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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Positive Training: Play and Recalls Away from Temptations

Before I continue with our desert series, I want to join the Positive Training blog hop. I have a lot to report about my work with Shyla.

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.


  1. Sounds like you have done a great job with the training. Hope Shyla responds to you next time she finds a carcass.

  2. That's awesome that you found games that you can play with Shyla that don't aggravate your pain and also great about working with her around the carcass! Great job! I'm sure she will keep improving! :D

  3. You are such a smarty-pants Shyla and what a good learner
    Lily & Edward

  4. Shyla's clam confidence is so apparent in tht first photo. Butt really?!? LEAVE a CARCASS?? Not on your life!!

    -Otto, who loves to find things that coyotes have left behind...

  5. You are so good at training and Shyla is such a great student!!! A+++ to both of you.

  6. Yay! We are always love reading about your training techniques. We have been working on play to train at our classes!
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  7. I love reading about your training! Shyla is so smart

    Anne and Ziggy

  8. I love everything about this post! I find myself getting frustrated with basic obedience skills I think Ru should have down pat, especially when I'm soaked and irritable from all this rain. It's important for me to keep my cool and remember he's not to blame for outside sources of frustration. Thanks for the positive story/reminder!

  9. Very impressive! I so need to do this with live deer. Sigh. It's funny, they're fine with livestock, like horses, cows, goats...but deer, coyotes? Let's just say, when I'm anywhere near known coyote hangouts they are on leash. You are amazing with your training!

  10. Was this the long day out? pity the firewood was confiscated by customs!!! AND I am so relieved your parcel has arrived. Hugh had his eye check up, so I didn't get to ready me mail till quite late. Thanks for your wonderful words, it was a real delight to sew, and post.

  11. that was a great idea to use the carcass. you have the best training ground :o) and it's pleasure to read about your success... Shyla is a super pup!

  12. That's excellent. I have been trying to keep Torrey occupied in the house, so the other day I used the training tips you had talked about. She leaves the cheerios, to come to me and get a better reward. She likes this game.

  13. You are the most excellent trainer, KB, and Shyla is one of the smartest pups we know☺

  14. Good job by both of you. A reminder that positive usually wins over negative. I can just imagine the tantalizing smells she was ignoring!

  15. Shyla is a great communicator and she is most glad you hear her!

  16. That's dedication! It's always so heartbreaking when they look scared after we've scolded them. Congratulations for commitment to the training! We need to work on that with live deer! (Think that's even possible? Maybe at a petting zoo.)

  17. Pawsitive obedience training is the only way to go. Doggies get their feelings hurt easily. Hoomans need to remember their relationship with their doggie is #1 priority!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  18. Sounds like you and Shyla had a big breakthrough. Tremendous. And so glad it helped you recover your fun.

    Hope you can find some relief from pain soon. The big challenge is that fear of pain increases the pain which makes the sufferer not want to move which increases the pain which increases the fear. Back pain is so challenging.

    But finding a way to play with Shyla without causing pain was probably really helpful to you.

    Since you mentioned wanting to use conservative methods of management as long as possible, perhaps you'll find this book helpful: My husband had severe back pain (literally screaming when he moved) and this approach really helped him.

  19. don't be too hard on yourself, KB. I've scolded out of fear for something dangerous to my dogs or cats. It is an instinct to protect and learn from. When I caught that I was doing the same thing I used positive methods and made it a fun game. See fiona, I have treats and the cat doesn't. lol!

    I love learning new things with the dogs and they love learning too. Isn't it great to "kiss and make up?"

  20. I really enjoy your training posts! My own girl is so overly sensitive... I spied in climbing out of the car window on our way to a hike. In a conversational tone, I told her, "no no darlin, we don't do can get hurt." The correction...if you can call it that...sent her pouting to the back of the car. We also have a dog in our hiking pack that takes off when deer are near. I appreciate your tips so!

  21. Wow - this is incredible! You have some really unique challenges and you and Shyla are such a great team. It's hard not to scold when it's something that is genuinely dangerous, but I love your new positive approach. Your pictures are amazing, as always. I'm not sure I could get Ruby or Boca away from such a treasure trove.

  22. Thankyou for sharing this! What a clever idea, which I will have to keep in mind for training with things I need dogs to ignore/leave.

    It's lovely to know I'm not the only one who likes to do and talk about problem-solving through training and crafting new ways of training specific things!
    Of course my training problems are not as unique as yours, but training dogs that aren't mine does present some unique challenges!


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