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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Shyla's Socialization: An Update

I have been continuing the rewarding process of socializing Shyla. Since I never take out my camera in town when we are doing our training, I'll pepper this post with some photos taken near our home.
She's been with us now for about 9 months or about half of her life. She's come a very long way in those 9 months, reaching a point where I sometimes forget that she is much more sensitive (to the point of being fearful) than any dog I've had before. She wears a Thundershirt almost all the time when we are in town - and it seems to help her immensely.
Over those 9 months, Shyla has come to truly understand that she's part of our family. She loves her brother, and she adores the Runner.
Since our trip to the desert, we've been to town a bunch of times for training. "Town" is a very different place in the summer than the rest of the year. The sidewalks and parks are teeming with people, and many more children are out during the day than Shyla has ever seen. However, as long as I stay focused on her and helping her through the tough spots, she has done amazingly well in adapting to the mayhem.
We recently went to a park that where I've done socialization training with her many times over the past 9 months. Sometimes, I feel silly about it because there are so few people there. When we visited last week, insanity had erupted. Children ran screaming everywhere, scooters and bikes zoomed along the paths, older kids played lacrosse and ultimate frisbee, and men walked around talking loudly on cell phones (an odd trigger for fear in Shyla).

When I first saw the scene, I almost turned out of the parking lot and went someplace else. However, my trainer's advice has been to start challenging Shyla more. Shyla now trusts me enough that she bounces back rapidly after "losing it" in a fit of fear. A "fear fit" consists of darting movements, lowering her body, pinning her ears back, and hiding behind me. Fortunately, Shyla doesn't seem to have an aggressive bone in her body. Many dogs handle fear by being aggressive. Instead, Shyla shrinks and tries to be invisible.
On that day in the park, we "warmed up" by walking side streets near the park to let Shyla get used to the noises of children playing and screaming. Then, we started circling the park, gradually getting closer and closer, using our BAT techniques to let Shyla control how fast we approached. Believe it or not, we reached a point where we walked into the middle of the mayhem, ever so briefly, and Shyla was FINE!!! It was a proud moment.

Due to successes like that one, I find myself occasionally forgetting about Shyla's sensitivities. Yesterday, we went to a dog training class in town - and Shyla was a star. We attend the classes for socialization (the class is held in outdoor locations around town) - and Shyla was exuberant despite lots of potentially scary things like a rowdy off-leash dog (not from the class) who charged her.

After her happy-go-lucky demeanor in class, I swung by the vet's office to weigh Shyla - and she seemed happy to visit the office. Then, I decided to do a quick errand at a dog-friendly hardware store. I took Shyla in with me but forgot about her "issues" as I grabbed a few items quickly. As I shopped, she became skittish and scared. In my rush, I'd accidentally taken her too close to loud children, hand carts, and other scary things. My mistake... After I realized my error, I felt that I'd put her too far "over threshold" to make it into a good experience so I simply ran her to the car and forgot about the shopping.
The difference between the Shyla of 9 months ago and the Shyla of today is that we returned to the same store today, and she was fine. Nine months ago, she would have remained wary of that store for weeks. Of course, today, I was more careful than yesterday to let her "warm up" to the scene by approaching it at Shyla's pace, and I was much more generous in rewarding confident behavior. But, the fact that yesterday's bad experience was already erased from her memory banks was a huge victory!

I'm now fairly sure that Shyla will never be "bomb-proof" in town. I'll always need to be aware of her demeanor and how she's reacting to the world. However, she's come an incredible distance since I met her. Sometimes, strangers can't tell that she's a sensitive/fearful dog. In contrast, 9 months ago, everyone who met her could tell that I was rehabilitating a fearful dog.

It certainly has driven home the importance of socialization as a young puppy. We systematically socialized all of our previous puppies, and they have all been able to handle the bustle of town without problems. That includes R, who only visits town occasionally but handles it without a hitch every time.
Shyla missed out on that socialization program when she was young, and, having missed that window of time when her brain was primed to learn about a broad array of things, it's hard to make up for it. But, both she and I are doing our very best, and I think that she's become an incredibly happy dog!
Even if she doesn't continue to improve (which I think is unlikely), I am now comfortable with Shyla's level of confidence as she navigates the world, and that says a lot!

22 comments:

  1. The progress you have both made is awesome and a tribute not just to the training but more important to the incredible trusting loving bond you have forged.

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  2. It not only says a lot, it says everything. Kudos to all of you for your hard work. Love the photographs.

