Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Observing Training Sessions

Sometimes you run across what looks like an amazing trainer doing incredible things with their horses. It pays to take a second (or third look) at their horses behaviors to see what the relationship is. If approaches other than positive reinforcement are used, there are always clues and the horses show dis-tress. Here's a great blog post and some video examples to give you an idea of what to look for.

Spellbound Horses

Saturday, February 19, 2011

43. Backing Level 3

Goal: Backs 10 steps with you stationary in front verbal cue only 

Getting Stationary
If you are stepping into him or with him as he backs, fade your movement. Take the first step with him, then slow to a stop and see if he continues on his own. If not take, several steps and slow your speed but click him as long as he keeps moving. Eventually take a step then stop. Next try cueing him when standing stationary.  You may have to lean forward as if you are going to step with him, then just stand there and verbally cue but he will soon learn he can back up without the physical cue of you moving with him.
Drop the cue and continue training by clicking for movement as before to add distance backwards.

To add a verbal cue in, click here.

Use the verbal cue alone to get him to back up several steps. If you notice that he is slowing, give the cue again to continue it. Over time, you can fade the extra verbal cue or add a 'keep going signal'.

A 'Keep Going Signal' (KGS)
This is areally just a marker that says to your horse "you are doing the right thing, I want more of it!" Eventually the click and treat will follow.

Usually a KGS is a verbal phrase like "Good Boy", one that you do not use for precision (such as the clicker or "Yes!") and is used to add duration to a behavior that the horse knows.

How to You Teach a KGS?
Most of us use KGS without even thinking about it. We think of it more as encouragement for our animals than the actual signal it is.

Use a behavior that your horse already knows well. As he is performing it, about 3/4 of the way into the behavior, give the KGS, then click and treat at then end of the behavior. With repetition, the horse will learn that it means what it is called. "Keep going and you will get your click and reward."  You can vary the placement of the KGS as needed in each behavior.

Some people do not like to use KGS with their horses as they find some horses get frustrated. Other just want a continuous behavior with a single cue. It's up to you whether you use them or not, but it can be a useful tool for getting more duration or distance. KGS can be phased out too once the horse is offering the desired distance, duration etc.

Tip: If you accidentally use a sound or word that your horse already understands as a behavior marker (conditioned reinforcer), you will find that the horse stops the behavior as soon as he hears it to get a reward. My previous dog did that when his first owner had inadvertently taught him that 'Good boy' was a marker so I had to be careful not to encourage him with "Good boy" or he would stop what he was doing, thinking he was done! One time he stopped in the niddle of a super agility run, and another time while learning the weave poles when I made the mistake of using the marker "Good boy". In this case the sound was not a KGS, but a marker like a click. Choose a different one and train it.
When your horse is reliably offering to back up 10 steps or more, add the hand or body cue just before he does the behavior.

42. Backing Level 2

Goal: Horse backs 3 steps on 2 cues with trainer standing in front

In level 1 you chose your preferred method of teaching the horse to move back at the beginning. For level 2, try starting to add distance with another approach that is less comfortable for you (pressure, shaping, nose target, or back foot targeting). You learn by doing and so will your horse. This expands both your training repertoires. You just might be surprised at how well the other approaches work too! Later, you can use that new approach to teaching other behaviors.

Your Position
Depending on which approach you used before, you may have to shift your position in small changes as you train until you are standing in front of your horse. Review what he knows from level 1 with you in the same position you were (say standing off to one side). Now, take one half step towards the middle position and retrain the same criteria x10 repetitions. Before the next sessions, take another half step towards the middle position. Continue until you are in front of your horse.

Add DistanceNext, add distance backwards by dropping cue usage and clicking while your horse is still moving backwards.
If you click after he has stopped, that's as far as he will move back and he thinks that's it for the behavior. For all the approaches (except back foot targeting), clicking while still moving should be your focus.  This way, the horse learns that he can offer more each time, and not get stuck offering only two or three steps back. Good clicker trainers know this and that's how they backing distance so quickly with their horses, especially with horses that are clicker savvy and have good back-end awareness.

Tip: When using food for training, you always want to ask for a little more as the horse is able to offer it. Otherwise, the horse gets stuck at that level of behavior.

Try to get at least 5 steps backwards before you add a hand signal or verbal cue back in. If you ask for more, you know you will be able to get the minimum.

Adding a CueTo add a cue, you can read here, or to refresh:
*Wait until the horse is doing the whole goal behavior consistently without a cue
*When you are willing to bet $100 that the horse will do it again, say or do the cue just before the horse does it
*Practice this for several sessions until the horse starts doing the behavior immediately after the cue (seems to be understanding what it means). This tells you he might be ready to test it to see if he really gets it.

