Life with Allison

Our family's journey with a special needs child

Training Day 7: Grooming and more


They days are feeling longer. Feeling like we are starting to hit information overload.

We did another outdoor track, this time across pavement and cement.  I walked away with Ally and Joe tracked us with Perry. She struggled over one area that another kid from our group had sat in for quite a while.  Time will resolve this. The only reason it was a struggle is because the dogs are trying to memorize their kid’s scent. Once they do this, it will be almost impossible for the dogs not to find their kids.

This afternoon we talked about grooming and appropriate and not appropriate toys. Found out I’ll need a third brush (or rather, rake) for Perry. I’d really like to bathe and groom her but I need to wait till her hot spot is fully healed, which stinks because she rolled in mud today! At least the slicker brush took out most of it.

Inappropriate toys include rawhides, anything small enough to swallow, anything made from real animals such as pig ears, and no real animal bones. Rawhides are leather and when a dog can’t find their rawhide bone, they will try to find something else with the same scent, including, belts, shoes, or furniture. To the dog, leather smells like leather, no matter what is shaped like.  Also, rawhide is NOT digestible. Real animal products can encourage some natural instincts that we would really not have. Not that the trainers think our dogs would do this because of all the training that goes into them and how much they’ve been worked with, but it’s better to never tempt fate. Real bones splinter easy, some more than others. Chicken bones especially splinter easy and this can cause a major problem for the dogs intestines….if it hasn’t caused a problem before then.

I’ve been getting tired pretty fast in the evenings. Its hard to come back to the hotel, get dinner, let the children get their exercise, walk the dog and practice commands with the dog. We decided not to track tonight, pretty much because we forgot to do it back from swimming and then Ally fell asleep.  We did practice NUZZLE which is an active behavior disruption. If the child is crying, the dog will go nose her like saying ‘Hey, forget about that and pay attention to me!’. This command can be customized to any behavior we don’t want the kid doing. Like for Ally, her teeth grinding and hand flapping.  I also worked on OVER, a command that sends Perry sort of laying over whatever I point at. Ally sat with her legs straight out and I had Perry lay with her front paws and head over her legs. Ally seemed to maybe like it but not for too long. Its supposed to help provide the her with deep pressure some kids really seek out.

I think Perry is starting to bond with Ally. I took her out tonight to go potty and when we came back up and I let her be FREE, I found her next to Ally in the bed! She has also gone and sat or laid by her several times. She is not always doing this when everyone is around but I’m hoping when we go home and the novelty dies down, this will increase and create a strong bond between the two. Ally is definitely seeking Perry out. She calls for her and if I ask her where Perry is, she scans the area looking for her. She even says ‘my Perry’.

Off to bed. We are going to the mall tomorrow and practicing tracking indoors. Till then…..Goodnight!


The OVER command

The OVER command

Practicing tethering

Practicing tethering

Where Perry chooses to lay on her own

Where Perry chooses to lay on her own

Emma enjoying Perry

Emma enjoying Perry

Chloe with Perry

Chloe with Perry

Love the 'hug', but wish Ally's face wasn't blurry. She doesn't sit still! LOL

Love the ‘hug’, but wish Ally’s face wasn’t blurry. She doesn’t sit still! LOL

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Training Day 5: First Public Outing


Today I woke up feeling the mental exhaustion starting. It’s the first day I’ve felt like I didn’t want to get up. I know this is only the beginning. We aren’t quite half way thru our Doggie 101 course yet.

We started with a track again this morning. The tracks are getting a little longer each time. Today, we didn’t let Perry watch Ally leave as long as we have been letting her. Also, about a quarter of the way thru the track, the trainer Jessa handed me the Flexi and I got to ‘control’ the leash. Control is a very loose word here. Really it’s a way for me to keep her from running her full 25 miles per hour which I definitely can’t keep up with. It went really well and Jessa was happy with both Perry’s searching and my handling. Good!

Then we headed back to 4 Paws for a brief discussion on how our nights went. We were shown another command, UNDER. This is for the dogs to lay under a table when out to eat or under something table like to keep them out of the way. I was worried about how Ally throws so much food down, but I guess if it is thrown pretty directly at the dog, it will be used to help them bond. If its thrown far enough away that the Perry would have to crawl or move her paws, then its off limits.

