“First Step” Dominance

When you think of “dominance” what comes to mind?

An animal or human can express dominance in subtle ways that others may not realize until it has escalated to something larger and more extreme.

One thing I like to keep in check is who takes the first step or, should I say, who decides when steps are taken. This means: does your dog start walking ahead of you on the leash? Dominance. Does your horse start taking steps (even just one) forwards without you having communicated this? Dominance (or nervousness…). For now I’m just talking about the dominance aspect of this.

It comes up so, so often that a horse has been asked to stop or back up and then just takes those one or two steps forward to get in a last word – so to speak. I kept coming back to this exercise with a dominant gelding last week: I asked him to back up and he backed up lightly but still managed to take one step forward. I backed him up, he did this and then stepped forward. I only really got his respect when we got to the point where I could back him up with the lightest suggestion and he backed and stayed there – looking at me.

Another example: when we get on our horses and they just start walking. Did I say anything? Why are you walking? They just decide to, or they just think that’s how it’s done. In this situation, I get on, and relax. If they walk forwards I back them up and rest.

Some dogs start taking steps forward while they’re on a leash and pull their person along. Here’s the human equivalent of that moment: You’re talking to your boss in a naggy voice about something you think is cool and don’t let her get a word in. Then you say, “You know what, forget it. Follow me now, I wanna show you what I think is cool.” After that you grab them by the sleeve and pull them all over the place, doing all of those things you think are cool and jolly.

The goal is to walk together with our animals. Don’t walk off without them either, make sure it’s as “together” as possible. When does your animal walk ahead without you?

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