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Monday, September 9, 2013

Building Confidence

As I've talked about many times here, I use positive training techniques with my dogs, rewarding behaviors that I like and ignoring ones that I don't like. With Shyla, I never deviate from this reward-based system because she's so sensitive.
I'm what professional trainers call a "cross-over trainer" because I first learned about dog training back when the predominant technique for training a dog was to use aversives, like "corrections" with a prong collar or a shock collar. Indeed, I trained a search and rescue dog using primarily negative techniques. Fortunately, that dog was afraid of nothing, and she flourished despite heavy-handed training.

I shudder to think what would have happened with Shyla if I'd tried to train her using punishment-based learning. As many of you know, Shyla is sensitive to the point of being fearful. Indeed, when I first met her a year ago, she was afraid of many normal aspects of everyday life, partly due to her sensitive nature and partly due to lack of socialization to the real world. If I'd tried to "force" her to take on her fears, I suspect that it would have been disasterous. She wouldn't have gained the confidence that she now has.
Even now, if I use an angry voice in Shyla's presence, she slinks away. For example, the other night, R was up to mischief. He knocked over my water glass while I ate dinner. Then, as I tried to quickly clean up the water, our black "puppy" tried to steal my dinner. I yelled to stop R from inhaling my entire dinner in one fell swoop. A quick yell is something that I can do with R that I'll probably never be able to do without really scaring Shyla.

Over the past year, I've spent innumerable hours with Shyla, using positive training techniques, to help her learn to live happily in the bustling world of humans. It's been so rewarding.

Recently, I've noticed another change in her that shows a trust that is new. She likes to look me straight in the eyes. I took this photo at sunrise this morning, and her trusting eyes warm my heart.
I feel confident saying that, if I'd used the old punishment-based training techniques on Shyla, she wouldn't trust me so much now.

And she wouldn't be so thrilled to "offer" tricks that we've worked on together!
Shyla is a poster-dog for one who would have wilted under the pressure of old training techniques. I'm so glad that I learned about a different approach before Shyla sprinted into my life!


  1. I can see dogs are like children, and each one might need a different training way, Shyla thrives on your way for her. A huge step forward for her this last year. Cheers from Jean

  2. Positive training really is incredible!


  3. I don't think there is a "one size fits all" method of training. As you mention, dogs are as different as people. So glad to see Shyla gaining confidence.

  4. Yep, different strokes for different folks....well dogs. We get rewarded or ignored...mostly, but there have been the loud 'NO's".

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  5. Shyla is a very lucky girl to have found you! :)

  6. You are obviously training Shyla the right way and doing a great job!
    Benny & Lily

  7. You are such a doll, Shyla, and you are doing everything the right way with her, KB! She's a beautiful girl!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  8. I love the photo of Shyla looking into the camera. Your techniques are really paying off. I agree with NancyJ that different things might work for different dogs; as I've posted before, I've never had the privilege of working with an effective all-positive trainer so I'm personally not convinced that it's the only way to go. Maybe if I'd ever seen an all-pos trainer who got results I'd have learned a better way.

    You said forcing Shyla to face her fears would have made her more fearful. Sadly that has happened with our Toby. I think I kept taking him to therapy visits at the hospital, hoping that he would become less fearful, and just the opposite had been happening. We took August off to get some perspective, and yesterday I called to say we would no longer be visiting there. It was the right thing to do for Toby.

  9. My very favorite thing is when my boy Indy looks right into my eyes. He is so intentional about it - and I know he is just waiting for whatever is coming next on the day's agenda. Rewards based training is so wonderful, especially with heart dogs like Shyla. in that photo, you can SEE the trust in her eyes. It's a beautiful thing. Makes me wonder how anyone could ever do something to a precious dog to hurt them intentionally! I will never ever get that!!!

  10. KB... you are awesomely awesome!! :)

    This is the technique we used with our dogs many years ago too... positive reinforcement. It works with small children too.

    I wish people used it with both more often!

