Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Learned Helplessness: Ours or Theirs?

     Holy smokes, Mugs has risen from the dead, whacked me awake and told me to git to writin'.
An article shared with me by an old time reader (I think?) and FB friend, Laurie Herzig, got my motor running.
Read this excellent article first, then I'll come in behind it.


    This article refers to a state the author identifies as learned helplessness.  I have always called this sorry mess "shut down," and will continue to through my post. Beckham brings up some interesting points about how we create a shut down horse, where it shows up, and how a shut down horse can bite a rider in the butt when it comes out of it.

   If you walk through the stalls at a major equine event, dressage, reining, reined cow horse, hunter/jumper, any of them, you can find a shut down horse, maybe several, depending on the discipline.

   The shut down horse is the one with his head jammed low in the corner and his butt to the door. Every time you pass by, the horse will be in the same spot. If he's eating, it's listless, just an uninterested nibble. You can talk and coo all you want, this horse doesn't respond.

   In my world, I observed this state, for the most part, in pleasure horses and, I'm sad to say, reining horses. I would see them here and there elsewhere, but those were the horses who seemed to give it up the most.

   The best dude and children's lesson horses spend a lot of their life shut down. I boarded at a roping barn with a very successful trainer on site. Although we all agreed a one armed "lady" roper would be a sight to see, I saw too many dead-eyed horses to be willing to spend much time with them and, truth be told I value my remaining thumb too much.

   Beckham discusses ways to shut horses down. Tying their heads around, tarping, tying them down, endless drills, running them to exhaustion, I think that's most of them.
   Here is where I'd like to push some.

   Running a horse to exhaustion will cripple your horse, blow up the blood vessels in their lungs and all kinds of other delightful things, but unless you kill them, once they air up, they'll go again. Endless circles, again, having been there, done that, is only boring to us, and then, only if we quit working the horse. A perfect circle is about so much more than mindless loping, the only time it's boring for horse and rider is if the rider makes it that way.

   These activities are about movement. They make sense to the horse, even when pushed to exhaustion. Could you break them down? I guess, but it would be physical more than mental. Horses get running, it's what they do.

   Shut down happens when there is no escape. No chance for flight and too much punishment to fight. Shut down happens from brutal treatment, from a trainer or the guy on five acres who is going to show the world he's in charge.

   Not all pleasure or reining horses are surviving through learned helplessness. It's the ones who spend hours with their heads tied up to make them so sore they won't lift them. It's the horses who are ridden with their mouths tied shut, their heads trapped by draw reins and sometimes a little something across their poll, to complement the twisted wire snaffle in their mouth. Add that to constant pressure from spur and leg to drive those hind legs deeper and you've got a recipe for a horse just giving up. It's never offering a true release. If and when the horse fights back, then they are torn a new one until they comply. It's called shit training. Anybody can do it.

   If you want to add to the stress and feelings of never being able to escape, keep them in a box stall. Only bring them out to train on, then put them back. Never give them down time. If you have to go out of town for two weeks, leave strict orders to leave them in their stalls. Then, if they're restive, beat them some more and tie them close without food or water until they're ready to work.

   Even then, horses, being the rock stars that they are, will still try, will still carry a spark. It's hurting them for no reason. It's creating a world with no sun, no time with other horses, no place to stretch out and run, or play. or sleep. It's using pain as a training method, more pain for discipline and more pain just because.

