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 (KPA CTP). She specializes in learner-centric applications of behavioral principles that help transform the lives of fearful, shut-down, and over-the-top dogs—as well as the lives of the people who care for them. 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. Her current passions include reframing concepts like “impulse control,” and encouraging trainers to embrace a philosophy of brave learning. Sarah is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, a tutor for Tromplo, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles. She recently began teaching classes for Marin Humane in Novato and consults with their behavior team.

An avid nose work competitor, Sarah 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.