The Goat Diaries – Clicker Training Day Four

I have finally made it to Day Four of the July Goat Diaries.  It’s only the start of Day Four but already the goats have had 14 training sessions, and I’ve learned a lot.  One of the main things I’ve learned is that goats are like horses, except that they’re not.  On Day Four I continued to build on their platform training by adding in multiple platforms.

I’ve decided to wait though to post this part of the Goat Diaries until after the Thanksgiving Holidays.  That may give me time to get some pictures of the current Goat Palace training.  I can describe what I am doing, but without pictures you are missing out on how utterly charming these goats are.

Last night I went in intending only to check hay and water, but Elyan and Pellias were looking so eager.  I couldn’t resist letting them each have another session out in the storage area.  They were super.  They had the game down.  Go to the platform, wait for the click, go to the food bowl, and then head back to the platform.   I do like this kind of training, especially at the end of the day.   All I have to do is sit in a chair and toss treats into a food bucket.  I’d spent the afternoon emptying one of the composter bays.  It’s hard work and I was tired, but I could handle this.

I worked with Pellias first.  He was so solid.  Yesterday he was still learning to go to the food bowl to get his treats.  Last night he had that down.  I love the focus of these goats.  It was after dark.  He was by himself, in a new area.  There were night sounds to listen to, but he never lost his focus on the game.  It was go to the platform, click, go to the food bowl, then back to the platform.

I’ve been thinking a lot about horse training, but in this game they moved much more like dogs.  They have the quickness and flexibility of dogs.  Pellias would get his treats and lightning fast he’d back up to get onto the platform.  It’s going to be fun to look at the teaching strategies dog trainers have developed.  I am working with an animal that is the size of a dog, has the agility of a dog, and loves treats like a dog, so it makes sense to take advantage of what canine clicker trainers have been learning.

Elyan also got a turn.  I was especially impressed by him.  I was holding a large bowl containing cut up squash.  I wanted to use up what was left from the morning sessions, but I didn’t want to mix it in with my horse treats.  The horses are telling me they don’t really like squash, but the goats are happy to eat it.

Elyan ignored the bowl!  When I clicked, he dashed to the food bucket to get the squash.  He ignored the bowl on my lap.  He could have been a terrible pest trying to get to the squash that was so openly available in the bowl, but he didn’t try even once.  The time I spent in July focusing on good food manners was time well spent.  I now have an individual who can focus on the game.  He delights in the treats, but his attention is on the activity, not the food.  That’s the shift that I worked on in July.  Now we can really have fun!

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The three youngsters – from left to right, Galahad, Elyan and Pellias.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

The Goat Diaries – Day 3: Arrange the Environment for Success

The Goat Palace – Journal Report for 11/19/17: You Never Know What You Have Taught

Galahad had the first session of the day.  He’s an eager, happy learner, and he very much chose to go into the far end to play.  I stayed for a few minutes down in the front section visiting with the other goats. Elyan and Pellias were up on the top platform of the jungle gym.  They were eager for head scratches. Surprisingly, so was Thanzi.

By the time I extracted myself from their appeal for more, Marla had already begun Galahad’s session.  She commented that what she thought she had taught him was not what he had learned.  Ah yes, that’s the clinic mantra: You never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.  Yesterday he had been going to his target, click, followed by Marla dropping a treat in one of the food buckets.  He went promptly to the bucket, got his treat, and then touched the target again. Marla would then drop his treat in a second bucket, so he was going back and forth between buckets with a quick stop in between to touch the target.

His takeaway from that was just to go from bucket to bucket – never mind touching the target.  It reminded me of the table games that we play to learn about training and to work out procedures for teaching concepts.

Training game

Playing the table game during the Five Go To Sea Caribbean conference cruise.  I’m hiding from the sun under the funny hat.  Kay Laurence is sitting behind us.

Kay Laurence is the originator of these games. Several years ago we were together at an airport, both with long waits for our flights home.  So we found a quiet corner and pulled out a table game kit.  I was the learner, something when I’m teaching I rarely get to be, so that was a treat.  Kay had a plan in mind for teaching me to use the pieces from the game to draw a pentagon.  Of course, I had no idea what she had in mind.  But I was a contented learner because I was making lots of correct choices and getting clicked and reinforced  at a high rate.  The only problem was the rules I was using to produce the actions she was reinforcing were not the same rules Kay was trying to teach.  So I was coming up with the right answer but for the wrong (from Kay’s perspective) reason.

Every time Kay presented me with a puzzle moment I got stuck.  Puzzle moments are small tests to check to see if what you think you are teaching is what your learner is learning.  It was a fascinating and fun experience, though it could easily have been a frustrating experience if either of us had brought a different mind set to the game.

My flight was coming up, so we had to end the game.  Kay explained what she wanted me to do.  My reaction to being told the “answer” was interesting.  I felt deflated.  I wanted to go on and work through the puzzle.  Being told the answer was far less satisfying than discovering the answer on my own.  I missed the puzzle solving, and I missed seeing what strategies Kay would have used to get things sorted out. But my plane wasn’t going to wait for us to finish the game, so we had to jump straight to the final answer.

Galahad had come up with a solution to the puzzle that made total sense to him.  Go from bucket to bucket and expect your person to drop a treat in when you get there.  He had completely by-passed the target.

Watching him, I also didn’t think he was noticing Marla’s tongue click. With horses I suggest that people begin with an actual clicker.  The sharp sound that a box clicker makes is very noticeable, and the horses seem to catch on fast to the significance of the sound.  After a couple of targeting sessions with the clicker, you can switch to a tongue click, and the horses are very aware of the new marker signal.

I suggested to Marla that she get an actual clicker.  At the stage where you’re using target sticks, clickers are easy to use. You can duct tape a box clicker onto the end of the target stick so you have easy access to the clicker.

Marla got a box clicker and continued on with the lesson.  Galahad quickly remembered that he was supposed to touch the target. Yesterday’s fluid pattern was back. Now it was: orient to the target, click, go to the indicated food bucket for a treat, look for the target. A clean loop was reappearing.

This experience highlights another part of the start-up process.  I like to begin with very short sessions.  With horses I have people count out twenty treats.  That means handlers who are new to this process have to stop frequently to reload their pockets. This also gives them time to think about what has just occurred and to consider what, if any, changes need to be made.

