Category Archives: Dog-Horse Similarities

If mom was watching

Think about this when you are working with animals —

If their mother, or your mother, was watching… would she have a smile on her face? Would she be happy with how you are working with her child (fair, deliberate and graceful?)? Would your mom be proud of you and think, “That’s my kid!”

I always like to keep this in mind, especially when starting horses. Would their be a smile on a mother’s face, somewhere out there, watching this progress?

I hope so.


Photo by Rebecca Schmidt Pearl getting used to the saddle pad - Day 1 saddling

Photo by Rebecca Schmidt
Pearl getting used to the saddle pad – Day 1 saddling

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Teaching Tricks

Just sing along

I always tell people, when a situation gets a bit tense with an animal, or feelings of frustration and impatience arise, to start humming. Or go all out and sing! Take a singing break. Do it. It’s fun.

Why? Humming, singing, whistling… all of these things cause us to breathe, relax and get a bit distracted. You will feel your muscles loosen and a general positive energy flow through you. When I was a working student at David Lichman‘s ranch, I was absolutely in love with his arena speakers! We could ride around and play with our horses while blasting music. It was like one big party and we always made so much progress at the same time.

Today while working with the horses (here in Australia), I got my little iPod nano out (it clips onto your clothing – I really recommend this kind of iPod to anyone working with animals!) and put an earphone in one ear. Working with horses is fun, but when you’re listening to your favorite tunes, you get into a kind of flow. It really is as if you are dancing with your horse and it can be so inspiring!

If a horse is hard “to catch”, you will just take all of those pauses as a chance to listen to some music. You won’t get frustrated and this carries over to the horse.

For all of my dog owners – music will help you, too. It generally puts you in a positive state and makes you a calm leader. Which is exactly what all animals need. Try putting some (fitting) music on the next time you are with your animal/s and see what happens! Just remember, if you’re using headphones, don’t turn the music up too loud, especially if you are working with horses or bigger, exotic animals. You want to be aware of your surroundings and of any (warning) sounds – for your safety! Best is if you use only one earphone.
Tell me all about the results or past experiences in the comments!

Photo by Tiamat Warda Patches, the Appaloosa mare

Photo by Tiamat Warda
Patches, the Appaloosa mare


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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Tasmania

Training Opportunities

Throughout our day when uncomfortable situations arise, we avoid them at all costs.

You could be taking a relaxing walk with your dog and suddenly a frustrated dog leaps against a fence and barks angrily at you and your dog. It’s not nice. We don’t want to stay in that situation. Our response, most everyone’s (especially if you have a dog who pulls and barks back), is to do anything to simply get past and continue on. You pull the leash, walk faster, you know…

What we sometimes forget, is what a perfect training opportunity it is. Not just this one example, but any moment that you generally avoid at all costs. In this example with the dog leaping at the fence and barking, turn around and walk past him or her again and again and again. And again. Until your dog, at the very least, can walk past calmly. You’re safe, nothing can happen with the fence separating you. At most, you’re annoying the neighbors by continuously causing this dog to bark but hey, get the dog trained and he won’t bark anymore, right? It’s not your problem. Take advantage of it and teach your dog to walk past calmly.

The dog owners with misbehaved dogs in my neighborhood have grown to despise me. Why? Because I walk right towards them. That’s all. I don’t quickly turn in a different direction like the others. I walk past them, even if that means putting my own dog/s on a leash. It’s actually their loss. They could use these moments to improve the behavior of their dogs. But until they do, their dogs are perfectly horrible enough to help me train my dogs. I dream of the day when a person with a barking, lunging dog asks me, “Hey could we walk past each other one more time? I’m trying to teach him/her to behave.”

Why not ask that? In the end that’s all we want, yet most of us end up paying a dog school mountains of money just to practice walking past each other. Then avoid other dog owners in “real life”!

You see, if we always avoid these situations, our dogs will go crazy and completely misbehave when the situation arrises without you being able to avoid it.

The same applies to working with horses. If your horse spooks on a windy day, do this;

Look out your window on an especially windy day, the branches clacking against the glass, the trees swaying, the leaves fluttering, say, “What a perfect day to take my horse on a walk!”

Note: I said on a walk (like with a lead rope), not ride. Don’t face these situations without a trainer if you don’t feel safe/confident/capable!

