We haven’t worked on this in months. Months!
But why months of nothing, you ask? Stuff. Stuff got in the way. Stuff like a really severe winter around here. A winter where I just wanted to curl up in all my clothes and several blankets and cocoon by the fire and never go outside. Ever again.
Then spring arrived but something was wrong with my truck (it wouldn’t start) and I didn’t have it for about a month. I can’t do trailer loading training when the truck’s not hooked up to the trailer. Then Atticus was lame for the longest time. I kept thinking it would be fixed in the next trimming session, but nope. I try not to ask him to do movement things when he’s lame and, in the past, he has declined loading onto the trailer if an abscess is coming on.
Now it’s September and we’re finally back at it. Three days ago we started up again and the first two days were simply review. The first review included all the steps we usually do: Break up the loading process into small pieces, such as load and treat, practice walking to back and CT if he stays on the trailer when I walk to the back, add in touching a hock or rattling the butt bar, then hook the butt bar, then close the back door, then close the side door, then everything in reverse. Each step is rewarded with a click and a treat or several.
In the reverse, he dutifully waited with the butt bar down while I went forward to treat him and waited until I cued him to back off. And he readily got back on when left alone.
Day two was a more streamlined approach: I closed the back door right after hooking the butt bar. In reverse, I also opened the door and unhooked the butt bar in the same step. He waited until cued to back off. And, again, got right back on when I got out of the way.
Thursday (Day three), we did the streamlined approach to loading, but the trailer was in a different spot to start, and I moved the trailer about 60 feet. He waited until cued to back off and got back on when I got out of the way.
Friday (Day four), I drove him through the gate at the front of the barn to the parking area. As soon as I opened the side door, I noticed that he was excited by being in a different spot – head high, looking out, and sniffing. It’s still his home turf, but he spends nearly zero time in this particular area.
When I opened the back door and dropped the butt bar, he just backed off without waiting to be cued. I’m okay with this right now, but I’d like to get that back on cue in the near future. I’m sure that can be done as we get used to being in this “new” area.
When he came off, we walked around the parking area. First he walked up to the barn doors which happened to be open. (I guess my husband had to get some hoses out of the barn and he left the doors open.) Atty really, really wanted to just march right on into the barn, but I didn’t let him and I closed the barn door – a big, sliding one. He sure gave it a look and a tiny spook in place when it moved and made noise, but that was about it.
As we circled the parking area and ramp to the barn, he did get away from me and went back down the lane toward the paddock that we just drove up. I caught up with him and got the line out from under his foot. Then we walked an grazed some more.
I found it interesting that he didn’t really find hand grazing all that comforting but that taking treats from me seemed more comforting to him as he’d drop his head and take a bite of grass or sniff, but raise his head again and eagerly take treats.
We circled the parking area a couple more times and then I decided to see if he would load again. He walked/marched straight to the trailer and got right on with nary a hesitation.
I did not make him stay on, but this time he waited for the cue to back off. Excellent! This is good news.
Saturday (Day five), I backed the trailer back down the drive next to the barn because I wanted to see if he would load again the day after moving a longer distance and to a strange (for him) place. I put two Stud Muffins in the hay bag.
He and Ollie were both in the paddock but I asked only Atty to follow me out to the trailer. He willingly went with me and, even though it was raining fairly steadily, he did willingly get on the trailer. He stayed on long enough to grab both Stud Muffins and then get off again.
I’m happy with that for now. In future, I’d like more willingness to stay on the trailer to be able to put up the butt bar and close the doors for another trip. But this is good enough for now.
The plan for next week is to hand graze a lot in the parking area so that that spot isn’t so “new” and strange to him and that he realizes he’s still at home. But more importantly, we need to practice the skills of hand grazing on a line in new areas so that I can have his attention when I ask for it.