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.

Friday, December 17, 2010

37. Backing Up Level 1

Goal: Horse backs out of your personal space, 2 cues (you need to define this in terms of number of steps he needs to back up so you have a clear picture of what the behavior looks like-a tall horse may need only 2 steps, a miniature horse may need 4 steps)

Here are several ways to teach this behavior. Choose your favorite to start, then retrain it from the beginning so your horse learns to back up several different ways. Think of this as explaining it to him another way. This will help him really understand what you are asking.

Using Pressure to Teach a Back up
The most common ways to teach backing up is to use pressure of your personal space or physical contact. Walking towards a horse (into his space) with your arms raised may cause him to back up, as may pushing firmly on his chest with your hand. You can then capture any backward shifting or movement with a click.
Using pressure on your horse is called negative reinforcement. The pressure is undesired by the horse and so he changes his behavior to avoid it. When he releases it by backing up, positively reinforce him with a c/t.

Reduce the height of your arms or pressure of your hand on his chest and use the light hand as a cue, not actual pressure. Increased number of steps to your goal. Add a verbal cue. 

But why use brawn when you can use (and develop) his brain?

Targeting a Back up
Prerequisite: Targeting Level 2

Standing in front and off to the side of your horse, use a stick target and move the tip under his nose and back towards his chest (ideally slightly off to one side near the horse’s shoulder). C/t for any movement of his body back towards the tip of the stick, even if you have not yet stopped moving the stick (in other words he cathces it before you are done moving it).

This stick position allows the horse to lower his head and touch it without having to bend his neck sideways. The downwards movement of his head will move his body into the position he needs to back up (as well as keep him calm). This position also improves the chances that he will back up instead of just turn his head to touch the end of the target. As he moves backward to touch the tip, c/t. Ask for more and more movement by pushing the tip closer towards his body.

Touch the target stick in the same place on the other side and practice some more.

Fade the target stick once you are getting your goal number of steps back until he volunteers to offer them with no stick present as the cue. Practice that several short sessions. Add a hand cue. Then a verbal cue.

Shaping a Back up
I prefer to shape back up because it gets the horse to think about his behavior rather than simply react to pressure. Shaping a back up is actually a good place to start shaping and it teaches back end awareness. This is key in training how to collect himself. You can use this method to train a back up with a horse you do not know or trust while safely standing on the other side of a fence.

Most horses focus on their front end movement and are unaware of the role their back legs in backward movement, except of course, when they kick out at something with a back foot. Ideally, to add power to the back up (or collection), a horse should start backing with the muscles of the back legs, not by moving a front foot that then caterpillars the back so learning to back up is the first stage of learning how to collect.

Stand in front or beside your horse with rewards in a pouch or pocket where he cannot get them. If you can position yourself to watch his back end, that would be ideal, as he first moves his back end before the front when moving back. Otherwise, watch the muscles near his shoulder and chest for any tightening to indicate a shift backwards. C/t. Repeat until he is offering that. He may start rocking back and forth as he tenses and relaxes. That’s okay too. At this point, wait for more backward shifting until one of his legs (any leg!) moves. C/t.

From there, shape a half step. From here on in, always try to click when your horse is in motion. Watching for his foot in the air is a good time to click as it gives you a little room for error on the timing of your click. If you click when he stops, you are clicking for stopping, and it makes it more difficult to get him to continue offering more of the backward behavior (i.e. more steps backward). This is often how people get stuck at one or two steps back and that’s it. You can reward while he still moving back as well, to further reinforce the backward movement.

Here’s an example for a horse that is very obvious in giving movements that predict he is going to move backward. The head lifts, the front shifts, then the haunches. Watch for this in your horse. This video is useful for learning to observe body motion as most horses offer much more subtle movements.

At 0:37 he is becoming aware that he needs to move his back end as well as the front. You can see the deliberate backward movement of his rear left leg.

Once your horse is offering to back up at least 2 steps, and offering them consistently (say for several short training sessions), add a hand signal, then a verbal cue.

