Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Finding What They're Meant to Do

I've been worried about my blog.
When I worry, I float away.
Part of it is evasion, but most of it is letting things percolate in the back of my mind, until they sort themselves out into coherent thought instead of a vague, smoggy cloud.

I've worried about the blog because it's become so much about theory, instead of actual doing. I'm not riding enough horses to come up with interesting problems and solutions anymore. Madonna is pretty much who she is, a decently trained, keen eyed cowhorse. Odin is coming along as fast as my riding time allows, but he's an amiable, competent, easy to get along with horse, so I don't have a lot of stories coming from him.

Riding them is a joy for me, but not particularly the stuff of interesting training knots. I miss those knots. So here's my question to you guys. Should we bring the training questions back to the main blog? I've been neglecting the training page something terrible. If anybody has a training question, they can bring it up here, I'll reach back in the dusty archives and answer as best I can and we'll go from there. We can move conversations back to the training page, chances are I'll remember it's there that way.

Anyway, let me know-- now onto my post.

How often do we read, hear or say,"I have to find what my horse, dog, self, child, wants to do,"?

The theory is sweet, kind and open-minded. Thing is, I also think it's suspect.

I suspect it REALLY means, "What can I find that's easy enough for me to handle?"

Does jumping my warmblood scare the crap out of me? As a rider, if I'm scared, my horse is going to perform poorly.  If I don't want to admit I'm scared, it's easy to justify all by saying, "He's much happier since we started riding Dressage."

Which, up until recently, didn't bother me.

Except I've been learning something  from my dogs. Actually, I've been learning lots from them lately. This particular instance is finding what they are meant to do, by learning what they were bred to do.

Many of you know, I have four dogs, Charlie, a rat terrier (9), Dinah a corgi/JRT mix (15), Snocone, a mostly maltese (100), and my newest addition, Brockle, a big hairy GSD something or other (1).

Brockle is a wonderful dog. He lives life large, has become my devoted guardian and assistant, and has a wicked sense of humor. He is also a rotten, bumbling, arrogant, dominant, willful teenage boy.

Brockle is not the most dog I have shared my life with -- that would be my wolf hybrid Scott, from twenty years ago-- but he is the smartest, at least from a human perspective. He is still a lot of dog, and in order to avoid the mistakes I made with Scott, I went to a professional dog trainer for help.

I was lucky enough to have made the acquaintance, through my job at the FV newspaper, with the Colorado Springs newspaper's dog training columnist. He's a GSD trainer who specializes in Schutzhund training and I have always liked his philosophy on people and dogs. So he was where I went to for help.

We're a good match, he read Brockle where I couldn't and was able to help me understand how he ticks. He also plays some pretty hard core heavy metal and shouts "Free beer!" every time Brockle does something spectacular. Hard man not to like.

It became clear very quickly Brockle is mentally all GSD. Physically, he moves and responds the same too, so he's been an easy read for my trainer. It's been harder for me, I'm not familiar with the breed, other than admiring the working shepherds at the FVPD. Needless to say, I've been having a blast, because I get to untie knots again, and I'm learning something new.

I have learned Brockle is a sensitive, dominant dog with an unusual focus on all things Mugs. HMT (Heavy Metal Trainer) told me he has only come across one other dog in his career with such single minded focus on his owner. This is good and bad, good because I always know where Brockle is, bad because he is so non-responsive when being handled by others.

HMT starts new training with games and treats. Really, really, good treats. Brockle will play them with him, but slowly, and he looks back at me every two or three seconds. Within a minute or so Brockle breaks away from the task and comes back to me. This makes it hard for HMT to teach me our next step, because like the Big K, he's more of a "show it" than a "say it" kind of trainer.

We're getting it though and Brockle is sharp enough and motivated enough for us to continue on into the actual Schutzund training. One of you guys suggested I look into Schutzhund when I was first wallowing around for training help, whoever that was, THANK YOU!

Anyway, I really do have a point here, bear with me.

