Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trailer Loading 101

Very successful evening last night! All three babies had some trailer loading practice. Ande had been on before- as a yearling he had a day or two of practice and then even went to a clinic with Alex Kurland an hour away. He had not been on since and the other two had never had any experience.

I was SO proud of all three of them. I saw some amazing similarities based on their clicker training basics and also some differences based on their personalities and histories.

Ande was first and Ande just is not a worryer! Tempered curiosity is as far as it goes. All it took with him was C/T for approaching every few steps. C/T for each new foot on the ramp. C/T when the front feet got into the trailer, then lots of C/T for just standing inside and looking around. He was concerned about backing out so there was lots of C/T for the hind feet proceeding back down the ramp. Then we walked away, turned around and did it again. It was so easy that I called it quits right there for him!

Next in line was Rumer. Rumer reminds me of a little girl in kindergarten right now- she wears pink sundresses, runs the classroom hierarchy and can beat all the boys in any races or climbing they challenge her with. She likes excitement- she's the first one to the window if anything is going on. So the trailer was exciting! Eyes wide, hairdo bouncing, her little snorts expressing all kinds of alarm as we approached. Then I clicked. Well, this is still a Big Deal but if teacher is giving out treats then all you guys stay in the classroom and I'll go see if it's safe out there. So we then did just about the exact same thing as with Ande- C/T for steps toward the trailer and C/T for each new foot on the ramp. She put her little front toes in the crack between the ramp and the trailer floor and teetered there for a while- I think she was showing off. Then she stepped in and walked to the front. I pulled out a peppermint and she chomped happily. She, like Ande, was worried about putting her feet out behind her so we C/T'd each step backward. We made a big circle and I was going to repeat the whole thing again but she said, "heck no- the peppermints come out when I'm IN the trailer- hurry up!" and she proceeded to drag me into the trailer! So yes, she got another peppermint in there but then I asked the little busybody to stand still for half a minute with C/Ts marking the time. That was hard but she did it :)

Last but not least, was Percy. Approaching the trailer took longer with him because he had never even been to the area where the trailer was parked. So there were Other Things to look at: wood piles, a hose, sheep panels, etc. His head was up and boy is he getting big! I had to look UP at him! The trailer was just one more thing to look at- no different than the other new things. Routine was the same but I took more breaks. When he made a big step- first time sniffing the ramp, first step on the ramp, etc, he didn't immediately take the treat after I clicked. To me, that meant we were approaching overload so I turned away and let him graze in some deep clover right next to the ramp for half a minute or so while he looked around at all the other things. Then we'd have another go. With these little breaks, we made the same progress as with the others. He looked huge in the trailer. I managed to take a picture (above) of him with my cell phone....such a good boy. Surprisingly- he had no problem with backing off. He marched right backward just as we've been practicing on the ground.

So- the overarching themes?
  • the mat work I had done with all three was invaluable. Stepping onto that ramp with each foot was just the same as stepping on the piece of plywood I use for a mat. I had a communication with all three to be able to ask them to just take a baby step and that would be good. They had experience with the noise and feel of stepping onto something. And the back feet were critical.
  • I never used any pressure. There was a loop in the rope the entire time with each one. I stayed near their heads and just walked myself. I was able to click before anyone felt the need to stop themselves. When we got to the ramp, I did step on first to be sure they heard and saw that before doing it themselves. But then I just waited for them to initiate the steps onto the trailer and in. They knew there was reinforcement coming so they volunteered the whole way.
  • I have lured many a horse with grain, carrots, etc. onto a trailer in my life- this was totally different. All three clearly showed they knew that this was about doing better than you did before at each step. Each time I turned away and then reapproached, they went beyond the previous stopping point without any hesitation. The clicks didn't come until progress had been made.
Clicker training is not about how fast you can get something done- no contests about who can accomplish something faster than somebody else. It's about being as thorough as possible. But I have to brag here: this entire process, from the time I put Ande's halter on until I let Percy go- half an hour! That's an average of 10 minutes a piece which for two of them was their first experience ever and they loaded all the way in. SUCH good babies.


Becky said...

I love the part about Rumer being the little girl in kindergarten - that whole description is so much like my mare! And we need to do some trailer practice, too.

Bookends Farm said...

those girls are just too funny, aren't they?