3 Fun Ways to Open Up a "dialogue" and Strengthen Bonds with Your Horse or Dog
Sometimes it feels like you and your pet are just on different wavelengths, but how do you close that space and open up communication BOTH ways, not just you telling him what to do? Here are several great ways to bond with and stimulate your pet, as well to increase trust and leadership.
- Dogs can sometimes get bored and chew on things they aren't supposed to, and we all know that that particular past time does NOT promote positive feelings between you and your mutt. To reduce boredom chewing, try this: at your local pet store, you should be able to find a type of training treats called yogurt drops. Dogs LOVE these treats, but they are easily digestible. Take these treats and tell your dog to "Stay!" Have your dog watch while you hide treats around the area. When you say "Okay go!" allow your dog to go and find the treats. It's best not to hide more than five treats. Dogs have so much fun with this!
- Horses don't often get the chance to vent their feelings, but this activity, "Joining up," is a great way to both let them "talk" to you while re-establishing dominance between rider and horse. Take your horse into a round-pen (an arena is more difficult to use, but it's still do-able, it's just more work for you!) and take off an kind of head control, both halters and headstalls. Saddles are okay (this is a great way to do groundwork with a green-broke horse before you get on, as well as with well-broke horses that just need a chance to let loose).
Stand in the middle of the round pen with a lounge whip and cue your horse to move forward. In addition to the normal sound cues, use your body language. In a herd, the dominant mare is the one who regulates behavior and pecking order. BE THE HEAD MARE. Horses are always happier when there is a clearly established hierarchy, and it's always best for humans to be at the top, or else both the horse and the people it's around could get hurt. The language a head mare uses to "scold" a herd mate, or put him in his place, is a combination of actions- she pins her ears back, lowers her head, and rushes toward the herd member's hindquarters.
Try this with any horse, their first reaction is ALWAYS a canter. The cantering is when the horse gets to vent whatever he is feeling; at this time, he is free to kick, hop, or buck, because it is his one allowed "bad boy" moment. You will notice after a few minutes, your horse will start to want to slow down and be lazy, but we want to keep him at a steady canter. Once his head starts to lower in submission, his gait is slightly slower, and his circles around you get tighter, drop the lounge whip and put a hand in the air like a traffic cop. Tell him to "Whoa", and be sure to stand straight and tall. If your horse has successfully joined up, he should be turned to you, have his head low, and be licking his lips (he's happy).
After a moment of consideration, he should approach you. Ideally you want him to walk all the way to you, but if he moves forward even a little, he's joined up correctly. "Groom" him (scratch his withers, finger comb his mane, etc.) and praise him in warm but quiet tones. This recreates the head mare welcoming a horse into the herd in his designated order. Try turning and walking away- your horse will now follow you! If these things don't happen when you stop your horse, and he instead points his hindquarters to you, get after him even more, make him run harder, and "scold" him-- he is giving you attitude and saying he is higher on the totem pole! All horses instinctively know how to join up, so keep it up and you'll be successful!
Taking dogs and horses for a good walk
- Both dogs and horses benefit from a good walk. Whether or not your horse is broke, leading him on a walk is a good idea, because when a leader (you) encounters things that are new to your pet, they will take cues to how to behave from you! Seeing and smelling new things with you is the best way your pet has to bond with you. Your horse or dog will be a much calmer and more socialized pet with regular walks (or if your horse is broke, rides). Young or active dogs should have at least two walks a day, while smaller or less active dogs are fine with one a day. When you encounter new and/or "scary things" (like trash bags, trash cans, big dogs-- startling or unusual stuff) stop, have your horse or dog face the object, and make him stand still. Then walk past the object, or allow the object to pass (if it's a truck, car, etc.). Your calm demeanor teaches your animal that new situations are not scary. These are great ways to open up a dialogue with your companion!