Monday, July 20, 2009

Rumer and mat work

In continuing Rumer's preparation for driving, I have had two people suggest that the first thing she pull is a tire. I thought this sounded like a great idea and set about getting her used to having a tire around. Like other new things these days, the tire quickly became something to investigate in exchange for clicks and treats. I was a bit concerned about what would happen if she got tangled up in it and fate decided to let me have some experience dealing with that. Rumer likes to paw at new things and so she pawed at the tire. When Percy paws, it's a huge reach out front but when Rumer does it, she keeps her leg pretty tightly curled and sure enough, she hooked the inside of the tire and pulled it under her which scared her and she leaped and the tire jumped and rolled and oh my. Now it was a Dangerous Tire. It didn't take long with C/T to have her touching it again but she was not keen on having it move at all.
So I decided this was another job for the mat work. My goal is to have her stand quietly on her mat while I pull the tire around her and THEN we will progress to having it follow along behind as she walks. She was very happy to see the mat come out and plunked her feet right on it (I still have to ignore a few initial paws before her feet are still). But it became apparent that we need to work more on it before introducing the tire. Even though I had worked up to a count of about 5 (the issue being that she thinks pawing will start the game going again when I get too slow), we needed to solidify the whole exercise before being able to use it with the tire.
Being a youngster, Rumer likes action. Just standing still is hard work. After a bit, it seems to her like perhaps she could DO something to get that clicker going again, rather than just waiting. So we've done a lot of re-setting her back on the mat, using simple targeting as a secondary reinforcer and patience on my part. From there, I worked up to stepping away from her as I counted. First one step, click and return to treat; then two steps, click and return to treat, etc. I did this in all different directions- off to the side, back behind her and the biggest challenge was stepping off in front of her- you could see her thinking hard about whether she was supposed to be stepping off with me or staying on her mat! Since I do use the cue of a slide on the lead to mean "go forward", I think it was easier for her to distinguish that when she was on the mat and I walked away without that cue, the right answer was to stay put. And of course she got reinforced for it to confirm that yes, she was right!
Last night, I attached three bale strings to the tire and set it that length from her, out to the side. I had left the tire in the paddock ever since the it had attacked her and we had done more games with her touching it and watching me pick it up. I occasionally found it in a different place so they must have played with it on their own as well. I put Rumer on the mat and after a short session of just standing on the mat, I pulled the bale string so the tire approached her by 6 inches. She did her funny little arched head cock that she does but stayed put: C/T. I pulled it another 6 inches closer- same result. We played this game for a while and she would let it get pretty close before she felt she had to move or it would jump up and get her again. She did have a halter on but I had removed the lead so she was free to go when she was her choice to stand and let the tire approach.
I am spending a lot of time doing this in this fashion but I am going back to what I learned about Rumer and Clicker Training in general when I taught her to wear a blanket. She was terrified of it and I spent many sessions using Alex Kurland's "Overcoming Fear and the Power of Cues" to get her to be relaxed about it. But- when it came to putting the harness on her the first time, she was FINE. I was astonished that it was so easy since she had been so fearful of the blanket, but I think all the work I did with the blanket transferred to the harness. So I hope that this little set back with the tire will give us the same opportunity to work through any fear she has of things approaching her and following her: from carts to anything else which may appear unexpectedly under her feet or up behind her.

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