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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Training Tuesday

To keep myself on the ball, I'm going to post on Tuesdays about the training progress that Shyla and I have made. I also want to do this so that I can look back later, when I may be training yet another dog, and remember how long it took me to achieve various training goals.

Up until this week, Shyla and I were hiking out every morning to see the sunrise, and I was no longer using a leash because her "heel" and "stay" are so good when we hike solo. This week, I started biking up to see the sunrise, and that has presented a whole new set of training needs. First, Shyla needs to learn to "stay" while I make final preparations to pedal my bike away from the door. While her "stay" is almost perfect when I'm on foot, it has completely fallen apart since my bike has become part of the scenario. This morning, after working on Shyla's stay by the door for what seemed like an eternity, we finally made it up to where we could see the cloudy but pretty sunrise.
I have to remember not to become frustrated when a goal that I thought was "checked off" (like "stay") falls apart in a new situation. Dogs don't generalize well, and, of course, adding the bike to the scenario changed everything for Shyla. Moreover, Shyla is so sensitive that *any* frustration in my voice makes her less able to think and learn.

I'm also starting to teach Shyla to heel next to my bike. I choose short straight stretches of trail, and I ask her to heel, just like I'd do if I were on foot. Then, I reward her for being in the right place by feeding her small training treats as I ride. Heeling next to my bike will become critical when I try to take Shyla riding anyplace where there might be other people on the trail.
In other training, we're working on retrieving. Last week, I reported that she would go get an object from the floor a short distance away but she'd only place in my hand about half the time. We've worked on this daily, and now she's placing the object in my hand about 90% of the time. I've also introduced other toys to retrieve (we started with a Kong toy), and she's doing great with all of them. This week, I hope to move our retrieving training to new locations, including outdoors. Since Shyla isn't naturally enthusiastic about retrieving, we'll have to go back to Training Step 1 when we change location, gradually building up to a real retrieve like we've done indoors.
Since I've vowed to start a new trick each week, I've started to shape a paw lift, using a clicker. Even though we just started this 2 days ago, Shyla seems to have figured out the trick almost immediately. She is freely offering a high lift of her paw right now, and I plan to shape it into several different tricks like a "paw shake", "high five", "wave", and a faked "limp".
Last, but most importantly, I am continuing to put the most energy into socializing Shyla to people and the bustle of the real world. That's an ongoing process that is certainly not a straight path from Point A to Point B. On Saturday, she had a tremendously relaxed and happy visit with my family, including my young nephews. But then, on Sunday, she was severely terrified by a man who was yelling angrily at his dog. The man was about 30 yards away but Shyla cowered to the ground next to me, scared almost to the point of paralysis, by his enraged voice. All that I can do to help with this is to continue to have her meet new people, including kind and soft-spoken men, and hope that she learns that men are not generally scary.

I took Shyla into town twice this week, and she did very well with our progressive program of exposure to people and town bustle. She met numerous people on one outing to a shopping area. She approached women with ease and happiness. Approaching men was much more difficult for her - she tended to cower when faced with them. However, her naturally outgoing personality made her still want to approach them, albeit very tentatively (which my trainer and I allowed her to do if the man was amenable to helping with the training). I asked the men to hold out a hand toward Shyla, and then I'd cue Shyla to nose-poke the hand. That worked with most men but not all of them. It's an ongoing process.
I think that the socialization work is, by far, the most important training that we're doing. To be able to live without excessive stress in the human world, Shyla needs to be able to meet new people and go new places without becoming scared. Since she missed out on this type of socialization as a puppy, this process is taking tons of work now (and has been my main focus since she arrived in late August at age 9 months). We've made huge leaps toward that goal but we still have lots of work to do. I don't mind - it's incredibly rewarding to see every tiny improvement in Shyla.

Thanks for reading this wordy post. My hope is that, by chronicling my work with Shyla, I can perhaps help someone else training a dog with a similar background as Shyla and help myself to objectively see our progress. I get exhausted by the process sometimes but, when I realize how far Shyla has come and how much my bond with her has grown, I know it's worth it.


  1. How fortunate Shyla is to have landed with you. Your patience, calm attitude and extensive experience are just what that beautiful girl needed. We met a handsome chocolate lab yesterday on our walk. He was a friendly fellow. His human said he had ALOT of energy! I thought of sunrise bike rides...

  2. I have been neglecting my blogging and blog visiting of late, but I see Shyla is as gorgeous as ever ... if possible, even more so ... than last time I was here. Good luck with your training!

  3. Rottrover is right. Shyla couldn't have landed in a better home for her. We are also working with Millie and her exposure to new things. It isn't that she is scared, but we have a difficult time getting her to focus on us when we are away from home. She isn't highly food motivated so we are still trying to figure out how to motivate her. She is well behaved, but it would be nice to have her at least respond to her name when she is away from home.

    Oh well, training a puppy never comes easy so we keep working on it.


  4. My Vickie really apreciates your training tips. What impresses her most is your continued patience.

    WE have learned through you how to relax when some trauma (like angry man at dog) can cuase a ripple in the training, and that we might have to go back a few steps and start again.

