Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Trust between human and animal

Here’s a nice column by Judith Tarr at tor.com: Understanding Horses: Trust Between Human and Animal

This post is not about horses. It’s about sled dogs.

I have a friend who has Alaskan Malamutes. One of her dogs can pull almost 2000 lbs — I think his personal record is 1800 something. That is nowhere near the real record for a Malamute, either.

That’s not really relevant here, though, as the article is about the willingness of the dogs to take direction from the person, most of the time, with no real way for the person to control the dogs by force. This is with modern methods of handling sled dogs, and while on that subject, kudos to Sarah Butcher, who revolutionized the way sled dogs are trained and handled by being (a) gentle, and (b) very, very successful at racing.

I will just add that I personally train my dogs to heel entirely off leash, so that it is impossible to hold them in place or correct them physically for getting out of position. This is to make darn sure that the dogs actually learn where heel position actually is and how to stay in heel position no matter what weird thing I might do, and also to make sure that I never correct a dog physically, because jerking on the lead is super unhelpful with Cavaliers. They are mostly very “soft” dogs, best trained with a minimum of corrections and zero physical corrections.

I once literally arrived at a dog show with a dog that had never once been on lead for heeling practice, ever. I realized this only after arriving at the show, so I very quickly introduced the dog to the idea that heeling could be done with a leash, that the leash was something to ignore and pay no attention to, that there was not the slightest reason to notice the leash. We went on to do just fine in the ring, though I don’t recall if we placed in the top four.

I always prefer to show in Advanced or Excellent, which are done off-leash. That prevents me from having to worry about switching the leash from hand to hand, and it makes no difference to my dogs.

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8 Comments Trust between human and animal

  1. Hanneke

    Coincidentally, the Friesian horses channel on YouTube (snippets of life with the horses from a breeding stable) posted a video from last summer that had an unusual example of such trust, when the three recently weaned 6 months old fillies lay down in their meadow close to their caretaker: https://youtu.be/kak78yKcKCg

  2. Rachel

    Thanks, Hanneke!

    There’s a Friesian horse channel? Probably just as well my reception isn’t great at home because I could easily lose hours gazing at Friesians.

  3. Hanneke

    The channel is called Friesian horses, and they post a 5-10 minute video most days.
    Here’s one I loved, of one of the weanling fillies from the above video, on her first excursion from the big loosebox in the stable where she was born, with mom to the indoor arena for a chance to safely run: https://youtu.be/D3eAavugtOo Racing Mathilda!

    The stable is in the Dutch province of Friesland, where the horses are from. The owner Rein was a dairy farmer until he developed back problems and had to stop that work. He drove a carriage with one or two horses competitively for a hobby, and turned his love of those horses into his new life’s work when he had to sell his cows.
    Now he breeds Frisian horses for sale, trying to expand and improve the breed; he has 6-8 broodmares (sometimes one is bought or sold after several years), not all of which have a foal each year; and mostly the young ones are kept until they are three or four, and trained in both dressage and pulling a cart, as is traditional for Frisians (as are their mothers).
    These horses tend to have more fillies than colts, so if there is only one colt like last year, he might sell the boy at one year old, when he can’t stay in with the heard of yearling and two year old fillies, to another breeder nearby who has a colt too, so they can grow up together.
    Rein trains the horses in front of the cart and drives the tractor to make hay and silage, and there are 5 or so young women working at the stable, caring for the horses and riding them – one of those, Yvonne, started filming the horses and foals a few years ago and puts up the videos on YouTube. Sometimes she shows specific things, like explaining a dressage competition she rides with one of the mares, but often it is just a bit of a walk around the pastures and the stable, looking at the horses and what they are doing.
    Yvonne had a baby last year, so there was a bit of a hiatus in filming, and in winter there’s less attractive filming opportunities, so what she’s posting at the moment are often things she filmed last summer, interspersed with some new bits like Saly’s new foal, the first of this year.

    If you search on YouTube for “moving the Frisian horse herd” you should get some of my favorites of their older clips, where they show how they move the herd of younglings (1 & 2 year olds) from one pasture to another by letting them follow the leader, with the lead mare ridden at a trot to keep them focussed on following instead of wandering off. They mostly use the verge and the cycle track, where that’s available, and there are one or two helpers following on bikes in case it becomes necessary to block the road for a moment or stop one of the loose fillies from turning back. You also see a little bit more of the very Dutch rural countryside they live in: https://youtu.be/rbuZtqZG2Xw

    I find it a relaxing moment before bedtime, just checking up on how the horses are doing, for ten minutes or so.

  4. SarahZ

    One of the few (maybe only?) downsides of visiting my alaskan relationship in summer only is that that means no sled dog rides, but my uncle used to keep his own team. He lives way out in the boonies, and some years his town is on the Iditarod route.

  5. Rachel

    I’ve never actually seen sled dogs in action — it would be fun to go for a ride. Except Alaska in winter, brr.

  6. Elaine T

    We took a winter vacation, once, in Sequoia Nat’l Park where the local lodge offered dog sled rides. We did it. It was a lot of fun and seemed very fast. And the dogs were surprisingly small. Siberian husky, the man said.

  7. Rachel

    Yes, Sibes are only about 50 lbs — half the size of Alaskan Malamutes.

    Siberians are the beautiful version of the true working sled dogs, or working sled dogs are the less beautiful version of Siberian huskies, or however one might put that. Alaskan huskies and Seppala sleddogs are the ones that run the Iditarod. Longer legs, leaner build, working types rather than breeds.

    Malamutes aren’t meant for speed, but my friend looks like she’s flying when she shows me pictures of her dogs pulling her in their wheeled training vehicle. Certainly looks like fun!

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