Tuesday night marked the ending of our Train-the-Trainer course and the graduation of our dog/client teams. It was a wonderful and difficult final week of perfecting the dogs, preparing for graduation, and heightened emotions all around. The graduation ceremony was absolutely delightful and was attended by over 40 guests. Lu said many kind things about each of us students who completed train-the-trainer and I think we all felt honored by what she had to say. Wonderful speeches were presented by Ben as well as one of our graduating clients, and a very entertaining video was created and presented by Adam chronicling our bootcamp experience. And then, when the guests all left, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I have not felt this relaxed in 6 long weeks, but I would do it over in a heartbeat. The train-the-trainer course was about more than just dog training. It was about self-exploration and personal growth. It was about teamwork and friendship. It was about giving this gift, these dogs that we've loved and poured our sweat and tears into, to somebody whose life will be changed because of it. This experience was unforgettable, the people were unforgettable, and I am so lucky that this is not the end of my time at ECAD and that I got to wake up this morning (at 7am for kennel management) and get right back to it. Thank you ECAD, Lu, and my fellow trainers for these 6 unforgettable weeks.
This is a slideshow of pictures chronicling the 6-week experience, including the final 2 with our clients. I would also like to share Ben's speech, which he presented at graduation on behalf of all of us trainers, because I feel it truly encompasses what this course has been like for us.
"The first ECADs graduation I attended was back in November of 2009. The young Phil Bauer had just been paired with Reese. Ace had just come in for Aries. A Children’s Village graduate named Rashawn Plant came and spoke and said that ECADS had turned his life around. “Lu and Barbara may not give you what you want,” he said, “but they’ll give you what you need.” When Lu took the podium after that she cried.
The tears were sweet, I thought, a sort of Hallmark, Disney, affect I attended a lot of boot camp graduations after that, and noticed that people often wept . There was one ceremony—also held in this building—at which every single speaker broke down. One seven –year-old autistic -syndrome boy was at his mother’s feet, when she began to sob. “Everybody’s supposed to cry,” he said, as if it were one of those adult rules, he had no patience with.
Still, ECADS seemed too good to be true. Outside of the crying, it looked as if everybody was having a good time. Doing well while doing good. And what I wanted to know, was why doesn’t everybody train his dog?
When I signed up for the train-the-trainers program that began July 5th—a date I won’t soon forget—Lu told me it would be difficult. Boy, was it only July fifth? Seems a long time ago. Maybe 15 years. Lu told me I’d be frustrated. She said that afterwards, “your dogs won’t recognize you. Your wife will wonder what happened.”
I ‘m not going to break down this minute, but I did some crying, and it wasn’t for affect. I imagine you clients all know just what I’m talking about here, as do all the other trainers.
There’s a reason everybody doesn’t train his dog. Dog training is hard. Even dog handling is hard. It’s frustrating. It’s humiliating. And all the time you’re struggling, you’ve got to be smiling too. And I don’t mean smiling like a jack o lantern. You have to actually radiate genuine good will. When can you have negative emotions, one of our quizzes asks. The answer: NEVER!
Outside of the trillion tricks about dogs that Lu and her staff have picked up, the main problem is something the text book labels affective domain. Guts is what they call it in the world . Guts, or character or spine. You get to find out just how little of it you have. Nor do you make this discovery alone. Golden retrievers aren’t the only creatures around here who get corrections. This old dog was corrected many times. Corrected by Lu and Phil, and often sometimes by students just passing by. And the corrections aren’t the hardest part of it. The hardest part of the course was constantly failing to live up to Lu’s impossible expectations.
When the class first started, Tara told me to watch Lu closely.
“Because she’s a great trainer?” I asked.
Tara nodded. “Because she can motivate a butterfly.”
“Nice phrase,” I thought. Fact is, though, that I haven’t been feeling much like a butterfly. You know those big fat, brown moths?
That’s what I’ve felt like. I’ve felt like one of those moths that flies into a candle and miraculously he survives. Then the foolish moth turns around and flies back into the fire.
Not that I regret it. If a new class was starting tomorrow, I’d sign right up. I’ve learned a lot more than I’ve suffered. Not just about dog training, but about myself. I’m a changed man.
I never felt entirely alone, but then I never felt that I was entirely a member of the pack either. I went home at night. I have a beloved wife, you see, two grown sons and dogs as well. And they were just 25 minutes away. My wife and one of my sons are in the audience. Those of you who think I invented them in order to have an excuse to escape from time to time, might take a look.
Not that these sumptuous dorms tempted me. But I do regret not having connected more deeply with the rest of my pack. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know Adam better. He’s tough as nails, and smart and courteous too. And as for Lia, I don’t know that anyone would have made it without Lia. Lia’s not happy until she’s got her own job done, and part of somebody else’s too. Hana? Hana was all about kindness. Hana injected the humanity into the group. Hana, an actress, acted out the feelings that all the trainers were having. As for J.P.—well J.P. has a touch of Lu’s disease. The guy can’t figure out the meaning of the word “impossible.”
Not that the trainers matter all that much. It’s not about the dogs either. Although I do still have a yearning for Garrison. But then I know where Garrison is going and I approve. He’s going to Elena. God bless them both. And this program, as Lu has always said is about the clients, before its about anyone else. Ultimately it’s about Elena and Greg, about Heather, Elizabeth and Aileen.
It’s about people who can now be more independent from this day forward, more themselves.They were brave to come here, and they too must have felt more like moths than butterflies . Moths, or butterflies, they all got off the ground. They all were moving toward independence, out of darkness and into light Can’t do any better than that in this world."