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, June 18, 2009

Down Time

Just like humans, Cura needs her down time. To some extent, Cura is always 'on duty', even at home. So, it is very important that she is given some time where she can just 'be a dog'. That is one of the reasons for running her by the golf cart several times a week -- well, that and the exercise it provides. She loves to run and with the golf cart -- she can really turn on the speed. Actually, if it has been a couple of days and she is not wearing her shoes, Cura can go faster than the cart! Fortunately, she is a sprinter rather than a distance runner, so such bursts of speed are not long lived and she quickly settles down to a pace the golf cart can handle with little trouble.

Running by the golf cart is great, but it is not true doggie freedom because she is still on a lead and restricted in her direction. Where the cart goes, she goes. So, every week, weather permitting, Cura and Skye (our Rescued Cairn Terrier pictured above) get to visit Rick and Heather's land and have a play date with a few other dogs. It is like a private dog park. A place where the uncertainty that can occur at a public dog park is absent. No one bringing food or their female in heat and any aggression, if it occurs, is immediately dealt with. Just a place where Cura and Skye can be dogs. Cura loves it! She can run around off-leash, dig, and play with other dogs to her heart's content. Frequently, she comes home looking brown and she has the added adventure of having to be rinsed off after getting home.

The land is Outside -- so there have been a few challenges, depending on how the weather is and what is going on in the surrounding area. So, sometimes, even Cura's free time is a learning experience for us both! She is learning that she can relax, even with loud noises and wind, and I am learning how to help her feel safe in situations that are challenging for her.

Tonight is the normal night for her independent lesson and it is going to be followed by 'open play'. Usually Cura's play date is on Tuesday evenings, but this week the schedule had to be changed. It is going to be a busy evening and Cura is currently napping -- saving up for all the activity tonight! She had her run this morning, I am working from home today, and there are no errands to run so it is a pretty calm day for her. Tonight will be exciting -- on top of the training and play date, the rest of the 'pack' returns some time this evening (most likely while we are out at Rick and Heather's) so that will be a bit of excitement -- reunions can be such fun -- and definitely a time for diligence and learning on my part!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shoes . . . (and fences)

Yes, again . . . but it is the training focus at the moment which means that shoes are what is foremost on my mind so that is where I am going to begin -- who knows where I will end up!

In addition to her walks, Cura wore her shoes from about 9am to about 1pm yesterday -- almost four hours non-stop. For the most part, she did really well, but she did have her points of protest. This time it was getting in and out of the car. All of a sudden, she couldn't jump up onto the back seat or from the back seat onto the ground. Adjusting the shoes did nothing to solve the problem and ultimately she managed the maneuvers -- but I certainly felt like the Wicked Witch of the West making her do it despite her protests. Maybe I should clarify . . . by protests I don't mean that she was making any protesting noises (no whining, barking, grumbling -- nothing like that). Instead it was just Cura pitifully attempting to make the 3-ish foot jump into the SUV that completely fell short of the mark.

Now, before any of you start feeling sorry for the poor puppy who is being ruthlessly forced to do the impossible, let me give you some of that 'history' I told you I was not going to go into in the first posting but would probably have the opportunity to share in later posts. On Cura's adoption paperwork it specifically says that she needs a yard with at least a SIX FOOT FENCE. Why is this necessary, you ask? Apparently, she is capable of jumping a six foot fence FROM A SEATED POSITION with hardly any effort whatsoever.

Now, we do not have a six foot fence, however, on the other side of one of our five(ish) foot block wall is about a twelve foot drop to a concrete and gravel surface. Since Cura had formed such a strong bond with me and was going to be in an environment that was constantly challenging her, the fact that our wall was not 6+ feet was not considered a problem -- and for several weeks it wasn't. Rick and Heather made sure to tell me that any time Cura looked at the top of the fence/wall she needed to be corrected to counter her conditioned response to fences -- which was to jump them -- and the few times that she looked, I did correct her, but there was no real attempt to jump the fence and leave the yard . . .