Now train the back when you are in varying positions near him: in front, slight off to each side. Take a session or two to train each position. Make sure there is open space behind him to move back and avoid backing him into a corner. This makes it harder for him to succeed as he has a decision to make: back into a corner and have wood stuck against his butt or stand and stay in your space. You can use this to make the task harder once he is proficient at the behavior.

Back Foot Targeting
If you want a real challenge, (and trust the horse not to step on you or kick you) you can use back foot targeting to teach him how to back up. It helps if he has already done some front foot targeting with the mat before you tackle this. This teaches back end awareness as well.

Place a different mat or board behind your horse where he is likely to place his back foot if he shifted his weight back at all. Wait for any touching of the foot. It might start looking like lifting his foot over it, grazing it, touching the tip of it, or actually placing his hoof on it.

If this is too much of a challenge for him at this point, have him stand between four barrels (two side by side on each side of him) so it limits his choice of moving to only forward or back (creates a channel). You need to stand with your back to a fence to limit his movement forward as a choice. Fade the channel and the fence quickly so he doesn’t start to rely on them. The channel also acts as a starting point for later leading or backing into narrow pens and gated areas.

When he can offer at least two steps backwards reliably, you can add a hand cue, then a verbal cue.

Monday, December 13, 2010

36. Targeting Continuing Education

Once you have done some training in Part B with ‘Following on Loose Lead’, you can add a lead rope and lead him over the same objects you trained him to walk over (sheets of plastic, large tarps, sheet of plywood, poles, puddle of water etc).

You can continue his target training by shaping him to push a horse ball with his nose or knees, send him out to a target in the distance, teach him to take objects in his mouth, pick them up, then retrieve them; take food from your hand while you are on his back etc. All of these behaviors depend on some form of targeting.

This approach can be used to overcome fear of farm machinery, unfamiliar vehicles encountered (such a bicycles, ATV's, motorcycles etc) and many other objects.

Living Beings
Living being pose and extra challenge for a fearful horse as they move and make noises. Other animals & some people can be unpredictable so choose carefully the animals & humans you use to train with. Use a slightly different approach to targeting.

With extra attention to your horse’s response and keeping him below threshold, you can use this same approach to introduce your horse to animals and people. Start with them behind a barrier such as a fence or have the other animal in a crate or leashed to keep both the horse and the animal safe and use distance to keep the horse under threshold in the beginning. A halter with lead rope is necessary so you can lead the horse where you need him to go.

Choose a person that is confident with horses and capable of moving calmly and animals that will stay calm (horse-socialized dog or cat) as the horse approaches. Have the person hold a largish object that the horse has previous experience nose targeting and is confident with-such as a piece of plywood, a feed bucket etc. This also doubles as a barrier for them to protect themselves, if needed. This object can also be placed near the animal's crate as a target for the horse to touch.

Start at a distance from the animal the horse is comfortable with and lead the horse a step or two towards the being they are afraid of, then c/t and turn around and move a few steps away. Make sure the click marks a moment of calm. Retreating is seen as a reward to the horse so the treat can be phased out once the horse has the idea how to play the game. Slowly decrease the approach distance with each trial as long as the horse stays calm.

Once the horse is able to calmly move close enough to reach out and touch the person, have the person stand still with the object held between them and let the horse do the interaction.

Cue a nose target of the wood. The object becomes a familiar focal point other than the person. When the horse is comfortable with standing near the person, fade the wood (by lowering in steps or using a smaller piece etc) and use food as a reward again. When you think the horse is ready, have the person feed the reward to the horse. Progress carefully to having the person rub the horse in his favorite spot and other handling etc.

Remember that safety for humans, horses and other animals always comes before training!

35. Targeting Level 5

Goal: Nose targets 3 objects and foot targets  2 objects that horse showed some fear of on one cue

Select several objects that you horse has shown some minor fear of in the past.
Some examples:
*plastic grocery bag
*lightweight blanket that moves in the wind
*noisy jacket
*piece of plywood
*garden hose
*pipe or narrow pole
*puddle of water
*narrow stream

Shape your horse to interact with one object that he has shown mild fear of. C/t for looking, sniffing or touching any part of the object. Select for only nose touches, not bites. When he is consistently offering a nose touch to the object, add the cue. 

