Photos and text copyright Romping and Rolling in the Rockies 2009-2017.

All photographs and text within this blog are copyrighted.

You may not copy or repost any photos or text without specific permission from the author of this blog. When in doubt, please ask.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Shyla's Socialization

In a comment, a reader from the acd6pack asked a great question recently when I wrote about Shyla's socialization in town. The reader asked why I was so intent on in-town socialization for Shyla.
Given how absolutely relaxed Shyla is at home and in the mountains, I can see why someone would wonder about why I think that town-socialization is necessary. Shyla would be thrilled if she could live her entire life in our little slice of paradise and only have to meet our good friends who come by the house.
The main reason for socialization training is that it is inevitable that Shyla will have to go to town throughout her life. First and foremost, our vets are in town. Second, we've made a habit of including our dogs in as much of our life as possible. For example, if we go visit our relatives in the big city, we usually take our dogs with us. Our past dogs have enjoyed being included in those outings - playing with our nephews and walking on city streets filled with novel scents. Moreover, if our dogs are with us, we can stay as long as we want, without worrying about the dogs being alone at home.

I'm fairly certain that Shyla would not be confident, like in the photo below, in the big city yet. I think that we're still a long way from asking her to try to visit the big city. Our smaller town is still plenty of bustle for her.
In past years, our dogs have walked with our nephews when they went trick-or-treating in the big city on Halloween. At this point in time, I absolutely cannot visualize Shyla being able to handle that outing - between the traffic, the hoards of kids, and the costumes - she'd be immobilized with worry. I have hoped that, maybe someday, she'll be able to do this kind of thing.

The other reason for town socialization is that there are lots of people in town compared to our quiet little part of the forest. Up here in the mountains, we could go for days on end without seeing anyone outside our small pack. Shyla is still not consistently comfortable with meeting new people. Again, you might wonder why we want to change that. The main reason is that there will be situations in her life when she has to interact with people who she doesn't know well - like at the vet clinic.

Now, when she's too close to new people who aren't absolutely awesome at fearful dog interactions, she goes "over-threshold" and can't function. She forgets all of her training and takes on a scared posture. In the photo below, she's actually doing a trick that I taught her... but I am fairly sure that she couldn't do it if a stranger were standing nearby.
So, my goal is to help Shyla become more comfortable with the trappings of human civilization, including the bustle of town and encountering new people. In my opinion, she'll have a happier life if she can overcome her shyness and build the confidence to navigate new situations.

We've had a recent backslide in her socialization. She was spayed almost 2 weeks ago and was "very scared" of the people and sounds in the clinic while she recovered there for the day. When I took her to town a week later, she had regressed hugely in her confidence. Believe me, you would not recognize her in town. When she's in town, her eyes and body language never possess the zest and confidence that she emanates in the photo below.
I'm going to keep working at it, but I've decided to change my attitude a bit. Previously, I felt an urgency about socializing Shyla because I thought that, if I worked extremely hard at it, I could help her to completely overcome her fears in short order.

Here we are, almost 6 months later, and I haven't managed to do that, despite my very best effort. My new attitude is that, although I plan to keep working at socializing Shyla, I'm accepting that she may not ever be truly confident out in the big world. She may be a lot like me - a mountain girl who wishes that she could avoid going to town indefinitely.

Most of all, I've realized that, even if Shyla outwardly learns to act confident in new situations, her timidness will always be part of her. She's a very sensitive dog who picks up on small nuances about the people who she loves. Perhaps this sensitivity, which one of my favorite things about her, will make being truly comfortable out in the big bad world very tough for her.
Meeting new people and going new places may require Shyla to "muster her courage" to overcome her innate timidness for the rest of her life. If that's the case, it's okay with me. That's my change in attitude - accepting that she may never be as outgoing and relaxed as my previous dogs in the bustle of the human world.

She's an amazing dog - and we're lucky to have her, no matter what.


  1. I love seeing you work with her! Your dedication is incredible.

    I don't live in town anymore, and people ask why I so fervently socialize Nola when I "don't need to take her anywhere". My answer is simple: it is vital to me my girl can except anything life throws at her.

    Nola was mildly shy, and after almost 9 months of intense work, Nola was able to walk through a large store, full of people and smells and sounds, with complete confidence. Tail held high, eyes bright, ears forward, strutting along beside me. She did her cues and tricks, even down/stays while people were busy around her. I'd never been so proud!

    I'm sincerely hoping to do Agility and Rally-O with Nola, and as such it's important her socializing keeps up.
    Nola's Mom

  2. Great post! Otto and I were hiking today and we saw some horses. He was WAY too excited. I got him to "relax"...not as well as Shyla, but he's a rott after all, not a lab :-) We sat down in the shade until he stopped wanting to track them. Anyway, I want him to just be able to be comfortable in any situation we encounter. I don't want to have to turn around because we see horses. I get the need for socialization, but I'm glad you're more willing to go at Shyla's pace. She's such a sweetie! And I guess we have a lifetime to work with them, right?

  3. I think you are doing it right. Whatever may come what is important that you accept who she is and will continue to help her and love her for who she is. I don't know her whole story, but I can't help but believe she is better off now with you and so much happier.

  4. KB, are there any outdoor dog shows in your area? Since your dogs are well behaved, I bet you'd blend right in if you walked around an outdoor agility trial - the people generally know how to interact pretty well with dogs (and most ignore the other dogs altogether, since they're busy studying courses or dealing with their own dogs). It may be a good way for Shyla to get used to a bit of hustle and bustle.