With five goats to juggle I was certainly finding I needed to do a lot of adjusting.  It wasn’t just what was happening with the individual I was focusing on.  What was going on with the other goats?  When I had Pellias out by himself, he was having a grand time, but how stressed was Elyan?  Was he being chased by Thanzi?  Yes.  When I took Thanzi out, was Trixie able to cope?  There was a lot to think about, a lot to keep shifting around to find the right training combinations.

Keeping your initial training sessions short lets you check in with your animals more frequently to see what they are actually learning. Each time you go back in and start up the session, you get to see what’s been processed from the previous session. If your learner has come up with a different answer, these short sessions mean it hasn’t become so entrenched that it is now hard to shift the pattern.

It is ironic that I am writing about short sessions, because I am known for using long training sessions. With an established learner I’ll fill my pockets with treats and keep going. That seems to suit the learning style of horses, but these long sessions are broken up into smaller units. I give breaks through the behaviors I’ve taught. For example, I might be working on lateral flexions. We’ll have a bit of success, then it’s off to find a mat. The mat acts both as a conditioned reinforcer and a way to give a break. The change in the rhythm of the training provides a break without having to stop the play.

At the heart of this is the training principle: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

The balance that I thought was needed now for the other goats was a morning session of quiet visiting.  I was very pleased that Thanzi wanted to participate in some head scratching.  I had the two ladies in the back section so the three youngsters could relax and not worry about dodging out of Thanzi’s way.  She stayed by the gate while I scratched her head.  Normally, she’s been drawing away when I try to touch her, so I consider this real progress.  Trixie came up to me repeatedly through the morning, but she’s not yet ready for a proper scratch.  The boys, on the other hand, had a blissful time enjoying a prolonged cuddle session.

Afterwards, Marla and I worked some more on the Goat Palace.  We’re getting close to the finish line, but there always seem to be a few more things to do.  Years ago my family did some remodeling to the house.  The process dragged on and on.  Every day my father would make a list of things that the builders still needed to get done before he could sign off on the job.  He remarked that they always seemed to get done only half the remaining jobs.  You would think on a finite project like that, you would be able to check everything off the list, but it never seemed to happen.

At the moment we seem to be caught in that twilight zone of always completing just half the remaining tasks.  One of yesterday’s tasks was tidying up the section we’ve designated for storage.  I was very pleased to see how little we have left to store.  We have managed to use up an amazing amount of miscellaneous clutter.  So perhaps when we run out of stuff to find a use for, we will also run out of tasks that still need to be done. That will finish off phase one of the goat palace.  (I say phase one because phase two is obviously going to be expanding the goat jungle gym. That will be as much for our entertainment as it will be for theirs.)

One of the things that contributed to the tidying up of the storage area was the snow blower went out to be serviced for the winter.  That left a clear area that could be used for training.  So in the early evening I took advantage of this space to work with Elyan and Pellias.  It was a good time for training.  The goats were beginning to settle down for the night.  It was easy to close the middle gate so only Pellias and Elyan were in the front section.

I had everything set up for them out in the storage area.  I had my chair, a food bucket and a couple of platforms, including the very distinctive foam platform I had introduced them to in July.

Elyan came out first.  I brought him out on a lead, and then turned him loose.  He stayed nearby.  He was clearly interested in playing, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  I let him explore for a couple of minutes, then I brought out the baton and directed him towards the foam platform.  He hopped up onto it, click, I dropped the treat into the bucket.  He had to step down from the platform to get to the bucket.  So now the question was what would he do?  The answer was he backed up to get back on the platform. Click! Drop treats in the food bucket.

Elyan seemed to catch on fast.  The “rule” was get back to the platform, and you’ll get clicked.  At least that’s what was happening.  His “rule” might just as easily have been: back up, and you’ll get clicked. The platform was just in the path of the backing. I’ll need to have a puzzle moment to check whether he is going to the platform or simply backing up.

In any case, while he was getting his treat, I nudged the platform a little further away.  He continued to back himself onto the the platform.  We could have kept going all night, but this was a session that should be kept short.  I got up from my chair, and he followed me back in to the front section.

Pellias was eating hay.  He hadn’t been at all fussed having his brother outside the pen.  But now I wanted to do a swap, and they were both at the gate.  I got Pellias out and sat down in my chair.  He went straight to the platform.  Click.  I dropped treats in the bucket.  He stepped off the platform, got his treat and went straight back to the platform.  I repeated this a couple of times, and then I exclaimed; “Wait a minute.  You’re not Pellias!” In the fading light I hadn’t noticed that little Elyan had pushed past his brother for a second turn.  With his jacket on to keep his coat clean, it was harder to tell them apart. No wonder he was so good!

I got them switched around so now it truly was Pellias’ turn.  He’s always been a platform superstar.  He went straight to the foam platform.  Click.  But now the food delivery was different.  He’s used to getting the treat from my hand, not a food bucket.  I moved the bucket close to the platform and helped him find the hay stretcher pellet.  He got his treat and then stepped off the platform. He wandered away from the platform. I waited.  He began to eat the leaves that we hadn’t swept out of this area.  I got out my baton target and gave it a little shake.  That got his attention.  He followed it to the platform, click, drop the treat.

The hay stretchers make a very sharp noise as they fall into the bucket.  That helped draw Pellias’ attention, and he began to look in the bucket for his treat.  He only had to take his front feet off the platform to get to the bucket, so it was easy for him to step back onto it and get clicked.  My concern was the sound of the treat dropping into the bucket might become the functional marker signal, so I clicked, and began to wait to see him react to the click before I made any move to drop the treat into his bucket.  I got lucky several times with that.  He had turned on the platform so he could look down the driveway.  The sound of my tongue click turned him around, so it was clear, at least in this situation, that he was responding to the sound of the click.

Again, I kept the session short.  When I opened the gate to let him back in, I dropped treats on the floor to distract Elyan.  Pellias came in to get the treats, as well.  I’m not sure I want the others out in this area yet, but for these two their July visit prepared them well for going outside of their pen.

I filled their hay feeders, opened the middle gate and left the goats tucked in for the night.

Today’s July Goat Diary appropriately enough continues with the initial training of platforms.

