Category Archives: Human & Animal Interactions

What horses and dogs bring out in us

My passion for horses is just as enormous as it is for dogs.

I love them equally but for different reasons. Today I was thinking about how funny it is that I enjoy working with these two species that actually have very little in common. It seems to come down to something basic and true: dogs make us more human and with horses we have to be everything but human (by that I mean being in a predatory state of mind).

Dogs have evolved and been bred to truly understand us. They can read our expressions, smell our sickness, our sadness, fear yet rejoice when we’re happy. We don’t have to work hard to communicate with them. Humans and dogs just are a team. Humans and dogs mesh beautifully and truly were made for each other. Working with dogs, you will, usually, be successful acting on instinct and gut-feelings.

We’ve also been with horses for a very, very long time. But they aren’t bred and evolved in the way dogs are. Mainly, of course, because they are prey animals and dogs and humans are predators. With them we have to work on our horsemanship. We have to softer, softer, softer in our body language. Through working with them, we change our way of life for the better. Where as dogs just fit in at our side with no second thoughts.

But that’s the beautiful thing. Both species are more honest, balanced, in the moment than any human can ever be.

They are the best teachers and I believe that by working with both we achieve a wonderful balance between true humanness and the ability to not think purely human.

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

Effective as a fly…

One fly buzzing around a room and landing in the same spot for longer than even 2 minutes can be the most annoying thing in the world.

I could be studying in a library while a marching band with trumpets and drums suddenly marches through and it would definitely surprise me. But they would move on or I would get used to the sound and tune it out a bit.

If I was in that library and a tiny fly kept buzzing around, it would get to me.

Think about that when you work with animals (well, with people too…). Sure, you can smack a horse and most of them will move (marching band!). Then again, you could also tickle them with the tip of the whip on their hind leg. At first they might try to ignore it. Then they won’t be able to. Then they’ll kick or move. That’s when that “fly” (tickling whip) suddenly disappears!

The next time you do that, your horse will just say, “Stop right there. I’m moving already. I’ll do anything, just stop being so annoying!!”

Sure, some horses will take longer than others, but flies are patient in their own way… and extremely annoying. See how you can be more like a fly rather than a marching band.

Untitled by Jerry Cagle on 500px I own no rights to this photo

Untitled by Jerry Cagle on 500px
I own no rights to this photo

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Teaching Tricks

Training Methods vs. Personality

Those who only train with positive reinforcement are generally not positive with people, and those who only use negative reinforcement, the opposite.


When you say you don’t believe in harming an animal, you’re making a statement: “I believe that animals are our equals and should be treated as such.”

So it never ceases to amaze me how easily frustrated and rude towards other people, purely-positive trainers can be. That practically turns the table and changes the statement to: “Dogs, horses, etc are better than humans.” Which is also negative progress, am I wrong?

Then on the other side of the deal, there are people who train purely with punishment (negative reinforcement). They, even subconsciously, are stating that humans are better – other animals are not our equals. And that, of course, is also not okay.

What is better? Shouldn’t we just be able to be nice to humans and all other animals?I’m not one to shower my animals with treats, just as I wouldn’t with a human. I don’t pay someone in cash or cookies each time they say something politely or help me out with a small favor.

So I believe that if we say other animals are our equals, they should be treated as such. To me that means: show your appreciation when someone does something nice, teach in a friendly, patient manner and clearly say when you don’t like something. That is communication: we need to be able to say when something bothers us, just not rudely.

Only then are other animals truly our equals.

Unknown photographer I own no rights to this photo.

Unknown photographer
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Teaching Tricks

What’s Your “Command”?

We can ask an animal to do something vocally or through body language (or telepathically for all of my very, very dedicated readers!! ;) .

After a while it can get unclear to which our animals are responding to. Are they waiting to hear the command or are they following your unintentional body language? It can take a while to separate, investigate and the recombine these factors.

