Fear in Dogs and the Difference Between Teaching and Training

Arthur is a German Shepherd and a social clod. He’s big and clumsy and he wets on the floor when he gets too excited or scared. He will jump on people. He is boisterous and exuberant.0916191017.jpg

Arthur is a year old. But mentally he is about 5 months of age. Arthur is a special needs case who has had to return to kindergarten and learn how to be a puppy.


My blog has covered a lot of Arthur’s early training and how he behaved when I first got him. He was terrified of virtually everything. When approached by a stranger he would back up barking and sometimes even literally fall down in fear. He was reminiscent of a child with autism in the way he reacted to noise, including engine noise from automobiles and other common sounds.


Although it is the usual go-to explanation in the case of a dog who reacts fearfully, Arthur was never beaten or abused. Indeed the family who purchased him from the breeder was at a loss over what to do with him and his inexplicable depressed behavior. They had tried classes — where in the instructor had them place a prong collar on his neck and then drag him along the floor when he collapsed — a terrible experience for any puppy. (NO puppy should have to wear a prong!) Arthur’s owners didn’t like the way this was headed, and to their credit they kept trying multiple trainers before a friend called me in. They wanted Arthur to come to my puppy boot camp so I could fix this terrified, vomiting puppy, and I was given two weeks to do it.

After having Arthur for 2 weeks I realized that he should not go back to the home because he had a genetically programmed, deep seated fear response that could manifest in aggression. He required a lot of special handling. He couldn’t walk down the street or through the store without barking at everyone we met.

My goal with Arthur over the following months was to build his confidence. This was the most important thing that could be instilled in this dog, because fear is what was driving most of his behavior. I logged much of his progress on my blog.

He became my full-time job. My goal was to not only save his life, but offer him some quality of life. His owners gladly relinquished him to me when they were presented with a list of daily activities that his condition demanded. Their hearts were in the right place but it was just too much for a normal family to handle.

Arthur was taken under the wing, albeit reluctantly, of my border collie, Til and my other dog, an older mixed lab named Jasper. He lived with three smaller dogs as well, in a big eclectic canine family.


In the following months Arthur visited stores and shops and many other public places. His contact with people was carefully monitored to orchestrate a positive experience on each occasion. I spent the summer teaching him to swim. He was afraid of the feeling of his feet leaving the lake bottom. He didn’t understand how to chase a ball, but thanks to the example of my other dogs he learned how to play.

He enjoyed a lot of freedom during those months. We went for daily runs in the field. We walked in and out through doors that scared him. We went on stairs and elevators. We faced countless boogeyman, every day, for months. He worked hard. He learned to come when he was called, every time. He learned to stay when he was told and wait patiently. He learned a couple of fun tricks.

His training was geared toward confidence. Not precision obedience. He never had to plod around a boring ring and have his neck jerked. He knew all the basics — sit, down, and to not pull on the leash when walking. But he was allowed to remain happy and buoyant and even on the verge of euphoria most of the time.

It has taken me eight months to get Arthur to the point of where he is confident enough to go up to anyone. Now he’s at about the five month age level, mentally. He will always be a special needs dog.

I received some criticism because Arthur is skinny and he doesn’t look or act like his littermates. All the littermates have their ears up, are enjoying a comfortable lifestyle and tipping the scales at a robust 80 + pounds.

Arthur is not like his littermates. He just got over a bout with a tapeworm — probably from eating fly eggs in horse poop. He’s had zero couch time. He is solid muscle from running and swimming and maintaining active days over 8 months. While he’s received a fair measure of discipline, (no chasing horses or cats, no barking and running up to people who come to the house, etc) he doesn’t know how to behave inside, because he’s had to stay in a crate due to the urinating.

A couple of weeks ago, Arthur rolled Jasper, puncturing his neck in a completely unprovoked act that was vicious and deadly. I put Arthur in the van to take him to the vet to be euthanized. But looking at that goofy face, well… I decided to instead return him to the source, his breeder, in hopes that her experience with the bloodline and handling in a controlled environment will give him a future with some quality of life. It’s possible that he’s acting out as a bully during his delayed growth phase. But the congenital undercurrent is always there.

It was a heartbreaking decision and not one I have taken lightly.

