Monday, December 30, 2013

A Day's Worth of Reinforcement

In the September issue of The Whole Dog Journal, Pat Miller wrote an article called "Daily Training" in which she detailed how she reinforces her dogs throughout each and every day.  At the end, she encouraged readers to do a daily tally of reinforcers and submit them.  I thought it was a wonderful exercise and went through it myself, but never submitted it. So now I'm going to do the same with the horses and share it here.  

Many people begin clicker training by having "training sessions" and indeed that is a good place to begin- get organized, count out your treats, have a plan, train and then assess how things went.  Once you and your horse discover how great this system is and you become a smooth handler, you can begin using clicker training in other situations and at this point, you become one of those people who always has treats in her pocket.  I can no longer say I always have treats in my pocket because although I stuff them frequently, I also dole them out frequently and before you know it, my pockets are empty again.  So I have to go refill.  

How do I go through so many treats?  Here's a typical day, keeping in mind that it is mid-winter and "typical" could look very different in mid-summer:

The very first thing I do each morning is turn horses out.  Messy stalls are a pet peeve of mine and I like to get them out asap!  I approach the barn at the exterior dutch doors, calling a greeting so they know I am coming.  I open Percy's door first.  Because he has had so much practice at backing when I open a door, I am now actually working on getting him to come out, rather than stay in.  I have to hold the door so it doesn't blow in the wind so It's challenging because I can't target him all the way out or I'd have to let go of the door.  I get him started with a fist target and then use a verbal "walk on" to keep him going.  When he walks out far enough for me to shut the door behind him, that is his first click and treat for the morning.  I then shut his door and let Mariah out.  She comes out very politely and continues out to find the hay I have scattered in the pasture- her own reinforcement.  Percy follows her.  

The ponies on the other side of the aisle need to be led across the aisle and through Mariah's stall to be turned out (well, that's the way I do it).  They are still learning about backing when I approach a stall door (having lived outside previously).  I rest a hand on the door and wait for a step back, click, open the door and treat.  Kizzy is great about going with me if I just use a hand under her jaw.  But she can be a little quick.  So I take a couple steps, click and treat for staying at my side, before she gets ahead of me, take a couple more steps, click treat, etc.  

Rumer and Ande love to investigate the barn and aren't as focused on getting out to the hay piles.  A hand under the jaw doesn't always work well with them.  Sometimes I use a rope around the neck and reinforce every couple steps as with Kizzy.  Sometimes I put a halter on in which case, they get a click and treat for pushing their noses down into the halter when I put it on.  Ande is very good at this, Rumer prefers if I stand in front of her so we're working on haltering from the side.  I do a lot of clicking for ear work this time of year.  There is so much FUZZ and HAIR on ponies in midwinter it's sometimes hard to even find the ears in order to get halters over them.  And sometimes they are extra sensitive due to the cold.  So ear handing gets reinforced a lot.   When we get outside, Ande likes to gallop off to the others and to the hay piles once released.  So he gets reinforced for turning around and waiting quietly while I remove the halter or rope.  I click the turn around and feed while I remove the halter over his ears.  In that way, he both stands until it comes off and he associates the halter removal with quiet standing, rather than twisting his head to get away.  

Rumer, on the other hand, would much rather stay and play with me when I let her go, so I don't reinforce her…it's all about balance.  I want her to move right off so she doesn't get chased by one of the other horses.  Nobody chases Ande.  Stowaway is his slow and steady self, who likes to be tugged everywhere he goes.  So he gets clicked and treated for stepping off when I do, rather than lagging behind.  

We are covered in snow and ice these days, so there is no riding or longeing possible.  I come up with different projects for the winter.  The current project for Percy is his husbandry skills.  I regularly practice for things like worming, injections and blood draws (see these two blog posts for more on that).  

At noontime, the horses all get more hay.  With anything resembling a plant now buried under snow and ice, they get pretty excited when they see hay coming.  The get lots of clicks and treats for walking politely beside me until I drop it, rather than ripping it out of my arms.  

Two days ago, my husband and I were working on the fence (which was supposed to be a permanent fence by winter but too many other things were ahead of that on the list and then the ground froze).   Since Percy and Rumer were both entertaining themselves by chewing on the electric rope, they eventually took it apart and let themselves out three times in 2 days.    I had locked everyone out in the big field with hay and then hung some strands of surveyor's tape on the gate when I closed it, to make it more visible since it had been left open in recent weeks.  When they finished their hay, they came over to the gate and Percy promptly grabbed the surveyor's tape and ripped it off.  It landed in two pieces under his nose.  Envisioning a colic surgeon removing surveyor's tape from his gut, I dashed over to pick it up.  Percy thought I was coming to play so he stepped forward to greet me.  Because he was in a corner, I couldn't ask him to back up and I couldn't figure out how to get him to move.  Being human, I said, "You need to get out of the way so I can pick that up" and pointed to the tape.  He understood the point.  And he reach down and picked up a piece of the tape and handed it to me.  Good thing I had treats in my pocket at that moment, though my laughter would have sufficed.  So I pointed to the other piece and he picked that up as well.  This time, however, he lipped at it in transit and the whole thing went in his mouth.  More visions of colic surgery…he didn't seem to know how to drop it when it was all inside.  I quickly gave him my "open your mouth" cue and like a good patient at the dentist, he opened wide.  I was able to reach in and retrieve the soggy tape from the back of his tongue.  Disaster averted.