    Oh my, there I go again rambling....what I mean is
    We sure learn a lot from you and Shyla.

    Bert and My Vickie

  5. Shyla is in the best home possible, lots of TLC, gentle voices, training one step at a time. She does so love the snow, and your chronicle of training , records for yourself, training notes for another, grand idea. Cheers from Jean

  6. She found the perfect home with you! A match made in heaven. I've learned a lot from your journey with Shyla for helping with Nola's (much, much milder) dislike of strangers.

    I really like the idea of having one post a week dedicated to training. I think I might steal that idea. ;)
    Nola's Mom

  7. The socializing is so good for her. It reminds me of training horses to go on a trailer nicely. Just repetition and baby steps seems to do the trick.

    She's doing great.

  8. We love to read the progress that Shyla makes with all of you.
    Adding the bike to the daily routine- I know must have totally confused her- but your working through it.
    Keeing a journal of all this learning is a great idea.
    Shyla is getting more beautiful all the time,

  9. Shyla you sure are a smarty pants...most of the time we do what we want. But going places like you go, you need to really listen to mom. You'll get it
    Benny & Lily

  10. I think Shyla really was meant to be with you. I've seen her grow so much since she's come to live with you. As far as socialization goes, I think it's okay to have slow approaches to men as long as still has good interactions with them.

    She gets prettier every day, too!

  11. She is doing so well. I have no doubt you are helping so many, not just Shyla and yourself. Thank You!! I have an issue with men on bikes. MOM does not know why, but I do not like them.

  12. I was thinking how great it is that Shyla has you to train her. You have so much patience and also love. I know it will all work out, she gets better and better. My Sasha chases bikes no matter what and I don't know how to fix it. I love reading your techniques and am trying to learn from them.

    Anne and Sasha

  13. You is so good at dis trainin
    stuffs. I does know a few commands too but it depends on my mood whether I listen or not...hehehehe.
    It seems like you is really in tume with Shyla and I does think dat may make da trainin' easier...I hope. But where ya'll lives da training is SO important.


  14. You do have the best home in the whole wide world, Shyla! High fives to you and KB!

    Love ya lots,
    Mitch and Molly

  15. I admire the time and dedication you put into training!

  16. I too, enjoy reading about your training and agree with you that it also may assist someone. Patience, positive reinforcement and consistency are so important! Our blind pup Breeze has mastered sit and now combines it with a paw in hopes of a treat! Smart girl.

  17. Ann....from...Outer Banks of NC....said.....I say high-five too KB......Keep up the good are doing such a great job and you know there might be someone who will learn and benefit from all your info...I know I have and I appreciate everything you have to say.......HUGS

  18. You are amazing!

    Also, you should know you will be having a "guest" soon. I am sending Blueberry right over so you work with her! ;) I hope that learning from a trainer in her class next month will help me become better at teaching her things. You are such an inspiration! Hope I can be half as good with Blueberry as you are with Shyla!

  19. Very interesting to read about you work. You do a great work with Shyla and you are very good instructor

  20. Two things that stood out for me....Having to help a retriever learn to retrieve enthusiastically and a lab that is not just bowling people over in an effort to say hello. It really shows how much of an individual every dog is....My friend's lab definitely runs people (and dogs) down he's so happy to see them, and he retrieves wonderfully...but only sticks, never balls.

    My older corgi retrieves/releases directly to your hand and he did this naturally without training. My younger corgi retrieves right to your hand but then he won't let go. Ever. It's either play tug or give up. Yet when you go in the house and ask him to drop-it, he complies w/ no argument. Go figure....

  21. What a lucky gal Shyla is to have such a committed and patient owner! We didn't realize you got her at nine months...bless your for rescuing or however it is that you came to be with this beautiful dog...

  22. I think journaling the training process is a great idea. I was surprised to learn that dogs do not always know that the same command applies to different areas and circumstances. Ellie seemed to know that intuitively, but Lucy had a much more difficult training period. She had a ton of questions about every single command.

    And no doubt socialization is the most important training if you are to be around people and not have a continuously stressed-out dog.

  23. You have a lot of patience for dog training as it can be difficult, but even as important you sound like you are enjoying the challenges. Wishing you the best. Enjoying the pictures.

  24. Being a foster parent to traumatized children often leaves me wondering about Shyla's background. I think you are amazing for committing to this process, regardless. It's fun to see the progress you are making and the goals you are setting.

  25. Hi again, Thanks so much for sharing Shyla's progress with us. I can't say I blame her for being fearful around the man yelling at his dog. I also think that dogs can pick up on things we don't and sometimes it is better to take our clues from them. I once had a lab mix that loved everyone but one day a young man came into our house, with his dad, to clean our windows. Sadie had never had any issues with anyone until now-she tried to go after him-which made me wonder why and if I was in danger somehow. Luckily he then stayed outside while cleaning the windows. Hunter is doing well too and getting more comfortable with people but still whines so much when he wants to play with other dogs or if I'm out of sight. Thanks for all the tips my friend.

  26. Hi Y'all!

    Oh Shyla you are such a lucky girl!

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog


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