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Monday, February 3, 2014

Shyla Learns Tricks - Positive Training Blog Hop

I am participating in the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop today so I'll talk about some of the training I've been doing with Shyla.

Many of you have followed us for a while, and you know that Shyla was very fearful when she arrived as a 9 month old puppy. As far as I could tell, she had very little life experience so she feared people, towns, cars, bicycles, doorways, vacuum cleaners - in fact, it's faster to make a list of what she didn't fear than a list of what she did fear. It seemed as if her fear encompassed almost everything.

We worked very hard with a trainer, using a technique loosely based on Behavioral Adjustment Therapy, to help Shyla learn to be more comfortable in the world. I'll talk more about that in the future. However, the bottom line is that Shyla has come a long way. She is interested in meeting the majority of people but still nervous about some people. She can do really well going to town, going into shops, going to the vet, or having people over to our house. I don't think any of these things are easy for her - but she can usually do them while maintaining an outwardly calm attitude. So, to this point, I'd call our behavioral training successful but still a work in progress.
Most of all, Shyla adores our mountain environment. And, she absolutely loves doing "training games" with me. In positive training, I think of everything as being a fun game for the dog (and handler!). The dog is trying to figure out how to earn rewards and the handler is trying to shape the dog's behavior in a certain way.

Because we both love training, I've been teaching Shyla new tricks this winter. Her basics - like sit, stay, down - are pretty strong. That's why tricks are on our agenda now. Last winter, I taught her to wave with her right paw. I started by luring her to lift her right paw, and I clicked and then gave her a treat whenever she did. Then, I raised the standards so she had to lift that paw higher to get a click/treat. In a short time, she was waving like this.
This winter, I thought it would be fun to be able to ask her to wave with either her right or her left paw. I used a similar training technique but a different verbal cue for her left paw. In the photo below, you can see that her left paw wave isn't quite as high as her right one, but she's getting it (and showering herself in snow!).
Another trick we're adding to our repertoire is balancing a treat on her nose. It was much easier to teach her to do this than I expected. I'd put a treat on her nose, and say "stay" (because "stay" means "stay still" in our world). At first, I'd ask for only 1 second of balancing the treat before I "released" her to get the treat - and I gradually increased the time and distractions. Today, I put the treat on her nose, walked about 10 yards away, and took some photos...
And then I verbally released her to launch the treat. She hasn't yet mastered tossing it into the air and actually catching it, although the next photo makes it look like she's going to catch it!
I recently found a good book that suggests how to train a big variety of tricks so Shyla and I will be starting on some more soon! I think that any positive training, even if it seems like silly trick training, is great mental exercise for me and Shyla, and it helps build an even stronger bond between us. Moreover, for a dog with Shyla's tendency toward fearfulness, positive training helps build her confidence. Every success helps her stand up a little taller.


  1. Shyla, we are so proud of you!
    We can see that you think learning is fun! And that is what makes you so special- cause as we watch you learn- you make us smile- cause we know your smiling too,, cause you love learning... and you love life!

  2. you are a great mom and partner to her. :) loved the left paw wave. so cute.

  3. Any lessons in life, if you are a dog, cat or human, are easier if there is fun involved. Shyla is doing so well, thanks in large, and totally to your patience, TLC, and tricks taken slowly, and I'm sure, your beautiful mountain area where she so shines. Cheers from Jean

  4. How fun for Shyla and for you, too. Do you think you will train for agility?

    Cheers and hugs,


  5. I love the pic where she's balancing the treat! That's something Nola and I haven't tried yet, although I'd like to test it out.
    Nola's Mom

  6. Shyla is adorable doing everything! She really has come an incredibly long way. She definitely needed to be with you.

    We have a book called Dog Tricks for Dummies, and I really like it because it breaks down how to do the tricks into small, manageable parts. I can't wait to see what the two of you come up with for tricks!

  7. Loving your pics. You must be Shooting at the best time of the day to get that wonderful golden glow. Also some great Trick Tips there. good to see how well your dog is doing......

  8. Shyla is building a good repertoire! Me and Stanley know tricks but mom wants to teach us more cuz we think doggies should always be learning something. And we only believe in positive training methods. Mom wants me to learn to balance a treat on my nose but we think Stanley might steal it cuz he is a munch mouth!

    Your Birthday Pals,

    Murphy and Stanley

  9. Sounds like Shyla has gone a long way since being adopted. I can't get over how beautiful she is, either.

    Keep up the good work with all of her training. Can't wait to see what else she learns to balance on her head :)

    Beamer approves of your new trick.

    Now I have to teach Beamer to wave! He kind of does it, but he doesn't lift his paw as high as Shyla does.

  10. You are such a smart girl, Shyla, and you have such a smart teacher!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  11. I have been trying to teach Torrey to balance food on her nose. She just wants to eat it, and I'm not being as successful as you are with Shyla.

  12. I love to read about positive training experiences, and will go visit all the other blogs on the "hop"!

  13. Oh fun! Isn't it amazing what dogs can do if you have patience? I love how proud Shyla looks!

    Monty and Harlow

  14. Shyla is such a beauty and I am so glad she is having fun!

  15. It's really amazing to me what positive training can do for the fearful dog. I had a fearful young foster (about 8 months old) that was petrified of just about everything, including me. I had read somewhere that training can increase a dog's confidence and so I worked with her (she was wicked smart) and I did see a notable difference in her confidence level. Thankfully, despite still needing quite a bit of work, she was adopted by a loving older couple that took her in and continued to work with her. Thank you for working so hard with Shyla. She looks amazingly happy with her new life! Can't wait to see what new tricks you teach her!

  16. You're doing a great job with Shyla. We have the same tricks book and the BAT book. I also like Control Unleashed and Click to Calm.

  17. I know you are going to ace this one

  18. Oh, Shyla! You are wonderful! When your person is calm and loves positive training, that is the BEST!!! Fortunately, both Maggie and I come from a WONDERFUL breeder who did a lot for us as tiny puppies - so we are very confident and calm. Zimmie wasn't so lucky, but he's come a long, long way!
    Mom's challenge with Maggie right now is keeping a 6-month old Siberian Husky calm after her spay operation, with at least 12 new inches of snow on the ground!!! :)

  19. Labs are very good to learn tricks. I have to practice a lot with Vilja until next season. Recalls , recalls ....but she is a dachshund and got her own Will, Vilja is Will in Swedish

  20. I'm going to check out that book. Latte does so many things that would be great tricks if I could get her to do them on cue. She tends to get very wound up though if she doesn't understand what I want. Also, I could use some hand signal suggestions as I'm running out of ideas that are different enough for the dogs to tell apart. She's a dog that definitely benefits from the challenge of learning new things as they distract her from some of her less desirable behaviors and worries.

  21. I love this post! Especially "In positive training, I think of everything as being a fun game for the dog (and handler!)." Truer words were never spoken! It has been my experience that when a dog is afraid, they can fall back on a trick they know to regain their confidence and keep their cool. Thank you for joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Are you going to try a target training trick for March?
    (Sorry it took me so long to hop by; I've been sick.)

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