Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Giving Instead of Taking- How to Deal with Destructive Behaviors

 How to deal with destructive behaviors? I've been dealing with a few in the barn recently from both the horses and the cats. And another behavior which, though not currently destructive, will certainly become so if not addressed.  While it can be tempting to take things away in these situations, I opted to try giving more instead.
With the horses, the problem was the cover which my husband had built for the water tank. It was one of several pieces we put together to be able to offer the horses open water  through the winter, as opposed to tanks that froze over shortly after filling. In order to protect the wooden cover from the moisture environment, my husband glued some waterproof paneling onto it. This worked perfectly...until Percy got bored one day last week and started picking at it. Whether he removed it all himself or he just lifted it enough that high winds removed the rest of it, I'm not sure. But the end result was that it was completely off. Initially, we were going to just wait until Spring when it could dry out to re-glue it, but then all the horses started to nibble at the wood...and Percy started to climb onto it. Prompt measures were needed. 

The problem was that it was February turning March, when all creatures in this part of the world get cabin fever. Eating hay is necessary for survival but it gets boring when that is all there is to do all day. I offer the horses little bits of enrichment but I get nervous leaving them with anything which could be potentially dangerous; which, let's face it, is everything when it comes to horses. They love the jugs of hay stretcher pellets I put out, but we only go through so much milk and once they've smashed them, I need weeks to collect more so that everyone gets one. I cut apples and carrots up into inch-sized pieces and throw them into the paddock for them to chase down and sniff out, but that only lasts for a short period of time. I snowshoe out to the far side of the field with their hay on a sled so they have exercise and environmental variety, but all these things just aren't enough by March. 

Since what they were doing was chewing on wood, I knew they were craving that sensation. Poplar logs to the rescue. This is an annual tradition in March, and it really helps to let them gnaw away at the bark so they don't gnaw on the wood of buildings and water tank covers. Once we had substituted something else (given them something), my husband replaced the waterproof sheeting with some special nails that we hope will hold it down better than glue did. Risky as it was, I hoped that when Percy put his feet on the slippery surface, the foot would slide and he'd decide against climbing further. 
The cats, on the other hand were destroying the interior of the barn by sharpening their claws on the corners. I had ignored it for the last seven years with George as he didn't spend a lot of time in the tack room and the other spot he chose was the back of the pony shed. It is amazing how much wood he's removed over the years in that spot, however.  
But now I have Jerry as well, and he just adds to the wear. In George's youth I did not have a tack room to worry about so it's a problem of the luxury of having a tack room at this point. I'd previously given George a cheap piece of cardboard to scratch on which he enjoyed but it wasn't enough for Jerry. A quick scan of the internet provided me with a couple options for scratching that I set up in the tack room. Now that they have somewhere else to scratch (I have given them something) I think I will try to cover the old spot with some hard plastic since that spot has a history. They'll need a reason to try out the new options.
My last problem (well, for the moment) was Jerry deciding that my saddle was the most comfortable place to sleep. I had protected it with pads and a safety vest but that was a temporary solution. I didn't want cat claws in my leather saddle any time I was washing saddle pads or wearing my safety vest. I needed to figure out why that was an ideal spot in his opinion and how I was going to give him what he needed and wanted in another way. 
First, height. Cats enjoy high spaces and Jerry loves the shelf in the feed room as a place to walk back and forth and tap on my head when I walk by. So I would put up a Jerry shelf. I put it as close to his present spot as possible. I realized that from my saddle, he could see out the window and soak up the sun in that spot. George chose the windowsill for this and I was grateful that the little upstart hadn't tried to displace him. That was another reason to give him a spot of his own. It meant moving a bridle rack, to have a spot to put the shelf, but for now I have just moved the bridle until I am sure it is going to work. 
I also needed a way to make it appealing. I purchased some heat reflective pads and put one up on the shelf, using duct tape to hold it in place so that it didn't slip when he was on it. He loves the reflective beds I have for the dogs so I am hoping he'll figure this works the same way. I also hung a ribbon with a card on it from the bridle rack so it dangled temptingly. He didn't seem to explore it right off so I added my final temptation in the form of some fishy cat treats. That was enough to have him climb from my arms onto the shelf to clean them up. So far, I have not seen him sleeping there but I know habits don't change easily. I may have to cover my saddle(s) with something slippery to make them less appealing (tarps?) in the short term so that he seeks out the new shelf. 

So now my question for one more problem. George has really spoiled me- or his upbringing in the previous rough barn spoiled me. He has always drunk out of buckets or the horse water tanks. Jerry not only knocks over the little stainless dog buckets I put down, but will knock over a horse bucket (no, I don't know how). So I'm looking for recommendations on water receptacles. I know that fountains are the thing but I am not going to use anything that needs to be plugged in. It also has to be small enough to fit in an already overcrowded tack room. That a can't will be less likely to tip over (he loves to dangle his arms in the horse water buckets...I imagine that has something to do with how he dumps them). 

Suggestions happily suggested in the comments, on my Facebook page, or on Instagram or private message on social media or email

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