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What a Dog Owner Can Learn from Horses
Saturday, May 18, 2024


I’ve been training dogs for 35 years now, professionally for 25 years.  Prior to that, I did my share of riding as well.

In my teenage years, I showed competitively in Hunter/Jumper and dressage, pretty hard core.  In fact, in my first show with my first horse, I beat three of my riding instructors in Hunter/Jumper.  I still look at that in total astonishment!  In several big shows back in Michigan I won High Point Champion winning in both Hunter/Jumper and dressage.

I had a very difficult horse that was not from champion stock but, rather, a big grade palomino horse my parents bought for me for a $1.  Yup.  I had two sisters in college and my parents had just built a new house, so family finances were a little tough even though my father was a GM Executive. My mother even saved $7.50 out of the grocery money for me to have lessons every week!

The manager of the ranch where I rode realized our financial situation, and the situation with Sam (my soon to be horse) in needing someone to ride and love him. When the opportunity arose for me to have my own horse, my parents jumped on it.  He was sound, mostly.  But I learned how to ride a very difficult horse in order to get him over 5-foot fences!  He was no push button horse.

Eventually, I was riding five different horses a day for other owners boarding at the ranch. When I came home from riding, I would then teach our family dog, Susie, how to navigate and jump obstacle courses I made from anything I could find. I taught her the same things I was doing with my horse.

Essentially, my dog and I were doing agility in 1966 before there ever was such a thing as competitive dog agility!! I tell this story not to toot my own horn but to explain my determination and the education I got from riding horses.

Of course, things were different back then compared to what they are now in terms of training.  The longer I train dogs, the more I see cross-over training. More and more I pull things I learned as a competitive equestrienne that work amazingly well with dogs!  

When my daughter was in Junior High and High School, I leased a horse for her to participate in 4H on.  That was back in 1994 when clicker training was just coming on the scene as a technique to train dogs!  Yes, I went out on a limb and did clicker with her horse! Back then, there was no such thing as horse treats, so I made my own out of sliced apples and carrots.  Now, there are all kinds of healthy treats for horses!

Continuing my thoughts about cross-training, I started doing horse round-pen training in my fenced back yard with dogs that will not come. Incredibly, it worked! In the horse world they sometimes call it “liberty work.”  When a dog does not come, I simply follow it around the yard, “pushing” it to keep going even if they want to stop.  Pretty soon, they either sit or go to the back door where I immediately reward them. Incredibly, I may only need to do this twice, if that, and then the dog comes to me without fail!  Go figure!

One of the really important things I think in dog training is experience and not just in training dogs, but with other animals AND with other venues besides obedience.  The things I have learned to help family dogs from doing sheep herding with one of my dogs is mind boggling!

I learned tons from participating in Pet Therapy for 10 years at the nursing home with three of my certified Pet Therapy Dogs.  I learned so much about dog temperament for pets and even temperament types for service dogs from that experience.  Pet Therapy was a huge learning ground for watching dog behavior and learning their non-verbal communication skills with people!  The search training techniques I did with my Search and Rescue dogs (yes, I had two) have helped me to teach enrichment for every pet dog, directionals and even another “come” technique.  

What is the point of all this?  It is to help every dog owner to see that many, MANY things can contribute to training your dog and having an enriched and trusting relationship with your dog.  It is critical that we use experience to apply to our dogs.  Those experiences can come from so many places if we remain open to them, look for them and create them!

Frankly, I’d love to do more clicker work with horses!  It’s on my bucket list!

Fran Jewell is a dog behavior consultant living in the Wood River Valley. Questions? Contact her at Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC, at 208-721-7221.

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