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  3. You must wonder sometimes if your thought about her "never" being bomb proof is correct. It would seem to me if you continue her visits to town she will just learn to accept new things as she goes, and who can say what another year or two will bring for her. R looks wonderful, so mature and loving. He was always fun but his new look is beautiful.

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

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  4. Oh we love the photos of R and Shyla so much!
    Shyla has come a long ways, and I think she trusts that you will not let anything harm her.
    love
    tweedles

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  5. YAY for the both of you! Such incredible progress!
    Nola

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  6. I am in awe of the patience you must have to work on such a tricky task. It sounds like you're doing amazing.
    Melon

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  7. Shyla and R, perched on that rock!! One photo says one million words, Yes Shyla has come so far from her earlier days, a great bond, a family of four, with K looking down, always.Progress, patience, in huge amounts, show so much in your photos. Greetings from Jean

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  8. What incredible progress. But of course she has you and you are loving and understanding and willing to spend the time to make the world she lives in a wonderful place. Woo Hoo I say to both of you. Loved every sing photo, but the two of them together melts our hearts.
    Blessings,
    Goose

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  9. You have both done incredible work and we are so proud of both of you!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

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  10. I think it's really helpful to look back as you do, to see in very real terms how far you've progressed. Shyla is having a wonderful life, the lucky girl! That much shorter rebound time is an amazing success, and it's something she does for herself - but the reason she can do it is all the day-to-day time you put in to helping her grow confident and happy. I'm glad you share so much of the process on your blog, because it may help and encourage other animal people to persevere with slow, patient training - and hope.

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  11. Wonderful progress for sure! We are hoping the Thundershirt will help Lightning with his quirky fears. It is jut so hard to anticipate when he will need it. We have learned a lot of tips from your work with Shyla. Thanks:)

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  12. Good work! Love the photos of the two together :-)

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  13. I will never ever get tired of your photos, KB - for some reason I TRULY love the profile pics of R's face. He is so handsome, just like my Indy !!!

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  14. Happy to hear things are going so well. Only up from here!

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  15. I'm happy you've made such wonderful progress!

    What an incredibly shiny (and gorgeous) coat she has in that last photo!

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  16. Shyla has come SO far with you! I'm so proud of her -- and of YOU for working with her so tirelessly!

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  17. That sounds awesome! It's easy to forget when they've come so far and then something throws them for a loop. Been there. Done that. But how rewarding that she has come so far. So glad to hear it. :)

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  18. I'm so happy for you and Shyla both!

    You know, based on what I've learned from my own experience, I think there are several factors that play into a fearful dog. A lot of Greyhounds haven't seen things in a house or in a lot of situations, but most of them adapt to it very quickly and learn to enjoy the world in a short amount of time. There are some, though, who seem almost...autistic...in the way they adapt to the world. There are other dogs who are taken places and given experiences and still react fearfully. Some dogs have a reason to be afraid, like a bad experience, and others seem to just innately be fearful. When you get a "perfect storm" of a dog who's born fearful and who doesn't get to have normal experiences, then it's a lot more work. It always fascinates me to see how some dogs come out of their shells, though. I've never doubted that Shyla really needed you and the life you've given her. It's really the perfect place for her, and you're the perfect person!

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  19. KB, You've done such an amazing job with Shyla. Her life is so different than what it would have been. Our dogs temperaments are so unique-just like ours. After our recent issue with the loose neighborhood dog, who knocked me down(he was a huge 90 lb labradoodle)and attacked Hunter, I was the one who had to overcome walking alone with Hunter. I realized that Hunter doesn't have a mean bone in his little body and he will never fight back. I'm not able to change that, even if it means he won't defend himself but I can watch out for other dogs.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Hugs, Noreen

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  20. Sounds like she is doing great! Congrats.

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  21. What a wonderful update-so amazing what you have accomplished together! I am certain I would be in awe after having met her when she came off the plane 9 months ago! I actually would not be surprised if she did become bomb proof some day...think of how much she has changed in just 9 months! I think the socializing you are doing now is very similar in scope to what someone would do with a young puppy-it probably just feels like more because it seems abnormal to have her be so fearful? But puppies need watching, training, and socialization all day long for their first year or two just like Miss Shyla :) basically you just got yourself a very large puppy :) I am so happy for all of you-she is a fabulous addition to your family! Sending lots of love and hugs, xoxo Suebeedoo

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