Teaching the clever way

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.

Cas

Emotional Learning in the Performance Horse.

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.

Update & Choosing Priorities

Morning folks,

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.

Is Your Dog Content?

Wolfie 2 100615There are many aspects to contentment. How would you describe your dog when talking about him being content? What makes him contented and not discontented? Is he content with all aspects of his life, or are there areas which are not satisfying?

For a dog to be content with his life, we need to assess all aspects that make up his life and how he lives, and make each one the best for that dog. Every dog is an individual, and what makes one content, may not work for another. There is no right or wrong, no one rule for all, you should do the best for YOUR dog, and provide him with the things HE needs.

Play

How does your dog like to play? For some, play is a big part of their day, and they would rather engage in more of this than other activities. Play develops your relationship with your dog, and creates a happy association for both you and your dog. It also gives you a head start on working off lead and still being able to get your dog’s attention.

Exercise

What is exercise? We tend to think of it as going out for a walk, something that we should do every day, to give our dog exercise. In reality, every activity your dog is engaged in is exercise; be it playing with you, tearing around the garden on his own, playing with another dog, or going for a walk. There’s a certain expectation for us to take our dogs out each day, and that we are neglecting them if we don’t. But, this is not necessarily true. For some dogs, going out for a walk is not a pleasurable experience. There are reasons ranging from fear and anxiety, to pain, or loss of mobility. Choose the correct type of exercise for your dog’s age, abilities and preferences.

NOTE; Socialisation is very important, and going to different places and experiencing different things is essential for every dog to get to know the world, but there is more to this that just going out for a walk because you think you should, particularly if your dog is not receiving a good experience from it. I’ll talk about socialisation in another post.

Learning

Every moment of every day, your dog is learning. This is part of living. However, we can assist and progress natural learning by teaching our dogs movements, tricks, words & phrases, routines, and what to do in different situations. We can take him to classes to learn new exercises and increase his knowledge. We do activities together, such as running, Canicross and agility. A content mind is a mind that has stimulation, can work out puzzles, learn new things.

Diet

A huge subject, and one with many differing opinions. What suits one dog may not suit another. What you feed your dog will make a difference to how content he is with this aspect of his life. All dogs like to eat food that tastes good and is satisfying. It is also worth noting that different foods have different effects on brain chemistry, and regular meals contribute to a balanced mind, minimising the troughs and peaks that occur when we either eat, or are hungry, such as blood sugar levels, which in turn promotes contentment.

Affection

Every owner knows that look of contentment on the face of their dog when they are having snuggles and cuddles. This releases endorphins, which promotes feelings of security, and strengthens the relationship.

Comfort

Our dogs usually have a few places where they feel comfortable at different times of the day. Giving him access to these, and allowing him to sit and watch the world go by, or just hang around with you when you are busy allows him to be content without activity.

Sleep

All dogs need to feel safe and secure, and sleeping somewhere where they can relax and not feel anxious is essential to quality sleep. A lack of quality sleep can affect the mind in drastic ways, and interferes with a sense of contentment.

Himself

The final piece to the puzzle is to teach your dog to be comfortable with his own company. The key to contentment, is to be content within yourself. Getting the sections above correct for your dog, along with teaching him self-reliance so that he is also fine if he is on his own will lead to a sense of well-being, happiness and contentment.