Monday, August 30, 2010

Dickens should start his own natural horsemanship (and dogmanship) empire

I've spent the last 15 minutes watching our cowboy feline Dickens E. Wickens training our 12-week old Corgi pup, Bear.

Dickens, of all 5 cats who live here, is the one best able to manage the exuberance of a bold puppy who really wants to play but has a herding instinct that is growing and developing, and has to be carefully shaped so he doesn't end up herding everything that moves.

The other cats will smack Bear but they either end up running to get away, thus engaging the chase, or getting overly aggressive, which backs him off but seems to incite him into coming back for more.

Dickens truly stands his ground, not moving an inch, and uses his paws as needed when Bear comes in too close. He also employs the stare-down technique, staring into Bear's eyes until Bear looks away.

And interestingly enough, Bear is developing a true fondness and respect for Dickens. I think Dickens is so clear in showing Bear the way he wants to relate, Bear understands the relationship and relaxes into it. The two (as seen in a previous post) are very comfortable lying beside one another when the work (Dickens' perspective) and game (Bear's) is done.

I've seen Dickens use equine-appropriate techniques with the horses and donkeys. In a particularly moving bit of work with Redford, who wanted to do the donkey guardian chase and stomp routine with cats, Dickens utilized the picnic table to get the 'upper hand' until Redford understood the rules. As most horse trainers advocate, Dickens didn't allow Redford to move him back - he moved Redford back, first from the top of the table, then from the bench, and finally from a cat's normal position - on the ground. The training worked. But Dickens didn't stop there. He frequently enjoys lying flat on his back in the barnyard, or the pastures, during his cowboying. So he tested Redford to make sure the boundary was clear. Cats are allowed to roll on their backs, exposing their bellies. Donkeys don't take advantage of that. The training stuck. Redford understands the rules.

Dickens is lean and lanky, not a large cat. Although he is a tuxedo cat, you can see the cowboy in him as he moves around the farm. I often imagine a cowboy hat perched on his head. He operates with complete comfort among horse hooves. If he needs a face-to-face, he has no problem getting up on the stall door for a feline-equine meeting of the minds. The horses all make a path around him when he's lying flat out. They often touch noses with him as they meander around together.

We sometimes joke that Dickens does have a secret empire, and is one of those cats with a big fat bank account he chooses not to show off. Every now and then he disappears for longer than we like (24 hours is the max so far) and during those times, it makes me feel better to imagine that he's doing his banking business.

It's nice to start the week (a hot one, but I am telling myself it's summer's last hurrah) with a piece of elegant and effective training. Thanks, Dickens!

Puppy cuteness of the week: last night I had forgotten to give Bear his last (small) portion of puppy food. I was lying on the bed reading when I heard him run in the bedroom door and to my bedside. I looked down, and there he was with his empty bowl neatly tucked in his mouth. He moved it around in the air to make sure I saw it was empty. I went in the kitchen and he came running, bowl still held aloft, and then he plopped it down with a big boing at my feet. What a pup!


Grey Horse Matters said...

Dicken's certainly sounds like one tough hombre. I find his antics hilarious, a cat who knows who he is and lets everyone else know it too.

Love the little Bear with a bowl, how smart and cute.

billie said...

Arlene, I forgot to mention that Dickens does all his work with both pup and equines in complete silence. I've not seen him hiss, growl, or otherwise emit any sound. I find it so interesting that his method works so much better than the other cats, who get very loud with Bear.

The thing with the bowl completely did me in it was so cute.

poniesathome said...

He is quite a cat, your Dickens. Animals have such intelligence, and he is obviously super smart.

Bear has obviously figured out this communication with humans thing - very sweet.

billie said...

Maire, I think all our cats are wonderful, but I admit - Dickens has me constantly in awe because of the way he relates to the other animals around him. I've always had very unique cats - very loving to humans, etc. - but never a cat so talented and so obviously smitten with the equines and his life around the farm.

Matthew said...

Dickins is such a tireless cowboy I often have to go retrieve him from the barn in inclement weather just because he refuses to leave his post!

billie said...

I love when I go out there and find him nestled in the hay. He does take his job seriously.

ponymaid said...

Billie, that young pup has donkey smarts! And Dickens...he's the reincarnation of somebody, just not sure who. Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Wyatt Earp, PT Barnum? It will come to me eventually.

billie said...

Sheaffer, we're on the same wavelength - I was thinking Dickens is the reincarnation of somebody too - but like you it hasn't quite hit me who it is... :)