Those of you who have been following our activities know that Cura and I had a couple of negative experiences with 'strange' dogs in the month of July. While Cura was not hurt on either occasion, for several weeks she was jumpy and distracted when we were out and about, especially if we were outside. On top of everything, my confidence had been shaken which was certainly not doing Cura any good!
By the end of July, I came to the realization that I was going out of my way to avoid other dogs when we were out on a walk or running Cura alongside the golf cart. Definitely NOT the best approach! After all, we can't go through life avoiding every other dog in the world and I definitely didn't want Cura to begin reacting negatively to every dog she met. Since Cura arrived I have had a few opportunities to be around other people with service dogs and was rather surprised at the reaction of these dogs to other animals when they were supposed to be working. The fact that some of their charges were actually visually impared surprised me further . . . these were fully trained service animals and they were lunging, pulling, whining, and/or simply ignoring their partners when faced with another animal. With only a few months training, Cura was better focused, and she was anything but non-reactive! That last bit is very important -- of course I am proud of the fact that Cura was so well behaved given her relative inexperience, but it is important to keep things in perspective and not get complacent -- or cocky. The last thing I wanted was for Cura to begin to take on such behaviors when meeting other dogs, and my reactions were ultimately going to result in negative reactions to other animals that could seriously interfere with Cura's ability to do her job. So, I made a conscious effort to deal with my own fears and stop playing the avoidance card.
Only a single day after I made this resolution, my resolve was tested. It was time to pick up some dog and cat food (yes, we have cats too -- a good friend of mine recently sent me a card and signed off by saying 'Give my love to . . . and the zoo!'). The most convenient place, based on my outing that day was a rather local mercantile that had a couple of shop dogs; both of which have been very friendly in the past. However, I had not been there since Cura had come home. I spent the entire time in the car debating with myself about whether or not I should bring Cura into the mercantile with me. After all, it was just a quick stop . . .
But, as I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that to leave Cura in the car was, once again, practicing avoidance rather than stepping up and working through the whole issue. As soon as I made my decision, I was overcome with a sense of calm and confidence. It has been quite awhile since I had felt so 'centered'. Taking full advantage of the 'calm, assertive' state -- yeah, I know, Dog Whisperer speak but Rick and Heather use it too --I boldly entered the mercantile with my trusty partner at my side. Now, I don't mean to imply that this was an overly challenging situation. As I already mentioned, the dogs at the mercantile are very friendly. On top of that, one is about 15lbs while the other may be 40lbs (if it is lucky). But, at this point, size and temperament didn't really matter -- I had been reacting nervously to almost all dogs and this was a relatively safe environment to start climbing my way out of that hole. Very shortly after our entrance, the little one came to see what was going on. I am happy to report one of those little successes that require celebrating. After coming around the corner and getting a peek, the little bundle of joy backed off and left us alone for the rest of our visit. We never even saw the other pup.
Funnily enough, this small success did wonders for me. Last Sunday we were in a room full of people with new adoptions. Some were puppies, others were adults . . . some were reactive to other dogs, others were not . . . some were fussy, others just curious. In all of the commotion, I once again had that calm, assertive feeling. Cura and I were placed in the middle of the circle (our new place so that Cura experiences more of a challenge) and I was quite comfortable, a fact that was illustrated by the fact that Cura stretched out and took a nap!
So, while there is still some work to be done, we are back in the saddle and ready to go!