Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dogs and Horses

Happy Horses
Happy Dog

I have come to realize, when training horses, the reward comes from letting them get away. Getting away from me, from pressure of leg or rein, or away from the show pen and back to their stall, ultimately, removing my presence from their mind is the reward they seek.

My horses may come to visit me, be my friend, ask for a scratch or whinny a greeting, but at the end of the day, they want to be left with their own space, their own kind, their own thoughts.

Dogs, on the other hand, find their reward by coming closer. I think they would crawl under our skin, up our rib cage and snuggle next to our hearts if they could.

Sorting this out has helped me clarify my thoughts on training both species, although with dogs I'm still working on understanding the forest and with horses I'm starting to climb the branches of the individual trees.

I'm much more a horse than I am a dog BTW.

There is both ongoing chaos and conundrum in my house lately. It comes with the temporary residency of the Kidlette and her dogs, a 5-year-old Miniature Pincher/Italian Grayhound mix and an 8-month-old Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Kidlette calls her a Swissie, I call her a Honking Seal.
The Career Criminal

The Honking Seal

The chaos is because I now have six, count 'em, six house dogs, the MinPinIggie is a career criminal and the HonkingSeal is 65 pounds (for the next minute or so, she's gaining about 1/2 lb. a day) of rule testing mayhem.

The conundrum is a variation of a theme I've wrestled with for years. How is it I can have unspoken, untaught, taken for granted, behaviors, courtesies, rules -- I'm not even sure how to label them -- yet at the same time be totally incapable of communicating what I want?

The dogs, being my primary pain in the ass, will be my first example. If a being lives in my house, it can't eat other beings and it can't get into stuff. By stuff I mean, grocery bags, other dogs food bowls, litter boxes, small critter cages, the dog food tub, cabinets, laundry baskets, the trash, stuff like that.

I haven't taught it, it's just the way it is around here. Believe it or not, even the criminal and the seal are honoring these house rules. Don't get me wrong, I have yelled, "Hey!" or @#$%!!!! a few times while reinforcing these house rules, but rarely. I also don't push my luck. I'll leave Brockle, Dinah and Charlie alone in the car with a weeks worth of groceries, but not the others.

BUT ... The seal counter surfs and the criminal steals food off plates.

I came home this morning from a brief errand to a glass casserole dish of last nights leftovers smashed all over the floor, intermingled with the coffee pot, coffee and grounds. There was easily an hour's worth of shard sweeping, covering three rooms, plus the worry over just how much glass the little darlings ingested.

At the same time, the bag of trash I forgot to take out was sitting, open and untouched, in the middle of the floor. A large, opened bag of kibble, leaning against the dog food tub, was in the same, pristine condition.


There were tasty, glass free morsels waiting in the trash, and I had spacily left the dogs an open invitation to dine. House rules prevailed and they ignored it, but clambering all over my counters? You bet!

My horses wait like saints for me to haul my carcass up on their backs. For some reason, all of them do, and always have. I first noticed the phenomena when I was still starting colts. Even on my first ride, they would wait for me to get a leg over before they moved. Most let me get my stirrup too.

How did they know I needed them to wait and why in the world did they? How was I getting my message across? They had no problem slamming me into fence rails or bucking, ducking out from under me.

What is it?

I have the same problem/dilemma/gift/puzzle with people. I'm amazed at how I can mess things up, or not communicate the way I intend, but still have people get me in ways I thought were hidden.

I have been told, "You train the people around you how to behave towards you. Disrespect, ignoring your needs, refusing to hear you, all of this comes from the unsaid boundaries you establish - or don't."

It's all the same I think. I'm not sure how it works, how to get more or less control over it, or even what "it" is.

Sure is giving me some interesting stuff to think about though.


  1. I really think it's expectations. That can't explain it all, obviously, but it's something. Now that I'm well into my 40s, I know I'm a grown up (even if I don't always act it...) I have wrinkles and glasses. But I'll always be the size of a typical 12 year old. When I was younger I was so used to people treating me like a child because of my appearance that I expected it. Turning 40 made me stop and say, hey I'm an adult already dammit.

