Shyla represents my first foray into the world of raising a fearful dog. Prior to her, I'd always had dogs who I raised from early puppyhood, and I socialized them as much as I possibly could when they were young. I didn't have that chance with Shyla.
Over more than two years, I've spent tons and tons of time doing "real life training" with Shyla (with the guidance of an amazing trainer). That has included teaching her how to cope with almost everything about our world.
When I first met her, there were very few aspects of our world that did not terrify her. Even walking through unfamiliar doorways was scary. She was a perpetual bundle of nerves, right on the edge of a meltdown almost all the time.
If you were to meet Shyla now, on our home turf, you'd probably think she was normal unless you have a very keen eye for canine body language. I still warn people that she's shy, because there is an occasional person who she doesn't want to meet (and I don't want their feelings to be hurt). But, she's thrilled to meet about 90% of people at our house or on mountain trails.
That percentage is lower, substantially lower, out in the bustle of the town but I've simply decided that it's always Shyla's choice whether she meets someone. That works remarkably well because there's no pressure on Shyla. I suspect she'll continue to adapt, at her own pace
, over the coming years.
Although we've come so far, every new step forward still feels like a huge victory that I want to shout about from the rooftops. She had one small step today!
But first, I have to tell you a little background. When she arrived at our house, she was too scared to actively do anything remotely "bad". At the beginning, she never chewed anything or destroyed anything. In the words of our trainer, she was completely "shut down" - and just tried to fly under the radar around the house.
Then, a couple of months after she arrived, we had a fateful day when Shyla suddenly took an interest in chewing. I took a shower, leaving Shyla loose in the house for those few minutes, like I'd done every day since her housetraining had become reasonably good. While I was in the shower, I left the door to our clothes closet ajar.
During the course of that one shower, Shyla managed to chew the zippers out of FOUR expensive jackets. After that destructive spree, the rules changed instantly, and Shyla was crated whenever she was unsupervised.
Fastforward until early this year... it had been a long time since Shyla had destroyed anything besides a dog toy. So, at the start of the year, I started leaving Shyla loose in our bedroom when I was going out for very short periods. Because she was successful, I gradually increased the time that she spent loose while no humans were in the house with her.
Then, after almost a year of preparation, I puppy-proofed our bedroom this morning, and I left Shyla loose in the bedroom for several hours while I was out.
Guess what? She was PERFECT! Yes, Shyla, you can shout it from the mountaintop! PERFECT!
Here's to my girl. She's learning about this crazy human world, one tiny step at a time.
And, here's to all she's taught me. When I first met Shyla, I wanted to "fix" all her problems immediately. Through these two years, I've learned a thing or two about patience. It's okay to dream big but those dreams need to be tempered with the knowledge that, after the critical puppy phases of rapid socialization, helping a fearful dog is a slow process.
I love this girl. I've always thought that courage is only really tested when someone is terrified. Shyla has more courage than almost anyone I know.