Welcome Home, Shylah: Let’s Try This Again

The all-day rain matches my mood. I am disappointed, upset and exhausted. I have a massive headache that two lots of Advil hasn’t touched. Shylah, my wonderful rescue puppy, has been with me exactly three and one half months. Yet today, Gerri and I are pretending that she just arrived. Welcome home, Shylah: Take Two.

A Brief Recap

Readers of this site will remember that Shylah is a thirteen-month-old rescue from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. She spent the first two months of her life on the streets, the next eight months in a shelter. I have described her variously as shy, timid, fearful, nervous, sensitive, and uncertain. Those descriptors were most apt the first forty-eight hours with me when she wouldn’t get out of her bed. They still held the entire first month when everything, from wind to pinecones, scared her. Who am I kidding? Shylah was still timid, fearful etcetera on April 10th when she hid in the woods and it took me six hours to find her and bring her home.

Yesterday’s Problem

I decided to have Shylah off leash while I was working in the yard. Every 10-15 minutes for three and a half hours, I walked to the lower meadow, called her name, and watched her run toward me or poke her head up from the long grass. While she never came right to me, I was super happy that she stayed close and responded quickly.

My happiness turned to frustration when I struggled for almost two hours to get Shylah to come to me so we could go into the house. We had a more serious repeat of the problem that evening when Shylah snapped the clip from her long leash and refused to come to me as night started to fall. I finally had to call Linda (dog behaviorist friend) and ask for help. She brought over a couple of dogs in hopes that Shylah would want to be near them. Even that didn’t work. Both times, I was able to leash Shylah only because she was tired of running.

two dog siblings
Shylah and her sister, Lexi

Progress of My Quirky Rescue Puppy

I don’t want one day of difficulty to overshadow all of the great progress that Shylah has made. Just recently, she had the opportunity for a play date with her sister, Lexi, who was adopted by a couple that live an hour west of me. Seeing Shylah and Lexi reconnecting and playing together was truly wonderful.

I am delighted to report that Shylah:

  • looks taller, but friends say that’s because she is now spending more time standing than crouching. She is generally far more comfortable, especially when outdoors and even in the wind.
  • has put on a bit of weight, thanks to four or five cups of kibble consumed every evening (as long as it is on a placemat, not in a bowl).
  • walks beautifully on leash about 85% of the time.
  • makes extended eye contact and enjoys being petted by me.
  • uses her nose to sniff her environment, and eats grass like a normal dog.
  • keeps tabs on my location when she is off leash. She will return to me every few minutes when we are walking with other dogs.
  • fears the motion of water as she laps it from a dish. She attempts to drink while simultaneously backing away from the bowl. It’s messy!
  • is learning to handle scary situations, such as clothes flapping on a line.
  • isn’t the least bit bothered by thunder or fireworks, but quakes at the closing of a screen door. Quirky indeed!
Two dogs together looking like a two-headed dog
The two-headed version: Sisters Shylah and Lexi

Moving Forward

What I have learned is that, three and a half months in, Shylah is still not comfortable in our home. That’s sad. So we are starting from the beginning. At Linda’s suggestion, Shylah is tethered/leashed to one of us throughout each day. When we move, she moves. She’s there when we work in the kitchen, change our clothes, brush our teeth. Tethering, also known as umbilical cord training, is used to housetrain puppies, but I’m trying it to deepen the connection with Shylah, get her used to following, and help her be comfortable in the house beyond her beds.

Work with my rescue puppy is all-consuming, but I’m still so happy that she is here. I will provide another update six weeks from now, when Shylah has been with me for five months.

Have you any experience with a rescue puppy? Did your puppy progress and regress for a while? War stories, especially with happy endings, are welcomed!



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  1. I had someone adopt a dog and use umbilical cord training and it worked wonders. I have used it to eliminate accidents and cat chasing.
    I am truly impressed by your dedication to Shylah – she is so lucky to have found you ♡

  2. I am so happy that Candice found the perfect furever home and chose you for Shylah from all the applications she had! She went with her heart and gut and made the best choice!

  3. Karen, Shylah doesn’t know how fortunate she is that she ended up in your home. I know of few people who would have the patience and kindness you have exhibited to her. You remind me of Jane Goodall who used to sit in trees trying to get her beloved gorillas to trust her, and while you’re not hanging out in trees, you are obviously doing everything you can for this poor dog and I’ve no doubt it will pay off in the end.

