Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just Do Nothing

If training a guide was all about training leading, following a path and
avoiding obstacles Cali would be ready to go home with Mona.

It's not though. With dogs we are now entering the phase of training that
would be termed - easy. Teaching a dog to do what a dog does best. That's
nothing. Dogs are perfectly happy to sleep 17 hours a day. Unless that dog
is a Border Collie or Siberian Husky it would just be a matter of setting
the dog up for success at what he already wants to do.

Horses on the other hand sleep a very little amount of the normal 24 hour
day. And, when they do sleep it is for much shorter periods of time. For a
dog, the normal cycle might be sleep, eat, sleep some more. For a horse it's
more like
eat, sleep a little, eat some more. It's no wonder we find little horses so
hard to keep from getting fat.

That's been one of the challenges for Cali as well. Finding the right amount
of food to keep her happy and keep her weight down. Toys are a good
distraction. Cali has a Jolly ball, a regular ball, a tire tug toy and a
rope to play with.
When she's not in her stall eating, you can find her in her stall playpen.

With the purchase of a ramp Cali has now shown us her mountain goat
imitations. She'll take the ramp, even very steeply up into the SUV. It's
the foldable kind and somewhat narrow. By starting slowly she will now use
it to climb up into any car that the ramp will fit in. We haven't tried
small cars yet. We got our ramp from www.handiramp.com
We got the MMC by Pet Step - Gray. I guess they are discontinuing Gray
because it was a lot cheaper than the Beige one. Who knows.

Now, once in the car we have the "do nothing" issue. I've said before that
if Cali is with me in the bus, car or elsewhere she is happy. That's because
she knows that I'll reward her for something soon. We've lighted the fire of
learning in Cali and she wants to learn more and more.

The challenge is to turn the learning into waiting. Still it's learning.
And, it's something she did as a show horse. When she went to a horse show,
she'd stand tied to a trailer and wait for her classes. We need to re-tap
into that skill.

The skill she is learning again is called in training terms "duration". We
can use the idea of standing on a mat which if you think about it is a
measurable task. Cali has her ramp which folds in half and makes a nice
platform to stand on. We hope this will solve the instability and possible
damage issues surrounded around standing on a back seat.

She also has a small rug to stand on. These are positive cues and clues for
her. When we stop at a corner, Cali understands wait. Soon, we will shape
her to find her rug and her folded ramp. At this time standing quietly gets
rapid fire reinforcement. It's like saying yes, yes, yes and yes over and
over again. It will be up to her to discover what the yes is for.

Conversely, if she paws or fidgets, she is asking for either me to leave.
Not fun. No chance of reward or further fun. In horse training circles when
you want the horse to continue doing what it's doing without feed back you
might say something like "don't make me ask again" Usually the "ask" in this
scenario is some form of pressure.

Step by step we will shape standing still.

Another interesting sideline to this training is that a horse cannot eat and
potty at the same time. Who would have guessed this. They actually stop
eating to go. This is one little detail that I had not really recognized
until the beginning of this "do nothing" training.

Again, in horse training circles people talk about rhythmic pressure. The
flip side is that rhythmic feeding will prevent the unexpected. Of course
this must be within the limits of the digestive tract. Using all of these
tools we were able to go a whole day with out Cali "going" in her stall

Another interesting learning is that "girls" like privacy. We might need a
little screen for her. All of the "going" does seem to be predicated by a
schedule. Cali anticipates when we are going to go to work. She never has to
go on request at the beginning of a work session. I'm not sure how she knows
but she does. I never see her do it but by the time I'm there with her
halter and harness, she's gone. If I put her into her potty place she just
doesn't have to go.

The other thing is that a horse will "go" when stressed even a little. One
can determine stress from this fact. My big horses and most of my student
horses never "go" in the arena while we work. This is true unless I've
pushed them into stress or confusion. This almost never happens.

I doubt that many people think about this kind of thing with their big
horses. It's fun to discover. At a recent dressage show, I noticed that no
horse "went" during it's test. Funny what you notice when you are looking
just a little out-of-the-box.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Intelligent Disobedience

We've been focusing on Cali pointing out interesting things - to her. She
cannot be wrong. I wanted to discover what she could find. I wanted to know
what was important to her. And, at the same time point out to her things
that I thought would be important to Mona.

Whenever you train a new thing it's important to relax your standards on
previously learned work. the beginning of the week had Cali pointing out
tree branches on the ground, light and dark spots on the road, telephone
poles along with the more preferred mailboxes, driveways, obstacles to
travel like overhead obstructions and cross-walks. For awhile, her dead on
shore lining suffered while she left the track to point out something of
interest which might be a bush.

