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Universal Teaching Principles

Like many of my trainer colleagues I read a great deal about dogs, training/teaching, animal behavior, our spiritual connection with animals and improving our relationships with dogs and other animals. I am intrigued by horses but have never owned one and have no experience with them, which lead me to recently read Zen Mind, Zen Horses, The Science of and Spirituality of Working with Horses by Allan J. Hamilton MD. Hamilton provides a guide to force free and pain free horsemanship, guided by eastern philosophy, In Zen Mind, Zen Horses Hamilton explains how to use chi to communicate and partner with a horse.

Horses are prey animals and dogs are predators, so their senses and the course of evolutionary biology has uniquely structured them to be successful in these roles. In some ways they are both sides of the same coin. The specifics of training each species are uniquely different. Despite that; there are some principals of training that are universal and I would like to share those from Hamilton’s book.

Ritual transforms any task into an exercise of awareness.

Grooming is an act of love

Make it hard to do the wrong thing and easy to do the right one.

Separate devotion to mastery from slavery to compulsion.

Leadership is a reward not a right.

Behaviors are learned because they are coupled with a response.

Predators yearn for reward and prey animals for release.

Positive reinforcement works better than negative.

Patience separates great trainers from the rest.

To get your horse (or dog) to do something quickly slow him down.

When teaching your horse (or dog) always let him reflect long enough to make his own choice.

Release your pressure as soon as your horse (or Dog) begins to think about doing the right thing.

You can achieve a goal quickly when it has no time limit.

The smaller the baby steps the quicker you’ll finish.

Outstanding achievements are obtained from inexhaustible patience.

Transformation happens only in the present.

The present lies where you are beneath your feet.

Reward the behaviors you want rather than punishing the ones you don’t want.

You can never use too much praise.

Effort counts and trying matters.

Never let a training goal become a chore.

Know when to quit: leave your horse (or dog) feeling like a champion.

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