Clicker Diary – Winter 2014

May 8th – SUCCESS! – Farrier and Vet Visit
And … it all worked! Check out May 8th on the blog posts page. We managed the farrier work – no fuss. Then one week later we managed three shots with the vet. And neither of those led to a relapse of hiding from myself or others. In fact – I think both experiences gave Paco that much more confidence that he can trust ‘us’ and knows he will be given an option to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He is cuddlier than ever and so relaxed. Hurray! Thank you to Cynthia Minden (The Donkey Dame) for giving me the nudge to try clicker training as a way to help both Paco and I over this ‘fear’ hurdle.

April 6th – Coming Up to “Target” Date
We are eight days away from the farrier visit. Things have been going VERY well. Paco (and the jennies all!) are relaxed with haltering, tying and lifting their hooves with me. I’m so glad that Cynthia Minden (Dancing Donkey) wrote to me to suggest trying clicker training. It has been wonderful to make so much progress and to develop so much trust between me and all four of our donkeys. The trust has always been there – as long as I didn’t ‘ask’ for anything. Well – actually – I think it is more like the clicker training has given me a language that I can share with them so they know what I’m asking.

I’m currently working on a plan to help Paco accept the sedative gel from a syringe. Our first go led to ‘Pug’ eyes and a definite NO on his part. Successive tries with peanut butter have worked great! I first introduced him to the smell and flavour of peanut butter on my fingers. Good thing he is so gentle. Then I put some on the outside of a syringe. By the third session he was no longer balking at the sight of the syringe and in fact was ready to gobble it up. From Laurie Higgins of ‘The Clicker Chronicles’ I’m learning more about how to use this the day I need him to also take the sedative. She explains why giving the sedative FIRST and then the peanut butter might work best. The tasty peanut butter makes the sedative less of an issue because the enjoyable taste is the most recent, lasting one. She also makes a good point about training using something the same consistency and texture as the sedative – perhaps even mixing the two… I think though that my plan for this first attempt is to give the sedative first then the delicious peanut butter.

We’ve settled into a routine of my working with Paco first thing in the morning. The others have their carrot ‘breakfast’ in bowls while he gets his from me in clicker training games. We have also turned both ‘barns’ into ‘stalls’ by creating small gates/doors that swing closed at about donkey chest level. This means that Darby and Rosie each are separated while they have their carrots – so no raids on each others’ dishes. It also means that Bella is on the same side of the paddock as Paco and I. That has allowed me to include her in our ‘walk outs’ into the yard. (At this point she has only ventured a very short distance beyond the paddock fence … she is cautious.)

In the afternoons I fill up the hay bins and then call the jennies, one at a time, to the Bully Barn stall for their training sessions. Having full hay bins means they are distracted and don’t all spend the time mooning over the stall gate. For Rosie especially, this has been important. She gets very concerned about the possibility of Darby coming in to raid her treats. Rosie is also best to go first. She is more relaxed then.

Today, for the first time, I tied each donkey to the hitching loop at the far end of the stall. Then when I began to work with their hooves they were not able to move away. I know this is what we’ll be trying when the farrier comes and I’d rather it not be new then. It worked well. All three jennies responded well to my cues to move closer to the wall when the lead rope became taut. I think my next step is to see if I can use the hoof pick to clean their hooves while they are tied … without stressing them. 

March 16th – Looking Back
So … I’ve become much more relaxed about posting ‘every’ session with Paco (and the others). I’ve started to look at clicker training as a technique to use in all kinds of situations when I need to find a way to ‘explain’ something to one of the donkeys. A few anecdotes from the last few weeks –
Using an ‘Exemplar’ Donkey – I watched a video clip that showed one way to help a donkey overcome an obstacle in learning was to work with them in pairs. One attempt at this was working with Paco and Bella (biggest and the littlest). I was introducing the halter to both of them (Paco … again …). It was funny to see the rivalry that developed as Bella had no reservations about putting her face into the halter … and Paco did. But then the race for a carrot ‘cookie’ won out – and sure enough – there was Paco – racing to get his face into the halter first. My second attempt – not so great. Rosie is generally the easiest of the four for me to work with when cleaning their hooves. However I learned that it depends on what she was doing first. When I tried to use her to show Paco that my working on hooves wasn’t anything for him to be concerned about I carelessly looked up at him and Rosie got distracted – and WHAM – ouch! I got a very good kick in the wrist. I stood up and seeing stars in my eyes thought we’d really blown it now. How was I going to manage with a broken wrist? Not to fear – the pain went away and my wrist still worked. I did, however, change my mind about pushing Paco further about his hooves at this time. I have a farrier and vet appointment looming large in April that I’m aiming for.

