I was in Crewe this weekend to present a talk on Free Will Teaching at Rixton Dog School in Warrington. We started with looking at what free will teaching is and it’s four stages – Subliminal, Shaping, Active, Partnership, then moving on to the basics of FWT techniques to teach our animals.
When we can teach understanding and awareness, we can then teach our animals real choice and decision making about how they manage themselves in daily life, what activities they do, and also to know how to regulate their emotional minds, and when to rest and relax to keep their minds and bodies healthy and strong.
There are so many misconceptions and myths about how much dogs and horses can learn, that teaching is often kept at a basic level, when in fact they can learn so much more. I have worked like this for years and my own, and clients, dogs and horses show the amazing achievements that can be reached by teaching without preconceived limitations.
The day finished with some lively and interesting discussions about applying FWT to problems and to further teach the companions we live with.
Everyone attending was really welcoming, supportive and interested in how I work, it was a real pleasure to teach and engage people to show what heights our companion animals can reach when we allow them to reach their full potential.
I’m doing another free will teaching workshop in Wimborne in April, with more dates added later in the year. Please do get in touch if you’d like me to put one on in your area.
Assuming you are in complete control of another being, animal or human, is a false perception which can lead to errors in judgement and raises significant safety issues.
Firstly, we can only control another beings movements, not his mind. We may think we control his mind, when we exert our will over him and make him do what we want, but we cannot control his thoughts or emotions, which is of major importance when learning, and if we are to stay safe.
For example, you want your animal to learn to do as you ask. Humans tend to keep trying if something doesn’t work, so from our point of view, this may mean one of the following things.
Continuing until you do get the result you were after.
Not worry about how you get that result, just that you get it; the end justifies the means.
You can easily see that from our perspective, being successful means you have achieved what you set out to do. But what about the animal you are teaching? Were they successful? If they did what you wanted, then yes, you could argue that they were also successful.
However, that is not necessarily the case. In order to be successful you have to see things from the animal’s perspective, not yours. Have you left the animal better off than before you interacted with him? If you’ve continued a lesson far longer than was productive, so that you could finish on a high, you feel satisfied, and might sigh with relief that you have persevered and it was worth the effort. However, the animal may well have a different view. Is he likely to feel relief from finally doing what was asked? Or is he likely to feel relief for the fact that it has finished and there are no further demands on him?
Similarly, what will the animal take from a lesson that is conducted from the viewpoint of the end justifies the means? Again, you will feel relief that finally the animal has understood you and done what he was supposed to. And once again, the animal will feel relief that the interaction is over. By trying to make ourselves successful we have made the animal we are working with unsuccessful, as what he has learnt from engaging in the encounter is not a positive or rewarding experience.
Will he be willing to engage next time? Not likely, and certainly not with enthusiasm. He may also have learnt that avoidance or active defence is his best course of action to ensure he is not put in this situation again.
Coming back to the title of this piece – a matter of perspective – teach yourself to analyse everything you intend to do from the animal’s perspective, and you will set yourself and him up for fun, engaging teaching sessions that result in success for both of you.
The animals we work and live with do not know the dangers of our human world, yet we often expect them to behave as if they are fully aware of such things. We expect them to give us an appropriate behaviour for the circumstances they find themselves in, often without thought for the fact that animals are a different species and so will have different instincts and behaviour to those we want them to express. A human behaviour trait is to try harder if the first time we ask doesn’t work. You ask your dog or horse to do something, and they don’t comply with your request. One of the first instinctual responses you have is irritation, and so repeat your request in a stronger manner. Our first choice is often to apply more pressure, in the form of force and coercion. It’s all downhill from there, as you employ increasing pressure to make the other party do what you want. Again, a human trait, that you must not back down, you must show strength or you will be considered weak, and whoever you were trying to tell what to do will then be in charge of you. This piece of advice is often given to horse and dog owners, with the label of dominance. However, dominance is a human concept, inappropriately applied to how we interact with animals.
The best piece of advice to give to people regarding this, is to forget you heard it, stop thinking you must do what someone else says you should, and instead, start using common sense and genuine care for the animals you are with.
You do not need to make your animal feel scared or unhappy.
You do not need to follow rank reduction programmes, or dominance theory.
You do not need to continue until the animal does what you want.
You do not need to listen to advice that you should not let your animal get away with anything, they must obey at all times.
