Trailering Skills, Session #117, 11-20-13

For the last four sessions, counting today, I’ve fed Atticus his breakfast in the trailer. I walk out with his feed bucket, go through the gate, let him through if he’s coming with me, open the trailer, get it and dump his feed. If he doesn’t come with me, I close the gate and dump his feed. Then I come back and use the empty bucket for him to target and follow me through the gate.

The other three sessions before today were explorations of seeing what he would do or how he would handle my going on the other side of the trailer to come in and feed him. One of the days it was raining and he didn’t like the sound of the rain on the trailer roof.

At the end of each session, we’d play with backing onto a board.

Back to today. He was a bit slow about coming through the gate, but not bad. I dumped his feed and he thought about loading. He got on and I locked him in with the butt bar up and the both doors closed. I went off to feed the others and take care of chickens.

I came back by on one of those trips to the chickens to open the side door and CT him. Then I closed the door again and went back to work.

When I was ready to work with him again, I had treats ready. I opened the side door, CT’d, did our routine of three targets of the boat bumper which are each CT’d. Then I closed the side door and went to the truck, got in, started it up, drove forward about 3 or 4 feet, stopped, put the brake on, and turned the engine off. I went to the side door, did our routine, went to back to open the back door, came up front for our routine, then went back to drop the butt bar. He stayed where he was! I came up front, did our routine, went back to cue him off, but he got off without the cue.

I did nothing and waited to see what he would do. He looked for any grass that might be in the lane. There’s not much there now. Then I shaped him a little to get back on and he did. He got Alam cubes and a Stud Muffin for getting on. I went back to cue him off, but he got off on his own.

Again I waited to see what he would do and then shaped him a little to get back on, which he did. Again, did our routine, including a Stud Muffin, and I went back to cue him off. Again he got off on his own.

I sat on the retaining wall this time to see what he’d offer to do. He got back on on his own and he got treated, including an SM. Again, when I went back to cue him off, he got off on his own.

The fourth time, he only backed off to the back edge of the trailer and paused. As I went to the front to treat him for that, he backed his hind feet off. But then he reloaded to get the treats.

On the fifth try, he hesitated just a tiny fraction and I was able to get the cue in as he started to move backwards.

We finished there and went into the paddock to play with backing onto the board. Then I got my pedestal and practiced backing onto that right in the middle of the paddock. Until today, we had only ever done the pedestal in the lane with a cone on each side of the pedestal as well as posts to help guide him in. Today, in a new place without his “landing lights”, he backed onto that pedestal almost perfectly the first time. He did do a sidestep with his right hind to get on. He was heavily rewarded for that (long-term jackpot of fine dining). Then we tried it again and this time he backed very straight to the pedestal and got onto it without stepping sideways.

It has been suggested to me to practice the standing and backing cue in some other location rather than while he’s on the trailer. I could do that and might. But I am wondering a couple of things. If he’s waited for the back-off cue many, many times before, do I really need to practice it elsewhere? I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to have more practice, though.

And my other thought is this, one that we, as trainers, run into all the time: You teach a certain behavior in a certain place with all its attendant environmental cues, or stimulus picture. Then when you try to train that behavior in a new setting, you have to lower criteria for being in a different place. If I train the wait for the cue in a place different from inside the trailer, do I have to start over when he’s in the trailer? Or did that only apply in the very beginning but not now that he’s done it there many, many times?

Questions, questions. Always with the questions.

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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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