The last two sessions have been with snow and with the trailer moved back down near the paddock gate.
The first of the two sessions, Atticus was distracted and not very happy. In fact, he only followed me part way to the paddock gate and then turned around and went to the hay box. I continued to the trailer and loaded up the hay bag with treats and a Stud Muffin. Then I went back into the paddock to get him and see if he would follow me to the trailer. He did, but he kept looking around and alerting to something only he could hear.
Snow had fallen the day before and we had about three inches. This changes the stimulus picture and makes everything new again. Knowing this, I lowered my criteria a lot. I just wanted to see what he would offer me. About all he could offer me was one loading onto the trailer. I treated him up front, but when I walked to the back of the trailer, he got off. He wandered away and was still looking around.
I decided not to struggle with it and quit for the day. I gave him a jackpot in the hay box back in the paddock.
The following day, we had more snow (the previous snow had melted) and we got another three inches. This time, Atticus could pay more attention and he willingly followed me out the paddock gate to the trailer and loaded (the hay bag was already loaded with treats and a Stud Muffin).
Now, in a way, I could say that I made a mistake here as I followed him up front to click and treat, rather than just hooking up the butt bar right away. But it’s okay that I did. I still want to give him choice as much as a I can and I wanted to run through the whole chain as a new behavior because of the snow. By now I know that Atty tends to want to try everything the first with a kind of “I don’t know about this” way of doing it. The next day he’s usually fine with everything. This seemed to be the case with the snow.
So when I went to the back of the trailer, he backed out. I waited for him to choose to get on again and followed him to the front to click, treat, and wait for three touches of the boat bumper. We needed to practice this routine about six times before I could get the butt bar hooked up. But that’s okay. He needs to be comfortable with the process.
Once he stayed put for the butt bar to go up, we were then able to run through the whole chain: butt bar up, up front for the routine, go to back to close the back door, up front for routine, open back door, routine, drop butt bar, routine, cue the back off, jackpot. He did it all perfectly, even waiting for the back off cue.
In real life, I wouldn’t break it up this way. I’d just hook up the butt bar and close the door and away we’d go. And once at our destination, I’d do it in reverse – open the back door, drop the butt bar and cue the back off. But I still want to break up the chain into these bigger pieces with the routine in between each piece so that I can assess his level of stress with the process.
The next step will be to add back in the engine being on. But it’s getting colder and I’ve hurt my back. We’ll see when we get a chance to practice this again.