Friday, March 31, 2017

What If I Can't Go to an Animal Behavior Conference?

This weekend is Clicker Expo. That means the social media of clicker trainers is full of pictures and posts: meeting the giants of the industry, listening to inspiring talks, and watching training in action. It can be hard to watch from afar if you wish you were there. As consolation, I have compiled a list of learning opportunities that you can take advantage of from home.

Katie Bartlett and Rosie
First of all, many of us who do go to various conferences often write about them afterward. I've written in this blog about previous Clicker Expos, ASAT conference (Art and Science of Animal Training, formerly known as ORCA), NEI (Natural Encounters Inc), and Alexandra Kurland clinics at Cavalia's home farm. But the master of taking notes and sharing information is Katie Bartlett. I do not know how she both gleans so much from the talks and then manages to put it all into understandable blog posts. If you can't get to a conference, follow her Equine Clicker Training blog. She also blogs about her own training experiences and every word is worth your time to read.

Several conferences also video some or all of the talks and make them available afterward. Clicker Expo offers many of the talks this way. Word of mouth has it that ASAT will also be offering videos in the future. The Karen Pryor Clicker Training Store also sells videos from many well known trainers that you can watch from home.

This winter I have participated in several learning opportunities from home. Last year I splurged on both Expo and NEI so this is the year to pay the piper and not spend money on hotels and flights. It does not mean I had to forego continuing my education.

Last fall I enrolled in the Fear Free Pets program. Their program has been so successful that they are updating their site. When I went there just now, the site is "under construction" but the email I received from them states they'll be back up next week. The course "aims to take the 'pet' out of 'petrified' and get pets back for veterinary visits by promoting considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments." It is aimed at veterinary clinic employees as well as trainers who would like to help their clients with fearful pets. I found the information very helpful and wrote about it in "Fear Free Kitty" on my own blog.

Karen Pryor Academy offers ten different courses in training, dog sports, shelter training and also veterinary visits.  Access to these courses is for 12 weeks to a year, allowing you time to learn at your own pace and giving you the flexibility to fit it in around other responsibilities. I took the Smart Reinforcement course with Ken Ramirez last winter and have been thrilled with the use I have been able to get out of what I learned.

IAABC offers a rotating list of courses that vary from genetics and DNA; to shelter dog behavior; to writing. Some include the option of mentorships with leaders in their fields. I have just completed Eileen Anderson's Writing course which I audited, although the option to submit writing to her for comment was also available. I haven't taken a writing course in 30 years and it was quite a thrill to be focusing on my own writing again. With luck, readers of this blog will benefit from my renewed attention.

The Pet Professional Guild offers monthly webinars. Last week I attended one titled "Scent and the Assistance Dog" which was fabulous. I'll confess I haven't been equally impressed with some of the other presenters but the webinars are reasonably priced, especially if you are a member.

For anyone who teaches other people (this includes all of us who help people train their animals), TAGteach is invaluable. I received an email recently that they have a new (free!) course that offers an introduction (or a refresher) to TAGteach principles.

Percy and I with Alex
I have to include Alexandra Kurland's online course in this list. Alex is the one responsible for the clicker in my hand and the treats in my pocket. Reading an article she wrote in 1999 started me on this journey and she has kept me going in the right direction. Her course is a comprehensive presentation of her training principles.

Finally, I have just begun "Horse Biz Boot Camp" with Cadence Coaching. This is my first experience with this type of coaching, but I was invited to join by Marla Foreman who had a two-for-one offer. Since my goal this year was to find ways to increase my income (to be able to afford more conferences next year!), certainly some help in the business side of things will be beneficial.

The ones I have listed here are all opportunities I have taken advantage of myself. There are many others. These and others range in price from free to hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you have any you would like to recommend, to me or to other readers, please give a link in the comments below.

It always seems like winter is a good opportunity for spending time on education and yet I never fit it all in. So many good books to read, webinars to watch, courses to take. And here it is March and the days are already lengthening to the point where it's light after dinner.  But it's snowing again...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Novelty in Training and Enrichment- the Equine Segment

My husband has fried eggs, toast with jam, orange juice and coffee for breakfast. Every morning. Ever since I've known him (over 30 years now). For special occasions (somebody else's special occasion), he'll eat waffles or pancakes, but given a choice, the menu never changes. Novelty, when it comes to breakfast, is not appreciated.

The rest of us usually appreciate some novelty in our diets and in other facets of our lives. The rest of us includes the animals in our care. 

The horses have made this very obvious in the last week. They have been eating hay and only hay for many months. It's their version of eggs and toast with jam. They also get soaked hay cubes as a vehicle for supplements...correlating to the orange juice that washes down the vitamins. But they are ready for some novelty in this white washed world that is northern New England in winter. They want something bright green- all the different flavors of fresh native grasses, weeds, wild strawberries, dandelion leaves, and more. I can't give them that for another couple months. I throw hay in their stalls and they hang their heads out to nicker at me. I hang hay in nets outdoors and then come to the barn and hang their heads inside and nicker at me. 

Hay nets, hanging or in the snow, are good for horses. Eating from them is closer to their natural grazing and browsing habits than eating loose hay off the ground. But the posts they hang from aren't portable. The view never changes. The flavors never change. The weather changes, but...not enough. 

This morning I put everyone out with their hay nets. I carried one bucket of hot water out, dumped it into the tub and returned to fill it again. After it was full, I took a hay net out to the ponies before dumping the next bucket. I forgot I hadn't triple locked the door. Percy can manipulate the sliding latches, and the screw eye turn. It takes a double ended snap through the screw eye to bamboozle him. When I am going back and forth, I often skip this final step because it's a pain with heavy gloves on and I know I'm going right back through. In the time it took me to take hay to the ponies, he was back in. 

He had left his friends, hay in both hanging and ground nets, the wide outdoors after being in all night, and let himself back in the barn to snuffle through the scraps on the floor of the barn aisle. I shut the exterior door and let him play. In the next hour, he had a blast enriching himself. He ate scraps off the floor and out of the hay cart. He ate some of the low sugar hay usually only forced on the ponies. He chewed on the handles of the wheelbarrow (until I shooed him away). He grabbed my pitchfork handle (a game I allowed when he was a baby). He read the sign on the wall.

He tried to turn on the water. He walked up and down the aisle. He crinkled the plastic shavings bags. He checked out the view from the other stalls. At length.

 The only stall he didn't go in was his own. He was very familiar with that room already. He stood in the other stalls and put his head out the grill openings to see what he could reach from there. Then he went out into the aisle and tried another stall. He played with the blankets hanging on the doors. 

Finally, he just started following me around. My big red dog. I went in to sweep a stall; he followed me in and watched. I walked out and he followed me out. I stopped and scratched the itchiest places he can't reach himself. 

All the while, his friends were outside eating. 

I let him wander and play until it was time to turn on the blower. I didn't want him in the barn with all the dust, so I got a handful of treats and targeted him back through the stall he had entered, out the door and then did the triple lock so he couldn't get back in. 

Cabin fever is not limited to humans. And just because you can be outside does not mean life is always enriching. Sometimes you need some novelty for enrichment.

On my Dog Chapter blog, I will add a post of using novelty in training.