Next, was what to expect at our first outing. Yep, we went to the mall today for the first time with our dogs as a group. A few trainers went along to walk with each of us individually to make sure we felt comfortable handling them there. Perry did better than I had expected. We had been having a little trouble with breaking command with distractions and I thought the mall would be worse. Much to my surprise, Perry was better! She laid in a DOWN for 1 ½ hours with only 1 correction!! Kids and adults were petting her and she still held it. Starting think maybe we do work ok together. 🙂

When it was our turn to be observed by the trainer, we struggled with the HEEL command. Nothing to be surprised about because apparently it is one of the hardest commands to master. So we practiced this for quite awhile until we started getting it down. As we walked by GNC, Perry decides that she has to go potty……SHE POOPED! Yep, right there on the floor in the middle of the mall. Thanks, Perry. At least I got that experience out of the way.

We tried another track tonight at the hotel. This time in a completely different hallway we have never walked down. Perry is so awesome she found us in a matter of seconds! I

Ally is showing some real bonding towards Perry. She seeks her out and today she laid down on her, told her I love you, and when they are near each other told me Happy! Not sure how Perry feels about her but she has done excellent about not getting upset with Ally grabbing her (which we always redirect and tell Perry what a good girl she was). One of my fears was Ally would lose interest but it is doing the opposite!

Perry has a skin rash/infection called a hot spot. So she is on antibiotics. Nothing serious but we need to keep it dry and keep her from chewing on it. This is something I’ve never heard of before. None of our previous dogs have ever had it or at least not that we knew of. With first round of meds though she doesn’t even look at it anymore.

We’ll see what morning brings. Its hard to sleep in the hotel. Partly its not my bed, and part my mind has too much on it. There is so much more than any of us thought there would be to all this.

Ally with the morning giggles

Ally with the morning giggles

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Training Day 4: Cool Smells and Birthday Wishes

We had an AWESOME day!!

We started the day with tracking again. It really is pretty cool to watch how fast she picks up the track. Of course, being this is her favorite game, she had no problem finding Ally. Saturday we should get our first chance to hold the leash in tracking.

We practiced STAND. This is used when we are in a HEEL and stop walking. Normally, the dogs would sit when you stop, however in the case of Ally, we will be using balance work and if the dog were to sit, Ally might fall over with the dog harness angled down in a SIT command.

Next up, HEEL with a shopping cart. Obviously this is to imitate real life when we need to go shopping. Perry heels a little forward, which is normal for the dogs. They do this because they need to see around the cart (or stroller, wheelchair, etc). Perry and I had no problem with this one! Its funny because I’ve caught myself saying that she doesn’t do this or that and then I have to correct myself and say, I can’t do this or that yet or the dog and I haven’t earned the proper respect for each other. Either way, both will get better in time.

The last half of the day was spent talking about how our nights were last night with the dogs and to voice any concerns we had. I was worried about the bonding and asked today. They settled my fears and told me basically there was nothing to worry about. I’m not doing anything wrong and Perry and I will have our own bond being handler and dog. I felt much better after this.

Then the conversation switched to tracking. We got TRACKING: 101. Jeremy explained how the dogs do their tracks. They are trained for trail scents and air scents. Each person sheds skin cells on a regular basis. They sort of float up over our heads about 2 feet and get caught in the wind and float down much like a leaf in the fall. The dogs smell these and run back and forth in an S pattern to find who/what they are looking for. It was really involved…..a lot more than you’d think, but it all makes perfect sense.  I swear I’ll never look at another dog the same way again!

Just a cool little tidbit about dogs and smells. People have about 5 million olfactory cells. This means we can smell something for about 45 seconds before our cells are maxed out and you can no longer smell the scent.  Dogs on the other hand, have 150 million plus olfactory cells. They can smell for 40-45 minutes before their cells are full. Amazing!

Tonight we practiced what we’ve learned so far and Perry and I did GREAT together! Its only been 4 days and there has been a vast improvement of the 2 of us working together. She is one amazing pooch!

Last, but not least, today was Ally’s 6th Birthday!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALLY!!! Perry is a beautiful present 😉 Love you bunches!!


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Training Day 3: First Tracking

Today was the first day of tracking. We split the class into 2 groups, a morning group and afternoon group. We were in the morning group. We met at 4 Paws and then drove to a local park. The dogs were already roused because they knew what was coming. One at a time, Jeremy (trainer) had an adult and the child the dog was for, walk off with the dog watching. After watching the kids leave about 50 feet, Jeremy blocked the dogs view so they couldn’t see where the kids were. Once they were out of site, we had to do a ‘talk up’. To the dogs, all their specialty work, whether it is seizure work, tracking or mobility work, is just a really fun game! So Perry has been trained to track down Ally if she were to run away, but to Perry she sees her girl run off and is excited to hunt her down and receive hotdogs and her favorite toy, the tennis ball.