At some point, your horse will be so used to those windy days that he or she won’t even blink when the trees make that swooshing sound. And your dog will calmly walk past all sorts of dogs because you took advantage of every training opportunity!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo


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Advancing Your Foundation

We all get caught up in the fancy moves – getting our horse to piaffe, our dog to do some insane trick, and continue on to more advanced levels. Admit it, you want it, too!

Here’s something to think about and it’s something most people ignore completely; how good are your basic moves and communication? Sometimes we focus so much on complicated tricks that we let our foundation training completely fall apart.

Some ideas and inspiration;

  • How subtly can you ask your horse/dog to do something? How light are they? Work on that.
  • So they can back up and go sideways… how fast? Can you canter sideways? (This is something I did with my horse on the ground as well as riding).
  • Could you improve a simple, everyday move like picking up hooves? Teach your horse to pick up their hooves on their own without you touching them.
  • How well does your dog heel? How often do you have to correct them? Can they heel without a leash or with a very loose, hanging one?
  • Can you ask them to sit, lay down, heel and stay without speaking? These are all basic commands and you can make them advanced and more challenging, simply by not talking.
  • There’s a reaction time between when you asked for something and when your animal does it. How fast can they react? How can you motivate them to go right when you tell them to?
  • Can you teach your horse to put the bit in their mouth or head through their halter without your help? If you just held it open in front of them today, what would they do?
  • Does your horse come to greet you at the gate or do you have to wade through the muddy puddles to “catch them”?

So these are just some ideas, I could go on and on. I would need a separate blog! But I hope it inspires you and gives you some ideas.

Let me know in the comments below what you are teaching your animal and how it’s going! Thanks for reading and make sure to subscribe for my email updates.

Unknown photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown photographer
I own no rights to this photo


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Filed under Dog-Horse Similarities, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Inspiration and Idols, Teaching Tricks

Hold On For A Second



Give yourself time, and your animal a moment to understand what you are trying to communicate to them.

This is a constant journey – learning not to expect immediate results or perfection. Our whole world is built around speed. Phones have become fast, fastest and faster. We have everything we need with the tap of a touch screen.

In other words, we have forgotten how to wait – hovering in a moment before we get a result. Often times, that one minute of  “hesitation” can make a huge difference when training animals.

Let them figure it out without pushing them!

You might ask your horse to walk by giving a light squeeze. Before going to your next phase, just wait a second! We don’t want to do all of the work for them – give them a chance to use their brains. So just wait and see if your horse offers a walk before you ask again. Then reward them! It might have taken a second longer than you wanted but… so what? At least they responded to a light suggestion from you.

This makes your overall training softer, lighter, and more effective with better results.

Not rushing things can help us in every aspect of life, right? So let’s make it part of our program!

Photo from I own no rights to this photo

Photo from
I own no rights to this photo

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Teaching Tricks

Follow Your Gut!… And When Not To

Our gut feeling about a situation can keep us safe if we know when to listen.

Quite often peer pressure can lead us to do things we actually know we shouldn’t be doing! Like that one day where everyone was riding in the arena and started going over huge jumps. They told you to not be such a scaredy-cat and take the jump, and you did… but you were sweating and deep down you knew you weren’t ready.

Perhaps your horse is unconfident about jumping and by taking that big jump you ruined the trust and relationship between you two. Or you were unconfident and ended up falling off or getting more frightened!

Dog owners are the same way. You can be on a walk with a group of people and everyone has their dog off the leash. Yours is leashed because he or she is not yet trained, but everyone tells you to loosen up and let the “poor dog have fun”. So, with a deep feeling of regret, you take the leash off and something bad happens – the dog runs off, chases something, doesn’t come when called… and you can’t reinforce your training! Bummer!

These are moments where you need to listen to yourself and know when something’s not a good idea. Put your foot down and ignore peer pressure for your, and your animal’s, sake.

But sometimes this gut feeling can be mistaken for a general fear. Maybe we really are ready to take that jump with our horse but we wait our whole lives, because we’re too scared to try… That’s when it’s time to take baby steps forward. Start by going over a pole, then a raised pole, a small jump, and so on. Just do something to get over your fear.

We need to listen to our gut and instinct, but there comes a time when we need to move forward! Stay safe!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

The Left-Sided Myth

You must get on your horse from the left and only walk a dog on your left side, or else… Something horrible will happen! Right?