I’m not going to bash formal obedience training or working with dogs in a classroom setting. On the contrary! Any quality time spent with your dog is always a good thing! However…

A classroom obedience regimen does not always translate to the real world. If you have a dog that does a perfect recall and a beautiful sit and a lovely stand for examination inside a building, that’s wonderful. But would you be able to pull that dog away from a running deer or rabbit with just the sound of your voice? The biggest question is what happens with the dog if he gets off the leash.

If your dog is going to mature around a hundred pounds and has a congenital fear aggression problem, then he is a liability and you damn well better be sure that you can call him back.

A dog who will listen to you under the most extreme of circumstances is a dog that can go into the classroom and easily learn all the formal stuff. The reverse is not always true.

Arthur hasn’t spent much time walking in circles in a classroom. He might jump up in greeting or be a little too exuberant in his manner. He’s had no formal training. But he will come back from a running rabbit for me. He’s come a long, long way up from a darkness that was no fault of his own.

And he’s still alive.

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When Someone is Trying to Damage You

Even if you don’t believe in God or a higher power, you can rest assured that intentional acts of hatred come from energy. People who fuel this type of hateful energy have it come back on them in a myriad of ways. It can make them physically ill.

Don’t waste your time on revenge. People who would do harm to the helpless, two animals and to the disadvantaged are already wreaking their own inner damage.

Instead, focus on what you want to create. Put your energy into building something wonderful. Do good. Teach. Make art. If you stay focused you can succeed… and even after you forget all about them, those who tried to do you harm will be watching as you rise.

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Listening To Your Dog, and the Great Pyrenees Charades

We are all Dog TV. That’s all we are. We are clipping hangnails, checking our phones, sweeping down that elusive cobweb in the bathroom ceiling corner. What is the dog doing? Watching us.

Is it any wonder that the cognitive skills of dogs are off the charts? We don’t even know how much they understand, but we wager it’s a lot more than they are given credit for. On the flip side, though, think of the effort a dog has to go through to communicate with us. When it comes to speaking Dog, most of us are hopelessly stunted. Therefore, it is up to the dog to communicate, through what can only be described as charades, to try to tell us what he needs.

I never witnessed this more clearly than through a Great Pyrenees named Zoey whom I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days with. Her owner said that she can’t catch Zoey, that she doesn’t come when called. When she put Zoey out on the line, I got a great example of what she was talking about. Zoe becomes a dodging whirlwind, edging close and then dashing away at the last minute. She is an expert. If she were ever to get off the leash, you would be spending the whole day chasing her and maybe finally calling in someone with a big enough net.

Her food drive is at an all-time low. She is tentative and carefully smells even the most delicious tidbits of fish, chicken or whatever, even after fasting for a day.

It took me a little while to figure out what Zoey was really trying to say. She is a young dog, about three, and she lives with a baby Newfoundland about a year old named Marley. When given a chance, Zoey will roll and chew on Marley.

The two dogs are highly compatible and I was able to play them off each other. In observing Marley’s new trick of learning to lie down for a treat, Zoe started offering up the same behavior. She would crunch down the treat as well. The two dogs were crated separately in huge cages in a spare bedroom. As the day wore on, I saw that Zoey would start her dodging behavior when it came time to go back in the crate.

We worked on coming close for a treat, allowing herself to be caught, touching her collar, handling her head and neck before earning the treat. But it turned out that what she really needed was management. More play time. More outdoor time. More fun in life. She would take treats if they were offered as part of a training ritual. If offered for free, she mostly scorned them.

What Zoey craves most is social interaction. As the days wore on, we developed a routine of short leash walks, training games, play time with Marley, and more time in the house to just lie around and be in human company. When it came time to go back in the crate, she was offered a couple of big cookies for going in. At the end of the third day, she was going back in the crate on her own. Like everyone, Zoey just wants to be part of the action — and she was saying it as loudly as she could.

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Clicker Training a Head Shy Mare

On the first day I met her I started teaching her to touch a target. I didn’t have my regular horse Target stick so I used my dog’s chuckit as a substitute.

Flo is an Arabian mare who was abused by a person who had been hired to train her. She came home emaciated and upset, and so shell shocked that no one could touch her head. The farrier went into the stall with her and tried to put the halter on and she spun around in circles so he couldn’t reach her head.

On the second day she came up to me in the field but then ran off, so we brought her into the stall, using the other mare as a guide.

She liked the Target Training pretty well although she was still goosey about her ears and head.

On the third day, she watched me pull up into the driveway and get out of the car and she made a beeline for the fence and met me there.