At afternoon chore time, it can be tricky getting Mariah in because Ande wants to be first in.  To keep this from getting too long, I'll avoid telling you why that's not possible and just say I ask him to back away from the door and stand to the side while she goes in- clicks and treats for Ande, and dinner waiting in Mariah's stall to reward her for going by him when she'd rather not.  Then I have to do the same for Percy.  He isn't afraid of Ande, but nonetheless, I have to keep Ande out while letting Percy in.  When it is Ande's turn, he backs away from the gate and waits while I enter for another click and treat. Sometimes I put Stowaway's halter on first and sometimes Ande's.  Clicks and treats for putting noses in halters, clicks and treats for waiting patiently while the other gets a halter on.  And again for standing quietly when halters are removed inside.  

When I lead Kizzy to her night paddock, we are working on getting that thick little Welsh pony neck to bend into a hip give halt.  She can outwalk and I'd almost bet out pull any horse on the farm.  When she's headed for dinner is a great time to work on bending to a quiet and graceful halt for treats here and now rather than booking it to the supper in the feed tub.

Sometimes at late night chores, I'll work with someone in their stall- if blankets need to go on or come off, that is another opportunity to reward standing quietly.  My biggest problem with blankets is that all the horses are so sensitive to being asked to back that I often get backing when I'm fiddling with chest buckles.  That is an opportunity to click before they move so they understand that standing is what is wanted.  

So there is a day full of reinforcement.  Is any of this necessary?  Depends on who you ask.  Anyone could come and do chores for me without using treats to do anything.  I could as well, and sometimes I do.  But maintaining behaviors with daily reinforcement keeps them clean and prompt.  Also, there's always room for improvement in daily behaviors.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Four Horse Recall

A quick success story this morning:

The scene- I had just let four of the horses (two ponies) out into a foot of fresh snow and fifteen degrees.  Normally I put hay out the night before so it's waiting for them in the morning, unless, as in this situation, the weather made that impractical.  I hate leaving horses in their stalls while I put hay out because the stalls get messier.  So there they were, romping in the cold fresh snow, galloping about looking for their hay piles.  My husband offered to put a bale on the sled and drag it out to the far side of the field where we like to put it to encourage the horses to move and spread the manure more evenly in the field.   I gratefully accepted and I went out the other door to take hay to the other ponies in the shed.  

When I was done, I saw that we had a problem.

Instead of going around the field and tossing or carrying hay in, Ed had struck out across the middle of the field.  Four horses were grabbing at the hay bale as they chased it and him across the field, yanking the bale off the sled every step of the way.  My husband can swear a blue streak when he's in a good mood- he was not presently in a good mood.  They were all about 100 yards from me but I took a chance.  I ducked into the field, stepped into the run- in shed and yelled Percy's and Ande's names.  I couldn't believe they could hear me over the wind and Ed's expletives, but they did.  When they turned to look, I stuck my arm out to the side- heavily gloved hand in a fist.  

And they came.  At a gallop, kicking snow up all around them, they came right to me, leaving a full bale of hay and the fun of yanking it out of its strings, when they hadn't eaten since 10: PM.  I had one handful of hay stretcher pellets in my pockets. They each got two on arrival.  I then rationed them out, one at a time, for pulling their noses away from me.  Mariah and Stowaway had returned at a more sedate pace, and then I had four horses giving me polite "Grownups" positions, in exchange for one hay stretcher pellet at a time, taking turns with each other.  Fortunately the hay pellets lasted until the hay was distributed and even though I didn't have leftovers to put on the ground when I left, they seemed happy to wheel and race each other back out across the field to their waiting hay piles.  


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Being Unpredictable

In my efforts to be unpredictable when training for husbandry skills,  I have come up with a variety of ways to change the setting.  I have practiced in different locations, different times, different equipment, different techniques and different routines.  I also need to practice with different people, which is probably my biggest challenge as I have trouble remembering when other people are around!

For different locations, we have worked in Percy's stall, in the barn aisle, in the wash stall, in the run-in shed and in the paddock.  Still on my list are the big pasture and the arena.  Also probably outside each barn door.  

Different times have been both morning and afternoon, at turnout, turn-in, and late night.  I have done it when he has voluntarily come to me and when I have gone to him.

Different equipment so far has been at liberty (wearing nothing), in a halter and with a halter and lead.  If the lead rope is clipped on, sometimes it's thrown over his neck and sometimes it's in my hand.

While using all these different environments, I got to wondering about the cue.  So many times the environment is a big part of the cue: bring out the brush box, put the horse in the aisle and ok, they know to stand for grooming.  When I did my initial injection training, I used a red cross target to train Percy to stand with his nose on the target and a blue tarp for him to target his shoulder to.  My intention was to have the red cross target be a cue for what was coming so that he knew what to expect.  But if I am now being unpredictable, should I be using this cue?  In the videos I have watched of husbandry skills in zoos and aquariums, there does seem to be a station where they do the work.  The animal lines up at a fence or a poolside for the procedures.  But here is where we horse people differ, once again.  Our horses are not kept in their paddocks/stalls 24/7.  We take them places.  We take them on trail rides and to clinics and shows and in horse trailers and to boarding facilities.  If I knew I was going to need to give an injection, I could have my handy red cross target with me at all times (one reason I try to pick easily replaceable targets).  But what about an emergency?  What about those things we don't even like to think about, like an accident or breakdown with our truck and trailer?  Or colic at a clinic or injury at a show?   We won't have our familiar environment to use as a setup.  What then, becomes the cue, considering these are the times that injections and stitches and invasive procedures are likely?  

