Category Archives: Handling Emotions

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

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

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.

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

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

Know Your Capabilities

“You say ‘Oh he might spook, he might buck, he might fall down, he might rear.’ So look at what he’s working with!
He knows you can’t handle it and that don’t make him wrong to know that you can’t handle it.
He might do any of those things because something might scare him or he might slip and fall at any time and yet the people can’t handle that, but they want to go on with their horse.
If he turns around quick, they fall off!

So confidence, again, is knowing you are prepared for the unthinkable and I don’t know how you are going to get that without experience – that still don’t make you wrong.
You know where you’re at, you should know your capabilities. That’s no sin and no crime. You’re being honest with your fellow man. You’re being honest with your horse……you’re trying to keep him out of trouble.

You have to have guts and determination if you want to look for what I’m talking about. If you don’t, that don’t make you wrong.
What do you want to do or accomplish?
What are you capable of accomplishing?
It’s your concentration, your coordination and your reflexes in that order.
But the concentration isn’t near deep enough.”

- Ray Hunt

Excerpt from an article in the ‘Eclectic Horseman’ -

Image of Ray is from the November 1998 issue of the Western Horseman.

Image of Ray is from the November 1998 issue of the Western Horseman.

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Filed under Article Discussion, Behavioral musings, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Quotes

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.

Unknown Photographer
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