Repeat with many objects. Increase the level of difficulty as he gains experience by choosing objects he has more fear of.
Introduce novel objects he may never have seen.
Choose objects that make a sound.

Repeat the process by laying several of the same objects on the ground (one at a time) and shape him to foot target them, then later walk over them (at liberty so it is all the horse’s choice). This builds confidence in walking over fearful things. Obtain larger pieces of the smaller objects (sheets or plastic, large tarps, sheet of plywood etc) and shape him to foot target and walk over these.

34. Targeting Level 4

Goal: Horse nose targets 5 objects common to the horse's environment with 2 cues each (the object and a cue)

Choose each object carefully for safety (no sharp edges, horse cannot damage it etc), variety of materials (wood, plastic, metal etc) and accessibility.

Some examples include:
*water trough
*hay bale
*barn wall
*angled beam in his stall
*food bucket
*mounting steps
*lawn chair
*paddock gate
* fence post
*recreational ball etc

Stand near the object with the horse nearby. We will use a water trough for this example. Do a few nose targets of the stick target you used in level 2 to give your horse the idea of the behavior you are looking for. Now use the stick to point at and touch the trough at a height that easy for him to reach. C/t only if he touches the end of the stick where it touches the object. Fade the target stick once he repeatedly touches the trough. He should understand that the trough is the object you want him to target.
 Use the target stick to help direct him to touch (explore) other parts of the trough (top, side, bottom, other end etc).
You can also use your hand to point to the object (if you have taught him to safely target your hand). 

Your eyes can be used to target the trough as well. This may take longer. Look at your horse's eye, then at the trough. Do not actually cue him to ‘touch’ when he is in shaping mode. C/t your horse for looking, sniffing or touching any part of the trough. Select for only nose touches, not bites. When he is consistently offering a nose touch to the object, add the cue. 

Choose another object and repeat. He will catch on more quickly each time you do this with a new object.

Repeat for 5 common objects. Choose objects at various levels-on the ground, at chest height, above his head, and to each side.

Now take it to other parts of your horse’s living area and target other objects.

Test him at the beginning of a training session on a new day with all the objects you have practiced on by leading him to each one and cueing a touch. He passes if he reaches out and touches each object the first time you cue it.

The point of this exercise is to help your horse learn how to target objects that you indicate. You can later use this to help him overcome fears of novel objects that may induce fear. Targeting gives him control of his behavior and also gives him a focal point to remove the fear. The process to teach him to target new object is also the beginning steps for shaping his interaction with other objects. For example, this is the first steps of learning to push a ball with his nose, or carry an object for you.

33. Haltering Continuing Education

More Distance & Obstacles
When you get to a distance where the horse is in another pasture and must go through an opening in the fence to get to you, position yourself to help him succeed. Stand at the opening and as he starts moving towards you, back away so he has to pass through the opening to get to you. Next, stand at an angle so he must walk to the opening, then curve to come to you. Continue building this until you can cue him with the halter from any corner of your enclosures.

If you want him to learn to come to you when you are standing on the other side of a fence, practice that separately, adding distance as he is successful.

Add time to how long he wears the halter until he is able to wear it as long as needed. You can do this by putting on the halter at the beginning of a training session, then cuing other behaviors he knows. This will not only add duration to wearing the halter, but also help him learn that he can do other behaviors with it on and he does fun things when it is on. This starts to build a positive association with the halter.

Adding Distractions
Now, you need to add distractions. Have one other horse in the field with him. Have two etc.
Practice when the wind is blowing, when a person walks by, when a dog is in the field, when there are cars are going by etc.
Practice while he is grazing and see if you can use the halter to cue him away from that.
Carefully control the distraction criteria as much as you can. This process should result in a horse that is eager to come to you when presented with the halter.

Keep it Fun!
Always make sure it is fun. Combine releasing him with other games he enjoys to Premack the behavior.  And in the future when you get him to come to you to go do other tasks, periodically clip on the lead, then unclip it, take off the halter and release him. Giving these times with nothing else asked of him is very reinforcing and can prevent the horse that learns that every time the halter is put on, he must go to work. Of course, if you are clicker training him, training is not work, it’s play and he will enjoy doing it with you!