That was OK because the more she pointed out the more I could refine. It
would be a lot harder to add things that she didn't notice that to exclude
those that she did.

The first fix was not to leave the track. Within a day or so you could
clearly see that while she thought about a post that was off the track she
understood not to deviate. All on her own she discovered the lines in the

Our own driveway has been a little bit of a problem because we were walking
at that point with the traffic she did not see the driveway as an option.
And, if the truth be told I don't think she wanted to find the driveway
because it led home and to the end of work. Cali loves working and would
much prefer to go down or up the road again instead of going home.

Now with the discovery of white lines that mark the shoulder of the road, we
also have the end of the white line that marks the break where our road
comes in. voila! discovery! Nose to the ground and a little hoof paw tells
you where the white line ends. Very cool.

So, travel with Cali is really fun.

An important aspect of the guides job is to notify the handler of things
that are unsafe. My husband walked one day with us as we discussed how we
would safely attack the idea of cars coming from no where. Cali was
unconcerned by the conversation and led us along with aplomb. As we walked
up the road, suddenly Cali stopped dead in her tracks.
With eyes wide open we discussed what had made her stop. We looked far ahead
and only a little ahead. I can see and I didn't see anything. But, still I
was hesitant to tell Cali she was wrong.

Cali refused to budge as I gently asked for forward. I asked with a question
mark not wanting to make her feel wrong for stopping. Good thing because
just at that moment a deer stuck it's head out of the woods. Had I not been
looking so carefully I'd have missed it. But, Cali didn't miss it. She knew
the deer was about to cross our path and it would be best to wait. Now, Mona
is not likely to encounter too many deer, that deer could have been a child
on a bike or a car coming to cross our path. Good girl.

Lest anyone think that deer are a problem for Cali, we've easily passed deer
in yards, pastures and other places without a problem. Barking dogs, cats
and other distractions have caused no concern at all.

Then very next day we parked a car across the road. It got there while we
were out walking so Cali would not have seen it on the way out. As we
approached the stopped car Cali stopped about 10 feet before the car. That's
her way of telling me that something new is out there. A "forward" took her
right up to the car. Cali targeted it. When directed right she turned and
targeted the front bumper of the car. Turn left and she targeted the end of
the car. Over left took us back to the path.

Over the weekend we had the opportunity to speak to Ann Edie. Ann is the
owner of Panda. Panda is Ann's mini horse guide. I am very fortunate to have
Ann live not far away and it is invaluable to get her input on guiding.

Mona's life is quite different from Ann's and so many of the things that are
important to Ann, may not be as important to Mona. The input is most
valuable and I am grateful to have it.

Where and when to potty became an interesting discussion. I'm using what is
called an environmental cue. One can think of the restroom as an
environmental cue. Most of us wait until we are in a restroom to perform the
desired action. Dogs too are trained with environmental cues which can be
general or very specific.

Small show dogs are often taught to go only on wee-wee pads. Their little
feet never hit the ground. Animals are quite amazing in their ability to
figure out what's ok and what's not.

That said, it's important to vary everything except the one constant that
you want to become the environmental cue. Many people that are not well
travelled have difficulty in public restrooms or even at the homes of
friends. This can even be unhealthy if a person suddenly has to travel for
many days. So, we want to be as flexible as possible and at the same time
limit the action to only appropriate times just as we might potty train a
child. We have to be careful of not making it so re-enforcing that it
becomes a behavior that can be used to "beg" us to participate in. This is
like a dog who has learned to bark to go out. He might bark to go out just
because he wants to go out and play rather than to do his business.

This is a tricky business.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Busy Week

It's been a busy week here in New York. I haven't had much time to write.
But, that doesn't mean we haven't done lots.

We had a second visit to the little town of Broadalbin. On the first visit
we walked through the town while I showed Cali all the interesting sites.
She did a great job of guiding straight on the sidewalks, across the
cross-walks. She had just started to show interest in pointing things out.

We have now focused more on pointing out interesting things. We've also
worked more on the pointing out of terrain changes. To do that we worked in
our arena with various objects. At first I took her to objects and showed
her how to target them with her nose. I also showed her how to paw at a
terrain change. A terrain change in the arena was defined as dirt to a
board, dirt to a tarp, up onto a platform.

Later, I sat in a chair and asked her to find interesting things. But, she
could only find the same object once. We are still at the point on our walks
where she would like to point out every post in the guard rail. Very cute
but not very useful. This is an interesting concept to get across to her.
Point it out once. What to her is only once?

