It’s For The Dogs

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with a dog.

Our last dog was practically perfect. She came when called, didn’t cause trouble, and was always there with us, happy to hang around. She was also somewhat neurotic, especially when it came to food. It worried her greatly if there were people involved when she was eating and she was very picky about what she would eat.

So we didn’t do much training.

This new dog is a huge puppy. She’s friendly and enthusiastic. Her nose is right at table height and her mouth is large, wet, and she likes to greet people with it. She’ll happily eat anything that gets close enough to reach with no shyness or worry.

She needs lots of training!

I know and love horse training. The basics of training dogs and horses are the same. I hear the gasps and denial already from more traditional trainers. No, I’m not going to round pen a dog. But when training with food all species learn the same, and even plants which opens up new and interesting thoughts and ideas of what is ‘alive’ and what isn’t but I digress.

While the basics are the same the devil is in the details. It’s been fun these last couple of weeks figuring out some of those details.

Some are very simple.

We don’t want her bagging at the table. So we ignore her. Letting our elbows absorb the wetness of that ever exploring mouth, protecting food and plates by blocking her access. Then when she gives up and lays down at the door I rush to reward her. The whole family gets in on it, pointing out that she should be getting a treat if I’m late or running to feed her themselves. It’s fun and no punishment is involved. Already, within the first couple of days, she will make a lap around the table then go lay down to wait.

So much faster and more effective than some of the methods I’ve seen, like squirting them in the face with a spray bottle. The funniest was when one person was feeding from the table, while the other squirted feeder and dog with the spray bottle. Obviously nothing was learned there.

A more difficult and subtle learning is teaching her to please only walk on my right side.

I have a bad knee. It tends to dislocate. A really fun thing where I get to reach down and push the knee cap back into place, which is as sickening a thought as an actual undertaking. This new dog has bumped into that knee and knocked it out. It wasn’t on purpose, obviously. and she wasn’t doing anything bad. She’s just big and playful.

In order to avoid more of this we’re working on keeping her to the other side.

She isn’t on a leash so there is no holding her on that side. Instead I carry something in my left hand. Not to hit her with but if something is swinging around there blocking her way we’re setting it up to be easier to come up to me on the other side. I also try to avoid petting her when she’s on the left side. Small things to start to form a habit.

This is a learning process, and a fun one. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. Hopefully she will learn some tricks. But that foundation is the important thing as we’ll get that down so she can be a good member of society, the most important thing in horses too. Then we’ll add that extra frosting of tricks.

Women’s Work

When working cattle everyone has a job to do.

These jobs are assigned based on everyone’s skills and where they can best be used. Granted it doesn’t always work out that way. In which case others may need to jump in and get the job done.

We will just assume that in general, everyone is going to quietly go about doing their job.

In order for the work to go smoothly, everyone needs to do THEIR job. When a job is ignored to watch someone else do their work, then there’s a job out there not getting done. That can create a big hitch in the get along.

Allowing people to do their job while taking care of your own still applies if one of the people working is female. Being female does not magically mean that she will need a man to come along and ‘help’ do her job. Being female does not mean she will be weak, incapable, or incompetent. In fact there’s a good chance that being female will mean that she is skilled, hard working, quiet and easy going in her way of working cattle.

Odds are the men who are convinced that the poor little woman needs his help will not be.

If he were skilled and capable, he’d see work being well done and leave well enough alone.

By all means keep an eye on your fellow workers next time cattle are being handled. If a job isn’t getting done, pitch in. If you think a job may not be able to be accomplished because of the sex of a hand, maybe check in your britches to make sure you aren’t compensating for an undersized pee pee.

Back To Work

I played with Rusty today.
It had been forever. A good month or so since we played at all and most of the summer since we did anything serious.
I couldn’t even remember what it was we should be working on.
So we went with old favorites. Spanish walk, some trotting, turns on the quarters.
Need to be sure that there is much less time between our next session.



Threshold, in this case, refers to the level at which the horse becomes afraid.

Keeping a horse well below threshold means they are never worried about anything.

