Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Learn and Live and Learn Some More

Any decent horse person keeps educating herself.  I've been using what I know with my horse Rock, and what I know is not good enough.  So, I dug around in my horse training inventory and cracked a variety of books.  I was astounded by the wide range of advice regarding the same issues.  Some pieces of advice even contradicted what other horse trainers advise a person to do under such circumstances.  I became worried that I was just confusing myself instead of educating myself.

One book seemed better than the others, because it broke down its training advice to the reasons behind the behavior.  For example, you use increasing pressure on a horse who freezes up to get out of doing work or who is barn sour, and you remove a horse from the stimuli who freezes up out of fear, and then slowly expose it to the fearful object or situation over time until it gains confidence.

My blog has been around for a long time, and I've heard a lot of advice on how to deal with spooky behavior.  In recent years, I've come to the conclusion that some horses just never get over their anxiousness.  The same is true with people.  You can have an anxiety disorder, or perhaps being nervous is just a part of your personality.  You can improve on it, but you can't get rid of it all together.  This was the first book I've read to admit that.  All the other books insist that the handler/rider must be doing something wrong.

I was walking in the door and Midge, my Corgi, did her usual behavior of stepping into the door frame as I came through it.  She puts me in a position where I have to maneuver around or over her, and then I can't shut the door without risking hurting her toes and feet.  So, I got into the habit of just shoving her out of the way with my leg when I'd walk in the door, and closing it quickly before she ran back into the frame.  She's not trying to escape.  This is just her herding instinct telling her to get behind my feet.

You'd think that after the first hundred times I physically move her out of that spot, she'd learn and stop going into that space.  Right?  No.  She still does it.  The problem of her always being at my heels has gotten worse as I have become more forgetful, because I often have to turn around and go back the way I came to get something or do something that I forgot about.  With a Corgi in the house, I don't have the freedom and space to make quick turns because either the dog or I will get hurt.  I've come to accept that herding is so ingrained in her personality that I cannot train it out of her.  All I can do I lock her in a kennel to keep her out of my space when I know I need to move fast or freely.

My main challenge with my Chihuahua mixes is separation anxiety.  Scrappy sits at the door and cries every time I walk outside when he is awake, even if other people are inside the house, and Stewie does not like to be left alone.  If I take the other two dogs outside, he runs around the house screaming like a Banshee.  I often wonder how these two dogs will fare the next time I get a job working outside the home.  Separation anxiety is difficult to train out of dogs, because I am obviously not present or in their vicinity to train them in the first place.

My line of thinking regarding training my animals is reminiscent of the serenity prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

My daughter asked me to volunteer to teach a high reading group for her grade level at her school on whatever days I can spare.  I used to be a teacher and I have a strong background in the literary arts, so it seems a shame to not put my education and skills to use, especially when help is needed.  I agreed to do it.  It'll be interesting to see how the dogs handle it.  I suspect at some point, me leaving will be a routine that they expect and accept.  Now is a good time to experiment, since I have absent neighbors on both sides.  That way no one will be bothered by screaming dogs.

I'm hoping that all these years of training dogs and horses will assist me in working with children, and that working with children will help me collect new tools to deal with my dogs and horses.  A lot of parents of young children might be offended by that comment.  You know... "My child is not an animal!"

But the aspects of behaviorism are the same, even though people have a completely different psychological make up from dogs and horses, and dogs are different from people and horses, and horses are different from dogs and people, and then there are all the individual differences within each species.  Any time that we are dealing with living things, we are being presented problems to solve.  We just have to keep plugging away at trying out different solutions until we succeed.  Learn and live and learn some more.  Now I'm going to go attempt to ride a horse while the dogs cry at the door, and I'm going to try to be wise.

1 comment:

TeresaA said...

It sounds like a good challenge and behavioural principles are the same for humans and for non-humans.