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Horses Are Not Dogs

natalie lynn photography

"That's great, but horses are NOT dogs. You cant treat them like they are pets." Why? Why are horses different than dogs? Why can't we treat them like dogs? Or cats, gerbils, turtles, elephants, monkeys... Why can we train dogs with positive reinforcement but not horses? Why can't horses be pets? Better yet, why don't we treat dogs like horses? And then why do we treat dogs like they are humans? This is the bunny rabbit hole of questioning that I've been on and off going down for months now. I'll spare you the super long trails of thought, as I repeatedly questioned these statements and what is meant by them, and jump right to the point. Are horses really that different from dogs? Can we train horses like we train dogs? The answer to both of those questions is both YES and NO. NO, horses are not that different from dogs. Horses learn exactly the same way dogs do. You can use all forums of operant and classical conditioning to teach both a horse and a dog. This means you can use food to train a horse and you can use pressure and release to train a dog. So clearly YES, we can train horses like we train dogs. It's only the societal norms and the use of the animal throughout history that have shaped the "normal" way to train the individual animal to fit into our lifestyles. It has nothing to do with the fact that horses and dogs learn differently.

But at the same time... YES, horses are different from dogs... In the fact that there's clearly a size difference and that they have entirely different lifestyles, diets, languages, etc. So there are definitely some differences to be accounted for that may make an impact on the training. Again though, the answer is still NO this doesn't change how they learn though and whether or not we can use positive reinforcement to train both of them. Horses are not that different from dogs. There are however problems in the dog world, which I don't wish to dive into too deeply, but often dogs are not treated like dogs at all and are in fact being treated like replacements for humans! These dogs are usually miserable and have endless behavioral issues through no fault of their own.. which, I believe... are the type of dogs that people are referring to when making such references about horse training.

Which, leads me to the conclusion that we need to always care for our animals in a species appropriate way, but not to limit how we train them based on what's considered "normal" for that species; thinking that any one species learns differently than another just because it may look funny or be different than how we used to do it. There are clearly differences within each species and it's the most humane thing to do to care for that species as they are designed, but all species learn.. and there's not a single species out there that is so unique that it can't learn through positive reinforcement too.

- Adele

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