I was really glad to see her coming to greet me and her interest in the work. She had remembered everything and was still targeting my hands and the treat bag and lowering her head even though I hadn’t brought the target stick.


When I first touched her face with the halter she reverted to her old aversive head jerking.

But once she figured out that the halter was replacing the target stick she started putting it all together.

It wasn’t too long before she was tolerating me wrapping the halter around her face. Even for a split-second this was great progress.

She sensed my excitement and seemed to be pretty satisfied with herself. At the end of the session she was willing to model!


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Target Training a Head Shy Arabian Mare

When my friend Agata asked me to work with her mare, Flo, she first simply said that the mare was, “shy”. It took me a little while to discern what the problem was because in the pasture Flo came right up to me and took a carrot out of my hand. It turned out that the six-year-old Arabian mare had been to a trainer and when she came back, she was emaciated and no one could touch her head. Getting a halter on her was nearly impossible.

I decided that Target Training would probably be the best start for this mare. Unfortunately I had forgotten my regular Target stick and the only thing I had in my car was my dog’s chuck-it. But it would have to do.

I asked Agata to bring Flo into the barn along with her buddy in order to keep her calm. Agata was reluctant to go into the stall to try to put the halter on the mare because she would “go ballistic.” She described how Flo would start spinning and flee from the halter leading to a very dangerous situation in close quarters!

I began Target Training the mare and she quickly picked up on the meaning of the click, which told her food was coming. Thankfully she was very interested in treats! When I started trying to touch her head around the ears, she would jerk away from me. I could immediately see how getting a halter on would be very difficult.

So the first exercise was in teaching her to touch the stick while allowing me to handle her face and head around her ears. It took about 20 minutes before she was calm enough to permit some handling.

Her friend , the Black mare was very interested in earning treats. It was pretty hard to ignore her asking for her own turn to touch the target stick! I finally offered her the stick and she opened her mouth and for a minute I thought she was going to suck the tennis ball right out of the chuckit! It was hilarious! Both mares are real characters. Even though Flo is nervous due to a serious case of PTSD she still has a gentle demeanor and is very intelligent.

At the end of the session she allowed her owner to brush her forelock and remove some of the burrs that had become embedded there.

That was good for a start . There is typically a learning phase during the downtime where the horse comes back more confident and the learning curve continues to grow with each session. We will let her think on it and then resume her training is the second session and see how it goes. It may take a couple of sessions before she is ready for a halter.

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Trailer Terror and How to Fix It — Spring the Morgan Mare

If you stop to think about how unnatural it is to ask a horse to step into a tin can so you can seal it up and bump and rattle 65 mph down the road, you might wonder how we ever get them to do it.

There are so many things wrong with trailering — where do you begin? For one, a horse is a visual creature. They can see tiny movement from a great distance and thrive on looking over a wide range of grass, scouting for predators. Forcing them to stand tied surrounded by walls is pretty harsh punishment. (This includes life in a stall, but that is a story for another time.)

Secondly, a horse balances on its hindquarters — throwing it forward every time you brake puts a lot more stress on the equine body than you might think. If you turn a horse loose in a stock trailer, he will face the rear of the vehicle while traveling.

With this you can add traffic noise, gasoline or diesel fumes, etc. I could go on. But when you combine all this stuff with a bad experience, well, an open trailer can quickly — and righteously — become the Gates of Hell.

So when my friend Linda called me about a mare that was coming back to her farm with a trailering issue, the way she put it was, “I want you to come and fix her.”

She called in May and although I was happy to come right away, she wanted to give the mare more time to settle in. She had been sold and returned after some time at a different location. I don’t know how long she was there.

When we finally agreed upon a date, it was the first week of September and I met Spring, a tall dark bay Morgan mare, around 15 years old, who had returned to the farm of her birth a mere shadow of her former self… An equine skeleton, nervous, planting her feet and reluctant to even come out of the stall. When she was led, she would plow into the handler with her left shoulder, hard enough to knock you off balance. She screamed for the other horses and couldn’t concentrate on anything she was asked to do.

My first day there, I decided to spend time on the hand leading problem. The first step was to target train her. I had my handy target stick along with me, one I purchased years ago from the talented former whale trainer, Shawna Karrasch. I was happy to see that Spring was handily food motivated. She especially loved carrots. She quickly learned to touch the target stick through repitition: Touch, click treat, touch, click, treat.

Once this is learned you can pretty much put the horse’s nose wherever you want it, and then the head and body follows naturally.

In walking her, I found her very eager to forge ahead. I think maybe the new owners had raced her around on a lunge line. A lot of horses that are taught to lunge in a hurry never do learn to properly lead. They will try to circle in front of you. Spring had to learn to yield out away from me, backing up a step when I took a right turn. She eventually learned to give me space, but it took about two days of hard work to get her there.

We spent a lot of time practicing in the driveway, calmly leading in different directions or just standing around, hanging out. She did earn a lot of treats, but she had to earn them. I didn’t do a lot of yelling and there was absolutely no correction. No jerking, no yelling, no punishment. Just easy stuff.

When we first approached the trailer, she planted her feet, her nostrils got as big as saucers, and she snorted and blew. Her head became a skyscraper, pointed straight up, eyes rolling in complete fear.

The mare, I had learned, had broken a trailer window with her head. Whatever else happened after leaving the farm just added to her PTSD. There was a whole lot of stress associated with that trailer.

This is where the target training came in handy. There is nothing bad associated with the stick. It is a simple point of focus, from which only good things come. It is easy to lower the head, which will naturally calm the horse, and the treats — especially delicious carrots — lead to a lot of contemplative chewing.

We spent a couple of days walking up to the open trailer door, looking in and then leaving. She was able to stick her head and neck in and she ate a bucket of grain that was placed inside.

Eventually, I began reinforcing her for touching the edge of the door with her knees. As she learned this new trick, she began lifting her knees higher, bumping the edge again and again until she volunteered to put one front foot up and in.

We worked in short shifts, three and four times a day. Some of these involved just walking her around and hand grazing. Not all of them involved the trailer.

On the fourth day, when she was comfortable with leading and approaching the trailer and putting her head in, we loaded another horse on board and started asking Spring to put her front feet in. Barn manager Janice accomplished this by lifting her front foot and placing it firmly inside. I stood in the trailer and reinforced her heavily for just keeping her foot where Janice had put it.

Normally I would have just waited for the mare to offer up her own foot, but we were working under some time constraints. This worked out okay. If possible, it’s always best to let the animal choose the right path. The healing happens faster that way as the brain engages.

Once Spring put two feet in on her own, we would immediately quit and then come back again a few hours later. The first time we encouraged her to get her whole body in there, she leaned down, stretching her neck wayyyy in, and crawled up into the trailer like a cat.

She earned a tub of grain and stood there and ate it nervously, but before she had even licked it clean, she was asked to unload again, calmly and went back to her stall.

It took six days and she finally climbed in on her own with no hesitation and no other horse.

If I had more time, I would keep loading her and unloading her with random sessions.

The additional benefits to this confidence building target training were remarkable. She is calmer away from the other horses and stopped calling for them. She leads politely without pulling or crowding. She is even calmer under saddle.

And she learned a really cute trick!

As her stress has decreased greatly, she will continue to gain weight and go back to her old lovable, funny self.

I encourage anyone who is having behavior issues to go back to the ground. Use behavior modification to address the fundamental cause of these problems. Building confidence works so much better than suppression through punishment or other “quick fixes.”

Posted in abuse, clicker training, empathy, horse, horses, morgan, training | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Down Syndrome – And The Chokehold of Guardianship

When she was home in July, the guardian made Amanda cry again. She broke down in the Northwood, one of our favorite restaurant hangouts on Drummond, begging him to “Please, I just want to hang out with Nancy. Please, Ted.”

He said, “I’m sorry.” He stood up and grabbed Amanda by the shoulder, encouraging her to get up and leave with him.

“You’re abusing her right now!” I shouted.

In what amounts to the most heartbreaking scene I have ever witnessed, Amanda tearfully complied. This 48 year old woman with Down syndrome had to endure the public humiliation of being treated like a child. But she did it with dignity. She got up, walked out of the restaurant with Ted and his wife, and meanwhile, I restrained myself from punching anyone in the throat.

I had traveled north and stayed on the island thanks to contributions from friends who wanted to see Amanda and me have some quality time together. One of the reasons the siblings feel free to crap all over us is because they know I don’t have a lot of money for legal fees. Thanks to the moral and financial support of friends, I was able to afford to get up there, pay for accommodations, and to feed myself and in the meantime try to find a civil way to make peace with Amanda’s guardian.

Before the restaurant incident, after which all bets were off, I had offered him a meeting of the minds. Instead, he stood outside the camper where they were staying, and accused me of all kinds of acts that were complete lies. Because when someone has done nothing wrong, what else can you do? For an example, Amanda was in the cart when the traces broke in a 1999 accident with Trudy where I was pulled out by the reins. I smashed my face to smithereens and needed surgery. Amanda remained sitting in the cart, unhurt. (The whole incident is recorded in my book, “Return to Manitou.”) Ted has decided that this is the very incident that caused Amanda’s blindness in one of her eyes…. Despite the fact that Amanda told him she wasn’t hurt in the accident.

This is the scope of evil that Amanda now lives with. If you can’t find a reason to emotionally batter a person, then make one up. Better yet, base it upon a true incident, and then twist the knife.

Amanda’s been having eye problems since as far back as the early 1990’s when she was still in school. Looks like I will have to see if my ex husband would be willing to write another affidavit to confirm this, too. God knows the other siblings won’t… Actually they probably wouldn’t remember anyway. They didn’t spend that much time around her.

Where was Ted when this accident occurred? Arizona, of course. Man, he sure knows a lot about what goes on around here. Amanda and I both have eye problems, but he must have pretty good vision to be able to see everything with such clarity, from such a distance.

Friends pointed out that the seatbelt is positioned across Amanda’s throat. I politely told her guardian that Amanda needed a booster seat. “She’s such a little person. I’m sure they make some for adults that wouldn’t be too humiliating for her.”

“She’s not a little person!” he snapped. “She’s 4 foot 10 and 150 lbs! She’s fine.”

Can’t tell him anything — even when it comes to her well-being.

One year ago today, he made a scene at Jon’s funeral. Our brother had died. His ashes were in a jar. And yet Ted thought it would be cool to forbid Amanda and me to go out for pizza and a movie with Jon’s widow, Judy, like we used to do in the old days when she lived on Drummond. Why did he forbid this? Same kind of crap. Oh, and Amanda and I are forbidden to keep calling each other “blood sister” — even though we have been using the endearment for 40 years. But he doesn’t approve of that.

It’s the hallmark of a narcissist. If you see that someone has something, take it. If you see a loving relationship, break it up. Anything that has nothing to do with you must come to an end.

Incidentally, during this exchange at Jon’s funeral, our sister Raechel decided to physically assault me, grabbing me by the arm and trying to pull me away from Amanda.

Scene from Jon’s funeral.

This whole group needs a proverbial dousing from a big ol’ tub of lemonade. Cool off, people. Get a little taste of reality. Have some sweet and sour. Pull your heads out. Really…. Don’t you have something better to do than to try to make life miserable for a disabled woman?

All we want is to be left alone, to have our movie and pizza in peace.

If Amanda wasn’t worth a monthly stipend, I daresay things would be a lot different. In short, they would have dumped her on me so fast my head would spin. Like they did our parents. I was glad to be their caretaker — but nobody else was the least bit interested in Amanda back then!

Money talks.

And so does my blog, doesn’t it? During our 2019 meeting, when I asked the guardian what he wanted from me, the answer was, “Stop blogging.”

He wouldn’t say for how long. He wouldn’t make any promises. I was supposed to just stop blogging, indefinitely, and then maybe — just maybe — I could see Amanda again.

So Amanda is held hostage, in his hopes of controlling my first amendment rights.

I don’t negotiate with bullies. Anyway, he doesn’t uphold his agreements. He said he was going to be on Drummond over the 4th, and that I could visit Amanda at that time. My friend Cindy and I drove six hours and spent a boatload of cash to go look for her on the island, to find that we had been tricked. They weren’t there. We drove 12 hours for nothing. Cindy brought gifts she had made for Amanda.

So Ted lies. I will not be making any deals with him. But I told him the answer to his blog conundrum is so simple, and it’s right in his hands. You don’t want your nasty actions featured in a blog? Do the right thing. Give me something GOOD to write about.

I would be happy to share good news. Ecstatic, in fact.

Thanks to the Drummond community. Someone spotted Amanda and let me know she was around. It was later in the month, after the 4th. I had to make another trip up. Everyone knows Amanda and they all know she’s being held hostage. That’s the beauty of a small town!

There is much more to tell about the 2019 summer on Drummond, about the abuse from Amanda’s guardian, about his lies and manipulation. I imagine it will come out as I feel the need to vent. But really, isn’t the next step to file another petition?

This will be my third petition for visitation. The other two were in Michigan and both judges refused to meet Amanda in person.

This time, it will be different.

If you watch the videos you will see that Amanda has no trouble communicating.

As I mentioned, I’ve got an affidavit from my ex, stating that Amanda lived with us every summer for a lot of years, and that our relationship was never anything but nurturing toward her. I am sure he would be also willing to confirm that she was not injured in the cart accident.

It’s pretty bad when the guy you divorced is a more upstanding citizen than your own siblings. But, this is our reality. Amanda adored Bruce. They were very close.

One of the reasons that guardianship is so damaging is because it’s so hard to fight. Arizona has better laws, with more regard for the ward’s feelings, but it’s expensive. The petition alone is $365. This is if I stay here in Michigan and try to conduct a hearing by phone, if they will let me.

I can’t afford travel right now. I shouldn’t have to. They should not be doing to my sister.

I will be selling some Elephant Art as a fundraiser. Meanwhile if you want to just send a contribution, feel free. I’m not too proud to accept the help on behalf of my sister’s well-being. I have to raise $365… As a start. http://paypal.me/cliffysmom

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Therapy Horses – Passing the Torch

My Junior Horse Kerry 7th Gen felt the weight of responsibility come crashing down onto his withers during the first few days of July. Due to the sudden deaths of both my beloved Morgans, Clifford and Trudy, JR was not only an only horse, he found his role as understudy ushered onto center stage.

JR and I were both in a state of mourning and we were depending heavily on each other for support. I started working with him in 20 minutes sessions two and sometimes even three times a day,

He was not entirely new to public appearances, having accompanied his mentor and great-uncle Clifford to some of the equine expos and other events. He could already play fetch and stand on a mark, nod his head “yes” and “no”, and had learned to bow, too.

But still, the 8 year old newbie had a lot of ground to cover. Like most horses, he was reactive, with the added unpleasant bonus of liking to kick with his hind feet.

Once it became apparent that even with Clifford gone, Sparrow Hospital was still interested in a horse therapy program, my first order of business was to teach JR to keep all his feet on the ground, to look to me for direction and stay focused.

A horse’s reactive nature can be softened with training, as the attention span grows longer and the end result is the goal. I started working with JR on lowering his head. After a couple of weeks of training, we were ready to take JR to his first ‘test run”, a maiden voyage to Sparrow Hospital parking lot to meet staff and see what wheelchairs were all about.

I wasn’t too worried about the wheelchairs. He had met all kinds of people at the Expos. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react to performing in a parking lot. That would be all new to him.

Thanks to our loyal friend Stayner, who brought the Silver Bullet to pick us up, JR was able to travel in comfort and style to the hospital. He came off the trailer in a cold sweat. He was pretty scared. He hadn’t traveled very much, and when he did, it was with a companion. He unloaded just fine and then as soon as I started cueing him to nod his head, and he heard the clicker working, he calmed right down.

It got better. He even played around with his Aunt Judy and pushed the wheelchair.

He is a gregarious sort to begin with so was more than happy to handle the meet-and-greet aspect of the job. He even got to say hello to a couple of patients. He posed for photos, exactly has he had been taught, retrieved his whip, and even executed a perfect bow right there in the parking lot, to much applause.

It was a no-frills visit. JR has never been outfitted with an artist’s beret, or worn silly glasses, or a big peppermint bandanna. He doesn’t have a fancy halter with his name on it, or a colorful hand-painted blanket.

But our mentor was there in spirit, watching from the window, as JR saw his reflection and nickered to it. The image, so much like Clifford, nodded back. And when the car pulled out of the spot right next to the horse trailer, it revealed a smattering of peppermints that had been lying on the ground underneath.

Of all the things to show up! Peppermints, of course, were Clifford’s jackpot treat, and I hadn’t brought any this time. They just make me too emotional. JR instead had apples and carrots and some Twizzlers along with the commercial crunchy horse treats. JR had passed his “exam” with flying colors. This constellation of mints, the sign of goodwill, showed me that we were on the right track, and that Clifford approves… From wherever he is.

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Puppy Boot Camp – Klaus GSD – Day 1 – Jumping Up

Klaus is a German shepherd with a jumping habit that is not so cute anymore as he is now able to get to chest level.

He started clicker training today and we will begin the process of getting rid of the jumping.

The way I do this is to reward him for attention without rewarding the jumping.

I don’t talk to the dog too much or call him too much. Puppies have a strong following instinct. If he has to keep an eye on me, then it puts some responsibility on him and it becomes a good habit.

He also has a bit of gator mouth, so I am eliminating the hard biting the same way I did with Arthur. His bite is getting more gentle already but he will need to be reminded.

We are working on some attention training, including eye contact. This is pretty easy to teach — I just hold the food up by my eye before delivering to him. I like teaching eye contact because you can really see the light bulb go on when the puppy makes the connection. You instantly start to become more important.

Klaus is a joy to work with, like many German shepherds. Great nerve, work ethic, food drive and a sweetie to boot.

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Clifford’s Hug Fest

Clifford’s friend Judy is the nurse who started horse therapy at Sparrow Hospital. We visited the pediatric oncology unit last week. It was Clifford’s second visit there. He clip-clopped across the parking lot and kept looking at the door. He was clearly expecting to go inside the building.

Judy apparently thought he needed more to do because she contacted the City Rescue Mission of Lansing and got him a visit scheduled there. We went yesterday evening. Their facility had a big green lawn in the back complete with fence. There is a beautiful mural on the wall with a unicorn in bright colors.

When the kids came out, most of them had never met a horse in person. A couple of them shied away at first, but the rest couldn’t wait to get their hands on him. I’ve never seen a group of kids so anxious for hands-on contact. They didn’t ask what tricks he could do or anything. The questions were, “Can I touch him? How old is he? What does he like to eat? Can I kiss him, too? Can I take him for a walk?” 

Clifford was eating up the attention, and the lawn. Since the kids were old enough to watch where his feet were going (to avoid getting stepped on) I just let them lead him away. They went off in a small cluster around him. Clifford stepped right out. He was all too happy to oblige.

I felt a little bad for Judy, because she had come prepared with a big treat basket for Clifford, which included oatmeal cookies, apples that she had carefully cut up, baby carrots, Twizzlers, sugar cubes, a bottle of molasses and a box of apple cinnamon toasted oats. She kept asking if it was time to give him treats, but the kids were so hands-on that I didn’t want to spoil it by turning Clifford into his obnoxious treat snarfing Nasty Face. I just let the minutes play out as the kids brushed him with little soft brushes Judy had provided.

It occurred to me that these kids, who were sheltered along with their mothers mostly due to some trauma, needed to have something they could control. Leading him around gave them a little bit of power. His size, big but not too big, his amiable personality and the feel of him — one boy kept saying, “He’s so warm! He’s so warm!”

These kids needed reassurance, and nurturing. Nothing provides that in the same way a horse does. That big wall of muscle and smooth hair, that unique sweet, sharp smell, the soft grinding chewing sounds, the whiskers, the eyelashes, the muzzle so soft it almost isn’t there… All the senses spring to life when interacting with a horse.

Kids who are safe, who have security and stable families, want to sit back and watch a show. These kids needed hugs.

There were other kids inside, younger ones, who for some reason didn’t come out. They were clamoring at the window. The children led Clifford over to the window. When he saw them waving at him, he stepped over there and put his nose against the glass.

Judy said, “Can they come out?”

The director said that she would see. When the door burst open, the little ones came flying outside, rushing straight at the horse with no hesitation. The pudgy hands rested against his sides, and the smiles and wonder on their faces was so heart-warming.

The little children were followed by their mothers: women walking hesitantly into the sunlight, coming forward tentatively, then gradually began smiling, laughing, and hugging Clifford as they saw there was nothing in the atmosphere but pure goodwill.

Judy had provided all the perks, and that included a bunch of Clifford books for the kids. We finally put Clifford to work signing them. One of the boys said he didn’t want my signature. He wanted Clifford to sign it. After Clifford made his mark, he told me, “NOW you can sign it!”

I laughed. He held up a horse hair and asked me if he could keep it, and put it in the book. “Of course!” I said. I reached up on Clifford’s neck and yanked out a few more mane hairs. “Here you go.”

He was leaning and lying across Clifford’s shoulders and I said, “Are you this good with dogs, too?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“Maybe you will be a veterinarian!” I said.

It was the first time anyone had asked me for some of his mane.

The cupcakes disappeared. We were thanked dozens of times.

As a former battered woman, one who has been abused not only physically but emotionally, I had the perspective to see the benefit of our short hours at the center… and how much good can be done by a person like Judy Neiburg. Through Clifford she was showing the ladies there is life out here! See how happy your kids are! There is more to the world than you have ever imagined. It is waiting for you.

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