I have signed up for Clicker Expo in Chicago, gotten my plane tickets and hotel reservations and am really looking forward to it. For anyone who doesn't know, Clicker Expo is held yearly in two locations, one in the west and one...well I hardly call Chicago "east" but maybe some do. I would have liked to be at the Expo in sunny southern California last weekend when the temperatures here went south of 20 below zero. I'm sure my husband was glad not to have all the chores to himself in that weather however. The one in Chicago is March 18-20.
Clicker Expo is a 3 day conference featuring all the greatest names in Positive Behavioral training covering many different species: Karen Pryor, Ken Ramirez, Kay Laurence, Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and of course Alexandra Kurland are among the presenters. Topics include Concept Training, Behavior Chains, Smart Reinforcement and Simplifying Training Tools. This will be my first Clicker Expo and my mind is just swimming with the possibilities. How I will choose among presentations I have no idea...especially since I will only be there 2 of the 3 days.
In preparation for the Expo, I have been reading and participating in online discussions. And today, in celebration of a blindingly beautiful day where the thermometer is actually showing a temperature over 30 for the first time in weeks, I decided to go out and test the basics. I wanted to test the foundation lessons on the youngsters, as well as really scrutinize my own training skills to make sure I was as clean and correct as I could be. One tends to get sloppy when working alone all the time so I needed to be a trainer's trainer sitting on my own shoulder.
I wanted to observe my own cues (are they clear and consistent?); my responses (is my click precise to the behavior I'm after?); my food delivery (feeding well away from my own body and requesting at least a rock back if not full step back from the horse); and my focus (keeping the lesson moving and not getting distracted).
As for the horses, were they responding promptly with no hesitation (showing clear understanding and willingness to work); were they correct in their response (again showing understanding as well as precision of my goal); and did they stay focused on me without losing attention to other activity around them?
First up was Ande who is coming five. First foundation lesson: head down. Cue...well the first several times there was no cue because head down (HD) is a default behavior for him. In other words, I show up, he drops his head. Bonus points on that one all around. I did about 8 trials, increasing the time and he did pop his head up once or twice, most likely because it's been a while since we've played this. So then I cued, and he dropped his head like a rock and left it there with his nose in the snow, breathing quietly. Focusing on asking for a step back with treating was definitely a change for me, but certainly no problem for Ande. All my guys are so polite that I do get sloppy with that- a needed reminder.
Second foundation lesson: backing. Again he gave me prompt responses, backing just as many steps as I asked for with no hesitation. My first cues were with a touch on his shoulder but he quickly advanced to backing with just my change in body position. I come at you, you back out of my way. No problems there.
Number three: Grownups are Talking...you stand next to me and don't bug me for attention or food or wander away (all this was done at liberty- no halter or rope). This one was interesting. Ande has always been good at this but he upped the ante on me this time. I had forgotten that I had begun to teach him "the pose" (I do hate that term but have yet to come up with a better one). But as soon as I stood next to his shoulder and faced forward, presto: he rocked back on his butt, lifted his withers and tucked his chin in. Hm! We seem to have muddied that cue a bit. The distinguishing difference in the cues is my hand position. Hands clasped at my waist is for Grownups; hands held like reins is for the pose. I couldn't complain that he was offering me his newest and fanciest trick but I did see that I needed to clarify things a bit in coming sessions.
Number four: targeting. Easy as falling off a log.
Five and Six: Happy Faces and Stand on a Mat. I had neglected to bring a mat out and mat work is hard when their feet fill up with snow so we didn't do that one. Happy Faces is a big black mark on my training history. I have no cue for it but work it into all of Ande's exercises since he is the one who showed me so well that it is critical and a foundation exercise for a very good reason. It's certainly something good to work on this time of year so that is going on my list to work on with all.
As to his general focus? I don't think I lost it once- not even an ear flickered away from me the whole time. He was thrilled to be playing these easy games. I threw him a flake of hay and moved on to Percy.
Percy, Percy, Percy. Smart, quick, enthusiastic and all I can do to keep up with. There has been some discussion recently about remembering to take a breath between steps and I think I need to really stamp that on my brain when I work with him. Approaching him is like walking into a whole classroom of preschoolers all shouting "lookit me!". First his head drops to the ground- ok, got that one. Duration? No problem, he'll leave it down there but ooh, he has trouble holding it still. He moves it around down there, and if I ask him to wait too long, his lips are untying my boot laces. Head down is so boring, he says, we really ought to liven it up a bit, don't you think?
The worst part about Percy is he makes me laugh. I really need to focus better myself. There is no fear about losing his focus! His attention is 150% on me. If I don't ask for anything, he starts trying them all. He can walk sideways and backwards; he can keep his head so far away from me that he ends up with his butt next to me. So we cover head down, no mugging, targeting and backing and I can't come up with new things fast enough. Definitely need to work on ME with that one.
Rumer- I think I'll save my Rumer story for another day. I started something new with her and it's a completely new and fun topic.