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!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Traumatic Experiences

Life is rarely completely smooth and the past couple of weeks or so have been pretty much anything but uneventful (which, I suppose, is a rather lame way of apologizing for the long delay since the last post).

First and foremost, we are now in monsoon season here in New Mexico (being a non-native, this is not something I would have associated with the desert that is New Mexico before moving here -- funny how preconceptions of an area exist!) which means high winds, thunder, lightening, and rain. I have already shared a few of the challenges that unsettled weather triggers for Cura so there is no real need to rehash them. Just picture these taking center stage pretty much every night and sometimes throughout the entire day . . . oh joy!

Evening walks especially have become exercises in patience and diligence. If that were the only challenge, I would just suck it up and deal, but by the end of the walk Cura is very stressed. Plus, she is starting to avoid going out in the first place (a very uncharacteristic thing for her). It isn't even like it is a long walk . . . just up the street one last time before we are in for the night, maybe a 5-10 minute affair if there are no complications, but recently they are more like a 15-20 minute activity because Cura is not focusing well (though, it must be said that she is trying VERY hard and is no longer trying to bolt -- just trying to avoid being outside). Fortunately, we will be having Play Date this Thursday at Rick and Heather's place and the weather forecast predicts less than pleasant weather all this week so I should be able to get some good pointers on how to help Cura through this. If the weather is even slightly windy or there is the least threat of rain, Cura is not likely to be interested in playing but if that is the case, it is a good opportunity to help desensitize her to the weather.

On top of the weather issue, we have had the lovely experience of being charged by two separate dogs in a span of ten days! For the most part, Cura is pretty good about not reacting to dogs when they are around her. If the guideline for a service dog is no reaction to a dog within six feet (a guideline I have heard Rick quote on several occasions), Cura is not perfect but she is pretty good. She will frequently prick her ears at a nearby dog and occasionally, particularly if the dog in question is excited in any way or we are moving toward the dog, will take a couple of prancing steps but she does not pull hard at the lead or attempt to charge the dog. However, if we are charged, to some extent all bets are off! Though her reaction during the second charging incident was better than the first, it could not be classified as 'not reacting'.

Now, on this issue I am torn. On the one hand, one of Cura's services is to keep me safe and, now that her training is focusing on her specialist skills, that responsibility is becoming more obvious to her. So, on the one hand, if I am threatened, it is logical for her to view her responsibility as protecting me from the perceived danger. However, there are TONS of reasons why she needs to allow me to handle these things if I am in a position to do so (i.e. I am conscious) not the least of which is that I don't want her to be injured!

A few weeks after she came home, we were out and about and a dog came out of a business located on the street we were walking on. I didn't even know we were being charged until Cura pricked her ears in that direction, the dog was so silent. But, as soon as Cura alerted me to the dog, I turned -- set the boundary while putting myself between the charging dog and Cura -- and the dog braked so fast it practically sat on the ground, turned and went back into the shop. Problem solved and my confidence in dealing with these situations was boosted -- job well done.

This incident, combined with some boundary setting exercises that Rick and Heather had set up, helped me to feel better about my ability to keep other, less controlled dogs from bothering Cura while she was out and about doing her job. Then came the first traumatic encounter . . . Fortunately, Cura was not injured, but I managed to get bit keeping the other dog at bay (not a serious bite, just some moderate scrapes and bruising). We were headed out for an evening run, so I was not alone (which was good) and Cura was in her harness rather than her normal slip collar (which was bad because I had less control over her head and she had more leverage). Essentially, this incident, while not actually causing physical injury to Cura, set back her focus a bit because she began to forage excessively again -- something that we had managed to cut down significantly at that point. To be fair, before this charging incident she still tended to get distracted by her environment, but a quick correction usually re focused her with little difficulty-- now her attention was constantly flitting to and fro and focusing on pretty much everything BUT what she was supposed to focus on -- me.

The second charge happened on our road trip. Although her reaction was lower keyed, she still did react. This time, not only did Cura not get hurt but neither did I -- however, this is due more to the efforts of others than my ability to set boundaries for the other dog. Regardless of the successes of each of these incidences -- and believe me, I recognize the fact that there was no contact between Cura and the dog involved and that Cura's reaction was lessened in the second incident in relation to the first -- my confidence in my ability to deal with these situations has been shot.

I didn't know how badly until today when we went to the basic training class. The last series of classes that Cura and I sat in on I was comfortable with the proximity of the other dogs and not overly concerned about whether or not I could handle a situation, should it develop, at least long enough for Rick or Heather to step in and sort it out. Today, I found myself hitting 'OMG' mode several times -- the adrenaline kicked in and my initial reaction was pretty close to panic. Cura did great, and I guess so did I outwardly, but I frequently had to deal with the spontaneous adrenaline shakes in the hour and a half of the class -- clear evidence that my confidence in my ability to control other dogs when needed is not what it was before these last two incidences.

So, between the weather and the charging incidences, Cura and I have had a few setbacks. Fortunately, we have excellent trainers, a strong bond, persistence, and a desire to succeed on our side (ok -- so the desire to succeed concept probably is more a trait of the human part of the equation and, for Cura, persistence may not be the most accurate word -- but the result is the same since she keeps making the effort regardless of how difficult -- she may not want to, but eventually she takes that step over the threshold and goes outside regardless of the weather). I have confidence that we will work through this and Rick and Heather have already presented ideas and taken steps to work on things. Gotta LUV a proactive philosophy!

If you have been following Cura's tweets, you would have known before reading this post that Cura and I have been on a road trip. This post is already on the long side so I don't intend to go into the specifics on the trip here, but I plan to elaborate on other parts of the trip later. For now, I will say 'good night'.

Oh, and if anyone out there has had problems with dogs charging them and have developed some successful techniques -- please feel free to share -- any helpful and constructive suggestions are welcome. I am all about learning where Cura is involved -- she deserves a charge that is willing to consider anything that may make her more successful at her job.

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