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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coping with fear

It seems that Shyla has hit a serious fear period, and I'm not sure why. She had a couple of skittish visits to town, in places that she seemed to have "mastered" in recent months. At first, I thought that her fear was just a fluke and would pass easily. After all, she was still doing wonderfully at home, with our training and with life in general.
Then, I took her to one of her very favorite places, my physical therapy clinic, thinking that it would be a fun way for her to ease back into the outside world. She was not her usual outgoing self there, either. She exhibited great caution as she approached her long-term human friends there. Usually, she greets them with huge enthusiasm. At the clinic, she wouldn't even consider approaching strangers (usually, she's the "clinic mascot" who makes all the patients laugh and relax), and she visibly startled at the slightest noise in the clinic.

I'll admit that I hate seeing her regress like this. However, she's taught me some important lessons over the past nine months. The biggest one is that trying to "push through the fear" is not the right strategy. My personality is one that confronts tough things, and keeps confronting them until I conquer them. In the past, I've transferred that strategy to our dogs. It worked okay with our dogs, even if it was a tough-love approach, until I met K. K's fears were minor compared to Shyla's but confronting them was absolutely the wrong strategy. With the help of our great trainer, I learned about how to teach K to try new things by rewarding her for any sign of confidence.

With Shyla, the same lesson, that pushing her to confront scary things is a bad idea, has been cemented into place. Fortunately, training methods for fearful and reactive dogs have evolved hugely since the days when I was training K to cope with her fears. Everything needs to be at Shyla's pace, and she always is given a choice as to whether to approach something scary or not. So, even though I don't understand the reasons for Shyla's current setback, I do know that she needs to go slowly right now.

We're taking a little break from town training and letting Shyla live in the comfort of her home and our trails without the stress of town training for a little while. We skipped our training class today to enjoy the mountains and the wildflowers.
At home (that includes everywhere except town), she is happy to greet strangers, to learn how to do scary agility obstacles like the teeter-totter, to remain sound asleep while we vacuum right next to her, and even snooze on the deck while the Runner uses a chain saw to drop huge trees by the house. It's amazing how calm and confident she is at home.

I guess that you could say that we're taking the time to smell the flowers while Shyla chills out before our next visit to town!
What an amazing girl she is... I am grateful beyond belief that she's come into my life. I'm learning so much from her - about the importance of being patient in the face of adversity. That's a good lesson for me to apply to myself - I am not always so kind to myself!

Thank goodness that we both love nature so very much, providing us with refuge from the bustling insanity of the human world.

P.S. I found evidence today that Milton is still here (albeit limping). There may be some conflict underway, between limping Milton and the stronger new male bear. More soon....


  1. Hi KB, I so understand how hard working through fear is~after the loose dog knocked me down and attacked Hunter(although neither of us were seriously hurt), I have found myself more fearful of loose dogs being around; I think it is more a fear of breaking bones if I'm knocked down again. I'm going to press through and keep on. Shyla is such a sweet heart and brings you so much joy; I think chillin in your area sounds fine!
    Hugs, Noreen

  2. Hopefully you can find the key to unlock Shyla's fears. Bella just seems to be getting more frightened.

    Great to hear Milton is still around.

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  3. KB,, Shyla might always be a country girl at heart, and would the smell of smoke have anything to do with this current phase?Cooped up, rubbish burnt nearby? I always think outside the square with our cats.( it took 6 years for one to be able to be handled at all).She looks beautiful in the tall grass and yellow flowers.Enjoy the days at home and in your beautiful mountain areas. Greetings, Jean.

  4. We too wondered if Shyla was sensing something from the smoke too. Or the change in seasons. Phantom reacts very much to the change in barometric pressure, not so much with fears, but with a sick tummy.

    You are very wise to be patient with her. We so hope this is just temporary.

    Thanks for the news on Milton. Hope he and his bear peer can work things out.

  5. Big steps forward and smaller steps backward but still moving forward with your love and guidance. I'm so happy Shyla has you. And that you have Shyla.

