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!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Challenging comfort zones

During our last private session, we were working on some of Cura's more advanced skills. Specifically, we were working on things that she needs to know in the event that they are needed, but hopefully will not ever need to be used. They are things she will need to know in case I fall and need her to go for help. Now, since I have not fallen since Cura came home -- amazng how just having her with me all the time has eliminated those monthly/bi-monthly tumbles -- it is possible that I may never fall again. Even if I do fall, it is not likely that she will need to do anything more than her recovery series, designed to keep strangers from yanking me up from the ground before I have assessed whether or not there is any problem and help me get back on my feet. But, she still needs to know what to do in the event that I need human help rather than canine assistance.

So, we have to teach her and then practice -- gradually working her up to being able to find a family member at quite a distance and leading them back to me. This is particularly challenging for Cura because she is uncomfortable when separated from me (can you say that is the understatement of the century -- okay, maybe the decade) let alone when I am not in sight. This is a very stressful exercise for her and training has to tread a very fine line between teaching her the skill (helping her step outside her comfort zone) without pushing her too far, too fast and causing her to either shut down or freak out.

We have begun working with the command that someone would use to get her to take them to me.  Generally termed the "Where's Mommy?" command, only we use my name to avoid confusing her since one of the people she is begin trained to find is Nonna Ear Rubs.  Now it is time to practice outside the comfort of the house, in places with more distractions, and with me actually not being in Cura's line of sight.  We had tried this earlier in the training -- months ago -- but we were moving too fast for her.  One time we pushed her comfort zone just a little to much and she didn't find me right away and lost her head a little -- translation, she freaked out and went charging around the library frantically trying to find me (yeah, I DID feel like a big ol' b***head, in case you are wondering).  So, a learning experience -- we took a few steps back and focused on working on the command in the home and giving Cura more time to feel safe in her new environment/job -- remember, she has not even been home for a year yet and at that point, it MAY have been six months.

So, how did it go this time?  Very well!  It was still a bit stressful for her, but the few times we made it more challenging for her and she didn't find me right away, she didn't panic.  Instead, she started to use her nose and searched meticulously until she found me.  So, what did we do?  Yep, you guessed it, we increased the challenge.  Instead of her finding me and having me standing, waiting for her -- I laid down on the ground and waited.  Cura did a brilliant job of finding me but did not like the fact that I was on the ground.  After licking my face like crazy, she managed to go through the entire recovery sequence (with face licks in between), but she clearly was not happy about this new development.  After about 5 minutes, we did it again.  The second time she barely managed to get through the recovery sequence.  Too stressful with attempts made too close together -- but she did do it!  So, definite progress.  We pushed her comfort zone a bit, but next time she will cope with it better and pretty soon it will not even phase her to find me on the ground because she will know exactly what to do.


jennohara said...

Cura is amazing! So good to hear how well she is doing. You must be so proud

Cura's Mom said...

It is hard work and requires dedication, but yes! She is a brilliant dog and I am lucky to have her.