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Arrange The Environment for Success

I described earlier the morning sessions of day three in which I introduced both goats to platforms.  This was an errand day so I wasn’t able to fit in as many sessions as usual. When I got back to the barn around 5, E and P were clearly hungry. They were standing on a bed of hay, but none of it was to their liking. I gave them fresh hay and left them to eat while I did barn chores.

7 pm session with P

P was very rambunctious – literally. He reared up several times. I managed to dodge him and get him on the platform, but the session didn’t feel very productive.

I wasn’t satisfied with the way he was orienting to the target. I thought a second platform might help. If a platform was the end destination, it might make more sense to him why he was following a target. I decided to consider this a data collecting session.  I knew where I needed to head, but I would wait until tomorrow to add the second platform.  Training success depends very much upon having a good set-up.  I suspected adding the second platform would help smooth things out.  Instead of continuing on with a session that wasn’t going well, I would wait until I had a better set up.

In contrast to P, E’s session was great. He was so very soft and sweet. I had him target the baton, click, treat. Then I scratched him around his ears. His eyes got soft, and he leaned into my hand, clearly enjoying the feel. I asked him to follow the target again, click, treat, scratch.  Who knows what E was learning.  I certainly found it very reinforcing!  I began his day with bliss, and that’s how I ended it.

The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 3 E Learns

Note: When I was in town, I stopped at the new bird store that’s just opened.  I bought some black sunflower seeds which the goats really like. So now they are getting a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and hay stretcher pellets.

8 pm final session of the day.

We ended the evening with “cuddle time”.  While Ann groomed Fengur, I took my chair into the stall and enjoyed a few minutes of goat bliss.

Coming Next: Clicker Training Day 4

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3

The Goat Palace

Yesterday was an odd day.  I had to leave the barn early so we didn’t have a formal training session.  When I was in the pen refreshing hay and water, I did suddenly find that I could close the middle gate so only Trixie was in the back area.  I took advantage of that so far rare opportunity to give her a short session by herself.

She was great.  She stayed with me following my target hand.  Thanzi stood up on the middle gate.  I kept an eye on her to see what she would do.  Apparently, she decided it wasn’t worth trying to jump the fence.  She dropped back to the ground and watched through the bars.  Normally this is what Trixie is doing while Thanzi has her turn.

I led Trixie to one of the platforms made up of a stack of plywood mats.  She stepped onto it, click and treat.  Then click and treat several times while she was still on the platform.  I led her to a second platform and repeated the rapid-fire clicks while she stood still on the platform.  I don’t think she was making any connection at all between the treats and her feet being on the plywood.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for that awareness to emerge.

We went back and forth between the two platforms several times, then her attention began to wander.  She is definitely a candidate at this point for very short sessions. It’s interesting how closely these current training reports mirror what I am writing about in the July Goat Diaries. Today’s post focuses on the importance of beginning with short sessions. When I saw the rhythm of the treat delivery begin to change for Trixie, I opened the gate and Thanzi came rushing in.  I dropped treats for both of them into the feed tubs that are scattered about that area, and then continued on with the morning chores.

My overall impression of Trixie is she’s a very sweet, very soft individual.  I found myself questioning what sweet means.  Trixie is a nervous goat.  Her worry keeps her from approaching too close.  Thanzi, Pellias, and Galahad are all much bolder.  They will crowd in to get the treats.  Elyan and Thanzi stand back more.  So could “sweet” be translated as more nervous?

But then I wondered if we become how we are treated.  If I think that Trixie is sweet and treat her as such, will our relationship evolve so that those elements which match my label “sweet” are highlighted and reinforced?  I think that Thanzi is also very sweet (with me), and super smart.  We’ll see what emerges as our relationships develop.

On to the July Goat Diaries.  We are finally getting to day three of their clicker training experience.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 3

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

With horses I have people begin by counting out twenty treats. That ensures that the first few sessions will be short. With so few treats in their pockets they have to step away from their horses to go refill their pockets. That gives them thinking time. How did the session go? What was working well? What needs to be changed? What do you want to do with the next round of treats?

Starting out this way gets people into the habit of thinking about their training session. It’s easy to jump in and just train, train, train, without giving much thought to what you are doing or how your animal is responding. That’s a recipe for a disaster. You need time to think about the responses your animal is giving you. I certainly needed time to think about what the goats were offering.

I definitely needed to make some changes. For starters, I put the cup filled with treats into my pocket.  When I held it, I thought it was just too much of a draw for their attention.  I had wanted a quicker way to get to my treats.  The cup gave me that initially, but now it was time to go back to using my pockets.

The goats’ response to this change would tell me if I had made a good choice.

8:30 am First Morning Session

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P’s session was first. They had had their morning hay and were both lying down when I went into the stall. I let P out into the outside run and left E with some treats scattered over the floor.

P went straight to the platform and stood looking out over the top field. He seemed to be scanning for the dogs. His fixed attention worked in my favor. It let me take a step or two away. Click. He stayed on the platform while I stepped forward to give him the treat. He went back to staring. I stepped even further away. Click. He continued to stare. It was clear the sound of the click did not yet hold any significant meaning.  It was only as I stepped toward him and reached into my pocket that he turned his head.  That was a cue he understood. Treats were coming!

Goat Diaries Day 3 platforms Pt 1 12 panels distractionI continued to step further and further away from him until I was back by the stall door. He was being a perfect statue. What a handsome goat! He was standing in perfect balance. This was the picture I wanted to train towards. Head up, but not stretching out to me. Expression alert, interested, but not afraid.

It was time to take him off the platform. He hesitated. Following a target was still too new to draw him off his sentinel post. I settled for less.  A nose stretching towards the target was enough to earn a click and a treat. I watched him making a choice between staying on the platform or leaving to follow me.

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Cuddle Time Pays off

Approaching the target earned a click and a treat. It also presented me with an opportunity to make physical contact. He stood quietly for a prolonged head scratch.

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Head scratching was followed by another opportunity to follow the target onto the platform. Just moments before he had stood staring up at the top field. Now he had a softer gaze, but he was still staying on the platform while I took several steps away from him. He also stayed put while I stroked his back and rubbed his head, click and treat. We’d come a long way in a very short time. On their arrival day they had stayed as far away from me as they could. Now P was calmly accepting a head rub.

