Cura and I attended our first Burns Night Dinner together last Saturday. Having been to Burns Dinners in Scotland, I find it interesting how different they can be here in the States. I say this only because there were so many 'new' things for Cura to experience at the dinner we went to the other night that she would not have encountered at a Burn's Dinner in Scotland. The biggest challenge for her appeared to be the Pipe and Drum bands that played. She had dealt with bagpipes before (live, outside or recorded, inside -- but never live, inside) so that was not too much of a challenge -- apart from the volume. The drums, on the other hand . . . Well, I think the Base sounds too much like Thunder for her and she found it a bit upsetting when the first Band played. After the second, she calmed down enough to stop panting and be a bit more relaxed (although she was safely hidden under the table). With this improvement, I decided not to push our luck and we left before the third Band began. We had already been there for three hours, the seats were not comfortable, and it is always better to end on a positive rather than a negative! Besides, I was ready to go home, too. There were a lot of people there and I needed to get away from the crowd.
On the way home, we made a stop to pick up a few things. In the store, we encountered a small family which included a rambunctious young boy that was not only out of control, but fixated on Cura as soon as we entered the row that he was in. I just knew that he was going to attempt to maul her (no, I am not being dramatic -- the child was bouncing up and down, whipping his coat around, racing up and down the aisle, and generally being disruptive). To understand the significance of what happened next, a bit of background is necessary.
A few class cycles ago, when I was trying to find polite, but firm, ways to keep people from petting Cura and distracting her, Rick suggested that we start learning/using a new command. Rick and Heather teach that one of the best and easiest ways to prevent dogs from reacting to their surroundings is to put yourself between them and anything that may trigger a reaction. And yet, since Cura is a Service Dog, she needs to be able to pass by things that may cause a reaction in other dogs without reacting. So, not only was I practicing placing myself in between Cura and triggers by switching her from one side to the other, but we were also practicing walking close to triggers with Cura remaining on her usual side regardless of where the triggers were. We were getting pretty good at both methods. The switching was challenging for me because of my mobility limitations, but my coordination was getting better -- in practice when I was 'ready' for the triggers and the need to switch, not so much in everyday situations. Rick's suggestion essentially addressed both the 'touchy stranger' issue and my difficulties performing the switch manually. He suggested that we teach Cura to move from one side to the other on her own in response to the command, "Switch". We have been working on that consistently for a couple of months now and Cura is starting to respond to the command without leash guidance (about 50% of the time).
Now, back to the out of control child in the store on Saturday . . . poor Cura was within easy reach of this young boy who was bound and determined to 'touch the dog' (I am getting pretty good at reading that intention in people which makes it much easier to deal with it before it even becomes an issue). So, as we got closer I said, "Cura, Switch." and she did it all by herself! No guidance by the leash, no delay. One second she was walking on my left, and then the next she had dropped a step behind me and moved to my right, putting me in between her and the child. This accomplished two goals -- it put me in between Cura and the young boy AND it sent a very clear message to the boy and his parents that he needed to leave Cura alone. The boy's parents called him away from us and I did not have to address either them or the boy directly. It was the first time that we had used that command in a practical situation and it worked wonderfully! A great success! All and all, a great evening.