Sunday, April 19, 2009

Counting on Cross-ties

I remember when I first starting clicker training, someone recommended that I count out loud for duration work. I tried it a couple times but I felt so silly that I didn't keep it up. I've tried again over the years but it wasn't until this Spring that I have been able to do it and not feel self-conscious; I have really seen the benefits. This photo shows Percy standing on the cross-ties this morning. I am very very proud of him! He's only 10 months old and has had a couple unpleasant experiences with tying when I didn't realize how worried he was and put too much pressure on him. That was back at weaning time, about 6 months of age which is when I began tying the others. But Percy's a different breed and really panicked when he was restricted. As a result, I did a little work with him just running the rope through the ring and teaching him to yield to gentle pressure as I moved around him. He pulled back a couple times but when he found he could back up, he relaxed. I have not done any more with him since until this past week or so.

I started the same way, running the rope through the ring, but also having another line in my hand on the other side. So I could pull him toward me and away from me and Click/Treat each time he responded appropriately. Finally he seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing so a couple days ago I went ahead and hooked up the left cross-tie. He wanted to move around a fair bit so I threw in some C/T for standing still while I moved around. The criteria was that he leave his feet still. If the feet didn't move when I moved away, he got C/T. At this point I was not counting yet as I wanted to keep the reinforcement rate high. I wasn't increasing the time away from him much, just taking a step or two away in various directions while he stood. In addition, any time his head went down, I gave him a special treat. Pretty soon, he figured out that if he just hung his head on the cross-ties, it was best!

Yesterday I added in some grooming as well as running the second line through the other ring. Now he was tied to one wall, and looped pulley style to the other wall. If he panicked, I would be able to let some pressure off, but if he stepped back, I could also pull on the rope to get him to step forward....even though it was away from me. This all went well, with me just giving a curry or two, or a brush or two followed by C/T. I did this all over his body, but did not increase the time he had to stand. My criteria here was for him to keep his feet still even if I brushed him for a second or two in tickly places.

So today, I added in the counting. My goal was to get up to a count of 10 and we did! I did it gradually, first just standing next to him until we worked up to 10. That went quickly so I began counting while I curried, brushed, brushed his legs and even held up and picked out his front feet! The counting seems to lull him and tell him to just keep waiting, a click is coming....! The interesting thing I found with his feet is that even though I have picked out his feet before, I didn't realize how long a steady count to 10 is. My tendency was to pick it out quick and set it down before he had a chance to object. With the farrier coming tomorrow, it's good that he got some practice standing and holding that foot up for a long time....although I'm sure tomorrow will be a lot longer than 10. We'll have some work to go back and do afterward, but his education is certainly progressing.

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