Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Monday, January 18, 2016

We are in this hole together

I absolutely love reading Infinity Farm's Anna Blake talk about positive training and relationships with horses.  I not only enjoy reading her work, I relate to it and learn from it.  Frankly, I can apply it to my relationships with humans and dogs equally well.  Most recently, she did a follow up to her earlier "When your horse falls in a hole" and provided some really helpful training about leadership when the horse is afraid and responding to that fear with loss of control.  Anna wrote:
If you’re looking to return to your usual sweet conversation/work with your horse, you have to accept him where he’s at. Fighting his behavior when he’s stuck doesn’t give him a way out. Less correction, more direction. You have to go into his hole with him and lead him out. That’s why they call it leadership.
Then let the transition-cycle work: Cue to connect with him, let him answer, and then reward his response. Politely ask for a bit more, reward that connection again. Perfect or not, now he starts to feel better about things and he tries a bit more. Reward his bigger effort, continue the cycle, and before you know it, it’s all hearts and flowers again.
Positive training works; it’s the difference between partnership and dominance; the difference between putting the horse first or having your own tantrum.
I had just read that earlier in the day, and having arrived home after being gone for a two days, I was sitting in the living room with Abby.  I do that often, so it was not unusual, but two things disrupted the routine and sent her into an out-of-control cycle of bouncing off the walls, furniture, my lap.  Normally, she has her chew time with her little bone, one of her favorite pleasures.  Alas, she was out of her chew bones, and nothing could console her.  I would redirect her to her chew kong, filled with a treat but that did not hold her attention long.  On one of the last jumps to my lap, obviously saying, "Hey, mom, I am not getting what I want here!"  her toenails got entangled in the fringe on my sweater, and then panic set in, and she was really out of control and anxious. 

I took a cue from Anna's training, and got Abby's attention--she responds very positively to touch when she is excited, so I touched her, and began to talk to her.  It was about redirecting her focus from "my toenails are caught in something horrible and I am struggling to escape" to something pleasant and calming.  Abby is not as big as a horse, but she is big enough to cause pain or injury.  I understand her impact; Abby does not.  So, as Anna said, I had to go in the hole with Abby, and acknowledge that I was part of the reason she was in the hole.  Ever so calm, ever so rewarding her for responding to my cues, and gently, finally, releasing her toenails from the fringe was simply having calmed her enough that she was lying still on my legs, enjoying the petting and attention, and thus, allowed me to untangle the fringe.  My next step was to wrap the fringed ends of the sweater close to my body, and cover myself with a throw to prevent another mishap. 

It is an important remind: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Check out Anna's advice on getting your horse (or dog, or student) out of a hole and displaying leadership.  After all, the burden is on the one with the awareness.
That's why they call it leadership.


Beth said...

True with horses, true with dogs, true with people. I often have to remind myself to get into the dog's thoughts and think like a dog. And, we've had anxious moments when the chewing bones are depleted!

Suzassippi said...

Yes, that was another good remind--maybe we should also help her to enjoy other routines and develop alternative pleasures. :)

Beth said...

Another good animal behaviorist is Patricia McConnell. The Other End of the Leash is an interesting read with good stories and insight into dog/human interaction.

Suzassippi said...

Another favorite: Don't Shoot the Dog, although I don't really like the title. We also read Whole Dog Journal. Got to love that philosophy.