I think this is the beauty of the unpredictability training.  The horse can become comfortable with procedures regardless of where they happen, but that brings us back to, what is the cue?  And in fact, what is the behavior?  So far, if I think only of the deworming process, the different techniques I have used are freeshaping him to target and then grab the dewormer tube with his mouth.  Even for this, I have stood to his left, his right and directly in front of him.  I have been in the stall with him and outside his stall while he reaches out his grill window- in protective contact.  I have also stood right next to him with my arm under his neck and holding the bridge of his nose.  But then I allowed him to target the tube while my hand "rode" on his nose.  I have further plans for that technique, wanting to get him used to more pressure in case someone other than me ever has to administer a tube of bute paste or sedative.  

I have done the exact same with him wearing a halter, but I have also held his halter in one hand, both gently and firmly.  All that I've done while still allowing HIM to be the one to approach, touch or grab the worming tube.  And yes, he is now grabbing it with several inches inside his mouth.  I am using a partially emptied tube and once he started taking it in his mouth, I removed the cap or else he did!  So every time he takes it in his mouth, he gets a taste.  Considering how he responded previously even to the smell of it, I think we're building up a good tolerance for the taste.  Once I squeezed the tiniest bit out of the end before offering it to him and he took it but then made faces and flapped his lips etc.  But then I went right back to offering it as usual and in a moment or two he was grabbing it as usual.  I think I need to count that as a "procedure" at this stage, rather than a practice and started my count to 100 over again after that.  

Now if a horse's tongue is like ours, it senses different tastes in different places.  I need to study this a bit more to see if there is benefit to putting the paste on the back of his tongue or if the reason that is the traditional way to do it is simply to try to prevent them from spitting it out.  Putting the tube in the corner of his mouth is something else I have been doing.  That is definitely going more slowly than him grabbing it.  His reinforcement history for something going in the corner of his mouth seems to have been overwhelmed by the punishment of nasty stuff eventually, whereas he has a long and varied reinforcement history of grabbing stuff with his teeth in the front…and no punishment to my knowledge (well, there was that time he got the insulator poked through his cheek…but it was a while ago!).  I'd like to eventually be able to deworm him as a non- CT person would, again, in case someone else has to do it sometime.  

As far as routines go, I mix up what I do when.  Some days I only do the dewormer tube, sometimes I go through all the husbandry practices I'm working on (feet, legs, IM injection, IV injection or blood draw, tooth exam).  Sometimes I do feet and injection and no dewormer.  Sometimes I use the red cross target and sometimes I just grab a skin pinch and CT.  I don't do any of this without warning.  I think my attitude is as much of a cue as anything.  I'm not trying to startle him.  

Right now, my thought is that the presence of the dewormer tube is a cue, but for what?  For "this thing is going in your mouth somehow?"  Perhaps offering it as a target is the cue for the behavior of him taking it in his mouth.  And if I hold his halter and touch the tube to the corner of his mouth, that will be the cue for relaxing the side of his mouth and taking it in that way.  Likewise, a syringe can be a cue combined with whether I grab skin on his neck or run my hand down his jugular, differentiating between IM and IV.  

I think my cue for leg palpation will be my position.  If I bend over, he should pick his foot up.  If I squat, he should leave it on the ground.  There are times, however, that tendons are palpated in a foot-off-the-ground position.  Maybe a mat would be the "leave your foot on the ground" cue.  

For tooth exams, I stand in front of him and point my thumbs at each other- he opens his mouth.

To quote Alexandra Kurland "cues evolve out of the shaping process"- and we are definitely still a work in process. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Code Red

Yesterday I wrote about Alexandra Kurland's new online clicker training course and that one of the benefits is the yahoo group for participants. Recently there was a discussion on that list about what to do when horses alert- how can we use clicker training to help us through those moments?  Cindy Martin wrote a great post about a "tiered system" she mentally created when working with her very reactive horse, Porter.  She modeled it after the alert system the government uses- codes green, yellow, orange and red.  

Very shortly after her post, Percy gave a great demonstration of these codes.  We needed to have some lime spread on our new fields to improve the grass  next summer in the horse paddocks and closest  hayfield.  I had taken down all my paddock fences except the small one closest to the barn so that the trucks could drive in and spread the lime.  I had cancelled my morning lesson so I could be there as a truck drove in where the horses had been grazing the previous day and keep an eye on them.  And here is what the truck looked like from where I stood with Percy:

It was a fire breathing dragon for sure.  Thankfully, none of the others were the least bit alarmed and they continued to eat their hay.  I had filled my pouch with multiple handfuls of treats and stood right next to Percy, wanting to help him cope.  In his paddock with three quiet companions, I could have just let him cope as best as he could but I have learned that he doesn't just calm down, but rather winds himself up in that situation.  When the trucks first pulled in, Percy was somewhere between Code Orange and Code Red.  In Cindy's words, 
Code orange is a more extreme version of code yellow. Head high, neck muscles very tense, often white showing around his eye. Slow or no
response to efforts to re-direct his attention from the concern.
Questionable about taking food. He might take it, snatching it from my
hand, but then he would raise his head again and stare, and often, not
chew. Or he might not take the food at all. 
Code red was the body position of code orange, but would result in him
deciding he had to blast away, rather than de-escalate.
I was trying to take photos, click and treat all at the same time which was a challenge, but I find the following two photos fascinating to compare (one is the same as above):

In the photo on the left, his head is higher and neck tighter.  There is a tension in his body position that was very clearly close to Code Red.  In the photo on the right, his head is also high and you can see the white of his eye, but there is not the tension that there is in the other photo.  You can also see that he is chewing.  He had taken a few treats and was chewing them while keeping an eye on the monster.  As in Cindy's descriptions, a horse who will chew is more relaxed than one who refuses treats or takes them but doesn't chew them.  

