Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Autism and dog training classes

This evening was my weekly dog training class. A wonderful time to spend with man's best friend...a wonderfully frustrating time!
When I decided to say yes to giving a home to an 8week old chihuahua, I made a conscious decision to enlist in the nearest puppy class. I had met too many nasty or pathetically afraid chihuahuas to not do this. I knew how important early socialization and training was for dogs of any size, let alone mini dogs with a mind as stubborn as a block of cement!
We completed a year long course and she did brilliantly. I, however, did not do so well. The key words told to the owners were repetition, be consequent and patience.
Now repetition and consequence are words I know!
Having autism is definitely not a bad thing in this case as following rules set out by animal behaviorists, doing the same thing repeatedly and always being consequent is natural behaviour for me. Why would a dog learn something without me teaching her in a way that works? Why would she remember which behaviours link with which words if I didn't use the same word every time? Simple questions with obvious answers but ones we animal owners more often than not forget.
Then we come to the last word; patience. Teaching a human or animal anything requires patience. Teaching a dog means first learning their language. That's the start of the great journey of patience!
If the most of us were truly honest, we would acknowledge that we rarely take the time to learn this language. Humans are unfortunately not known to be that blatantly honest most of the time which is a great pity.
The second leg of the patience journey happens when our little monsters hit puberty (I'm talking about both humans and animals here by the way!). A wonderful time where we have to hope that the lessons we taught them in the beginning will eventually resurface once the hormones have calmed down.
Kaya and I have gotten through this stage for the most part I am thankful to say. Now the third part of the journey has started...I decided after a break of just under a year that we both missed the classes, but she wasn't a puppy anymore so we had to find a new class.
Then we found it! Where could we both have fun whilst getting some exercise and meeting other dogs? An agility class! However, before starting in this class I had to start off in the basic obedience class before taking the test.
To my shock and dismay, I realised that I had fallen short of what I had expected of myself as Kaya's owner. I had become lax.
She would sit brilliantly for the allotted time, weave in and out of cones whilst following me to heel but then we came to the lie down (and stay for 1 minute).
I tried and tried but she just would not do it.I then realised something. She had learnt to lie down in the summer time, when the temperature was warm, the grass dry and the days light. I now go to evening classes so it is not only dark, but it's cold and usually wet.
I am sad to admit that I was ashamed of her behaviour in the beginning and got frustrated very quickly. Today was my first time back after the Christmas holidays and I vowed to do things differently. I had come to the realisation that patience was to be my personal challenge.
So I took a deep breath, changed my attitude and changed the reward I was giving her.
This all worked! Tonights class went brilliantly and both Kaya and I left with our heads held high.
Again, the world has chosen to teach me a life lesson through my dog.
'Be patient, with others and yourself.'
Another month and she can take the test and hopefully by mid February we'll be taking part in the agility classes. Patience will be my new middle name and I'll have learnt another valuable life lesson.

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