Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just Can't Stop That Trainer Brain.

I've been absorbing all things dog with the same obsession I did horses, many years ago when it became clear I was a horse trainer.

I was asked by a reader when I knew I was ready to call myself a horse trainer. I took lessons from a trainer (pre-Big K) who spelled it out for me.

1. I had three horses, other than my own I was training for outside clients.
2. I was required by AQHA, NRCHA, NRHA and NCHA to show only in the open classes.
3. Horse training was my primary source of income on my taxes.

Until then, I said I gave riding lessons and sometimes rode for people. I'd been doing that off and on since I was 16. I was almost 40 when I accepted the moniker of horse trainer/riding instructor.

When it was spelled out that I was in fact teaching horses stuff that other people didn't know, a crushing sense of responsibility hit me. I only knew what I knew...I wasn't current on any of the show stuff, or the new horse whispery stuff, I was just an old school, trail ride, riding club participant.

My obsessive, guilt ridden personality latched on and I began to learn. I worked for free if the horse was a chance at a new experience. I schmoozed with trainers, hounded the ones that would let me, read, watched videos and practiced. My theory was (still is) if somebody knew more than me in any horse-related area than they had something to offer and I was going to pry it out of them.

By the time the big K got hold of me, I had done the pleasure horse/western riding/ trail thing, was still reining and had taken every bad mannered problem horse I could get my hands on. I started lots of youngsters and could turn out a calm, rideable horse with three good gaits, leads and a stop in 6 weeks. I had a pretty steady business. Thank goodness I had done the preparatory work, because my education was just beginning.

So here I am, doing it again with dogs. Brockle is the reason why.

Here's a list of the descriptions given to me of my dog from the professionals I've encountered since I've gotten him.

Scary smart. High drive. Reactive. Sensitive. Bully. Resource Guarding (I'm the resource BTW). Owner focused. OCD -- as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Gentle. Kind. Dog-aggressive. Anxious. Dirty Biter. Tentative. Bold. Problem solving.

None of these descriptions were said in a negative way. It might help explain why I needed help. It is definitely the reason I have been immersed in dog behavior studies.

I'm keeping a journal with the goal of logging 1000 hours of dog behavior observation. Some of it is my own group of dogs. For now, I'm not calling them a pack, more on that later. I have four. They give me a nice variety in size, age, and attitude. I'm studying dog park dogs too, but it won't be my sole focus for behavior. Dog park dogs are a type within themselves. I'm also looking at country dogs, single dogs and hopefully, will get a chance to study some of the strays in the East End of Houston Texas this spring. They've been on their own long enough to be multi-generational.

I'm honing my observation skills and learning the correct terminology from the FB page - Observation Skills for Training Dogs ( Thanks Nannette.

Where am I at now?

The #1 difference between dog training and horse training.

Dogs want to move to you for their release.
Horses want to move away.

Says a lot, doesn't it?


  1. I love hearing about your journey with the dogs.

    Your posts about your revelations as you work with Brockle have mirrored my experience as I worked with a fearful, undersocialised, aggressively obsequious, dog aggressive, handler focused, intense, elderly-but-spry jack russell who wanted nothing more but to be by my side and would work her butt off for me from sunup to sundown, trying her best every single day to figure out what I wanted and how to give it to me. She wasn't doing it out of love or loyalty, but because she had a brain and needed it to be used, to be challenged, and as I provided order to her environment, she realised that I could give her other things she needed as well.

    It was actually your discussions of pressure and release with horses that made me a better dog trainer. It has allowed me to read dogs better, to find the correct level of engagement faster, to use pressure constructively, to communicate cleanly with my body, to be quiet and clear so that once the dog I am working with learns the rules the barest flick of the eyes or twist of the wrist can deter or course correct or invite all sorts of things.

    Horses have always seemed mystifying to me because of my lack of time around them, but I still love the window that your unique perspective gave me. Now that you're talking dogs, I feel so lucky to have that perspective opening up on one of my very favourite topics.

  2. "Dogs want to move to you for their release.
    Horses want to move away."

    Dogs are predators, horses are prey?

    I'm in the opposite place as Stacey. Horses make sense to me, are easy to communicate with, and seem to want to do what I ask. Dogs just exist with me. I'm in "new dog" mode, too, with a now 11 week old mini-Australian Shepard who is extremely people socialized, not very dog socialized, and is scary smart, and just seems to do, without being asked, pretty much the "right thing."

    He is intensely amusing to watch.

  3. Stacey - I have come to realize my dogs read me like a book, and they think I'm a total Gomer.
    Sharon - My thoughts exactly. Which brings me back to my favorite horse argument. I have always felt horses view us as predators that choose not to eat them, but could -- and that pretending to be anything else not only causes confusion in training, but makes us untrustworthy.

  4. Thanks for the response. I don't feel like a trainer yet. I'm just gonna keep riding horses I know I can help and not worry about what to call it yet.

    I want to take a year off work, just ride all day, every day and be able to immerse myself like you did. Too bad I feel like I need the health insurance for my kids....probably only because the rest of the family treats me like I abuse them for having a "hobby" of my own. The 401(k) profit-sharing is like the icing on the cake. Some days I feel like I've sold my soul for 15% of my pay annually in my retirement account. And yes, we call these first world problems.

    I need to get caught up on the dog training posts. I'm sure there's a wealth of information and great stories to boot.

  5. Woah, Mugs. You got me with your last lines. I don't know what it means yet, but I know it's important. Wow. Wow!

  6. When I first started learning to ride (about five years ago) I was told we can't have the same kind of relationship with horses as we can with dogs because horses are prey and know we are predators, whereas we and dogs are predators. But, I have pet goats, and the ones who have been bottle-raised and had good experiences with people from very young are much different from those who didn't have positive early experiences with humans.

    I strongly suspect that the kind of relationship we have with horses and their general experience of humans might be at the reason for their different approach. I'm not suggesting cruelty or harsh handling, just that much of what we usually do with horses must seem so very illogical to them - going in floats, locking in stables, going out without the herd, etc, I can see why they would prefer space from us even if they like us.

    It would be very interesting to see if the same withdraw/approach patterns are seen for horses and dogs trained in non-traditional methods - eg horses trained through FT or other positive reward approaches and who have developed deep friendships with individual people, and dogs trained with strong dominance-based techniques such as those taught by Caeser Milan.