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, January 10, 2010

Imperfection . . . a key to learning

No . . . I am definitely NOT perfect and Thursday was a clear example of this fact!  It was probably the first truly "bad day" of training that I have had since Cura came home.

I am not a morning person . . . whenever possible I avoid setting appointments that require me to be walking out the door before 8:30am.  First, for those of you who are sitting there shaking your head and thinking "8:30!  I get up at (fill in the blank with an earlier time)", let me point out that I am frequently still awake in the wee hours of the morning, so being out and about by 8:30-9:00 in the morning is pretty darn good.  I am trying to adjust my sleep schedule to resemble something more human, but it is definitely a work in progress.  Second, this doesn't mean I am not up earlier (though it can), only that I attempt to limit my exposure to the outside world before then.  In fact, I try to limit my exposure to the inside world as well (no one should have to deal with me in the morning -- I can be grumpy).  Unfortunately, the world sometimes requires me to be up and out of the house earlier than I would like.  But, instead of moving forward my rising time so that I still have time to go through my morning routine in a leisurely manner, I usually sleep as late as possible and rush around like a mad woman to get ready and out of the house on time.  I share this about myself as an explanation of what contributed to the bad day -- not to excuse it.  Thursday was one of those early days -- fortunately, that afternoon was also a training day or I may have never realized what I was doing.

Now, Cura is simply not used to being asked to go through our morning routine so early, let alone while I am rushed.  If there is one thing that I have gotten pretty good at during the past nine months (WOW -- it has been that long since Cura came home) it is to make sure to avoid being rushed.  Cura just works better that way and my stress levels remain more manageable.  Thursday reinforced the need for that -- though I am not sure it would have made much difference since Cura was taken on her walk and given her breakfast about 2-3 hours earlier than normal -- but not being rushed will help to eliminate or lower my frustration levels, at the very least.

I am not going to go through a play by play of the day -- I am still trying to keep posts on the shorter side -- but I will say that my frustration levels continued to climb and, as they did, Cura's behavior became more and more fussy.  Fortunately, we had a short break between the commitments of the morning and our training session that afternoon.  Cura took a nap and I tried to get some course prep work done.  I viewed it as a 'reset' for the day and, by the time we met Rick and Heather, I was convinced that I had successfully released my frustrations from the morning.  But, I was mistaken.

Almost as soon as we began working, Rick and Heather were able to point out to me that I was being unusually impatient with Cura.  What was I doing?  My tone of voice with her was more stern than normal.  I was not clearly letting Cura know what I wanted of her -- and would correct her when she got it wrong.  My corrections were more harsh than necessary (Cura usually only needs a verbal reminder or a little flick on the leash to get her back on task).  The result?  Cura was jumpy.  She was trying, but (big shock) was not able to read my mind.  She didn't understand why she was being corrected -- so the corrections were not only on the harsh side, but completely ineffective.  So, to put it simply . . . I was being a HUGE bu**head!

When my behavior was brought to my attention, I was appalled!  (By the way, thanks Heather!)  I felt like such a heel.  I am not sure what I was more upset about . . . the fact that I had been behaving so harshly or that I had not even realized it!  I felt horrible!  I was allowing my earlier frustrations to affect the way I was interacting with Cura -- NOT acceptable!  I was breaking a very important rule of training -- never train in anger/frustration.  For the rest of the night, I broke another important rule of training -- don't dwell on the past.  I found myself trying to 'make up' for my previous behavior and showered Cura with love and affection.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but I actually woke her up a couple of times to do it (not ideal)!  Fortunately, by the next morning, I had let it go and we have had some very successful and productive days, training wise.

Now, you may be wondering why I chose to write about something that I claim to have moved on from.  After all, if I have truly "let it go", why feel the need to share?  I did struggle with this, but decided to post on this experience for a couple of reasons.  First, I think it is important to share both "positive" and "negative" experiences.  This blog is about the realities of training my own service dog and sharing those experiences with others.  So far, the experiences have been on the 'warm fuzzies' side.  Oh sure, I have shared our challenges, but they have not been overly difficult to deal with and, consequently, the posts portrayed my overall positive and optimistic approach to every experience.  Thursday was not a 'warm fuzzie' day and I think it is important to recognize that the training process is not all sweetness and light.  It is hard and there will be days that I make mistakes -- that does not make me a bad person or a bad trainer, it makes me human.  It is important to embrace the fact that I will not always do things perfectly, which leads me to the second reason I wrote this post.  When I make mistakes, it is important to evaluate them, resolve to avoid the same mistakes in the future, and then MOVE ON!  Cura is not holding a grudge.  Almost as soon as my behavior changed, her jumpiness subsided and we have made significant progress.  Allowing my mistakes to color my behavior with Cura (apart from learning from them) can be just as counterproductive as allowing my frustrations to affect my behavior.

So, when you are training your dog (service or pet) remember . . . you will make mistakes!  Recognize them, learn from them, and then move on.