Getting a horse way over threshold removes any ability to learn. They wont take any offered food to help calm them down. They are too afraid to eat. So feeding for calmness wont help. A horse who is scared can’t think, they wont remember anything you try to work on while they are in this state. Other than that what you did with them made them afraid. Keeping a horse well over threshold without any way to escape the fear brings on a state of learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is when a horse has given up. They can’t escape the fear so they shut down. They seem fearless because of their lack of reaction.

With most of the training we do, we want to stay well below threshold. Our horses will be happy and gobble up all that we can teach them. By working in this area we will build a solid foundation of trust so when we cross that threshold they will be better able to rely on us and know we will get them out safely. All training to help them over come fear has to come before the fear is present.

By pressing close to threshold without crossing over, we can sample fear in small doses and show the horse that we will keep them safe. Offer a taste of fear, then back away, give treats, offer support and comfort so we become the safe place when there is danger. Not physically the safe place of course 😉

Once we have crossed threshold it is too late to do any training. All we can do is our best to get them back to a safe place, mentally and physically, so we can recover and meet the challenge better prepared next time!



On the way out he protested softly.

I turned up the gravel lane on the way out to the pasture. He stopped. Pointing his body on past the lane towards the other gate into the pasture. Not paying attention, not enough at any rate, I thought he just didn’t want to go for a ride. I asked and he gave in, ouching occasionally on the rocks as we walked up the lane.

I was leading the one child as the other rode along beside. Out into the pasture where a small bunch of cattle are spending their summer is a favorite ride destination of theirs. With the windmill, pond, and big hills to go up and down it’s understandable that they would think it’s a fun place to ride. If I were riding I would think it was fun too. We had ridden there for the last two days, this made a third.

On the way back across the pasture, we were pointed directly at the gate that lead down the lane. Rusty kept veering off to the south. Where are you going? I would ask him. Look, home is straight this way.

Finally we got to the gate. He stopped again. Just like he had on the way out. I paused, and asked him again. Politely, the horses don’t get drug around. He stood his ground just outside the gate. We had come this way for the last two days, he knew it was the way home. Still he stood, unwilling to budge.

I thought about the way he ouches over the big pieces of rock. Good for letting us feed up and down the lane in wet muddy weather. Not so good for his tender feet. I had thought that it was ok because he could walk along the edges where dirt had gathered. Not enough to protect his feet apparently.

We turned south, the way he had been asking to go all along. A slightly longer rout, out around the corrals, avoiding the rocks. He set off happily and enthusiastically.

All that time he had been trying to tell me there was a problem. He had been worrying about it. Thinking ahead even as we approached the lane that bothered him so from a long ways off. He had told me on the way out, but given in when I didn’t listen.

About time I heard what he had to say. I guess we’ll be going around from now on.



Good Horses

Three rides, three days in a row. I only got to ride one of those but at least we’re getting out with the horses.

Today we saddled Lady for my son, they then lead the way for the whole ride. Rusty stayed on a lead and walked nicely, slowly, beside me carrying his precious cargo. She says that’s why he walks slower with her, I’ll go with it. We went out along the pivot, down the side of the hay field.

Near the far end Rusty stopped. Lady was walking beside us just then and stopped too. I said come on Rust lets go. He said no.

Looking back at him to see why he was refusing I saw a strand of wise across the front of both of his legs. Grabbing the leadrope up short to hold him still, because he wasn’t the one who had just told me he needed to 🙄 I looked over at Lady. Her front feet were clear of the wire but it was wrapped in front of her hind legs.

We were a long ways away from the fence where the wire must have come from. Deer must have gotten caught in it and pulled the strand of electric wire clear out into the field where we found it. I ordered children off the horses.

They immediately jumped off.

Haha, no. The sat there wanting to know why. Would I help them? Did they really have to? Once they were finally unloaded my daughter stood holding Rusty while my son and I carefully walked Lady out of the wire. He stood with Lady then while we walked Rusty out.

No one spooked even slightly. Both horses were calm and relaxed the whole time. Both kids stayed the same. I was ready to load them up and keep on with our ride. My daughter was far more responsible and went to work getting the wire back to the fence where it belonged. My son and Lady stood quietly holding Rusty while I went to join her. Then we finished out ride.

Two good horses, two good kids, one good ride.