Okay, rules like that have their place. Soldiers with swords would mount from the left side to keep their sword, hanging from their belt, away from the horse. (Yeah, horses that can do things like THIS.) And hunters going out with their hunting dogs had their dog on the left side, to keep their right hand free to hold the gun. That’s how these rules came to be.

That’s great and all, but no reason for all of us to have these rules about which side our animal is on. We want our horse to be balanced on both sides. In order for them to be, we have to be balanced, too. That means being able to mount from the right side just as well as the left.

If you haven’t done that in a while (or ever), give it a try. It’ll feel awkward… It’ll feel like you’ve never ridden a horse in your life… but it’s worth it!

I’m also so tired of hearing people talk about how dogs can only be walked on the left side. Why? Sure, everyone has their preferences. Maybe you are right-handed and want to have your hand free to open doors and hold things. But every dog should be able to walk next to you on either side.

Sometimes I walk with a dog who has never been walked on the right side. The entire time, he’ll try to swing behind me to the left side. Just like mounting a horse from the right side, it can feel awkward for a dog who has only ever walked left to suddenly be on the right. I find that very limiting. I want to be able to take any dog on either side if I need to and have them be relaxed and ok with it.

The dogs and horses don’t know about these rules… that’s just us. They only know our habits and how we’ve trained them. So, naturally, it feels weird for them when we switch things up.

That’s my challenge for you… do everything “backwards” for at least a week. If you mount from the left (or right) side, do it from the opposite side. Walk your dog on the other side and switch up anything else that has become a habit for you.

Tell me how it goes in the comments!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo - found on pinterest. This is a photo of Sylvia Zerbini.

Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo – found on pinterest.
This is a photo of Sylvia Zerbini.


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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols

The Power of a Half Halt

Half halts are a source of power and communication.

Many of you might know the concept from riding horses; riding at any gate, you can ask your horse to slow down for a few steps as if to stop, only to then continue moving forward with energy. This brings their hind legs under them, collects their body, and brings their attention to you. Just as you can’t really do too many transitions when riding, the same goes for half halts.

What many don’t know, is that the same concept applies to working with dogs. It’s an amazing tool to have in your tool box for many reasons, the most important being to teach a dog to walk next to you.

When we are riding, we can’t ask a horse to do a correct half halt if we can’t stop them effortlessly. Stopping them effortlessly means that, at any gate, you can stop them without over-using your hands or legs – preferably neither. Ideally we just sink our seat down and our horse stops.

Again, the same goes for dogs. If a dog is walking next to me, I want her to stop when I do. I don’t want a dog who heels nicely but, when I stop, ends up walking ahead because she didn’t stop when I did – pulling me for a few steps. We should be stopping together. If they don’t stop, I push the dog backwards (so that he is standing behind my leg in a heeling position) and repeat.

When you’re out walking with your dog on the leash, slow down as if you’re about to stop (your dog should do the same – anticipating a halt if you practiced well enough). When your dog slows down, you speed up again and continue walking. This is an amazing check to see if your dog is “with you” and paying attention. They also can’t do this well if they are in front of you, which is why it’s a great way to reinforce “heel” without having to say, “heel!” constantly. A half halt naturally brings them to your side. It also brings their attention back to you if they’re distracted.

Half halts are something you can never get enough of…

Unknown photographer I own no rights to this Photo

Unknown photographer
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Filed under Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Teaching Tricks

Is it normal?

Lately I’ve had a lot of followers of this blog, as well as friends, ask me for help with their animal friends.

Often, when someone asks me for help, they either state that some neurotic behavior their animal is displaying is “normal” or they ask, “… is this normal?” My answer is always a shake of the head. If you have to ask if a (negative) behavior is normal, it’s not.

I wanted to write this post to give you a very easy, straight-forward way of answering these kinds of questions yourself. Think of it all this way; would it be normal if a child or grown up did it? Now, there are of course differences between dogs and humans and especially between horses and humans (predator vs prey animal), but this question still helps.

A great example would be a question a friend of mine asked me – he had recently bought a puppy around half a year old, who wouldn’t pee outside. The question was; can you still teach the dog to pee and poop outside at this age, or is it too late? Well, imagine if the situation was about a kid. Perhaps it had never used a toilet. Is it still possible to teach a kid to use a toilet if they’ve never used one? Yes. Of course.