At the beginning of a new training session in the same location that you trained, on a day when you have not trained the behavior yet, give the cue and wait to see if he responds correctly. If he does, he likely understands what it means in that training context. Do not assume however, that he will know it in another location until after you have started training him from the beginning in the new location.

Generalizing a Cue
Horses do not generalize most behaviors well like humans can. They need to be taught a behavior from the beginning in many new locations before they start 'remembering' what the cue means.

Train this behaviors in at least 5 different locations and test him in the last one before moving to the next level.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

41. Handling Level 4

Goal: Allows wet cloth from bucket rubbed all over body and legs hosed off (with cold water)

Since the horse is already familiar with you placing your hands all over his body and also has learned that a running hose is nothing to be fearful of, this level should be straight forward to train. Ideally, this could be trained on a warm day so the horse is comfortable or after some exercise. If not, try to train in a protected location the horse is familiar with, out of the wind so he doesn’t cool off too quickly. You want his first experiences as positive as possible.

What are the criteria you will be adding in this level of training?

Increasing wetness of cloth
Changing temperature of water from warmish to cold
Using soap (if desired)
Accepting running water on legs and hooves
Distance of hose from feet/legs
Distance of nozzle from feet/legs
Angle of water flowing from hose

Training to Accept a Washcloth
Have horse target dry cloth.
Place coth over your hand and starting at the shoulders, rub the dry cloth all over his body, ‘working the clock’ as before and progressing to the rest of the body in steps, each training session do a different part. Give him a few minutes to relax between training sessions.  Take care at the more sensitive parts of his body. Rub each leg down starting at the stifle and work your way down. Try the reverse as well.

Dampen cloth with warmish water and rub it all over horse’s body, starting at shoulders ‘working the clock’ as before and progressing to the rest of the body.
Use warmish water to get the cloth so it drips a little while you rub it on the horse.
Use warm water to get the cloth very wet so it drops on the horse as you wash. Exaggerate your movements as you lift the cloth and allow it to drip on the horse as you raise the cloth into position.
Cool off the temperature of the water in steps (lukewarm, cool, cold) until it is coming straight out of hose.
Add soap (if desired) (encourage horse to smell it before using it on him) and lather (or not if you do not plan to hose his whole body down at this point)

Training to Accept Flowing Water on feet and legs.
Start with hose-no nozzle so the water runs freely, with little pressure and more quietly
Ask horse to target running hose
Move hose towards his front hoof. Click and remove (c/r) at closest point.
Move hose so water splashes for a second on his hoof. c/r at closest point.
Add duration to water flowing on hoof (use Peck 300).
Move hose closer or further from hoof, depending on reaction of horse.
Each time you move the stream of water back towards the horse, raise the flow so it flows on his fetlock then cannon, gasket on up to the top of his stifle in small steps.

Move the hose away from the legs to create more of a splash and start again at the hoof and work your way up.
Try different angles with your crouching and the water streaming upwards and you standing and the water flowing downwards.

Train other front leg the same way.
Train back legs one at a time.
Hose each of the front legs alternatively.
Hose each of the back legs alternatively.
Hose all 4 legs alternatively.

Adding Nozzle
Add nozzle to the hose and put on mist setting and start again with one front hoof. Progress as you did with the hose through all 4 feet and legs.
Change nozzle to stronger setting and repeat.
Change nozzle to its strongest setting you would normally use on a horse for washing and repeat.

Next reverse the hosing to start from the top of the stifle and let the water flow down his legs to the hoof. Alternate between legs.

Be careful to keep the hose and nozzle pointed down and away from his face at all times, to minimize spraying the horse in the face. That needs to be taught separately to show him it’s all part of the process and nothing to get worried about.

40. Handling Level 3

Goal: Horse nose targets 5 tools regularly used on him
(examples; brush, curry comb, mane clippers, detangler, hose, cloth, sponge, botfly knife, fly masks, power tool for floating, speculum, hoof oil, hoof pick, hoof trimmers (nippers, rasp), leg stand, bit, lead rope, shoe, lunge whip etc)
Prerequisite: Targeting Level 1

The intent of this level is the familiarize the horse to all the tools that you will regularly be using in his care before applying them to his body so he is not afraid of them.

Sort the tools into two groups, soundless ones and ones that make noise or move. Start with the soundless ones.

Soundless Tools
Choose one of the softer tools to start with, perhaps a small rag that you might use to wash him down with or maybe a soft bristle brush.

Shape him to sniff, touch, bite then nose target it like you did with the objects in Targeting Level 1. Move it around near him and have him target it.

Ask him to take one step, then two and three to target it. Target it high and low, left side right side etc.

Repeat for each tool letting him smell, touch and target it. If it is safe for the tool, you may want to allow him to bite it as well, so he can understand its texture. Record which tools you have successfully familiarized him with.

Tools that make Noise or Move
Save the tools that make noise or move (such as a running water hose, or water sprayer, power tool for floating) to the last.

You may need to use distance combined with muffling the sound to start, then move the horse closer to the object (or the tool closer to the horse using the ‘advance and retreat’ method) and unmuffle in stages once the horse is close enough to target the tool. Check out Targeting Continuing Education for ideas on how to proceed with objects the horse is afraid of.

The water hose may need to be targeted lying on the ground, as well as held in your hand near the ground and held in a normal position.
Start targeting the hose with the water off, then with a dribble, then more volume in several stages until it is at full volume. Point the hose away from the horse and all him to get used to the sound. C/t for choosing to stay close to the hose.

Add height to change the sounds as in this video. Always allow the horse to make the choice to approach or not.

For the sprayer, have the horse nose target the nozzle separately from the hose, then attached to a dry hose, then on mist, then more volume etc until you are using the force that you need to do a wash-using small enough steps to allow the horse to succeed. You will need to start with pointing it away from the horse. C/t for choosing to stay close to the hose.

The water hose may need to be targeted lying on the ground, as well as held in your hand near the ground and held in a normal position.
Start targeting the hose with the water off, then with a dribble, then more volume in several stages until it is at full volume.

For the sprayer, have the horse target the nozzle separately from the hose, then on a dry hose, then on mist, then more volume etc until you are using the force that you need to do a wash-using small enough steps to allow the horse to succeed.

To test, bring out the objects and present each one to the horse separately. Hold it up and give your touch cue. If the horse eagerly touches each one on the first presentation with only the object and a verbal cue, he passes. If you have more than 5 tools, divide them into two or more testing sessions. Use this approach to familiar the horse to new tools that will be used on him.

39. Handling Level 2

Goal: Allows hands rubbed all over body, including head and ears, no cues
(This is a general overall allowing you to handle his body, not specifics such as opening mouth, poking in ears or lifting tail for inspection. Those come later after he trusts you to handle him and each need specific training.)

Continue your training from Level 1, choosing new locations to start 'advance and retreat' and 'work the clock' from.

An easy location is to start from the shoulder and work from top to bottom of the barrel and front to back towards the hip, again working both sides.

Start at the top of the shoulder and work your way down and around the front legs to the hoof. Repeat for the back.
Handle the chest, top to bottom, middle to point of shoulder on each side. Work down the middle of the back, loin to the croup.
From the top of the tail, work down the tail. Try a gentle even pull on the tail (not a tug which can be startling), Move the tail hair around to begin getting the horse accustomed to having his tail braided and the like.
From the poll, work around the ears, handle the fetlock, and down the face including the muzzle. (Conversely, he may prefer you starting at his nose and working up to his poll. Let the horse tell you which he prefers).
Include general handling the sheath or udder. (It helps if your hands are warm so the temperature won't be shocking to the horse)
Make sure all parts of the horse have been handled by the time you have finished training the general handling.

Note any areas the horse shows any sensitivity to touching (on both sides) and address those only after you have completed handling the rest of the horse. This will allow you to start building trust so he will let you approach and work those areas.

Also note any areas that the horse enjoys you touching. These might include above the tail, below the tail, mane, withers etc. These can be used in place of food rewards later in training.

Sensitive Spots
Go back to the areas you have identified and use an even more gentle approach than you did before, progressing slowly. Start where the horse is relaxed and comfortable and work your way in. Let the horse decide how fast you will progress. This can be a long process, depending on the horse. Again, use the ‘advance and retreat’ and ‘work the clock’ circling inward to the sensitive spot.

After he is comfortable with handling these spots, you can include these spots in a ‘once over’ handling of the horse where you start at the head and work your way to the back of the horse and down, touching all spots. This is another way to assess any sensitive spots that may have developed due to equipment rubbing later on. Always keep an eye on the horse's subtle body language for indication there may be pain or fear.

Recording the Horse’s Progress
It helps if you keep a running list of where you have already worked, especially if you are training several horses at once. Having two blank diagrams of a horse (one for each side) where you can make notes each training session or just put a check mark where you have successfully trained is very helpful. You can also write down sensitive and enjoyable spots as you notice them. Ideally a clipboard works well as you can hang it out on a nail of the horse’s reach but where it is easily accessible to you. If you have access to technology and can remember to enter data after the session, you can record your training digitally.

38. Handling Level 1

Goal: Allows trainer’s hands to stroke anywhere neck and shoulders, both sides, no cues

There are a number of criteria to be considered when training a horse to be comfortable a person touching him. Luckily, most of these criteria come naturally to us, when we continuously assess the horse’s reaction to touching that specific location. We want our touch to be a comfortable, even pleasurable experience to the horse, especially in the beginning. Later on, we can add speed & greater pressure that might mimic straps, saddles etc that might not be as comfortable to the horse.

