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!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ack . . . BALLOONS!

The other day, we woke to a wonderfully, clear day.  The temperature was lovely and the wind was non-existent.  Perfect Hot Air Balloon weather -- and boy were they out in force!  Of course, I knew immediately upon waking that there were balloons outside.  How, you may ask?  Cura knows they are there before she even leaves the bedroom.  She doesn't even have to see one out the window . . . she just knows.

When we headed outside for our walk, there were 15+ balloons in the air!  If I were to guess, most of them were within a 2-3 mile radius of the house, and many of them were within a mile.  Not only that, but they were on the low side so instead of appearing as small objects in the air, they were VERY BIG and we could easily hear the whoosh of the burners as the operators opened the blast valves.  They were a beautiful sight to behold (and me without my camera -- yes, again).  However, beautiful or not, Cura was having none of it!

Actually, that is not completely true.  The fact is, she did very well, considering.  We went on our walk without too much difficulty.  She was not happy and had a difficult time keeping her head forward and eyes front.  But, she was focused on getting up the street and back as soon as possible while trying very hard to stay in place by my side.  I wish that I did not have to attend a meeting that morning -- it was a perfect training opportunity if I only had the time to take advantage of it.  One of these mornings we are just going to sit outside in the back yard and calmly watch the balloons go by.  Like everything else, we will help Cura to work through this . . . she is already showing improvement, it will just take time and patience.

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!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Filling a niche?

Recently, I began to focus some energy towards making some additions to Cura's Corner. I have attempted to add to Cura's Blog List AND embraced the concept of Blog Buttons, creating Cura's Button Exchange. This has resulted in a number of additions to both lists. Apart from the realization that there are a number of people checking in on Cura and I on a regular basis, this process also made me realize that there are very few current Service Dog Blogs out there.  I have conducted several searches and most of the hits that come up are at least a year old --  and many posts are older than that.  If you find an active blog that I have missed, PLEASE share -- post a comment with the link and I will GLADLY put it on one of Cura's lists!  Also, if you have a favorite doggie site or blog, let me know and I will check it out.

So, it makes me wonder why many of the Service Dog Blogs that were out there do not have any recent posts.  Based on my statistics (at least as far as I can interpret them -- STILL struggling with Stat Programs), there is an audience out there . . . so why did so many other blogs on the subject fail to thrive?  My guess is that the key is to make it more than a 'dry' and 'practical' blog -- while it is important to address issues that Service Dog Teams encounter, I think that it is also important to share the joys, successes, trials, and tribulations that any person with a dog in their life may encounter.

Sure, Service Dog Training requires more precision than the average pet owner finds necessary, but the basic challenges do apply -- one of the main differences is that a pet is not required to get over their challenges because they do not necessarily have to deal with them . . . they can just stay home.   I hope that some of the things that Cura and I experience, combined with the guidance that we receive, will prove helpful to many of you, whether you are blessed with a Service Dog or a beloved Canine Companion  (both provide vital roles).

It is my hope that I will ultimately include all my followers in at least one of my two lists.  If you have a button, please let me know if you are not already included in the banner marque to the left and I will add you!  If you don't have a Blog Button, but still follow Cura's Corner, I will be happy to add your URL to Cura's Blog List, just let me know that you are out there!  Leave a comment  and I will be happy to check out your blog and add you to one of our lists!

Now that the technical post is over, check back later today or tomorrow for Cura's weekly adventures . . .