And then I started getting confident that she WOULDN'T jump it. Within two weeks of me commenting on the fact that, while her paperwork said that she bolted out doors and jumped fences, I had never seen such behavior -- she did BOTH! Just goes to show you that the universe is perfectly content to teach you a lesson immediately! Well, the powers that be decided to pretty much put me in my place in short order. Right about the time I realized how different (in a positive way) my life was now that Cura was with me -- even though she was not fully trained in her job -- I was put in two situations that made me face the possibility that I could lose her, however remote a possibility that might be. (Rick and Heather are PRETTY DARN CONFIDENT that Cura is simply NOT going to take off).

First, she decided that she was going to bolt out the garage as the door was coming down. It took about ten minutes for me to get my hands on her. To top it off, and this is the part that was frustrating for me, whenever she turned a corner, she would keep peeking around it to make sure that I was still following her! It was one of the more difficult moments in my life when she finally responded to my command and didn't prance out of my reach. The fact is that she DID (finally) do what I told her to so I HAD to praise her for her obedience or I would be undermining the command -- but, because of the merry chase she gave me, I just wanted the throttle her! I am happy to say that I managed to shower her with love and approval -- but it was a close call!

Then, about a week later, we were in the back yard and (I found out later) a man was walking his dog along the sidewalk behind our block wall -- the one with the twelve foot drop. She started to rapidly pace the wall and, before I could stop her, she jumped onto the wall and was precariously balanced there for what seemed like an eternity. I like to think that she didn't actually INTEND to go over once she saw how far the drop was. She managed to balance on top of the wall for a bit, but not long enough for me to actually reach her and stop her from going over. That time was scarier for me because people race down that road entirely too fast and I had to actually lose sight of Cura in order to go around the block so that I could get my hands on her. Once again, she led a merry chase -- though shorter in duration. Lesson learned -- she is not ready to be in the back garden off-lead.

However, given the jumping rebellion we had today -- maybe putting her out there off-lead in her shoes would work just fine!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Inside vs. Outside

I mentioned that Cura was a Rescue Dog . . . because of this, we have had some interesting challenges when it comes to Inside vs. Outside. Hmmm, I used the past tense and that is not exactly accurate because the basic Inside vs. Outside issues continue, though the way they manifest is constantly in flux. Many of Cura's reactions are completely understandable, given her experiences.

When she was in the shelter, she was in an outside pod with a metal roof. One of the first challenges we had to work through was her dislike for the indoors. Whenever we were in a building or room, she wanted out. It didn't really matter to her what route -- window or door -- any way that led Outside was her focus. Her favorite method of attempting to achieve Outside was to lay down as requested and then inch her way toward the nearest opening. If I had a nickle for every time I had to get her up and put her back in the initial spot . . .

That first round of basic training that we went through when she was still living at the shelter was frequently more focused on working Cura through her anxiety about Inside that working on the obedience commands. We tended to work on obedience in those initial days with much more success if she was Outside, so the actual classes were more about getting her to feel more comfortable Inside. Since the classes took up only a small part of our time together, there was plenty of time to enforce the commands. Even by the time she came home, Cura was not overly pleased about being Inside. I was not sure how she was going to react to being in the house -- but, for the most part, I need not have worried.

She became comfortable Inside very quickly. In fact, the second or third day she was home, we were out walking and some hot air balloons were going up. Once I convinced her that running away (in ANY direction) was not an option, all she wanted was to get Inside! Now, if we are out in the back yard and she doesn't like something (the weather, balloons, noises, whatever) she makes a beeline for the door to get in the house. But, one of the things that I have to do is get her to be comfortable in these kinds of trigger situations, so she can't just go Inside if something bothers her. In order to help her get over these things, I can't just let her in the house because she is freaked -- that would accomplish nothing but enforce the anxiety. So, she has to stay out for at least a little bit before she is let Inside.