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P was still slow to follow a target. Those dots were not fully connected. But the platform work! He had that down.  He was showing me again how smart he is – Robin smart.

When I offered the target, he was always hesitant. It’s hard to leave a platform. Goats like being up on things. Why leave a preferred location, especially when that’s where the treats were? I could see him choosing between the platform and the target. I just needed to give him time to work out the puzzle.  He chose the target each time. Smart goat!  More good learning – you get clicked for lots of different things.

As the session continued, I saw many good things that I liked. His attention had come off the far field. His focus was now inside the pen with me. While he stood on the platform, I could see him tracking my position as I circled around him.

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He likes being on the platform. Leaving it to touch a target created a conflict. Which did he value more? I was pleased that he was making the choice to orient back to me and the target. Click and treat.

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And I was very pleased that I could scratch his head and neck out here, and he very much seemed to enjoy it.

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Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

The Goat Palace – Nov. 16, 2017

Yesterday I wrote that structure matters.  The day’s training sessions confirmed it.  Things went so much more smoothly with the panels in place.  Thanzi has figured out our system.  She is now first at the gate ready to shift into the back area.  She’s becoming much more consistent orienting to and following a target.  She also has no interest in shifting back to the front area after her session, so we let Trixie join her. I’d like to work them one after the other, but Thanzi disagrees with that system. So yesterday she got a second targeting session with Marla while I worked with Trixie.

We were more successful than we had been the day before. Thanzi stayed better with Marla which let me focus on Trixie. I’m using my hand as a target with her.  I target with one hand, feed with the other. She’s becoming increasingly comfortable approaching me and staying with me rather than running to Thanzi for security.

We left them and set the panels up for the boys.  We have three different goats so they got three very different sessions.  Pellias was reinforced for staying on a platform, something he excels at.  Galahad had another protective contact session orienting to the target while we stayed outside the enclosure.  He did great.  He went consistently to the target, moved several steps to get his treat and then returned to his target.

We’ll see how he progresses, but I suspect starting this way will give him a very strong targeting skill.  When you reduce the noise in the system, the behavior you’re after can really stand out.  Our presence in the pen adds a lot of extra noise.

For Elyan, I built on yesterday’s session where I had him follow a target around me in a circle.  If he had been a horse, I would have said he was lunging around me.  Towards the end of his session I hooked his lead to his collar.  We were picking up on lessons I had started in July.  He continued to follow his target, and he kept slack in the lead.  I remarked that it is so much easier to teach leading when there is no where to go.

So yes, structure matters.  In the case of these five goats structure lets us work them individually without the chaos and competition that having them all together creates.  I had originally thought we would be able to have all the goats together in the back area while we let them one at a time into the front training area, but I hadn’t factored in Thanzi’s influence.  She is too aggressive to the younger goats for this to work.  So structure matters because it lets us adjust our training to include considerations of the social structure of the group, as well as the needs of each individual.

In the evening this time it was Pellias who stayed on the platform for a cuddle and Elyan who watched from the back training area.  The ladies were at the hay feeders.  Galahad scooted past them but then discovered that Pellias didn’t want to share his top spot on the platform.  He wanted all the scritching to himself.  I stayed for quite a while, then left via the back gate so I could give Elyan a few minutes of attention as well.  The ladies so far want nothing from me except food.  They will approach to sniff my hands, but they scoot away if I try to touch them.

Onto the July Goat Diaries:

Clicker Training Day 2: Goats Are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

Platform Training Begins

I use mats a lot when I work with horses.  In fact mats are such a useful tool, learning to stand on a mat is one of the six foundation lessons I use to introduce a horse to clicker training.  The more you play with mats the more uses you find for them. Many horses begin by being wary of the strange surface. So the first step in using mats is to convince the horse that they are safe to stand on.

Robin on mat 1.png

Think door mat size for mats.  You can use plywood, rubber mats, carpet squares.  You want something that contrasts with the underlying surface.

Standing on a mat highlights one of those places where goats are like horses – except they’re not. They are like horses in that mats are also an incredibly useful tool for them. They are unlike horses in that they are mountain animals. They like being up on things. They had already demonstrated that they were more than happy to jump up on the platform I provided for them in their stall.  They didn’t need any special training to begin exploring that bit of environmental enrichment.

Normally with horses it would take multiple training sessions before they would be comfortable stepping up onto an elevated platforms. These goats might have been afraid of me on that first day they were in the stall, but they were very willing to jump up and play king of the mountain on the platform.

Goat on platform P up, E on floor.png

The goats were very willing to jump up on the platform I built for them.

Normally, for the horses I use pieces of plywood, or rubber mats, but I wasn’t sure the goats would even notice these.  Given their lack of concern over changes in footing, I thought my usual mats might not be very effective.  Would they even notice that there was something different underfoot?

I decided that their mats should be platforms.  If one foot slipped off, they were much more likely to be aware of it and to self-correct.  That would be less frustrating for them than asking them to care about whether or not their nimble feet were all four on a regular mat.

5th Session 7 pm: King of the Hill – Platforms

Horses were again my guide as I thought about what to do next. P had so many good traits. He was a quick learner. He was eager for attention. He was greedy for treats. He was full of energy.  That makes him a fun candidate to train. But all that eagerness can get in the way.  He reminded me of some of the clicker-trained dogs that I see.  They share these same good characteristics that make them fun to train.  They are quick, eager, agile, and very food motivated.  It’s easy to get them so excited during training, they can’t think. They become so fixated on the food they are unable to settle. It’s go, go, go, with anxious tight movement and emotions to match.

These goats could easily become like one of those over-excited dogs. They were in the game. They wanted the food. They were quick, agile, eager to play. It’s easy to get carried away and reinforce all this playful, full-of-life behavior. But the training mantra is:

For every behavior you teach, there is an opposite behavior you must teach to keep things in balance.

With these goats it was clear emotional balance was going to be important. I needed a way to let them know that standing still was a good thing. It would bring them more treats than anything else they tried.

With horses I have always used mats to help teach “stay put”. The mat gives the horse a clear criterion to follow. Keep your feet planted on the mat and you will get clicked and reinforced.