You do not need to listen to advice that you should withhold love, affection and comforts as your animal will come to expect them, and think he is in charge.
Some of my clients actually sigh with relief when I tell them this.
It is said that doing everything before your dog will show him you are dominant and the alpha. You must eat first, go through doors first, etc. IT WILL NOT.
Your dog will just get hungrier whilst you eat, usually resulting in attempts to secure some of your food! Your dog does not understand that whoever goes through a door first is considered to be the most important – he just wants to get out in the garden.
That continuing to force your horse until he gives a behaviour will show him you are in charge and dominant. IT WILL NOT. Your horse will become increasingly anxious and learn that you are a source of pain, and to be avoided.
If you don’t show him who is boss he will run rings round you. HE WILL NOT.
Allowing an animal to do something different to what you have asked, or choose what he wants to do will lead to chaos. IT WILL NOT. A lack of teaching will lead to chaos, plain and simple.
There is a better way, and that is teaching with positive methods, giving a choice, and using positive reinforcement for the best conditions for learning, improving confidence and self awareness. This in turn gives, safety, reliability, and contentment.
When I am with animals, I am not the alpha, leader, or in charge. I am part of our group, whether that is me and my two horses, me and my dog, or another scenario. We each have strengths, preferences, things we enjoy, and whoever is best for the task at hand is the one the rest of the group is guided by. A true partnership is about giving all members of the group the ability and freedom to express themselves and choose what they do or don’t do, as long as everyone is kept safe.
So how do we achieve this?
I am their teacher, helping them understand how to interpret this human world they live in.
As they learn, I become their guide, suggesting a good course of action.
As they become aware, they become my guide; I go along with their choice as long as it isn’t dangerous, or completely wrong for the situation we are in.
As our relationship of trust, understanding, and awareness develops, we each contribute to what we do that day, and how we solve any difficulties along the way.
My first review has just come in. The very talented and lovely Sarah Fisher has given it a fabulous review. Read it here.
‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found Kathie’s honesty and self-awareness, as well as her true love and understanding of the glorious Thoroughbred, delightfully refreshing. This is more than a tale of two horses; it is a celebration of the harmony that can be achieved when we take time to observe, listen to, and learn from animals whether we are experienced guardians or not.
Kathie combines her knowledge as an animal behaviourist with an innate sensitivity to liberate two ex-racehorses from anxiety, and enable them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives as valued companions. She explains how scientifically proven positive reinforcement can be used successfully to educate and rehabilitate troubled equids thus negating the need to employ all too commonly championed aversive techniques (stemming from misguided conceptions and beliefs) that rely on suppression, fear and force.
Anyone who has a passion for horses or an interest in animal behaviour will find this publication a peaceful, inspiring and rewarding read.’
I’ve just received an advance copy of my book, A Tale of Two Horses.
To see all those pages of plain type become this wonderful book is amazing.
Huge thanks to Jude Brooks and the team at Hubble & Hattie for making this possible.
It tells the story of my first year with my two Thoroughbred ex-racers as they make the transition from reactive horses with behavioural issues to content, well balanced horses. My teaching is force free both physically and psychologically, enabling free will and ensuring the emotional mind is content, showing the reader how to apply the same principles and methods. If you know anyone who may be interested in it, please let them know.
You can buy it here http://www.hubbleandhattie.com/shop/HH4794/
Whatever activity you and your horse engage in, be it eventing through to showing your horse, you start at the start, and aim to progress in your chosen activity. Some horses show a real talent for the activity you do with them, and can progress very quickly up the ranks. Time is spent teaching yourself and your horse to improve and achieve more.
These are two of the three essential elements to continuing to progress and realise your goals. The third is the one that is often forgotten, or not even known. And that is your horses psychological development.
If he is gifted at what he does, he may well find that his abilities put him in situations that his emotional mind is not yet able to cope with. To avoid this, and help your horse be the best he can be, add sessions that develop the emotional mind.
Give him different experiences so he gets used to the many different things he may be exposed to. Use some competitions as emotional development training, teaching him how to manage himself and cope with whatever novel things are in the arena/course, without pressure to perform. Finally, take emotional learning experiences at a pace he is comfortable with, and he will be reliable and confident wherever you go.
Autumn is here. It’s getting pretty chilly at night, and time for many people to think about rugging their horses. Horses are rugged for many different reasons, and for some it is a necessity. If it isn’t, you may consider allowing your horses body to do what it does naturally – grow a winter coat, so there is no need to rug him.
