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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Small Step for Shyla

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.


  1. Yay!!!! The accomplishments you've done together amaze me.

  2. Wooooo Hooooto Shyla. Way to go girl. I can see and feel your mommas smile.

  3. Isn't amazing what we can learn from one another.

    Aroo to you,

  4. Awesome Shyla & KB!

    Thanks to you, Shyla has a wonderful life.

    Lily Belle & Muffin

  5. This is a wonderful story that you are telling, and even more wonderful are these photos of Shyla - I love them!

  6. Your words tell us so much more than the 2 years since Shyla arrived, Love, tons of it, patience, huge heaps, training in small stages, praises lavished on, and so much more, and we have shared this road, and rejoiced with the news as each milestone was climbed. Today might well be the peak at the top of the mountain, just like Everest was to our own Sir Edmund Hillary. Hugs to you all, Jean.

  7. I can so relate to this! It took LadyBug a good two-three years to feel comfortable enough to roll over on her back for a tummy rub. There are still things she is afraid of and I believe she will always have those fears. One of them is thunder & lightning...the other...plastic bottles. We have no idea why she is so terrified of them! Kudos to you and Shyla! Great day and great accomplishment!

  8. I love this girl! And her singing photos are fantastic!

  9. Could never socialise Kendra and she was only 14 weeks old when she came. I think some pups are just born shy. You've made some great strides with Shyla and she has too. Congratulations!

  10. Yay Shyla and KB! You girls are the best team ever ♥

  11. Bravo Shyla girl, we're all proud of you too!

  12. Shyla is so beautiful. Isn't it wonderful to see them come out of their shells?

    My fearful dog has just started to enjoy catching a ball, after a year, and it's amazing to see her visibly glow with confidence.

  13. Grreat job, Shyla! You're such a good dog.

  14. how wonderful!
    Mr Bailey & Hazel

  15. I was wondering what those wonderful shouts were I heard at my house!!! ;)

  16. We heard you all the way over here:) You have done so well with Shyla, and we have learned so much from you that has helped with getting Lightning to be less fearful - now to get him to understand that the bikes are not out to get him:)

    We too have many memories and stories of the damage pups can do when they aren't quite ready for all that freedom.

  17. We recently heard someone talking about why humans force their dogs to meet all people and other dogs. As you said, there really is no need to. Less stress for the pups and the human
    Lily & Edward

  18. You have learned a lot from each other. And R is shouting it to the world!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  19. Shyla
    We are so proud of you and all the hurdles you have overcome.
    You are becoming a Brave Hearted Girl!

  20. It's a big accomplishment for both of you!

  21. You go Shyla - isn't it rewarding when your work with them pays off. I know every advancement our fearful girl Maggie makes feels like a major victory worthy of celebration!

  22. This warms my heart so much! I've always adopted older dogs or dogs with a past. And sometimes they are a tough nut to crack! But so worth it!

  23. YAAAY Shyla! And yay you! That's a lot of work, and it's so awesome to see it paying off.

  24. Those howling photos are powerful!


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