    I had to decide that!!! I have to remind myself!

    The thing with us humans is that we say something with our mouths and something else with our bodies. Some of us communicate better with animals because they are honest. They don't confuse us like other people do. I often think if we treated people like horses we'd be better off. Say what we mean, don't fake anything. No small talk. Smile when you're happy. Sadly, social structures keep getting in the way. I don't know... Expect respect. Could it be that easy???

    Hope those dogs didn't eat glass!!!!


  2. So glass. I think I got to it fast enough. I've just about decided I will never understand people, but if I could figure out how I'm getting some messages through (and getting the animals to cooperate) and not others....ooh la la!

  3. To my critters that is - smiley face emoticon

  4. I am also a horses first, dogs in my mid forties person. I had not even had pet dogs. I depend on the stock dogs for a living now. Like you, I “get” the horses, they just want me to leave them alone, as a reward. I have found it a struggle to try to work out how to work with the dogs, after all those years with horses. I don’t give enough positive signals to the dogs (because I am used to giving “null” to the horses as a reward).
    I have got away with a lot because I purchased really well trained stock dogs to start with. Each new dog has taken at least a year for me to get comfortable and understand how that dog works.

    “I haven't taught it, it's just the way it is around here. Believe it or not, even the criminal and the seal are honoring these house rules.”

    My “Dog Guru” who I only get to do one clinic a year with I think ( ?) would say it is about your energy. He is always getting us to not focus on the dog but project our energy where we want (the sheep) to go. The dog is supposed to read us (and work the sheep to where the boss wants the sheep to go). He says “ you are a lighthouse for your dog”.

    So the dogs are reading your behavior and emotions.

    And it is not about teaching the dog commands, but about getting the dog (and oneself) in the right mind set.

    As you go around the house daily the dogs just work things out. Teaching them without meaning to the way newbies to horses are teaching them when they are around them without intending to.

    The other thing that is really, really clear when you work with stock dogs with a lot of desire to work is, as Dog Guru says, you have to “own” the sheep. The dog has to think they are YOUR sheep.

    I purchased a very versatile and highly trained stock dog that has finaled in National Yard Dog competition. If he does not think the handler owns the sheep and have respect for the handler he wont work the sheep, he will pick one off, chase it away and kill it. In other words he is “owning” the sheep. He has different plans for them. He is a really good dog, and will do an impressive power of work, but I have to have his mind in the right place and he has to be convinced I own the sheep, not him.

    I think that might be what happened with the garbage, and the bag of dog food, and the groceries in the car. Those dogs know that those are YOUR things. The same way that dogs learn not to kill the house cat, other small furry household pets etc. But will sneak off with a pack of dogs at night and kill other people’s pets and stock.

    Also kibble is boring.

    And you sit in front of them each night and eat the most delicious things. It would be a torment to watch you eat lovely food when they are hungry for it. The food stealing might have also been a bit of a competition between dogs in the house as they get jealous of each other. Dogs will eat things they normally would not if there is a dog there they are competing with. The social order will have been disturbed recently and all the dogs will be trying to work out where they fit in. I presume they don’t pinch food off your plates while you watch, just when you are not there, so they know dinner plates are yours too, but are finding out where boundaries are and it was greater temptation than kibble.

    To be continued…

  5. “How did they know I needed them to wait and why in the world did they?”

    I think horses often live up to our expectations. It will be some vibe, or calmness, that they are reading in you, I think. I don’t think I added anything to the question there as I’m just saying what you said.

    Animals read each others’ subtle body language all the time. I am now a grazier and live with sheep, cattle, dogs and horses (and some humans). I am fascinated by how co-operative they all are, with each other and with me. They are not pets either, I mean around 3000 sheep and 140 cows plus calves, just me running them. My energy and direction shapes where they go and they get with the program, generally. It is a great mind game and I love it.

    I get a very deep satisfaction from working the animals. I direct the dog or horse, whose position, posture, speed and intensity and focus shapes the same in the other stock. The same type of thing as when you are cutting.

    Herd and predators live in a world of reading each others body language. There are the social interactions with their herd members, often silent, and those with their predators, who they also need to read. I think “feel” in horse riding might be the ability to let go and tap into this.

