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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shyla's Socialization

It has been an interesting journey with Shyla, since she arrived 15 months ago as a fearful older puppy. At that time, I had no experience with socializing any dog except a tiny puppy. With my tiny puppies, I socialized them like crazy, literally running myself ragged to expose them to "everything" during the critical socialization periods. It was worth it because it prevented them from having major fears of everyday life. K had some relatively minor fears, caused by genetics and a wonky thyroid gland, but they have been dwarfed by Shyla's fears.
No doubt, Shyla has come a huge way in the 15 months that we've spent together. She is a happy and outgoing dog most of the time now.

Interestingly, I am noticing a pattern for when her fears flare up. A few weeks ago, I took her to town for the first time in a very long time after being stuck in the mountains due to the floods. On her first trip after the floods, she did tremendously well, breezing through situations that used to scare her.
Since then, some of those old fears have re-emerged. It seems as if a single event in town can cause her to be fearful of anything vaguely resembling it for a long time. For example, last week at my Physical Therapy clinic, a small child scared Shyla as we were leaving the clinic. This week, Shyla was happy and apparently carefree during my PT appointment until the end approached. As I tried to exit the clinic with Shyla, she was so skittish that I wasn't sure that we were going to make it through the door with all the "obstacles" in our way (people, a desk, etc.). There was nothing that normally scares her in our path. I think that she remembered being scared last week as we exited the clinic and has now generalized that exiting the clinic is scary. Her skittishness continued until we arrived home in the mountains.

That is just one example of something that I've seen time and time again with Shyla.
I'm beginning to think that Shyla may be a dog who simply needs to have a quiet life in the mountains with occasional trips to town but not weekly trips. I think that having a schedule of weekly events (e.g., taking her to town twice a week - once for training class and once for something else) lets her develop certain hard-wired fear patterns that only go away when we take a long break from visiting town.
An example of a "long break" was the 6 weeks that she didn't go to town due to the floods plus a couple of other scheduling problems. She was awesomely confident in town after that extended hiatus.

Have any of you who have worked at socializing very fearful dogs run into this kind of pattern? I'm curious to hear your experiences.

I plan to discuss this with our trainer because it seems opposite to how I've socialized our puppies. For a puppy, it's important to expose them to a variety of situations on a regular basis. It seems, for Shyla, like going to town on a regular basis amps up her fears.

No matter how it turns out - I feel so lucky to have Shyla as our dog. Her sensitivity is one of her best characteristics as my best friend... and I suspect that her sensitivity is the reason why the bustle of town and unfamiliar things can scare her so much.

My sensitive girl and I watched the moon set over the mountains this morning. It was sublime.
I'm learning so much from Shyla's sensitive heart and our journey together toward helping her cope with her fears. At the beginning, socializing her seemed like a huge insurmountable obstacle. I'm learning to accept her for the wonderful dog she is and to capitalize on her strengths rather than trying to eliminate her weaknesses. That's a lesson that I can generalize very broadly, including how I live my life.


  1. It takes a very special person to handle a dog with Shyla's issues. Props to you!

  2. i am glad you are open to her sensitivities and not looking to force her getting through them. bless you.

  3. Dear KB,

    Smart doggies like Miss Shyla and me have really good memories! Waaay last summer I found a chicken leg in the pond that someone was using for bate to fish. Of course It was taken away and thrown away, but I look for it every single time I go to that part of the ponds. It was probly 6 months ago once that I found that treasure. I looked for it on Friday!! We don't forget good stuffs or scary stuffs!

    I really want to come hike with you and Shyla and R!



  4. It sounds like Shyla has found the perfect place to live with you away from things and able to run free and explore without anyone to bother her. I sometimes prefer not to be around people so I kind of understand lol. Shyla and I might have something in common. She is such a beautiful girl and it seems that you are so good for each other.

    Anne and Sasha

  5. Oh we remember, yes we do. You may remember that I developed a fear of going to the baseball fields at the Fort after a dog bit my eye. For the longest time I would shake in fear as we approached the field. I was fine walking and running around the woods at the fort. MOM really helped me with this fear and it took a long time. But I am OK. Butt still sometimes I shake when I approach the baseball field. We remember, no doubt.

  6. I think dogs are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Beamer remembers people that he's seen only once when he was a puppy and he remembers that they were nice to him, so he greets him with such joy.

    That said, Beamer was also a fearful puppy because he was born in a puppy mill that eventually had to shut down. He had zero socialization when we got him at 3 months, but we were persistent with him. We would ask strangers to give him treats or I would touch him with things that he found scary (walking canes, brooms, etc) and reward him if he didn't react to them. It definitely takes a lot of time and dedication to socialize a dog and you seem more than up for the challenge.