Cowboy School

Heildorf has been away at cowboy school.
He’s been learning how to work cattle, how to calmly and quietly cover many miles while listening to his rider for cues while at the same time watching the cattle himself to see what is going to need done. A true practice in teamwork.
He’s learned to have a rope thrown off his back, to hold a calf in front of him to be doctored, or pull it behind him to take it to be worked.
He’s crossed water in deep ditches. He’s climbed steep hills. He’s been in big groups of horses and people. He’s been hauled all over the place. He’s developing into a well trained working horse.
His time away at cowboy school is almost over. I can’t wait to get him back and see what all he’s learned.


Kindness Always Wins

The kids have been working with their bottle calves. each child has a calf they are going to show in 4H. Each child is supposed to be training their calf to catch, wear a halter, and lead.

My daughter has a big black steer who is quiet and friendly and she is doing a great job training him.

My son has a fiery little red steer who isn’t thrilled to be caught, doesn’t want scratches, and doesn’t lead.

He was working with his steer the other day. I had caught and haltered the steer. His job was to get the calf to follow on the lead. The calf said no. He didn’t want to. That was it.

My son was getting a bit frustrated. I was trying to take turns working with each of them and pay attention to a cow who really wanted petted and goats. It must not have been going well when I wasn’t looking. From across the pen I heard his voice. “Kindness always wins, right mom”?

He had gotten frustrated and was ready to fight and pull. Then he stopped and thought about it.

Instead of fighting he stood quietly with the calf and petted. He scratched the calf’s itchy spots and they spent undemanding time together. Then pulled the halter and let the calf go. I’ve never been so proud of the boy. He got lots of hugs too. We talked about how that time spent together doing nothing but enjoying had put him so much farther ahead than dragging the calf around ever would have. How, yes, kindness will win and is always the best way to work with our animals.


The Calves Got Out

The Calves got out.

Not in a bad way. Just on the other side of the fence. It’s good that they are grazing that part. It would be better if they could get back where they are supposed to be by themselves.

Raising their own bottle calves is great for the kids. Even if they aren’t appreciating it at the moment. I sent them off to do their nightly chores. Get animals back in the corrals and off the grass for the night and get them their grain. Figuring out where the calves were and how to get them back was part of the job. I would leave them to it, taking care of other things, and help them later. If they needed it.

Time alone working to solve a problem without adult help is good for them.

After I finished my chores I stopped to help them. They had the calves almost to the gate. All by themselves. I only opened the gate for them.

They were one calf short.

The calf wasn’t lost. They knew right where it was. It was just stuck. The corrals are very nice. The old corrals are still there too. Just outside the other corrals. A foot or two on the outside of the fence. The new corrals built inside the old fence line. The last calf was stuck between the two fences. No way out. Not easily.

We all traipsed through the trees and waist high grass back to him. We looked, we talked, we pondered our options. One child started pushing him down the fence line. Then he shouted, the boy not the calf. He had found a break in the fence. The calf might be able to squeeze out. But barely. We pushed and broke branches and old boards. We all worked together to pull and push the calf through the little opening.

All the grass out there and he had just had to squeeze into the one spot he shouldn’t have been. We all worked together and managed to get him out. Teamwork, problem solving, perseverance, respect for the responsibility our care for the animals around us requires. All the things children need to be learning. How can anyone not love having calves around?


In Town Again

It’s been so busy I haven’t had time to share everything that’s been going on! Working on getting caught up.
We had to leave our last Wednesday night riding class early. my husbands boss was having a good bye party and we were joining them for dinner. With the trailer behind the pickup and horses on.
There were plenty of kids there. Some of whom had seen Rusty when we were at the school. They asked if they could see him again.
After eating we walked out to the trailer, feeling somewhat like the pied piper.
Unloading there in the middle of the street, in the middle of town, Rusty stood again for a small audience to pet him and ask for fist bumps. We couldn’t find the rubber chicken in the trick box that was still loaded in the trailer but did find a squeaky pig. Rusty was willing to play with that instead.He picked it up and whacked children with it.
He did wonderfully then loaded happily back in the trailer to get home. I haven’t had a chance to hardly touch him since then but he did great for his very busy week of being hauled all around while he awed children with his abilities.