Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Desensitizing Rumer to the hose

Being a little paint pony, I am always impressed with how clean Rumer manages to look. I am having someone come and take photos of the ponies next week though and would love to get her summer-shiny sooner rather than later so I started wondering about giving her a bath. I don't have anything as fancy as a wash stall so it means buckets and hoses to get the job done. I knew the hose would be on my list of things to do with her this year so I decided I might as well get started. Actually I started back when I first pulled the hose out this spring for filling water tubs. Before hooking it up, I hung it on the side of the round pen and introduced it to her, clicking and treating for having her touch it, step over it, etc.

So today I turned the hose on very slightly and took her out to the side paddock where there was lots of grass and the trickling hose. I did not have a plan. Rumer can be tough because she is so suspicious and worried about some things. I had used Alexandra Kurland's "Overcoming Fear and the Power of Cues" DVD to get Rumer to wear a blanket and it was slow progress...but successful. But I learned a lot in the process and I think I should have used this format with the hose. The problem was that the area I was using was grassy (less splash, no one else in there and the hose could reach!) and I was afraid her desire to put her head down to eat would make it difficult to use head down as a calming signal. She might put it down to eat, even if she was still worried about the hose.

So I experimented with several things. First I C/T'd for her touching the hose. It was much scarier with water dribbling out of it than it had been when it was just a hose. The water sparkled unpredictably in the sun and made a noise as it hit the ground. But she did reach out and touch it several times so we were on our way. Then I pointed it to the ground in front of her, thinking to work it toward her feet. I quickly realized that when it was at her feet, she couldn't SEE it. I was afraid it would startle her when she felt it. Even though she had reached out and touched it, it was clear by her expression that she wasn't comfortable with it. She was being very brave and trying very hard, not relaxed. I knew I was teetering on the edge of her deciding it would be safer to walk away. I knew I didn't want this because I wanted her actively engaged in the process, not me pursuing her. I gave myself my own goal: see how close I could get the water to her feet without her moving. Rather than expecting HER to stand still, the goal was now MINE to go so carefully and slowly as to not cause her to move. I was successful to the point of getting her whole hoof wet: first the bottom, then moving on up. Of course every time I did touch her foot with the water, I C/T'd her. But then I got greedy and tried to hold the hose there for too long, rather than just a quick splash. She yanked her foot up and didn't want to leave it down again.

So I changed the trial a little. Seeing how she was still worried watching the water come out of the hose (even though she was standing still, her ears were sharply forward and her head cocked as she tried to keep an eye on it), I tried to come up with a way to get her comfortable and feeling safe. Standing in front of her, I held the hose out to my side and just flicked it up and down. First once, C/T for four feet still; then twice, C/T, etc. After about 5 flicks, I switched sides and did the same on her left. Again, she was very good and brave and stood still, but did not look to be relaxing about it. She did seem to be focusing on the water hitting the ground, rather than the hose itself, so I cautiously pointed it away from her and placed my thumb over the end so it sprayed out far away and the noise stopped. This actually seemed to be less stressful to her. She was curious and reached her nose out to the water. As soon as she reached, I C/T'd. I wanted to reward her for approaching this scary thing, rather than retreating from it. She caught on pretty quickly and took a step toward the spraying water- C/T. I repeated this about 5 times and thought it was pretty neat that she was following the spraying water. By this time I was out of treats and so finished off with a peppermint. I was far from spraying her body with the hose- but also far from having her wanting to get away from it.

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