You wouldn't expect it if you consider the natures of the two animals. Carnivorous, fierce, drooling, pack hunting dogs and docile, methane-expelling, drooling, grass-chewing horses are trained in nearly identical ways.

Be the leader

The key similarity is that they are pack animals with a social hierarchy. To train an animal you act as the pack leader that the animal instinctively obeys. You convince a dog of this by holding him on his back until he doesn't struggle, by leading when you go on walks, and by avoiding doing anything submissive—crouching in front of him, letting him bite you playfully or following him around outside.

Most horses won't tolerate having their bellies rubbed while they lie on their back. The mechanics of dominance are different from dogs, but the principle is the same. A dominant horse forces a submissive one to move around and grooms the submissive horse freely. A human can use a lunge whip or lasso to move the horse, and the daily ritual of brushing the horse reinforces the trainer's leadership.

Instant gratification

When training a horse or a dog you follow a very strict and simple script.
  1. Choose a cue and an expected response
  2. Give the cue
  3. If the response doesn't occur, repeat the cue and directly encourage the response
  4. Repeat until the response occurs
  5. Immediately reward
When you teach a dog to sit, you choose the cue "Sit!", expecting the dog to plop down on his behind. The first time you say "Sit!" your dog isn't going to get it, so you wait a second, repeat the command and gently push his butt down. Repeat the command and the nudge until he sits down. The moment he hits the ground you reward him with praise or a treat.

To teach a horse to back up, choose a cue such as gently shaking the lead rope and saying "Back." Give the cue, then wait a moment; you have to give the horse a chance to figure it out and react. Then if the response doesn't occur, repeat the cue and push his chest for a moment. Repeat this until he takes even the smallest step back. The reward must be immediate so the horse can associate the correct action with the reward.

Living in the moment

At some point your animal is going to get away from you. The human reaction would be to catch him and then swat him on the rump for misbehaving. But with a horse or dog, you've just taught him that allowing himself to be caught when he's loose is a bad thing! By the time you catch him, he's already forgotten about the escape. It's far too late for any kind of punishment.


Even if you catch him red-handed, a swat isn't likely to help. The leader of the pack doesn't lead with violence, just dominance. Instead of hitting a horse, force him to move around in a small circle. This lets him know that his action was incorrect, and it reinforces your dominance; two positives instead of a negative.

Leaders don't have to shout

It's natural to raise your voice or add more to the cue. "Come here. Come here! COME HERE. c'merec'merec'merec'mereCOMEHERECOMEHERE COME HERE!!" If this finally gets him to react, you've just trained him that it's okay to ignore you the first thirty-four times. Instead, repeat the cue and encourage the response some way that the animal can't ignore. If the dog won't come to you, perform the training with a long leash and give him a tug towards you when you give the cue the second time.

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