The arena exercise went well. No clicks for objects pointed out a second
time. And, she had to come back to me in the chair to get her treat. Then,
she could start out again to look for another interesting object. She found
the tarp, the mounting block, a rope on the ground, the barrels with a bar
across which she could fit under but I could not, a fence placed across the
arena, jumps, a cart and the platform. She had a lot of fun with this. The
one thing that I thought very interesting was that even though she could
have gone under the barrel obstacle on her search of things to touch, she
did not. The importance of this will become apparent.

In another training session, we walked the arena with her guiding. I set her
up to walk along one wall. Then, I let her choose a route. She chose a route
that took us around all the obstacles and went in a square. An interesting
object was the rope on the ground. She had no trouble pointing it out with
her nose. But, then the question of should she walk over it or around it? A
good question. She has a clear idea of what should be gone around and what
can be gone over. I don't. So, for now, I'll trust her. A pole on the ground
should be gone around. The coiled rope can be walked over. We'll continue to
do information gathering on this.

The second walk in town took us up and down the bank steps. The bankers
welcomed her and were excited that we were using their place for training.
We traveled to the post office, we found grates, intersections and cross
walks. She was even able to find the yellow painted curb that indicates a
cross walk. Good girl.

We've also walked in the dark at night several times. There was no moon so I
could barely see a thing. Her route modified only slightly. She stuck less
close to the side of the dirt road. Many leaves had fallen. It was clear
that she was tracking the light part of the road and avoiding the leaves.
She is having a lot of fun finding things. I had to smile and I did reward
the finding of a stump. It could have been a mail box. We can refine as we
go along.

Yesterday we had our longest walk. She did not get tired physically nor
mentally at all. She had enough energy left to get into the car when we got
home. Last week she told me that was very hard. She can only get in without
her harness and from the drivers side. Hmmmm..... More work to be done
there. We went for a little ride and she worked to find a good place to be.
The choice is on the floor or on the seat. Both seemed to do although going
down the bumpy dirt road was a little unbalancing for her. I think she got a
little nervous.

She is happier when I sit with her than when I drive. When she thinks she is
taking care of me, she is all business. When I let her be her, she is full
of fun. I've made it clear that if I lead her from her left, she can be a
horse. She'll trot and play and generally be full of life. When I am on her
right, she is the guide and becomes very serious about everything. Loose she
will often choose my left (her right). I can put my hand on her hindquarters
and even though there is no harness nor halter, she will take me places.
She'll find things and she will guide using the hand signals with forward
and over left. These two she knows well. The other turns not so well but
they are coming. I think she knows go right. But, it's not smooth.

I like that she will find things. That's because Mona says she sometimes
loses things never to be found again. So, if Cali will simply find things,
they can play together to discover what Cali can find. Later, I'll put
smaller objects out for her to find. If we use the "find only once" skill,
Mona can let Cali find and decide if that's what she wants or not. That way,
if Cali doesn't quite understand the "keys" or "gloves" or if Mona loses
something that Cali doesn't know the name of, Cali can still help her find

Next on the agenda is "do nothing". This is an interesting topic. When is
Cali on her own and when is she supposed to simply wait. Suppose I need her
to wait for me. How long can she "wait" disengaged from my active
activities. This is important while Mona works. We started this task. Habit
or patterns will help. Cali understands patterns very well.

I've disrupted her patterns a little the last few days. Horses do like a
pattern like the same feeding time each day. Research has shown that they
can get stressed when their patterns are disrupted. A horse can get ulcers.
If they are fed at 4:00 each day they are already preparing to digest and
the stomach acid starts to fire up. If they don't get fed one day at 4:00
the acid can create an ulcer. That's only one example of a pattern. And, we
can use patterns to train.

But, if we don't vary the pattern enough, the horse doesn't get flexible
enough to cope with changes. Stress occurs. A horse with more experience in
varying situations will become more responsive to now, and not to the
pattern and better able to handle a new situation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A trip to town

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera rolling as Cali carefully walked up the steps in the bus with me in tow. The plan was to go to the little town of Broadalbin to test drive some of the obstacle and terrain training we've done in the arena. In the arena, Iset up roadblocks in the form of gates in our path, barrels for noticing,ladders etc. All these things were in our path. I wanted

Cali to point them out by targeting them. We also targeted a chair. Then, we targeted her feet by asking her to touch a plywood mat, a tarp and the change from sand to grass with her feet.

So, Cali traveled in her bus. I don't think she was too comfortable with the bus and neither was I. There is an odd feeling that you must have to get used to to drive a vehicle with steps and glass down to the roadway as it whizzes past.

We parked in the parking lot of a market. The boys at the school yard were most amazed at a little horse getting out of a bus.

Cali when down the first step easily but jumped after the second one. Note
to self: raise the priority of carefully going down stairs. Up to now, I've been happy she would even go down stairs like these. And, we were off.