So Joe and Ally walked off and hid in the trees. Jeremy talked Perry up and then said ‘TRACK’ and off Perry went. The way dogs track by scent is the smell of your dead skin cells falling off. You are constantly shedding dead skin and they fall to the ground much like crumpled leaves in the fall. Perry runs in an S pattern. She checks one way till the trail runs cold then swings back the other way. She had no problem finding them! It all happened really fast too! As we walked back to the rest of the group, the trainer told me that tracking is Perry’s favorite game!

After the morning tracking, we went back to 4 Paws and worked on more obedience. It seems like a lot of SIT and DOWN, but it is much more. We did some more distraction work, once where a squeaky tennis ball was bounced in front of Perry. She wanted it SO bad, but she didn’t break command!! She was quivering, she wanted so bad. Good girl, Perry!!

We also talked about the training collar and how to use it properly. We will be working with them more in the coming days. We learned just enough, basically the proper way to correct with it, so we could allow the dogs off leash tonight in the hotels.

PLACE is the last command. We had mutt mats out and all I had to do was point to the mat and tell her PLACE and she walked over, turned around, and laid down. The requirement on this is they must have 2 paws on the mat. They are free to do whatever they want on it, just keep those 2 paws, front or back, on the mat.

We came back to the hotel and tried to let Ally and Perry bond some more. We are having a few issues with the other 2 girls fighting and crying over when and how they can touch Perry. Its really getting old, but I know the novelty will wear off soon. Its just tough because they don’t understand fully why we are here and why this is so important. Perry has been doing what I ask in the hotel like laying around Ally but its just for the treats and praise at this moment. But that is the start. Ally is still shy about touching Perry for whatever reason I have no idea. I think this will all die down in time. My only fear is that Perry is bonding to me more than Ally. I’m not sure if it is the appropriate handler bond or not. I’ll need to ask about it tomorrow….if I remember.

Morning bonding

Morning bonding

A tired Periwinkle

A tired Periwinkle

More time together

More time together

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Training Day 2: Perry IS the right dog for us

Lots of new things today. We reviewed yesterdays commands and added a couple more. We learned the heel command, which is more strict than the free walk. The dog’s ears and shoulders need to be in line with my leg on the left side. In class, Perry and I performed this one perfect without a single correction! However, outside of class we couldn’t do it for 5 steps! LOL

When we reviewed the sit and down commands we added distractions to it. So I walked Perry out to the middle of the room and put her in a down. The trainer then threw pupperonis close to her and she wasn’t allowed to break command. She did AWESOME! Then the tennis ball came out. Perry thinks the tennis ball is THE BEST toy ever invented!! Seriously, this girl loves her tennis ball! So they bounced it and rolled it right in front of her. Perry was all perked up with her head bouncing up and down with the ball, but she never left her down!! So proud of her! 😀

Then we did some fun stuff. The dogs do some tricks just to be a great socialization part to help encourage other kids to take an initial interest in Ally. So Periwinkle can shake, give me 5, and high 5. Emma and Chloe thought these were really cool. Chloe was so impressed she had to announce to the family next to us how our dog could give her 5 (like they didn’t just do it with their dog as well:) ).

Today was also a very unexpected emotional day. They showed us what the seizure dogs are trained to do. So the specific trainer that worked with Perry came out and used her as an example. They walked across the room like a normal walk and then the trainer dropped to the floor and shook her body. Perry took about 3 seconds to realize what was going on and barked! When nothing happened and the trainer continued to shake, Perry barked a few more times before the trainer stopped and treated her for her work! I broke down in tears. If it was anyone else’s dog, I don’t know that it would have meant quite the same to me, but the feeling knowing that was our dog and quickly and well she did her job gave me a wave of relief that I don’t have to walk into a room to find Ally seizing on the floor and have no clue how long she has been there. I don’t have to guess if I need to wait 5 minutes or call 911. It hit home and I had a hard time composing myself for a while afterwards. It was an amazing feeling that washed over me. I wanted and did pet the hell out of that girl when she walked back over to me and gave her a kiss.

We got to bring Periwinkle back to the hotel tonight. She was extremely nervous. She actual tried to walk right out of the room as soon as we walked in and growled! She panted like a mad woman, paced the floor and refused to eat her dinner. We kenneled her up for us to go eat dinner and upon returning she was a new dog. I think a quiet familiar place was just what the doctor ordered. As soon as we got her out, she walked right over to Ally and laid down with her head on Ally’s lap! I didn’t command her to either! I think by the end of the night, Perry was getting the picture that when she was near Ally, the treats are plentiful! LOL She’d come back in from going potty and practically run to Ally for praise and treats! It’s a start and it was wonderful to watch Ally’s interest as well. Ally watched out the window when Perry was walked and plops down in front of the kennel to stare at her there. It makes it all feel so worth it!