   Let's go to my favorite activity to hate. Mustang makeovers. Trainers have 100 days to train their mustang and then compete for who's mustang will do the most useless shit in an arena full of screaming spectators.
   The horses that win are the ones who are already dead. At least in their mind. They will do anything that's asked of them, just so they aren't hurt any more. The announcer will talk about the love between the horse and trainer. What an amazing crock of crap.
   A healthy mustang is not, I repeat not, going to ride in a car, carry a flag, and kiss his trainer after 100 days without making a deal with the devil in order to survive.
   Then, the horses are auctioned off to people green enough to think this is a good idea. They get the horse home and BAM! two months, two weeks or two days later, the 'stang comes back to life, and boy, is he pissed. See, he was never trained, he went away into his head, waited to die, then got brought back by the kindly new owner. Except, now that he can think again, well, he's not impressed.
   There will be some good ones there, I'd be looking at the losers horses. The ones with an alert expression, a little jumpy, but manageable, the one with a nice walk, trot, lope, and stop. The one that will travel a straight line and hold a circle. Because that's the horse that was started right. That's the horse who thinks life on the domestic side is pretty damn interesting.
   Finally, I can see "my horse was shut down," becoming the new, "my horse as abused," excuse for bad behavior. This concerns me.
   When someone buys a well-trained horse that begins to act the shit after a few months, it's probably not because the horse was abused before. It's more likely you didn't take the five free lessons the trainer offered when you bought the horse. Or because you're not quite there when it comes to feel and you missed that stuck out rib as you came into your lead change. Or, you toss him out on forty acres and assume the horse has enough round pen reasoning to let you walk right up and slap a halter on them.
   A shut down horse can't learn. They're gone. The rider can force it through the motions, but it will never have the spark of a champion. It won't offer a perfect circle that took hours to create and intense communication between horse and rider. Shut down horses don't communicate. Judges don't reward the broken, spiritless horse. They can see it from the stands and hate it as much as we do. Good trainers will tell you to turn a shut down horse out for six months, then bring them back, because they can't fix broken.
   As a buyer, there are signs you can look for. The horse is dull eyed, and doesn't acknowledge or move away from you. He is dull to handle and ride. Doesn't look around when outside, or leading to the tie rail. Doesn't show interest in anything, but is still obedient in all ways. Don't buy that one.

That's all I got.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

I Saw a Dog

Clare and I were at our local animal shelter a week ago. She was wanting a second barn cat and it looked like she had found a keeper. A slight, white female, gentle, with no sign of claws or teeth during her frantic efforts to grab Clare's hand through the bars.

The cat was dumped as a teenager in a North-end neighborhood, then spent a year begging for hand-outs and pumping out kittens. The North-end is traffic heavy, loaded with coyotes, foxes and children, and cold as hell. After surviving all these challenges, somebody finally took pity on her and brought her to the pound.

We adopted a sweet, loving cat, now known as Rowena, who impressed us all by being immediately attracted to my 2-year-old grandaughter, Hazel. She's a cat-broke kid and loved her back just as much. This was a fairy tale placement as far as our animal shelter folks were concerned. They like my family. Over the forty years that we have bought various pets from them, we have never returned one, or given one up. We're gold star used-dog and cat buyers.

While Clare was busy falling in love and filling out paperwork on her (now Hazel's) cat, I was hanging out with Hazel, playing climb the chairs and American Bandstand Revival. I'm not technically allowed at the pound, since I tend to come home with something, but Clare was keeping me on a short leash and Hazel had control of the remote. It was all good, but I saw a dog.

A very pregnant young woman, with a toddler and a medium/small black dog in tow, came through the door and stopped at the Animal Intake desk. I glanced, then forgot the interpretive magic-Gaia- witch-dance Hazel and I were doing. There was something about that little black dog.

She was sleek and shiny black. Maybe twenty to twenty five pounds, about knee-high to the fairly short woman who held her leash. She had kind of a whippet thing going on, but sturdier, beautifully muscled, clean legged,  and a high, arched neck. Her head was broad, her muzzle square, and she had a set of alert drop ears. Her eyes were large and brown, set well into her face, not bulgy or weepy, just crackling with curiousity and intelligence.

There was no hesitation in the dog, she watched people and critters equally, yet she never tugged on her leash. She looked up at the woman often, her relaxed tail whip-like wagging a polite question, would wait a few beats, and when she got no response, would go back to watching the activity arund her. She was alert, but not afraid, calm, but ready to go.
This was my kind of dog, she made my heart hurt, she was so much my kind of dog. I even asked about her.