    1. Thanks, Anna. I keep telling Shylah that she won the rescue dog lottery and that she is someday just going to LOVE the freedom she has to cavort on this property. She’s not buying it yet, but now that you’ve reminded me what Jane Goodall went through, I’ll consider myself lucky!

  4. I am so sorry to hear you have to start at square one again with your wonderful puppy Shylah. Anything worth doing takes time! Your patience and understanding with her are amazing to watch and listen to as well. As you have outlined there is a lot of progress with Shylah from those first days at your house and I think that alone is a reason to keep forging ahead. This is what commitment looks like…when every instinct says to pack it in, it is a lost cause…committed people (you) dig in your heels and try again. Bravo!!! 😀

    Thank you for keeping us up to date with the ups and downs of helping Shylah is going. This is not easy – but you are doing it! So proud of you, Karen. 🙂

  5. Hi, Karen – I love your Shylah updates. It does sound like she is making incredible progress, at her own pace, and with her own steps backward and then forward again. The love and patience that you have for her is a joy to read. I greatly look forward to reading your future updates.

    1. Thank you, Donna. I’m learning that writing about Shylah on this blog, and receiving the positive, supportive comments of people, makes a huge difference to my ability to keep feeling positive and moving forward with my girl.

  6. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to want to have your puppy trust you and not be scared of the whole world around her (except thunder and firecrackers… very odd. Although when we were in Oaxaca, both were a regular occurrence, so maybe she’s just used to those sounds). You just want to take her in your arms and reason with her. You are amazingly patient and one of these days she’ll understand that she can relax and enjoy the incredible life you are offering her.

    1. I sure hope so, Janis. You are so right that some days are really frustrating. When Shylah quakes and shakes and resists moving, it’s really difficult. Fortunately, there are times when she is happy and I’d swear she is smiling at me. Her tail wags and she bounces a little – those times are so great. Hopefully there will be more and more of them in the days to come.

  7. Karen, I am so impressed with how much patience you have! I don’t think I would be able to persevere as well in a similar situation.

    Our rescue dog, Sophie, was fearful when she first came to us. She was afraid to come into the house, frightened of sudden noises, and terrified of most men and other dogs. She also was silent (no bark). She also was an escape artist, managing to jump over, dig under, or squeeze through sections of our imperfect fence.

    However, she quickly got over most of these fears, found her voice, and recognized and trusted our family members. When she escaped, she would always come home again within a few hours. She became the most loyal and loving dog one could ever wish for.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Jude. Your story of Sophie offers hope that Shylah will be the same, albeit at a slower speed. My fingers are crossed…when they are not holding a leash.

  8. I am impressed with your decision and dedication to take on a “true” rescue puppy and I truly believe that all your efforts will be paid off eventually! What a wonderful – yet incredibly hard and sometimes frustrating – task. I”m glad you have a friend who has experience training rescue puppies and that you are not willing to give up.

    A puppy who spent her first weeks on the street is used to totally different things than a comfortable home and caring people around her. It is very challenging to make her get used to and enjoy the new environment. It looks like you made great progress. While we do not have experience with rescues from Mexico ourselves, having met a few, I can certainly appreciate and be happy that Shylah (is her name related to her being shy? :-)) gets along with other dogs and people and shows no signs of aggression! Wishing you a lot of patience and sending love to share with your pup. I’m looking forward to future updates.

    1. What a kind and supportive message, Liesbet. Thank you.
      Shylah was originally going to be Skylar, but somehow it came out of my mouth as Shylah. So yes, I guess it was based on her personality in a Freudian slip kind of way.
      I agree that it’s wonderful there’s no aggression. I would definitely find that unmanageable.

  9. Hi Karen! Thought I’d come on your site to see how things are going. I saw Shylah running and playing with a white dog a week or so ago, and thought, jeepers, I need to find out how things have been going? That’s pretty sad, considering we live beside each other, lol! It sounds like you have made a lot of progress! I really admire your determination and hard work. Shylah is so lucky to have come across such a caring and dedicated woman as yourself.

      1. Indeed. The name is everywhere, absolutely everywhere. Fortunately, now that I have Shylah, I’m becoming immune. It’s not hurting at all anymore, other than in my wallet. Lexi was one heck of an expensive mistake!

    1. Hi Laura,
      It is funny. Just yesterday I was commenting that I want to invite you over for a glass of wine so we can update each other on our summers. I’ll give you a call and we’ll do that soon.
      I’m going to post an update about Shylah and that mysterious white dog in a couple of weeks so won’t give it away here, but will definitely tell all when we get together. See you soon!

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