Brockle still charges dogs. His recall is perfect...unless he sees a dog. Then his eyes glaze over and he's gone. Straight as an arrow he flies with astounding speed, straight at his target, and pounces on it. He hasn't hurt one yet, but there is a lot of snarling, snapping and slobber involved and completely freaked out dog owners.
Then he spins around and flies back to me.

He's doing really well as far as ignoring them on leash or his 30 foot training line, but I still don't have him off leash.

He understands and obeys "Leave it!" for people, livestock, birds, anything and everything, but not other dogs. It's driving me nuts.

HMT is not a Positive Response only type trainer. Like me, he believes animals need to understand the concept of consequence. He didn't faint, freak or stone me when I asked if we needed to try a shock collar.
He did however, tell me to hold off. I didn't get an explanation, but being well broke by the Big K, I didn't question him, I just did what I was told.

I also started watching Schutzhund competitions on Youtube. At first I just watched with my mouth a little open and the thought, I'll never be able to get him to do this. After a while though, I started to really see the dogs work. I watched them over and over, until I felt like I was getting a feel for the energy. I'm not even close to understanding good runs vs. bad ones, unless they're obvious, but I'm beginning to see the forest.

The next time I lost Brockle to a dog launch it was a poor unsuspecting little brown dog and her owner at least the length of a football field away. As he blew off my "Leave it!" and took off like he'd been shot out of a cannon, I had time to admire how fast and true he was flying at the now screaming lady and her dog.

It hit me like a coyote on a cat. Brockle looked exactly like the dogs in the Schutzhund competitions during the protection tests. Straight, powerful and %100 percent focused on the task at hand -- taking out the bad guy.

He wasn't being bad, he was doing what he has been bred to do (however haphazardly), protecting me.
It was suddenly clear to me why HMT didn't want me to use a shock correction and why I couldn't break through Brockle's obsessive need to launch.

More tomorrow, I've got to take Jim to the Doc.


  1. Great post and I can't wait to read the follow up. Grrrrr...on the way you ended this. ;) :P.

    I also really like what you said about fear. It's something that hasn't occurred to me, but when I read it just now, it was a total ding ding ding moment. I never felt fearful on a horse, ever, until I was dumped in the show ring after my horse unexpectedly went on a bucking spree. Since that time I've had a lot of issues with my own assertiveness on a horse and it's really upsetting as I've been riding since before I could walk, literally. Anyway, I could go on and on...but won't. Anywhoo...thanks. I need to stop using my fear as a crutch for why my horse isn't doing this or that.

  2. Yeah, I have an Aussie, he's more mellow now that he's 13, but the dog chasing was the reason I quit agility and flyball. In flyball, if there was another dog on course, he didn't stay in his own lane, he'd either chase the other dog or run into them head on and grab their ball. He never hurt anyone, he just didn't understand that the dog with the most balls did NOT win.

    In agility, we had a couple of standard poodles, and he seemed to think they were sheep who shouldn't be on the agility course.

    Your GSD trainer sounds like a fun guy.

  3. I like your trainer and I haven't even met him! Great that you found a trainer that understands your dog and is helping you through the dog 'issues' you are having off leashbedore it becomes something more. We recently had a horrific dog fight in our neighborhood involving a GSD and a Jack Russell. GSD off leash and unsuspecting JRT & owner at the mailbox got chewed up badly when it made a beeline across the parking lot. The GSD was impounded by Animal Control and has been deemed a dangerous dog and must be muzzled at all times when outdoors. It stinks for all involved but most of all for the GSD, a darn nice looking dog that I'm sure could have been properly trained by the right person and not been in this situation at all.

  4. This is the type of writing that I love; well-written, flow to the story, and it makes you go 'hmm", ie, think.

    You're a very talented writer (amount other things) and so glad to see you posting again.

    Keep it up!

  5. OK, now I really want to hear about Scott the wolfdog; I know one, and he is one of the most fascinating and difficult creatures I've ever met - sweet, funny, scary smart in both animal and human ways, but totally lacking any sense of what might be termed guilt. He was fortunate enough to end up with an understanding person (who had no idea what he was when she got him), who tolerated his three and a half year long holy terror stage and has managed to turn him into a good boy. Most of the time. I would love to hear what your experience was like. That's right. Another thing someone wants you to write about:)

  6. My Pug is learning how to chase chickens out of the corn field! I don't think that's what you meant by finding what they're meant to do.