Now, I am not saying that there were not some rather funny moments involving Inside. For example, about three weeks after she came home, Cura noticed a recessed light in the ceiling of the family room. Who knows why she had never noticed it before or why it bothered her so much all of a sudden -- but she didn't and it did. It took about 10 minutes to get her to stop grumbling at it (having now heard her growl, I would not call the sound she made at that time growling, exactly) and another 20 minutes before she began to stop looking at it and eventually ignore it completely. That is about the average time it takes Cura to work past things that do not involve noises. If the situation involves noises that she finds disturbing, the process can take much longer -- some of them are still challenges after almost twelve weeks, though Cura's reactions are getting better.

In some cases the progress is slow and it is important to recognize the 'little successes' and ALWAYS end on them (something that is not always easy -- I am getting pretty good at recognizing the 'silver lining' -- this whole process really reinforces a 'glass is half full' mentality). In an ideal world, I would NEVER end an experience on anything but a positive note for Cura -- ending on even a little success makes the next situation that much better for her. But, this is not an ideal world, so that is not always possible. When that happens, I just remind myself that tomorrow is another day and I approach each situation AS IF she HAD a little success last time. Believe it or not, frequently that actually works -- who knew! It is true that attitude is most of the 'battle'. If I am confident, calm, consistent, and persistent, Cura does well. If I am uncertain, anxious, scattered, and give up, it affects Cura's success. We are a team and I have to hold up my end of the bargain so that she can learn how to consistently hold up hers. She already knows that she has a job -- I just have to help her understand exactly what it is and help her to always be comfortable regardless of whether she is Inside or Outside. A tall order -- but I do my best to fill it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shoes Anyone??

If you have not had the opportunity to see a dog learning how to walk in shoes, let me encourage you to do so at EVERY opportunity. Why put shoes on a dog, you ask? Well, because she is a service dog, she must go everywhere with me regardless of the weather. Think about how you feel walking across a parking lot in bare feet when it is sweltering outside and the asphalt is 100+ degrees -- or whether or not you would like to go barefoot when there is snow on the ground. Even if you are of the mind that dog's feet are more resilient than those of a human, what about all of the glass and other damaging items can be found on the ground? Now imagine how well Cura could effectively be my service dog if her pads got cut or torn. So -- while she will not always need them, it is very important that Cura become comfortable walking and then working in her shoes for those times that they are needed. One important note: since dogs have only two ways too cool themselves (panting and through their paw pads) it is important to make sure overheating doesn't occur when wearing the boots -- Rick and Heather have introduced me to a cooling coat which works to keep Cura cool. It is AMAZING. Cura is a black dog and we live in the desert so the cooling coat has come in handy.

Here is a video of Cura taken a few weeks ago. It is actually the 3rd or 4th time she was in her shoes so the 'prancing' is significantly reduced here, but still very pronounced.

One of the primary things we have been working on since last Thursday is getting Cura more comfortable walking in her shoes. She has gotten much better, though not exactly comfortable. In fact, she is still rather disgusted with the whole concept -- her face says it all. As with all things in this whole process, persistence is the key. We have even had a few successes in the past 24 hours. She has managed to figure out how to sit, lay, and relieve herself while wearing her shoes (okay -- probably too much information for some, but this is one of the realities of having a service dog).

Now, being ABLE to sit, etc. in the shoes doesn't mean she has gotten obedience in the shoes down yet. This may prove to be a bit of a challenge because on the directions of Rick and Heather, until Cura gets used to them, boots are a required element of her gear. Every time we leave the house, she is supposed to be in the boots. Tomorrow and Wednesday are going to be interesting as far as obedience is concerned. Especially Wednesday since on top of it all we are going to be riding the bus -- one of Cura's more challenging activities at the moment (more on that later, I am sure!).

Working with Cura on the shoes has presented another challenge that I have not really encountered yet -- at least not to extent that I am now. Having to make Cura wear something that is clearly not comfortable for her is quite difficult for me. I have to keep telling myself that this is what is best in the long run (after all, I don't want her to burn or freeze her paws). This is one of the harder parts of persistence -- sometimes it actually makes you feel like you are being mean! But consistency is the key and we will continue to persevere!

Until next time . . .