"I found her in my yard," the woman said. We're on a busy street, and when she was still there a few hours later, I brought her here. I didn't want her to get hit."

Which was good. I can hope this fine dog will find her people. She vibrated with good health and good cheer, somebody had to be missing her.

On our way home, I thought about how I choose my dogs. I have mutts, and I have purebreds. One of them is quite fancy. They are different shapes and sizes, different hair coats and colors. All of them met the criteria I just wrote about. All of them are great, healthy dogs, each with their own unique approch to life.

They may come from different backgrounds and sizes, but they all share the same things that draw me in. Well built, athletic, active and smart. I don't care if they are mutts or responsibly bred  whatevers. If they draw me in, then that's how it goes. I haven't been let down yet.

I'm tired of the battles,  "Adopt, don't shop vs. Responsibly bred purebreds." I find them sanctimonious and boring. I am not a pro. I am however, observant, responsible, and experienced. If I buy a pup I want to look at the parents. Then I see the puppies.
If I buy a mutt, I look for the same things I would in purebred parents. Then I meet the dog. I have criteria. I am smart enough, and savvy enough to not listen to the spiel coming from the dedicated volunteer, or breeder. I can trust my gut because it's been tempered with experience.

There is a certain look in a second-hand dog that I wait for. It's when they look me in the eye with an invitation. In my mind, the dog is saying, "Let's blow this joint and go do some shit." Whatever it really means, I don't care, I still reach for the credit card. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Brockle - Protection Dog Fail

My boy Brockle grew up some in the last few years. He filled out and came into his own as my right hand dog. He still spends much of his spare time watching me and the rest of his time walking at my side.

Thanks to my excellent trainer (HMT), protection work taught me a lot about my dog. By channeling Brockle's aggression, I was able to gain control of it. By gaining control I was able to discover how much he didn't want to bite. Brockle doesn't want to bite anyone, or anything for that matter.

If he felt danger approaching he would become anxious.  At least he did if I was on the other end of the leash, he was perfectly willing to let the HMT be eaten by the bad guy (decoy). He would offer every kind of delay tactic he could think of, while becoming more and more agitated. Finally he'd explode and go after the decoy with everything he had.

Brockle will go down in history as the dirtiest biter the HMT ever came across. This is not a good thing. Dirty biters refuse to honor the protective sleeve they are trained to grab.

He was never rushed. We were several months into obedience, playing tug and encouraging prey drive before he went to defense. Still, the first time he actively defended me, something triggered and he began to try to bite in earnest.

Brockle would knock the sleeve aside and go for the throat, belly, thigh or groin. He would slither up under it and go for the face. It got to where he wouldn't play with the sleeve anymore. He was becoming wary of our decoys, even his best friends.  Brockle didn't see protection work as an amped up tug-of-war like the other dogs. He saw people he trusted acting in a threatening manner. My dog was not amused. In his defense, he always listened to my "Leave it!" and faded off, it seemed like he was relieved.

We decided to back off and just play ball on our weekly workouts.

My good friend, Batman, was always one of Brockle's favorites too. He worked on our place most week-ends and the two of them put in a lot of ball time. He was also a kick ass decoy - the last one willing to work my dog.

Batman offered to play with Brockle. After all, he wasn't geared up, what could go wrong?
He threw the ball out in the field, and my dog bounced after it, his tail a flag wagging in the wind. He scooped up the ball, Batman called, "Good boy!" and clapped his hands. Brockle bounced over, all happy and cute, until he was maybe a yard from our friend, spit the ball out and leaped for his groin. He caught his jeans, but not any skin. Like I said, dirty biter.

That was the day we ended protection training.

We still went to training, but now it was to bring him down. To make friends with the people he felt had crossed the line. A lot of ball, a lot of obedience work and tons of ball slowly brought him back.

