Animals as real individuals

Nice post here by Judith Tarr, who as you may know is seriously into horses.

About bloggers who write about their relationship with animals, but their post makes it clear that it’s all about them and they aren’t really seeing the animal as a unique individual.

Actually, I think that’s sometimes a legitimate way of looking at “animals” in the abstract — through the lens of literary allusions and as a mirror of the self. It’s only when someone tries to interact with an individual animal that way that everything falls apart, because yes of *course* an individual horse or dog or cat — or fox, whatever — is an actual individual and not a literary or mythic construct.

I really do know people who buy a burger for themselves and also one for their dog (a toy dog). They really must not be able to see the real animal, or they would notice it is a tenth or a sixth their size. I sometimes ask, Do you really want to eat six burgers right now? Do you think it would be good for you to eat that many?

Anyway, I just started teaching Honey about Sit and Down and Heel and all those things. It is so funny because I just didn’t quite ever do anything with her, and now here she is at nine months and she doesn’t know anything. Of course by now she has an adult attention span, and she’ll figure things out pretty briskly, I’m sure. But it’s so different working with my nine-year-old Pippa and then with Honey.

Of course I have to spend at least a few minutes with each of my girls because I can’t have anybody feeling left out, right? And each one is SO DIFFERENT from all the others.

Pippa is so intense and into it. She is the one I sometimes enter on the spur of the moment and show in Rally A/E at whatever show, with almost no practice. She loves to go with me and she LOVES to show off.

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Adora has almost as many titles as Pippa, but she’s so different. She is very sensitive and needs to do everything right nearly all the time. She doesn’t like to be told she’s wrong — even my saying “Oops, sorry,” when she misses a jump or whatever, she doesn’t like that. I need to make sure she’s right at least 90% of the time and then she really, really loves showing. She was a wonderful dog in the breed ring, always showing with bounce and verve. (She lost two teeth and retired before finishing her championship).

Dora's first Best of Breed win
Dora’s first Best of Breed win

Kenya is a total flibbertigibbet. She is so flighty and silly. And the promise of treats makes her even MORE silly! She is much more nervous by nature than Pippa or Adora, too. She only has two performance titles, and she is hard to show even in the breed ring because she does twenty things when a calmer Cavalier would just pose. She is fun to work with, but very demanding.


Folly, Adora’s daughter, is nervous, reactive, and intense. She notices absolutely everything, which means she is distractable. She is easy to show in some ways, and she loves to work with me, but I never, ever tell her she is wrong about anything. I just make sure she is nearly always set up to be right.

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Giedre, Kenya’s older daughter, is calm, sweet, steady, and very, very easy to show in any venue. But, because of her underbite, she does not show in the breed ring. It’s too bad because her body is fabulous! There’s no limit to how far she could go in performance, except that I don’t have time to train everybody to the highest level they can go.

Honey, my baby, is just starting with real training. Naturally she thinks it’s a great idea! Treats! Fun! What is this thing called “sit”? (Actually I haven’t introduced verbal commands yet, I start puppies with hand signals.) She is cheerful and bouncy and I think not too sensitive, so I think she will be easy to work with. In the breed ring, right now, she is a little difficult because she wants to look at me all the time and I want her to look straight ahead — it messes up her front movement when she turns her head. That is the difference between gaiting in the show ring and heeling in the performance ring; when your puppy is heeling, you do want her to look at you.

Well, looking straight ahead is something else I will teach Honey this winter. You teach that, by the way, by giving the puppy a target to aim for — a treat way out in front that you are trotting toward. Then you use the different collars so the puppy knows whether you want her to gait or heel.

Anyway, fun for all! Training in the winter is one way to make up for not being able to go for a run. And working with six dogs one right after the other is a very effective way of making sure you really understand right down deep that each one is her own self and not like any other dog anywhere. And CERTAINLY not mythic or a reflection of you or anything of the kind.

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