Avoid Poisoning the Halter Cue
If you need to call the horse to you to do a task that your horse does not currently enjoy (attitudes can be changed towards almost everything with the clicker), cue the halter then leave him for a short while to do his own thing, or cue several other known behaviors before doing the disliked task. This will help him to avoid any direct association with the halter and the task.

A common example is haltering the horse, then clipping on the lead rope and attempting to lead the horse into a trailer if the horse does not like it. This guarantees that the next time you cue the halter, the horse will be hesitant in coming, thinking that he may be going into the trailer again. Sometimes you have to be creative, or plan ahead, especially if there is a time crunch for that task to be completed.

32. Haltering Level 5

Goal: Horse walks to you from 40 feet away targeting the halter, drops his head and stands still while you put it on with just the visual cue of the halter

This step involves methodically combining all the things you have taught so far and ending up with the final desired behavior- a horse that comes to you when you present the halter. This is a chained behavior.

Combine all the Pieces:
Start back at zero distance. With the horse standing on the mat, cue a lowered head and present the halter from behind your back. Ask for a nose target of the harness and place the halter on. Take it off and put it behind your back. C/t. Repeat x5. Release him between training sessions.

Fade the Mat
Remove the mat and ask for the following:

From one step away from your horse, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Ask for a nose target and place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5.  
From two steps away, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Ask for a nose target and place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5. 
From three steps away, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Ask for a nose target and place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5. 
From four steps away, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Ask for a nose target and place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5. 

Fade the Nose Target Cue
By this point you can probably phase out the actual nose target of the halter and just put it directly on the horse as he approaches you. Horses, like people, get lazy and if you skip a step, they will willingly shorten the process. This is what it would look like.

From three steps away, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5. 
From four steps away, present the halter from behind your back and cue a lowered head. Place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5
Continue adding distance.

Fade the Head Lowering Cue
You can fade the lowered head cue as well. This is what it would look like.
Remember whenever you change one criteria of what you are asking, to either lower or keep the other criteria the same.
This is what it would look like.

From three steps away, present the halter from behind your back. Wait for the lowered head or nose target. Place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5. 
From four steps away, present the halter from behind your back Wait for the lowered head or nose target. Place the halter on. C/t. Take it off and put it behind your back. Repeat x5

Note the distance criteria was decreased by a step, then worked back into the training after the horse showed he was successful.  If more distance was added, it might be making the behavior too hard for the horse and decrease the success rate.

Continue adding distance.

Change Your Position
Using just the presentation of the halter as the cue, cue him from one side of his enclosure to the other, from any position in the pen
*the gate,
*several points along the fence 
*corners where you might hang the halter

Here's an example of a horse that comes to target his bridle and even puts his mouth on a bit! And this was a horse that used to be headshy!

Change Location
When your horse is successful in one location, change location (such as from pen to pasture), and start practicing back at very close distances and train your way to greater distances. Work your way up to cueing from the other side of the largest field you have. Don’t forget to intersperse training other behaviors he enjoys to increase his desire for this behavior.

Use the Modified Cue (as needed) (taught in level 4)
When he is coming from quite a distance away, you can use just the raised halter as the signal to come get haltered up. The horse is more likely to be able to see your motion at a distance than the actual halter in your hands. As he moves toward you, put it in position (at your hip) for him to place his nose in the nose loop.

Fade the Marker and the Food
Once you have some distance, you can fade the click, then substitute other reinforcements such as mane rub or getting him to do another behavior he enjoys etc.

31. Haltering Level 4

Goal: Horse eagerly nose targets halter 15 feet away, with 2 cues (the halter is one of them)

This is simply adding distance to Haltering Level 1. The horse does not wear the halter, yet. You are working only on distance, then fun!

Add Distance
When your horse has passed level 1, you can train this behavior if you want, but it’s ideal to wait to finish level 2 & 3 as this presents the halter as part of a ‘catch the halter’ game that is fun to play. This way, he will already know what it is and how it is worn and be comfortable when he hurries to you to target it.

