In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Appropriate Training of Horses and Dogs

Stabled horses require 24/7 forage, and miles and miles of daily walking, as well as abundant socialization to re-create a natural existence. When these needs are not provided in adequate measure unwelcome behaviors develop.

Foals raised by the mare and herd in a grazing setting develop into easily trainable animals, as it is the mare and herd that teach growing horses how to learn. It is the in-depth socialization and interaction with the herd of mares and foals that nurtures and develops athletic ability and prowess of the growing horse. . . The herd teaches the horse how to prevail. Horses learn how to cooperate from other horses. They learn how to see and graze and move, and perhaps most importantly, how to communicate with others as taught by other horses. This is socialization. . . .It is the herd that provides the foundation for the horse to learn, endure, and prevail in athletic competitions. . . .  All physiologic, behavioural, and metabolic functions of the horse are dependent on abundant daily walking.

Social behavior in natural feral settings is the 'natural' behavior that 'natural' horsemanship utilizes to appreciate the nature of the horse. . .As to dominance, the science reveals that free-ranging horses form social hierarchies that are complex and rarely linear. Under natural open range conditions with adequate resources, horses seldom have the equivalent of an alpha individual because the roles of leadership and defense are more critical than domination. . . Leadership is shared and alternated and variable and context dependent in established harems in natural settings. Dominance is rare, and certainly not prevalent. When present at all, it facilitates group protection and stability. Horses share leadership. Survival is herd based, rather than individual based.

In the training or operant conditioning of domestic animals, horses and dogs, reinforcement is the primary method of successful training, be it positive or negative. While often utilized, punishment is seldom necessary and is often counterproductive in the long term, as it devalues the relationship between man and animal form the animal's perspective. As the class continues, we will see that group survival trumps individual survival in many social species. It is survival of the fittest group rather than the fittest individual that often drives natural selection in social species. 

Most domestic species are social species, sharing a variety of social survival constructs with humans, group survival foremost among those shared characteristics. Group survival entails communication and cooperation. It is not the toughest, meanest individual that survives in a group, but the most effectively communicative, cooperative, and appeasing individual, it seems. This concept has diminished the 'dominance theory' of training which often uses punishment. With dogs and horses, more and more people these days seek willing partnerships rather than indentured servitude of their dog and horse, and indeed, it is the willing partnerships with animals that create the most desirable relationships between man and dog, and man and horse. For training of dogs and horses to be most effective, the training has to be a pleasurable situation for the horse and dog, and the science of learning and animal behaviour has helped humans make great positive strides in the development of mutually beneficial relationships with these domestic species. 
There were 300-400 potential domesticates, but only a dozen or so animals shared enough learning, group survival, communication, and social constructs with humans to actually become successful domesticates that allowed a successful merger with humans. In a sense, domestic species have merged with humans to accomplish a shared group survival construct. In the teaching of domestication science, I use the metaphor 'sugars' to describe these shared characteristics. Some of the domestication sugars include shared methods of learning, shared communication modalities, shared group survival constructs, shared appeasement of others. Dominance has little to do with any of these domestication sugars. Humans and domestic animals best respond to reinforcement in the development of mutual relationships. Reinforcement, be it positive or negative, increases or strengthens natural behavior. While the punishment often associated with dominance decreases or weakens the natural tendencies or behaviors of the animal. Allowance and encouragement of natural behaviors creates the strongest bonds between humans and domestic animals, you know.

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. He helps refine horse and dog training methods to accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses and dogs. Applied veterinary behavior enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Natural approaches to development, training, nutrition, and conditioning sustain equine health and enhance performance. Behavioral and nutritional enrichment strategies enhance the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses. DrSid provides equine behavior consultations to help recreate the needs and preferences of horses in training and competition.
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