So It’s Like Writing on Water

Maybe the last surprise is it’s me that’s being taught, I’m the one with the most lessons to learn. Fireworks, applause…for self awareness, but don’t worry it ebbs and flows. If truth is true life, the difficulty is in knowing it. But I think working with another species is one of the best ways to really understand the signals we emit and the need for awareness.

I’m coming, are we going to play?

Yesterday afternoon, unfettered by tack, Cola (one of my horses) chose to put both front feet up on the 8-inch high log circle. Voila, circus horse, and jackpot of feed for him. He stood there, pleased with himself and me, accepting my accolades. We’ve been working on this for two prior brief sessions in which he tried stepping over, pawing, tapping, touching with his muzzle and exchanging feet. Yesterday he seemed to think, what if I try this, maybe that’s what she really wants.

Those, unexpected, expected moments are oddly surprising – oh, he’s doing just what I wanted him to! Click. How did that happen?

A couple of years ago, I was in Camoapa, Nicaragua for three days training horse trainers some kinder, more positive methods of horse training. The difficulties were several – translated language, a paradigm of training/handling in a very rough manner and the thought if the owners handle the horse roughly and the trainer is very gentle, how will the horse react to the change? Just like they do now…some tolerating some biting or striking out.

For one segment, I did a clicker exercise without the clicker…just a marker word, with a volunteer person. He went out of the immediate area, the audience decided what they wanted him to do (lie down on the bleachers), he came back and almost immediately did it–oh not all the way, but really he sat down and tipped sideways. And I wasn’t ready — I thought he had heard us talking, but he actually hadn’t. And after I confirmed that he hadn’t heard and didn’t know what we were looking for it was very frustrating for him especially, to get him to offer that again. The other difficulty was, he forgot the marker word in his frustration.

Being ready for the magic to happen, difficult. And not being ready means missing it and having a longer wait, because if there is no or slow reaction then the message is ‘not that.’ And then when frustration hits both of you, demanding response tends to occur and its no longer play, no longer fun. However, in Camoapa we laughed and clapped. And I was the trainee with no clue the next time. Some local landowners who had come to watch the last days demonstrations were very positive about kinder methods, it made me happy to think there might be some beginnings of change; not like writing on water.

This last week I read a book called “Training for Both Ends of the Leash” by Kate Perry and Yvonne Conza. I can recommend it for its socialization program, the interesting case studies, discussion of training equipment and the evaluations of drives and learning styles of dogs for greater understanding. I almost quit reading it because of its use of traditional training language – pack, commands, voice tone, corrections, etc., but then I thought maybe these terms make people feel comfortable because they’ve heard them so many times before and it was a new book in our local library, so I want to know what it’s saying. It is mostly a city dog training book, which broadens my perspectives. It would have been better with clearer brief summaries of cues, less generalized dog-care (like vet and food choice) and more good photos. I started to get tired of reading it towards the last third and I’m a dog training book reader, so maybe more concise would be better.

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...
Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, “His Master’s Voice”, The Original RCA Music Puppy Dog Logo Symbol for Advertising (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

I will try the tools I like and see if they are helpful in this upcoming year’s training endeavors, because it is both ends of the leash I’m trying to influence.

And if there is harmony and greater understanding, it will become like writing on water – all one.

Are there any new learning tools you’re working/playing with?

Any new books you would recommend?

Any aha moments that have made you think, now I really understand?


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