An easy example is asking your dog to jump out of the car. Some people don’t care and they just open the door. But for your dog’s safety (when getting out by roads, etc) and for a good communication it’s best to teach them to jump out when you ask.

Let’s say your command for this is “Okay!” Very often someone will say “Okay” to their dog and then take a step back. If asked to step back without saying “Okay”, the dog often just jumps out anyway, even though they weren’t technically asked to. Aha! So it isn’t clear what the signal is for leaving the car. What about if you just say “Okay” and don’t take a step back? Could you open the car door, walk away, and still have your dog stay there waiting for your sign?

That would clearly show your dog understands what and when you’re asking.

I find that if you’ve decided to teach your dog that a certain word or sign means a certain behavior, you should stick with it and clearly show your dog that only that sign or word means that particular behavior. Otherwise they start doing all sorts of things right when you didn’t want it. And for a dog getting out of a car by a busy road, that isn’t a good thing!

If you don’t teach your dog a certain command for something, that’s also fine. We just can’t expect a dog to suddenly know what we’re talking about if they never learned it. My dog Mowgli and I can do everything without speaking and only body language. But I am very clear what I mean even with that. That way there are no misunderstandings!

Josh Schutz I own no rights to this photo.

Josh Schutz
I own no rights to this photo.


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

Feet In His Hands

“When I am working with a person and his horse, I can help him get in a position so the horse can find the response we are working for. Trying to put this into words so a reader can get a picture of what is taking place is not easy for me. Some of the terminology may cause a problem, like the rider who didn’t have much idea what was meant by the expression, “the horse’s feet are stuck.” There are a lot of things that way, it seems. The expression “hunting up spot” is sometimes a new expression to a rider, but as we work on things together the rider begins to recognize this stage in the horses learning process. The rider needs to experience this as well as the horse.
In Nevada one fall a fellow was riding a colt. The weather warmed up, and this fellow decided to shed is coat. This caused the colt to want to shed the rider. The fellow wasn’t very bothered so I told him he could use the horse’s little bothered spot to get the horse used to moving with him. He just took the colt in a circle, and when the colt let down you could see the horse soften. The horse got so the curve of his body was fitting the curve the person was traveling. It wasn’t bent one way while the rider was traveling the other way.
The rider could feel the horse soften. The horse felt good to the rider and lightened up on the head. His feet were alive and they were responsive. It almost looked like the rider had the horses feet in his hands.”

Tom Dorrance

Photo by: Camille Vivier (as written on Pinterest) I own no rights to this photo.

Photo by: Camille Vivier
(as written on Pinterest)
I own no rights to this photo.

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Filed under Animals, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Inspiration and Idols, Quotes

… What are you really saying?

Most of the time our bodies say one thing and our emotions another.

You ask a horse to go over a higher jump than you’re used to. You try to convince your horse (and anyone watching) that you’re very confident and relaxed about the whole thing. But inside your thoughts and feelings are a whirlwind. Nervousness, whether physically expressed or not, is still nervousness.

There’s nothing bad about it! About a year ago I wrote an article about fear and how sometimes it can be a really good thing to listen to. So it’s not about not being nervous. It’s about working with that until you can truly be confident for yourself and your animal. So maybe don’t take that huge jump until you’ve worked yourself up to it and can take it confidently.

Our animals can sense our nervousness or other emotions we may be “hiding” and naturally think, “If she’s nervous… how nervous should I be?? Is there something dangerous about this?”

Trying to hide feelings around animals is useless. It doesn’t make a difference, so you might as well be upfront about it. They can sense and smell everything. When you feel an unwanted emotion, take a break and ponder why you feel that way before continuing your training.

Unknown photographer. I own no rights to this photo.

Unknown photographer.
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Filed under Dogs, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

Not Correcting is Unfair

The main thing I want to always keep in mind is fairness. How can I get mad at a dog for doing something he’s never been taught not to do?

Prepare and be fair.

Building up a communication, after all, takes two sides: we need to be able to tell someone what we like in our relationship and let them know when, “hey, I didn’t like that so much.”

