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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Play Therapy for Shyla

Our Shyla is getting more assertive and confident, much to my delight and surprise. As you might remember, I've been doing "play therapy" with her since early 2018. Almost every day, I play with her for about 10 minutes in the morning and then another 10 minutes in the evening.

Some people think that play changes the hormones coursing through a dog's veins, and thereby also changes how the dog's brain processes experiences. A dog like Shyla who has tended to see perfectly harmless events as very dangerous (like seeing a stranger on a trail) can sometimes be helped by regular play.

For us, there was a big hurdle to get over first. Shyla truly didn't know how to play. She obviously didn't play at all during the critical developmental phase before 12 weeks old. So, I've spent hours and hours teaching her to play. At the start, she'd sometimes just stare into space as I tried to entice her to play. I felt utterly hopeless in that phase.

It's taken time and perseverance... but I can now consistently get Shyla to play with me for those two sessions per day.

And we are seeing signs that it's making a difference. As an example, she calmly met two strangers on the trail today, and she leaned against their legs in a very trusting and content way. I had never seen her do that until recently.

Shyla has clearly become the "Queen water retriever" in our family - and that is undoubtedly partly due to her newfound confidence. She has become a fanatical retriever, and she never lets R beat her to a ball or stick. It's always a little hard to see this changing of the guard within a dog family because we know it's partly R's age that is allowing Shyla to take over. But, at the same time, we are thrilled to see our girl coming into her own.

Here are a few photos from a recent water retrieving session. Shyla is so confident that she often leaps before the ball is thrown... like in this photo. I love how lean and fit she is!

It turned out the ball landed well to her right, and she then tried to turn in mid-air before landing.

She really only managed to turn her head but she was ready to swim to the ball when she landed.

This was another case where Shyla leaped before the ball was thrown. Her brother takes the strategy of waiting to see where it lands before leaping so Shyla ends up a little ahead from the start. R thinks that she should be called for "false starts"!

And this is one of those images that I treasure. We know to treasure every day with each group of dogs that we have at a time. For now, that's the Labraduo of Shyla and her big brother R.
Have any of you tried "play therapy" for fearful dogs? It takes such patience but I do believe that it is helping Shyla. Of course, we've been playing twice a day for more than 6 months now... and we didn't see changes until fairly recently. Thank goodness that play is fun.


  1. That was interesting to read... we had the same with Neilson, he knew no toys nor did he know how to play... now it seems he runs through all stages of "puppy time" to learn all the things he missed... currently we have the gator-phase... ouch ;O)

  2. You are such a cheater leaping before the ball is tossed but we see that your mom tossed 2 balls - one for you and one for R☺ We smiled when we read that you were leaning against strangers, Shyla!

  3. finally a treatment to help a problem that is fun to do.. so happy for her it is working so well. I felt so good reading she leaned on a strangers legs. wow, what a change. all the photos make me feel good looking at them. two very special canines

  4. Be careful about anticipating the throw, Shyla! I did that yesterday during fetch, and Momma accidentally hit me right in the head with my ball!

  5. You silly head! You make water look fun
    Lily & Edward

  6. Can you recommend some good resources for play therapy - books or internet links? My dog is much like Shyla was, and while we do have dog puzzles as well as daily short training sessions, she has never learned to 'play' with dog toys and the like (adopted at age 7-9 from a shelter; troubled background), unless they have food in them!

  7. My Golden, who is 1 year old can still be fearful of strangers and she will start barking at them so we are taking a class that is called building confidence and socialization. She doesn't really have trouble playing but I started trying some of the things you have posted included the loud baking pans and treats. Although she is a pretty good swimmer, her favorite trick is to wait close to shore like a alligator and pounce on my other dogs when they bring the ball back.

  8. Shyla if I had a gold medal for your form I'd give you one along with a medal for confidence
    I'm very proud of you
    Hugs madi your bfff

  9. From the very beginning your love and patience and care has made Shyla the wonderful girl she is today, and we can only wonder how much she must love her life now, Glorious fun together, this too will be a time of huge happiness, for you all.

  10. Oh Shyla, you go girl!!! You sure are special and so is your helper R!

  11. SO proud of you, Shyla! KB, you're doing a fabulous job with her. How wonderful to see her confidence growing in all dimensions!

    Chris from Boise

  12. We've never heard of play therapy, but that is amazing how it is helping her with confidence. I wonder why playing transfers over to scary situations that are not even occurring when you play? Interesting.

  13. Shyla is really doing amazing things. Luke enjoys playing, but it usually has to be when he is "in the mood" and initiates it. We might have to look into this type of therapy to help boost his confidence as well.
    Oh, and I just love the water shots!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  14. Boy do I know about the staring into space moments with Elsa. Seeing the progress you've made with Shyla gives me hope and inspiration. Thank you!

  15. Their both sooo happy,,, and yes Shyla is the queen!!


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