Day 161 With Dora

We’re almost at the end of Dora’s formal training, although we will probably continue her private training for several months. Once she reaches the level we want her to stay at, we’ll need to keep practicing skills so she stays sharp.

I’m looking forward to be done with all the driving and the evenings we have to schedule around. I’m looking forward to being able to rest a bit, but I don’t know what it will look like.

It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest. Transitions always are.

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Day 125 With Dora


It’s a bit of up and down at this point. Here’s an overview of the highs and lows:

Highs

  • Basic life tasks are getting easier. Lately, I have been able to go to the UPS store and the gas station by myself. I have also both made calls to schedule appointments or talk to people and received incoming calls without panic attacks. I didn’t need someone to come with me, and I didn’t go into the other room to hide from my ringing phone. Progress.
  • Dora is a natural with some tasks. She instinctively responds to both my crying and my stressed hyperventilating by coming to me, nuzzling her face under my hands (which I cup over my face), and licking me. This disrupts the emotion enough to keep it from escalating into something severe: for example, uninterrupted crying may grow into self loathing, which can produce despair and then suicidal ideation. Having a companion here to tell me that it’s ok (if I’m stressed) or that I am loved (if I’m depressed) is very helpful. It’s ok that Dora can’t speak.
  • I am growing a bit more stable overall. I know it may not be obvious to others, because I’m still being stressed by things, but it seems like the number of stressors I respond to is going down, at least. I feel more capable than I used to.

Lows

    • We have reached the psychiatric task phase of training, and it is hard. Imagine teaching your dog to sit: you can see them sit on their own, say “sit,” and praise their spots off. Eventually, you say “sit” and they do. Now imagine trying to teach your dog to notice that you can’t move or talk anymore, and you want them to come to you and interact with you until you start petting them. For me, it’s been challenging so far.
    • This training is also emotionally draining. I have to walk a very fine line between pretending to have my worst symptoms for training Dora and accidentally triggering my worst symptoms in the process. I pretended to have an overloaded shutdown experience for the lead trainer a week ago, and I wasn’t able to focus my eyes on anything or walk with full balance for at least an hour afterwards, because I actually produced the shutdown state. Hopefully I’ll get better at only producing the physical symptoms in the future.

    Days 110 & 111 With Doraย 

    Things are starting to go well. Yesterday, I was able to run two errands without The Flutenist along, for the first time in years. I had Dora with me and she filled the confidence boosting role. Now, keep in mind that these are things I am physically able to do, have done by myself before, and completely understand. I was just scared. Scared of going alone, of being outside, of being visible to others, of doing something stupid, etc. What did we do?

    We took recycling to the collection dumpsters and ill-fitting clothes to a thrift store. That’s it.


    I can’t really tell you why having her with me made it better/possible, but I cried yesterday because it was so sad that I hadn’t been able to do these things alone for such a long time. Often, when I make breakthroughs, the revelation of a new and healthier path is followed by me grieving over all the years I spent on my old, self-harming one. ๐Ÿ˜”

    I also suggested a course of action AND took action on it within the same day.

    And I made a phone call without needing 15-45 minutes to psych myself up for it this morning.

    It’s… it’s really good. I’m actually starting to hope for things to be better.I haven’t had hope in along time. ๐Ÿ˜ I don’t think there’s an emoji for sad smiles… one that means “Yes I know how bad that sounded and it really is that bad but all I can do is smile about how bad my life is because if I don’t I will break and I need to keep going.” 

    Maybe one day.

    (Note: Dora is still in training, but in my state, she is allowed to wear a vest and start practicing with public access at this time. The law is written this way so that dogs can be socialized to new experiences, people, environments, sights, smells, sounds, etc. before their handler takes custody of them. This allows trainers to work through any fear, disruptiveness, or other issues with a service dog trainee and for disabled people to receive dogs that are used to behaving well in restaurants, concerts, stores, parks, gas stations, public events, etc.)

    Day 103 With Doraย 


    We’re outside. Relaxing. Dora has a chance to learn about the neighborhood where she lives, and I’m just enjoying the weather. 

    I also mowed the yard today. And walked Dora out to a driveway where construction workers are prepping it for fresh cement. And talked to my next door neighbor- met her new dog, told her that I have a psychiatric disability and that Dora is in training to be my service dog.

    Look at me go! It’s amazing what I can handle when I don’t need to face it alone.

    I still have meltdowns semi-regularly, maybe once a week I think “I don’t know what I’m doing I can’t do this I’m ruining my dog why do I have to do all the training someone help me please,” but honestly, that pretty much only happens when I’m not doing well anyway. (Hungry, tired, cold, stressed, sad, lonely, etc.) 

