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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Learning to teach sensitive Shyla

You might remember early in the summer when Shyla ran away to a carcass and ate so many bones that she landed in the hospital for a couple of days. I said that it was "my fault", and I really meant it.

We had a problem. I'd done everything to train Shyla to come when called and to stay close when we went for bike rides together that I'd done with my previous dogs. By Shyla's age, K had been a very reliable biking dog. I was getting aggravated with Shyla almost daily, feeling upset with her tendency to choose the temptations in the forest instead of coming to me.

The carcass run-away was a wake-up call for me. I knew that I needed to address the issue or else stop taking Shyla on bike rides with me. Not taking her on bike rides would have broken my heart. That left one option.

That very day, the Fenzi school opened up registration for a new round of classes, and one of them was "Recalls". I hesitated for a moment, thinking that I already knew how to teach a dog a recall. Then, it hit me. I didn't know how to teach *sensitive Shyla* a recall. My methods had worked for other dogs but not for her.

So, I signed up. The class is now over, although our hard work is not. We've come a MILLION miles since the class began. We started from ground zero with a new recall word, and we practiced a zillion "set-up" scenarios, teaching Shyla to choose to come to me instead of chewing on bones or eating bad stuff.

We practiced throughout our trip to Wyoming and the Colorado mountains. She wore a 20' long line for most of our practice so that she couldn't fail. The photos are from after she'd graduated from the long line when we were in the wildflowers of the Colorado mountains.

One of the biggest parts of retraining Shyla is retraining ME. I am an intense person. When I fail, I try harder and with greater ferocity. It turns out that my intensity scares Shyla and makes her much less likely to come to me or stay near me.

I've had to learn to stay lighthearted and happy with Shyla, no matter how worried I am about the situation that we find ourselves in. For example, if she finds a fresh animal body part from an animal killed by a mountain lion, I still call her in a sing-song way and play with her as if there's no danger nearby.  That part is very hard for me...

But, we've been very successful with our recalls since returning from our trip. After our bike rides, I'm happy and smiling rather than stressed and upset by Shyla's latest escapade. She's staying by my side while I ride, and she chooses me over the many temptations in the forest. I also set up temptations for her, like planting a bone in the middle of the trail, and then asking her to recall to me and away from the bone. I carry yummy treats, and she is now consistently choosing me.

I know that I have to keep practicing, especially so that my attitude remains light and happy. I can't let the "intense KB" make too many appearances or we'll be back where we started.

For now, I'm nothing but happy. I've learned how to train my sensitive Shyla much better, and that's worth its weight in gold.
Sometimes it's worth taking the blame upon yourself like I did when Shyla landed in the hospital, not so that you wallow in it, but so that you take positive action to change.

I'm so grateful that we've reached this point, where I'm starting to trust Shyla again in the forest. A million thanks to our teacher who helped us so much!


  1. Hari OM
    It takes some courage to make the kind of change you are talking of KB... "tae see oorsel's as ithers see us" is one of the great challenges of life - and seeing how Shyla 'saw' you was a big step. Brava to both gals for this achievement!!! YAM xx

  2. Mom knows that sing-song attitude is not easy. Great job to you both!

  3. Thank you for being so honest. This is such an awesome story about you and Shyla. I had to do the same thing with Brut when he was alive in dealing with his aggression. It is not easy being lighthearted those kind of situations, but it gave me good practice with the rest of my dogs who can act like their dad sometimes with each other.

    I'm so glad you found something that is working for you two and that Shyla can trust. This is so awesome! Congratulations!

  4. It's true that Shyla only knows how to be a dog. It's great when the hoomans remember that! Stanley is a sensitive fella too (but not overly so like SHyla). BUTT he is very sensitive to voice tones, emotions, etc. So great that Shyla has a mom who works so hard to communicate with her! You two are a great team!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  5. OH MY! wonderful news! so happy for both of you. I know how you both love your rides. and knowing she is safe is worth all your hard work. I can relate because I am intense, I also show every feeling/thought on my face and by 'vibes'. when I am anxious Jake is to. I am also ridged and routine minded... good luck with further traing.

  6. That is wonderful. And if anyone could teach sensitive Shyla, it would certainly be you. We need to check out those courses for Lightning and some of his quirky fears.

    When faced with a scary situation, that sweet sing song voice is not easy to come by for us either. One's gut reaction is to yell!


    Learning life's lessons as we go along, and practising all the time, a bit like quilting or sewing, it must all be easier in time. Shyla has come along so much further, what effort, love, patience and care from you has made this difference so huge. enjoy the days before snow falls again.

  8. I'm so happy to read this. Having a positive, happy relationship with your dog is SO valuable. I know I got very frustrated with Delilah and I think that probably held us back for a while. Even though she is rarely off-leash these days, when she is, she sticks very close to me, and that makes ME happy. :-)

  9. Trainers usually train people. It was good, and daring to decide you needed a bit of help with Shyla, sounds like it is working well.

  10. I know you are doing a fantastic job with Shyla. When Pocket got loose very briefly I could not remember her name or her call back word. I know how hard it is to do everything perfectly when you need to. You are doing great.

  11. It's hard sometimes. My mom is competitive and a perfectionist. She loves the challenge of us girls, but it can be hard for her to stay upbeat when we are not cooperating. You are doing a great job and Shyla is lucky to have you!

  12. You two are really such an amazing team, bravo!

  13. Once again I must admire your patience and determination to work with this sensitive dog. I know she has so many redeeming features and that the two of you are a great pair. I'm not at all sure I could have that same determination and patience.

  14. You are doing such a wonderful job with Shyla. We so admire the love and commitment you make to do whatever it takes to help Shyla be all that she can be
    Hazel & Mabel

  15. Life... one big huge learning experience that always presents opportunities. Thank you for sharing another one with beloved Shyla, KB. What a lucky girl she is... and I can almost hear you saying "Oh but I'm the lucky one" in response. xxx

  16. Recall is the single best skill a dog (and its owner) can master. Kudos to you both.

  17. Congratulations on realizing that you needed an outside voice to get you two back on track. It sounds like it paid off in spades! I agree, Fenzi courses are great.


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