    I think with animals (and humans) it is the mind that shapes the world. My old clever border collie bitch can be left to work cows with calves alone. My Yard Dog the mother cows won’t tolerate at all and will knock down gates to chase him. Dog Guru says it is because they can read Yard Dogs intentions. Young ½ trained dog I put on some heifers. He went to all the right places but had not got the confidence to control them and they just chased him around. I went and got his ¼ trained brother who is confident with cattle and he whapped them into shape and gathered them like a mob of sheep. Similar bodies, different minds, different emotions, different outcomes.

    Perhaps the animals are domesticated because they are the ones that do read us and will work with us.

    I don’t know if I have answered the questions Mugs, but I think I am agreeing that it happens like that.

  6. Ozhorse - What a fascinating, awesome life, I'm a little jealous.
    I loved the interaction between cattle, horses and dogs and myself when I had it. I miss it terribly.
    When I worked alone most of the day I was able to communicate with my animal charges much better than now, with my family obligations and chaotic life. My thoughts were clearer and cleaner.

  7. I just found Ozhorse's blog. Amazing and sad, check it out guys.

  8. "Expect respect. Could it be that easy???"

    This is the idea I came upon recently when I was struggling with a few things.. my husband, who has no "training", came into horses as an adult because his daughter wanted to ride.. ended up with 5 horses who basically did what he asked them to do.. he EXPECTED them to do all the things required and they did. Were they broke to death highly trained horses .. no. Were they safe because he EXPECTED them to be? Probably a good part of it was that.. in him they had a leader who clearly asked them to "get on the trailer".. there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that they would.. unlike me, who approaches a new horse and trailer with misgivings due to tons of hours spent with tough to load horses..

    Expect them to do it.. you project the confidence.. and it happens?

    Spent and spend hours on this theory ..

  9. Ozhorse said, "Perhaps the animals are domesticated because they are the ones that do read us and will work with us."

    Fascinting. It brought to mind a study I read recently that compared interactions with humans across ferrets (domesticated), human-raised wild ferret relatives, and dogs (domesticated). Although ferrets are genetically much closer to their wild cousins, on these behavior-with-human tests, they scored much closer to dogs. Domestication trumped related-ness.

    Wild mustelids get curious about people and tame down pretty readily, probably made them a good match for domestication.

    Ozhorse, I spent a long time on your blog a good while back. Amazing, amazing.

  10. Mugs, I would love to have the time for a considered reply. Unfortunately I am still trying to catch up after the fire. The tax department is after me for nearly a years worth of Goods and Services tax statements as well as the annual return and I am inside doing excruciatingly boring, wrist slitting tax bookkeeping when I really need to be outside in the sunshine marking calves and lambs.

    After a few first posts my blog has suffered as I have so much I would like to put on the blog including some research we did on saving burnt livestock after the fire. I will get to these things in time. I have lots of pics to put in.

    I had to do a lot, a real lot, to get this place and be doing what I am.

    It is turning into the classic farming story - been here 7 years and I have had the once in 100 yrs drought AND the once in 100 yrs bushfire.

    It is a good life, I love it. But it is a case of bite off more than you can chew and chew like crazy. Oh, and I have become Jed Clampet. I liked that post but was too busy to reply.

    If it is any consolation I am jealous of your cowhorse riding and skill. That was/is a dream of mine

  11. Ozhorse - I'll read what you've got - no pressure here. If you can get an occasional break reading the stories, arguments, training stuff and silliness the resides on this blog, and share with us every now and then, that would be wonderful.
    I'm grateful for even a glimpse into a life so totally different from mine. It sparks my imagination and gets me thinking outside my box!


  12. Thanks Mugs, and others, your comments are encouraging

  13. I work with horses a lot, as my handle implies. I canNOT tell you how many times the horse owner has said, "Wow - he's never been this good before!" and I just smile at them and say "I have high expectations".

    It's true, and it WORKS!

  14. Third paragraph from the might as well have screamed that at me.

    My teenage son. He is so good for other people...walks all over me. My fault.