As busy as the goats were, I wasn’t sure they would notice a simple mat. I thought platforms might work better for them, and I already knew that they liked being up on things. Unlike horses who tend to be wary about stepping onto unfamiliar surfaces, I didn’t think getting them up on a platform would be a challenge for them.

I began with P in the outside run. He was ready before I was!  He went right to his platform and got clicked and reinforced for staying on it. This was so unlike horses who would have needed a lengthy introduction to mats and platforms. There are some advantages to working with a mountain climber!

Goat Diaries Day 2 P on Platform 7 panels

I used targeting to get P off the platform. I didn’t want to keep him up there so long it became the one and only thing he was willing to do. I wanted him to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced, including leaving the platform to go to a target.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms 3 photos targeting.png

He threw in a little backing as he returned to the platform. After being reinforced so much for backing in the previous sessions, this was not a surprise.

Goat diaries Day 2 backing up.pngHe came up forward again to go onto the platform.  Once up there, I reinforced him several times for staying on it.

Goat diaries Day 2 Platforms -  2 photos return to platform.pngAgain, I targeted him off. Click and treat. He wanted to back up. So he backed up then came forward with tons of energy to the platform. Hmm. I need to think about that.

“Don’t make your animal wrong for something you have taught him.”

That’s another of my training mantras. The backing was clearly a lesson well learned. In the previous sessions backing had produced treats. But backing wasn’t always going to be what I was looking for.

Too much of a good thing can get in the way of learning new lessons. I didn’t want to frustrate him and send him into the downward spiral of an extinction burst, but I also didn’t want backing to be inserted into everything that I trained. I needed to expand his repertoire so I could keep the backing in balance with all the other things I wanted him to do. Teaching him to stand on a platform was an important next step in this process.

Video: Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms (The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

If these photos and the short video clip were all I showed you of this session, you would think all was smooth sailing. This goat training is easy!

But immediately after all this good work, P backed off the platform. I invited him forward with the target. He trotted back to the platform. The added energy tipped the balance.  He jumped up several times. I’ve seen behavior like this before, but it’s usually coming from an overly excited dog.  With dogs it can be entertaining, even flattering when your family pet jumps up on you with such enthusiasm.  But with horses this kind of behavior will just get you hurt.  It’s not a behavior I want to encourage in horse or goat.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 2 photos where manners?.png

Video Goat Diaries Day 2/ Excitement  (The password that opens this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

I got myself clear, got us reorganized, and P went back to being able to stay four feet on the floor.  I restored his good manners by keeping my rates of reinforcement high.  It was click for staying still on the platform – feed.  Click for staying still on the platform – feed.  I wanted to emphasize that four feet on the floor worked much better than jumping up.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 9 photos C:T.png

We were doing a fair bit of sorting/experimenting when the neighbors two dogs came out along the top fence line. One is a great Dane cross and the other is a dachshund. The little dog was moving about in a very odd way that caught everyone’s attention. One of the horses went on the alert. P tried to jump back into the stall and didn’t make it. I opened the door and tried to let him back in, but E came out instead. They both stood transfixed staring up at the dogs. Then the neighbor started weed whacking. That was too much.

The goats stared, tuning me out completely.  They needed to work this out on their own.  The environment is always changing.  They needed to decide what was a threat and what was just normal background noise.   I sat in the chair with them for a while, then went to get some hay to entice them back into the stall. P finally went in. I tried a little targeting, but he was having none of it. They went back and forth, in and out before I finally got them both in and closed the door. This time I closed the top as well as the bottom. I wasn’t going to have any more unwanted escapes.

Once in the stall, they settled right away. I gave them fresh hay which helped them forget the scare they had just had. While they were eating, I stood next to them and stroked their backs. They stopped eating and didn’t move. That seemed like such an odd reaction. Couldn’t they walk and chew gum? When they were touched, why did they stop eating? I read it as worry. It almost looked as though they were freezing.

With horses when you scritch them, you look for their lips to twitch. You look for a softening of the eyes, an arch of the neck as they move into your hand. With the goats I saw none of this. I couldn’t find any good places to scratch or any this-feels-great-don’t-stop spots. They accepted the stroking, but they weren’t seeking it out.

In the evening Panda’s owner, Ann, came out to the barn.  Ann is a partner in the barn and her Icelandic, Fengur is one of our permanent residents.  Ann is blind so she hadn’t really had a chance yet to meet the goats.  On the first evening when they wanted nothing to do with people, all I’d been able to do was describe their behavior.  Now for the first time, she could begin to interact with them.  When she went into the stall with me, the goats stayed at the hay bucket. She was able to stroke both of them, which I took as real progress.  P stood better for her than E.   E quickly scooted away, clearly worried by a person he didn’t know.

Ann went off to take care of Fengur. I stayed and brought out my chair again. I was beginning to think of this last session of the day as cuddle time. After the excitement of all these training sessions, it seemed important that I spend some time just hanging out with the goats. I took my chair in and sat with them while they ate hay.  If they came over, they got scratched. My rule was I could touch them, but I could not restrain them in any way. If they wanted to leave, I let them.

The goats were going to be with me for such a short time, I wanted to stack the deck as much as I could in my favor. I didn’t want to be just a treat dispenser. I wanted the treats, the puzzles, the entertainment, the time spent just hanging out to all add up to a real relationship. One of the common metaphors that trainers often use is they equate relationship building to building up a bank account. The “cuddle” time I was spending with these goats felt as though I was depositing gold bricks into my account.

I was also making some interesting discoveries about goats. Years ago I had three llamas. True to their species’ reputation for aloofness none of them liked being handled. These goats were not at all like the llamas. They were starting to seek out my attention.

My horses enjoy a good scratch, but the goats were different again. What they were really like were cats. All the ways cats enjoy having their heads rubbed and their chins scratched these goats seemed to love. I was beginning to see a tiny wiggle of the lips as I scratched them around their ears and the base of their horns. Their eyes were getting softer, and their ears were definitely getting floppier. If only they could purr, they would have been perfect!

I was also making another interesting discovery.

P was considerably bigger than little E. He was much bolder, much more of an adventurer. But when it came to hay and cuddles, E was the pushy one. When I set the hay bucket down for them, it was E who pulled the hay away with his foot. If P tried to share, E would butt him away. I tried spreading the hay out in separate piles so P could have some. E claimed them all and left P only what could be scrounged along the edges.

