Category Archives: Animals

When to react or say “Ahh, whatever…” instead

If you read my blog you know that I don’t believe in following one “method”. My reasoning for this, is that every animal is different. We, and our animals as well, don’t fit into one category or method.

Today I am going to talk a bit about dog encounters. Meaning when you encounter another dog with your dog, either on or off the leash. For some this is a non-issue – the dogs casually saunter over to one another, sniff, maybe play, and then move on. This post is for those dog owners who don’t have that.

So as I said, each dog is individual and you really need to take the time to feel out how they react to your reaction. In essence, we don’t want our dog to react as much as respond to how we are acting when we see a dog. If we are calm, our dog should be calm. If we are nervous, our dog has right to believe that he or she should be nervous (about the other dog), as well. Think about that for a moment…

Thought about it? Good. So your dog mirrors you. That makes step one to having a happy, balanced, calm dog encounter, being exactly how you want your dog to me! Dog? What dog? I don’t see a dog. Exactly. You need to stay calm, breathe, ignore the other dog, and politely greet the other dog owner. Even if their dog is freaking out on the leash.

As far as correcting your own dog, it depends on his or her personality. I have a dog with me right now, a huge black lab, who is very calm. But if he starts acting up, I give him one stern correction and he says, “Okay, fine, sorry…” and stops looking over at the other dog, etc. Another dog of mine, a poodle, will always get more excited when I correct him. This is due to his sensitivity and intelligence.

When I walk with him and he gets maybe a little antsy at the sight of another dog, I ignore his behavior. That’s right, you heard me. I go against everything trainers tell you to do (“correct that dog!” “Show him who’s boss!”) By ignoring him, I tell him a few things:

  • He’s not running the show and I’m not that easily convinced. If I reacted, he would learn that he can control my actions.
  • By seeing how calm I am, he learns to take my signals seriously. When I don’t react at another dog, that means that that dog is not interesting. Eventually he mirrors me.
  • I give him no fuel. Meaning, if I correct him, I am “nudging him on”, in a sense.

Those are just a few points. Very sensitive breeds tend to be like this (aka poodle). Other dogs really do need a correction. Earlier today I was at the vet with that same poodle. He was very calm, curled up by my feet and ignored the other dogs – content with a simple wag in their direction. Then a very moody dog walked through the vet’s door and barked and pulled toward each dog. That got my poodle a little upset (he stayed laying down but squeaked around a bit).

At first, I corrected him by saying, “Leo, leave it.” Which usually works. But then he got more antsy and started sitting up. I kept telling him to lay down again. He would do that, but keep squeaking every now and then and sitting back up again. Eventually I looked him in the eyes, sighed, and started giving him a belly rub. Immediately he changed. His muscles loosened, he rolled on his back stretching all four feet straight up and was completely at peace.

If one thing isn’t working, try something else. I usually say, don’t pet a dog when he is not acting calm and happy, but sometimes it can have a calming effect. When a problem shows up that you have been unable to crack, try doing the exact opposite of what you’ve been doing up to this point.

 

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Finding Their Currency

One of the main reasons I don’t follow any single training “method” is the idea that there is one way that works for every animal.

Ideally a reward should be something the animal really wants over anything else. It should be comparable to giving someone a 20 dollar bill for helping you out or cooking them some dinner or buying them a gift. The reward has to have some meaning.

This is why simply giving dogs treats constantly (as most “positive trainers” do) is usually not effective. First of all, the treats lose meaning after they’ve been fed 50 in the first half hour – just as millionaires view money as less important than the rest of us might. If you give them a treat as a bonus, when they did something really well, suddenly this reward is given some real meaning and the animal looks forward to it. It becomes special.

The other reason is that not all animals see food as a reward! As I mentioned above, we want to find their “currency”. For some animals treats really are the most amazing thing you could give them (food-oriented, much?!). Others would rather you scratch an itch (most animals have an “itchy spot” that they simply love to have scratched), cuddle with them for a moment, play with them, or throw a toy.

My dog will take a frisbee over a piece of meat any day! That’s just how he is. So it’s up to me to adjust my training so that he gets the best reward, in his eyes, for doing good work.

Play around with some different ideas and see what works best for your animals!

Unknown photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown photographer
I own no rights to this photo

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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.

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

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Visualize

“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

Busy, busy…

Hello everyone! Apologies that you haven’t heard from me for a while… I’m schooling two of my dogs with their new blind owners for the next two months. I’ll try to write before then but, if not, I’ll definitely start writing again in December!

Thanks for your patience and I’m sorry for not writing regularly at the moment.

I’d still love to hear updates from all of you or answer any questions! Until December!

Unknown photographer I own no rights to this photo

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Your Discipline

“Of course you have to get discipline within yourself so that you can have it with your horse. If you don’t, this is what will cause your horse to get cranky and take over; get to doing a lot of things wrong.
It’s because he knows you don’t mean what you are talking about because you are not effective with what you are asking him to do. To be effective; teaching must be understood.
Be particular within yourself.
Have some meaning to YOU so that it will be meaningful to your horse.”

- From the book ‘Think Harmony With Horses’ by Ray Hunt.

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo.

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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

Who’s Yielding?

“Wait for his feet. No matter if you miss your lunch, just hang in there. He is trying to push and get you to yield. He is on his own pressure; you are just fixing it. Don’t try to move his feet. Leave that to him.”

- Tom Dorrance

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this picture

Unknown Photographer
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