Friday, November 15, 2013

Practice 100x and Be Unpredictable

I attended a webinar (does one "attend" a webinar?) a few weeks ago with Ken Ramirez, famed head trainer at The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.  I have referred to him before due to his inspirational videos of training marine animals for husbandry and veterinary procedures.  This webinar dealt specifically with this topic and I got two great new tidbits out of it.  

First is the issue of training for a procedure when the procedure itself may be aversive.  I wormed 4 of 6 of my horses a couple weeks ago.  Only four were done because I was demonstrating the procedure for various students and so they weren't all done at once.  Then I happened to participate in the webinar before Percy and Rumer were done and decided to do them a little differently (yes, I realize that might not be the best farm management practice!).  The problem is that we may train by getting the horse accustomed to the worming tube with no wormer, finally convincing them that we can put this thing in their mouths without nasty stuff...but then we DO put nasty stuff in their mouths and not surprisingly undo all the work we did.  What frequently happens is that we then don't work on it again...until we need to deworm again and we have to start from square 1.  

What Ken shared with us is that they practice 100 times for every one procedure.  My first thought was, well then no wonder we can't do it.  These big aquariums and zoos have veterinarians on staff who can train with them daily and we don't have that luxury in our own little barns.  I then went on to think that for deworming just 3 or 4 times a year, you'd need to train every single day- 100 days would be a little over 3 months, then you'd deworm and have to start again right away so you'd be ready for the next time.  Crazy right?  But then I though, wait a long would you really have to spend?  Why couldn't you just stick a deworming tube in your brush box and make it part of your grooming routine?  If you did the magic 10 treats, you could CT 10 reps in a minute or less.  How hard would that be?  Not at all!

The other aha! moment I had when listening to his webinar was that his trainers are unpredictable.  Now this may seem contrary to good training practices.  Consistency is key, right?  But what he meant was, they train for accepting unpredictability.  While the training methods are consistent, the animal isn't necessarily asked for each behavior in each session, nor in the same order, nor with the same person (I am making this up as he didn't go into as much detail but this is what I took from it.  I know they have strict guidelines about the trainers).  So if you suddenly need to give an injection or series of injections for some reason, the horse won't get upset if you do an injection at a different time of day, or wearing different clothing, or maybe twice a day.  Unpredictability has been trained into the behaviors.  

I decided that this would be a good project for this winter.  Four of my six equines have no problem with any of of the routine veterinary procedures- the three schoolies and Ande are pretty much OK with whatever you do.  Rumer is just young enough that she sometimes objects and Percy, well, Percy gets pretty alarmed over things.  He could use a little unpredictability training.  Or a lot.  He trains ME for unpredictability, heaven knows.  About time I turned the tables on him.  

I came up with 5 different procedures: deworming, IM injections, IV injection or blood draw, teeth work and leg palpation.  I threw in the leg palpation because while he is perfect about having his feet picked out and being trimmed (it still blows my mind that he's better behaved than any of the others about being trimmed) and for leg grooming, both those things have specific cues and predictable expectations from him: pick your foot up and hold still.  But if he ever has a soundness issue or injury, he will need to stand with his foot down while he's poked and prodded or hosed or soaked or bandaged or God forbid, stitched.  So I think I should prepare for that ahead of time.  

I think the hardest thing will be trying to be unpredictable.  People like routines.  It would be easiest if I went in every day and did 3 reps for each behavior at a set training time.  Instead I'll have to try to vary what I work on, how many times I ask for it and what time of day.  I've been working on the worming paste tube for about 10 days and I've been keeping track of how many times...reaching for that magic 100 number.  This afternoon I didn't do the wormer tube but did 1-3 reps of each of the others.  The only similarity was that I asked him to keep his nose on his red cross target (see the post from this Spring for details) for the duration of each different behavior.  

Here is a video from this Spring showing the first time I actually inserted a needle into his muscle after many training sessions preparing him for liberty IM injections.  I was so happy about his non-reaction, I could hardly stand it.  After this, I was able to give him his vaccinations myself without incident.  

Now to get all the other behaviors this quiet!


Katie Bartlett said...

Thanks for sharing this. I've heard it before (the 100 reps) but I've never quite figured out how to do it either so the idea of doing it as part of your routine is great. I've also always wondered, and maybe Ken said... do they get the behavior solid and then make things unpredictable or do they build in variations right from the start?

Bookends Farm said...

I'm not sure Katie- I need to go back and watch it again anyway because my bandwidth was too slow to watch the videos live and I missed a lot. I would think that they trained the behavior solidly first in a separate session and then start adding it into the repertoire. Otherwise there wouldn't be a cue? What I've found in the little I've done already is how doing a group of things helps me find trouble spots in each behavior. For training vaccinations, I trained a shoulder target. But he's so solid on vaccinations now that last night I just did a skin pinch and he started moving sideways, looking for something to target his shoulder to....

Sarah Memmi said...

Hi Jane! This is a great post and a VERY important aspect of training husbandry behaviors to a high degree of reliability. Your suggestion about the grooming box is perfect. I went through a painstaking, thorough process to train my horse Palio for deworming (and shots). After learning the hard way that no-wormer practice is required in between doses of the nasty stuff (duh!), I started keeping a couple of different types of dosing syringes in my grooming box. It wasn't part of the daily routine, but because the syringes were right there I would regularly "worm" him with nothing, or with water. Sometimes I'd not ask for the full behavior, but just the part of him opening his mouth. Once in a while I'd ask him to pick up a real wormer syringe full of wormer but not dose him (important to test this because of course they can smell when it's real and when it's not.) I wasn't intentionally building in unpredictability, but your post makes me realize how important that happy accident of randomness was. It worked beautifully! Have fun with the fabulous Mr. Percy!