The Training of MY Service Dog

People always ask me how long it took to train my service dog. Before answering that question I always be sure to let them know that I was NOT the one to train him. Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) did all the hard work to get him ready for me and I am always sure to tell people that first.

Training of a service dog is tricky, how long it takes depends on the dog (their learning ability) and the person (the tasks required). From my understanding, FSD adopted my dog from New Mexico when he was about 8 months old. He was the only dog for one trainer so she worked with him every day, 5 days a week. He then went home with his foster mom on the weekends who reinforced his tasks before going back to work the next Monday.

Training requires consistency, really exciting treats and minimal distraction when learning a new task. Once the task is understood through action and command, distractions can be brought in to ensure commands can be followed under different circumstances.

My service dog came ready with a lot of commands, easy as sit or as complicated as helping me off of the floor. People are most excited when he picks his leash up off the floor and brings it to me, every dog should come with that one it’s very handy.

He practices all of his tasks every few weeks if they are not ones I use daily or frequently to make sure he practices them. He also has to learn one new task a year. This keeps him busy, learning and not bored. The new task he learns can be a useful command or a fun one, as long as it is something new.

I am the one that teaches him the new commands each year so it helps us both, connecting and using our brains. The first year I taught him “kisses” because his foster mom, whom I am now friends with, said he never gave kisses. I started teaching him this by using his “touch” command and touching my cheek so he would touch his nose to my cheek. Sometimes he still only gives kisses with his nose instead of a lick but I respect that, I would not want to be forced to give a kiss every time someone told me to. Once he touched his nose to my cheek I would press the button on the clicker and give him a treat. Once he had that down then I used the command “kisses” while pointing to my cheek and repeating that with the clicker and treats. Eventually the command alone was all that was needed and he knew what to do.

Some tasks are a bit more complicated to teach, for me anyhow. “Scooch” was something we say when we want him to move his butt a little but not actually get up and move his whole body (this is mostly used at bedtime because he sleeps next to me in case I need him). Since I am frequently asked if he can shake that was the task he learned this year. For us it was putting his paw in my palm, saying the command and pressing the clicker, followed by a treat. Eventually we both figured it out. He likes the easy tasks because it’s a quick way to get a treat.

For more complicated things, like some PTSD tasks, we get to work with a trainer at FSD who helps walk us through what it looks like. At the start, she took Oak and was working with him so I could just see, she was less stressed out about the situation then I was so he was able to focus completely on her. Since I live locally to Freedom it makes it really easy for me to get the extra help I need when it. (I am not getting anything from FSD for writing this blog.) I love Freedom Service Dogs, what they do and their ability and desire to help the service dog/client teams to succeed in life. They are amazing and I can never say enough good things about them.

Motherhood, Multiple Sclerosis and Isolation

Isolation is an unpleasant feeling and I think perhaps a bit shameful. At least I feel shamed when I’m feeling isolated.

I have friends, I have a solid group of mom friends in addition to non-mom friends. So why do I feel isolated when my husband works late almost every night during his first week at his new job? In part he’s late because he’s getting to know co-workers so he has to stay to finish work. I’m not angry at him for it, I’m actually happy for him. Finding people to connect with in a new environment is hard, it gets harder with age.

Perhaps I’m a bit frustrated at handling everything at home and dealing with sibling fights, homework, dinners, Cub scouts and all the other shit that I normally have a partner for so I’m not out numbered. So I feel bad and a bit ashamed of myself for getting upset that I’m here, parenting alone with no energy.

More likely it’s because this week as been rougher than I’d hoped. Taking a week off of things to recoup from being in a social setting for 10 hours hasn’t been as relaxing and restorative as I planned.

I feel terrible, my body aches, I’ve had a headache on the verge of migraine for 5 days now. I had a cookie that I feel bad about eating because I was doing really good with keto. Arguments about bed times and video games are never ending.

No one wants to hear how super shitty I feel this week so I sit with it, hold it in like a secret. I don’t want pity, nor do I want someone to say the things they think they should because I answer honestly when they ask how I am.

So I isolate myself more so I’m not a burden to others. I don’t have to be another thing for someone else to worry about. I’ve got this, I may not be doing well but eventually it will balance out, it usually does.

Explaining Multiple Sclerosis to Children

If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit then you know I have two sons, 13 and 7. I was officially diagnosed with MS when when they were 8 and 2 but I had been experiencing issues for so much longer.

How do you go about talking to your kids about MS, the future and changes that may happen? There’s no protocol to follow about informing your children about this disease. You want to prepare them but not scare them. You need them to know certain things (depending on what your own MS looks like) but also not make it look bleak.

For me, I have always told my kids up front what is what, I realized later that slowly easing into it would have probably been better. I like to have all of the information and possible outcomes and I assume everyone else does too. I didn’t think that through though because at the time I was in a whirlwind of information, my new reality and trying to figure out what course I was going to take. I was in crisis management mode.

My oldest was worried, he is less so now thankfully, and as my youngest grew I bought books on MS written for kids. It helped, there were words and pictures in front of them discussing the science of it and what it looks like for different people.

I am NOT being paid for this information, I just want other people with MS to know what I have found helpful.

  1. Sometimes, M.S. is yucky by Kimberly Harrold, this book is short and goes over the basics with illustrations that children can understand. In the back of the book there is a section for adults to read through prior to reading it to a child so they can know kind of what to expect from kids and questions and the best way to discuss it. (This book could be read to younger children, maybe even 3 years and kids you might feel will be overwhelmed with information. The illustrations in this book is a mom and child, medical people and does have a mom in a wheelchair)
  2. My Mommy Has Multiple Sclerosis (Gail’s Story) by Rebecca Clary, this book’s illustrations are animals, the mom is a giraffe and an elephant doctor. This book also discusses symptoms that may come and go and what it looks like. The author is a mom who has M.S. and in the back there is a kid friendly glossary.
  3. The Electrifying Story of Multiple Sclerosis by Vanita Oelschlager, this book is for older kids as it goes more in depth of the science and loads of different symptoms that are not addressed in the previous two. I would say 9 would be a good age for this book but my 7 year old has read it on his own and I previously read it to him, but he’s like me and likes all the information possible and asks lots of questions. This book is detailed but also simple enough that your average reader can understand. I am not even sure if this book was aimed at children, but my kids liked it for the details. I plan on using this book when I discuss invisible illnesses with my youngest cub scout den.
  4. MS Children’s Book by Zac Raasch, this book discusses MS as though it’s a monster. (MonSter), I know this is a way that some people address their MS and this would be good for those people. The book is easy to read and goes over the basics in a child friendly way.

All four of these books are good, my children found them helpful. I would say if the child is over 9 or 10 though just go to the third book as the other three may seem to young for them.

Have you found anything to be helpful when discussing this with kids? I am always open to new ideas.