    It makes the pressure burst, and since the last straw was dog training, I initially process all the stress as coming from dog training. ๐Ÿ˜‘ We’ll get there. Eventually.

    Day 97 With Doraย 


    The flowers I planted in the fall are coming up. That’s nice. Only the crocuses are blooming at this point; the other bulbs we planted are only making thin stalks right now, so they’re not ready for pictures. While we’re sort of talking about my social anxiety, I will say that Dora has been amazing for me. I go outside every single day (several times); we talk to people in our training classes and when we’re on outings;  and I’m getting much more comfortable using public spaces. It’s good.
    *sigh* I wanted to tell you guys about how public access socialization has been going, but Dora really, really wants to go outside, and we still have training homework for this week. Well, TLDR: it’s been bumpy but mostly good. Dora did better in the grocery store than at the concert. She’s good.

    I have to go. Hang in there.

    Day 41 With Dora

    Dora is resting now, and I thought I would talk a bit about her training process while it’s quiet here.

    A major part of it is exposure to and desensitization of the widest possible array of stimuli. We go out to as many places as we can to see new sights, smell new smells, meet new people, and learn to behave consistently no matter what we encounter. Jerky on the bottom shelf? Too bad. Person sitting on the ground texting? Keep walking. 

    We go to a couple of different parks, several stores, and as many public places as we can. I’m lucky that Dora doesn’t shed, or our car would just be a pile of black fur. Almost every day, we go somewhere for at least a half hour to walk and practice leash work.

    Today, we went to a strip mall and walked the whole length twice. Dora needed practice with some new stimuli, and the weather was nice. All the way, we had to face automatic doors, shoppers, traffic, litter, carts, children, and more. At this point, Dora doesn’t like shopping carts yet (I think it’s the rattling sound); she loves children (because they’re both short and friendly); she avoids cars (but isn’t afraid of them); Dora sniffs a lot of litter (but she will leave it when I tell her to); she tries to enter all automatic doors (because the stores she’s been in have them); and she pulls gently towards shoppers (because every breathing human must want to pet Dora… right?). It went pretty well overall. She really is getting better at walking beside my husband and I.

    {Aside: It’s getting to the point where I really need to pick monikers for the two of us. Hmm. ๐Ÿค” I might call him “The Flutenist,” because of the obsolete terms for flute players, it sounds the most like a C-rank superhero, which is pretty funny. I suppose I should use a name related to my blog’s title, so maybe I’ll be “Flicker” when I actually need to refer to myself in 3rd person.}

    Over the hours of walking we have done together, Dora has usually pulled like a little freight train. It’s good to see her starting to walk at our sides, instead of always pulling ahead or swinging to the far ends of where her leash can reach. I guess that maybe all the hours of “leash work” that I’m recording in her training log are actually making a difference. We’re getting there. 

    Slowly, perhaps, but it’s still progress.

    Day 26 With Dora

    I guess that today, there are two things on my mind: calluses and chores. ๐Ÿ˜ It is what it is.

    I have thick, painful calluses on the middle and ring fingers of my hands. From walking Dora. Who pulls like a train. An adorable 50 pound train. 


    Everyone is like “That’s what pit bulls do!” and I’m like “Her profile said she was a lab mix!” ๐Ÿ˜† Oh well. In any case, we are working on walking- for her health (and mine) and for obedience class.  Two handed grip: one hand above her on the leash, other hand by my opposite hip. So basically, Dora stands besides my right foot, the leash comes up from her harness to my right hand, then it crosses in front of my body to my left hand, and the loop is usually around my left wrist. I try to keep her there.

    But she pulls. And the leash cuts into my fingers. And I pull back.

    This week, we’re supposed to work on a new technique: stopping and sitting every time she pulls until she eventually chooses to walk nicely so we can walk further. It’s… slow at this point, but Dora is smart. It will come together eventually.

    The other thing was chores. I’m on my 3rd load of laundry today. This hasn’t happened since before we got her. I’m pleased to announce that we are FINALLY getting her bathroom schedule in hand. I now have 2-3 hours between trips instead of ~40 minutes (because it takes so long to get bundled up for the cold and unbundled for the house). It’s…. it’s nice, but that’s not all of it. It’s like…

    You’re outside I’m a park or something and the clouds break. Rain- hard, fast, and cold- pours over your shoulders. You’re soaked and 30 minutes from your car. You walk, because the path is covered in mud and loose rocks, and it’s not worth slipping and cracking your skull over this. Part way back, the rain slows and the clouds part, and the sun- the sun pours through this little hole in the storm, spilling out onto the trees and the mud. At that moment, you can tell that the worst has passed. It isn’t over; the rain is still falling, the breeze still pierces your sopping clothes, and you didn’t bring a spare outfit in the car; but somehow it all feels like it will work out.

    That’s how today feels.