Thursday, May 23, 2013

Finding What They're Meant to Do II

    I was hit with a new level of understanding about Brockle and his bolt.

   When he charges, barks and jumps at a dog, he is doing naturally what is expected of him in Schutzhund competition, except it's not happening at my command and it's not appropriately directed.

When a setter gets out the gate and takes off through the neighborhood for a jaunt, his head is down and he quarters each lawn,  actively hunting for fun like he would in the field for his owner. The zig-zag is bred into him, along with the desire to find it and point at it.

A cow horse turned out in a pasture with cattle will work them freely. The stop and turn is bred into him and the desire to boss those cows around is his idea of fun.

Brockle, mixed up mutt though he may be, drives across the fields at those dogs with all of the eagerness, speed and straightness of the competition dogs.

Now I know why HMT wanted me to hold off on the shock collar. If I use a shock collar to stop his drive it will create a hesitation in him. Part of him will be wondering, "When am I going to get zapped?" as he flies along.

What I need to do is shape his direction and control when he gets to satisfy this natural desire. If he's directed correctly (which is where I need help from HMT), I'm guessing Brockle will also understand there's a proper time and place for his lunge and run and wait for me to tell him when to use it.

This will give me the means to redirect him.

I got pretty excited and let this line of thinking roll around for awhile. It's not like shaping an animal's behavior to suit my needs is a new concept. I was thinking about shaping behaviors vs. creating behaviors and when we make roadblocks for ourselves and our animals by not understanding exactly the consequence of our actions.

Then I jumped to breed influence. Shaping behaviors that come from a dog/horse/pig/chicken breed vs. creating behaviors to divert the nature of the animal.

Let's take the instinctive flight/fight response horses come with. They all have it. How we shape it determines the horse we end up with.

Ideally, we want to train our horses to carry us along, go where we point them, stop when we say stop and not kick, smash, buck, bite, throw us into trees, in other words, let us live.

By it's nature a horse will run first, fight second when it feels threatened.

Fight comes first when flight won't fix it. Defending young, territory, mares etc.

My personal thoughts while training a horse are that a flight response doesn't hurt me or the horse, but a fight sure can. So I'd rather not fight.

This is why I always offer an escape to a horse. Even one that's securely tied to an iron rail with a rope halter has the option to move it's hip away from me and get a release of pressure.

Having an escape available for a horse is so automatic for me I don't have to think about it anymore, but it took a lot of years. I rarely get in fights with my horses.

All horses have a flight or fight response and I have chosen my path to begin all horses by shaping the flight response to my needs.

Now we can get into the automatic responses created by breed influence.

My first successful reined cowhorse was Sonita,  a handful of a mare that taught me more than I can say. She was so geared to work she would cut anything. Llamas, kids, kids on bikes, flags, balloons, blowing plastic bags, dust devils, absolutely any object waving in the breeze that stood out from it's environment was something she would work. This was with me or without me BTW. If she couldn't control it's movement she would lose interest, but it was very clear she had been bred to work cattle.

On the flip side, that same hyper awareness made her afraid of tractors, indoor arenas, anything happening over her head, white spots on walls, odd patches of snow, I could go on for hours. Her breeding had done that too.

Shaping man-made behaviors is both easier and harder than shaping the ones that nature gives all horses. I think it's because we're not as good at it as Nature is. People breed to enhance performance for themselves rather than survival for the horse. We forget that for every spectacular new response we breed into an animal we are going to get a balancing response along with it, which will be equally unspectacular.

It was easy to get Sonita on a cow, it was a near death experience to get her past a tractor.

Man-made behaviors don't always make sense to the horse either, we tend to breed things into them they don't understand. I'm willing to wager Sonita's compulsion to cut a plastic bag stuck on a bush didn't make sense to her. It probably contributed to her craziness though.

Then comes the third response we put into our animals. This is the one that I really started thinking about while working Brockle. This response is all about us, it's the response we want from our animal that has nothing to do with their natural or man-made self. Dog Dancing comes to mind. Now there's a competition made entirely for our amusement. I'm not saying the dogs don't love it, they seem to think it's as funny as we do, but it's based on nothing but our will.