Tomorrow is tracking for the first time. Looking forward to it. We have learned so much already. Too bad every pet owner couldn’t go through something like this. It changes the way you view animals. Dogs are not stupid. Perry has already showed us that yesterday! I know it hasn’t been quite 48 hours, but I love this little golden girl already. In Ally’s words, I love her ‘much’. ❤

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Training Day 1: Meeting Periwinkle

We got to 4 Paws a little early today to get situated. There were so many people there it was almost overwhelming when we walked in. Jeremy the trainer got up and talked a little bit and then they started bringing the dogs out 1 at a time. They gave each family about 5 or so minutes and then brought the next dog out. We sat right next to the line of kennels and the dogs were being lined up there to wait their intros.

The 7th dog came walking out to its partner, and there next to us sat Periwinkle. Ally watched the other 4 goldens come out and didn’t make one sign of interest or recognition. As Perry sat there fairly close to us, she started struggling off my lap. I restrained her but she just looked at me and kept saying ‘puppy’. Perry came out next and was a hit for the whole family!

Treats were being passed out like crazy, hair was flying and we all smelled like dog food and dog breath (at least our hands did)!  Perry was a little jealous we forgot to bring her SOMETHING special. She was eyeing the other dogs with balls and nylabones. Every time Ally got close to Perry, Perry would get REALLY excited and even jumped up and licked her face from chin to forehead! Ally thought that was hilarious! Eventually, Ally couldn’t handle the noise and all the people and had to be taken back to the hotel.

After lunch we started some basic obedience commands.  We worked on sit, down (lay down), both of those commands which we then walked around them without them breaking command, and free walk. Free walk is not as strict as a heel walk.  Perry did really well but liked to test me. For instance, on the down command, she would put her front legs down but her butt was still in the air. She mocked me when I treated her for it before I realized she wasn’t fully down. Free walk…..yeah, she walked me I think! But for Joe she walked like a champ! Hmph! Go figure, the girl is a flirt.

In the middle of training, I get a phone call from my mother in law who is watching Ally back at the hotel. Ally had a seizure. This was the second one since we’ve been here. She had one last night, probably from being up for 4 hours in the middle of the night and she is so out of routine. Anyway, it got us thinking…..maybe the reason Periwinkle was so excited and licked Ally over the rest of us might have been an alert!  Jeremy confirmed that it was possible but only time will tell. We will have to see if she alerts a couple more times the same way, but it was definitely a possibility!  Oh, and it was 4 hours before she had the seizure!!

Funniest thing……Periwinkle is pretty energetic and  quite the character! We brought the nylabone to the second half of class and she loved it! All the other dogs were calmly chewing their bones and tennis balls, but Perry…oh no. She’s over there tossing that bone in the air, rolling all over the place trying to get it. At one point, she tossed the bone to the side and nipped at one of the Bloodhound/Lab mix’s back paws! What a little stinker! She’s perfect for our family! LOL

So all in all, it was a really great day! We all survived and still had energy to feed the kids. Woot woot! We brought a kennel, food, food bowls and poop bags back to the hotel. We might bring Perry home tomorrow or maybe Wednesday, just depends on how everything is going.

Waiting our turn

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Bittersweet goodbyes

We said goodbye to our respite nurse today. 😦 For those of you who don’t know what respite is, it is when a nurse comes in and takes care of an individual with medical needs to let the caretakers to have some leisure time. Basically, they babysit while you get a break. Its really nice to know that the person watching whomever is qualified and had training in handling your specific medical needs. Not to mention the relief you get to walk away for a few hours.

When our nurse came to watch Ally, I often took Emma and Chloe out to do something fun. Something we normally couldn’t do with Ally because she can’t handle it or she can’t last long at. This would include going to parks, swimming, shopping, bounce houses, visiting friends, etc. I always felt bad leaving Ally behind but there is something to be said for recharging the batteries. I’m not a robot.

It was bittersweet to say goodbye today. Bitter for losing someone Ally looks for, a friend, someone who has become a constant. Sweet for finally reaching a point that we no longer NEED someone to watch over her. It is not what it used to be 2 years ago and this Joe and I are very grateful for.

