Trailering Skills, Session #110, 10-29-13

What I wanted to work on today was duration in the trailer with the doors closed. We’ve worked on this before, but two things are now different. First, the trailer is in a different spot. And second, the side door has always been open. For the last several sessions, the side door has been closed to begin with and I only open it to give him treats once he’s on the trailer.

This morning, we started with the basics – get on, routine up front, close the side door, walk to the back. If I recall correctly now (I really should develop a system for record keeping!), he backed off right away. I stood still and waited. He got back on and we started over with the routine up front, then walking back to put up the butt bar. Walk up front for the routine and walk to the back to drop the butt bar. We did five reps. Then I asked him to back off on cue to give him a break before he got back on and I raised the criteria.

After this, I moved on to closing the back door with the butt bar up. Today I held the door closed for three seconds and then opened it again. We did five reps without dropping the butt bar. But when I dropped the butt bar in order to walk up front for the routine, he just backed off. No goodies for backing off without a cue, bud! He got back on and we only did the routine for getting on here – Stud Muffin. I still want to reward getting on, but I also want him to know that backing off without waiting for cue, doesn’t get him a freebie for getting back on after backing off without waiting for the cue. Then I asked him to back off on cue, which he did.

From here, I went ahead and started latching the back door, walking up front, did the routine, and walking back to unlatch the door. Again we did five reps and then I asked him to back off on cue before raising criteria again.

I am going through the steps fairly fast now because of all the previous sessions, I feel that I’m really just reviewing what we’ve already done. However, I am keeping an eye out for whether or not HE feels stressed.

The next set of reps was with the back door closed (and the butt bar is up), but extending the time a little. I didn’t really time it very well by counting seconds or using my watch or phone. It was more like I walked slowly and checked email, then walked up, opened the side door, and did the routine. Then waited a little more, walked to the back, and opened the back door. I only did three reps of this behavior before asking him to back off.

Again, at this point, what I want is to be able to break the behaviors into separate pieces: Open the back door, walk up front, routine, walk back, drop butt bar, walk up front, routine, walk back, and ask him to back off on cue. I want to be able to quickly chain all the pieces together going on, but break them up before backing off.

I think he wanted off here and didn’t wait for the cue. When he does that, I just wait. There is no reinforcement and he gets back on. Then I only do the routine up front with no Stud Muffin. Then I go to the back again and ask him to back off on cue. I did put the butt bar up this last time so that the dropping of the butt bar doesn’t become the cue for backing off. I still want him to wait for the cue, even if I’m walking around.

We quit here because I didn’t want to drill this particular exercise. I want to build duration in the trailer with all doors closed gradually and easily for him. Again, most of this is review, but I still want to build in more reinforcement history before we start playing with moving the trailer again.

And, just to point out the obvious (since I kind of realized the obvious myself recently), that this whole project is actually a chain of behaviors: Get on the trailer, wait for the butt bar to go up, then wait for the back door to close, then wait for the back door to open, wait for the butt bar to go down, and then, finally, wait for the back off cue.

We will practice more duration tomorrow. I hope. One of the cats needs to see the vet.

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About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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