“Ruh-Roh!” Do you remember Astro from the Jetsons? Probably only if you were born in the hippie era… I had a client in yesterday with an adorable Black Lab named Duke, but she very much reminded me of George walking Astro on the treadmill after Astro spies the cat. Duke was dragging her all over the waiting room. At one point, he popped his collar and leaped down the hallway to investigate the clinic cat. (After getting summarily hissed at and swiped, he dropped to the floor in defeat!)
I used to have a Black Lab named Moose. He was a rescue, and he came to me heartworm positive. (Actually, he was proof that I would be a “foster failure” as he initially came as a foster dog but I couldn’t let him go.) He was at the other end of the bell curve from my brilliant Border collie, Reilly. I used to tell folks that Moose had two gray cells, but unfortunately they never communicated.
And yet, his unabashed devotion to me and his goofy antics endeared him to me in a way not achieved by any other dog I have had. And so, it was extremely painful to me the day Moose ran under the wheels of the UPS truck on my driveway. Although no one saw it happen, I believe the UPS driver was focused on four dogs bounding out of my garage on the driver’s right side. He didn’t even know Moose was heading towards the truck on his left.
To this day I really miss that goober dog. I was immediately drawn to Duke as he reminded me so much of Moose. My flexible afternoon appointment schedule afforded me the opportunity to spend considerable time with Duke’s owner, discussing dog obedience. We discussed clicker training and basic obedience skills. We talked about building confidence in an anxious dog. She needs to make herself the center of Duke’s universe and giver of all things good. She left the office excited to go buy a clicker and get started.
In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that her daughters showed Saddlebreds. One daughter is apparently a very accomplished rider. She is now beating the trainers who were riding more expensive mounts than my client’s family was able or willing to purchase. The proud mom went on to say that it was because of the relationship her daughter had with these Five-Gaited Saddlebreds that she was able to be so successful in the show ring.
I told my client about my current journey with Finn. I explained that she needed to build that same bond of trust and security with her wild-child Lab. It is so easy for me to spot owner/dog relationships that need work.
But it was much harder for me to recognize the holes in my own relationships with my horses. Even after having an epiphany as I built the relationship with Kadeen, my older Arab, I still didn’t realize initially what it was going to take with Finn.
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I spent a few days in Estes Park, a place that fills my soul in a way like no other. We rented livery horses, draft crosses that moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. At least we had ample opportunity to appreciate the scenery and smells. It was a sharp reminder to me of just how much Finn has to learn between now and when we trailer the horses to Colorado in August for a week of riding the Rockies.
So in the pursuit of Finn’s education, my boyfriend and I took both horses to a local “rails to trails” location where the path goes over many bridges. Unfortunately, there are no wooden bridges with water rushing underneath so fast that the noise precludes conversation. Finn will just have to be trusting me in all things scary when we encounter that in Colorado. But there were several bridges where it was 6-8 feet down to the creek, with no rails.
The path is wide, perhaps 8-10 feet, and very solid with lime screenings and gravel. However, it is still readily apparent that scary things lurk on either side. Finn definitely noticed! I think he was equally scared and relieved that he was ABOVE the water and not expected to go THROUGH it!
But soon we approached the trestle bridge. That was the destination I had in mind. The trees were overgrown enough that Finn didn’t see it until we were almost upon it and ready to cross. Kadeen has been over it many times and never hesitated. Finn, on the other hand, nearly popped his eyeballs when he realized where I was directing him to go.
He did his usual default response. He turned his butt to it as if to say, “If I don’t SEE it, it isn’t there and I won’t have to do it!” It is at this point he usually goes to his second default response… to get light on his front end. I am thrilled to report that this time he didn’t!
Quietly, I talked him through it. I turned him around and showed him that Kadeen was walking across without incident. Calmly but firmly, I urged him forward. He really, really didn’t want to do it but gave me some good “try” and listened to me. Soon we were walking across! I was very, very pleased. Other than the fact that I provided a good meal to many a mosquito that night, it was a wonderful evening.
So, I encourage you to continue to build your relationship with your animals, dogs and horses, and cats alike. Just like parenting, you need to be a “steel box with a velvet lining.” Give and receive respect, set the bar high, and reward much more than you correct. But, be willing to be firm and insist on a good attitude and effort. When you truly have a reciprocal relationship with your animals, the sky is the limit!