Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Hyena Project

Ever since seeing what zoos are capable of doing with Clicker Training, I have been inspired to believe we can do more with our domesticated animals.  The photos, videos and stories I've seen and heard over the years of veterinary procedures performed on zoo animals which they have volunteered for makes me really question why we need to use chains, twitches, tranquilizers etc to perform routine procedures with our supposedly trained and tame horses (same goes for muzzles and physical restraint of dogs of course).  

This year at Expo was as inspiring as ever.  Dr. Susan Friedman's slides were full of examples but for personal reasons, it was one of several video clips which Ken Ramirez showed that got to me this time.  It showed a hyena- a freaking hyena mind you- with his head held up in the air and pressing his neck against front of his enclosure for a blood draw. Ken said he'd held it there for 3 or 4 minutes for the draw.  Then the needle was withdrawn and he was to wait while the gauze was pressed on the spot.  He actually pulled away when the needle was withdrawn and the trainer said "ah-ah" and the hyena immediately returned for the gauze.  The point of the talk was about what to do when mistakes happen such as the hyena pulling away too soon. Ken does not like NRM's or No-Reward-Markers such as the "ah-ah" but that's not the point here.  I just didn't want anyone to think that using one was something Ken (or I for that matter) was espousing.  

The point for me was, here I am trying to get my little red pirate to stand for a Coggin's draw this Spring and I decided right then to jump tracks and see what progress I could make in getting him to volunteer for it in protected contact.  Last year he stood for his vaccinations but I had neglected to prep him for a blood draw and we ended up with airs above the ground as a result of simply running fingers down his neck to hold off the blood.  Sensitive boy, he is.  I have worked with him to desensitize him to both the hand contact and the poke- I actually did that in progress of getting it done last year.  But my concern continues to be that Percy just doesn't like my vet- or very many other people for that matter.  So even if I could keep him quiet for the process, I really wasn't confident that he would remain so when the vet showed up.  And considering the airs above the ground, my vet isn't terribly fond of working with Percy either, though he is amazingly wonderful about doing so anyway.  I am thinking if I can keep Percy inside the round pen, completely loose so he does not feel trapped or threatened in any way, and the vet and I outside the pen where we won't feel threatened or trapped, everyone might stay a little calmer.  And calmer is always better.

I decided my component parts would be:

  • holding his nose to a target for a long duration
  • holding his shoulder to a target for a long duration
I think if he does those together, that should hold his neck in the required position.  The other thing of course is to desensitize him to various people approaching and holding off his vein and poking him.  

He has known nose targeting practically his whole life so that's a solid behavior.  Duration work is one of MY weak points.  I never do it enough.  So I have begun working with him to hold his nose on the target for longer periods.  When we got to about 10 seconds, I started moving around as he held it there.  I wanted him to understand early on that my position was not the cue.  I did things like run my hand down his neck, pick up a foot, etc.  Not having eyes in the back of my head, I couldn't see if he kept his nose there while I picked up a foot, but I'll get some video of it before I do much more.  I did watch to see that he held it still while I ran my hand down his neck and held the vein for a second or two.  Now to work on longer durations.

His shoulder target came about by coincidence.  Or should I say, as Alex does, "cues evolve out of the shaping process".  A year or more ago I was working on desensitizing him to a tarp.  He was ok with me touching him with it and since I was clicking, he started "helping out", by leaning into it with his shoulder.  Now I had a horse who would come over shoulder first when he saw the tarp come out.  I set it aside but now I can use the simple presentation of the tarp to get his shoulder.  I am now trying to transition it to a voice cue...not sure if I'll need that but it can't hurt.  

In this video, I put the tarp onto the round pen panel and he so he comes and targets his shoulder to it.  There is also some nose targeting for a warmup first.  As you can see, he really throws his shoulder into it, resulting in his head going the opposite direction.  So I start to chain the nose target after the shoulder target.  We'll see if that gives me the position I want.

One of his favorite behaviors is fetching, so I use that to break things up a bit and reset him so he can find the shoulder target again.  My hat got a little soggy in the process.  Something also got distracting behind him- so I finished up.  Here's the link to the youtube video.


Cynthia said...

Interesting post, thank you and a good reminder for me to start working with one donkey in particular who hates shots. I have never practiced targeting with body parts other than nose and feet. I have also seen Ken R's talk and video that you refer to - very inspiring! Will my training ever come even close to being that accomplished ...(sigh)something to strive for, for sure!

Bookends Farm said...

Trainers like Ken and Alex and the others will always be ahead of us but they are paving the way! Thank God we have them for inspiration :)

Lottie Eriksson said...

Just catching up here... Wonderful post and video, and an absolutely fascinating project! Love the idea of doing this at liberty and behind a fence, so completely different from the "normal" mindset in the horse world. Thanks for sharing the process, and for the inspiration.

Bookends Farm said...

Thanks Lottie! I'll try to keep the project updated as we go along.