So if I never taught a dog to come back right away when I call, for one I’m putting them in danger (if they run towards a road, etc) and second of all, digging myself in a ditch. I can’t get mad at them for not coming back because I never told them I wanted that and that made a huge hole in our communication that might be hard to mend.

To me correcting a dog is fair. I’m letting them know what to expect: don’t run into the street, come back when I call you, and listen to me. Once I’ve told them how I feel about certain things, I can correct them if they don’t follow my lead. But only then. Then there’s nothing your dog can complain about.

Not teaching them social manners and then expecting them to know them on their own is unfair. But many people really think that’s how it works! That balance between over-controlling our dogs and never saying no, is what we’re looking for. It’s the same when teaching people, horses, parrots and any other animal.

Let your animals know what’s up so they can know how to act.

Unknown Artist I own no rights to this photo.

Unknown Artist
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Human & Animal Interactions, Teaching Tricks

Guts & Determination

“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 and 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.
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 is knowing that 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.”

- Ray Hunt.

From an article that appeared in The Eclectic Horseman Magazine ‘Words of Wisdom from Ray Hunt’ -

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Unknown Photographer
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Filed under Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Quotes

Your Idea, His Idea

“The horse knows. He knows the human twenty to one. It’s amazing how much he’ll get out of things, how he’ll fill in for as little as the human knows about him. 
How that horse can handle it has always been a mystery to me. Put yourself in his shoes to live your whole life where no one knows who you really are. Well, I haven’t met a human yet who compares to a horse. A human couldn’t take it. 
See, you can get a horse to do something if you’re tough enough, just like you can with a human. 
But a willing communication is a different matter. 
You fix it so the horse can try, then you allow him to work it out. You have to give him that dignity. You make your idea his idea.
I believe these colts, I trust them. 
I always trust they can buck too. Don’t think they won’t.
Just keep fixing it up and let them find it. Don’t try to make it happen. 
Prepare to position for the transition. The transition is the last thing that happens. And don’t try to be boss.”

- Ray’s words are from an article ‘Ray Hunt: The Cowboy Sage’ written by Gretel Ehrlich and appeared in the Shambhala Sun, July 1998.

500px / Photo "look" by Yevgeniy Zhenikov

500px / Photo “look” by Yevgeniy Zhenikov

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Filed under Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Inspiration and Idols, Quotes

Sleeping In A Pack

On the road with my dogs, the moment I look forward to the most is going to sleep in my little trailer with a heap of blankets and all of my dogs surrounding me.

It really is a primal thing when you think about it – to not only share a space with others but to sleep in a “pack” or group. So long ago when people and wolves first started working together and slowly began living together, when dogs were truly working dogs, people and their wolves and later their dogs would sleep in the same space.

For safety or due to lack of abundant shelter, people and animals would gather together at night. You really become aware of how comforting it is when you close your eyes to the sounds of others deeply breathing.

So maybe a week ago I was in my trailer with three of my dogs. One was next to me and others were snuggled up in a corner. All were slowly falling asleep and the two boys in the corner were doing major synchronized breathing. I almost recorded it but, as always, when I got the camera out they fell quiet.

Snuggled into each other, they perfectly alternated their breaths – one would breathe in exactly as the other breathed out. Then they breathed in and out at the same time. This went on for a good half an hour or more. They were so synchronized and it had a major relaxing effect on the whole pack, including me.

After some time, they entered REM sleep and began dreaming… My Labradoodle began kicking his legs as he ran through dreamland and right as he did, the other dogs did, too! No joke! And after a while he stopped and continued breathing deeply and calmly. The rest followed his lead – all deep asleep.

This observation really moved me, how in-sync they all were even though they were sleeping. I closed my eyes and had the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time!

Two of my dogs asking for snuggles in the trailer. Photo by Humanima

Two of my dogs asking for snuggles in the trailer.
Photo by Humanima

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols