Scooter Works Hard

This past week Scooter and I went to a two-day workshop for my KPA class. Most of the course is on-line, but we get together four times to learn from each other and show off newly learned behaviors. Scooter was a star! He did everything that I asked of him. A secret to his success? Knowing when to rest.

When I cue “cone,” Scooter trots over and touches it with his nose. The training facility was chilly and after that work he earned a cozy cuddle in his blankie.

Scooter and cone


Scooter also showed off how he knows exactly what “go to mat” means.



On the second day, he tried some agility equipment, demonstrated how he can do a chain of behaviors (under my knee, cone and back up) and we worked on extending the duration of his sit. Scooter does his “go crate” perfectly.



If this was another dog, curled up and staring balefully, I’d worry that he was stressed out. But I know Scooter. You know Scooter. Almost every photo of Scooter that I’ve taken looks like this and this. Yes, by the end of the day, Scooter was more than ready to go home. But, this dog knows how to handle an intense day – cuddle up in a favorite blanket and take a nap. Not a bad way to deal with life’s demands.

Dog Training

For the next two days I’ll be away from my computer and at a dog training workshop. This is part of the KPA course that I’m enrolled in. I’ll have Scooter with me and will be showing off some of the behaviors that he’s learned so far.

Yes, Scooter, my 10 1/2 pound bowed-leg lap dog, is my training partner for this course. I think that he’s part cat. This is his favorite pose. Here he is telling me that 8 am is too early to get up. He does like to sleep in.


Scooter is a dog of little brain, (truly! not every dog is a genius like Lily) but what’s there he is putting to work. And the wonderful thing about the sort of training that I do – positive reinforcement with the use of a marker for clarity – is that even small dogs that prefer to curl up most of the day can learn, and be happy doing it. Scooter is greatly enjoying the opportunities to earn treats. He’s told me for years and years that he’s a big beefy dog and that his paltry bowl of kibble is an affront. It doesn’t matter that the meaty treats that I’m now doling out are smaller than baby peas – he’s quite chuffed to be getting them!

So far, Scooter has learned how to scoot under my bent knee (while I sit on the floor), sit, stand on a book, touch his nose, or paw, (depending on which I ask for) on a ruler, back up, go to a mat, touch his nose on a cone, and follow a target stick. He also licks his lips when I lick mine and goes into his crate.

Scooter does not sit up and beg like the dog in this vintage photo. I’ll never ask him to because it’s not something he’d be physically comfortable doing. Knowing your animal and then being reasonable in your requests are two essentials of good training.

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At some point I’ll make a video of Scooter showing off all that he has learned, but he’s not ready for prime time. Not yet.

Training The Beast

I believe that you get to know your animals through working with them. Good training opens up lines of communication that go both ways. To hone my skills, and to really think through what I’m doing, I’m enrolled in the KPA Professional Class. The course is geared for dog trainers, but we’re also expected to have one non-dog species to train. As you know, I have quite a few to chose from! I’m about 40% of the way through the course. Scooter is beyond delighted that after seven years of living here, with his only job that of being cute and pestering Lily, that I’m finally training him. Who knew he’d so eagerly whack his paw on a post-it note when I say target? I’ve also trained Caper, and a goldfish. (I’ve trained the chickens, too, but not for this course.)  I’ve been investigating how this positive reinforcement training applies to horses, so Tonka is learning almost all of the behaviors that I’m teaching Scooter (although Tonka is a tad too big to duck under my bent knee while I’m sitting on the floor!)

There’s one animal here at Little Pond Farm, in the very pond that the place is named for, that I haven’t yet trained. The Beast. My eleven year-old koi.

The Beast has recovered from her summer sunburn.  If anything, she’s larger and more active than ever.

fish in pond


She certainly has an appetite that suits her size. The fish get a couple of handfuls of floating pellets daily.

the Beast eating

I decided to get to know the Beast better and to let her get to know me. Asking for a complex trick isn’t necessary, nor is clicker training. I simply use that age-old technique of patience.