Present the halter in front of you and off to one side of your horse and do 5 c/t. Next, place it just far enough away that he has to stretch his neck to touch it. After 5 successful tries at that, add just enough more distance that he has to take a small step to reach it. You want to show him that he can move towards the halter to earn his reward. Repeat x5 and add another short distance so the horse must take one small step towards you to touch the halter.

From here it’s easy to add distance in one step increments. Start with you stepping straight back and the horse moving forwards toward you. Next present the halter to one side of the horse, then the other. Above and below eye line. One side of you, then the other. Present the halter so your horse has to turn slightly as he moves towards it to touch it. Ask him turn the other way. Make it a game.

Start with your horse at a standstill and start moving just slightly ahead of him so he has to hurry to follow and catch up with the halter. Try a straight line, then a wide circle. How about a serpentine line (a series of half circles)? Ask him to follow you through a line of cones or barrels spaced 15 to 20 feet apart. (start with just one or two and add more as he is successful.) What else can you do to really reinforce the idea of coming to the harness?

Have fun with this step! Just make sure that he is able to contact the harness with each move so he can remain successful and ‘in the game’. Stop before he gets bored.

Adding Cues
The presence of the halter itself is one cue for him to know to target the halter, and you can use the other (verbal or hand signal) one you’ve already trained if you wish.

Start holding up the halter just before you use another cue. Later drop the other cue so holding it up becomes a visual cue to target it. Move it down into targeting position before he approaches you. This will get him ready for seeing the halter from across a field and not being able to hear a verbal cue due to wind, traffic etc.

Again, take the time to thoroughly train this step and you have continued building the foundation for a horse that comes to you willingly from a distance to put on his halter, with the harness itself being the cue.

30. Haltering Level 3

Goal: Horse stands still and lowers his head while you place the halter on his head, halter is the only cue.

Stand in the same offset position as you have been but a step back. Have the horse target the halter a few times.

Then with the halter in your far hand, gather up the halter so that only the nose piece is accessible to the horse (essentially it will be inside out). Hold it from the top so it dangles down creating a loop for him to put his nose in with your hand holding it from the top of the loop. Shape him towards sticking his nose in the loop (under your hand). Click and treat him for targeting the halter with his nose, nudging it, sniffing through it and placing his nose in a little, then a little further.

Make sure to locate the loop at the height and distance from the horse where it would normally be when you cue him to lower his head to place the halter on (for most people that would be slightly above their hip).
When he is consistently placing his nose into the loop at that location, back your hand out and allow the loop to rest on his nose for a second, then lift and c/t. Rest the loop for longer and longer duration until you get to 20 seconds.

When you can rest the nose loop on his nose for 20 seconds, turn the halter back right side out, making sure the short side of the strings is on the side you are on. Use the far hand to hold the halter near the junction on the far side of the horse. Lift the shortest string on your side incrementally until it is at its highest point and the strap that is under his jaw is touching his skin. At this point your hand should be taking some of the weight of the halter and the horse accepting some and the string on the far side will be hanging down.   Increase the duration of you holding it there, c/t as you go. Next wiggle it around a little so he gets used to the feeling on something under the jaw. C/t. Increase the duration of wiggle slowly to 10 seconds. 

Next, hold the nose loop of the halter with your close hand behind his mouth and lift your far hand so you can raise the longer string on the backside in small steps until it rests just behind his poll and ears. C/t each step.

Next, allow the longer string to rest just behind his poll for a second, then lift and c/t and drop it back down to starting position. Each time, rest the loop on his head for longer and longer duration until you get to 20 seconds.

Now remove your close hand from the nose loop and use it to hold the shorter side of the side string up as if it was tied. Incrementally lift the longer string to where it rests on his poll.

Next, fiddle with the strings as if you are buckling or typing the halter up behind and below his ear. When he is comfortable with that, try actually securing the strings.

Next c/t for allowing you to adjust the fitting of the top of the halter, then the bottom in small steps until it is fitted properly.