This is one of the coolest training knots I've ever come up with. I'm thinking the clearest, cleanest communication between me and whatever animal I'm training will come from beginning to shape the instinctive behaviors that come with the animal first.

If I can channel an instinctive response to work in my favor it will lay the groundwork for the next step, shaping the man-made bred in responses. The animal will be open to my training in this murkier area because of the clear relationship we've already established. If I'm on the look-out for the balancing behaviors that come during this phase, and don't look at it as a negative, but just another, expected response to shape, will I get a better animal? I don't know yet, but it makes sense.

If I've been successful in all of this shaping and modifying, the third phase should be cake. We should have our minds tuned in enough for my trainee to accept my request whether it makes sense or not, if for no other reason then the trust and understanding built by that point.

I understand horses better than dogs, so my example is equine.

1. Start a colt with the standard round pen type thinking (even though your pen can be any shape or size). Restraint is voluntary, flight is always possible.
As the colt's training progresses, the flight response is honed until a foot step away is as much a release as blowing away from a flag was at the beginning.
2. Bring in the bred in behaviors. Begin to shape the speed, cowiness, elasticity, whatever your breed offers.
3. Now it's time for double bridles, spade bits, jumps that are higher than the horses head, dancing, talking to Wilbur, whatever.

It's going to be interesting sorting this out with dogs...


  1. I'm curious if you're doing anything about the fact your dog is so attuned to you, and how that's working?

    Interestingly, I have a three year old filly who is more attuned to me than anyone else. I've had her for 7 months and she has consistently been pretty angelic with me on the ground and pretty uninterested in cooperation with someone else. She's at the trainer's to get started because I don't want to mess it up on my own, and we've found that as he works with her if I am anywhere nearby she tries to check in with me for each command to see whether or not she should do it. She was #2 in a herd growing up, and I suspect that she sees me as the person in the role that #1 mare was in - a top dog who didn't hesitate to go after her hard if she did something other than what that mare wanted. My trainer has worked with her so she is now seeing him in that same sense, too, but we're debating how to handle getting her to behave for others as well, besides just having very competent horse people handle her. Just to make life easier for us she needs to learn she can't push around anyone when they clean her pen, she has to let anyone lead her, pick up her hooves (especially the farrier, for whom she currently misbehaves despite the fact she'll stand on 3 legs for me for however long I want), and generally be a good citizen for all. She will be my dressage horse, and I'm just trying to imagine a bit check or a drug test and how poorly it could go if she doesn't immediately believe she should listen to strangers.

  2. Today I noticed something. As I read your posts, which are usually written in 2, 3 or more parts. I almost always have to go back and break each part up into sub-sections and read that part several times to totally grasp all that you are saying.

    This is not a criticism on your writing in any way. In fact, I truly enjoy the way you write. It is an observation on my reading skills. Partly old lady eyeballs, part old lady-recovering addict-slightly fried brain cells, and partly the constant interruptions of life. Your posts are almost like calisthenics for my old brain.

    Your approach to learning and perfecting your training skills in dogs and horses is refreshing. Your tenacity to "get it right" is flipping amazing. And the fact that you are able to share what you learn, how it works, and why with the rest of the world, while remaining humble is very cool.

    I learn so much from your blog, both the current posts and the archives and I really just wanted to say thanks for the time and effort you put into your posts.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go back and read your post again. :-)

  3. Cindy D - Wait til you hear me goes something like this, " head scratch) oh hell, I don't know.

  4. Net - I'm not big on one person horses, since they tend to go through many owners in their life.

    When I have a horse who only wants to listen to whoever she views as top-mare I let little kids or assistants ride them to cool them out after I've ridden the crap out of them.

    Once the horse gets that the "not Mugs" is a good thing I have them begin to lightly work the horse, then build from there.

    Brockle isn't willful with other people,he's very polite and amiable, but he spends most of his time with his eyes focused on my feet hands or eyes. Much like a Lab that spends it's life staring at a ball, waiting for someone to pick it up. When he's not doing that he's sleeping at my feet.

    According to my family, when I do leave him home he lays in front of the door and stares at it until I come home.

