Atticus and Color Discrimination, 9-2-2014

I started working with Atticus yesterday on color discrimination based on what I did with chickens at the Bob Bailey-Parvene Farhoody Chicken Workshops last summer.

The very first day I tried to set it up, I used a light, aluminum camping table. Atty flipped that over! And putting the soccer cones on the ground was problematic because he kept walking forward and I had to keep asking him to back up.

I then found a wooden table that was sitting on the curb for free and brought that home.

I thought that I’d set it up with Atty in his stall but with a stall guard of some kind. I used baling twine. That came to an end quickly when he upended the wooden table! So the stall gate stayed closed. He’s tall enough to reach over.

Then we really got started.

Soon I found out that this “concept training” is a LOT harder than teaching a discrete behavior.

I started with finding out which color was “hottest” for him between red, blue, and yellow. Blue is his favorite followed by yellow and then red. So I picked red for him to start with and we used that to target in the air several times.

I thought he was ready for the yellow one way too soon on day one. On day two with the red target on the brown table, I think he had trouble seeing it as horses are red/green color blind and I think the red sort fades into brown.

I ditched the red and started over with yellow and white would be color number two.

I had him target the yellow disk several times in the air, but lowering it so that it would eventually be on the table. Then I could move the disk around on the table and still let him touch it with his nose. He seemed to really get this. Hey, this part is the easy part!

I brought the white one and suddenly the yellow one was invisible.

I remembered that Bob said that horses need for things to move or they don’t really see them. If I moved both soccer cones, then Atty might pick the one closest to him. Or maybe the one that moved last. Hmm.

The way this is supposed to work is that if he goes for the wrong one, I pick up the right one to remove any opportunity for earning reinforcement and to avoid creating a behavior chain of white then yellow.

I did this several times, waiting three seconds before putting it back down. This happened several times in a row with Atty leaving occasionally.

Okay, this is obviously not working. How can I make this easier for him? How do I help him get the right idea that the yellow one is the one he should be touching?

Go back to having him target only the yellow one in the air and on the table. Now put the white one on the table but it does not move. Only the yellow one moves all around the table and around the white one.

Something I tried to remember to do is feed for position – that is, feed him right over the yellow disk.

One idea that I have to try next is to introduce the white one farther away and out of contention altogether. The table’s not that big, but I can put it on a far corner.

Another idea is to make the yellow soccer cone very, very rewarding in all sorts of environments and situations. I need to put it in lots of different locations and reward him when he touches it. I need to build mass around that behavior and make the yellow disk his new, favorite toy.

Even without doing these two things, he did seem to be catching on the other day. But I didn’t record it and I ended on a jackpot when I was running out of food.

I have several things to work on for next time. Including making sure that the camera is charged up!

I’ve attached a short clip from the end of the 20-minute session.

But a new detail that was pointed out to me by Peggy Hogan was that horses can’t see directly under their noses! I knew that! But somehow I forgot that when setting up this experiment for my convenience!

Back to the drawing board.

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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