Saturday, November 24, 2018

Paladin and Competitive Aggression II

Paladin, with her favorite chew toy in her favorite hole.

The idea of not training a dog fascinates me. It makes sense to me in many ways, because of how I approached horse training and how my relationship develops with my dogs. Paladin is a different kind of animal. Her breed has been around for the last 4,000 years or so. They evolved according to the need for them (to guard sheep and property) and to have the smarts to do these things on their own without direction. I'm telling you, she just knows things. I just have to keep my mouth shut and watch it happen.

In the horse world, especially  western events, training starts early. When Jan 1st of a horse's second year comes around, they are automatically considered a two-year-old, even if the poor bugger was born on Dec. 31st.

A horse isn't physically or mentally mature enough to carry a rider until their third, or better yet, fourth year, but that's just not the cowboy way. The ethics behind this are better left for another day, because once I get going, it's hard for me to shut up. I brought it up for another reason.

If a trainer plans on having their two-year-old ready for a reined cowhorse futurity, a lot of information needs to pass to that baby very quickly. Because of their youth and propensity for blowing minds and tendons at that age, they can't be ridden for long in one session.

The problem for me was, I wasn't, and still am not, a fast trainer. When I waded into the pro cowhorse world it took me an average of six to eight weeks to have a decent walk, trot and lope on a colt. I needed to be there in a week.

So, I learned to drop the unnecessary things. All the stuff that the young horse could learn on the way was put to the side and I handled it as it came up. Standing tied, picking up feet, being groomed, clipped, vetted, trimmed, shod, loading, saddled, all of it was handled as I needed it done.

This eventually led to an experiment I tried on the last horse I trained (he was almost four when I started him), my personal horse, Scrub, out of a favorite mare.

I decided to show him each step of the process only once. I figured if I really thought things through, and built each new experience as a stepping stone, it should be all I needed to do. I only did one step each day. If he didn't understand, then I took it as my mistake, figured where I had missed my mark, and went back to that before I tried the failed request again. Again, another story, another day.

Back to the dog. I don't think this approach would work with dogs. A dog wants to hang with their person, repetitions are okay, as long as they come from their trainer. Horses want you to leave them alone and go back to their friends. I do think it takes a lot less repetition for a dog to learn than most people do, unless each repetition asks for a better position, or refinement.

This attitude has made it easier for me to let Paladin grow into herself and keep her training to a minimum. There have been issues though.

The first is, she's a rhino. A very happy, enthusiastic rhino. If she wants something and there's a barrier between it and her, she just lowers that giant, bony head of hers and rams her way to it. The barrier can be the gate at the top of the stairs, the entrance gate to the property, or the airspace between her and a guest, be it dog or human. She is very fast, so the speed she can get to before her happy rhino greeting is insane.

Therefore, I have made personal space and respecting boundaries a priority.

Nobody pets the dog unless she sits, and doesn't touch.
If I say off, then she better off or hell will rain down on her big rhino head.

Which brings me to her next quality. She only listens if it makes sense. To her, not me. Sometimes the only point she sees is, "Oh, if I don't listen, I might die." It only happened twice, now she gets that I do have a line she can't cross and we're doing well. No, I'm not telling what it entailed, but nobody bled or limped, so there you are.

Paladin has a ferocious, endless hunger. She will scoop up and eat anything. I'll skip the food items, including week old baby diapers, and go straight to her other favorites. Pine branches, right off the tree. Packs of cigarettes, books, magazines, upholstery, tupperware, Brockle's precious tennis balls. PVC pipe, deck furniture, bottles of carpenter glue, almost anything with my scent on it and leather. You wouldn't believe what an adventure it is to pick up poop at my place.

This has eased off, most likely because they tasted terrible, hopefully because I take things from her and snarl "Mine!" She understands that command. It makes sense to her and she respects it. She will even show me things she wants to eat.

"How about these pliers?"


"This wrench?"


"Your tool belt?"


"The chihuahua?"

On to difficulty # 365.

She wants to eat my small dogs. Seriously, I think she would kill them if I let her. Her demeanor changes if she thinks I'm not watching and she stalks them with intent.

This is a dog who, without training, allows chickens to sit on her, plays gently with the goats and naps next to them, walks through the horses every day and makes nose to nose contact with each. She guards little Hazel anytime she's alone, in the house or escaped into the horse pasture. She's even friendly with the barn cats. Yet she wants to kill my little dogs.

I was stumped, at least until I read this great article on different types of dog aggression, on a blog I was just turned on to, fuzzylogicdog.

"But in nature, competitive aggression means aggression to remove ecological competitors. I believe this covers a pretty wide range of competition, from sexual competition (rams trying to kill each other in breeding season) to food/territory competition (coyotes kill dogs for this reason). The competitor is outside the animal’s social group and there is no percentage in NOT fighting — there is no social harmony to maintain, and leaving the competitor alive means less food for the attacker. So this type of competition can be swift and brutal."

I think Paladin looks at the little dogs as a useless waste of resources, therefore, worthy of killing and eating. Her ancestors look pretty much the same as they do now. They can survive for a long time and protect their flock when the snow is too deep for their person to get to. We all know they had to eat something during those long winters. I'm guessing unnecessary competitors are high on the list.

The wisdom in this dog is incredible, I can't wait to see it bloom, but the rhino? That's going to be a long, uphill battle.

She is learning. As her attachment to me grows, so does her willingness to do what I ask. A month or so ago, all four horses were nose to nose with about ten head of the neighbors cattle. The electric fence was clearly on the fritz, because the damn critters were in the process of tearing down my horse fence. I muttered something unpleasant and went to grab my coat.