E loved having his head and back scratched. If P was under my hand first, he got butted away. E would then station himself by my side. If I stopped scratching him, he would lean into me or give me a gentle nudge with his nose to remind me that I needed to keep scratching. P could stand on my other side and was allowed a scratch as well, just as long as I kept my fingers going for E.

Their coats were also so very different. I was enjoying the contrast. P’s coat was soft and deep. You could sink your hands into his undercoat of luxurious cashmere. E’s long guard hairs gave a very different feel. His coat wasn’t soft to the touch and he was much bonier, but he so loved being scratched he was even more reinforcing.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Cuddle Time.png

How To Scratch a Goat

 

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 3 of Clicker Training

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ 

 

 

 

JOY FULL Horses: Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 3: Patterns

Patterns
Play evolves out of success.  Play evolves when both learner and teacher are relaxed and confident in the process.  Good technique, attention to detail, attention to your learner’s emotional needs are the breeding ground for play.

In the previous section I talked about base positions and movement cycles, and how they can be used to create high success rates.  These create repeating patterns.  You are doing the same sequence of behaviors over and over again.  I’ve heard people say they don’t like drilling patterns.  Their animals get bored.  They get bored.  Patterns, they will tell you, are the death knell to good training.

All I can say is that’s not been my experience.  Horses thrive on patterns.  They like the predictability of knowing what is coming next.  They like being successful.

They aren’t the only ones.  We thrive on patterns.  Want proof.  Look at how easily we fall into them.  We are creatures of habit, which means we are creatures of patterns.  Rather than fighting against this tendency, I’m going to use it to my advantage.

I’m going to create tight, clean, repeatable loops.  I’ll follow the mantra of loopy training.  When a loop is clean, I get to move on.  And not only do I get to move on, I should move on.  

When my whole behavior cycle is clean, I’ll change my criteria slightly.  Maybe I’m teaching my horse to back up through a corner.  I’ll begin by getting just a step or two of backing. I’ll ask for this well away from the corner.  I’ll start out very micro in my requests.  I’ll be satisfied at first with just slight shifts of his balance.  I don’t need a full step back to get the process started.  Even a slight rock back is enough.  Click.  I’ll feed him so he rocks forward to the starting point.  I have a movement cycle.  He is in position to begin again.

When the loop is clean, it’s time to move on. That’s what keeps the use of patterns from becoming boring.  They are changing, growing, becoming more complex, more interesting at such a rapid pace.  I am reinforced by the progress I experience in every session.  I don’t stay stuck on one criterion, drilling away at it until it feels stale and begins to fall apart.  My steps are small, my criterion precise, and that means my horse and I experience tremendous success.

The process reminds me of bending a coat hanger.  The more you bend it, the softer it gets.  So, as my horse rocks back and forth between the ask and the food the delivery, he will be getting softer and softer.  The clickable point will shift seamlessly.  I’ll ask him to rock back a little more, click, feed forward.  A couple of clicks later, I can ask him to take a full step back, click, feed forward.  I’ll build that loop, let it stabilize briefly, and then move on to the next small shift in criterion.   As my loop expands, my pattern will grow increasingly complex, but always I am expanding it one very achievable, small step at a time.

My pattern will become a large, predictable, repeatable loop.  My learner won’t be worrying about what is coming next.  He knows the pattern well.  It’s click, check in with the handler to see where the food is going to be delivered, retrieve your treat, and then continue on to the next well-rehearsed step in the pattern.  Because every element in the pattern has been taught with such clarity and with positive reinforcement, every element can serve as a reinforcer for the behaviors that precede it.

That’s another benefit of this process.  The behaviors that I have taught through my clean loops can now be used to reinforce other elements in my ever-growing pattern.  I can place the click and treat at strategic points wherever I feel the added information they provide is needed.  Adding to their motivating value, every behavior in a well-constructed pattern also serves as a reinforcer.  If you want to understand how to teach patterns as complex as a dressage test using the clicker, this is the key that will unlock that puzzle.  Going micro creates the macro.

This is a game that’s fun to play because it is so easy for you both to win.  Isn’t that one of the characteristics of play?  You’re both winners.

Coming Next: How Clicker Trainers Play

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOYFULL HORSES: TRANSFORMING HORSE TRAINING INTO PLAY

In the previous sections I used the image of a runway to teach a horse to step on a mat.  The point of using this image is to get you thinking creatively, with imagination.  That’s what takes you far, far away from the mind set of do-it-or-else training.

Transforming Horse Training Into Play
We’ve all watched skilled trainers, whether in person or on video.  I’m sure you’ve taken in a variety of images of how things are done.  Now suppose you’re handed a horse who is pushy, or won’t stand still for saddling.  You’ve seen how professional horse trainers deal with this in what often seems like no time at all.

It’s so easy to put on their “hat” and fall into the same-old, same-old of traditional horse training solutions.  But remember – when you are watching one of those skilled trainers, you aren’t just watching fifteen minutes of training.  You are watching fifteen minutes plus fifteen years.  That’s a lot of experience – and a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned – to get to the point where things look easy.

Easy isn’t the only criterion we’re looking for.  I remember watching a video of a trainer who was working with what was described as a “lazy” horse.  The owner wanted to be able to lunge the horse, but her horse stayed in close to her and wouldn’t move out.  There are all kinds of reasons why a horse would lock in close to a handler.  One might be that the horse has learned that staying in close is the safest place to be.  If that was the case for this horse, the trainer took his safety away.  He charged into the horse with his lunge whip, sending the horse leaping away to the side.

The trainer was using negative reinforcement.  His timing was excellent.  As soon as the horse was in motion, he stopped cracking the whip.  But the instant the horse slowed down, he was on the attack again.  It took just a couple of turns around the circle to convince that horse that he needed to keep moving.  Easy.  The battle was over in just a few minutes.

The trainer stood in the middle of the lunge circle touting the virtues of his technique.  The horse continued to trot around him the whole time he was talking to the audience.  He no longer even needed to lift his whip.  It was an impressive result.

But I was thinking about the lesson from the horse’s perspective.  If one of us were trapped in a round pen with someone peppering bullets at our feet, wouldn’t we run?  And we’d keep on running until we dropped from exhaustion.  If we slowed down, the person in the middle would just need to gesture with the gun to get us running again.

