My biggest focus has been on keeping the joy in our training. I realized that my entire life attitude took a nosedive when the terrible spine pain started. Consequently, I was less enthusiastic with Shyla during training and more prone to negativity.
I think we're back on track. The look on her face at sunrise this morning, as she confidently made warm eye contact with me, made me so happy.
Her confidence was despite the wild wind that was sending her ears into funny positions (wind can still scare her). Through our training and life experience, Shyla has learned that I'm a safe haven.
A big part of "injecting joy into our training" has been resuming playing. For a long time after the start of my spine flare-up, I didn't even realize that I wasn't playing with Shyla as much anymore. I was in "survival mode", which didn't include even thinking about playing.
I've changed that. I've figured out games that I can play with her that are not hindered by my pain. Not only has it made Shyla more confident again, it's helped my frame of mind too.
Resuming playing is the simple part of our progress. However, we do still have a big training challenge that has frustrated me endlessly. In the past, Shyla hasn't responded to recalls when she finds a dead animal. It is the only situation where I feel that I become completely irrelevant to Shyla.
It scares me tremendously when she is out of sight and doubtless at the site of a carcass because a mountain lion might be there or even a human hunter. Shyla could be killed by either one.
It has become clear to me that scolding and yelling will not get Shyla to come to me when she's found a carcass. After a lot of thought and reading, I realized that I needed to actually train near carcasses so that I could address this specific issue using positive training. I have trained multiple dogs not to chase live animals by training in the vicinity of wildlife, specifically choosing places that have tons of deer, elk, or coyote scent. Training near carcasses mimics that approach.
I live in a wild place where there are usually a few known elk or deer carcasses, originally killed by mountain lions, but now abandoned. In fact, a lion killed an elk on one of our riding routes while we were in Utah, and the remaining carcass seemed like a perfect place to start our new training.
I could tell that my scolding about going near carcasses had badly affected Shyla based on her body language and facial expression when I took her near the elk remains. Her ears pinned back and she looked scared. I felt terrible that my scolding had NOT worked to keep Shyla from running away to visit carcasses but it had made her scared of me near carcasses. Here's one look at her facial expression when we first went near a carcass together. It broke my heart. I promised her that I wouldn't yell or scold again. In my defense, it was fear for Shyla's safety that made me scold but I should have been smarter about it.
The sun disappeared behind clouds when we got closer to the carcass so the photo quality isn't good but I think that you can see that Shyla was scared to even stand near the elk carcass in my presence.
So, we played a game where I'd have her stand or sit near the carcass and then I'd call her to me. We'd have a huge party when she left the carcass and came to me. I gave her treats and then we played with her Wubba toy.
Gradually, we've reached a point where Shyla is relaxed enough to really start learning that it's okay to be near a carcass *with me* and that she'll get the biggest party ever if she leaves the carcass to run to me.
In this controlled situation, she will now happily recall away from a carcass.
We end each session with a wild game of Wubba near the carcass. The goal of our game is that Shyla is realizing that *I* can be more fun than the silly carcass. While we are playing, Shyla is off-leash, and she is continually choosing to be with *me* instead of with the carcass.
Best of all, I am no longer scaring my sensitive best friend. My "scolding" about her carcass habit had only served to poison our relationship. This new approach is definitely strengthening our relationship. As I snowbiked away from the carcass today after our training, Shyla was "butt-tucking" and sprinting in circles around me. That's her way of leaping for joy! And, I smiled all the way home.