Once he is comfortable with you putting the halter on completely, take it off and release him to go do whatever he wants to do between each practice. Freedom at this point is likely more rewarding than the halter. This process of pairing a more-desired behavior (from the horse’s perspective) with a less desired behavior is called the Premack Principle. It is also known as ‘Grandma’s Law’ as Grandma would have you do your homework before going to play, pairing a fun activity with a less fun activity.

Interesting Fun Fact: Over time, the less-desirable activity can become more fun for the horse that the one you initially paired it with!

At this point you are not leading the horse, just putting the halter on the horse. Allow him to wear it for increasing length of time while train other behaviors or work nearby, then remove it when unsupervised.

If you have a halter that attaches on the opposite side, practice with that starting from the beginning again so he gets comfortable with you working off both sides.

29. Haltering Level 2

This step is hopefully split into enough small steps that it can be used with a young horse that has only basic handling. If it’s not, split them further. For horses that are already used to being handled and ropes etc, you can lump steps as you go or spend less time on each.

To accomplish basic haltering, there are a number of different behaviors that each need to be taught separately before being added together before starting to train the horse to accept a halter on his head.

A. Standing Still for a period of time
B. Lowering Head
C. Allowing Handling by you from within his personal space

Since the halter will be your way of ‘catching’ your horse, take the time to help him learn to really love this process. If he does, he will eagerly come to you to have you put on the halter, from any distance.

Goal: Horse stands with head down while you encircle your arms around his head, 2 cues

Prerequisite: Target level 3

A. Standing Still for a period of time
Practice standing still on the mat. Add duration using the 300 peck method (adding time in one second increments) to 30 seconds standing on mat with the mat being the only cue.  Move the mat to a different locations and practice. Add a cue.

B. Lowering Head
As a separate behavior from the mat, shape him to lower his head to a height that makes it easy for you to place a halter over his nose and poll. The top of his poll about even with your eye level when standing is usually a good height.

Capture any downward movement or head dips by c/t while the neck is in motion. Watch the neck and shoulder areas for any sign of muscle contraction at first and you can c/t for that. You can get more downward motion by only clicking when he is in motion, not when he has stopped moving. Allow him to move his head back to natural relaxed position between each c/t.

When his head is lowered to the height you desire, click when he stops moving at the bottom of the dip.

When he is consistently (8/10 times) lowering his head to that height, you can start adding a cue just before you know he is going to do it. Practice this way a couple of sessions. Test him at the beginning of a new training session to see if he knows what the cue means. Next, practice the head dip cue with other cued behaviors he knows.

Once he knows the cue, stop using it and add duration to head held low by simply withholding the click one second, two seconds etc using the Peck 300 method again. Work your way up to 30 seconds. Add the cue back in.

Next combine the mat and the head lowering by cuing stepping onto mat, then immediately cue the head down. Start with one second duration and add time until he can hold his head down while standing quietly on the mat for 30 seconds with only one cue for each of ‘mat’ and ‘head down’ when he gets there. ‘Click’ of course releases him from the behavior. Move the mat and retrain to 30 seconds, cuing both behaviors.

C. Allowing Handling by You from Within his Personal Space
Next you can prepare him for you to reach up beside his face with your arms to tie the halter on. You can do this without the mat.

At this point, your hands are empty and you are just reaching with your hands and arms, not actually attempting to put the halter on. Stand where you will be when you place the halter on his nose. That is -offset to one side where the halter is tied together. (If the halter ties on the horse’s left side, you stand in front and just off to his left.) Keep your far hand at your side but with your nearest hand, reach upward in steps towards his poll. Your hand should be held flat facing him. Each time return your hand to resting position at your side. This will get him comfortable with you raising your hand all the way each time. C/t in small stages until you can lift your arm all the way up above his head and over him and rest your wrist just behind his poll where the halter will sit. C/t at each step to get there. Add duration to 20 seconds, one second at a time as before.

Once he will accept that, remove your near hand from his poll area and start raising your far hand from your hip to the far side and just behind his mouth line where it will later be holding the lower loop of the halter.

Cue him to drop his head and practice again with each arm.

With his head cued to drop, combine the near hand and far hand so he gets used to the idea that your hands will be encircling him as you put on the halter.
Place your far hand on the far side just behind his mouth and start raising your near hand up to his poll.

But He Won’t allow me Step in Close Enough to Put My Arms Around Him!
If he is not comfortable with you standing very close to him, use the mat to have him stand still while you c/t him for allowing you to step in closer, retreat then closer into his space. Always retreat to your starting position. This will allow him to be more comfortable with the proximity needed for you to encircle your arms around his neck in preparation for placing and tying on the halter. Repeat from the other side.

Always be ready to back out to keep your self safe and keep an eye on his ears, eyes and other language to ensure he is not stressed.  Time put into shaping behavior is well worth it. Consider it an investment in his trust in you and your future relationship!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

28. Haltering Level 1

This behavior is actually about teaching a horse to be caught but also gets him familiar with and comfortable wearing a halter. 

Level 1
Goal:  Horse nose targets halter, 2 cues (1 is the presence of the harness)

Prerequisite: Targeting level 1, 2 & 3

Since your horse knows how to nose target objects, this should be a snap, unless he has a fear association with the halter already or it has become a poisoned cue.

Start with the halter behind your back and when you have your horse’s attention, present it in front of you and just to one side of his vision and just inside his personal space. Train as for targeting the other objects, clicking for any interest in the halter, looking at it, moving his head or turning towards it, sniffing it, touching it.  Reward immediately and place it behind your back between each trial. This keeps it interesting and increases his chances of wanting to examine it out of curiosity. Practice nose targeting it until he is eager to do so. You want this behavior to be strong. Move the halter around on both sides, up and down etc as you did for the object-based training.

The Halter is a Poisoned Cue for him
A poisoned cue is a cue that has a negative association for the horse. He likely associates the halter with the loss of freedom, or even a negative event that has occurred in the past and he wants nothing to do with it! To solve this, choose a different halter than he has never worn before (maybe a rope halter -you can make one of these for temporary use-or one made of a different material or looks very different from the one he is afraid of).  Train it as above.

If you MUST use the same halter to train this and if you need to get him accustomed to the old one soon after retraining on a new one), you will need to use a process called ‘counter conditioning’ before starting the targeting. This changes how a horse feels about the halter.  In the beginning, you are not going to ask for any physical interaction with it, so don’t plan on catching him to take him anywhere while retraining this. Find another way to handle him or do what you need such as herding him into a smaller pen or using his buddies to call him in).

Choose a reward of very high value as we want to build a positive association with the halter and have them ready with your clicker. Make a big fuss of placing the halter on a fence or on the ground far enough away from your horse so he notices it but also so there is no negative reaction to it (so he doesn’t move away from it, or put his ears back etc).

Any time he looks towards it, click and reward him. After each session, remove it so it will now be a novel object that he gets to interact with only when you are with him.

Each session place the halter a little closer to him, using his body signals as an indicator of how fast to decrease the distance. If he moves away from it, it’s too close. Ideally, he should be able to stand calmly with it nearby. Continue clicking and treating, and decreasing distance each session until he is near enough to it that he can touch it. Now you can start having him interacting with it the way you would if it wasn’t a poisoned cue with one exception: start with it on the fence or wherever it was when you counter conditioned it. When he is comfortable with that, try holding it to your side, then behind you, then in front of you, bringing it out from behind a box or bale of hay etc. This will help to make sure its sudden appearance does not startle him or trigger old memories.  

It is VERY important to train at his pace and not to rush him into interaction with the halter. Avoid attempting to put the any halter on him at this point or all will be lost.

Here is a video showing the basic steps in the process with a Donkey. What specific behaviors do you see that tells you the rope is a poisoned cue for this animal?

As you can see, it may not take long to retrain. Remember, a training session might only be 10-15 repetitions of c/t. Then a break for a minute or two and do 10-15 more repetitions. This would be considered two separate training sessions.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Updates to Training Levels for Horses

Just in case you thought I've abandoned this project-I haven't! I am still plugging away modifying the basic framework by adding behaviors and fine tuning objectives at each level so behaviors build on each other.
When I save it, it keeps the original post date.