Last night I took Lacey to her family so they could spend some time with her, and so that we could work on getting her to focus despite a multitude of distractions – one of which included a great deal of noise from the children. When Lacey is with her family, focused training is not possible, so we watch and we wait for teaching moments which allow us to positively reinforce the guidance she’s already familiar with, or to teach her a different way to respond. Lacey did an amazing job on all fronts. When her human child corrected her (she put her front paws on the table), he was very firm but kind with her, and she responded immediately and without any fear. She recognizes, accepts, and trusts him as her pack leader, and that is fantastic.
Although he is autistic, Lacey’s human child is teaching her how to be with him during play, and how to support him when he becomes distressed about something and he uses physical behavior to express that. He has a very unique way of teaching Lacey these things, and so far, Lacey is proving to be an excellent student. For example, last night, there were a few times when he became so overwhelmed that he began crying. Each time, Lacey immediately stopped playing and went to him. And each time, she tried very hard to respond in a manner that would be most comforting and helpful to him. When she offered him physical touch he didn’t want at that moment, he waved his arms around her, effectively preventing from her using touch, and cue-ing her to just be near him, instead. Lacey responded immediately to the signal and stayed beside him calmly and quietly. The result was that J. calmed down within a couple of minutes, and he and Lacey went back to playing.
I took a couple of minutes to teach the family the “don’t touch” command. Lacey has been responding incredibly well to it. The lesson began with food on a plate. The plate was put on the floor and Lacey was allowed to start coming close to it. Before she could get her nose to it, she was calmly but firmly given the command. Immediately, she moved away from the plate. This exercise was repeated several times to reinforce the lesson, and each time, she moved away from the plate. Next, we put the plate on the table and purposely dropped food on the floor. When Lacey went to go towards the dropped food, she was given the command. Again, she immediately moved away from the food. We repeated this exercise several times, too, to reinforce the lesson. Finally, we put the food almost right in front of her, but we remained silent. Would she touch the food, or would she leave it alone?
Lacey did not touch the food.
Each time Lacey gave the correct behavior, she was rewarded with the food by being invited to “take it”. Only once did she take the food without being invited to do so.
Lacey is 11 weeks old. When she came into our home as a foster just over two weeks ago, she had no idea about anything at all. Today, she is executing some rather complicated commands and showing that not only does she learn very quickly, but she also loves to work. She is definitely at her happiest state when she is with her human child and learning how to be with him not only as a support to him, but also, as his best friend. It just doesn’t get any better than that.