People say that their dog’s constant barking, aggressive, or otherwise neurotic behavior is normal because he’s a dog and… dogs do those kinds of things. No. Is it normal for kids to be bullies who attack others on the street? No. Is it normal for kids to yell constantly for no legitimate reason? No. Is neurotic behavior a normal, healthy sign in a human? No…

These behaviors come up, though, and sometimes we find ourselves with a difficult dog, horse or other animal. But sometimes I look at someone with a dog (even better, a small dog) barking and frantically pulling on the leash and the human is barely doing anything and carefully trying to do everything and I think, What would they do if their kid was walking down the street glaring and yelling and charging random people? Wouldn’t they say, “Okay, that’s it” and get serious with the child for a second?

When I formulate anything to do with training in this way, it makes it much easier for people to understand what they need to do. It’s all simply common sense. You don’t need to be a dog trainer or horse trainer (of course in extreme cases, calling one is recommended!!).

Then again, people humanize their animals too much in a different sense. I’m not saying you should treat your dog or horse like a human. Simply think, Would I allow this from a child or fellow human? What would I do? Yell or coo?
There is a lady in my area with three small dogs (I think I’ve mentioned her before…) who bark constantly and I know every day when, and for how long, she is out on her walk. Her philosophy is that she lets her dogs bark like maniacs, and doesn’t do a thing about it (much to the annoyance of everyone else trying to relax on their walks in the woods). She says that her dogs don’t bark in the house, so she made a compromise with her dogs. If they don’t bark in the house, she’ll let them bark outside.

Okay. Deep breath. That was hard for me to hear.

The dogs don’t understand that. I don’t tell my kid, “Okay, sweetie, if you don’t attack your friends and my guests when they come to visit, I’ll let you attack everyone and yell at the top of your lungs nonstop on the street.” Not to mention, dogs don’t understand this idea of compromise and the connections she’s making. Anyway, hopefully you see my point.

See your animal as a  human for just a quick moment to diagnose a behavior. Would this be normal, or not? But then see and treat them as an animal after that. Don’t start making compromises with them or yourself! :)

I own no rights to this photo Unknown photographer

I own no rights to this photo
Unknown photographer

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Filed under Animals, Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

Why do we hide our leadership?

Your average person is so shy about their leadership abilities. Something is stopping them. It says they can’t do this. Or they won’t because they’re positive someone else could do it better, anyway. Why bother trying?

Maybe you feel like you’ll embarrass yourself in front of sooo many people (because, you know, they’re all perfect leaders) and what would you do then? The source for these feelings stems from many roots; childhood? Your partner? Your genetics? Your education? An experience where you “felt like a failure” and now you don’t think you can do it anymore?

Or maybe it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on. But here’s the thing – almost every time someone asks me for advice, whether in person or online, somewhere in their description I hear;

  • “I am the weakest link in the pack, I know, but…”
  • “I know I’m not the pack leader…”
  • “I should be more assertive, but I’m just not a good leader…”

And the list goes on. The interesting thing is that usually these same people label leadership characteristics in their dog that are actually signs of insecurity and the side effects of having an unbalanced dog. So not only do they not allow themselves to lead, they see potential for leadership in the wrong behaviors in their dogs. They are also consciously acknowledging that they know they’re not the leader. Hoooow interesting!

Here are some examples of behaviors commonly mistaken for a dog being a dominant “leader” (false);

  • snarling and jumping (generally reacting) at any human, dog or other animal they encounter.
  • incessant, non-stop barking (reactive) at any thing that even slightly sets them off (read; Ignore him, he’s just insecure).
  •  extreme dominance (acting aggressive – red zone – to the owner or other humans).
  • pulling on the leash.
  • acting neurotic.
  • misbehaving and taking advantage of their owner/s.

All of the scenarios listed above are examples of a dog not being a leader. All of these behaviors stem from frustration, pent up energy, instability and a generally unbalanced lifestyle. Long story short – the dog is missing a leader to help him out and lead the way. Because of these behaviors, owners will often stop taking their dogs on sufficient walks or socializing properly with others, only worsening any behavioral “issue”.

