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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Positive Training - Helping Shyla Relax Using Play

Today's post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop.

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!


  1. enjoyed the video, love playing with my dog.

  2. Great post, it's lovely to see you relaxing together and having fun! Shyla has come SO far! x

  3. Now, who would laugh at the 2 of you having SOO much fun together. Love hearing your voice, and seeing the total trust Shyla has. I did smile, however, and so enjoyed it all.

  4. We've been practicing the "relax" command as Otto sometimes barks his head off when people with dogs walk by our house. He's getting better. He also does that come through the legs thing and looks up at me! It cracks me up every time :-)

  5. We played with our dogs with the usual type throw and retrieve toys, Kongs and Wubbies. They both loved the floppy saucers although neither was good at catching them. Ellie's favorite toy was always a tennis ball or two or three. She loved having them bounced to her. When Ellie was alive the two dogs played together a lot with treat puzzles and tugs. Outdoors they invariably went for the same stick and carried it together until it broke. Now Lucy's favorite is a blue tug. While she likes to tug with it, she much prefers bringing it to us and having us toss it so she can run grab it.

    I must admit we never used play as a reward and I never really thought about it. Play was such an active part of our lives it didn't seem a reward for good behavior. Our training sessions were with correction and praise rather than treats. The rewards were lots of praise and hugs.

  6. Some day we are climbing the mountain to get you to train our dogs

  7. Shyla is too cute in her video with you! I totally understand how you feel about being camera shy. I don't like it either but you did great!! I tend to just ignore the camera and pretend it's not there. I'm always super excited to see my progress with watching it after I've filmed and it's so helpful!

    I really need to work on counter conditioning Phoenix to me being in her space, she does not like being stepped over! Thanks for the motivation! :)

    I do use play a lot with my dogs. Phoenix is about 50/50 with food/toy rewards for her Treibball class and I also been using toys and play to get them used to the training facility.

  8. I just love seeing how happy Shyla is while playing with you!! Great video!

  9. We sat here watching your video with a smile on our faces the entire time☺ We love the picture of you peeking up at your mom, Shyla!

  10. I so enjoy reading your blog and watching Shyla grow in confidence. We have two chocolate labs but both are blind. I have incorporated some of your "tricks" with them. Both Emmett and Elliott enjoy hearing about Shyla.

  11. this is all good info for all of us dog lovers.. i could see her fear in the video when you were stepping back and forth, it was in the way she took the treats.. we play with Jake because he makes us laugh, and he loves for us to laugh, he performs for laughter, we dont give treats while playing.. he loves to tug and play ball, he loves to tussle and snuggle.. we also sit and watch him wander and chase lizards..

  12. You are such a good girl Shyla and have come a long way. I play the peek-a-boo game with mom too
    Edward (& Lily)

  13. We are with Foley Monster - you need to open a training school so we can all learn from you:) You looked great in the video - nothing to laugh AT whatsoever, just laughter for the fun you two are having.

  14. We can't wait for mom to get home from work so we can watch the video.
    It is interesting that we covered this same thing in our class this week
    keeping your dogs attention on you. I know we have said it before but you inspire mom to be a better trainer!
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  15. Thank you so much for sharing! I loved watching you and Shyla play together. That bit where she shoves your head under your arm to get your face is my absolute favorite. What a sweet, sweet girl.

    I'm only beginning to learn how to use play well with Nala in places other than our home. I don't use it as a reinforcer--she has informed me that doing so does not make sense. Instead, I play with her to try to gauge how comfortable she is, and to help her feel more comfortable.

    I'd love to know what classes you're taking to help your sensitive girl! I love FDSA (as I am sure you know!) and am always looking for ways to help Nala feel more confident.

  16. We loved seeing you and Shyla play together.

  17. Shyla has made big strides cuz she has hoomans who help her be her best!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  18. I cannot believe it's been 3 1/2 years. Shyla and your training and play have really paid off. (I see you've been getting wind there, too!)

  19. I love how much fun you're having together! Our golden Sheba hates wind more than anything so I can understand how challenging that can be. Can I just say you have the most beautiful places ever to work on training? :)
    I'd also love to know which courses you are taking at Fenzi.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  20. A big part of Barley's reactive dog training has been play. All of things we've done to relax her have been set up as games and she loves that! In agility class, keeping her engaged is especially important so she doesn't decide I'm uninteresting and try to get up close and personal with her classmates, so we play touch games before every turn to build our connection. Glad you're finding so much success with this method!

  21. Shyla has learned so much!
    We love watching all these games you play with her,,, she thinks its all fun,, And yet she is learning and gaining confidemce!

  22. This was really helpful, thankyou! I can only bet that after all your years with dogs you are a repository for dog wisdom.

    Reading your and other's comments reinforces that I probably use treats too much. I portion out the daily food and use that and they are happy to work for it, but not being a physical person I'm not good at using my own interaction - pats or personal play - to reward. I need to practice it more, and hopefully find some resources on it too.

  23. Aw, what a happy video -- thanks for sharing! I admit that I struggle with play; I can be super goofy while training, etc., but for some reason I have a hard time not being self-conscious/analytic about playing. My boyfriend is astonishingly good at it, so I learn a lot from watching him with Lilo. The new kid is really toy-driven, so that's helping, too.

  24. KB I just love love love seeing you interact with Shyla. Yes she has come a long way :) Indy loves to practice down stays where I leave him and go out of site. He wants so badly to come but he is a good boy and waits until I give him the release word. He always finds me and is happy as can be. On our daily walks, we often follow the same route and pass by the same dogs in their yards. Indy recognizes the houses even before we get there, and is always happy to play with his new friends.

    Shyla is such a sweet dog. Thank you so much for sharing these videos with us - I know it is hard to see yourself on camera :):) (I hate it too).


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