Profile of hand approaching
Time hand spends in contact
Length of stroke (movement)
Pressure of touch
Shape of hand
Location of touch
Speed of hand approaching
Your location
Type of Touch
Number of hands

For this part of training, make sure your horse enjoys every step, not just tolerates it. Take it slow and he will reward you by staying calm and learning to love your touch.

How long this process will take totally depends on the horse and his previous handling. Some might breeze through the process (needing only one click at each step of the criteria), others might take awhile (needing many repetitions at each step of criteria). It is well worth the while to invest more time than less at this behavior since many other behaviors rely of your ability to be close to his body.

This process can be used later when you discover sensitive spots on his body that he prefer you not touch. A simplified version can be used to determine the extent of pain in injuries, starting far away from the suspected injury point with light touches and methodically moving towards it.

Fading the Clicker
Fade the use of the clicker quickly, using it only to mark new behavior. When he is consistently comfortable with that criteria, repeat it several times without the clicker. When you have finished one criteria, move on to the next, starting with the clicker again, then fading its use.

Starting Location:
If you do not trust the horse, you can start training this from the other side of a low fence at first. If he reacts, step back out of his space to protect yourself. You may need to lure him there with food. You can also place a pile of hay beside the fence to graze on (keep him there) as you train.

Start by standing just outside the horse’s personal space to one side.

Choose a location on his body that he is most likely to accept someone touching. Maybe you’ve seen him allow the other horses to jostle him near his shoulders and not had a reaction. Maybe you’ve seen the other horses groom his butt. For many horses, the shoulders and neck are a good place to start. However, if your horse does not like this, choose another likely non-threatening location and one that is safe for you.

Extend one arm and make a flat hand so your palm is visible to him (an easy target for him to see). Make sure he is aware that you are near and sees your hand. You do not want to startle him. The other can hold the clicker. Food needs to be in a pocket or pouch.

Advance and Retreat
Use an ‘advance and retreat’ approach with your hand towards his shoulder. Starting from at least 3 feet away, move your hand one foot towards his neck, click if he stays calm and retreat your hand. Then move it a little closer to his shoulder, click and retreat (c/r) again. The idea is to shape him to allow the approach of your hand. When you work your way to actual physical contact, just lightly graze his shoulder with your hand. c/r

Duration of Contact
Now let your hand linger on his shoulder, slowly increasing the amount of time your hand spends in the one spot without moving. Use 300 peck method to do so (one, one thousand, two, one thousand etc to 5 seconds)

Add Movement
Now add movement. Move one inch, two inches etc until you can slide your hand with the grain of his fur for one foot.
Now target different parts of his shoulder for the starting point. Use the ‘work the clock’ method’ where your first touch is at 12 O’clock and next one is 1 O’clock, etc all the way around his should until 12 O’clock again.

Add Pressure
Add a little more pressure and repeat the ‘work the clock again’

Change the Location
Now stroke towards his neck using the lighter touch. Stroke a little higher and higher, each time as you add distance, always watching the horse’s ears, eyes, mouth and neck muscle tension for how comfortable he is with you touching that area. If he showing sensitivity with any spot, back off and work an area just outside the sensitive area with a lighter touch before working your way back to the sensitive spot. Use this method any time you notice a spot that he is uncomfortable with you touching.
Work your hand with the ‘advance and retreat’ method all the way up and around his neck.

Size of Hand
Decrease the size of your hand on initial approach and ‘work the clock’ on his shoulder and neck to see his reaction. If he is uncomfortable, enlarge the size of your hand.

Speed of Approach
Increase the speed of your approach to a more normal one and ‘work the clock’. If he is uncomfortable, slow your approach.

Change the type of touch to scratching, rubbing etc. and repeat from the start in his shoulder and neck area only.

Location of Approach
Move your hand towards his shoulder or neck from varying angles so he learns to accept touch from any location you might be.
Vary the angle you stand as you touch him. Use your other hand etc. Really help him to generalize that the approach of your hands is nothing to be worried about, in fact should be pleasurable.

Double-handed Stroke
Use two hands to stroke.

As a final approach, use the ‘advance and retreat’ method to do longer strokes. Start at the back of his neck from behind his chin and eventually work your hand all the way down to his lower shoulders and around, staying with the direction of his fur. When you have successfully completed one long stroke, try other just parallel to that first stroke.

The Other Side
Repeat this process on his other side starting at his shoulder.

Advanced Level Adding other People:
Have other people the horse is familiar with train the same ‘advance and retreat’ and ‘work the clock’ processes.
Ask a less familiar person (to the horse) to train the process with him.
Ask a stranger (to the horse) to train the process with him.