A true leader is, most importantly, calm. I’ll tell a short story that I’ve seen happen many times with many different groups of dogs. I hope it will sum up what I believe makes a true leader, because describing that in detail would take days and pages and pages of writing. So, here is what I always imagine;

There is a stray dog sprawled out in the sun, enjoying the afternoon. Nothing is bothering her and she is taking a peaceful nap. Only a few feet away, another stray trots over to a small rabbit carcass that one of the dogs caught earlier that day. He begins hungrily chewing on a bone, nervously looking around for competition. Two more dogs come to the carcass and try to snatch some meaty bones quickly away from the first dog. A huge fight starts up between the dog and one more comes over to see what the commotion is about and joins in.

All of this chaos and noise is going on right next to the peacefully resting dog. She does not get surprised and hardly opens her eyes. She can’t be bothered with this nonsense. Then, at some point, she decides she’s heard enough and, why not, she’s hungry. So she slowly gets up, maybe itches behind her ear with her back leg. Slowly, calmly, and filling up the space around her with her presence, she approaches the fight. She has done nothing at all, and already three of the dogs stop and look uncertainly at her. She is walking so confidently that they begin to question her goal.

She walks right up to the food, claiming her space, and all of the dogs leave her alone. She has the food to herself and did, to put it bluntly, nothing to earn it. One brave dog decides he’s going to try to get that bone anyway, and walks back to her and leans down to snatch it. She raises her head, gives him a stern, meaningful look and lets out a deep, steady growl. No second questions asked, the dog leaves and pronto.

When the female dog has eaten her fill, she walks comfortably back to her sun spot and, once again, slumbers in the now quiet area.

 This story is an example of a dog embodying a sense of “the calm before the storm”. That sense that something’s coming. You can feel it in the air. It’s the feeling that something’s coming. Before a major storm everything falls quiet and there’s a thick stillness in the air. That, to me, is the feeling I aim to imitate when leading, or when I need to follow through with a command I gave out to one of my dogs or horses.

It’s a hard feeling to describe, but if I were to put it in words, I’d imagine the female dog in the story, thinking, “You all move out of the way, or else…” If they didn’t respond to her “calm before the storm” vibe, she would follow through with a growl or a nip (a storm, and oh what a storm! Thunder! Lightning!). That is leadership in a situation like that; warn and handle. That is how I train my dogs.

The command “Heel” for example is me warning a dog by either saying heel or giving them a look. Simply the fact that I’m walking with them on a leash is my way of saying, “Walk next to me.” If they weren’t to do that, despite my warning/s, I “nip”/give them a poke in their side. It is fair, because I let them walk and decide to do it on their own first, then I warned them, and only then did I handle. I am leading in that moment.

Another thing that we have to understand is that nonhuman animals live in the moment, unlike people. One moment you could be leading the pack and be as happy as ever and the next, someone else comes along whom the dogs respect more. Every moment is new and fresh. And who leads the pack or herd can change just like that. Just because you were the leader once doesn’t mean it seals the deal for a life time. No, sir.

Many times women give the leading role off to someone else – even other women! They feel they are not strong enough or not fit for the job. This is most likely due to centuries and centuries and whole life times of men running the world and raising women to believe that leading is a man’s job. When, in fact, we have been the leaders all along. We are the mothers and what is a mother’s job if not to lead her children?

I’ve had the most funny situations where I see a mother give her child a stern talking to because he or she didn’t listen to her, then turn around to her dog and turn completely helpless! She lets the dog get away with the most simple, basic things and openly says, “Oh, he takes advantage of me! He’s such a playful boy.” If her kids had tried yelling at others as they walked down the street with her she would have nothing of it. When her dog barks at anything that it sees, she does nothing. Why is that? It’s so much easier to interrupt a dog’s behavioral pattern when compared to changing a child’s habits.

On the other end of the spectrum, men say, “OH I CAN BE A LEADER! I TELL THAT DOG WHAT TO DO! HE LISTENS TO ME. HE BETTER!!” Oh, great. Good to know. Because that isn’t leadership, either. I wouldn’t choose a macho, ego-run male to lead me through any situation, especially if it were life or death. Animals don’t choose their leaders based on how tough or manly they are. They choose them based on how they act, respond handle. (Women, step up to the plate!)

These are just some thoughts on leadership – of course there will always be more to come! How do you see leadership? Do you feel comfortable filling that role? Why? Why not??

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo.

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I own no rights to this photo.

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Filed under Animals, Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Food, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans