Wallflowers: Reaching the Shy Dog

Learned helplessness is one of the most challenging behavioral patterns for the modern trainer to address. How do you reach a dog that has learned that the safest option is to do nothing at all, or a dog that finds the relief of avoidance or shut down more reinforcing than food, toys, or play? Where do you begin with a learner that finds the training game itself—and all cues associated with that game including treats, clicker, leash, trainer tone of voice, and so on—aversive?

In this Session, students will learn:

  • How to recognize the "wallflowers" of the dog world, as well as the unhelpful human patterns, labels, traditional training beliefs, and sacred cows that tend to keep these dogs helpless--even among positive reinforcement trainers.
  • How to invite a "wallflower" to take the first steps toward greater emotional resiliency and behavioral empowerment, without the added inhibiting pressure to perform.
  • How inspiring and courageous "wallflowers" can be once they do indeed begin to thrive, not only as family pets, but as training partners and teachers as well.
  • Practical games, ideas, and exercises that reframe or repair cues associated with the training game, empower the dog, and ultimately, activate the SEEKING system—the part of the brain incompatible with fear.

This Session includes a PowerPoint presentation and plenty of inspiring video clips of "wallflower" training in action.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She specializes in the practical application of behavioral principles to help transform the lives of fearful, shut down, and over-the-top dogs. As an international speaker and regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching. Sarah has written for Clean Run magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles.

Sarah is also an avid nose work competitor, currently competing at both the Elite and Iron Dog levels with her Labrador retriever, Tucker. Tucker was the recipient of the Harry Award in 2015 and has the distinction of titling at each level of NACSW without a single miss. In Sniffing Dog Sports, he has won High in Trial in both Advanced and Excellent divisions and has earned a HIT at Iron Dog. Tucker's trained final response for nose work, a hover-freeze at source, was taught with a marker signal, following clicker training principles.