I switched my focus with Paco from feet to haltering. We’ve come along a good way – today he put his face into the nose loop. I’m not pushing it – I am taking him in small steps to where he will ‘mug me’ for the halter. I think we should be able to put one on and take it off again by the time we get to the appointment. I’m aiming to work on using a rope to lift his hooves with him haltered and tied to the Bully Barn wall. I’m worried that the tying (and perhaps sedating) that will need to happen on ‘farrier day’ will undo months of work … I’ve got one more plan up my sleeve. I’m hoping to introduce a syringe with some apple sauce in it into our sessions. If I could use the ‘by mouth’ sedation route then there would be less ‘force’ required for his hoof trimming. Here’s hoping!

March 4th – Paco’s Feet
I think I’d better stop listing these sessions by number! I will be doing LOTS of this work with all four donkeys. Today I continued with Paco. Yesterday he let me hold each of his front hooves for a very short time. It made him quite nervous. I backed us up to some of the ‘games’ he feels very confident about – like targeting. Then today I could tell he was getting nervous at the prospect of my holding his hooves again … So instead I worked on having my shoulder and body in the position I’ll need it in to work on his hooves. He was able to let me lean on his chest and reach down to touch his knee – and then his hoof. I think one of the difficulties for him is that his left front hoof is so long that it is awkward for him to stand on … and he needs more chances to figure out how to balance when his front left hoof is up. I need to review the DVD on overcoming fear to polish my technique and ideas for this stage. Ede mentioned that she has really noticed how much calmer Paco is everywhere – in the barn, in the paddock, even in the field. He approaches her and lets her pat him.

Sessions Fourteen – Fifteen – Feb. 26th – 27th
Hurray! Paco lifted his front hooves for me today! This is a great learning experience for me too! Small steps – steady on – day by day. He likes when I mix in ‘touch’ games – either with the pylon or the baton. Perhaps we can mix in the halter soon too. Just for touching at first. So at this point our routine is: touching target games, ‘Can I touch you‘ series (back and knee and hooves), AND ‘up’ where he lifts his hooves. Keep your fingers crossed. I am daring to let myself picture him getting his hooves done (without scary sedatives) this spring.

Sessions Ten – Thirteen – Feb. 20th – 24th
We’re making good progress! This morning I brought the pylon and the baton back out to give Paco a bit of variety. Our goal remains – having him allow me to touch his hooves without backing up or flinching. We have a good understanding about my touching his back – approaching from either side. AND today he let Edie do that as well. That is a major accomplishment! In today’s session I touched both his front hooves. Then later on while we were out and about cleaning up the paddock he let me go all the way through our ‘routine’ – back, chest, knees and hooves. The girls have stopped mugging me for treats which allows me to work surreptitiously with Paco throughout the day.  Clicker training has certainly allowed me to better communicate with him.

Session Nine – Feb. 18th
Another great session with just Paco and I in the Bully Barn. This week I am just going to reinforce the cue ‘touch’ and work on increasing his comfort zones when letting me touch him. This is all the more encouraging as we’re doing our work ‘in’ the barn. Up to this point he would have run out of the barn if I had made a motion to touch his legs or feet. Steady on!

