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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Being Shyla's Rock

I enjoy teaching Shyla tricks. A silly trick that we practice is her balancing a treat on her nose, tossing it in the air, and then catching it. Just today, she seemed to figure out how to toss it so that she could catch it.
I used to think that tricks were a silly waste of time. What is useful about being able to do this particular trick? Nothing really.
With Shyla, I have learned that practicing these seemingly meaningless tricks teach life lessons, like impulse control. Shyla has to resist trying to toss the treat that's on her nose too soon in order to earn the chance to toss it and eat it.
With Shyla, more than any other dog, I've also realized that playing games like this one helps build her trust in me. Because the trick itself is not important, I never get upset when she's not successful in doing it.
Rather, I praise her for trying so hard, and then let her try again. Partly by playing inconsequential games together, we've built a bond of trust.
I saw this trust help us immensely this past weekend. We went to a drop-in dog training class that we've been attending all winter. Usually, 2-6 dog/handler pairs attend. This time, there were 15 dog/handler pairs, including one person who used a motorized scooter for mobility (Shyla had never seen one before and unpredictable things with wheels tend to scare her). Moreover, the park where the class was held was insanely busy with all sorts of springtime recreation underway.

I immediately realized that this might be a tough class for my sensitive Shyla. I decided to focus only on keeping her calm and confident despite a chaotic scene that would have provoked Shyla to melt down just a year ago.

I was SO happy when she maintained her cool for the whole class. I took her for frequent breaks - short walks away from the group - to let her decompress.

Much to my utter happiness, Shyla chose the coping strategy of making very frequent eye contact with me. She'd swivel to check out the general chaos in the park, and then she'd bring her eyes back to mine. I felt as if I'd become her trustworthy rock, in the midst of the swirling insanity of humanity on a spring weekend.

I believe that all the little stuff that we've done together led Shyla to be able to cope with that scene. All the trick training, basic obedience training, socialization, and just being best friends culminated in her trusting me to help her through that class.
One good class doesn't mean that all of Shyla's fear issues are in the rear-view mirror. I'm sure that Shyla and I will have rough days dealing with her fears in the future. But, for that one afternoon, it felt so good that she trusted me to be her rock.


  1. That is so awesome!!! You have done so much for her, and with her. And it all shows. Great job to both of you.

  2. I love the biscuit on the nose and then catch trick so much! My husband's family dog was really good at it! The girls are not, though! They let it slide off their nose and then eat it on the ground. LOL! Zoe is also terrible at "catch". I do think that having silly tricks is helpful, though and it certainly does boost their confidence!

    Great job at class! :D

  3. I do enjoy the praise I receive for a trick well done. I like to please my peeps and the treat is a nice bonus.

    Aroo to you,

  4. You have done so much to help Shyla and she shows her love and gratitude to you. AND the added bonus is that you have taught your readers so much as well. Many of your techniques serve as pointers for me with silly boy Lightning:) One of these days he will not be afraid of bikes, I hope.

  5. You are doing such a wonderful job with Shyla!
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  6. I used to think that teaching tricks was a bit silly, too, but not so. It's time you're spending with your dog, and you're engaging their brain—two important shared experiences.

  7. And that made a perfect day!!!

  8. Wonderful words" you are her rock" and that sums up Shyla and you to a T. Super catching, I would worry it might get stuck in her throat!!! But that's me...

  9. What a great story! Hurray for you both.

  10. That is awesome!! I used to think tricks were silly too, untell I learned about clicker training with Brut. Now I've learned otherwise. (plus it is fun!)

    So great to hear how Shyla did at the dog group.

  11. That is so great!!

    Anne and Sasha

  12. It must be so good to know that you are the one she trusts!

  13. YAY! We are so happy for you and Shyla, KB!

  14. Her success is a testament to your hard work. Congrats!

  15. that's a super cool trick... I'm not good with tricks, I always miss the treat and I bite holes in the air :o)
    easy rider

  16. Bravo to you and Shyla! You are quite the team!!!

  17. Love the action shots of the flying biscuits. Shyla is so lucky to have you as her rock.

  18. Such wonderful working with beautiful Shyla...and those pics are fabulous!

  19. What a great post. I love the pics and the story as well. I should try teaching Rita some silly tricks. She's not as feraful as Shyla, but she does have her issues, and while I know she is Momma's girl, I'm not so sure if she thinks I'm HER rock or vice versa? :) (She's pretty intent on protecting me!)

  20. Those are some great shots! I think I need to work on tricks with Delilah more often, although she has come an incredibly long way.

  21. Hi KB, I imagine you've got a lot of snow at your house; ours not so much. I love seeing the photos of Shyla catching the treats-she is so smart and has come a long way with your love and devotion. I can't believe how white her teeth are! Do you brush them all the time, or give her knuckle bones?
    Hope you are staying warm today.
    Hugs, Noreen


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