  7. Interesting that Shyla can only handle going to town occasionally. Can't wait to hear what the trainer suggests.

  8. We know that you and your mom are going to get through this together, Shyla, because you are the bestest team ever!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  9. Our last dog, a handful of a dachshund-terrier-mix, had fear aggression; he had been in two other homes before he came to us. He taught me: focussing on him, reacting to his hesitation/fear even in the slightest way, reassuring him that I understand but that everything will be fine... was a boost to his insecurity. So I started training *myself*: It's all about my inner calm determination and communication it through body language. By not acknowledging his fear but going ahead without hesitation, I convinced him that there is no reason for fear, and that I know exactly what I'm doing, that he is safe with me. Important: NO praise when he was "brave" until he was completely relaxed again; praising while he still was tense would have rewarded that tension...

    This is what worked for us - I'd be interested in hearing your trainer's advice. Shyla is wonderful and so are you - a winning team no matter what!

  10. Sorry, ...communicat*ing* it through body language...

  11. You are extremely lucky to have Shyla. Either way, Shyla has come a long way in her training. Sit in front of a day school with Shyla next time you are in town

  12. I can't say I blame Shyla. I would love to live in the mountains with occasional trips to town. Torrey hates gunfire. A week or so ago I took her walking to place where they occasionally target shoot. She was scared. When we went back there, she was scared again and no one was there. I coaxed her along with treats until she realized that everything was OK that day.

  13. First, that moonset photograph is amazing! Wow!

    Jimmy's only fear is thunder (well, and fireworks) but it is incapacitating at times. When he had his fear incident at an agility trial last spring where he thought the A/C turning on was a loud clap of thunder, he generalized that to every other soccer building he went to. Now a full 6 months later, he is still very wary in one of those buildings. He even generalized it down to the fact that it happened as he was queuing up to run, so now when we queue up, he still starts to shiver. He gets past it once he is in the ring, but he has held that fear a long time!

  14. We adopted a street dog from Puerto Rico when she was approximately 1 year old. She is incredibly sensitive, sweet, and gentle. She reminds me so much of Shyla though with somewhat different issues. I have really appreciated reading about you and Shyla because of this; although I have a long background working with dogs, this is also my first dog I didn't raise from a tiny pup.

    We've had her for 1 year & 8 months. I have done a ton of hiking with her and dog training classes (big success). She has come a long way BUT... she is still very fearful of being approached by off-leash dogs larger than herself while we are out hiking unless they are polite. (She is fine with 110 lb Rotties in dog class; she reads instantly if a dog is under control or not.) I obviously try to limit those experiences and am usually successful, often for many months on end. But just one incident and she is back to square one. On Saturday, for instance, she was "dog mugged" by 3 big dogs who surprised us right at the end of our hike. They didn't physically harm her but now she is petrified of big dogs again.

    It is heartbreaking for me because we both love to hike and try out new venues. We have a great local place we go where we rarely run into other dogs, and are so blessed to have that. But she gets bored going there over and over again, and I'd like a change of scene once in a while, too. However, I am wondering if I just need to accept that the situations we run into hiking elsewhere with big off-leash dogs are too much for her given her background.

  15. Hi!
    Thanks for the gratulations. I am happy of his work. He is only 2 1/2 years old and its his first season of field trials and really working. Last year it was only training.
    I will mail you I Think because I have the same things going on with Vilja.
    your Pictures of Shyla is Always great. She is a great model....

  16. Yups, we remember everythings!! BOL
    Butts, it sounds like you have figured out Shyla's pattern now, and you can plan accordingly...that is always a comfort.
    She sounds like she is a happy, healthy sweet pups and you guys indeed make a good pair!
    Ruby ♥

  17. I don't have any personal experience with this exact scenario, but I will be very interested in what your trainer thinks! Hang in there :)

  18. So well said and stunning last photo. We're confident (after reading your blog for several years) that you will make the best decision for both you and Shyla.

  19. Smart dogs have great memories. This can be amusing at times (Merlin once dragged me to a spot where he found a shaving from a horse's hoof at a trail head YEARS after we hiked that trail. I had to look in my log book to find out what he was after!) and aggravating at others (Merlin suddenly balked at the vet's scale because they did a blood draw after weighing him once. When I told them to do the blood draw first and the weighing right before bringing him back to me everything was fine.). The vet has said to him, "Would you PLEASE stop thinking so much?!" on more than one occasion.

    With fears you are right about time out making everything much easier. Think of a fearful dog like a tub with a bad drain and the fears like water. You pour water into the tub and some drains out, but not nearly as fast as you can fill it. If you keep pouring it in eventually the tub will overflow. If you put a little water in and then give it some time to drain you can add a little more when you need to without overflowing the tub. If you give the tub time to totally drain you can add a lot more water at once without overflowing it, but then you are back to needing to let it drain before adding more.

  20. Hi Y'all,

    Looking forward to what Shyla's trainer has to say.

    I've had a couple of dogs with fear issues, both rescues. At the time trainers said correct firmly and force dog to confront fear. For instance, Candy was terrified of the vacuum cleaner. Firm correction and forcing her to approach and then allowing her to sniff the "monster". It wasn't long until she would actually let me vacuum right up to her and never move until I asked her to move.
    However, Shyla is a different dog with a different kind of issue that is far more fluid. I have watched your approach, letting her back off, with seemed to be working so well...and I think it still is working for her.

    Bottom line, what works with one individual doesn't necessarily work for another.

    BrownDog's Human


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