    Although, on the topic of zeroing in on another dog... the Pug once assaulted a great big Samoyed cross. That was a weird apology. At least he doesn't attack the chickens.

  7. Oh also! Big fan of Heavy Metal Dog trainer already!

  8. Great post, Mugs, but what I'm really excited about is training questions coming back to the blog! The feel over there on the training page just isn't the same, and, since there's no easy way to tell what the topics of the posts are, there was a lot of repeats. Can't wait :D

  9. Redhorse - I also have an Aussie, at what point did yours start to mellow? Mine is 6, and still as high strung as when he was a pup.

    He is pretty good about leaving things he's told not to chase (which has saved him from more then one run in with porcupines), but he's got crazy focus when there is a ball, or stick, or Frisbee, to the point of knocking people over and running into the side of my truck (yes, he's done that a few times) in order to chase a thrown toy.

    I had never seen a dog with such intent focus before this one. And heaven forbid I catch a horse and bring out of the pasture and then not go riding. He's so intense about it that we spell out r-i-d-e-ing in his presence or he whines for hours. The words go and trucking can create a similar response.

    He's smart enough to have figured out how to use my ADHD to his advantage, leaves more water on the floor then he gets in his mouth when he drinks, splashes in every mud puddle he can find, then cries when he gets a bath over it, but he's mine and I love him.

    Although last night I told my boyfriend that the next time I go pick out a puppy, I'm going to take one of the ones that's jumping on me, not the one sitting in the mud puddle with the 'dee dee dee' look on his face.

  10. Heidi - If he's a good chicken chaser I'd be developing it.
    Charlie, all 20 pounds of him, became a very adept cattle dog.
    We were trying to train one from two Aussie, a border collie and Charlie. He's the only one who worked out.

  11. Well I didn't expect this - he likes to chase anything that moves, because he likes to play. Pugs aren't known for being great farm dogs! But hey if it works, it works. We can all be surprised at what we're good at right?

  12. Yes, yes and yes. My ADD is so much worse this time of year. Longer day length means out of bed earlier, sitting at work thinking about 15 things I could be doing outside/at the farm, and non-super-busy time of year at work leads to normal multi-tasking becoming ridiculously complex ...

    Horses and 'jobs'... has become one of my pet peeves, as well. I had a Paso that was (according to the cowboys), a better cow horse than 98% of the quarter horses on the property. One of the Hancock mares we trained went to a 4-H rider, and while she does all the events (as the kids tend to do), the mare's true skill lies in hunter over fences. No one would've guessed either of those by looking at the breed or type of horse. I hear people say 'he doesn't LIKE the trail' or 'she doesn't LIKE the cows' - well, maybe. But, you don't spend the time riding them where they spook, stop, or act like they want to go back to the barn - that's the rider's fear / hesitation / lack of comfort allowing the horse to make his own decisions.

    Would very much like to see some training questions addressed on the main blog.

  13. Skittle,

    he started to mellow around 10 or 11, around the time he started to get arthritis. Six is young.

  14. Redhorse - So I have some time to wait then... *sigh* lovely lol...

    I had to laugh at him this morning, he fell asleep between the couch and the coffee table and was stuck on his back wiggling for 5 minutes till he figured out how he got in there to get back out. He's entertaining at least...

  15. I have a training question if I may.

    I'm in my second summer of learning reining and retraining an 8 year old gelding. He knows his job but hasn't been taught it well in all areas. We're getting through that with my trainer. He's not the problem. I can't time my sliding stops. My trainer's advice is go with the feel of the back end. As in when it's 'up', the moment you ask for a lead change. But I'm inconsistent and I'm worried about the confidence my horse now has in me being ruined.

    Have you, mugs, or anyone else tips for this? I come down the pen repeating 'now, now, now' in my head and still only get it half the time.

  16. "HMT is not a Positive Response only type trainer. Like me, he believes animals need to understand the concept of consequence"
    this is a classic response from those who don't understand operant conditioning. There are *always* consequences.