It’s not just for horses!!

Some time ago I taught a friend of mine some of the basics of clicker training.  Maria has two horses, both of which have been rescued. They are now full-time pets and there are no plans for either to be ridden in the foreseeable future, however Maria wants to ensure that they have the best possible care and that includes having their feet pared regularly.  As with many rescue animals, this was a major issue and Maria wanted a kind way to work with her horses and build trust, hence the clicker training!

Maria was a great pupil and took to clicker training very well indeed!  Some time later, I got a phone call.  She has two dogs, also rescued,…. could she use clicker training with them too?…but, of course!

charlie-300x2651Charlie had come to Maria at approximately 10 years old – not exactly a pup.  He had been abandoned and lived on his own for a year before he decided to move in with Maria one day.  He also had a number of issues.  Maria set out to do a bit of training with Charlie – clicker in hand and in spite of repeatedly being assured that old dogs don’t learn new tricks she taught him to sit and lie down.  Charlie was also a worrier.  He got anxious with certain sounds or actions and his reaction was to growl.  He never followed up his threats with any action however.

Charlie’s worst fear was small children and Maria’s sister and family, including two small children, came to visit.  Charlie growled, a lot, whenever the children were around so Maria got her clicker and some cheese.  Waiting patiently for a hesitation in the growling, Maria clicked and a small child threw a treat to Charlie.  This was repeated and within a short space of time Charlie began to look forward happily (and quietly) to his two small visitors!

Now that Charlie was a friendly dog, the children naturally wanted to rub his back and groom him – both of these were firmly on Charlies hated list and so out came the clicker again.  Charlie now loves being groomed and petted.  He groans with pleasure now when he is brushed which shows it is genuine enjoyment and not just tolerance.!

I was delighted to hear about Charlie.  Firstly I love Maria’s clever use of the clicker to solve what was a reasonably big problem and secondly I was thrilled to see the transformation of Charlie from an animal locked into his own fear to a friendly happy dog!

She now also has eight equine feet that lift beautifully, at a mere suggestion, for handling and trimming!

The wonder of clicker training!!

Summer continues…..

Misty comes for a paddle

Misty comes for a paddle

This time it was Misty’s turn for a paddle on the beach…. We’re very lucky in where we live in that the beach beside us is shingly and rocky to mid-tide but sandy at very low tides which makes for a wonderful playground for horses. photo 3 Because there are so many glorious sandy beaches near us in Kerry, only local people use our beach and so I can safely play with my horses at liberty!

So Misty tried to drench me with splashes (and succeeded)

Misty decides that I'm not wet enough already!

Misty decides that I’m not wet enough already!

Back in the arena, Max enjoyed a shower!photo 1

 

Clinic with Alexandra Kurland: Misty

Misty is now a mature 20 years old.  She has been in our family since she was a 2 year-old and has taught several people to ride  (including me and my three, now grown-up, children, as well as Marte’s daughter and son).  She’s spent the last few years mostly in Marte’s, having a pretty easy life!

Michaela hugs Misty with a 'move away' feel

Michaela hugs Misty with a ‘move away’ feel

Misty does know about mats and standing (being a cob/irish draft) is one of the things she does best!  So mats can be used to build patience but also to build enthusiasm and movement.  Michaela worked with Misty and multiple mats.  These mats were scattered pretty randomly around the top half of the arena.  Misty was perfectly happy to go and stand on any mat!  Alex wanted her to move off with a proper bend and flexibility in her body so to get this MIchaela hugged her! This was a hug with a feel of movement in a direction away from Michaela.  When Misty adjusted her balance..Click and Treat (CT).

Michaela moves into the space to treat

Michaela moves into the space to treat

Michaela then moved into the space that was opened up by Misty’s change of balance as she reached to give her a treat.  The hugs were repeated until Misty was bent in the direction of the next mat, when Michaela picked up the lead and moved off with her.  The amount of bend needed depended on the location of the next mat and can be made more or less by the choice of mat to move to.  Initially they chose mats that were easy to reach with a little bend but as Misty softened and became more flexible, Michaela (and the audience) could pick mats that required more bend to reach.

A hug towards Michaela!

A hug towards Michaela!

As well as moving away from hugs, Michaela also asked Misty to move towards her with a hug.  As Misty shifted her balance, Michaela moved back to allow Misty to bend more towards her.

 

In this case feeding is back further as Michael encourages Misty to keep the bend..

Misty gets her CT

Misty gets her CT

In all of the pictures where Misty is on the mat, the lead rope has been thrown casually over her back.  This then becomes a cue to stand and wait.

In the next sequence of pictures, Michaela sets up the turn towards her with a couple of hugs and then lifts the rope off Misty’s back as they are ready to move onto the next mat.

Setting up the bend

Setting up the bend

Improving the bend

Improving the bend

Ready to move off

Ready to move off

Starting leg flexions

Starting leg flexions

To make the mat an even better place to be, we can add in other requests and put them on a high rate of reinforcement.  During this clinic we used leg flexions in order to achieve this…. starting with the front feet.

Here Misty is barely lifting a front foot but as the session progressed she lifted it higher. As ever, successive approximations were used so for the initial try, CT, but with each ask, a little more is required.  As she lifted higher Michaela could then support her foot by just holding the tip of her toe and hold her other hand up as a target for Misty’s knee.

Misty targets Michaela's hand with her knee

Misty targets Michaela’s hand with her knee

Over the course of the clinic this improved hugely.  Initially there was a lot of wiggling of her leg, but Misty learned to find the target and hold her knee there. Gradually Michaela changed her cue so that she could ask for the lift from touching the shoulder…This is needed to be able to transfer to asking under saddle.

 

 

The gallery below shows hind foot lifts….Click on a picture to enlarge it.

And so on to some ridden work:

A huge benefit of this clinic for Misty was that she learned to move very smartly from one mat to the next with huge enthusiasm.  As she has been ridden primarily for the past three years by Marte’s now 5 year-old daughter, she has really only been pottering!!  Her nature is that shes a quiet slow-moving cob….ideal for giving confidence to young children.  In her earlier years she was an excellent show-jumper and so it was great to see her move quickly again and clearly loving it..

Another advantage is that at 20 years of age she now has a level of arthritis, so the leg lifts and flexions are a great way for Misty to build strength and keep her active.

As ever, when watching the clinic, I’m not very focused on taking photos so they’re not always the best or even very good moments that are shown here.

And finally…..I just love this picture of Michaela and Misty…even from this angle you can see that they are both focused on each other.

 

Michaela and Misty focus on each other!

Michaela and Misty focus on each other!