What I did from the start was simply reward any offering of attention to me or effort to lower his head.  Without a rope, my only cue for head lowering was to put my hand on his poll, and when it's that high in the air, I can't reach his poll!  Any time he lowered his head even a fraction, I clicked and treated.  That's what got us from the photo on the left to the photo on the right.  In fact, this was after the trucks had left the paddocks and had moved to the hayfield further away.  When they were close, I was clicking and treating as fast as I could, not taking time for photos.  Any time I had his attention, I would ask for a simple behavior.  I started with targeting and when I was getting good responses to that, I began asking for head down (once I could reach his poll).

Since Percy was loose in his paddock, he could have "blasted away" any time.  In fact, he only left once and he did so at a walk, away about 15 feet and then back to me.  I think he just needed to move a bit and was free to do so.  

After this little walk, he calmed down some more and began interacting with me more so that I could ask for even a moment of grownups without losing his attention.  He was still very tuned in to the trucks, but was willing to only keep half an eye on them while he entertained me.  

In this (unattractive) photo, the ears are more relaxed, the eyes are quieter and again, he is chewing.  Cindy wrote her explanations from code green (calm) and explained the escalation.  This situation with Percy went the other direction (thankfully) but Cindy's own words are too good to bother to rephrase.  I hope it's not too confusing but realize that while she writes "code yellow represents a loss of focus", in our case, it was actually more focus than earlier, but still not where I really wanted it quite yet. 

Code yellow represented a loss of focus on me and the game; slower response to cues, slower to orient to my food delivery hand once I had clicked;, there would be a delay on his part, of moving to receive the treat, and so he rush into position, belatedly and would take the treat a bit more roughly. His head would be a bit higher and neck muscles tensing. His weight would be more on his front feet. He might alternate between that stance and code green, but he would return to code yellow frequently.   
I  found, when he was in code yellow, I could often re-direct his attention back to me by cueing a known, easy behavior and clicking for that. We might do that a few times, then we would return to whatever exercise we were doing. But it didn't really allow him to resolve his concern with whatever had caught his attention. I found that clicking  while his attention was elsewhere wasn't really productive. It was sort of a "wasted click." So I tried letting him focus on whatever concerned him. At first, I would click for his focus returning to me. Then I would cue a simple, known, behavior, usually targeting, and click and reinforce. I would cue targeting multiple times and click and reinforce each time. This would show me he was "back with me." Eventually, I "marked" his returned focus, not with the clicker, but by cueing targeting, or backing or bringing his forehead to the palm of my hand.

His head has come down a little more. I was getting good responses to my requests, even....
A full, nose-in-the-snow head down.

Again- in Cindy's words:
Code green meant his muscles were relaxed, especially in his neck. His head was at, or around the height of his withers, or even lower. His attention was on me and what we were practicing. He took treats gently and carefully from my hand. He could track my food delivery hand easily. He was "in the game," of clicker training ready and eager to learn.

I wish I had timed the entire procedure but once I was getting good responses, I was also running out of treats.  I dumped what I had left, and decided to return to my chores and see how he did without me.  Thankfully, he decided all was well and he could eat his hay quietly.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Online Clicker Training Course

Alexandra Kurland has a new online course available.  As she says in the Introduction, 

"After you’ve completed this foundation course you’ll be able to teach your horse new skills and to resolve training issues."
This course takes you from getting started right through riding.  It includes sections on everything from her Foundation Lessons to Loopy Training (a fun term coined by Alex which refers to an important training concept).  She covers cues, chains, and teaching/training strategies as well as the technical and important skill of rope handling.  

As an added bonus, she offers support in the form of coaches with whom participants can communicate via phone, email, skype, video lessons, etc.  (Disclaimer, I am one of those coaches).  The coaches are located all over the world and while the course includes one coaching session, you can then sign up for additional sessions if you like.   

Also available to participants is a yahoo group where students can share successes, ask questions and give each other support.  Alex and the coaches are also on this list. 

As a quick explanation for anyone new to Clicker Training horses, Alex's Foundation Lessons are an amazing collection of 6 simple behaviors to train which give you, yes, the foundation to training anything else you want.  As someone who has followed Alex's work for almost 14 years, I can tell you these lessons continue to amaze me.  The more I do them, with different horses as well as repeating them over with seasoned clicker training horses, I am astounded at how these 6 lessons show up in everything else I want to train.  

Many people want to know if and how you can use the clicker for riding.  The answer is- of course, and many of us do.  Anyone can tell you the simple how, but the true power of clicker training under saddle is begun in hand, and then carried over to under saddle work.  Which takes you back to the Foundation Lessons.  The beauty of Alex's work is the balance that it builds into horses.  Before and after photos of horses within a session or over months of training reveal horses who become comfortable on their feet and display coordination and grace in their movements.  I have never seen a program with such foresight.

Like all seasoned horsewomen and men, Alex's eye is always at work.  She watches horses as they are led out of their stalls, in from the pasture and on uneven ground.  As she likes to say, she has been to all of her clinics, and so she has uncountable video sessions in her head and her computer.  Over the past couple years, she has taken all this experience and compiled it into a very affordable course available to anyone with an internet connection, regardless of where you live.  

To learn more, visit 

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!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Toy Box

 We have moved.  It's been a crazy summer but we are finally relocated.  Someone recently asked about toy recommendations on my Facebook page so I'm going to jump right in and discuss that.  

When Percy and I visited Alex last fall, she had a wonderful toy storage area. Moving into our new barn this month, I realized that was something I had thought about but never resolved.  We had an old boot box which had been in our previous sheep/cattle barn and been used to store cat food, bird food and miscellaneous things.  It was stinky and gross but it got moved along with everything else.  Somehow it ended up in my barn aisle, with the lid propped open to air.  I had vetoed bringing it into the house.  

Frustrated at not having a tack room big enough to store everything, I started to eye
the box hopefully.  I did a sniff test and decided it had recovered well so I pulled out the shop vac and whisk broom and decided it was my new toy box.  At least for now.  The box is in the front left of the photo above.  It also makes a nice seat!

So what is in our toy box?  Cones for one thing.  Various shapes, sizes and colors.  The biggest are in the arena and the middle sized ones are currently waiting to go to the arena but in the box is one little very sturdy orange one that makes a great target, as Percy is demonstrating here.  Personally, I have not reinforced retrieving cones because I find that it becomes such a default behavior that it's problematic if you want to use the cones for anything else, like marking a circle.  The other cones currently in the box are the flatter "soccer" cones.  I have a large stack of them in many colors.  These are the ones Alex used to teach Percy his colors 2 years ago.
 Percy loves to retrieve and it was a great outlet for a mouthy little boy when he was younger.  We have a jolly ball in the smallest size, his "loopie" toy which is washable fabric and has lots of places to grab onto and some "dumbbells" for dogs.  Dog toys make great horse toys much of the time!

We also have a pinwheel in our toy box- the cheap kind from the grocery store.  It's shiny and whirly and potentially scary which is why I bought it.  The first day I presented it, he tentatively reached out to touch it, got clicked and I immediately turned it into a target to get him on the trailer.  In no time, he was following that scary thing right into the horse trailer.  It was such fun to see two potentially scary things become simple tools for a fun training session. 

Other scary (or not) items are blue tarps- a smallish one for easy tucking under an arm or holding down with rocks on a windy day, and a bigger one for walking over.  I also have some plastic chain, frequently used around dressage arenas.  It's light, really not dangerous and good for desensitizing.  

I have many tennis ball targets- a tennis ball stuck onto a dowel is a very workable toy.  We also have empty plastic jugs to use as targets which hang nicely from a fence to send a horse to.  They also get retrieved.  Different horses have different targets so they can go to "their" station.  

We have a beach ball and a large blue ball.  I have kept my eye open for a child size basketball hoop as I drive by yard sales but haven't found one.  Oh, and we have mats- wood mats of all sizes and pieces of rubber mat and a door mat.  Mats can become teeter-totters and ramps and all sorts of fun things.  I have a hula hoop for fetching and standing in, and though I've not taught anyone to fling it over their head, I know others who have.  I have tires for rolling and hanging and standing in.  

As far as  toys go, we are only limited by our imaginations.  And even then, our horses can help us!  Some of Percy's favorite things are things found around the barn.  He loves leading Mariah in by her lead rope.  Unfortunately he also loves the electric fence.  He frequently taunts me by playing with it with his nose..."see, it's not on right now".  He'll even pick up the gates by their handles for me.  

And he loves to play the game where he gets to choose the grooming tool.  If he is cross tied, I choose the tools.  If he's loose, he picks out the brush he wants me to use and I use that until he hands me something different.  He's partial to the grooming mitt- especially during buggy times of year!  But he has handed me the hoof pick.  It's hard to put something down when I'm only half done with it but the rules of the game are that when he hands me something, then I have to move on.  When he's done, he picks up the entire brush box by the handle and then we're done with that.  

And of course, I am the biggest toy of all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Webinar Preview

I am very excited to have been asked to do a webinar for TAGteach International on TAGteach for the horsey crowd.  I wrote a blogpost to introduce it.  Here is the link:

Confessions of an Equestrian Instructor in the Pursuit of Excellence

This webinar will include examples of using TAGteach for physical skills and cognitive skills.  Join us!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rumer and tires

Rumer in harness a year or two ago
On Sunday, I wanted to demonstrate to someone how working with a horse at liberty can be eye-opening to what our horses are really thinking and feeling.  I put Rumer in the round pen with lots of obstacles but she was quite comfortable with all of them and willing to investigate, step over or on, etc.  I was looking around for something new when I spotted a couple tires (advantage of living on a farm- we use tires to hold a lot of things down so there are always some lying around).  

Rumer has an unhappy history with tires.  When she was about 2, I got one out to familiarize her with it because several people recommended using tires as a good thing to pull to acclimate a horse who will drive.  I neglected to think carefully about how Rumer investigates new things which is by pawing them.  She has learned that at times (like on the cross ties), it is more reinforcing to stand with her feet still, but when she comes across something new which involves her feet, she paws first.  When she pawed the tire, her foot got caught in it as she pulled it back and the tire went underneath her and jumped up and hit her in the belly.  Ever since then, she has labeled tires as Not Safe.  I have worked with her off and on but know that she'll want to paw them again and I didn't want to go to the work of nailing one down to something to ensure we wouldn't have a repeat performance.  

So on Sunday, I brought two tires into the round pen and set them down several feet apart from each other.  She eyed them suspiciously but came over and targeted them a couple times for a click and treat.  Before she could start pawing, and with no halter on, we began using a target stick to see if she would walk between them.  After a few successful trials, I moved them a little closer together.  That made her uneasy.  At first she chose to touch the target by going around the tires rather than between them.  I pointed out that she still got a click and a treat for that- the presence of the target is a cue to touch it- no specifications on how she gets to it.  After a bit, she was willing to follow a person through, but not go herself if the person stood and just moved the target.  Then she went herself.  She was a perfect demo for my purposes.  I could have put a halter on her and led her back and forth a couple times and said- "all done".  But Rumer was showing us that, given complete freedom, she was still uneasy.  