It is the same thing.  So easy isn’t enough.  I can look at the behavior that emerges – a horse moving at a steady pace around me at liberty and think that’s a fun result.  The question becomes: how can I get to that behavior but in a more learner-friendly way?  How can I take this, or any other lesson, and turn it into true play for both myself and my horse?

One of the principles that is common to ALL good training methods is this:

There is ALWAYS more than one way to teach every behavior.

If you really believe that and know how to put this principle into practice then this leads you to the answer.

You’re going to break the task down into smaller components so your horse understands what is wanted in each step.  You want him to be more than just comfortable with what is being asked.  You want him to be eager to play.

Using Props
To teach horses to step on mats, I set out the V runway pattern.   The cones help handlers line their horses up with the mat so they have room to come to it on a straight line.  When I first taught mats, I didn’t put the cones out.  But then I saw that handlers would leave the mat and cut back around on such a tight turn that the horse had no chance to line himself up again straight to it.

They did the same thing at mounting blocks.  If the horse shifted away from the mounting block, they would walk off on a tight circle that gave the horse little opportunity to come in straight.  The missing step was the handler’s ability to visualize the path she needed to take to give her horse the most success.

So I set out the V shaped line of cones.  The length of the “runway” obliged the handler to go out far enough so that she had room to line her horse up to the mat.

I could have set the mats out in a parallel lines.  Then I would have had a different kind of runway, and I would have used different images to describe it.  It might have become the catwalk for a fashion show.  The horse would be a model sashaying her way down the runway – stopping periodically to show off her costume.

Instead I set them out in a V so the handler would have a wide funnel entrance and a better chance of getting the horse into the top of the runway.  It’s only experienced pilots and co-pilots who can successfully enter into the top of a narrow runway.  Novice teams need the wider opening.

Playing with Images
Playing with images takes you away from relying solely on the standard-issue horse training approaches you may already know.  It puts you into a creative place where you can come up with your own patterns, images, and techniques that work for your horse.

People often feel that they have to follow exactly the instructions given by a clinician or riding instructor.  I offer the runway as a starting point.  I suggest that you begin with my image.  Understand how this process works; learn the basics of good rope handling; see what it gives you when you have a horse who welcomes the information the lead provides; and then become creative.  Invent your own images to help teach the skills your horse needs to meet your personal training goals.

Creativity
For me, there’s no better indicator of success than hearing from someone that they have found a new way of teaching a familiar lesson.  They don’t go about it exactly the same way I do.  Their horse has shown them a different way, just as my horses often show me new ways to teach old things.

Creativity is at the core of our being.  When a handler clutters up her work space with cones, empty supplement containers, bags of shavings, and who knows what else, and sees in that clutter a better way to teach a lesson, I know she has understood the greater game.  She is becoming creative and inventive.  She is creating new games.  For both horse and handler it has become true play.

Robin with shavings 2016-06-22 at 5.54.53 PM

You might not want to put quite so many shavings bags into your “play ground”, but clutter can definitely contribute to creative ideas.

Coming Next: Unit 4: Cue Communication

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOYFULL Horses: Mat Manners

In the previous installment I introduced you to constructional training.  I used the runway lesson to teach your horse to step on a mat.  Instead of going directly to the mat, you first taught your horse the skills he’d need to make this an easy lesson.

So now you have a horse who is eager to get to his mat.  He isn’t just gingerly stepping a toe onto the edge of the mat, he’s rushing ahead to get to it.  Hurray!  You’re part way through this lesson.

For every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance. 

The mat lesson helps you understand the importance of this statement.  You’ve got a horse who is eager to get to the mat.  Now you need to explain that you’d like him to walk with you to the mat.

Robin runway walk casually to it 2016-06-22 at 2.34.16 PM

Robin shows his great mat manners, walking with me to the mat.

Robin halt on mat 2016-06-22 at 2.34.39 PM

He lands on the mat in beautiful balance.  He’s going to continue to be our equine teacher for this lesson.  In the following photos you’ll see how to build great mat manners.

Mat Manners
You’re now ready for the next level in this “runway” game.

You want a horse who is eager to get to the mat, who regards it as a fun place to be, a place where lots of good things happen, but you also want a horse who walks with you to the mat.  You don’t want your co-pilot taking over complete control.  You still want to make some of the decisions.   So now if he starts to grab the throttle stick from you, you can use your “needle point” skills to ask him to stop and back up.

I know that’s mixing a lot of metaphors.  Let’s see how this works.

Robin mat back one step 2 2016-06-22 at 4.16.26 PM

Robin and I are practicing our “needlepoint”.  I’m asking for a single step back. (Refer to the previous post: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/06/21)

Rushing doesn’t lead to the mat.  It leads to needle point.  But needle point is not a bad thing.  Your co-pilot understands what is wanted.  I tend not to click for course corrections.  So that first backing step won’t be rewarded with a click and a treat.  But when we’re back on pattern, and I ask for the next step, perhaps asking now for one green stitch forward – that I’ll click and treat.

Robin walk one step to mat 2016-06-22 at 4.18.01 PM

In the “needlepoint” part of the runway lesson I’m asking Robin for one step forward.

Robin walk off to mat 2016-06-22 at 4.18.14 PM

After a click and a treat, I release him to the mat.

We’re back in sync with one another, still a few steps away from our landing pad.  I’ll release the controls to my co-pilot, and we’ll walk together with slack in the lead.  I won’t need to help him get to the mat.  He knows how to land our little craft.  He stops, perhaps not perfectly square yet, but with both feet on the mat.  Click and treat!

Robin on mat grups 2016-06-22 at 2.56.18 PM

Again, he lands beautifully on the mat.

And now the game changes yet again.  I want the mat to be a versatile tool.  I want my horse to remain on the mat while I move around him, or even away from him.  The mat provides the foundation for what is referred to in the horse world as ground tying – the horse stays on the spot where you left him as though he was tied.

Robin on mat grups at distance 2016-06-22 at 2.56.57 PM

The mat is a great tool for teaching ground tying.

