Category Archives: Dogs

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

Too perfect, then not perfect enough

I apologize for the long silence on this blog. So much has been happening and I have been very busy with work, but now it is time to focus on Humanima again!

Amongst all of the stress, I have been making big plans which I am very excited to share with you! For the next two and a half months, I will be traveling around the world. First, two weeks in California and then two months in Tasmania, Australia! In Australia I will be working with multiple horses – the goal with most of them is to get them started under saddle (aka get them ridden for the first time). I will share as much of this journey with you as I can!

What I wanted to talk about today is perfectionism. Something most of us don’t have enough of when it comes to working with animals. It’s an attention to detail that can make the world of difference. Yet when we are extreme perfectionists, things almost always go downhill. Fast.

I was at a Seminar on training “problematic” dogs. Entering the room, the first thing I heard was a deep growl that echoed through the room. I had no way of knowing where it came from. The growling dog was owned by a sweet young women, but his behavior got so bad that she had to put him back in the car. We worked with almost all of the problematic dogs there that day (extremely scared and spooked, aggressive, strong hunting instincts, etc), except for this dog with the growl and aggression towards others.

When we were back in the classroom, the trainer teaching this seminar turned to the owner of the growling dog. He asked her what she was having trouble with. She explained and, without seeing her and her dog in action, the trainer simply said, “Your problem is that you’re a perfectionist.”
I was absolutely stunned that he could read that just by looking at her. She hadn’t explained much and had done nothing with her dog. The young lady had tears in her eyes and nodded. Seeming to know, to some extent, that it was true. I saw her during a break afterwards, walking with her dog off leash past all of the dogs going on walks. The growling, the aggression, the “disobedience” if we should call it that, was simply gone. From one second to the next. It was gone because she had faced the fact that she was a perfectionist and realizing she had to change and relax for her dog.

We don’t want to become this overbearing, super controlling dog owner. Yet perfectionism has its place. We don’t want to let little bad habits slide until they turn into big problems. And there’s nothing saying that we can’t expect a lot from our dogs.

But where’s the middle for you and your dog/s? Where do you think you could maybe be more picky and where could you relax a little more? Let me know in the comments. Balancing perfectionism is a real deal breaker – something that will take an entire lifetime to master, but there’s no better time to start than now.

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, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

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

Spring has come

For people who work with animals, springtime as a symbol for everything nice: no more muddy paddocks, no more wet dog paws (or entire bodies!), no more constant rain and snow… Now we can just go out in the field and walk up to our horse without losing a rain boot.

But should we? In the warm, dry seasons we tend to get lazy about our training. Sure, we have so much more time to do things with our animals and, in that sense, more is getting done. On the other hand, we neglect to think ahead.

It’s the little things – like walking up to our horse every time we put the halter on instead of having them meet us at the gate. Or letting our dogs rush into the house after a walk. This doesn’t seem like a problem – we might not even notice it. Until the rain comes and, with it, the mud.

All of a sudden we don’t feel like walking to the other end of the paddock (through the mud, the watery piles of manure, hoping we don’t suddenly step out of our rain boot) and we wish our dogs wouldn’t run into the house with their muddy paws.

What other things could you train for in the spring and summer that might come in handy in the wet and cold months? They’re all little habits and may seem mundane, but anything is worth the time if it makes your life even that much easier.

See if you can teach (or cause) your horse to come meet you at the gate – even if that starts with meeting them halfway. Or teach your dogs to wait outside patiently while you take off your boots, jacket and get a towel. That way, you can calmly dry them off before calling them into the house.

All of my dogs learn this – I open the door, drop the leashes and none of them can take a step through that door until I call them in. It is a really helpful habit to teach!

Now… go! Enjoy the weather :)


Unknown photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown photographer
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Filed under Dogs, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Teaching Tricks

Enough Stress For Everyone!

I took part in a Seminar from a well-known dog trainer here in Germany. It was two days working with “problem dogs” and, as always, problem humans…

Amongst the bunch there were dogs with deep, loud growls – some wanted to chase rabbits more than breathe air – and some were afraid of anything that existed. It was such a mixed group. The whole seminar planted many little seeds in my mind that will slowly start to grow in understanding over the years.

We were wrapping up the Seminar and asking some last questions when a woman asked, “I have a dog who pants heavily and drools on longer car rides (multiple hours) and can’t seem to calm down. How do I help him with that?”

So I sat there, as usual, trying to anticipate the answer. Thinking of the many things I might do in that situation. I had a whole plan in my mind that would’ve worked, surely! To my surprise, the trainer asked her in return,

“And how often do you go on these long car rides?”

“A few times a year at the most…”

Then he smiled and said, “I am under stress every day, often with very little, to no, relaxing time. Why can’t your dog handle a few hours of stress a year?” It was a very common-sense-approach. I was stumped because I was sure he would’ve come up with some sort of solution for her or something… anything! He continued, “It would be silly for your time, and even more stressful for the dog, to drive around and around for hours trying to get him used to being in a car. Maybe some day he will realize driving for a longer time in a car is not so bad. Then again, he might have car sickness (because you say it only comes up on long car rides) and trying to train even a person with car sickness brings us nowhere.”
The seminar had quite a few of these moments. Moments where I though I knew what he would say, only to think, “Hmm… okay, common-sense strikes again!”

But it’s true; sometimes people are under the impression that animals should never experience stress, but it’s perfectly fine for us to be stressed 24/7. That’s not to say that your animal should be stressed, but don’t become unrealistic in your acts to protect them from it. Sometimes your animal will have to endure something that is stressful – we all do. Depending on how you deal with that, he or she will either improve from the experience, and learn that it was not so bad, or feed off of your worry and become even more stressed in the future.

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

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

Where are your eyes?

Body language is universal – amongst all ethnicities, all species, each individual!

Our eyes play a huge role in that. We could make the same body movements but with different expressions in our eyes, and we would be saying entirely different things.

So blocking our eyes, the doors to our soul, when we talk to someone is just as bad as when we work with animals. My dogs constantly make eye contact with me – this is not an act of dominance. It’s no different than when I seek steady eye contact with a person. I can catch my horses eye just as I can catch that of  my dogs’ to confirm what I told them.

I train guide dogs for the blind and my dogs learn to accept someone who may, or may not, wear large, dark sunglasses. But before they accept that human, they need to see them without the glasses, at least for a little while. It’s important for them to see that they are simply human. It’s interesting that it’s not necessary that we can see with those eyes, but simply that they are there. Sometimes even that is enough.

When I work with horses I never wear sunglasses unless the horse knows me very well, or I am riding. Just as I never wear them with a new dog – only when I am training a guide dog for someone who wears big glasses.
I see so many people wear sunglasses, losing so much valuable communication with their animals. Your dog or horse has no way of getting a feel for you and what you want them to do. It’s just a body with no soul or individuality.
I’ve also seen cases where people work with dogs and have the hardest time and when they shed their constant need for sunglasses, the dog makes huge improvements… coincidence?

No, our eyes help us communicate! Even a stern or friendly look can tell your dog everything it needs to know – without a word or body movement to accompany it. Play around with that concept a bit more, and see what changes come!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this Photo

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

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