Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Clicking for Grooming

The weather has been really nasty here for the last several days but in the days before this I spent a lot of time with the shedding blade. I found myself using the clicker for many different behaviors while grooming.

Starting with the youngest, Percy got clicked for letting the shedding blade touch him all over his body. This is his first experience with it and he was happy to sniff it and bite it and showed no fear of the thing itself. As a result, I did not feel the need to click for just touching it and did not want him to think that was the purpose of the exercise! But I did click for standing still while I used it on his neck, and then progressed on to the rest of his body. When I first began with clicker training, it was hard to always think in terms of clicking FOR a particular behavior. I found myself almost clicking for MY behavior. In other words, if I was able touch a horse with the blade, then I clicked. Then if I was able to touch him twice with the blade, I clicked. This was very unproductive because I wasn't pinpointing a specific behavior of the horse. The horse might have been standing, might have been fidgeting, might have actually been pulling away. So the horse was getting rewarded for all these things. I am better now at deciding what specific behavior to look for...and knowing that I have to teach that behavior before I can expect the horse to do it in difficult circumstances. So in this case, I knew Percy already knew the rules for standing still (no moving feet) and for head down. I did a quick review of these behaviors so he knew what track I was on, and then began to use the blade, clicking after 1 swipe with the blade, then 2 swipes, then 3 etc. When I moved to a different part of the body, I began again with clicking for 1 swipe...being willing to stand still for having your neck worked with is different than standing still for having your tummy tickled! I think the most difficult thing for him was that at times it felt really good and he wanted to lean into it and his little nose would screw up as he tried so hard to hold still!

With Ande, I did the same basic exercise but required stillness from more of his body. I had done Percy just loose in his paddock, but Ande is familiar with cross-ties and I am trying to do it a lot so it becomes very natural for him to stand on them and not fidget with his head or bite the ropes, etc. He is really quite good, but more practice and reinforcement never hurts. I was also much more random with the clicks with him. I basically just worked away on him and clicked about once on each general body part (neck, barrel, rump, upper leg) when he was in the ideal position. He didn't move much but sometimes his head was up, or looking around at me. I chose the times that his head was low (as low as the cross ties allowed) and he had a relaxed expression on his face.

Rumer needs a lot of work on her feet. I clicked for the shedding blade as well- somewhere between the frequency of Ande and Percy, but I focused a lot of time on working with her feet. She is quick to pick up her feet like her mom. It almost seems like she is snatching them away from you but since I know Kizzy does the same, I don't try to change it. But that's her front feet. With her back feet, she does snatch them away and can kick out...she has been quick with her hind feet since she was a day old foal! I have always reasoned that she was different from the colts in this way- the boys bit, the girl kicked...seemed like a natural response. Luckily, Rumer gave up kicking when I started clicker training her- she began offering her front end instead of her hind end! But she is still sensitive to someone else touching her hind feet. The farrier tends to just hold on when she does that, but I want her to learn to relax and not have to go through that bit. So I am clicking her for leaving her foot down when I touch it. Then I gradually proceed to letting her just rest her foot and I will work up to having her rest it and letting me actually pick it up, rather than her doing the lifting.

Kizzy is the one who had me giggling because with all the cone work I've done with her, she is really getting into this game! For such a timid mare when I got her, it's great to see her putting herself out there and try things. With her, I wanted to teach her to stand with her nose on the cone for a duration of time so that I could groom her without tying her. I had taken her out of her paddock so there was the whole barnyard to explore and bits of hay just begging to be vacuumed by Kizzy the professional cleaning woman! I got her enthusiastically bonking the cone with her nose and then progressed to waiting a fraction of a second before clicking to give her the idea that she needed to leave her nose there as opposed to just a quick tap. She was pretty quick and pretty accustomed to just having touch it so it took several tries but she got it- sort of. The reason I got laughing was because she was so enthusiastic that she kept trying to do different things to the cone- smacking it with her nose to send it teetering like one of those punching clowns. But- she did get better at it- and in the process, I was able to give her a thorough shedding while she never left the cone. More practice to come with that one!

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