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!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Playdate in the SNOW!!

First, I want to make sure that everyone checks out the 'technical' post that went up on Sunday -- it is unusual for me to post more than once a week and I want to continue to add to Cura's Blog and Blog Button lists, so please check it out!

Second, I want to take a moment to thank Service Dog Team #1 for letting me use their names in my blog (so much nicer than having to refer to them as 'Team #1').  Like many bloggers, I shy away from using peoples actual names, preferring to come up with some pseudonym instead (my attempt at maintaining some kind of anonymity on the web -- both my own and that of the people in my life, however involved) and will have to spend some time thinking one up for you.  If you have any suggestions and/or preferences, let me know!   It was good to see you guys in class yesterday . . . Ginger was so cute with her 'down' without her shoes!

Now for this week's fun . . .

If you have been following this blog, you know that Cura is a rescue and she spent at least thirteen months in a shelter.  Actually, it was longer than that, she was at her last shelter for thirteen months, but we know she was in a city pound for some time before that -- who knows how long.  Because she spent such a long time in shelters, she came home with no understanding of how to play.  It took some time for her to figure out what to do with a dog toy and longer to figure out that she could play with other dogs.  One of the tools we have been using to help Cura learn how to have doggie fun is the 'playdate'.  

Cura's jumping ability combined with her flight response when stressed, meant that early playdates did not involve much in the way of 'play' for her.  Instead, we spent a lot of time working on my concern that she would bolt and jump the fence and shifting Cura's response to stress from flight to 'stay by mommy'.  It took quite some time, but Cura gradually started reacting to stressful situations by moving closer to me rather than fleeing the situation.  I became the 'safe place', which is what we were working toward.  On our last regular playdate, we introduced an anti-jump harness which removed my concern that Cura would jump the fence and allowed her to have some real off-lead time without increasing my anxiety levels.  It helped that, by that point, Cura's was responding fairly well to her recall command so I was more confident that she would come when I called.  (Rick and Heather have always been confident that Cura was not going to go far from me -- I was the one whose confidence was shaky on that issue).  

When the weather was warmer, playdate was scheduled for every other week but since it has gotten colder, we have only had a couple of get-togethers.  After all, who wants to stand outside in the cold supervising doggie play every other week?  Actually, it is not so much the temperature -- it is the wind-chill factor that is the deal breaker for me.  So, playdates have been less frequent since the weather has gotten colder (as have, I must admit, Cura's golf cart runs -- though she has not been enthusiastic about being out much, so we are managing).  Despite their lower frequency, the playdates we have had have been very fulfilling.  The anti-jump harness has given Cura a chance to really engage with both the other dogs and the environment.  Plus, I get to practice her recall at greater distances and off-lead by periodically calling her back to me (which, I must admit, I tend to do about every 5 minutes -- or maybe less -- I am sure that everyone gets tired of me constantly calling Cura to me!)  

Our most recent playdate was last Thursday.  It had snowed the entire day on Wednesday and Rick and Heather's Thursday evening session had cancelled, so they suggested that we take advantage of the snow covered ground and get the dogs together for some fun.  Skye (Nona Ear Rubs' Cairn Terrier) LOVES the snow (one of these days I am going to get "Little Miss" on film frolicking in the snow).  The first year she came home she was not so keen, but this year is a completely different story.  In fact, if there is snow on the ground it is difficult to get her to 'take care of business', if you know what I mean, she just wants to mess about in the cold, fluffy, white stuff.  Cura is pretty much in the 'not so keen' stage.  But then, prior to this last week, she had not really been given the opportunity to play in snow.  Usually, if there is snow on the ground, she is in her boots (about the only time she actually likes her shoes).  She, too, has difficulty 'taking care of business' but mainly because she is in her boots -- making such actions challenging -- and because the snow tends to change the way things smell so she can't find 'that perfect spot'.  But, for the most part, Cura has reacted as if snow is . . . inconvenient . . . undesirable . . . foreign.  

While this did not change completely on Thursday, there was a little ray of hope . . . 

Actually, there were a few things that Cura did on the playdate that brought a smile to my face.  Yes, there was the usual 'digging for China' and running about investigating the arena (Rick and Heather's name for the area of their land on which the playdates take place), but there were additional things that I saw as 'developments' and/or 'progress'. Actually, one of the things I noticed was that Cura usually returned to me before I called her!  This meant that, while I still did call her back to me frequently, she also chose to check back with me frequently -- so, in reality, I was not calling her as much as I normally do.  If she happened to be out of sight (there are a few obstacles to line of sight in the arena), she tended to want to 'check in' with me as frequently as I called her back to me -- reinforcing Rick and Heather's stance that Cura would never stray far or be away for long (BIG SURPRISE!!  -- btw, you should read a lot of sarcasm/irony in that last bit -- the trainers have it right, go figure!).  "Check in" did not just involve seeing me, it required coming up to me and having physical contact.

Cura also discovered that big sticks are a joy to chase and chew.  She did not grasp the retrieve aspect of 'mommy' throwing the stick -- but she did run for it and had great fun chewing and generally messing about with said thrown stick (I had intended to bring my camera, but somehow managed to forget it -- hopefully, next time I can provide pictures).   Actually, 'stick' is not really an accurate description of what she was chewing . . . more like tree branches and small tree trunks!  But she had a blast!  In fact, there were situations where she tried to get a bit possessive about some of the sticks.  Now, I am not saying that I want to encourage possessiveness in Cura -- that would be counterproductive, and when she attempted to be possessive, I took steps to counter it -- but I am glad that she is showing some interest and passion in 'play' things.  

The final amazing thing only happened for a few seconds . . . Cura frolicked in the snow!  No other dogs or people were around and she pranced and jumped in a circle, just enjoying the snow.  I wish I had managed to film it for you -- it was a beautiful thing to see, however brief.  Hopefully, there will be another snow before Spring breaks and there will be an opportunity to get her on film frolicking and just letting go -- being her doggie-self (I must remember my camera if there is a next time this winter!).  

Long story, short -- not only is Cura learning how to perform her job, she is learning how to have fun and be a doggie . . . may she continue to excel at both work and play!

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