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, January 25, 2010

So many things, so little space . . .

There are several things to update everyone on this week and therefore it is one of those times that I wonder if I should think about posting more than once a week so that I can keep it short -- thoughts anyone?  For now, I will stick with the weekly post and try to be as brief as I can . . . which means the basics and little detail!

Those of you who also follow Cura on Twitter (maybe I should put more stuff there instead of posting more than once a week -- yes, I appear to be getting a bit obsessive about this, it's the Virgo in me, I think!) know that we had the opportunity to be judges at a High School Science Fair this past week.  Well, actually, I was the judge -- once Cura got into the swing of things, she spent much of the time napping.  She soon learned that, once we had moved to a display and I had started talking with the student, we were going to be there for awhile.  By the third or fourth display, she just settled down and went into what I have come to see as her 'half-sleep'.  Anyone who has not seen her REALLY sleep would think she was oblivious to everything around her when she is half-sleeping.  But, all it takes is a soft word from me, a sudden movement, or sometimes just me thinking it is time to get moving and she is up and ready to go.  It can be a bit spooky at times when one moment she is sleeping at my feet and the next she is up, alert, and ready to help me!  Spooky but amazing -- she has been 'tuned in' to me from the first time we met and it is always impressive to see that connection in action.

Sundays and Mondays are "Basic Training" Group classes.  A Fresh Perspective Dog Training (Rick and Heather) provide free Basic Training courses to people adopting from the no-kill shelters in the area -- provided they enroll and attend the orientation lecture within 30 days of the adoption.  Cura and I go to the classes to work on her skills in a more distracting environment (and boy can it be distracting).  This last week was the first class of the cycle, so new owners and dogs.  Lots of fussy and/or reactive dogs with owners that did not yet have the skills to manage their new charges.  After the classes on Sunday, Rick and Heather suggested that Cura and I and another Service Dog in Training Team go to a restaurant for a training session.  While Cura and I have been to restaurants several times, this was the other team's first restaurant visit -- it was the first time Cura and I had been to a restaurant under the supervision of our trainers (and certainly the first time that Cura would be sharing under the table with another dog!!!).

The two dogs were laying a mere 3 feet apart -- if that.  The only thing that separated them, apart from the human half of each team having our feet over our respective dogs, was Heather's feet.  I was so proud of Cura (she hardly moved during the two hours -- three times something caught her attention, but she never tried to get up and a quick verbal correction followed by a reissue of the 'stay' and she immediately relaxed again).  I was also thrilled at how well the other team did on their first restaurant outing.  Rick and Heather gave us some very helpful pointers on how to go about doing things to insure a pleasant experience when eating out and it was very nice to spend time with the other Service Dog Team (btw, if you are reading this and do not mind me using you and your dog's name, please let me know -- otherwise, I am going to keep your identity protected -- if you prefer your anonymity, once the other teams actually begin the program, you will be Service Dog Team #1 if I reference you in future blogs).

Before our last private training session, I was given some homework -- not the normal "practice these commands" homework, an actual written assignment!  In just over a month, Cura and I are going to have our 'midterm'.  To prepare for that, I had to sit down and construct two lists:  one of all of the things Cura needed to be able to do for me and one of all the things I would like her to learn because it would make things easier but were not vital.  Being the good student that I try to be (there is that 'Virgo' thing again), I completed the lists and realized that one of the important elements that I had been neglecting of late was the dreaded 'shoe component'.  This is an ongoing challenge (see Cura's first day in shoes).  Now, she is much improved, but usually still reluctant to perform most activities -- besides standing and walking -- in her shoes.  So, I resolved that Monday Basic Training classes would be spent working with Cura in her shoes.  This would insure that she was wearing and working in her shoes at least once a week for a good chunk of time.  Today's class brought home a very important point.

Sometimes I know things on a subconscious level, but not on a conscious one -- until something clicks (or is banged into me) . . . like today.  Ever since my less than stellar performance as a partner/trainer a couple of weeks ago, I have been doing things to insure that all of my interactions with Cura were balanced and pleasant.  Among other things, I have succeeded in being very positive despite any physical pain I was experiencing.  This is a significant development for me because frequently when my pain levels rise, my attitude becomes less tolerant and my patience is very thin.  Today, my pain levels were a bit on the high side and yet I was quite positive and in a good mood.  Interestingly, Cura performed admirably in her boots today, doing everything that I asked of her without my having to place her into the various positions.  This is the first time wearing boots, that she has performed this well (apart from the trip to Madrid, where she was only required to stand or walk in her shoes).

Rick graciously pointed out the connection between my state of mind and Cura's performance, turning on a big, bright lightbulb in my head (both he and Heather manage that quite frequently -- I love having such excellent, dedicated, and insightful trainers! -- and no that was not sarcasm)  Bottom line, when I stay positive, Cura does better.  Seems simple, doesn't it?  The difficulty lies in maintaining a positive attitude when you are in high levels of pain, dealing with an anxiety episode, or both -- not so simple then!   Maybe now that I know it helps Cura, I will be better able to pull it off no matter how I am faring . . . time will tell.

Well, that is all for this week's post.  More adventures to come . . . we are going to a Burn's Dinner this weekend!  Should be fun!