Monday, February 11, 2008

11th February, 2008 Letting go of the past

I am a keen follower of the programme The Dog Whisperer where Mexican dog trainer Cesar works with all kinds of dogs and their owners. One of his wisest comments concerned a rescue dog with a traumatic history. He praised the owners for healing the dog's physical pain and urged them to heal the dog's mental pain by moving on themselves. He felt that their constant pity for the dog because of what had happened to it meant that they couldn't make any progress and undermined their leadership. I think it's the same for horses - yes it helps if you know what has happened to them in the past and it is important to work with empathy but failing to gently confront their issues can reinforce them. Today I went to work with a Shetland pony called Bailey. His owner bought him a year ago. She heard that at one point he had been tied up by a road and local children had treated him badly and vaulted onto his back. As a result, Bailey has become difficult to catch and G has become quite hesitant when she goes to catch him. Between them they muddle through and once he is caught he is fine. For them it is a matter of shaping his behaviour, using some systematic de-sensitization, some lateral thinking and both of them smiling a lot more. I introduced them both to clicker training and by the end of the session we could both catch him in the pen and then in the paddock.