Session Eight – Feb. 17th
Aha! Got thinking … why did you gravitate to clicker training – for PACO! So why are you trying to train everyone? Especially when the girls mostly have the knack of lifting their hooves and letting me or the farrier work with them?! Aha! This morning when I took out everyone’s bowl of ‘carrot breakfast’ I led the girls into the Condo side of the paddock. They happily munched away while Paco and I worked in the Bully Barn (out of sight). Oh – SO much better! 8)
1. Continue target work in the barn;
2. Stand beside him while I stroke his back;
3. Touch him – chest –> knee.
Target work went well. Still can lose track of the target if I move it. Did a great job of coming into the barn and staying there to touch the target. Consistently let me reach for his chest and then stroke down to his knee once he knew that was what I was asking for. Need to think of what ‘cue’ I’ll use for this. In the meantime I’ll just reinforce the behaviour. (Later, in the front field, I was able to sneak a stroke and reward in without being noticed by the girls.) I was really pleased with the last skill we worked today – my standing up beside him and stroking his back. I did this after the ‘knee’ section as I hoped he would transfer the idea. It seemed to work well. This was a much ‘saner’ workout – with just Paco! I then had lots of time to also rake up the paddock and pasture. Plus – a bonus was that as we worked Ede was puttering around the paddock. It was a good experience for him to be relaxed with me in the barn knowing that there was someone else out and about.

Sessions Six & Seven – Saturday & Sunday, Feb. 15th/16th
1. Reinforce ‘touch’ cue;
2. Reinforce polite receiving of treats;
3. Check on solid understanding of ‘touch’ with pylon.
Paco – has a solid understanding of touching the pylon – I find it interesting when he ‘shows me’ that he doesn’t understand or is nervous by walking away – comes back to try and works best if I back us up a step – finished on Sunday in the barn with him touching the pylon while I crouched beside him – he was clearly and purposefully touching the pylon – NS – keep working with the pylon to position him beside me – will give me a better vantage to touch his flanks and his legs … keep reading to be able to be deliberate about breaking down the steps needed for me to touch his feet and eventually work on them
Darby – clearly has idea of a target AND command ‘touch’ – she is able to locate a pylon when I toss it around in the paddock – worked on being more patient and polite when receiving treats – when she is confused by a  new step she reverts to standing right beside me looking ahead – the second skill I was working on – how do I more clearly differentiate those two cues … ‘touch’ … and ‘wait’ … maybe the word ‘wait’ will be a good one? for stand quietly beside me – I feel that Darby is so quick and she is catching on more quickly than I am – NS – I need to think about what her end behaviour is that I’m working toward – same as Paco? Standing for work on her feet? She is much larger and heavier than our last farrier visit… Would be a good / useful project.
Rosie – had a better session today in the Condo. When she is out of sight of the other three she is much calmer. Worked on receiving treats more politely. She has a tendancy to snap or get frustrated and ‘attack’ me to get her ‘just rewards’. She too has the concept of a target and some understanding of the cue ‘touch’. She was able to move around with the pylon in the paddock – but distractions make her lose sight of the idea of tracking the target and then touching it. NS – keep working on having the target separate from ‘me’ and having her go to it – also work out the steps I’ll be doing to have her trained to easily work with the farrier
Bella – worked in the Bully Barn – she has the idea of a target – is able to keep the pylon in mind as long as it is in front of her – keep working on the target and reinforce the cue ‘touch’ – also worth working on having her raise her hooves