The first step is to teach your horse to be aware of his body and manage his comfort accordingly. This involves showing him how to find shelter from wind and rain, rather than stand out and endure it. He is far less likely to need a rug if he does not stand out in howling wind or driving rain for hours on end! The other reason for teaching him to find shelter is that as you don’t need to rug him, it gives his body the ability to respond to the drop in temperature and stimulate hair growth, starting the process of growing a winter coat.
The next step is to only rug when absolutely necessary. Each time you do rug, you interrupt this process, so in order to have a really good winter coat that is capable of keeping your horse warm, the horse needs to manage his comfort so he doesn’t require rugging, other than the odd occasion.
The first year, his coat may not reach it’s full thickness, and there may be occasions when the weather is particularly bad, that he does need a rug. If this is the case, he will only need a lightweight one, or he’ll be too hot. In year two you will find that his coat develops more thickness, and you will probably not need to rug at all.
The final step is to relax and not worry! If your horse is out when the weather is bad, there is a tendency to think he must be cold. However, the combination of teaching him to manage his own comfort, and having a full winter coat, is good protection against the elements, and when you check, you mostly find that he is not cold, or wet underneath his coat. More likely is that as he is comfortable, he would rather be out grazing.
A true statement, and one that reminds us to always treat our dogs with compassion and understanding, regardless of what they may do or how they behave. This caused me to think of my puppy, Wolfie, who is going through his teenager stage. It is not easy to remain calm and composed when dealing with the resulting behaviours, but how people deal with this difficult period makes a huge difference to how your puppy’s personality develops as he becomes an adult.
Wolfie is 5&¾ months old and his hormones kicked in about 4 weeks ago. Living with any teenage puppy is difficult, and there are a few more considerations when your puppy is a giant breed. Wolfie is an Irish Wolfhound, weighs about 45kg and is the size of an adult German Shepherd. He still has a lot of growing to do.
Puppies are often very boisterous when they play, biting and growling, racing around, pouncing, and trying to engage with anything and everything, in a very happy and excited manner, flopping to the floor when they are worn out. When your puppy becomes a teenager, his arousal and frustration levels go up, and his tolerance level goes down. This results in the same type of play, but with a different emotional state, due to hormones and changes in his brain chemistry. He is restless, unsatisfied, and doesn’t know what to do with himself. Play is not so pleasurable, he gets frustrated, and as he tries harder to resolve these emotions, he tips into mania. This is not a balanced state of mind, nor is it one that can be easily distracted or calmed.
When Wolfie has a hormone surge, I am the obvious target for venting that frustration as the only moving object to interact with. He’ll use toys or branches of the trees as a means of getting it out his system and calming down when on his own, but not when I am about. Normal behaviour for a puppy going through the teenage period, but strategies need to be put in place to help him calm down. The emotions he is experiencing mean that he tries harder to achieve some relief, but gets ever more frustrated when that doesn’t happen. Your puppy is not enjoying this, he is trying to reach resolution, and that may mean an increased drive to interact with you, resulting in reverting to puppy biting behaviour, but without the restraint that he had when he was younger. It looks like he is intentionally trying to bite you, and this is when the relationship can break down. There is also an increased chance of injury, more so when the puppy in question is a giant breed.
This period is one that we often find the most difficult to cope with. Our puppy who has been taught how to behave calmly, not eat the furniture, or bite us, has lost the plot, and is once again doing all those things. Worse, he’s bigger, stronger, and far more intent on this manic behaviour than ever before.
It is important to understand that your puppy is not in control of himself when he behaves like this, he is not intentionally trying to bite you or destroy the furniture, although it seems that way. It is also difficult to control your own emotional response to his behaviour. We get frustrated and upset, asking ourselves why would he do that if he loves us? Why would he try to bite those who care for him, look after him and love him? It undermines our trust in our puppy, and may cause us to behave in a way that is not optimum for either of us. But, using force to handle the situation can put you both in danger, and the outcome is never good.
What should we do? Remember the quote at the start of this piece. How will your puppy feel if you meet his perceived aggressively challenging behaviour with aggressive behaviour of your own? What will his eyes say, when he looks at you? It’s hard-wired into all of us to respond to the things we perceive as a threat. Retaliation by striking out at our puppy when he is coming at us with his teeth, intending to bite, is a reaction that can happen before we have had time to process what we are doing, and that your puppy is not a threat, rather he has no idea what he is doing.
