A Matter of Perspective

Training

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.

Don’t want to rug your horse? Here’s how to go natural.

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.

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.

Things I’ve learned along the way through life

1 Time

Training animals takes time. Teaching your horse or dog movements, tricks and routines takes time. The brain has to get used to the new movements so they become familiar, then your horse or dog has to learn the voice or visual cue associated with that movement, and only then can be sure that he knows what to do we ask him to give us that movement. Changing behaviour takes time. One of the key things when working with horses and dogs who have issues, is to change their perception of the issue. And that takes time. The horse, who is not confident enough to hack out alone, will not change his mind on this very quickly. It takes time for him to build his confidence and not worry about being away from his friends. The dog who is over-excitable around other dogs will not simply decide he can be calm and collected. He needs time to learn this new response when he sees a dog and anticipates play.

2 Prioritise

Life is busy. There is never time to do everything, so you have to prioritise. My puppy, Wolfie, is 5 & ½ months old. He needs a fair amount of guidance and teaching, as there is a lot he needs to know at this stage in his life. On the other hand, my horses have been with me for 2 & ½ years, and know a lot of things. We were starting to take things to the next training level before Wolfie arrived, but now he is here, his teaching takes priority over Charlie and Star’s, as their training is not time critical. For those of you following their training diary, apologies for it being sporadic at present. I also like to cook, but there is only so much time in the day, so this doesn’t always happen. I have a combination of short-term and long-term writing projects on the go, along with clients who have different needs and time-scales. My priorities roughly remain in the same order, but with a fair amount of short-term adjusting for upcoming deadlines. Being able to identify when a priority should change position is essential for keeping things together and getting everything done at the right time.

3 Setting realistic goals = setting yourself up for success

Recognising that you can’t do everything all the time, and choosing what to do means you are much more likely to achieve the items on your list that day. Let go of feeling that you should do it all and realise that it’s not a problem. If dinner is not prepared, if other things remain undone, or you didn’t get around to something you wanted to get done, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

4 Set your horse or dog up for success

This is essential to being a great teacher and trainer. You want your horse or dog to enjoy learning and be good at it. Learning can only be effective and enjoyable if it is rewarding and something that the horse or dog wants to do again. Setting them up for success means that you teach them in small steps, so they are able to understand and progress. Rewarding and praising them is essential to their perception of this being an enjoyable activity. It also means that you should create an environment where there is no fear, pain or coercion.

5 We’ll get there when we get there/ It takes as long as it takes

A great lesson to learn. Too often we have a set time-scale in mind, and feel that we must reach our goals at this point. Unfortunately behaviour does not work that way, and neither does your horse or dog. Each animal is different, and each will learn at a different rate. Some things will be easy and quickly learnt, some will not. The same applies to other things in your life.

6 Focus on the positives

We humans do tend to think about what was not right, did not go well, and was not good. Of course being aware of these things enables us to improve on them. However, there is a lot of negative energy attached to thinking in this way, so changing how you assess what you’ve been doing to look at the positive elements makes you feel good, which transfers to how you approach the next interaction with your horse or dog.

7 Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong

Hindsight is a great thing. We can spend our time berating ourselves for the choices we made, or we can learn from them and make different ones next time.

8 Adjust as necessary

This relates to all previous points; 1 to 7. By recognising our performance, strengths and weaknesses, we can adjust each point accordingly to achieve success.

1 – take the time needed for each job, and don’t rush it. 2 – improve your ability to prioritise. 3 – you can improve your goal setting when you have some experience of what you can achieve each day. 4 – if teaching wasn’t easy, assess how you can change things so your horse or dog is successful. 5 – don’t try to force learning to happen quicker than the horse or dog is capable of. 6 – train your mind to see the great things you are achieving, so it becomes normal for you to think this way. 7 – let go of what has happened, and adjust for the next time.

9 Celebrate progress

We don’t do this often enough, and whilst modesty is a good trait, we should also recognise and celebrate what we have achieved. It leads to a content mind, and feelings of satisfaction.

