There does seem to be, fortunately for us humans, a point-counterpoint aspect to life and clicker training. For every really bad day, we also get to enjoy surprisingly good ones!
This morning, armed with a new plan, I took Atticus out to the trailer-loading area which is basically a fenced driveway. It is along my property line and my neighbor’s driveway is parallel to it. There are trees and bushes along the fence on the neighbor’s side.
My new plan was to shape Atticus to back toward the trailer and eventually even load backwards, kind of just for fun and something different.
Because I didn’t plan to have him actually load today, I did not pre-load the hay bag in the trailer and I had emptied it of goodies while working with him a few days ago. My bad.
I put a halter and lead on him and took him to the driveway. I have to take him out the paddock gate, into the driveway, and close the gate behind us to close off the driveway. Otherwise he would have access to all the fields.
Atticus already knows how to back and will readily offer it. As soon as I had the gate closed, he stepped back and I clicked and treated. We were off and backing! I had his attention and he willingly kept offering to back and I did not cue it.
We backed for about 20 feet and then I backed up, drawing him with me so that he went forward a few steps and I gave him a break. He had looked behind himself just before. Whether that was to see what was behind him in order to be careful in his backing or if he was scoping out the trailer way back there, I don’t know. But I thought I’d give him a small break.
He took the break to think about grazing but mostly to finish chewing the treats I had already given him (carrot pieces and Alam cubes). Then he was ready to offer backing again.
We backed another 20 feet or so and I again gave him a break. He did follow me forward but quickly offered backing so we were off again!
Another 20 feet or so backwards and we were getting pretty close to the trailer. He looked back again and I backed up to offer him another break. He finished chewing his treats and found a clump of grass to eat. Then he was back to backing.
I have not actively cued any of this. I have not during all of this time fed for position by reaching my treat hand close to his chest. The only positional feeding that I did was to one side or the other to help straighten out where he was going. If his hind end was veering to my right, I fed to my right so that his hind end would balance by stepping left.
When we were about 15-20 feet from the trailer, my neighbor’s son came home driving rather fast up his driveway. Atty’s head came up, ears back, and eyes back. At first I thought he would be okay, but the car kept coming. He truly spooked a moment later when the car actually came into view. I’m glad I was off to the side just enough so that Atty could run by me away from the trailer.
He then turn around, saw the trailer and, with my mouth hanging open, he loaded himself! Too bad the jackpot was gone! He backed out as I was going to put treats up in front. He looked around and decided to try again. He self loaded again and I was able to give him two handfuls of Alam cubes as a jackpot.
I’m not quite sure how to read his response. But, perhaps, in being spooked and upset, he was looking for sanctuary and knew that good things are found in the trailer.
What do you think?