Instead, we must suspend our emotional response and approach this with the compassion and understanding it deserves. Our puppy is at the mercy of hormones and emotions, and what he really needs from us is calm behaviour and kind strategies, based in positive methods, that enable him to get through this difficult stage as easily as is possible. Approaching things in this way ensures that the trust between you and your puppy remains intact, strengthens, and develops. It results in you both have a better relationship and understanding of each other, a true partnership, and bond that cannot be broken.
Deciding what to do first is not always easy, so today’s post is about prioritising. Life remains hectic here, and there is always so much to do. Updating readers is a really good way of looking at what you have on the go, and what needs to be done, when.
So, in no particular order, this is where I am at the moment.
Charlie and Star have just moved into their winter field after we’ve had some new fencing put up. They are very happy, and are spending all their time out there – I don’t think they’ve been in the barn for more than a drink. Training has taken a back seat, but I have a list of things that I want to teach them next.
My first book, A Tale of Two Horses, has gone to the printers, hooray! The last few weeks have been spent on final proof reading, adjustments and index writing, with not much time for anything else. Now this has finished, there is nothing more to do on the actual book, the next tasks will be marketing and promoting it.
Wolfie our Irish Wolfhound puppy continues to take up a good chunk of time each day. He’s now five and a half months old, his hormones have kicked in, and he is a teenager! He needs lots of time, patience and teaching to get through this difficult period. He is doing really well and mostly we have a calm and balanced puppy, who only occasionally loses the plot.
Puppy classes are busy, there was a quiet start to the year, but things have got a lot busier. I have three foundation courses on the go at the moment, all at different stages.
I’m part way through a series of articles on aggression for Kennel & Cattery magazine, which I am really enjoying writing.
I have also started my next book, which is about bringing up a puppy – as you can imagine Wolfie is providing me with lots of material for this, and reminding me of things I had forgotten. The last time we had a puppy was ten and a half years ago, with Indie our Great Dane.
I’m currently taking the writing101 course with WordPress, and am exploring different types of writing, as well as posting to this blog. I have some ideas about short stories, which is a new direction for me, as my writing is usually factual or technical pieces on animal behaviour and training.
Added to these things, I run my behavioural business and see clients, I teach art once a week, I try to keep up with facebook and twitter, and look after the house and farm, when hubby is at work!
On to prioritizing all these activities.
Wolfie remains my first priority. He is at such an important stage, and it would be very detrimental to his development and growing up to be a well balanced adult if I do not take the time to teach him.
The next consideration is what is important at this stage of his life? Where do I concentrate my teaching? Without a doubt, the most important thing to teach now is how to calm down his mind when he is over the top. Impulse control, self restraint and managing arousal levels in the brain is essential at this stage in his life. It will help mange this difficult period, and will teach him how to be in control of his emotional mind, not be swept along by it. Essentially, it will set him up to be a well balanced adult, who can manage his emotions, and his behaviour is guided primarily by his thinking brain, not his emotional brain.
Charlie and Star are at the stage where they will benefit from me teaching them more, but there is not an essential time-frame, or specific things that must be done now. They will enjoy my company, and we will continue to develop our relationship if I can spend some regular time with them, even if it is only in short sessions. They enjoy learning, and keeping it going, even when you only have limited time, is well worth it. We often think that there is no point if we don’t have enough time, but a little teaching when you can, soon builds up, and things are learnt without so much expectation to achieve them, which can be a benefit, depending on how your horse learns.
I’m really excited about writing my next book, and showing people how to bring up a puppy to be a perfect adult. There are so many dilemma’s as to what to do when dealing with puppy and adolescent behaviours, how to approach things to you don’t create future problems, what to teach and when, socialisation, and how to get through that very challenging teenager period. As Wolfie is providing me with inspiration and a huge amount of material to write about as we go through these things ourselves, I want to write this book as we experience life together.
Charlie and Star, and writing this book, are the next priorities after Wolfie.
Clients book in as they need to, so everything fits in around work.
Articles have deadlines, and so they temporarily take priority as necessary.
Social media, and promoting the business all have to be maintained, but there is nothing specific that I need to prioritize at them moment.
Whether you are juggling lots of activities, or don’t know what you should teach or develop next with your horse or dog, writing it down, noting time-scales for activities or specific behaviours, and going through the options, helps clarify what you do next and provides a way forward.