Shyla has lived with us for about 3.5 years. When she arrived, she was 9 months old and was extremely fearful - to the point that she could barely function. Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I've worked incredibly hard to help her learn to cope with her fears using positive training. A lot of the time, she now looks like an almost normal dog. Completely shutting down (lying on the ground like a catatonic wallflower) rarely happens anymore.
Yet, she still goes through bad phases when her fears prevent her from doing some things that we'd like to do, like attending a dog training class that is being held on a commercial street with lots of pedestrian traffic, cars, noise, bikes, and maybe even skateboards.
I've decided to try to make another breakthrough with her, using Fenzi online classes to guide me. In one class I'm taking right now, we've been focusing on how to "engage your dog". By "engage", I mean getting your dog's attention fully on you so you can function as a team despite whatever fears or other issues your dog has. A big part of building the relationship needed for "engagement" is play.
One of her favorite "moves" when we're playing is to pop through my legs from behind and look up at me, like a peek-a-boo game. It makes me laugh every time, which is probably part of why she loves it so much. Here's my view of her when she peeks up at me. It melts my heart.
I've been videoing my efforts to engage Shyla in play and in training in a variety of places and conditions. It's really eye-opening to video yourself interacting with your dog. I'm camera-shy so I hate seeing myself on video, especially in my silly biking outfits (we do most of our training during breaks from our mountain bike rides), but it's worth it to see Shyla's body language while we interact.
I'm going to show you a video which includes three parts:
1) Shyla and me training at a city park where there was a busy dog park, a soccer game, three volleyball games, and numerous tennis games underway. Moreover, it was very windy. I was incredibly pleased to see her focus on me despite all those potentially scary things.
2) It includes me playing with and training Shyla during our bike rides on the trails near our house. The most eye-opening part of it for me was to see how much Shyla liked to play just with me - with no toys involved.
3) It shows a big breakthrough - Shyla found a piece of an elk hide. Unlike past times when she has privately gnawed on things like this, leaving me worrying about where she was, she brought it to me like a gift. It took me a moment to realize that her sharing her bounty was actually a big breakthrough, even though I thought her "bounty" was yucky. I tried to recover from my initial disgust and, rather than taking it away from her, I played fetch and tug with the hide.
Here's the video. Please don't laugh at me too much! You can watch it here or at Youtube.
I am already seeing the effect of all our play on Shyla's behavior. My next step is to try playing with her in more stressful environments, like in town, and see whether it helps her to relax despite the busy environment. I'll let you know how it goes!
Do you like playing with your dog? What are your favorite games? Do you use play to help your dog relax or reward good behavior? I'd love to hear!