Saturday, April 2, 2011

Canine Correlations and Conflicts

I've been able to think of two horsepeople I know who don't also have dogs...and I read an amusing piece in the Chronicle of the Horse about Boyd Martin too. However, I think the vast majority of us have dogs as well as horses. Working with both has caused me in recent years to think more closely about training the two different species. I don't compete with our dogs (I did compete in Sheep Dog Trialling with some of our Border Collies for several years while I was learning and while my kids were very young but dropped it once I could start the dogs well enough and then got back into the horse thing...). So there's difference number one right there for some of us. Our dogs are companions and our horses are for sport. Not everyone- some people have horses as companions or for pleasure. But that affects our expectations of them.

Another difference is that one is predator and one is prey. Our horses' instincts call for flight first...the dogs not necessarily. That affects what our animals may find rewarding. Many dogs love to be chased around the yard for fun. I don't know any horses who enjoy that. I think it really helps to think about this In the big picture as well.

Another difference is that horses are bigger, of course (some exceptions with large breed dogs and minis). I know there are dog people out there who like to argue it but you can't make me believe that horses are not inherently more dangerous as a result. Put it this way, not many dogs can kill you by accident. Horses can. So their management and training has to take this into account.

Most of us also have our dogs sharing our living quarters (although in mud season, I wonder about the sanity of this decision). They come in the house, they snuggle on the furniture, they sleep in our bedrooms, if not our beds. When you believe that we are training all the time we are with the animals, this makes for a lot more training time (as well as the potential for a lot more screw ups) with our dogs than our horses. We can manage our horse's training time more carefully- when we take them out of their stall or pasture, the next 5 minutes or hour can be focused and then we put them away.

I have recently enrolled in a dog training e-course. Since dogs are not my business nor do I compete with them, I fought the urge to sign up (it was not cheap) but finally succumbed for a couple reasons. First, I had some surgery a month ago and was on "stall rest" for several weeks. I was going stir crazy. I couldn't do my chores, couldn't even get to the barn for weeks because of the icy footing and my condition. Once I could get around, I still had to avoid the horses for fear of getting accidentally bumped or knocked into. (side note- all is well and no long term repercussions other than a hormonal maelstrom). So I was ready for a diversion!

Secondly, Eloise the Jack Russell has been here a year now and has made great strides in becoming a farm dog. But Spring is a challenging time when all our dogs are enticed by creatures coming out of winter hiding. When the woodchucks start whistling, I get ignored a discouraging number of times. She's turned into quite the hunter terrier and I don't want to lose her down a groundhog hole without at least knowing what hole she's down. So- this course advertised that it would build a great recall into our dogs.

Last but not least, the horse connection. I wanted to explore more options for horses. Due to my surgery, I had to cancel my plans to finally attend Clicker Expo. That was a huge disappointment so this was somewhat of a training consolation prize. I've heard others, watched videos, read write-ups about the amazing things trainers were accomplishing with other species. One thing I have learned from attending TAG teach seminars is that stepping out of your own "specialty" can be a wonderful way to learn. Having spent a lifetime with horses, I sometimes have tunnel vision on how horses learn, what can be expected of them, what SHOULD be expected of them, etc. I want to really examine the pieces of this course through the eyes of a horse trainer. I'll use Eloise as my guinea pig. She's already showing great improvement.

The dog trainer who is offering this course is Susan Garrett. I've read her blog for a year or more and found some fascinating and fun ideas. Plus she has Jack Russells and Border Collies (she's had several World Champion Agility successes). While
she strongly advocates positive reinforcement, the course is not specifically clicker training even though she has experience with CT. So that's another thing which piqued my curiosity. I intend to share what I find either on this blog and/or my Facebook page, depending on whether it's a little "aha" or a big one. I would love to hear feedback from others and make this a conversation. Please share your thoughts!


Golden the Pony Girl said...

Sounds like a good opportunity. I started CT with my horse and then moved over to my dogs and my cats. You are right dogs and horses are different but they are also really alike in their social tendencies and their intelligence and natural tendency to work well with humans. I think working with multiple species is a great way to improve as a a trainer. I look forward to reading about your progress in the class.

Bookends Farm said...

You're right- those are some other similarities. The big thing is that Operant Conditioning works with all living things (I'm amazed at what people have done with goldfish for instance!). So Clicker Training in general works, but I'm getting really fascinated by some of the finer details...more to come! :)