101 Things
So the new game becomes “101 things a handler can do while a horse stays on a mat.”

This is a variation on the theme of a game which many canine clicker trainers play with their dogs.  It’s called “101 Things a Dog Can Do With A Box”. The handler presents a dog with a box.  Each novel behavior the dog offers gets clicked.  So if the dog sniffs the box, he gets clicked.   If he sniffs it again, he doesn’t get reinforced.  But if he paws the box with his right front foot, he does.  Now if he sniffs the box or paws it with his right front – nothing.  But if he changes and paws with his left front, click and treat.

This was a popular game early on amongst canine clicker trainers, but for a lot of reasons I never played an equine version of it.  One of the more fuddy-duddy reasons was I really didn’t want my horses learning all the creative things they can do either with their bodies or with things.  I didn’t want them thinking they can do fancy leaps into the air with me on their backs or open their stall door latches whenever it pleased them.  If they discovered these talents on their own, so be it, but I didn’t need to be an accomplice in this kind of cleverness. (That’s especially true when it comes to stall latches!)

So 101 things was out for my horses, but it is very much in for the handlers.  I need them to be creative.  So the game becomes – every time your horse lands back on the mat, you have to come up with a new behavior a handler can do while a horse stands on a mat.

At first this is easy.  Your horse lands on the mat, and you might ask him questions about handling his mane.  Will he continue to stand on the mat while you run your fingers through his mane?  Yes.  Click and treat.  Repeat this several times and then walk off casually back around to the top of the runway.

Robin toss rope 2016-06-22 at 2.38.14 PM

I begin by “parking” Robin by tossing the lead over his neck.  Draping the lead over his neck quickly becomes a cue to stand.

Robin on mat play with mane 2016-06-22 at 2.57.44 PM

With Robin “parked” on the mat, I can begin the “101 things a handler can do while a horse stands on a mat” lesson. In this round of the game I am stroking his mane.  The lead rests over his neck in the “parked” position.  I’m not holding on to it, but I can easily pick it up should he walk off.

Next time you get back to the mat, you have to think of something else to do.  It could be you simply expand running your fingers through his mane to stroking down his neck and along his shoulder.  Or you could decide to play the game more like “101 things you can do with a box”.  You stroked his mane in the last round, so now you’re going to think up a completely different sort of behavior.  “Will you stand on the mat while I bend down to tie my shoe?  Oh, I don’t have shoe laces!  Never mind my shoe still needs to be checked.”

Robin on mat tie shoes 2016-06-22 at 3.00.36 PM

“Will you stand still while I tie my shoe?”  Yes, click then feed.

Most people can easily play a couple rounds of this game but then they begin to get stuck for ideas.  They are too much in their “horse-training” head.   They’ve already stroked their horse from head to tail and picked up all four feet. What else can they do?  They are running out of ideas.

The Opposite of Flooding
Time to channel their inner child or their inner kindergarten teacher.  You can ask your horse for horsey things like dropping his head, or putting his ears forward, or letting you walk behind him and groom his tail.

Robin on mat ask for foot 2 2016-06-22 at 2.39.13 PM

While Robin stands on a mat, I can ask for horsey things. In this case I am touching him at his elbow as a cue for him to lift his foot.

Robin on mat knee target 2016-06-22 at 2.39.27 PM

As Robin lifts his foot, I have him target his knee to my hand.

Robin on mat take foot 2016-06-22 at 2.41.41 PM

From here it is easy to ask him to target his foot to my hand.  (This is an easy way to teach a horse to pick up his feet.)

You can play silly games with your horse.  Can he stand still while you run around pretending to be an airplane?  Bzzzz, Bzzz – coming in for a crash landing into the mountain (horse).  Click and treat.

Robin on mat airplane 1 2016-06-22 at 3.03.26 PM

When you run out of “horse training” games, you can play silly ones.  In this case I’m pretending to be an airplane.  I even include the sound effects of a buzzing  engine.

Robin on mat hug 1 2016-06-22 at 3.04.16 PM

My favorite kind of “crash landing”.

I love watching the horses watch the people.  This is the best entertainment they’ve had in years!  What will their human do next!?

Robin on mat airplane rgt side 2016-06-22 at 3.03.56 PM

Robin isn’t sure what to make of my behavior.  What a very strange human!

 

This type of training is done routinely when you are prepping a youngster for riding.  The handler waves things around and jumps up and down.  The goal is to desensitize the horse so he doesn’t spook at unexpected movement.  But instead of creating an entertaining game for the horse, it is often done with flooding.

Here’s an example of how flooding works.  Suppose a horse is afraid of flapping saddle blankets.  He scoots away.  The blanket pursues him, matching him move for move until finally he gives up and stands still.  Next comes another scare, this time it might be an umbrella opening and closing in his face.  The horse learns he can’t escape.  The best he can do is stop.  That makes the umbrella go away  – for the moment, but it is back again in the next instant.  He learns finally that no matter what happens, no matter how afraid he is, he can’t get away.  He gives up and stands still while the handler flaps tarps around his body, and up over his head, covering his eyes so he cannot see to run even if he wanted to.  He’s given up flight because he has given up.

The handler isn’t playing, except maybe at being a “horse trainer”.  And this most certainly is not a game for the horse.

I want to create something very different for the horses I interact with.  It needs to be play for both of us.  I want my horse to know that he does have a choice.  His voice most certainly counts.

Teaching the skills you need before you use them; building success and confidence through patterned exercises; and – most important – really listening to your horse helps transform these lessons into true play for both of you.

Playing with Language
I’ve written about mats many times.  I’ve described in detail the rope handling techniques that are used.  I’ve referred to the runway image.  (I definitely spend too much time in airports.  I can rarely teach a weekend clinic without making some reference to airplane travel.)  I’ve also referenced the needle point image because to me this section of the lesson always makes me think of the fine, detailed work that needle point represents.

What I haven’t done before is used quite so much of this type of imagery in describing the lesson.  My point is not to force you into a mold where you have to be thinking – okay what colour thread am I supposed to be picking up and why?  If you’ve never done needle point or other fine detailed handiwork, this image will feel foreign and forced.  If you haven’t traveled on as many airplanes as I have over the last few years, the runway image may not jump out at you as you set your cones out in a V.

My point is not to get you using these images.  My point is to get you thinking creatively, with imagination.  That’s what takes you far, far away from the mind set of do-it-or-else training.

airplane landing.png

Coming Next: Transforming Horse Training Into Play

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com