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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shyla's training

I haven't written in a little while about my training with Shyla. Her progress has been nothing short of astounding. I don't have photos of Shyla training in town so I'll pepper this post with photos from our hikes when we were doing training "games".
Shyla does a "stay" while standing on a stump
I have two components to Shyla's training. During the routine of each day, I do formal training of cues like come, sit, stand, down, heel, touch, leave it, touch my shoe, and many more (Shyla has a big vocabulary now). For example, I ask her for different behaviors like "come" or "down" lots of times during our daily hikes. I always work a "stay" into our hikes or daily chores. For example, I had our two dogs do a long down-stay while I folded laundry the other day. Shyla is super smart and seems to love our training. It's all based on positive reinforcement so there's nothing onerous about it for her.
Shyla did a sit-stay by an aspen
The harder part, for both of us, is the socialization component, which includes learning to meet strangers and learning to cope with the bustle of town life. Since we live in a somewhat secluded spot in the mountains, I've been driving to town frequently to expose Shyla to lots of people and bustle. One key to this is not to overwhelm Shyla - to keep lots of relaxed days at home in her schedule and to choose suitable sites for training in town (i.e., just bustling enough for Shyla to learn but not get scared).

With people, she's learning her own style of meeting strangers. She does not like it when strangers approach her or even kneel down to her level. She shies away when they do that. However, if a stranger ignores her, she stealthfully inches toward the person and soon gently touches their hands with her nose. That seems to be her way of saying "hello". So, when an adult asks if they can pet her, my reply is they can meet her but they need to follow a certain routine. I ask them to ignore Shyla while talking to me for a minute... to give Shyla time to get the courage to approach them. It works 99% of the time - with Shyla enjoying being petted by the stranger within a minute or two.
Shyla doing a recall
As for the bustle of town, Shyla is slowly getting used to it. We've entered and browsed in about five different shops together now, and Shyla is getting more relaxed each time. All the shops have dogs in them, which is a hugely relaxing factor for Shyla. She adores other dogs, which helps her to cope with other new aspects of a situation.

One type of thing that totally throws Shyla for a loop is objects that suddenly move on their own, like automatic doors or gates at entrances to parking lots. We've spent a lot of time standing at long distances from doors and gates, letting Shyla observe them move and giving her treats when they move (a form of counter-conditioning).
We still have a world of new things to navigate - but our slow but steady approach seems to be working so that each new thing is getting a little easier. Skateboards are very scary right now, and I'm simply avoiding them. Children are also still very scary (Shyla would flee from every boisterous child if she weren't on a leash - but quiet older children are okay with her). My trainer and I plan to start working on Shyla's reaction to playing children in the very near future.

This is my first experience with an older puppy like Shyla who had little life experience when I met her. I must say that it's been one of the most rewarding journeys that I've undertaken. Shyla looks to me as her guide and protector, and I love playing that role for her. I also have loved learning so much about dog body language and dealing with a dog's natural wariness as she encounters new things.
The biggest thing that I've learned is that, as the guide, I need to avoid putting Shyla into situations that make her very scared because she gets too scared to be capable of learning anything. It's called keeping Shyla "sub-threshold" in behavior lingo. For example, with automatic doors, we started out observing them from a very long distance where Shyla stood tall and confidently while the doors opened and closed. We've gradually moved closer, and I click/treat her whenever they open or close. Someday soon, I predict that we'll walk through a set of automatic doors but it will only be when Shyla can do it with confidence.

In our training, everything is done at Shyla's pace and when she wants to do it. Fortunately, she's naturally curious and outgoing so she actually wants to explore all these new things, even if they scare her at first. My trainer keeps saying that Shyla obviously has awesome genes for a friendly disposition and is not naturally fearful, just inexperienced.
Shyla did a sit-stay high in the mountains
Life brings so many twists and turns. If I look at them in an optimistic way, they are opportunities to learn about life and to build bonds. In this case, Shyla and I have built a strong bond very rapidly due to the unexpected journey we're on. I adore her, and I think that she feels the same way about me. I couldn't ask for anything more, especially only 6 weeks after we met each other.


  1. You know, Sam doesn't like when people approach him head on. He doesn't mind when it is children and will sit and down on his own, but adults make him nervous. One thing I found is that if I angle my approach and have people meet up by my side and walk a few feet with me it relaxes Sam. It is the same with dogs approaching him. I know the way a horses head is shaped affects how far they can see in front of them - their center facial bone and position of their eyes form a "cone" of blindness in front of them. Depending on how large this bone is, and how far back their eyes are, this cone can be pretty large. We've often wondered if Sam has the same thing. At some point do people just disappear on him?


  2. Glad for the training update!

    I see a lot of people (not typically dog bloggers) who speak against positive training, in a denigrating manner, and I just have to shake my head. They just don't know, and it makes me sad for them, and their dogs.

    Elka doesn't dig automatic doors either. There's only one place we go that has them (Tractor Supply), and of course there isn't much room in the parking lot to safely stand and observe them. She doesn't freak (thankfully), but they make her bewildered and unhappy.

