End of summer has been busy as always. Last weekend was the TAGteach seminar and I really enjoyed the brainstorming of out-of-the-box ways of approaching a teaching challenge. It was nice to get clarification on the difference between clicker training and TAGteaching- that with human students you have language to assist you...and get in your way. So while we can explain what it is that we are looking for as a tag point, we can also explain ad nauseum until the learner is completely confused. Or maybe we keep it simple and we think we are clear as a bell, but it is still not understood by the learner. Take home point here- Be More Forgiving. It is the teacher's job to explain and clarify until the learner gets it. And now we're back to similarities between human and animal-other-than-human learners. I read a quote by Parelli the other day and while I'm not a Parelli person, I liked this one. It went something like, "If your horse doesn't answer the question correctly, you either asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong".
This brings up an interesting dynamic because as a homeschooling mother, I always put the responsibility for learning on the child. But that was because people questioned my ability to teach all the different subjects necessary. And I didn't claim to know everything. I considered myself a research assistant and would do what I could to help my kids find the resources necessary so they could pursue their interests. I think the critical part is inspiring the learner to want to learn. I believe all creatures are born wanting to learn but unfortunately we squash a lot if that out of them in the process of raising them.
Yesterday I worked with a fairly new client and her horse. This woman has done some Parelli and it is interesting to see the similarities in some of the exercises. I thought we would be able to jump right in to some of them and just refine them a bit with clicker training. But since Parelli doesn't use food (and I believe is against it in fact?), there was a rather large hole in this horse's training when it came to food manners. And this quickly pointed out that there was a rather large hole in his training when it came to manners in general. He was very pushy with his head. And as a Quarter Horse, he had a big head and a big strong neck to push it with. Tales of general pushiness came out regarding bridling, handling, etc. When I tried to just "be a tree" to ignore his investigating nose, he gave me a shove that about sent me flying across the aisle. Since his owner is a senior citizen, this was definitely something that needed to be addressed!
So I had her put him in his stall with a bar across the door and stay out of reach. I had her work on a very clean food delivery and just focused on the Grownups are Talking exercise. As rude as he was, it was going to take a long extinction period to get rid of that behavior. I made a bit of a tactical mistake by exclaiming: "I don't understand how other trainers can say clicker training produces horses who are rude around food when my horses would NEVER behave like this!" Not the most positive thing to say about a client's horse. Luckily, she asked for another lesson anyway.
When I returned this week, she said that she hadn't worked with him much since it had been so hot she could barely stand to be outdoors. So we started where we had left off and that horse had definitely been thinking about things. He allowed her to get up to a count of 10 without turning his head toward her at all. So I suggested she step into his reach and begin again with one. AND I had her use some negative punishment as well- if he touched her at all, she was to step away immediately with her back to him and count silently to 3. This took some time as well but by being consistent, she was able to show him that NOT reaching for the treats was what got them. Then I had her switch sides and start again. Because of the setup of the barn, this meant she was right next to him and also partially facing him. So there was another period of temptation for him while she stepped away from him and turned her back if he touched her, but was reinforced for standing quietly with his head away. And then we did the same thing by having her step into the stall with him. It was very ingrained in him to use his head to get what he wanted and he needed lots of minute steps forward so he could generalize this lesson to all situations.
Once they were in the stall though, it was apparent that he was learning because when she turned away from him, he didn't pursue her. The previous week he definitely would have. Instead, he went back to standing quietly and waiting for the count. She was counting out loud and she could see that he listened for the count to know that he should just hang on and wait. So the next step was to go on to another exercise- I chose head lowering- and see if the manners had generalized that far yet. He was certainly better but she still needed to step away from him several times. She was using the cue of hands clasped at her waist to have him stand quietly. Now when she removed her hands to cue the head down, he would try to reach for the treat pouch. She was getting very good at her timing, positioning and reactions. By being consistent, he began catching on that mugging is never acceptable or rewarded. I hope she continues to carry this over to all her interactions with him in the coming week! But this horse was definitely smart and engaged....I think that was part of why it was so hard for him not to mug. Both his owner and I had a hard time not laughing out loud while watching him try so hard not to reach for the treat pocket!
And here's a photo of some very interested and engaged learners begging for attention with their funny new fly masks on!