Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Can't Make Me Eat That

You Can't Make Me Eat That is one of Alex Kurland's "tricks" that I have decided would be advantageous to teach to help with the feeding situation. It teaches a tremendous amount of self control around food.

This photo shows Stowaway during the second session of this. Stowaway is an interesting one to teach to because he arrived here so "shut down" last year that it took forever to even get him targeting. He just could not believe he could make something good happen for himself. I spent last winter just introducing him to targeting and that was about it (obviously I didn't work with him a lot!) I didn't want to get him overly ambitious going into his first season as a lesson pony. The only thing he got clicked for this season was bitting. He was miserable to get a bit in his mouth and with the little ones just learning to bridle, I needed all the help I could get! Oh, I also used it for picking up his feet because he was awful about that too.

So now, with the work I've done this fall about standing at his "station", he has become much more interested in life and has even gotten vocal about it all- quite endearing. He whinnies when he sees me get the toys out and nickers some when I click (which Smarty always did- I miss him!). So now I was about to change all that enthusiasm into self control. I started by filling this little white bucket with hay stretcher pellets and just going to a point where he got hopeful and reached his nose through the panels. As soon as he did that, I stopped and turned away for a count of 5. This is technically Negative Punishment (-P). I am taking something AWAY ("negative") to make it less likely the behavior will happen again (punishment). Anytime he reached through the bars, the food disappeared. The first time I was able to turn back to him and he did not reach through the bars, I clicked and gave him 2 hay stretcher pellets- Positive Reinforcement (+R). He got something (Positive) that would make it more likely he'd repeat the behavior (Reinforcement). When he kept his nose on that side of the panel, he got a click and treat. That of course made him want to reach again, which caused me to turn away and count (slowly) to 5. Then I would turn back.

Pretty soon he kept his nose on his side of the panel for a couple seconds after chewing up his treat so I was able to click and treat again without having turned away. Now we were building duration. When he stood there patiently for a count of 10 to get his click and treat, I stepped closer. Initially I had been several feet back from the panel- he couldn't have reached me if he wanted to; he was just anxious to reach for the food. As I got closer, I went back to the beginning count- first to see if I could stand that close without him reaching at all, then to see if he could stand quietly as I increased the count to 10 without him reaching. Every single click and treat at this stage was building success for him. He got many many rewards for standing and not reaching. Therefore, when I got closer, he had a good idea of what was required. Any time he reached, I turned away, counted to 5, and turned back toward him. I did not increase my distance; the criteria was the same, I simply turned away as a punishment.

Slowly I brought the bucket closer and closer to him. The hard parts were when he could first actually reach the bucket and when I actually put the bucket inside the pen. But when the bucket was taken away if he reached for it, he stopped trying. In the photo above, you can see him pulling his head up away from the bucket so he doesn't accidentally touch it- that was my measure for too close. If he touched the bucket, it left. Pretty soon I could put it closer to him and he would back away from it...thus the name "You Can't Make Me Eat that"!

For the finale today, I went into the pen with him. I thought that might change things dramatically but he stepped toward me once and I turned away- that was the last time he did. After that, I could hold the bucket right under his nose for a count of 10 and he wouldn't move.

Adding this self- control to the self control of standing at the jug should give me a clear opening to enter the pen with food and not be accosted.


Anonymous said...

very cool. I've done this with all of my ponies too. They now have great self-control!

Mary @ StaleCheerios said...

Sounds like great work. I've done self control type work like this with the dogs, but not with the horses.

The dog world has what they call the "ultimate retrieve," where you have the dog do get and then bring you a hot dog, steak, or something of that sort. I'm toying with the idea of trying to teach one of our horses to retrieve a bucket of grain. Hey, if a dog can have that kind of self control, a horse should be able to as well!


Bookends Farm said...

Can't wait to see the video of that one Mary!