengthy training report.

And Trooper and I received our official photo identification card attesting to his purpose and my clienthood. We are now a certified service dog team.

After lunch at Bonsai Asian Fusion down the street (Troop behaved beautifully), the bitter time arrived.  It was the fifth and last day of our training, and Laura and Jessica said goodbye, soon to return to their headquarters at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon.

There Laura trains six dogs at a time, and I suppose that makes each placement a little easier than if her heart had been bound to a single dog. All the same, after tousling Trooper’s hair one final time, she walked through the door and said goodbye in quite a professional manner.

I was the one with a lump in the throat. Trooper will miss her, and so will I.

Now the hard work begins.

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