On the Connection Between Training Dogs and Horses

In thedocumentary feature "Buck,"famed horse whisperer Buck Brannaman has a lot to offer to Dogsters, whether or not they ever thought twice about horses. In...

Julia Szabo  |  Jun 20th 2011


In thedocumentary feature “Buck,”famed horse whisperer Buck Brannaman has a lot to offer to Dogsters, whether or not they ever thought twice about horses.

In fact, Buck’s gentle m.o. has the power to help us humans even when we’re not interacting with animals. Ofhis compassionateapproach, the cowboy says, “It’ll make you better in areas you didn’t think related to horses.” That includes all kinds of relationships withour fellowhumans.

Thanks tothisfilm,Buck’s style ofworking with horses willeventually become the normin any situation wherepeople and animals interact. And hopefully, that m.o. will carry over into the dog trainingarena, so that any and allcruel practices and tools – such as shock collars-may soon be eliminated altogether.

Surprisingly, even certain training methods believed to be gentle and humane – such as a head halter – can cause dogs pain and stress, throwing their spines out of alignment andnecessitating veterinarychiropractic adjustment. Except if a person isn’t aware of that risk, or uses the halter incorrectly, the dog will suffer spinal injury, whichcould negatively impact his behavior. And if the dog never sees a chiropractor, the pain will only get worse.

Dog trainer Alecia Evans of Aspen, CO, has years of experiencein bodywork for dogs; she also has two beloved horses, a Paint Horse named Ciscoand a Palomino named Jessie (pictured). Motivated by her work with dogs as well as horses, shedesigned a harness and leash system, Walk in Sync, to help people handle their dogs without causing them unintentional harm – as described hereand here.

In the movie, Buck explains that, “A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.” Alecia feels the same way about many of the dogs she’s trained.

“Most dog trainers have no idea about a dog’s physical biomechanics,” she says, “so when they pop a choke chain or use a prong collar or nose halter to effect a behavior change, they don’t check the dog’s back points to see if the animal is in pain.”

She asks, “Is it ethical for us to choke dogs to train them, even though we have been taught this for over 60 years? Using harsh collars on a dog can cause harm and pain. There is a better way – it’s time to bring training into the 21st century and make it totally humane.”

Aleciadeveloped Walk in Sync, she says, to help anyone using it”gain a deeper awareness of their dog’s physiology as well as their psychology and emotional states.When you use it, adog will show you very clearly what works and what doesn’t. It’s up to you to understand whatyour dog is telling you, and change your behavior as well.”

This, she explains, allows pet parents tolearn and understand “the silent language of dogs, and tousethe deeper connection gained through that silence to become exceptional communicators – not only with their dogs, but witheveryone in their lives, people included.”

To some, this may sound like a bunch of new agenonsense. But I can honestly say thatI used to run, frantically panting, behind my dog Magnus. Things aremuch better since we started using Walk in Sync.

I also talked way too much, to the point where some of my dogs may have presumed their names were “No.” With Walk in Sync, we walk more calmly together, with long moments of golden silence. And I’ve noticed that, thanks to Alecia and her invention, I don’t just walk more calmly with my dogs – I move more confidently through my life. I hope my communication skills are improving too, with humans as well as dogs. I’m working on it, at least.

OK, Dogsters, bring on the comments!