As the summer progressed we did the same at home with the crew working on my barn. Batman was there to keep an eye on things and I figured out his triggers. By fall, Brockle was almost back to normal. His recall was about perfect, I could put him on and call him off and he was reliably friendly with the people coming in and out of our place.

He will nip the goats when I tell him to "Put em'up!" He will air snap at a horse trying to slip out a gate and he still fights with my rat terrier Charlie. That, of course, is still Charlie's fault. He'll chase down a rabbit, roll it and let it go, just like he used to do in the dog park. Like the many dogs he rolled, the rabbits don't appreciate him-even if he doesn't want to bite.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


A few months ago I had a knock-down-drag-out with my daughter. It was the kind of fight often seen in families, where old hurts and unspoken resentments jumped out, swirled together, obliterated the original point, and turned into a flying shit-show. Lucky me, we conducted the entire fight through text, so I had proof of how right I was.

The next day was therapy day, and I immediately began bitching to my therapist, Wonder Woman. I couldn't wait to rat out Clare, and triumphantly handed her my phone with the message exchange.

"Well, wait a minute," Wonder Woman said two sentences in, "you're every bit as bad is she is."

"Wait, what?" I said. "She was wrong."

"That's not the point, you let her pull you into arguments about everything except the subject at hand. You two got mad enough to quit speaking without ever getting the very simple yes or no answer you needed."

"She was still wrong."

"How many times have we been through this?" Wonder Woman said. "You two are masters of misdirection. You started bringing up old issues that had nothing to do with the matter at hand."

"You're supposed to be on my side." Petulance is allowed in therapy.

"This has nothing to do with taking sides and I am on to you. Focus on the matter at hand." Wonder Woman takes no prisoners.

I sat back and thought for a minute. Then I had one of those awesome break through that make all my years of mind untangling worth it. "This is just like colt starting, hell, it's like all horse training."

Wonder Woman put her head in her hands. "Mugs, you make me tired."

"No, this isn't misdirection, this is awesome. Just listen. Let's say I start a colt, or take on a problem horse, the key to getting things done is staying on task. If I want the horse to go forward, I have to keep that task clear in my mind no matter how the horse tries to change the subject.

"If the horse goes backwards instead of forward, I have to keep my goal of moving forward clear in my head and not begin dealing with the fact we're going in reverse."

"How do you keep moving forward without dealing with the backward?" Wonder Woman asked.

Ha! I had her!

"I just keep thinking forward. There's different methods, it's mainly getting the horse's feet going the right direction. If I keep my goal clear, the second I feel those feet take even a single step in the right direction, I can release the horse from my cues. Even if I release for a split second, it registers. Forward feet - good, backing feet - bad.

"What if the problem escalates?" Wonder Woman asked.

"Nothing changes. If the horse bucks, think about not falling off of course, but getting those feet moving forward will smooth things out a lot quicker."

"How would you apply this thinking with Clare?" Wonder Woman is pretty good when it comes to redirection.

"Wait a minute," I said, "this thinking applies to the dogs too. I can't believe If I'm working on a recall, I can't let the dog misdirect me with say, fence-running with the neighbors dog, it's about the recall. Or, maybe when I'm trying to clean up our heel work, if I stay focused on just a butt swing, and reward increments, instead of worrying about the entire picture, I'll probably get a lot more done in less time.

  "This will help me with Brockle turning his cues into ways to manipulate me. I've been so blown away by his even thinking of ways to using his training against me, I've been misdirected into not getting anything accomplished. Ha! The rat bastard. I can't wait to go work on this stuff."

"Well, you can go on ahead," Wonder Woman said, "we're out of time and you've managed to completely duck the issue with Clare."

"Oh really? Gee, I'm sorry. Well then, thanks and see you next week."

Wonder Woman gave me a weary wave of her hand. "Just go."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Tiny Dog

I have a chihuahua. There, I admit it. Can't believe those words were ever put on a page I'm responsible for, but there you go.

