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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Shyla's Socialization

I have been continuing to work on socialization with Shyla multiple times per week. I do some of the training alone, some of it as part of a group class, and some during one-on-one lessons with our trainer. As always, I have no photos of Shyla during our in-town training, so I'll pepper this with photos from our outings in the mountains at home.
Although we still have up days and down days, Shyla is generally moving in a good direction. Until a month ago, her demeanor in town changed only gradually. To sum up where she was a month ago, everything on Earth still seemed foreign to her but she was gradually learning to cope with the alien planet that she'd landed on. However, she still seemed scared the majority of the time. At that time, she got diarrhea after every trip to town, telling me about the very high level of stress that town placed on her.
Then, about a month ago, she changed. It looks to me and the trainer as if Shyla no longer views the majority of our world as foreign. She walks along on sidewalks in town like a happy dog, observing the world but usually not bug-eyed and on the verge of a meltdown like she was before. She tries to meet most people, as long as they don't do certain scary behaviors like squatting down and looking her in the eyes. She no longer gets diarrhea after trips to town.
Because her demeanor is generally happy in town, I now can identify the exact things that still scare her. Prior to this, Shyla was constantly scared to some degree in town - so identifying the "triggers" was very hard. Now, she'll walk along happily until a sight or sound spooks her, and she immediately looks less confident or even spooks (i.e., darts backwards with her ears pinned back and her body low to the ground).

Apparently, Shyla's current state is a step in the rehabilitation of a dog who missed her puppy socialization that my trainer sees frequently. The dog finally (8 months later, in Shyla's case) accepts the world for what it is and knows what is normal. So, the dog functions beautifully until "abnormal" things occur - and then the "spook" is quite obvious.

The bottom line is that this change in Shyla is expected and good. Now, we can work on the specific things that Shyla is still afraid of - like men talking on cell phones, women with gravelly voices, construction equipment, skateboards, people squatting down to look in her eyes, etc. She now truly trusts me - so she'll literally look at me when she gets scared. I back her away from the scary thing, until she is at a distance that is comfortable for her, and then we watch the scary thing from a distance, using the principles of BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training).
I never dreamed that this journey would take so long - and that the evolution would still be underway 8 months after Shyla joined our family. When Shyla first arrived, I thought that if I worked super hard, we could "solve" her fears very rapidly. I believe that an important step in the process was that I accepted that Shyla would have good days and bad days, and that she may or may not ever be really comfortable in the human world (but I love her regardless). When I adopted that attitude, I took the pressure off of both Shyla and me.
I'm still not sure of the final outcome in terms of whether Shyla will ever be totally comfortable in town. But, I do know that Shyla can navigate the human world without much fear if I guide her.

I also know that the journey has been incredibly rewarding. My trainer observed that Shyla's bond to me is much stronger than a "normal" dog's bond would be just 8 months after arriving in a new home. I feel very lucky in that regard, for my bond to her is just as strong. She is a gift.


  1. Your writing about your process with Shyla has been so helpful to me with Otto. I remember one night not long after we got him and he WOULD NOT calm down. I became completely exasperated and I suddenly understood your initial reaction to Shyla's first melt down. We both consider ourselves pretty dog-savvy and feeling so out of control is not familiar. However you've helped me recognize that Otto will have good days and less good days, and that it's all part of the process. He is SO much calmer, great with other dogs and the other day all three dogs cuddled with me on the bed while I read!! Now if I can just get him to stay calm when we see other dogs when we're walking on leash...

  2. a symbiotic relationship that is so beautiful...

  3. We too have been learning a lot from your work with Shyla. Lightning is slowly getting less fearful, but sometimes surprises me with setbacks. Keep writing - we are all learning so much from you:)

  4. Thanks for sharing your journey with Shyla. Like many others we can all learn from each other.


  5. She is coming so far! Your journey with Shlya makes me truly appreciate how mild Nola's shyness and standoffishness is. You're a very, very special person to do what you've done with Shlya.
    Nola's Mom

  6. It warms my heart to read how far Shyla has come with your help. I do believe that her stong bond to you will help her heal completely. She knows that you will always protect her in all situations. Kudos to you and all your hard work on behalf of this most wonderful dog.

  7. Good for you! Both of you: Shyla for her progress, and you for your diligent work.

  8. Wonderful words, superb photos, real progress, your journey together has really just begun, many more miles of wonderful travelling in all seasons. Greetings from Jean

  9. The journey continues. And I am sure it will keep going on. The bond you have is clearly what helps Shyla feel more comfortable in this strange world. I am glad we get to see this journey as well. And those first two photos are such a smile maker.

  10. Of course another great post.....and while I am on the
    Greatness of your posts I shall add the greatness of your photos.....the second one should definately be on my next years Calander order.

  11. We are thrilled beyond thrilled that you and Shyla have each other, KB.
    You're the perfect team and wonderful for each other!

    Love ya lots
    Mitch and Molly

  12. Great news about Shyla's progress and STUNNING photos! How on earth did you get her ears to stand like that?

  13. LOL! I wish Jimmy was afraid of skateboards! A kid going by on a skate board triggers his herding/prey instinct to go into hyper-drive! It's not a pretty sight and dangerous for both Jimmy and the kid.

  14. That is such good news to hear that Shyla is doing much, much better in town!

    A little time and a little patience goes a long, long way.

    Keep up the good work Shyla and KB!

    Lily Belle & Muffin

  15. What is with that second picture - the ears up - hilarious! I kept going back up to look at and laugh.

    I am impressed and pleased with your devotion to Shyla and how well she is doing. I totally understand how important the early puppy socialization is, our boy Forest obviously missed that too.

    Keep up the good work, all of you!

  16. Is the ears-up picture the result of a gust of wind?

    Shyla is more beautiful each day and much of it comes from her confidence and your abilties as a trainer. You are a proud pair!

    Cheers and hugs,

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  17. We are so glad she is making progress and everyone's hard work is paying off.

  18. I think while working a dog through socialization issues can be frustrating at times, it is also one of the most rewarding final outcomes. Whether Shyla ever completely accepts the world (and I think she will) she has such a strong bond with you that I think it will carry her through the things she's uncomfortable with. I'm so glad that you took the chance with her!

  19. Shyla is SO fortunate to have ended up with you. Your patience and dedication to helping her become a confident, happy dog are amazing! I truly doubt that anyone else would have been as devoted to her. You two will have such fun together! I love the photos--especially the second and third. :-)

    Susan and Wrigs

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