Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tricks are for Kids


Clifford the Wild Morgan!
After the longest, hardest winter of our life, I decided to haul Cliffy downstate and get him back in shape for our tour.  He needs muscle tone and in fact, hasn't even shed all his winter hair yet.  Maybe he was afraid it would never end.

After two days' rest, I took him out on the longe for a light workout.  He was slogging along a bit.  He didn't want to longe normally, instead preferring to turn toward me and rear, do his fancy footwork and trying some other tricks.   He doesn't like doing normal horse stuff.

Despite this, I persisted and he finally did some reluctant trotting.  I thought at 22, perhaps he was feeling his age.  I thought some muscle tone and supplements might help.  Pretty soon he stopped and had that "look of eagles".  I snapped a couple of quick photos before I realized that he was watching a lady and little girl walk down the road.

"Trot!"  I said, urging him to get back to work.  He shook his head and sprang into motion.  When he did, it was like slow motion.  He had that beautiful lift, his long neck arched, his legs moving in suspended elegance, and I watched the years fall away.  He was tipping one ear toward the little girl.  He made one circle around me, and then he kept on going, pulling the line out farther and farther as he made a beeline for the road where she was walking.

"He likes kids," I explained to the pair, as I pulled him back.

"We were watching his tricks!" the lady called.  "We think that's neat!"

I almost called them into the yard.  Clifford was so focused on the girl that we both watched them wistfully as they kept going, farther and farther away from us.

I realized again, that this is his calling.  His interest is not in working and perfecting his training.  His interest is in connecting with people, particularly children.  He is an ambassador, a playmate, a performer and a clown.

We need to get some weight and muscle on him.  He wants to go back to work.  He is ready.

Age 22 and still going strong!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Indentured Service Dogs

While in Tractor Supply the other day, a girl stood behind me in the checkout line with a very nice Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.  The dog was on a leash and gave me a sort of pleading look, standing right by my waist, so I naturally reached to give her a pat.

"No!" her owner snipped, and jerked the lead.  I noticed then that the dog was wearing a pinch collar and had a little vest on that said, "Service Dog in Training."  She was reprimanded (as was I) for this bit of interaction.

I realize it is the standard policy for service dogs to not be allowed to socialize, as they have to "not be distracted from their job".

I think this is a horrendous mistake for a number of reasons.

1)  A dog is a social animal and to suppress the natural greeting behavior will cause frustration.  The impulse to greet WILL eke out in other ways, or transfer to other (less desirable) behaviors.

2)  There is no way to restrain the impulses of people you meet.  Therefore, the handler while in public has to be constantly correcting the dog every time a person approaches it.  This means that a dog's work day is peppered with corrections over things that he can never "unlearn".

3)  Socialization in public places is a fundamental importance in the emotional stability of  the dog.

4)  A good working dog will do the job no matter what distracts him.

5)  A good trainer should be able to train the type of focus it takes to get the job done in a public arena.  Trainers unable to cope with this are either lazy or incompetent.

What the griffon's owner demonstrated seems to be a blanket rule for service dogs.  So many of them have very little quality of life, with an existence of humdrum, joyless days in constant restraint.  As the training world evolves away from suppression and correction, and into more positive and joyful methods, I hope to see a big life change for service dogs.

Terrible Til in action: One example of a joyful working dog!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hay, Chewed

Got a nice email from Standlee Hay Company offering some samples of their timothy hay, alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets.  Here is a pic of Cliffy from yesterday enjoying some of their alfalfa mix from Tractor Supply Company.  The horses just LOVE this stuff!  And their timing was impeccable because, as anyone in Michigan can tell you, we have had a beast of a season.  The hay shortage due to drought last year was immediately followed by the longest, coldest winter on record in recent years.  Standlee is pulling us through to first cutting -- for which we are truly grateful.

You could say they "take a sad song, and make it better."  Here's to better days ahead!