Her name is Triscuit. She tops out at seven pounds, so she's not a tiny chi, although I'm pretty sure one of my feet would weigh more. She has ridiculously dainty feet and she walks like a model on the cat walk. Her eyes bulge every bit as much as a tree frog and her tiny mouth can't hold all her teeth. There is a giant vet bill in my near future. She has the ear-splitting yap all chi's seem to treasure and humps the pillows on my couch.

Triscuit isn't one to toe the line. She's a free spirit and feels no need to honor the rules my scrum of dogs are expected to follow. When all my dogs sit and wait for a cookie, Triscuit stands, looking impatient. If I really focus and try to actually teach her to sit, she will offer the stupid ballerina dance all chi's seem to have as their go to. Or, she'll stand. If it's rainy, cold, windy or too hot she poops in the house.

I have heard many times that if a chi was the size of a pit bull they would the most dangerous dog on the planet. It's a funny, I've noticed this broad generalization usually comes from folks that normally stand firm on "It's the owner, not the breed!" beliefs, but in this case, they're right. If chis were the size of pit bulls they would be plotting world domination-and would probably succeed.

When Triscuit came to live with us, she was a very bad dog. If we were going somewhere in the car, she would bolt as soon as I opened a door, and leave. Gone, baby gone. If she escaped from our yard, which she did on a regular basis, she would hang around until somebody called her, then, ZIP!!, gone again. She stole food off of plates, begged until she was picked up and then bit us in the face. She attacked joggers and any child under ten, completely living up to the name "ankle biter." She guarded laps like a Romanian stray with a big meaty bone.

My first training effort was to simply park her butt on the floor and treat her like the other dogs. Then, I ignored her. One of the benefits of having a scrum of dogs is how much they vie for my attention. Pushing, snapping, growling dogs don't get any. Fighting, biting dogs get put outside. Quiet dogs, that sit patiently, get their chin and chest scratched. It's simple, but it works for me.

My ignoring technique gives me time to think about each dog, the trouble they're causing, and what might be the root of the problem. Triscuit is too small. Her life is spent being stepped on, sat on, scooped up by people she doesn't know, pushed aside by other dogs, and dealing with a strong prey drive, when she herself is the size of most prey. Being tiny rightfully pisses her off.

Triscuit liked living on the floor and acclimated to staying out of the way quickly. It soon became apparent she hated human faces shoved into hers. Think about it. If my head was the size of a tennis ball and some old denture-breath snatched me up and stuck her face close enough to count her blackheads, I'd bite her too. The people rule became, "Don't pick up the chihuahua." Ear scratches, a little butt rub and she was content.

After a month of giving her space, she started asking, politely, to sit on our laps. A month after that
she would snuggle under a willing chin. The growling, biting, shaking behavior stopped. At the first ear flick of lap guarding, she was back on the floor. Once she started craving contact I had a training tool that worked.

I finally got a recall by being happy to see her every time I stepped outside and then, let her stay outside. She loves being outside. I have a feeling tiny dogs spend their lives being clutched, shoved back or locked in. Triscuit was delighted when she found out she got an enthusiastic greeting every time I called and it didn't stop her fun.

My chihuahua is crazy brave. She faced an angry pair of goats and a rattler with grim determination. A young hawk swooped towards her one morning and before he could strike she spun and sunk her deformed, nubby teeth into his chest. He shrieked, my big dog Brockle hit him with everything he had and we had an ugly few seconds before the hawk left without his breakfast. Triscuit was scared witless and came flying to me. I held her close and picked several feathers out of her mouth. She learned to stay close to Brockle and I, but she didn't hide.

