Monday, April 13, 2009

Ande- finding and filling in holes: ears

One of the things I regret most about what I have done with Ande is not focusing more on his ears. I really don't know the psychology behind the connection between facial expression and the way we feel. I know when I was little and feeling grumpy, my father would tell me to smile and it would just make me crabbier! But when the effort is initiated from within, it does help to improve attitude. I did not pay attention to Ande's ears when I was teaching him some leading skills and having his ears pinned back gradually crept in as a standard piece of the leading behavior (now that I think about it, his ears are up when I long line him so that's a good thing!). I do not want it to continue so that's a big hole that I need to focus on.

Initially, I tried to work on it while I was doing other things- leading etc. But that was not clear enough to him and I needed to climb down deep into that hole to begin filling it in properly. So I put him on the cross ties (he does not have a stall or I would have let him loose in his stall) and just watched and clicked for ears. Without the distraction of working on anything else, his ears were more likely to flick around. For a long time, all I could get was one ear but I really worked hard at that one because his expression totally changed with even one ear up. His eye softened. Initially, he would flick it forward when something in the environment interested him- Click/Treat. Then he became curious about what I was clicking him for and so would flick that far ear forward as he looked at me- C/T. It took a while, but finally I could see that he was thinking about it as he flicked his right ear up and looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I repeated this exercise over many days. Any time both ears happened to go forward, he got a jackpot and a lot of fussing over. By the time he looked like he really got it and was putting that one ear up on purpose, I tried to incorporate it into some other work.

Today I had him in the round pen and just stood next to him while we worked on the ears. I also worked on some head down, wanting to build more duration into that for future uses. He does not pin his ears for this. I figured that was a relaxing exercise that would not trigger any cranky faces. Then we tried the cha-cha- steps forward and back from a very light rein cue (or even no rein but just my body turning to face him for the backing). Since "forward" has a tendency to trigger the ears pinned, I hoped that a couple steps forward, immediately followed by backing might interrupt his routine of charging forward with his ears pinned. It worked pretty well to interrupt it- he did some very nice forward and back off my body language and/or light rope cues (he was just in a halter and lead). But he still seemed to flatten his ears as soon as we went forward- even one step. The back step would stop it, but I needed to go deeper so that I could prevent it.

So I thought about some chaining behavior and secondary reinforcements. Actually, it came to me after I decided what to try that I realized that's what it was! I think he likes moving, so I think that it is rewarding to him to be able to go forward. (that may seem backwards since he pins his ears when I ask him to walk, but I really think the ears came coincidentally, not because he doesn't like to go places). So I would wait for that ear to flick, and then instead of clicking, I asked for a step forward. If the ear stayed forward, I'd click that first step- he was being rewarded for moving forward with his ear up. AND, putting his ear up got the reinforcement of being allowed to move. I found I needed to be even quicker and click as I asked him to go forward to really be sure of clicking when the ear was up. But this worked! At this point I was about out of hay stretcher pellets so I knew I had to quit. I will definitely go back to this tomorrow though as I think we may finally be on the right track of a forward moving, Happy Face boy!

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

I have been working with my mare, Spice, on the ears forward exercise. She is very crabby around food, and she almost always walks up to you in the pasture with her ears pinned. Yesterday she seemed to be starting to get it, but she would stand very nicely and put on ear forward, keeping the other ear cocked back to me listening for the click. Would you click for just one ear forward, and how would you transition this behavior to getting both ears forward? Thanks!