So if I were to write a goodbye letter to our nurse, it would go something like this:

Dear Pau-ween 🙂  –

                It was very hard for me to allow a stranger into my home and watch over Ally 2 years ago. I knew I needed the help, but its hard as a momma to let go and allow someone else to take over. Hell, it took me years to relax and let my own husband do some things! But 2 years later, we are at a completely different place.

                You have left footprints in our lives, memories and hearts. I remember the first time you saw Ally have a seizure. It really shook you up. You gave me a hug and said God bless me for dealing with the medical hardships our family was enduring. Because at that time, it WAS very hard. I remember you talking about rocking her to sleep. How great it was when you came back from vacation and she ran into your arms and gave you her big bear hugs! Ally loves you.

                You shared our joys and our pains. You watched Ally progress and take steps backwards. You’ve been there to witness us finally finding a successful medicine! It only took us 5 years!! You were the encouragement that pushed me over the edge to seek our soon to be new service dog, Perry. You watched all the work that went into that too. You saw us find a new house. Lord knows how badly we needed that! I cried on your shoulder. You wiped my tears.

                So thank you. Thank you for everything.


‘Much’ love,



Options, options….PLAN!

I’m reading someone’s blog tonight (oh yeah, I chuckle at the irony here), and am looking forward to Ally’s service dog more than ever! Service dog you say? Yep! Let me catch you up to speed.

Two years ago, our neurologist suggested some options for Ally since her seizures couldn’t be controlled. We had been through about every medicine available for her age and types of seizures. First up was the Ketogenic diet. I flat out refused. It may seem harsh, but it wasn’t arbitrary. Its a strict diet. Problem is, Ally wouldn’t eat most of the stuff allowed and some of her favorite foods that she would eat, weren’t allowed. There’s no taking a ‘cheat’ day with this diet either. We were told she would have to be hospitalized a few days to start the diet to make sure she adjusted. There’s a whole lot involved and if you want to know more about it, I suggest you Google it. All I could think was this is one nasty diet to have to be hospitalized just to start. Her chances of it helping….50%! THATS IT! 50/50 didn’t cut it for me and I said we were moving on.

Idea #2 VNS
Stands for Vagus Nerve Stimulator. Does exactly as it sounds, stimulates the vagus nerve. Whats that mean?? There are 2 vagus nerves that stem down from the brain, one on each side of the spinal cord. Ally would have a surgery to wrap a wire around the left nerve and a battery pack (similar to a pacemaker pack) inserted in the upper chest nearby. The VNS would automatically turn on, usually every 5 minutes for 30 seconds at a time to stimulate the brain. The point is the stimulation helps break up any electrical irregularity in the brain which cause seizures. Sounds good, but there are issues with it like everything else. First, its less effective on a child than an adult. Reason: these nerves mature as the person matures. Basically it means that the nerve can grow around the wires, making it near impossible to remove the wire at any point and not cause damage to the nerve….and this nerve is a really big deal for your body! Also, problems with implanting this on children is the wires can be too loose and then it doesn’t do anything. There were so many if’s about it (and only another 50/50) that it also wasn’t worth the risk.

***I am very happy for anyone who has one and has had great success with it! It was one option I WAS for trying, before we started researching the dog.

Idea turned plan #3 Service Dog
A dog? To stop seizures? Well, no. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. But service animals are trained for so much these days! Everyone knows of the police dogs, search and rescue, therapy dogs….but a seizure dog? That’s where 4 Paws for Ability comes in. We really hunted on where to get a dog for Allison. Believe me, its hard. Most places say no, because she isn’t old enough (some want her to be 8 and some want her to be at least 12). Some places turned us away saying it couldn’t be done without her participation….and that’s going to be minimal right now. She won’t be able to command it, she hardly speaks now. So 4 Paws told us ‘no problem’. We spent about 8 months raising $13,000 as a fundraising requirement to 4 Paws. We finished it last September!!! Let me say, the excitement I felt when I got the email saying we were in August 2013 class….its unexplainable! We had put so much into it. It gave us hope!

Now, its only 6 weeks away before we leave for training. Oh, since I didn’t mention before what our dog will be trained to do, let tell you now. He/She will be trained to bark when Ally is having a drop seizure, hopefully alert before but that is a natural instinct that can be encouraged but not trained to do. The dog will help her balance when unsteady, track her if she runs off, they will be tethered together to help keep her safely close out in public, and try to distract her when she is behaving in a manner that is unwanted, such as a meltdown.

Fancy dog, huh?! August, you can’t get here fast enough!! 🙂

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