By the time I went outside, Paladin had walked down to the livestock. She was quiet, her head was up and her tail was relaxed. She worked her way in front of the horses and they politely backed away.

Now when did they work that out?

Then she began to bark. Deep, serious, "Get off my land!" barks. She didn't touch the fence or cattle, but raced up and down her side of the fence with the ferocious roar she can use when needed. The cattle left. She laid down and took a short nap before coming up to the house. It might seem simple, but for me, it was a beautiful affirmation of what kind of dog she is.

I think the adult dog is going to be astounding, as long as I don't eff her up.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Paladin and Competitive Aggression

Almost a year ago, my husband, Jim, died. It was not unexpected, he had a stroke seven years before, and at that time, was given two more years at best. We showed 'em.

He was terrified of dying in a hospital and I promised to keep him home. Between my daughter, me, and at the end, some really shitty live-in help, we managed it. I cared for him, twenty-four seven,  except for runs to the store, from the day after he went into rehab until the night he died. It was the hardest job I've ever taken on in the course of my very up and down life. I don't regret a second of it, but I'm truly grateful that going in, I didn't know how it was going to be.

Some of you from the days of yore might remember I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. That little bit of fun began the year before Jim's stroke. Somewhere in the pile, I quit writing the blog. I wasn't riding, I had no thoughts except the daily grind (and drama, sooo much drama) and I lost the connection between my readers and I. I did manage to have one Mugs and the Big K clinic before I crawled into my hole, and I'll forever be grateful for it. I had an absolute blast.

So, here I am. I haven't ridden much, hardly even thrown a leg over in the last couple of years. I wrote some, not much, and I started learning about dogs. I thought that was it. Madonna and Scrub are totally OK with the fat lazy backyard horse life. Except, lately, I've been looking at my horses and a little itch has come back. I think of training issues and want to head home and fire up the computer.

Tentative, but not forced, so maybe I'll be around some.

I didn't tell you this so you could feel sorry for me, or hit the crying emoji a thousand times, so please don't. It's just a warning that I've changed. It's a deep, exploring, what's our purpose kind of thing. It's opened up how I deal with my animals and because of that, how I cope with people.

I'm going to get back on my horses, there's a rumor I might be breaking Scrub to the harness this coming summer, and I'll be trying to get my mojo back. I'll be writing about my dogs, because I write what I know and I've learned a couple things. I'm also working hard at turning our place into a sustainable farm, which I find fascinating, God help you all. So be prepared, don't get all whiny about the good old days and horse stories, they'll show up as they come to me, and if you want, you're invited to journey on down this road.

Enough of that maudlin crap, here's the post for today.

I have a new dog.

Actually, I've had her about a year. Yes, if you do the math, I got a puppy right around the time poor Jim was trying to die in peace. We already had five, count 'em five dogs. My daughter and her not quite two year old daughter had moved in with us. I had a deranged maniac living in my basement, who, although hired to help take care of Jim and I, mainly drank while doing a truly crappy job of cleaning, and fought with my daughter.

In my infinite wisdom, when a friend called and offered me this puppy, I said yes. Tell me you would have turned her down. I was sad and tired. What can I say.

This is Paladin. She's a Livestock Guardian,  her breed, Sarplaninac, and  her parents were brought to the U.S. from Croatia. I had been interested in these dogs ever since my friend had decided to breed them. They are a landrace breed, and a molosser. Which from what I understand, the first means that the Sarplaninac was developed mainly by ability and geography. Second, she's a big fat hairy mastiff.

These dogs are big, but there's nothing ponderous about them. She can catch a coyote if that helps. She rears back on her hind feet and jumps straight up in the air when she's happy to see me, because she's not allowed to flatten me with joy. I am not kidding, her hind feet launch almost to my shoulders. I am trying desperately to get this on video, it's pretty amazing. She's primitive, instinctive and feels no need to take direction.

I was firmly told by the trainers I consulted, both who work extensively with this breed, NOT to train her. I was to let her develop and shape the behaviors that came with. If these dogs get too much obedience training, they lose their canny, independent thinking and generally become mean, crappy, unhappy dogs. Okey dokey then.

But, since we weren't herding sheep in the Sar Mountain range, I decided she had to be taught some things. Like, don't put your giant, drooly ass mouth on people. Don't knock people down. Don't block, lean or whack em' with your paw. Sit. She's good at that. Don't eat the chihuahua.

Paladin is turning into the dog she was born to be. Think about it, Sarplaninacs are somewhere around 4000 years in the making. Their purpose has always been the same. Guard the sheep, guard the land, and guard your people. Do it on your own, without human direction. Kill the wolves, bears, hawks and eagles that are after your charges. If we humans want to interfere with that amazing desire to do their jobs, then as usual, we're stupid and destructive and will ruin yet one more breed of dog.

She will doze in the sun with chickens on her back. Last week, she showed up and asked to be let in - with one of our goats. They were hanging around together and apparently, Paladin thought she should come in too. You know, if you're cold, then your goat is cold, bring them inside.

The best thing she does, the very best, is this. If my granddaughter, Hazel, slips out of my line of sight, I know in an instant. Paladin quietly pads by, and stands next to her. She doesn't bother her, just stands there, guarding the weakest, most precious, most troublemaking being on the place. She doesn't leave until her mother or I come to get her.  She keeps track of Hazel's whereabouts all the time.

The worst? There's lots, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

This is my delicate little flower at 12 months. She's supposed to grow until at least 18 months, maybe more. She hasn't begun to fill out yet, not even a little. Note the door knob as reference.

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.