Session Five – Fri. Feb 14th
Today’s Goals:
1. Reinforce ‘touch’ cue;
2. Reinforce polite receiving of treats – Darbie and Rosie especially;
3. Transfer target concept to pylon.
Paco – AGAIN – progress! 8)
Switched easily to pylon as target. I moved around the paddock and he was able to follow and connected with the target left, right and down. We moved into the Bully Barn again. Once he was going to have to come ‘all the way into’ the barn he left and stood out by the fence. Clearly telling me he was nervous about doing that. We started at the door again and he came all the way in. I worked him down low in the barn. I also stood to the side as well as at the far wall. I let him join the end of Darby’s session. At one point when I was tossing the pylon around the paddock for her to ‘fetch’ (well … touch at this point) Paco joined in. I clicked him for the times he got to the target as well. NS – continue with barn work – even though we’ll likely end up then moving down to the lower field to be out of reach/site of the girls. Work on tossing the pylon and having him go to touch it.
Darby – very agitated today. Although I began with her she was so excited by the time we got into the Condo paddock that she was hyper for the target and the treats. She calmed down as we worked. She transferred easily to the pylon and we moved from ‘touch’ with me holding the pylon or setting it down to tossing it and then walking to it. **When trying to get Rosie into the Condo paddock Darby became very aggressive – running and kicking. I need to find a way to have her do something while the next member gets their lesson … NS – taking turns … train others out of site to decrease her frustration and jealousy … continue with pylon as target – can we get to having her pick it up and hand it to me? – check again on polite receiving of treats – reinforce cue ‘touch’
Rosie – third today – she could hardly manage it at all – very distracted by the others – ears back – constantly checking to make sure that Darby wasn’t going to get through the gate and get her treats (she is in heat – full moon – so that may have had something to do with her mood) – great job transferring target to the pylon – difficulty with moving to it if it was to the side (but again, she was distracted when ever she had to move in a way that allowed her to notice Darby on the other side of the fence …) – too aggressive over getting her treats NS – reinforce polite receiving of treats – continue to work with the pylon – mix into the session the hand held target as well – work with the target on the ground – reinforce use of cue ‘touch’ 
Bella Sky – worked in isolation in the Bully Barn – good to be out of the sight of the others – transferred target to the pylon – she easily worked with it sitting on the ground (mind you – that is still about head level for her at this point!) NS – continue with pylon – move it side to side – mix in use of the baton target as well – reinforce cue ‘touch’

Session Four – Wed. Feb 12th
Today’s Goals:
1. Be smoother in delivering treat reward from my pocket (ME);
2. Reinforce polite receiving of treats – Darby and Rosie especially;
3. Check ‘target’ concept on left and right and down – PDR
Paco – LOTS of progress. Today he was able to touch the target on both his left and his right as well as down. I moved around the paddock and when I stopped he would come to the target. The biggest moment for us though – he followed me INTO the Bully Barn! (Up to this point he would begrudgingly/cautiously stay in the Bully Barn if I came in while he was already there … but NOT follow me in. He is very cautious about being trapped in the barn with a person … or perhaps it seems like trailoring?) I worked with him slowly – first with just his front hooves in the barn while he was touching the target. Then with all four hooves in – and finally well back into the barn. *At this point he turned around – walked out – checked to make sure no one else was there (like a vet? or a farrier?) and then came all the way in and relaxed to ‘play’ the game. I notice that he is ALWAYS polite about receiving his treats. He always waits patiently and takes them without gobbling or mugging my pockets. I FELT GREAT TODAY with him!
Darby – As usual Darby was first through the gate. She was right ‘on target’ from the very get go. So I moved us into the Condo. (I received an email from Sue Gibson with some great advice today about making sure Darby knows to keep ‘out of my space’ when I’m working with treats – or any time …) Working in the Condo first I was able to use slight pressure on her chest to back her up. Then I would set the target. This worked well. When she started to ‘mug’ my pockets I then worked with another lesson I watched of Alexandra Kurland’s about training ‘patience’. I would stand with my arms crossed until she stopped mugging me and moved her head to look straight ahead (I was standing beside her). Then I would click – and take out a treat – and only give it to her when she was calmly WAITING. She catches on quickly. I will keep reinforcing this lesson.
Rosie – Rosie was ready to go again today. She was right on target from the start. We moved into the Condo and then I also moved around the paddock with her. She can track the target and I began to use the cue ‘touch’ with her. We did a short session similar to Darby’s above in working on patience – waiting politely for her treat. Rosie is a quick study and so eager to please.
Bella Sky – When I came out to the paddock I found Bella rousing from a deep sleep. She noticed I had my ‘learning vest’ on and stumbled out of the barn still trying to keep her eyes open! I had a good chuckle. We took our time (as the others were down in the front field and hadn’t noticed me). She had the target on her right and down. I didn’t move around the paddock at all – just worked with her in the Bully Barn.
OVERALL – I was feeling very happy with today’s session. I am seeing progress – in just four days. MORE PROGRESS IN FOUR DAYS than I had all last summer trying to work with Paco … He, more than the girls, needs this process as a means to develop something for him to attend to as a distraction when he is afraid.

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