I bought some shrimp pellets. They don’t float, so I can hold out my hand underwater, with them in my palm. I wait. The Beast comes. She has big eyes. She looks at me. She looks at the food. I let a few trickle down to the rocks. She eats. She comes closer. She’s willing to say hello when there are shrimp pellets involved.

I wonder where the conversation will go.

feeding koi


(Steve caught this moment with his iPhone and the bird-spotting scope that’s in his office.)

Horse Training Attitude

What alway attracted me to riding, even when I was a young girl, was the communication that happened with the horse. Some people are into the galloping, the thrill of jumping, the grace of a dressage horse with cadence. Those are all good things, but to me they are nothing without the relationship. Sadly, in the horse world, training is too often done with force and fear. Horses are finely tuned to the smallest nuances of body language, and yet riders resort to yelling – with whips, with spurs, and with severe equipment. In May I audited a clinic given by a well-known British instructor. She trains Grand Prix dressage riders. I watched a student ride a circle around her. They were working on passage – which is a lofty trot with moments of suspension between strides. It looks like the horse is floating, but it requires athleticism and effort. The instructor wanted more lift and energy. She said to the rider, You have to get angry at your horse.


If anger is required to get a good passage, then I will settle for a slow trot.

Horses are large and potentially dangerous animals. A horse will tell a person on the ground what’s what by getting into her body space. Horses have teeth and hooves. They get afraid, they have snits, and they let you know it. When on a horse’s back, the animal will let you know what he thinks by refusing to go forward, or by backing up, or rearing, or bucking, or any number of other moves that a thousand pound animal with four legs and a long neck is capable of doing. It’s the horse’s equivalent of yelling back at the rider.

But what if neither yells? What if the rider pays attention to tension in the neck, to ears that flick, to a softening in the mouth? What if the horse learns what a slight movement in the rider’s heel on his flank means? What if the horse finds the work as rewarding as the rider? This is not to say that the rider should let the horse do what he wants. Under saddle, the horse needs to go where asked, and perform whatever sport is being asked of her. On the ground, the horse must have manners. But, respect doesn’t ever come from anger or abuse. It never occurs because one is “alpha” over another. This is true with people and it’s true with animals. Training can be done without anger; the resulting partnership between horse and rider will be that much more beautiful.

The question is how to get to that place where what you want is also what your horse finds worthwhile so that he willingly goes there. (If you’re not into horses, insert spouse, child, dog, or cat into this sentence.) There are plenty of training systems to choose from, whether it is “natural horsemanship” or “centered riding” or whatever else is coming from the currently popular clinician on YouTube. I believe strongly in positive reinforcement that uses a marker signal for clarity. I use this with my dogs, and they joyfully engage in tasks asked of them. My goats, and even my chickens, cheerfully do behaviors when asked to with this method. So I’ve taken, what is popularly called clicker training, to the stable to use with Tonka. I haven’t been satisfied with the results. I got the behaviors, but I didn’t like my horse’s expression. His ears went back. He was telling me something. I listened. I am figuring it out. We’re communicating, and we’re doing it without yelling.

Terry and Tonka


Note: I can learn a lot from Tonka, but each horse and situation is different. I’m looking for other horses to work with. if you are in my area (eastern Massachusetts) and have a horse, and want me to come out to do some training with the two of you, please email me.

Farm Cats Vintage Photo

This photo, circa 1900, shows some classic farm cats. The young woman has an apron on over her everyday work dress – it’s just the place for a kitten to be.

Farm Cats

These cats are likely being fed milk. If they’re lucky, there might be meat scraps, too. Those cats had a job to do. Not only did they keep rats out of the barns, but they also kept the family’s food safe from vermin. Cooked food and baked goods were stored in a pantry. They didn’t have seal-tight plastic containers and refrigerators. (Remember the scene in Anne of Green Gables when a mouse falls into the dessert?) Keeping the mice out of the house was very important work. The cats in this photo look up to the task!