  6. When she is at home, she is relaxed and fun and so are you, I bet.

    When you get to town, maybe you are a little tense as to how she is gonna be that day, and she picks it up. I think your stay at home for a while idea is a good one. You can scratch my smoke idea, its getting too popular! lol

    Cheers and hugs,

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  7. Loving understanding is the best way to approach this. But you know that and are doing it. You both are blessed to have one another.

  8. Your doing the best thing by giving yoursleves- some time,,,
    yes, its the best thing.

  9. WEll of course you know that I am going to wonder if there isn't so much emotional crisis going on in town that she is sensing that as well. I would think that people in general there are stressed over the fires and as you remember what we learned in our SAR training, the dogs are very sensitive to the human adrenalin scent. So Miss Shyla and her incredible awareness of her surroundings mades her super sensetive. (just thinkin) Thank goodness she is in your wise care.

  10. Guess when socializing dogs it's two steps forward one step back.

  11. Health-related, maybe...? My dog savvy friends often recommmend checking with the vet when there's a big change in behavior -- I wonder if Shyla might have been feeling a bit under the weather, and was just being stoic about it, the way dogs are...

    You know her best, and I'm sure the bonds of love and understanding between you both are the best things for your good girl.

  12. Hi there KB,

    We used to take the Piappies on some day-out activities when they were pups but not so much now that they're grown up. I also got some fear socializing them with other dogs now but perhaps Wai-Pai being the smallest of the pack will get a chance one day soon. I think you are doing a great job with Shyla and hope that the fear would go away.

    Piappies Mom

  13. I've heard that all the confidence a dog learns as a youngster has to be relearned when they are teenagers. I look forward to your posts about helping Shyla as I must start working with Dexter in a more focused way to help him be less stressed in new places.

    Mango Momma

  14. Such wonderful photos. We're sorry about this wall, but filling Shyla's life with joy and familiar pleasures sounds like absolutely the right aproach.

  15. Let's hope a little break and some time in the country will help.

  16. I think it's great that you can learn lessons from experiences while training Shyla. I hope having animals helps me in the future too.

  17. Hi Y'all!

    So glad to here you saw Milton!

    Guess Shyla is just a country gal at heart...

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  18. So sorry to hear about Shyla's setback. I hope that after some nonstressful R&R at home, she'll feel more comfortable in town again. Forcing dogs into situations that make them fearful is a surefire way to cause their fears to escalate. Glad you are letting Shyla progress at her own pace.

    Thanks for the Milton update!

    Susan and Wrigs

  19. We hope your fears will become less soon, Shyla.
    You look so beautiful posing with the golden flowers!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  20. Oh sad...poor little tender girl :( she is SO lucky to have someone kind, gentle, and educated as her guardian. Sending her a hug and hoping for things to get better for her soon in the fear department. Remember how K had thyroid issues that seemed to correlate with her fear periods? I wonder if that could be going on with Miss Shyla? You have probably already thought of that but i figured it was worth pondering. Sending lots of love! Xoxo

  21. I'm sorry Shyla has had a set back.

    I am now dealing with a fear issue as well with Jimmy. At his last agility trial at an indoor soccer field, the huge a/c unit kicked in when he was directly beneath the venting on the ceiling. It sounded like a loud thunder clap. He is thunder phobic and it scared the crap out of him, but he ran his runs. Now 3 weeks later, back at the same building, he totally remembered the scare, and no amount of coaxing would get him to do his run. He tried to start but then ran and hid in the tunnel. I actually had to crawl in and get him out. It is amazing (and heartbreaking) that bad luck with the timing of that a/c noise could ripple so far and with a dog at the masters level of agility. He did do his JWW run in the other half of the building, but still with much fear...Such sensitive creatures they can be....

  22. I'm thinking Shyla has the right idea - stay in the wilderness! In my opinion, you're doing the right thing by not forcing her. Don't you have days when you really would rather not be around people, even those that you like? Enjoy the solitude.

  23. I can't say I blame Shyla for being shy in the city. I would avoid the city if I could. The mountains are ALWAYS better!

  24. Hoping the relaxing at home break will help with her fears. My boy Wolf has suddenly developed a few anxieties at 5, and I, too, am letting him go at his own pace. Too soon to tell yet, but I think I see some improvement. Sometimes slow and easy is the way to go. Beautiful photos!


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