Cura and I have been together since 2009. We want to thank all of you who followed the early days as well as those who popped back on occasion during the long hiatus. Training was done, the days passed, and we were settling into our life together.
Fast forward: Cura is slowing down and a new member of the family is in training. On top of that, we are all busy with our new calling . . . Running the Training Department for Paws and Stripes. Join us on our journey!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Changing Habits

Habits can be insidious things! Sometimes I think that both Cura and I are struggling to recondition previous habits that are not helpful to our partnership. I say struggling only to convey the 'unnatural' nature of our efforts. Because of previous conditioning, we both have things that we do naturally that are counterproductive to our relationship.

Since returning from our Road Trip, I have been dealing with a particular habit and making some progress -- though there is still work to be done. I have mentioned before that in order for Cura to know where she is supposed to be (physically and mentally) when we are on the move, I have to make it clear to her using a combination of corrections that involve very specific timing. Well, a number of things came together just before and during the Road Trip that made it clear that this particular 'skill' needed some serious attention.

I knew before the trip that Cura was not placed where I wanted her -- she was about 3-5 inches forward of that point. However, just before the trip Rick made it clear that I needed to make a particular lifestyle change . . . I had to give up carrying my purse. Instead, it was Cura's responsibility to carry anything that I needed. This effectively served three purposes. The first was to relieve the stress and imbalance that carrying the purse caused physically. The second was to eliminate one of the things I had to handle when I was out and about. Instead of dealing with a bag of some kind that was potentially always having to be repositioned and Cura's lead, I only had to worry about Cura's lead. The third, and potentially most important, was psychological . . . having carried a purse of some kind since my early teens, it had essentially become an extension of myself -- carrying very important items that formed a part of my identity in some way. This fact was very clear to Rick, who promptly pointed out that my reluctance to give up my purse was precisely WHY I needed to. If I began to view Cura in the same way as I viewed my purse -- as an extension of myself -- it would positively influence our relationship because she would pick up on that attitude and react accordingly. Hence the rather quirky mantra was born -- Cura is my purse!

Well, dutifully I went home that night and evaluated the contents of my purse, determined what was absolutely necessary, and began working out where they would go so that Cura could carry them. It is all still a work in progress, but essentially the absolutely necessary things go into the pockets of Cura's vest (her most frequently worn item) and my usually necessary things and her important supplies go into her pack -- frequently with us but not necessarily being worn by Cura unless we are out for the day without the car. So far, this method appears to be working. With only one problematic development . . .

When Cura is wearing her pack, and she is walking beside me -- even if she were placed where I initially thought I wanted her -- the pack hits my leg. On a bad day, this could potentially throw me off balance and it almost always causes the pack to become unbalanced. This became very obvious during the Road Trip because Cura was using the pack more frequently than normal because she needed her equipment with her and I needed more than just the absolute essentials. So, it soon became clear to me that Cura's placement was a serious issue that needed to be dealt with. Which I presented to Rick and Heather as a priority issue at our first training session upon our return. Not only was I not managing to get Cura placed where I HAD wanted her (an ongoing issue that I had been trying to resolve without success despite Rick and Heather's efforts), she now needed to be even further back to avoid interference with or by the pack when she was wearing it.

So, the Thursday after our return from the Road Trip, we had the good fortune of having a two hour training session. This was combined with the long awaited arrival of custom made slip collars that Rick and Heather had commissioned. Cura has always responded well when her slip collar is set high on her neck (picture where handlers have the slip lead on the dog in dog shows), but I can't seem to keep the slip collar there because my correction timing is a bit late so my corrections actually cause the collar to slip down Cura's neck. This new collar is constructed in a way to counter that -- Whooooohoooooo!! So far, it appears to be working well.

It was while working with this collar that Rick and Heather helped me to realize that I had a habit that needed to be broken . . . I am used to 'feeling' a dog at the end of a leash! While I have never tolerated any of my pet dogs dragging me down the street -- they have always put slight pressure on the leash so I am used to feeling minor tension on the leash. Cura, as a service dog -- and particularly as a mobility dog, must 'float' beside me, putting absolutely no pressure on the lead. Why is my habit a problem? It means that I need to be reconditioned to correct Cura's placement before there is even slight pressure on the lead. Because I was used to feeling slight pressure on the lead, I did not correct until the pressure exceeded the pull that I was habitually used to. So, now I am not only working on changing Cura's placement drastically to compensate for her pack, but I am also learning how to keep the lead completely slack with absolutely NO pressure. As usual, my success varies, but we are both improving and now she is placed in a better position much of the time.

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