  3. Since Shyla is such a dog's dog have you considered asking people with dogs to go in and out of stores with automatic doors? Still keep your distance, but let her see the other dogs do it. She might lose her fear faster.

  4. It sounds like your on your way to an awesome life together.

    Nubbin wiggles,

  5. The mutal respect and ability to communicate you and Shyla are building is simply beautiful to watch in construction. The role you have right now is one of the most satisfying "hats" ever...I know from my experience with 5 rescues and puppy Siku the soul-filling joy at being trusted so completely. The hardest moment for all of the WDA was elevator training.

    And BOL...Shyla, as smart and quick learning as she is, is NOT ready for a trip to Balloon Fiesta Park yet!

  6. THis journey you are both on is such a learning experience for bert and I. Your training reports really help me in my own efforts to widen Berts world.

    when he mellowed out at the age of 3 1/2 I settled down and didn't do as much of our together training time.

    Big mistake. It is so wise to train every day. It builds the bond, stops the boardom and makes for happier human and dog.

    Keep reminding me.
    Bert's My Vickie

  7. I appreciate hearing about your training with Shyla. Now that I have a young pup too we are back to starting training with her. It's been a long time since we last worked with a young dog. Fortunately her foster parents did a great job to start her out.

    Cindy & Millie

  8. I had a feeling that Shyla would soak everything up like a little sponge, and I had a feeling she'd start coming out of her shell much faster than you expected. I'm so glad you two found each other. You make a great team!

  9. She is learning so much so fast! We love watching this journey you two are on. You were meant to be together, that is obvious. Love all the photos. Her eyes sparkle.

  10. You two are doing so well! Nola doesn't like meeting strangers head on, either.
    How did/are you teaching Shyla stays? It's the one command Nola has serious trouble with
    Nola's Mom

  11. Not only learning all these important things, but her body is growing so beautifully! All the exercise and playtime with R is helping her to become a powerful and gorgeous dog. Shyla is going to be Wonder Dog I bet! Don't laugh, she will!

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  12. I can't believe it's been only 6 weeks. Both of you have learned so much about each other.

  13. Gosh, you've accomplished all this in only six weeks? You're making terrific progress! I'm still curious as to why Shyla had been so isolated before she came to live with you; it seems to me that it would be imprudent for a breeder to keep a puppy that isolated unless she plans to keep the dog at home with her permanently. Fortunately, the work you're doing with Shyla is certainly making up for any deficiencies in her early social training.

    But really, she's only been with you six weeks? It seems like a much longer time, you've been so busy in those few weeks!

  14. We love hearing about how your training is coming along, Shyla! You are such a smart girl!

    Love ya lots,
    Mitch and Molly

  15. so interesting....i had a guest speaker, who trained under Patricia McConnel, come to my class and talk about behavior and training....fascinating! This is one part of my profession that I, admittedly, suck at. and my dogs suffer because of my lack of knowledge....I admire your commitment to training your 4 legged loved ones.....can you come to wisconsin and help me too?! :)

  16. Lovely update on your training. COngrats to it.
    THe first picture is it K:s stump? You hade some pictures like that with K...
    THe last one is can see a lake down there and what hight up in the mountins you are..

  17. Little Shyla the love bug is doing an amazing job on learning, and you KB, are becoming an amazing trainer too.

    We loved reading your training update this morning.

    I've said before and I'm saying it again, I'm sending Lily & Muffin to your house for a few weeks and maybe they will be trained when they come home :) You're doing an incredible job ~ You should be proud!


  18. I can't believe how far you and Shyla have come after only six weeks. I think your training techniques with Shyla are right on the money. Every dog is different, therefore guidelines can be the same just tweaked for each individual dog and situation. You can see in Shyla's happy eyes, just how confident and trusting she is with you. I love the story of the automatic doors. It just shows how in tune and respectful you are of her. :)

  19. Tremendous! This particular is all I can think pertaining to a blog post like this excellent. This kind of is literally a notably explanatory article post on the blog. You just need to know a lot about this amazing.

  20. Your pictures are just so lovely - again.
    I love your training thoughts and explanations and that you are working with another trainer. Most people think they can do it on their own AND don't take all the time to practice, practice, practice. Your training will give many people hope for their dogs.

    Makes me want to grab a bag of treats and get Violet and practice :)


  21. Shyla looks eager and curious. She is one smart pup
    Benny & Lily

  22. KB, I always think it is amazing how quickly we can bond with our dogs. It sounds like Shyla's personality is very much like Hunter's. I love how you are training her; I have a wonderful trainer who is teaching us both similar obedience skills. I put Hunter on sit-stay today, outside and off leash and then couldn't get him to release and come when I called-guess I need more work. Your photos are gorgeous. I'm not seeing snow but know Estes has had some. We are heading to Steamboat for a few days and wonder what the weather will hold for us. Happy Sunday my friend.

  23. Hi Y'all,

    The more confidence she gains through your training together the quicker she will feel secure in strange situations.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  24. Amazing. It's so much like taking in new foster children. I have to learn their personalies from scratch, and then try to figure out why they act out, why they are scared, why they are aggresive, why they are depressed...

    You may have given me some clues that might help me one day in the future!


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