Cali tracked the street as if she'd been doing it all her life. There was traffic in the store parking lot but she just tracked straight. The sidewalk starts at the first corner. I stopped her at the curb and we turned right to track down the sidewalk. There was a post today on one of the lists
discussing whether the guide should stop at every driveway or only where there is traffic. I stopped her at the driveways. She found and targeted fire hydrants, and sign posts if they were on our path. Too far off our path, she didn't target them. She looked though. On the way out, I stopped at terrain changes. Soon though, I just let her guide.

She doesn't yet know to stop at curbs. We had an interesting trip through the town with very large trucks including tractor trailers and motorcycles going by beside us on the street. Cali was not phased at all by all that noise. The road curves around past a bank, past a post office. Soon, we'll visit the bank and post office and maybe the pizza place or sandwich shop. But, for now, we stopped at the crossroad.

It's nerve wracking focusing in on all the things she needs to be aware of and at the same time letting her do what she can with as little help as possible.

We crossed the street and there was a cross-walk to "find". I pointed it out to her. The curb by the cross walk is painted yellow. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of vehicles. As the traffic goes slowly thru this part of town, the sound of cars is low and not that easily discernable. And, we had a small motor bike go by that was very quiet.

Cali waited with me. Soon, the sound was quiet and we crossed. She stayed straight and followed the cross-walk. She did stop at the curb on the other side. Good girl.

At this side walk we turned left to pass a few more shops. There was a sharp dip in the sidewalk for deliveries to a store. We stopped there a long time as I decided where next to cross the street. I decided to go down the hill across a bridge over a rather large stream. On the way I noticed a smiling young high school student coming our way. I closed my eyes. I trusted her.
She glided on by without a look. I didn't even know we'd passed until I opened my eyes again. I thanked the young man and we smiled.

On the bridge Cali slowed noticeably. Caution that tells me. She carefully crossed the bridge and picked up the pace on the other side. There was a good place to cross the road. We turned left and stopped and waited as I listened. Just then a cement truck came around the corner it was very loud.

A motor bike driver stopped to wave us on. Thanks but no thanks as Mona would not see nor should she trust that wave. He went on. When it was quiet again, we crossed.

On the other side we again encountered the bridge. Again she slowed - caution.

After the bridge we pass a firehouse. It's all road surface without a sidewalk for guidance. Cali took aim at where the sidewalk started again and took us straight to it. She targeted a electric pole where the route narrowed sharply. Still enough room for us but worth noting. In front of us,
I noticed a metal ground doorway. The old kind where people load and unload delivering directly into a basement. I knew it would sound hollow and decided to see what Cali would do. She stopped at the metal. Good girl.

Forward took us onto the metal. I asked her to stop before going off the metal. Another person was coming the other way. Cali lifted her head to notice this woman go by. That woman I feel certain wanted to pet Cali but held herself back. Cali did acknowledge the admiration.

What took me by more surprise was that Cali stopped at the next yellow painted curb. I knew it was a cross walk and so did she. I had not planned to cross there but because she noticed it I thought it would be a good reward to cross there.

Again we waited for traffic to be quiet. Across she went. On the other side we turned right to follow our original outbound sidewalk. She thought about targeting the same hydrant that she had on the way out. But, that would have made her cross in front of me. I slid down her lead and told her forward. It was just a flicker of a thought and on she went.

This time there was a truck parked partially on the sidewalk. She targeted it. Hmmmm an interesting concept still about targeting each object only once. Or is it OK to point out that this object is long. So far, I think only once will do. So, I just ask for forward when she targets that same object more than once. Down to the next curb and turn left to go to the bus.
She did not veer directly to the bus. She stayed straight until we were quite close. Then, she targeted the bus. Good girl. I dropped our makeshift guide handle and sent her up the stairs onto the bus for the ride home.

Home I decided that she might as well begin to learn how to go slowly in a guide way down the stairs of the bus. We carefully took each step, waited and clicked. It takes a good deal of hindquarter balance to come down the steps of a bus one step at a time. But, with help she got it. She is very willing to let me help her.

I picked up her harness again and sent her forward wondering what kind of route from the bus she'd take us on. She decided to go straight towards our road. That's her normal route. In the heading straight, though she came across a pole on the ground with a storage box in my way. She stopped - good girl. She targeted the pole, I turned her right and she targeted the box.
All unasked. She made these decisions. We went left around the box, she found our trash.

Technically, that wasn't in our way. I accepted the try anyway. It would give a person some reference of where they were in a tricky situation. She had to pass the horse trailer. She targeted it. I sent her home. She now knows that home is her living space. At least for now.