Observing her carefully, we could see signs.  First was the speed with which she walked between the tires- she sped her steps as she went through.  Then even when her tempo became consistent, she would continue on through after I clicked.  Any other time I clicked, she'd stop dead for her treat.  But for several trials, she'd hear the click, hustle on a couple more steps and then stop for her treat, turning around to retrieve it if I had stopped.  What a super little demo pony :)  

Sometimes I'd target her right back between them and sometimes we'd make a little circuit around the pen for a break with some fist targeting as an easy behavior.  Rumer is purebred PONY so she has the uncanny ability to sense grass beneath the surface of the earth this time of year.  And she'll dig down to get it...another use for her pawing abilities.  So another way she communicated was by walking away and "grazing" for a few minutes.  That was ok- this was about her telling us the way she felt, not us imposing a lesson on her of "you must get used to these tires".  

Eventually we got to the point where she would stop when she heard the click even if she was right between the two tires.  At that point, sometimes I would target her on through and sometimes I would click her several times in a row for just standing there.  To a casual observer, we were done.  I decided to take it to the next step for demonstration purposes.  I gave her a break and went and got her bridle out.  Her little driving bridle has blinkers.  I haven't decided whether I want her to have them or not and I can't take these off without cutting them off permanently so for now, she wears them.  I did not put the surcingle on but just ground drove her around the pen with long lines.  Any time I steered her toward the tires, she would veer off one side or the other.  I didn't press her- she was telling us she still wasn't comfortable with those tires!  

I went to the front with her and again she followed me through.  I decided that was enough for one day.  Whether it was the fact that I was behind her and she wasn't comfortable leading or because she wanted to keep an eye on them and couldn't with the blinders, I'm not sure. Another day, I might put the long lines on her halter and try it.  I will be behind her but she'll be able to see better. 

The next day I took the mat, which she loves, and put it between the tires.  I also put a line of cones extending out to the side.  I had noticed she was a bit bargy with our guests on Sunday so some tutoring was in order on polite leading manners.  The exercise was to weave between the cones, bending politely in each direction.  When we got to the end, she got to take a break on the mat...between the tires.  I thought she was comfortable enough with the tires that this was a sensible next step.  I did have her in a halter now, so I didn't want her conflicted, following because she was supposed to in a halter if she wasn't comfortable.  But she happily marched onto the mat and stood between the tires.  They were now beacons for the mat and she loved getting there.  Interestingly, I found she bent much better to the right, than the left.  I can only guess this is because I tend to lead her from the right when I lead Ande and her together.  By the end of the session, she was bending back and forth between the cones nicely with no cues from me other than my presence.  And happily standing between the tires.  The tires had become part of a bigger lesson.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Side trip

I'm going to step away from Percy and his Hyena Project for a minute.  But, everything is everything else, so I'm sure this will be relevant in any case.

I've been loosely following a friend's progress all winter as she worked with getting one of her horses to back onto a pedestal.  Her blog is here.  She's been amazing at videoing her progress almost daily- I will admit I have not watched all her videos and don't want my own experience related here to be anything other than "this is/was my experience".  

Last winter I played a lot with getting Rumer to back in various situations.  I still haven't actually hitched her to the cart because I'm too chicken to do it alone and don't have anyone to help me.  But as part of the process, I wanted to teach her to back between the shafts...not that I'd necessarily ask her to do that for being hitched, but I thought it would be a good experience for her to be aware of them, be touched on both sides by them, be willing to back into them, etc.  

I can't even remember how I started at this point, but I learned that trying to free shape backing when it involves an obstacle can be very difficult depending on how you set it up.  First off is their eyesight.  Most of us are familiar with that arc that is drawn around a horse which shows they can see everything except a tiny space in front of their nose and a larger pie slice right behind them.  So unless you have a really wide obstacle behind them, they can't see it.  Furthermore, horses are protective of their hind ends.  They use their sense of smell and sight to check out everything they come across, then the front feet test it out.  If the front feet decide it's not safe, the horse can either rock back on his haunches and lift himself off it, or push off with the hind end and leap over it.  In both cases, the hind end is firmly attached to solid familiar ground.  I found that Rumer was much more willing to back over or onto an object if she had JUST stepped over it going forward.  I think in that case she knew what it was, where it was and that it was safe so she was comfortable stepping backward over it.  So I would do a little circle of stepping over or onto something, then turn my body toward her as a cue to back (although initially this bit was shaped with guidance) and she would back over or onto it, then we would go back over it forward, circle around (taking turns left and right) and do it again.  

When I say shaped with guidance, I mean that I stood still and clicked for movement backward but if she got out of line, such that she was backing but not in the right direction, I would either ask her to step over to get straight or we'd circle around and step over forward again to get her lined up right.  True free shaping would have been if I'd sat in a chair with Rumer loose in an area with an obstacle, giving no hints and simply clicking for her backing toward the obstacle.  Quite a feat that would have been!

So today I put three obstacles in the round pen: a rail (a short one, probably 4-5 feet long), a mat (plywood probably 2' x 3') and two cones (the tall pointy kind, spaced about 6 feet apart).  I'm pretty sure she could see the rail and both cones when they were behind her because of the length/distance.  The mat I'm quite sure she couldn't see so I put that along the fence as a guideline...she'd walk over it first and the fence was a landmark.  Granted, it also physically prevented her from swinging in one direction, but not the other. 

