Category Archives: Teaching Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timing Your Rewards For Optimal Results

“Rub a horse to reward him”, “Let him rest, release pressure, and he’ll be happy.” or “A horse (or dog) will do anything for a cookie.”

While this is true, it’s deceiving. There’s timing involved. Some dogs couldn’t care less about treats (I have two of those at the moment!). If you’re boring your horse half to death, a rest isn’t at all a reward. The opposite, actually!

Although you mean well, a rest would only be a release or a reward of some sort if the horse had been doing something physically or mentally challenging, etc. prior. If I get into the habit of doing the same thing with my animal every day, over and over again, they’re going to just hate it. Then to say, “And now… guess what?? You get to stand still as a reward!!”

That’ll get you a snort and an eye roll.

Then if you were asking your horse to do something new, exciting, or just challenging, they’ll be looking for that rest… It’ll feel so good to finally stand still, that it will help move your training along at full speed. Same goes for the good old rub and pat. If I’m constantly rubbing my horse, it could get annoying.

Some horses love it of course, but it also needs to be well-timed. We should remember: when it comes to these things, not all animals react well to the same reward. Just like humans – some like loud, excited applauses and other like a nice smile of recognition. One isn’t better than the other, they just come across differently to different people.

If I don’t go petting a certain horse all over, that doesn’t mean I don’t like him or he didn’t “deserve” it. Usually that horse just doesn’t like it – it annoys or agitates him, or he simply doesn’t find it comforting. Sometimes a reward is only rewarding when we really earned it. Not just rewarded every five minutes for doing close to nothing.

Take it away, Glenn Stewart:

“A rest for a horse when they are looking for one is a release. A rub when they are looking for one is a release. A well timed rub or rest after a horse has been physically and mentally stimulated becomes somewhat of an addiction for them and something they look for and crave rather than something they have to put up with.”

- Glenn Stewart

Glenn Stewart

Glenn Stewart

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

Purely Positive Training Is An Illusion

As wonderful as it would be to say, “I only train with positive reinforcement and it works!”, it’s impossible.

Before you get too worked up about that, let me explain. I train my dogs with a clicker (only the guide dogs and advanced trick training, the foundation is not based on treats or clicks). I don’t use prong collars or anything that would be unfair on a dog (or any animal).

I read an article that got me thinking about “positive” philosophies. The truth is, something negative (even if only from the dog’s point of view) is always present. Even in clicker training; instead of saying “No” to your dog, you withhold a treat/click. That, for the dog, is a negative thing. So even the most positive of all training methods regularly has negative aspects.

You can’t only say “Yes” to your dog or horse. Then they would do everything and anything they want, which is the complete opposite of natural. People don’t want to harm their animals, and that’s completely understandable. I never do anything to hurt them.

I set boundaries. I live with an actual pack of dogs (at least 4 at a time) and because I train guide dogs there are new ones coming and going very often. If I don’t want complete chaos, all of my dogs have to follow the same rules. That’s how animals are amongst themselves, too. That is natural.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that you could definitely say that training without anything positive is possible, but that training without anything “negative” is impossible. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this Photo

Unknown Photographer
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“Before you ever start to reach to ask your horse to do something you should have in mind what you are asking and where you are trying to direct.”

- Tom Dorrance

Image of Tom Dorrance is by Lynn Cox of Landmark Fine Art.

Image of Tom Dorrance is by Lynn Cox of Landmark Fine Art.

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

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