10 Use what you’ve learnt to improve

following all these points and using them to assess who you are, where you are going, and what you want to achieve on your journey through life will help you realise your ambitions and dreams. It leads to a happy and full-filled life for you and your horse and dog.

Groundwork

What does it mean to you?

Groundwork

To me it means everything that happens when YOU are on the ground.

Most of you are familiar with teaching groundwork exercises for things like showing, teaching movements you will use in the saddle, for ground based activities such as agility and for lead walking.

Things such as just being around your horse in the stable or field, vets and farriers visits, mucking out, grooming and feeding are all part of groundwork. I take advantage of these activities and use them as opportunities to teach my horses more behaviours, movements and awareness.

If you have a reactive horse, you are more likely to have taught him to do specific things when you handle him, as this is a necessity. For those with an easy-going horse, there is no need, the horse will do what he is asked. But there is a false sense of security here. What if you need your horse to do something that he usually does at a different time? Or he simply doesn’t do what is asked. Relying on the assumption that he always does this, is fine, just as long as he always does. When he doesn’t, you don’t have any cue to fall back on if you haven’t attached one to the behaviour.

Putting existing routines and movements on cue will give you so many advantages.

It increases awareness, which in turn increases self-confidence.

This is important for all animals, regardless of species or whether they are prey or predators. It is a technique that is particularly useful in resolving behavioural issues in insecure animals. If a horse knows what he is doing, he is more confident.

You have a voice cue as a back up if your horse finds himself unsure for whatever reason. Reminding him that this is a usual routine and that he does know it can help him get over any insecurity he may be feeling.

It allows you a means of teaching him to apply the same routine or movement in a different context.

When something is learnt, it is done so in context. If a movement is only practised and done in one place, chances are that the horse will find it difficult or impossible to do it in a significantly different location. In order to truly know a behaviour, it must be able to be performed in isolation, without any associations or conditions needing to be present. The movement itself is the behaviour, not the context in which it is displayed. If he knows a behaviour in one context, it is a straightforward matter to teach him it in another.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that it is able to be applied to other situations. Modified, adjusted or the behaviour as a whole can be used to help the horse know what to do when he is in a situation he is unfamiliar with. Responses are chosen from previous experience. Where there is no similar experience to draw on, the horse does not know what to do. That can result in panic, fear, or anxiety, along with a response that is not appropriate for the situation. If you include awareness as an integral part of learning and training, you will significantly improve your horses ability to

  • manage his own behaviour

  • willingness to be guided by you if he doesn’t know what to do

  • impulse control

  • choosing an appropriate response

  • reliability

  • safety

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 10th May

Monday

Today we practised with distractions. When out and about their behaviour needs to be reliable, and I need to know what their reaction to various interesting or scary things is. It’s a busy morning, and people, horses, cars and tractors are about. Quite unusual, as we live in a very quiet area and nothing much happens. We practice ‘ready’, ‘look up’, ‘lets go’ when there is a distraction, adding in other exercises once their attention is back on me.

Wednesday

Charlie and Star are doing really well. Star was really interested today, and I worked with her most of the time. Charlie decided that he didn’t want to play and spent most of his time eating the hedgerow! No problem, it’s quite a straightforward matter to build up length of attentiveness, whereas if I try to get him to do more than he is able he is not going to enjoy it, and will be more reluctant the next time.

Thursday

Charlie has decided that he doesn’t want to miss out on training games today! He’s happily following me around like a shadow. I do a little more with him and leave him eating grass to work with Star. She’s doing well, and we’re back to balancing movements. I often talk out loud to myself, and I was deciding what to do next, when I said, ‘Right’. Star immediately turned right! Clever girl, she was listening to me when I wasn’t talking to her.

Saturday

A busy weekend for us, so not much training time. I did find time to just be with them, and give them a nice brush, which as usual results in a good roll in the grass. I also now have Chilli the cat asking to play. She tears around the exercise yard when we are out there, playing with anything she can find. Once I finish with Charlie and Star, Chilli runs into the barn ready to ambush me! She’s not ambushed Charlie and Star yet, but it’s only a matter of time..