Dog’s Eye View: Mentors and memories |

Dog’s Eye View: Mentors and memories

Sandra Kruczek/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

I had the pleasure of attending the Colorado State University continuing education program for veterinarians this past weekend in Fort Collins. I went with my husband, Ron, a small animal veterinarian. Two days were jam packed with current trends and research in veterinary medicine in addition to two very special presentations on behavior by Dr. Robert Miller and Dr. Temple Grandin.

On my continuing journey towards knowledge of  animal behavior that began in my teenage years, I have fortunately chanced upon some of our most brilliant and influential teachers. Miller and Grandin are two of those.

Sometimes, when I reflect on how I got to where I am today as a dog trainer and teacher, I’m humbled and happy to say that I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I first met Miller about 25 years ago at a veterinary meeting. He was teaching veterinarians how to work with their equine patients using the universal principles of learning and behavior change rather than going directly to manual restraint and drugs to subdue them.  He was and still is passionate about teaching. He knew that the way to help the horse and veterinarian was through knowledge and implementation of these principles.

Miller also has a heart for the average horse owner. This is where I came into the picture. When I asked him where I might go to seek help with my horses’ behavior, he counseled me to contactPat Parelli, a new young horse trainer he met in California. Parelli was giving one of his first clinics in Pueblo, and I enrolled myself and my horse. It changed my life. My horses could get better because I changed my behavior and got smarter.

I met Grandin about the same time. My first encounter with her was also through the horse world.  She was giving a workshop in Craig to horse owners involved in the sport of competitive trail riding.  Her focus was and is very similar to Miller’s. She starts teaching from the ground up with emphasis on understanding the science of learning and behavior change and developing a rich relationship with the horse (and dog).

Many people know Grandin has a unique approach to seeing the world through the eyes of animals. She is autistic and is a professor at Colorado State University. She said her perception of the world is more sensory-based rather than word-based and explained how our approach to working with and understanding animals is thwarted if we think in terms of just words or human language. One of her early books is “Thinking in Pictures.” I have attended many seminars with Grandin. She is one of the most clear and concise lecturers I have ever experienced.  She also changed my life.

Miller and Grandin talked about the importance of understanding fear in animals. They emphasized that fear and sudden, new experiences are very specific to location. New things are scary as well as attractive. If the encounter is forced, it’s scary. If the animal can look at the new novel thing without pressure, it’s attractive.

Miller has many books published, but one I refer to frequently is “The Revolution in Horsemanship and What it Means to Mankind.” He is known for his videos on imprint training horses. His explanation and presentation of how this is done has made him a household name in the world of horses especially but with other precocial animals as well.

Grandin has published excellent books on animal behavior among which are “Animals Make Us Human, Creating the Best Life for Animals” and  “Animals in Translation” with Catherine Johnson. Her book “The Autistic Brain, Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed” is insightful.   

Miller is 91 years old and Grandin is 71. I’m so thankful that these two people continue to dedicate their lives to us all but most of all to the animals we all love.

Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.

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