  5. All our journeys are so different from each others.
    We understand your reasoning,,

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Oh my. I'm so glad you found my blog since now I have found yours. Somebody who understands about the whole socialization thing and is doing it! I was thrilled to read this post.

    People almost never "get it" about my feral dog Clara. In my photos and vids at home she is so bold and confident and seemingly normal. But in some ways she will always have the reactions of a wild animal. But with the help of a great trainer I am gradually, so gradually expanding her world.

    What a lovely blog you have. I'll be sticking around!

  8. Two mountain girls, and I wonder if Shyla did have a bad experience with town bustle, traffic, or strangers, before she came to you. Maybe not timid, but not accepting of the noise, traffic and so many strangers all at one time.Each of us is different in wanting to be a city girl, or live in peaceful quiet in the country,and , just be very,very, sure, Shyla has the bestest home with you!! Greetings from Jean

  9. My Chloe is still very timid around new places and new people...always has been and always will is just the way she is. If she could exist totally in our little world...she would be most happiest! Congratulations on coming as far as you have with Shyla!! She is indeed a beautiful dog!! That last pic is precious!!

  10. Excellent idea. We tried to give Bella people skills, but she hates it. She doesn't like noises or people around her. She's extremely nervous at times. So it's good to have dogs who are used to all kinds of environments.

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  11. I just finished reading Ted Kerasote's new book called Pukka. I say reading but there was little to read and loads of pictures. i think your nephews might love this book. So what he said in a couple of places, where Pukka showed fear of water or fetching, that after a certain point of being around the thing she was scared of, she just
    Got It. Like something clicked in her brain and said this is OK, do it and she did. I thought at the time, I bet Shyla will be the same way, and when it happens, like Pukka, she won't need encouragement, it will just be there, part of her wiring!

    Cheers and hugs.


  12. She is a beautiful dog who is very lucky to have been chosen by you! I know you get it back 10-fold as well. :)

  13. What a great post. I sympathise with the need to keep working at the issues even though you can have such a peaceful life. Susie-Belle isnt keen on trafiic and here in France we dont see much at all, shes peaceful, happy, noticeably relaxed. back home, we live in a busy'ish place, its easy to think we can hide her away from it, but that isnt really going to help her for the times we cant do that for her. Your post has reinforced to me we are doing the right thing by pushing her gently on xx

  14. With your mom by your side, you can conquer anything, Shyla!

    Love ya lots,
    Mitch and Molly

  15. Have you tried asking her to do tricks? We've always found this to be a wonderful distraction in those tense situations. Lots of love and lots of praise and doing something they know how to do.


  16. Thanks for this post (and the previous about this theme) - I think we have to work on Socialization too, because we live in a small village and sadly the world is a little larger than our little hicktown ;o)

  17. you have a great attitude, and like i've said many times, Shyla is a very lucky dog to have someone who understands her....."two peas in a pod" :)

  18. That is the attitude you need and your more relaxed view on socialization may rub off on Shyla, you never know. Whatever she becomes will be wonderful and what she was meant to be and I'm sure you will find yourself pleasantly surprised along the way.

  19. I think your attitude about Shyla and accepting that she may never love going to town is a good one. I also agree that it's important to help her go as far as she can. You never know what challenges might lie ahead for you. There could be a time when you and your family had to live in town or the city for a while. You never know what life can throw at you.

    I think your guess about her sensitivity being a factor in why town it so tough for her is a good one, too. It's the theory I lean towards. My guess is that it will always be a balancing act for her, and something you'll probably always be working on. But I think the rewards will be worth the hard work!

  20. Great reading about your work. I am having a bad flu and haven´t been out for some days. But took test on Tyra yesterday because we are mating her. But have to wait until Tuesday...I have already 4 puppies booked

  21. Oh you have nailed this exactly on the head. Each dog is unique. Thank you for recognizing this and for adapting to Shyla as she adapts to new environments!

  22. KB, I think the new attitude you've embraced is an important one. I wish I came to it sooner with Kona. Is so tricky, when you're someone who's use to working hard and making things happen, that working harder with a shy dog can actually work against you. I bet Shyla will rebound from her spaying. I remember Kona had a huge setback after she was spayed.

    Keep at it! It's a tricky balancing act-one that takes more strategy and technique than dogged determination...something that can be challenging for us endurance athletes =)

  23. Hi Y'all!

    Shyla gets more beautiful with each passing day!

    Instead of shy I tend to get over excited when I'm on a leash. Stuff I do off lead leaves my head when I'm wearing the leash. My Human is always working with me on my "on leash" behavior.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  24. Hi KB, I love your attitude with Shyla; your patience will help her love life with you! I think Hunter's personality is very much the same. Today he graduated from beginner obedience classes but will not play with the three big dogs-a lab, shepherd and mix. I think he knows how easily he could get hurt. I don't push him because I don't want him hurt. I was going to stop the training but decided on doing the intermediate because it will teach him to heel off lead. Enjoy your weekend my friend-next weekend we will be snow shoeing at Bear Lake.
    Hugs, Noreen

  25. I am playing blog catch up and stopped on this post, seeing it as the perfect place to type a quote I read recently that instantly made me think of you (in a good, smiley way). It's from Hanna Hinchman's book "Little Things in a Big Country".

    "The ideal human companion would behave like a dog: be fully engaged in present exploration, pursue his own course, indicate things of interest without discussing them to death, let out the occasional yelp of discovery."


If you are a Blogger registered user, you can skip the step asking you to verify that you are not a spammer. For posts older than 5 days, I have comment moderation turned on.

Thanks for your comments!!!!!