    My trainer considers it a good thing, just tough to work with, so I'm not worrying about it.

  5. Ahhahaa!

    So then a conversation between the two of us would be like

  6. I think I'd love a lesson from you at some point... :D

    I'm also a "new" dog person (have had family dogs, just pets). My first dog on my own is a neurotic, anxiety ridden border collie/lab mix. We have started playing flyball, disc, agility, and some lure coursing- I've found that keeping all parts of her working keeps the anxiety away!

    I'm really enjoying your posts.

  7. Ditto what Cindy D said! Always check in every day to see if you've posted. I always get so much out of it... Whether it's horses, dogs, kids or life. Thank you for being so willing to share!

  8. THANK YOU! I have a GSD/Husky mix that is usually pretty well behaved. However, when another dog starts running, he chases it. Sometimes he will leave it if I yell at him, other times his chase is too exciting. When he catches up, he makes growly sounds and chews at the back of their neck. He has never hurt anyone (including the dogs he chases), but it makes other dogs' owners upset. Please describe how you go about redirecting this urge, he does not seem to be violent just controlling.

  9. I enjoyed your take on Finding out who/what we/they are meant to do/be.

    Not easy for any of us to grow up to be who we are meant to become.

  10. I have a horse training question for discussion. I have a 2 horse straight load that I can't get my horse to stay in. He loads fine, but if he feels that you are going to put up the butt bar he panics and flies out, forget putting up the ramp. I have gotten the butt bar up once, but he was able to break it down before he had a chance to figure out that he was fine. Most of the advice I have gotten is to just feed him in there for a few weeks and he'll be fine in no time. This hasn't worked. He'll go in fine just like normal, but he only gets about a cup of grain so there's no keeping him in there for long at all and he's willing to give up his bit of grain if he thinks I'll try to shut him in. What should I try next?

  11. I'm with "Speeddemon303" I'd love to have a few lessons from you myself.

    My "special needs" retired crazy rope horse (the one afraid of ropes) and I could use some help from someone who thinks a little more outside the box, than some trainers.

    Bucket list that!

  12. I really like where you're going with this :).
    It would be impossible or at least very soul crushing for me to train my border collie never to herd. However I can make rules about when we/he can herd. He's not allowed to herd horses, the cat, the kids or other people, cars or the tractor. He is allowed to herd/chase birds in the yard because he keeps the woodpeckers off our log house (convenient). He's also allowed to herd the other dogs while we play fetch. He thinks he's a superstar rounding them up for me... Like they wouldn't bring that stick back on their own :).
    It satisfies something deeper in their being to be able to do what they were ment to do.

  13. To Emily M:
    My horse had the exact same issue.
    Here is what worked for us
    1. Work on trailering as much as possible - maybe just 15 minutes a day, but make it routine so neither you or the horse are nervous.
    2. Once she is getting in the trailer calmly, start putting more feed in the trailer. Work with your horse so he will stand in the trailer eating( don't mess around with butt bar/door yet )
    3. Once the trailer is a "good, calm place", ask your horse to come out of the trailer after they have only been in for a few minutes. My reasoning for this is that it is making it clear in the horses mind that the human chooses when they back out of the trailer, not the horse. If you can make them back out while still eating, this is even better. Once he backs out, send him right back into the trailer.
    4. Now start messing with butt bar while he is in the trailer. Make sure you are in a position that he cannot run you over if he backs out fast. You could also try starting with a spare leadrope in place of the butt bar, so if he does panic he can get out without hurting himself or the trailer. If he tries to back out , let him. Do not try and force/keep him in the trailer as it could result in hurt humans, horses and trailers. If he does back out, just calmly send him back into the trailer. Also do not start messing with the butt bar the moment he gets into the trailer. Wait until he is eating/ standing calmly in the trailer.

    If he doesn't get alot of grain, one feed that worked for me was hay pellets with a bit of water and my horses normal grain - this way, they won't gulp down all the grain in .2 seconds and if they doen't get hay pellets elsewhere, they count as a treat .

  14. things to watch.

    Michael Ellis is a top competitor and instructor.