Monday, December 3, 2012

Learning Curve 4

Percy finally settling in enough to eat some hay

One of the fun things about this week with Alex was playing with record keeping.  Yes, fun and record keeping in the same sentence.  Something I have learned over the years is that good trainers keep good records...and they try to encourage the rest of us to do the same.  I know it helps me when I make a plan first and then record it afterward.  When I took Susan Garrett's  online 5 minute Recall course (for dogs), she really impressed upon participants how helpful record keeping would be and gave us a minimal format to follow.  Since then, I have tweaked it to fit me and even came up with a simple acronym to help me remember what to record.  The acronym was GLTRED, which I mentally said as "glittered".  The letters stood for Goal, Location, Time, Reinforcers, Equipment and Distractions.  

In order to have a Goal, I had to have a plan- critical for a successful training session.  Location is very important to think about- where will my horse be most comfortable?  Do I want to push the envelope and ask him to work somewhere more challenging?  If so, then I have to back off on my criteria.  
Time- this included both time of day and the length of the training session.  Was I more successful working after he'd had some turnout time?  Or before the heat and bugs got bad (depending on time of year!)?  How long did I expect him to focus?  Did he tire, get bored or settle in with more time?  
Reinforcers I use are almost always hay stretcher pellets (with dogs it seems more varied food reinforcers are used) for food treats, but breaks in the session, secondary reinforcers such as allowing him to do fun behaviors and things he naturally found reinforcing (such as movement) are also valuable and worth noting and planning for.  
E for equipment...this is important for planning.  Depending on the facility, it can be really frustrating to start a training session and then remember you left something you needed back at the barn.  Will I need cones?  A long line?  A target stick?  
Distractions- this I broke down into Planned distractions and Reality distractions.  I might have planned to work in the paddock with minimal distractions planned but then one of the other horses decided to start leaping about.  Or someone drove in the driveway and all the dogs started barking.  Or the tractor went by with some other piece of equipment etc.  

There were a few more things I recorded that didn't fit in the acronym.  Emotion- this was a big one which I broke down into many subcategories.  

  • Self at beginning- what mood did I bring to the session?  Was I tired at the end of the day?  Discouraged from working with another animal or client?  In a rush to do something before I had to leave?  All it took was one word to note my own emotion but it really made me think about how my own emotions affected a training session.
  • Horse at arrival- had he been anxious to come in out of flies?  Sleeping in the sun?  You never really start with a blank slate.
  • Transition- this is something I learned from Susan and it's been SO helpful.  What did I do to get the horse I found when I arrived at the barn, to the beginning of the training session.  If he's worried about something maybe I need to do a lot of clicking for head down before I even put his halter on.  If he's distracted maybe I need to ask him for some easy behaviors with a high rate of reinforcement to get his attention.  You can't wait until you're in the arena or work area to begin your training and if I thought about it, I could help set the horse up for success by transitioning him from free time to training session with intention
  • Beginning- how was he at the beginning of the session?  Did my transition work as I intended or not?
  • My response- how did I deal with whatever emotion the horse offered?  
  • Conclusion- how did he end?  Was he more relaxed at the end of the session than at the beginning?  Tired?  Still enthused?
  • Transition- transitions are equally important for going back to free time.  No gratuitous endings.  How can I leave the horse so he's not feeling abandoned?
I believe the next bit comes from Bob Bailey: was this a sufficient challenge?  Your training won't get you very far if you don't regularly challenge yourself and/or your horse.  No getting stuck in ruts.  
What did I learn?  hopefully something!
Carry over- here I actually turn the page of my journal and write 3 things on the back of the page to carry over to the next session- so it's staring me in the face when I start my next session's plan.  What should I work on tomorrow?  Do I need to back up a step or more?  Do I need to have more distractions or fewer?  Do I need a bigger challenge?

When I shared this model with Alex, she took right hold like a dog with a bone.  First she added the remaining letters to my "glittered": 
I is for Interest- ahhh yes.  Do I have his attention or only half of his attention?  
The other T was for Tempo- (the uncanny thing was that when we were talking about this with Ann that night, she came up with the same words Alex had...they think a lot alike!).  Tempo included the rate of reinforcement and the flow from one behavior to the next.  All part of Loopy Training.  Then I could put in the second E for emotion.  

By the end of the week, Alex had come up with an acronym of her own.  But that's her story.  

She did want to assign a numerical score for the interest.  I must have looked concerned because she said "like 1 through 5 or something".  She defined it as-
1- no interest
2- occasional check-in
3- not eager but participating, slow responses
4- interested but distractable
5- locked on- nothing else mattered

For the rest of the week, she gave me numbers like 3.6 and 4.2 and 3.75. I was now record keeping with the precision of an Eastern European Gymnastics judge.  Words work better for me and I have slipped back into them, rather than the numerical scoring.  Don't tell Alex.  

So the record keeping for session 2 looked like:

G- test connection and increase exposure to the far end using the squashed road kill technique (oh, you hadn't heard of this advanced training technique either?)
L- furthest half of the arena
I- 3.5
T- noon 
T- 2.5 
E- mats and cones
R- h.s pellets primarily, peppermints at each new mat
E- sleepy, stressed
D- 3.5 

What I learned- he was not tethered to me but keeping in proximity.  

The squashed road kill exercise was the flattened circles you get when you start in the area comfortable to the horse and then gradually move toward the scary end of the arena.  Alex laid out a line of mats leading toward the far wall.  We had decided to leave both horses at liberty but each would click only one horse and see if they'd learn to stay with that particular person, whereas in the morning they had wandered back and forth between us.  

I did a figure 8 at each mat.  When we got to a particular mat the first time, I clicked and gave a peppermint.  Then I'd circle off to the right- toward the open side of the arena and come back to the mat for a few clicks.  Then I'd switch sides and circle off to the left and come back to the mat.  From there we'd go straight to the next mat, closer to the scary end and he'd get a peppermint for this new milestone.  Alex was ahead of us with Kizzy forging the way as only a brave little Welsh pony mare can do.  While Percy did stay with me for the most part (a 3.5 from the Clicker Center judge), he was only very loosely attached mentally and emotionally.  He kept an eye on the open wall and his head would come up when his back was to the scary corner.  

Day 1 of training and we'd already had two training sessions!

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