Concerning the Education of Animals

To many people, training an animal means to actively manipulate the animal into doing what you want.

But it isn’t, actually.

You train an animal, and train him well, when you passively manipulate the situation into a situation wherein it is natural and comfortable for the animal to do what you’re asking. The first three, four, or five times, the animal will not know that he’s doing what you ask. He’s just doing what comes naturally to him in that situation, and if you ask for the behavior at a later date, he still won’t know what you mean. But as he’s doing it in your manipulated situation, you will give his activity a Name. And as he’s doing it, you will give the Name and the activity a Pleasant Connection, with pettings and other appropriate rewards. The animal, in turn, grasps the context. (Animals are brilliant at context.) In other words, the animal will associate the Name and Pleasant Connections with the desired behaviour. After a few repetitions, you will Name the activity desired, and the animal will know what you’re asking for, and expect it to be a good thing for him.

The Equuschick shall give you a few examples.

When you have a dog that must learn to sit, and is preferrably fond of food, you show the dog food. When the dog is properly interested and is ready to follow the tid-bit to the ends of the earth, you move the food (in your hand) in such a way that dog must lift his head and chin to follow the food. When the head goes up, it is often natural for the other end to go down. Even if it doesn’t hit the floor, it will be enough that you’ll be able to lean over and press it down with much less force than otherwise. The moment the dog’s bottom hits the floor, you tell him what he has done and prove that it was a good thing. “Good sit!” And hand over the treat. Repeat. They’ll get it.

(No, this was not exactly how the Zeus Dog learned sit, but the Zeus Dog was in another category of training altogether known as Moose Handling and he learned to sit when The Equuschick sat on him, and praised him with a “Good sit!” when he fell down under her weight. Let it never ever be forgotten that animals are individuals, and some are just individually difficult. ;) )

When a horse is learning gaits on the lunge line, there is practically no convenient way for the handler to physically force him to go down to a walk from a trot. So the handler simply starts lungeing the horse in a circle and lets him choose his gait.
When he wants to trot, let him, and tell him what he’s doing. “Good trot!” Sound happy about it. Trotting is a good thing. When he slows down to a walk, give the walk a Name and tell him you’re happy about that, too. He will learn. It is good to walk at the same time she’s saying “Walk” , and good to trot when she says “Trot.”

Now, then. The Equuschick has recieved some questions in the past because what she has written here seems not to mesh with what she is seen to be doing out in the round pen. But the person who asked the questions has only ever seen The Equuschick with a horse all ready educated in the basics. As with children, there are different tactics for teaching an animal a task, and for appropriate discipline when the animal does not perform a task he’s all ready learned. The Equuschick has never had any objection to smacking a horse, as long as the horse knows exactly what the smack was for, and how to avoid it in the future. Consistency keeps confusion at bay, and confusion is the enemy of all training.

The Equuschick would also like to say that none of the above will be helpful to those who do not believe animals are capable of such advanced thought processes, but if that is the case then The Equuschick doesn’t think you deserve an animal anyway, and won’t you please go back to the Unanimal Planet from Whence You Came because The Equuschick does not understand people like you. At all.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2005 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid I’m not good with animals, nor do I enjoy them as much as I should. Perhaps that’s why I’m not good with them. But this method makes a lot of sense (and meshes with what I know of children and C.S. Lewis’ philosophic view of animals expressed in That Hideous Strength). Thanks; maybe now I can understand and enjoy them more.

  2. Posted July 28, 2005 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    The Equuschick has always enjoyed animals, but is perhaps not always as good as she sounds because she doesn’t take her own advice very well. It is one thing to mentally grasp a concept, and another to be able to consistently utilize in her day-to-day stuff. She frustrates herself sometimes, so do not feel too bad.

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