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.

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