Getting the ‘volume’ right on our communications with our dogs and horses is a skill. At the moment I’m sometimes doing the energetic equivalent of shouting or whispering at just the wrong time! That said it is fascinating to me that once I have a mental connection how the most subtle of cues is all that is required. Equally surprising is how easily that connection can be lost!
Another important thing to consider is allowing the horse or dog time to respond. A Bullmastiff likely isn’t going to respond as quickly as a Collie! The same is true of our horses. We have to not only pitch our ask at the right level we also have to allow a fair amount of time for the animal to respond.
I use my dog walks to practise everything I am learning at Pippsway. Having a Bullmastiff means that this can be rather a challenge! He is indeed bullish! That said I know from past experience that he is also very trainable when I have his attention and he accepts that this new way of doing something is here to stay. At the moment getting him to walk behind me for our entire walk requires a lot of concentration on my part. That is largely because for two years I let him run on ahead! So I am having to sometimes use voice, sometimes body language and then there are times when just a thought will suffice. The challenge is gauging what way to pitch it in the moment. Pip has taught me that to keep our animals sensitive we need to use the most subtle cue possible. By the same token we can’t ask 500 times! So we have to ask, if needs be ask again and if we haven’t then achieved our goal we must ensure that on asking a third time the animal responds!
Today was yet another lesson in how I find maintaining the requisite level of focus nigh on impossible in a challenging circumstance! Brando was happily walking behind me when we came into a clearing. There were some mountain bikers and, despite having maintained control of the walk when horses were passing us earlier, it all went out the window. It turned out I knew the people so they all started saying hello and giving me hugs. All very nice and yet I didn’t have a hope in hell’s chance of being in control of Brando in that moment! At this time it really does take every fibre of my being and as soon as one of those fibres is distracted it all goes to pot! He ran up to them, started barking at a man he didn’t know and in stark contrast to the compliant, connected dog of only moments earlier we were in chaos. Thankfully nothing sinister resulted but if I were in the saddle and had a similar experience the fallout could be a very different matter!
This experience tells me that I am not truly his leader in his mind. I need to practise what I have learned from Pip, ensure that every interaction between us is mindful and that at all times I am maintaining my leadership. I have unknowingly been behaving in submissive ways and he has been being dominant. Now I've stopped walking around on autopilot it is amazing to me just how much information and behaviour on both our parts that has completely passed me by! Not any more. I need to apply single minded focus.
So all in all a lot to be getting on with! But as I always say, once you have experienced what a real connection with your dog or horse feels like you couldn’t be happy with anything less.