Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When the lightbulb goes off

Today was a day we dedicated to the dogs, and I'll have some pictures and perhaps a video on that later.

But before Day of the Dogs, we stopped by the stables.

It's very muddy, our wet winter weather has created quite the soup in the paddocks. We'd brought the dogs to do a few introductions and while the dog wranglers set to work, I headed out with a pocket of cut up carrots.

I was not looking forward to trudging through the paddock in my boots to get my boy. So I went to the "gate" (just where the electric gate is set) and clicked my tongue to my horse. He looked up and headed right for me.

I "clicked" (actually a low clucking sound since I know I'll never be able to keep track of an actual clicker) and gave him a bit of carrot. Then he followed me out, without a halter, into the alleyway.

Yeah. And that would never have happened before. We do NOT leave our friends without a rope. No sir.

But, there it was.

Today my only goal (since we were not going to ride and were just doing dog intros and such) was to try to get the "touch this" connection with the clicker training. Since I'm going to be working with sacking out, and since last go round with Canyon I learned that a whole lot of courage is bought with a slice of carrot, I decided to try to get this connection to happen.

At first, Cibolo was just going for my hand that held the carrot, not the object I tried to get him to touch. I began to have him touch my hand as I pointed, but kept the carrot piece in my other hand. I spread the time a tiny bit from the point of success and click (or cluck, in my case) and the point of getting a carrot.

He got it. A cluck meant success.

Then, slowly he moved to nosing the object slightly. The trailer wall. The latch. The rope on the latch.

Then I picked up a stick no more than 3 inches long and pointed to the scary orange piece of equipment he's avoided a few times.

He paused. I waited. Then he touched the object that the stick touched.

The entire thing took about 10 minutes, and I was cautious to leave him wanting more time.

I'm getting the idea he really looks forward to these sessions. Sure, there are carrots, but there's also figuring out how to get them. It's not just riding, going places he doesn't want to go.

There's something in it for him. And I'm getting obedience and respect out of the deal. His ground manners remain impeccable. I am keeping him from mugging me because there are no "free" treats. Even our treat at greeting requires one respectful step back.

And not every behavior is treated, sometimes the reward is relaxing and rubbing.

I'd like to figure out how to do some of this in the saddle, particularly to reward pushing through hesitance. I need more saddle time, something that will have to wait for longer days and more cooperative weather.

Right now, I'm just glad the light bulb went off.

About the above picture: (Read here about the guy who ate nothing but carrots in an attempt to turn orange. And he's from my neck of the woods. Coincidence? I think not! Okay, probably.)


restoration42 said...

You might have passed by Red Horse, sign held high with the words "will work for carrots". Thanks to carrots, all I have to do is look at Red's hoof and he lifts it. When I am done and he has replaced his hoof on the ground, he immediately turns to me for his wages - a bit of orange crunchy delight.

Flying Lily said...

Yay for lightbulbs!! I love reading about these training breakthroughs. Working on some of this stuff myself during the dark cold days of winter.

Unknown said...

For work from the saddle and for later when you aren't using a food treat, connect a stroke on his neck where you could reach it from the saddle and a word cue with the reward. I teach all of mine a 'relax' cue that goes with the neck stroke once they are at a place of looking for a response.

Stroke the neck, wait for them to lower their head the tiniest bit, then say 'good' or whatever works for you, then reward. Pretty soon you will get a lowered head everytime you stroke their neck which is the beginning of relaxing in a tight situation and is a reward in itself.

For our guys, that stroke and word tells them that any situation is okay and they don't need to be afraid.

I also use the 'touch' to let them know something is alright. When we were desensitizing Mike's horse, I would hang all kinds of scarey, shiney, noisy things in the trees and it got to where no matter what I brought out, I had four mustangs galloping in to see who could 'touch' it first!

Anonymous said...

Clicker is a great tool - as you know I've recently discovered its power myself - fun to read about your progress and how much more engaged he is!

jacksonsgrrl said...

I want the power of the clicker too. I plan on getting a book on it in the New Year. Rupert Isaacson who wrote that book The Horse Boy convinced me that it is the way to go. Since Jackson gets a little pushy and disrespectful at times, I would love it if he would take a step back when I SAY SO! :)
He is so darn smart, I'm sure it will be quite simple as long as I know how to proceed!
Happy New Year Winter!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Why would anyone want to be orange????

When I was a teenager I bought some of those 'tanning pills' from an infomercial. OMG! My skin turned orange!!! It was hideous!!!

No thanks. No orange for me. lol!
(The dumb things teenagers do)

Sounds like the clicker training is going great! It works wonderfully when a horse is food motivated. I agree it would be super if we could do the clicker training from the saddle, too.