    Have a beautiful day, my friend.

    Love~ Andrea

  11. You have done an AMAZING job with Shyla. She is one lucky girl to have been picked by you.

    Lily Belle & Muffin

  12. That is so wonderful! All of us pups are different - what works for one, won't for another. There is a "famous" dog trainer who uses rather ... forceful corrections on dogs he's asked to "help". If he used that technique on me, I would FREAK out! I respond very well to positive rewards. I was 1 and a half probably when I was adopted. I remember early on -- I saw my sisters sit when mom said "sit", so I sat, too. I was called a GOOD BOY! Me!!!??!!! Can you believe that?!?! It was awesome.
    Life is good when the right pup is paired up with the right person/people!
    Play bows,

  13. That is what we do too. ONLY positive obedience. Mom will NOT let anyone treat us otherwise EVER!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  14. While I totally understand what you mean by "heavy handed" I HARDLY believe that you were/are heavy handed in your approach of using tools like a prong or electric collar. But I get what you mean by calling them "heavy handed" when talking about those tools in regards to a dog like Shyla. I've always said, Juno could completely be trained using mostly correction oriented training and she would be FINE. Loki could NEVER be trained that way (like Shyla he's sensitive). HOWEVER, there's a few things I learned: positive only made training more fun for the dogs and me and it built a super big bond that correction only methods could never achieve. so WHY bother with using correction only on a dog like Juno? No, instead, she DEMANDS her training time (unlike a lot of sibes who only work for food, she'll work just to be with me, honestly), and she really respects (well as much as a sibe can) me off-leash too when hiking. STILL: i'm a big scardy cat about biking off leash and when they are off-leash deep in the remote forest, I do use an e-collar as my little life saver back up tool, should either dog try to blow me off and bolt. Both dogs know what it is and have been trained on it, however, that doesn't mean its how I predominantly train, nor that i love using it. BUT like you said: some dogs are WAY too sensitive for that kind of system and can only work using positive methods. I am "lucky" i suppose in that Loki, my sensitive dog, can handle a little correction, especially if he is very clear about why he received a correction, so the e-collar works for him for off-leash remote biking. I don't consider myself using "heavy handed" correction at all when I do use it or a prong and for the most part, I train everything motivationally. But I get what you mean. Shyla would break. And it's very awesome that you can see that. I was able to see the difference of which dog could handle which type of training in just my two alone. But at the end of the day, even tho Juno could "handle" correction only training, I was like "WHY do it? It's BETTER with positive." She bonded with me through positive in ways I never expected for a "sibe." (Even tho i still use correction in a very limited way).

    BTW: thanks for your email. i'm in the middle of drafting it to you. I'll get it off later this week. lots to do. thanks again!

  15. I far more prefer positive training techniques over punishing ones - no matter whether it is a dog or a child. Of course every dog is different and might need different approaches. But I doubt that Shyla would have gained any confidence with those punishing techniques - I am glad, too, that you train her a different, so much more rewarding way. She is such a beautiful dog!

  16. I am interested to hear you talk about your training techniques and approaches like this, so thanks for sharing!

  17. I once had a rescue girl, Luna, who taught me a lot. She was SO sensitive, if I said "No" to my other wolfhound - not shouting, just a firm "No" - Luna would instantly flatten herself to the floor. The first time I saw her do it, it broke my heart. She was the most loving girl, and she recalibrated my awareness of the many ways to positively approach training.

  18. Shyla has special Eyes.....she is a Beauty !!

  19. Hey KB, I've been so worried about you since last night. Down here in Windsor, we are o.k. so far. We leave for Ca. today. I love hearing Shyla's story-her spirit reminds me of Hunter, who has also come a long way. Be safe my friend; I'll be checking in here to make sure everything is o.k. with you and Runner.
    Love, Noreen

  20. I have the same thing with little Lexi - also a soft, sensitive little soul. Positive training has brought her out of her shell and built her confidence. She is a dream to work with. :)
    MM in SA


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