• The One About.... Buck Brannaman

October 25, 2019

I try as hard as I can to do continuing education as much as possible.

That may be attending seminars run by dog trainers or other behaviorists, or holistic practitioners, even people knowledgeable about essential oils......doesn’t matter who they are, but if there’s something in there that I can benefit from, I want to go.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tonya and I went to see Buck Brannaman, the Horse Whisperer who consulted on the Robert Redford movie of the same name.

Even though I have nothing to do with horses (I have too much respect for those magnificent beasts to park this fat ass on their back and expect them to be happy about it) I am fascinated by human/animal interactions in general. 

Buck Brannaman has an almost spiritual connection with all of the horses he works with and this is brought about by first stopping and paying attention to the horses’ needs, rather than first seeking what the human wants out of the relationship. 

It is very closely akin to what we always try to do here at the Ranch and I knew I could learn a lot by watching the Master at work. 

Despite my lack of knowledge about horses, within thirty seconds I was well aware that I was watching something otherworldly almost, as he gently touched the reins to get the horse to move right, left, backwards, forwards, diagonally.

There was no yanking, no shouting, no whipping, no digging his boots into the side of his horses‘ flanks...just a poetic dance of horse and rider, moving in perfect unison, of one accord.

The horse had absolute trust in Buck, while Buck had absolute trust in his friend, Equus.

While this-weeks article almost is going to sound like I’m trying to validate last weeks article about ‘Awful Millennial Husky Owner Woman’, it’s actually an ongoing theme here at the Ranch, something we live by every day in our work with the dogs.

There is so much more to be gained in the quiet moments, the moments where we sit and watch, understand the way a thing moves, breathes and thinks, than there is in us impinging our will upon another being and TELLING them what we want.

We humans are all too guilty of that, sometimes.

I can’t even begin to count the number of owners I have worked with who came to me saying ‘He’s really naughty, he won’t come when he’s called’ and so I immediately ask ‘What are you putting into the relationship to make him WANT to come to you?’

When we take the time to really know and understand that dogs are creatures of action, driven by the way a thing smells, how it acts, how it moves and what’s its value is to them, we can cut out so much of the drivel that we ply them with, which in turn cuts out so much confusion.

Less confusion means more clarity, more clarity means you will achieve ‘Okay now I get it, now I know what you want me to do.’

Buck is the second horse whisperer I have seen.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to attend a horse clinic in England run by the great Monty Roberts and that was when I got my first ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

All Dog Listeners learn their craft through first studying Monty Roberts, his work formed the premise of what we all do with dogs, which Jan Fennell, the original dog listener, devised.

To those of us who had struggled to understand the use of complicated tools, gadgets, force techniques and shock tactics to train man’s best friend, this way made instant sense. 

When I went to see Monty, everything just fell into place.

Watching this then 70-year old man fearlessly work with a huge terrified stallion whom he had never met until 15 minutes before, was astonishing.

Within those short minutes, the horse who had once reared up and kicked its owner in the head, had bitten multiple people, had the livery staff quaking in their boots, was walking in and out of the horse box easily and without any issue.

The secret?

He takes the time to start every relationship with what he calls ‘join up’...a meeting of minds that occurs in the ring where the horse gets the measure of Monty.........and Monty lets the horse know that there’s nothing to fear here.

I saw him do it over the course of the Clinic no less than 8 times, each time with severely problematic horses, each time with horses whose owners had said ‘This cannot be fixed, we may need to euthanize this horse.’

Of course, I would love to imagine that such quick results could be achieved in our work every time with dogs, but it isn’t possible, simply because a horse is a prey animal, while a dog is a predator. 

Their hard wiring is different, their way of processing information is different. But yet, there were abundant lessons to be learned, tools that we as dog owners and lovers can practicably transfer from horse to canine. And the first and most important of these is to stop, watch, listen, really pay attention and then to move slowly, very slowly.

We have a saying in dog training that I am never ever tired of sharing with you all and that is ‘if you think you are going too slow, slow down’.

Basically it means that if you are clock watching and checking the amount of time it takes to do anything with your dog, then you’re rushing it.

Most dogs need two things, time and distance.

Combine that with understanding of the species and you can’t help but have success.

Next time your dog is trying to take a chunk out of the mailman’s ass, or terrify passers-by at the window, or growls when you go near his food, instead of screaming and yelling at home, first ask the question ‘Why?’ and follow that with the resolution to let him know he has nothing to be fearful of; not vocally, he can’t understand half the stuff you say, but by repetitiously SHOWING him.

When my dogs bark at the door, I walk to the door, look outside and thank them for barking, then they settle down immediately. They alerted me to a possible intruder, did their job, so I thank them. From their perspective, they worked, got thanked, all good.

When they growl if someone goes near their food, we immediately start to hand feed every meal or treat to them so they equate us with being givers not takers. A dog that growls at anyone near his food bowl is experiencing fear of loss, possibly he is a previously starved dog or was brought up with too many other dogs and no space to call his own to eat his food.... the reasons can be multitudinous. 

We simply switch that around to ‘We are ALL about the giving, my friend’, and we put every other dog out of his midst. 

By the way, I understand this sentiment very well, if you ever come near my plate of Publix fresh beef meatballs, mashed potato and asparagus Imma cut a bitch!

If the dog wants to eat the mailman’s ass (I’ve seen our mail man multiple times and he’s rather flabby round the rear end so I don’t quite get the attraction but okay...) take a few minutes daily to lead your dog on leash out to meet him and have him toss him super high value treats (think meat, not cookies) from an ever shortening distance. Trust me, after a week your dog will bloody LOVE the mailman! He’ll be shagging his leg by week 3.

All you have to do is change the story. YOU have to do it, not your dog, he’s stuck with what’s inside his head until you re-write it for him, which you need to do with love, perspective, patience and empathy. 

I highly recommend you watch the movie about Buck Brannaman’s life and why he became who he is today, it’s a poignant and sad tale but one of triumph over adversity. I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved, educated and forever changed. 

I promise you you’ll learn a thing or two from this horse whisperer about handling your dog, and other people too.




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