What Emu Training Taught Me About Dogs, and Life

Emus are different to dogs. Dogs are different to each other, all individuals. Yet there are so many things between all creatures that are the same. So in some ways, we can learn a lesson for our dogs from a totally different species. And not just for dog training, but for ourselves in our own lives and personal development.

While I’ve trained with a few species other than dogs, training emus is fairly new to me. So just a few short weeks ago, I stepped into the emu enclosure at the zoo for the first time to meet Jimmy and Apple up close and make a plan for their training.

The first thing to learn is to be careful if you’re directly in front of them, because if they lash out with their sharp claws, it’s going to be towards the front, and you’re going to be in trouble. These two emus are familiar with people and would have to feel quite threatened to do that, but just like safety around horses, dogs or any other animal, accidents and mistakes can always happen.

But I’m going to tell you what I learned about training and even about myself from meeting one of these emus in particular, Apple.

Unlike Jimmy, Apple had come from a large field where she was pretty much wild. Being moved to the zoo was a big change for her and no doubt, stressful. She’d already lived at the zoo for several months before I met her and settled in… but she was more nervous and easily stressed than Jimmy, who was quite friendly and liked human attention.

So I felt instantly confident that we could train Jimmy quite easily as she came up (Jimmy is a she) and enjoyed taking their favourite food from my hands – grapes.

Apple on the other hand, would investigate us, see one tiny movement that scared her, and start pacing the fence. She was stressed and wouldn’t take food from us. There were times that if one thing changed in her enclosure, she’d pace for days afterwards.

When I saw this, my first thought was, “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere trying to train that emu.”

However, with patience, short sessions and hope, Apple’s progress actually happened quite quickly. For animals that were adults and had never had training before, both emus progressed well. But I am especially proud of Apple.

She started out taking one grape and dropping it, then pacing for the rest of the day and keeping her distance from us.

Now she approaches us for training, works for her grapes with concentrated effort and recovers very quickly if she does have a set back.

So what’s the lesson here?

What made an impact on me was that when I met Apple, I had immediately assumed the worst. I worried and thought that it was mission impossible.

But once I made a plan, started small and just did small sessions each time we met, results were actually FAST.

Now of course this has happened with dog training clients many times before. You might be thinking, this is a lesson you should learn earlier as a trainer, and I had.

But something about Apple’s case made me really think about it and reaffirm that even when it seems difficult, it can be done.

And I wasn’t just thinking about the client’s dogs that I meet that are nervous and seem like they’ll be a challenge to help.

I was thinking of challenges I face with my own dogs (yes, dog trainers have challenges with their dogs too. In fact we’re often attracted to difficult dogs)!

Was I in a habit of being too pessimistic? Possibly.

But more likely – I didn’t have enough faith in myself and in the results that are possible with the training skills I know how to perform.

Don’t listen to the inner negative voice that we all have (aka, the itty bitty shitty committee).

Have faith in the training process itself. All you need to do is apply it correctly – in small sessions with lots of patience.

While knowing what your end goal is, focus on the moment you are in right now and find success within that moment.

Here’s Apple learning to be touched willingly for physical handling:

Here’s Jimmy with voluntary syringe work for oral medications – Apple can do this too – in fact, she nailed it first!

“Emus/ dingoes/ insert XYZ animal here, can’t be trained”

Have you ever been told that something can’t be done?

You can’t have the career you want, you can’t run your own business, your pet, “can’t be trained?”

Do you listen?

It’s not just our inner critic we need to be careful of, but the voices of others too. Often times, we need to listen to ourselves and not those around us, even when they may have our best interests at heart.

Here’s some things I’ve been told that would have been very sad, had I listened (or kept listening):

“The animal industry is really hard to get into, you should get a safe job”

“People won’t hire a dog trainer in this area”

“You can probably get one client per week but don’t expect it to be full time. Don’t quit your nice, safe job”

“Dingoes can’t be trained”

While some of those things took longer for me to build confidence in than others, I did them anyway.

When I met Apple it was my own inner voice that said, “that emu can’t be trained.”

Thankfully, I did that anyway, too.

Never, ever give up. And especially don’t give up before you even try!

This is Envy.

She is fast, agile and knows how to leap over things. But when she was a puppy, she was told repeatedly, “you can’t escape that pen.”

Now fully grown and fully capable if she tried, she still believes she can’t get out of the puppy pen. Handy for us. But don’t be like Envy in the pen. Don’t listen to anyone’s voice telling you that you can’t, even if you’ve been hearing that viewpoint since you were a small child.

Start working towards your goals today. You never know how fast you can get there.

What goal will that be for you?

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