Trailering Skills, Sessions 176-178, 10-31-14

Atty on Trailer PHPeggy Hogan was here visiting me for a couple of days about a week ago.  We mostly played with color discrimination, but I did want to also play with trailering skills, too.  I set up the trailer and let Atty out into the lane.  He did load fairly well on his own and I hooked up the butt bar and closed the back door.

When it comes to closing the side door, though, he still doesn’t like it.  I closed it and Peggy fed him from the other side.  I walked around to that side and tossed a couple of treats to him as well.  Then I went back to his side and opened his side door.  We then did our usual routine to reverse the steps of getting on.  All went well.

I had been sick over the previous weekend and then didn’t do anything with Atty for a couple of days.

I think it was last Thursday that we practiced hand grazing around the yard and parking area again in preparation for loading and going somewhere.  He would much rather graze around the yard near the house rather than the parking area, but I did eventually get him to go up there.  I wait until his head comes up and I click and feed and feed and feed.  I make sure that I feed him “for position” in that I want him to walk in the direction I want to go and he has to take a step or two to get the reinforcer.

After that practice, I asked him to load up again.  He did load, but he also backed off a couple of times.  It occurred to me that it seemed as though he didn’t know he was supposed to stay on and was simply following me backward and off the trailer.

With that in mind, I set about trying to change what he though he was supposed to do.  I started paying with pieces of Stud Muffin for targeting the boat bumper and giving a “stay” cue.  At least, I said “stay” and held up my flat hand with fingers splayed as a signal that I wanted him to stay there.  Have I actually taught this cue before?  Not really.  Last year I worked on “stand” but haven’t really touched it since.  Should I still say “stand” instead of “stay”.  I don’t know.  It seemed to make more sense to say “stay”, but “stand” would do as well.  Have I taught the cue properly?  I would have to say no, I haven’t.  But it did seem to work as I only walked away a couple of steps (as I’ve done before) and clicked and reinforced (with Stud Muffin pieces) for his staying there.  He stayed on the trailer longer and I was able to hook up the butt bar and close the back door.

He still doesn’t like the side door closing and I try to heavily reinforce him when I do close that door.  Well, actually, the timing is that I heavily reinforce for when the door opens again.  I haven’t figured out how to give him a timely reinforcer when the door closes.  There aren’t any holes in it and I don’t want to take out the screen from the window.

That day (Thursday?), I took him for a little ride, about three miles.  That’s how long it is to go around the block.  We came back and he seemed, as usual, “surprised” as to where he was.  I keep thinking that home would smell the same and that he’d recognize it, but it doesn’t seem to be that way to him.  I wish I understood better what he thinks about it or where he thinks he is when we come home again.

He was just about as awesome as he could be in unloading.  This was the first time that he waited for the backing cue before backing off the trailer.  In trials past, he would back off as soon as I unhooked the butt bar when we first got home.  When he reloaded, he would wait for the cue, but not when we first arrived.  So I was quite happy that he would wait for the cue this time.  I thought that was just huge.

We walked around the parking area a bit and he had to sniff new things in new places and graze a tiny bit.  We walked past the trailer on the first circle but the second circle was much smaller.  We passed the trailer the second time but then we turned and I faced him into the trailer.  He got on and we went through the routine again and he waited for the backing cue before he backed off.

We walked to the paddock and I turned him loose there then let both him and Ollie out into the field for fresh grass.

The next day, Friday, I wanted to see if he would load up again.  I had no plans to go anywhere, I just wanted to see what he thought of getting on the trailer again the day after a short ride.

While he did load, he didn’t do it right away.  He had to check out the lane, see what grazing there was, and walk away from the trailer.  I did have to pull out the Stud Muffins to entice him to walk to the trailer and get on.  That worked, but I’d really rather have him be much more willing about it.

He seemed very distracted.  By what, I don’t really know.  It was a bit cooler and windier than the day before, so I’m not sure if it really was the weather that was bothering him or that he just didn’t want to deal with the trailer that day after having gone somewhere the day before.

Someone said that each new step in a desensitization program should happen only when the previous one was performed with joy.  Well, we aren’t there yet and I have to haul him next Tuesday to the chiropractor.  I will also take Ollie so maybe it won’t be so bad.




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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