This week, we had a roller-coaster ride in terms of socialization. One outing was to attend an advanced dog-training class that meets in a different outdoor location every week. Last week, it was in a town park that Shyla has enjoyed in the past. So, I arrived at class full of confidence.
Unfortunately, the park was bustling with a lot of crazy activity, and a couple of things scared Shyla within the initial 5 minutes of class. The first scary thing was kids on scooters. The scooters were quiet but they zoomed in a way that scared Shyla. We walked away to observe them from a nearby hillside, and it seemed like Shyla was going to recover. However, to my chagrin, the scooters were followed by skateboards a few minutes later. We were still up on the hillside, pretty far away from the skateboards, but Shyla never recovered from the terror of the skateboards.
As class went on after those scary things, Shyla spent most of the time scanning 360° around herself and obsessing over anything even vaguely unfamiliar. It was a huge flat park (at least 200 acres of flat field) so she could see people doing recreational activities in every direction and then worry incessantly about them. In technical terms, except for a few respites during class, Shyla was "over threshold". In retrospect, I should have bailed out partway through class but my teacher and I kept thinking that Shyla was just about to recover.
In contrast, later in the week, we had an awesome socialization outing. We went to a busy shopping area, and Shyla was outgoing and relaxed. She even seemed to be getting used to the loud sounds of city buses, trucks, and push-carts loaded with boxes. Moreover, she went into a shop that was teeming with people, and she wagged at them as we weaved in and out of the people! We both had a fun day - and Shyla shined.
In the coming week, we plan to return to that scary park with our trainer at a quiet time of day to help Shyla relax there. We'll also visit a more urban setting - with traffic and city noises - with a focus on helping Shyla adapt to unexpected noises. Trying to socialize a teenage dog requires incredible patience - but I think that we're very gradually moving forward.
We've been continuing our clicker training of basic skills (our main focus was/is an off-leash heel but we work on the full repertoire regularly) and fun tricks. About 2 weeks ago, I taught Shyla to raise a paw off the ground. I've now shaped that into three different tricks: a handshake, a high five, and a wave. She adores waving and does it without me asking! I think it's very cute.
On Hug Hill...
Another skill we've worked on is retrieving. Shyla has gone from being apathetic about retrieving to being over-the-moon happy about it! I've shaped it into two different games. In one game, she takes an object and holds it while sitting. She doesn't release it until I put my hand on it and say "out".
She held a rope toy...
In the more traditional form of a retrieve, I throw objects, and Shyla brings them back to me. She is great at this now (except if she gets too excited and starts zooming), including returning the object to my hand at the end of the retrieve.
Today, we played a modified retrieving game on Hug Hill. Usually, I throw the object away from both of us and then I send her to get it. Today, we did it differently, and Shyla had to think hard to figure out that it was just another form of a retrieve. I put the object between the two of us, and she started in a sit-stay. You can see from her face that she's thinking hard about what she's supposed to do.
I've purposely used fun toys for all retrieving games because Shyla seemed to actively dislike retrieving when I started teaching her - and the toys made her much more happy to play the game.
In the coming week, I plan to start teaching her to retrieve a variety of objects - like a piece of PVC pipe, handwarmers in a package, a hat, and all sorts of other random things. If she's okay with those things, we'll move toward the toughest things to retrieve - metal objects like keys. My goal is that Shyla will eventually pick up anything up off the ground if I ask her to. With my spinal problems, that can be a huge help to me.
While we were on Hug Hill earlier this week, she practiced her "relax" cue. She's known this one for a while... but, if we don't practice, she'll forget it.
I also hope to start teaching the "be shy" cue, which means that she covers her nose/eyes with a paw.
But, most of all, I hope to keep building her confidence this week. Working on tricks helps with building confidence and trust. We also have a couple of town outings planned... and I'm hoping that the happy and relaxed spirit that I know inhabits her body shines through.