I set up a "training loop" which ended up including more than I originally intended.  We've just lost our snow so I haven't done much with her in a while and she was very excited to have a training session again!  This meant very forward marching right to all the obstacles, not exactly using her body well or being respectful of the person on the other end of the rope!    I have to try hard not to collapse into giggles when little ponies are so determined.  So we did a few reminder steps of bend-toward-me, step off to the outside and calm steps.  I set it up as 3 steps like that and then C/T.  Oh, with a verbal "walk on" to mean step forward.  I use verbals a lot with her as I want her to be very familiar with them for work in harness (some day).  

So the loop was: walk in 3 step increments to an obstacle, step over it, back over or onto it, then forward over it again to the next obstacle.  The cones were in the middle of the round pen and I did a figure 8 switching directions when she backed through the cones.  The clicks at first were after three steps, then I built to 6 steps.  If there was an obstacle directly ahead, I created a chain whereby 3 or 6 steps was reinforced by the opportunity to go forward over an obstacle which was reinforced by the opportunity to back over an obstacle which was clicked and treated.  I had checked first to be sure she still enjoyed both forward and back over an obstacle before using them as reinforcing behaviors.  I also clicked for every step back at first to give her confidence but then dropped to either all four feet over the rail or through the cones or both hind feet on the mat.  

3 (or 6) steps -> CT -> repeat to the ground rail -> step over rail -> I turn as cue to ask her to back -> she backs over rail with all 4 feet -> CT -> "walk on" -> 3 (or 6) steps bending left -> CT -> repeat to cones -> forward through cones -> turn toward her to ask for back -> she backs all four feet between cones -> CT as I switch sides so I'm now on her right -> "walk on" -> 3 (or 6) steps bending right -> CT -> repeat to mat -> she walks over mat (no stopping) -> and I turn to face her to cue back -> she backs two hind feet onto mat -> CT -> "walk on" ->3 (or 6) steps bending right -> repeat to cones where I switch sides and go back to the beginning at the ground rail. 

She remembered quite well and in short order we were progressing around the obstacles smoothly.  Only twice did she swing out of line.  Once on the cones and once on the mat.  Both times I was on her left and she swung her butt away from me.  Both times I simply turned and walked forward (no click) on to the next obstacle.  She didn't repeat the error.  And when she did it on the mat, she swung her butt into the round pen panel.  To me that means she wasn't afraid of hitting it and it didn't really physically prevent her from swinging out of line.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"ouch" duration

Percy's Red Cross
I decided to make Percy a special target for this project of standing still for veterinary procedures.  What better than a red cross?  I also introduced a new cue "ouch".  Things like this help me remember just what cue and target I've used for something when I put it aside and don't use it for a while and then need to dust it off again.  "Ouch" sounds enough like "touch" that he may not have distinguished the two but at this point, I think that's ok.  When I first introduced it, I asked for other things between the targeting- back, head down, etc and when I said "ouch", he went right for the target so he definitely knows what it means.  

Yesterday, I did some more work on duration on the target.  This time I didn't use any distractions such as moving around.  I simply started increasing the amount of time I asked him to stay at it.  I have made up a spreadsheet of the different criteria I have for this project which includes the component parts, the cues and the specific details I am looking for in each behavior.  Percy loves to play with things in his mouth and I knew one of the difficult parts would be to get him to simply stand with his nose on the target rather than playing with it, tearing it off the fence, chewing on it, etc.  I decided my criteria was that his nose had to touch where the two red lines crossed.  That way, he couldn't bite it.  We worked on that, with no clicks for touching the target unless the nose touched the specific spot.  That was successful although he showed me he can still LICK the target like that.  

In this video, he does move his nose around a bit but I have relaxed the criteria of specific nose placement while I increase the duration.  I vary the time before the click, sometimes clicking immediately, sometimes after a few seconds and once I work up to 15 seconds.  I don't want him to think this will always be a long boring process and clicking for short duration keeps him guessing and keeps the rate of reinforcement up.  I think I should make up a chart of how many seconds to do each time because I want to know what the average is and want to keep my expectations increasing regularly.  Because of my own personal dislike for this process, I tend to go easy and not ask for enough.  But there are a couple times you can see him stand still and I can see he knows not to move. Occasionally he loses contact with the target but again, I've relaxed that criteria while we work our way up in time.  On the shorter durations, I do require a full contact with that specific spot. 

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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Saturday Connections

This was the dog and handler I was assigned to
"coach" for Kay's lab on Connected Walking.
It was interesting to see how he had learned to
take the pressure off the leash to be allowed to
go forward, but the visual check-in was missing.
The owner clearly loved her dog and it was easy
for her to adapt to Kay's instructions.  I think they
will be very happy with the change.
After Emma's talk, I attended Jesus Rosales Ruiz's presentation on Cues in Context.  Jesus's talks always make my head hurt.  He makes me think too hard!  Partly because his notes/slides are like Algebra, using all the discriminative stimulus shorthand with Big s's and little D's and vice versa and then I have to try to follow the topic on top of all that!  None of this is to say that I don't love it and learn from it...I just whine because he makes my brain work so hard.  

His talk meshed nicely with two others- Ken Ramirez on What to do when Mistakes Happen and Emilie and Eva's on What Happens after the Reward.  So I'll try to explain my experiences with those later.  