She is still an escaping, egg stealing, trouble making shit, but she's kind of cool. Still is not a dog I would have chosen, but my husband, Jim, did. She was his constant friend during the last two years, as illness and dementia claimed my once strong and funny biker dude. Triscuit lived in his lap. When he was bed-ridden, she lay by his side, always ready to snog his cheek and share his lunch. She was polite with the hospice workers but kept a close eye. The night he died, she sat with me, confused, while Jim was loaded for transport. When the engine started she bolted, faster than she ever escaped from my car. The transporters barely got the door shut in time. As the hearse pulled away
Triscuit screamed, the shriek of a dying rabbit. I was sure she'd been hurt. She raced from window to window repeating her unearthly wail until the other dogs began to howl. In the past, I would never humanize a dog to the point of saying their heart could break. I will now. Her pain was too real for me to take in. When the tail lights blinked out of sight, she turned to me, broken with sorrow and curled next to me on the couch. That is why I have a chihuahua.

Triscuit moved to my bed and sleeps with me at night. She is still quiet, and sad much of the time, but this morning, she went after the goats with everything she had. Her tail was curled high and her yap as obnoxious as ever.  I'm thinking we'll be all right.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Diving In

The dog people on FB make me absolutely nuts.

I belong to several different kinds of dog groups.

For the most part, they consist of a group of people sharing mutual ideas about a small piece of the dog world. Then, they name the group, close it, and chat back and forth until they feel secure in the righteousness of their opinions.

People are drawn to this opinion and ask to join because they agree, want to learn, or, God help them, have a different thought process. The group lets them in. As the population grows, the trolls show up and it turns into the same kind of shit show we used to enjoy on FHOTD.

I've learned to sift through this stuff and separate the smarts from the adamant. There are certain phrases that set the alarms flashing and the red flags waving.

Cesar is shit!

Cesar is God!

Positive reinforcement is the only way to train.

Shock collars are evil.

Shock collars are the most efficient way to train.

You can only train with a clicker.

Dog Parks are terrible!

Dog Parks are wonderful!


Nanny dog

Adopt don't shop

The only way to know what you're getting is to buy a purebred.

Responsible Breeder


My dog was abused.

My dog was a bait dog.


Fake Service Dog

My dog is 47% wolf

Designer Dogs are nothing but mutts.

Of course my new dog is a rescue.

I feed raw.

That's probably not all, but I sure have a bunch of potential posts.

Dogs don't pack.

Dogs don't dominate.

P.S. I don't like pit bulls.

OK. I Give Up

I just can't stand it.

I'm gonna have to get back into the fray.

I have been through a difficult time. It brought me down far enough that I wasn't writing, riding, drawing, reading or listening to music.

My life was whittled down to my own health issues, which have become fairly impressive, but most important, caring for my dying husband.

Eight years ago he had a debilitating stroke. In one terrifying night I learned the man I had spent a large portion of my adult life with was gone. He was physically and mentally changed forever and would need care around the clock.

I quit both my job at a small town newspaper and my growing writing career.

It's been a long haul and my cache of stories was buried deep.

When this chapter of my life gave up it's big reveal, it made the previous ones seem inconsequential. My writing faded and then disappeared. I ended this year figuratively broken and literally just about dead.

Lucky me, it's not the end of my story.

I did not spend all my time being Mother Theresa. I still have my two favorite horses. I'm still able to throw a leg over the saddle, but there's been some enormous setbacks.

I began studying dogs. Some of you know Brockle, my big hairy menace and there have been several additions to my scrum of canines. It's been quite the learning experience.

This is part of the reason I'm back on the blog. FB just pisses me off. It's not a place for discussion. It's a place for attack and counter attack. I certainly will not be caught dead offering an opinion on any of the pages I haunt.

Which brings me back to the Mugwump Chronicles. Here, I can say what I think. As always, discussion will be welcomed, and I can delete the trolls, or feed them to you guys. I'm not going to have a grand re-opening, I'll just let it unfold and see where it takes me, just like I did the first time.

My purpose is identical to when I beganthis blog. It's to practice my writing, exorcise some demons and tell some stories. Oh, and I've got some opinions, but that's probably not a surprize.

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