For now- Kay Laurence and Connected Walking.  Kay is a huge advocate for dogs being dogs, in my opinion.  Mind you she trains dogs for everything from obedience to sheep dog trialling but she keeps respect for dogness at the forefront.  Her Connected Walking talk and lab highlighted this topic.  I came away thinking that she had just spent 3 hours or so teaching people how to walk their dogs!  People get so busy training, or exercising, or multi-tasking, or caught up in their daily lives, that they either never learn or forget how to go out and enjoy being with their dogs.  Some of us are lucky in being able to have our dogs off-leash much or all of the time and so our dogs have a little more opportunity to be dogs.  They can sniff around while we work in the garden, or roll in manure while we work in the barn, or chase birds while we walk, etc.  But for dogs who spend a lot of time on a leash out of necessity for safety, I see way too many being dragged along or doing the dragging themselves.  

Kay's method allowed for giving the dog time to be a dog.  If he or she stops to sniff at something, we should allow that.  She made the comparison to walking with a friend and stopping to wait when the friend looked in a store window.  Once again, if you have a dog, you should expect that it's going to want to sniff things.  That's what dogs do.  But she actually had a process for helping people to do that- specific points to respond to and instructions on waiting the dog out, waiting for him to look at you- connect with you- before proceeding.  And the dog can only connect with you if you are available to connect with.  

And so my mind goes to our horses.  What would the ideal walk for a horse include?  Grazing of course.  Permission to look at things which catch their attention.  The opportunity to move freely in their bodies.  And a similar emotional connection- checking in between horse and human so that each is ready to move off together.  

Kay had an interesting viewpoint on the equipment for dogs which is popular today- head collars and harnesses.  Purported to be kinder, they give a person more control over their dogs.  Less pulling is advertised as being less aversive which I agree with.  Kay's point was the physical stress this equipment can put on the dog's structure if used over a long period of time.  They start to move differently to accommodate the equipment.  Pressure is applied to muscles and nerves.  Sound like anything familiar in the horse world?  Wouldn't it be nice if we could be a warning signal to the canine world- don't go there!  Steer clear of the flash nosebands and martingales and poorly fitting saddles!  Let your dog be a dog and let your horse be a horse.   

Expo Inspiration- Saturday reactivity

Saturday morning for me began with the learning lab "Teaching a Reactive Dog Class" with Emma Parsons.  Emma is the author of the popular "Click to Calm" book.  "Reactive" is a term that can apply to both dogs and horses and therefore a very useful topic for me to learn more about.  One of the sayings I heard from various people over the weekend was "it's just behavior".  This is in contrast to "OMG I have a ______ dog!"  (fill in the blank with some dreaded, descriptive word). The featured speaker, Susan Friedman, handed out stickers:

Rather than labeling individuals, it is more helpful to look at the specific behavior that is troubling and address that.  How often do we hear "snarky", "crazy", "difficult", or "neurotic" to describe horses?  Those labels seem to be an excuse to ignore the behavior and just push on through.  Labels for dogs on this list include "dominant", "shy", "loyal", or "stubborn".  What good do these labels do?  

What we do know is that there is an A -> B -> C formula in behavior.  A is the Antecedent, B is the Behavior and C is the Consequence.  Behavior does not occur in a vacuum.  There is always an antecedent and always a consequence.  The challenge is figuring out what those are for any given behavior.  Without practice, education and a very observant eye, people are often wrong about what the triggers and consequences are.  When you know them, you can change the antecedent and/or the consequence, and that may change the behavior.  

An example of a dog being reactive is my own Eloise who used to bark more than I liked.  She still barks more than I like but a lot less than she used to.  Now she "boofs"...soft little woofs that if I'm not careful, I can easily ignore because they are not at all irritating.  Why not ignore them?  Because I want to reinforce them.  I much prefer boofs to YAPYAPYAP YAP! So when she boofs, I say "what do you hear?" which of course she doesn't understand at all, but it helps me if I talk my way through things!  I treat her and say "thank you for letting me know you heard something" which again, she doesn't understand but now she finds that boofing = treats.  Boofing is good.  Sometimes if the boofing continues, I pick her up and we look out the window together (she is a very small dog) to see what might be triggering her.  Usually it's the big Ziva guard dog barking at coyotes.  Maybe Eloise even hears the coyotes.  I don't know.  What I know is that I can't stop the antecedents in this situation- I have no control over coyotes at the fringes of the property.  But I can help her learn that her triggers can have different consequences.  I skip the behavior piece entirely.  Her behavior is up to her.  But if Ziva barking (and the UPS man arriving and the plow driving by, etc) results in treats raining down all over the kitchen floor, then Eloise decides that Ziva barking is not a reason to get alarmed, but rather a reason to head for the kitchen!  The power of association has lowered her reactivity and that, in turn, changed her behavior from yapping to boofing.  I can accept boofing.  After all, she's a dog.  Dogs bark.  If you don't like barking, don't get a dog.  That would be like getting a child and expecting it not to talk.  We teach kids to talk in a way that we can deal with- we can teach dogs the same. 

The dogs who sign up for Emma's reactivity classes have much bigger issues than barking at the UPS man.  These are frequently dogs who lunge, snarling at other dogs on the leash or attack the front door when visitors arrive...possibly worse.  Her talk explained how she progresses from dogs like this to dogs who, at the end of 6 weeks, can walk on leash around a room with other reactive dogs while maintaining focus on their people.  No choke chains or other aversive methods- all positive reinforcement (can you imagine what it does to a reactive dog to be choked by a chain or zapped with a shock when they are already alarmed??)  

So how can we use this knowledge with our horses?  Remember, it's just behavior.  Find the antecedent, find the consequence, and start making adjustments.  Both Emma and Karen Pryor related the wonderful tale of how Emma completes one of these series of classes and calls Karen to say "it worked again!"...marveling over the power of positive reinforcement.