Tuesday, 20 February 2018

I'm Gonna Learn Him

The weather was all over the place last week. Sunday was freezing cold, with a high about -18C. It warmed up on Tuesday to a balmy +3C. Unfortunately this also brought rain, which was left sitting on top of the snow. So any road that has snow on it is now a skating rink, because the temperatures dropped the next day. It started off pretty nice in the morning but the temperature plummeted throughout the day. By the time that I made it out to the barn in the evening it was -17C, with the windchill much colder. Just walking out to catch a horse left no feeling in my thighs due to the cold.

I wasn't up to riding, but had to bring each horse in - one had to be fed, the other needed his hood replaced. So I figured I would do some clicker training in the barn.
Wet, hairy face.

Phantom has done a bunch, and it was just a refresher session for her. Tapping her legs with the whip to have her lift them, then we worked on having her take a step with her hind legs to have them under her more and a bit closer to her front legs.

She loves clicker training and is highly motivated to figure out what I want.

Cisco is not.

At least with this type of work. The goal for the day was to get him to lift a hind leg when it was tapped. I have only tried this once before with him, and got no reaction. This time I was determined to make some progress.
It's too hard to take pictures while holding onto a clicker, a whip, treats, and a horse. So instead I offer you a headless horse pic.

After what felt like 3 or 4 minutes of tapping and getting absolutely no reaction, I decided I would have to spell it out to him. While tapping, I leaned over and squeezed his leg like I do when I want to pick his hooves. Then he got the click and treat. I did this a couple of times, and started to see smoke coming out of his ears - he was thinking. Until he got distracted by something shiny down the barn aisle.

I then progressed to tap tap tap nudge his hip to get him to pick up his foot. A little less direct, but still spelling it out. This seemed to help him start to put the pieces together. Very slowly.

There was some definite progress made, and it got to the point that he would lift his right hind when I tapped more often than not. Not immediately mind you, but within a few taps.
What happened to my head??!?

I debated on whether I should start on the left side or not. I decided that I would, partly because I was curious as to whether what we had done on the right side would cross over to the left. It didn't.

I'm going to do another session within the next couple of days to see how he responds. I haven't figured out how he learns yet - does he need a night to think about it and he'll come out better the second time? Does it take multi-sessions for him to start putting the pieces together? Does he not give a crap about wanting to work with and please his person? (I don't think it's this - he really likes people.)

I'm trying to find the activity that makes it click in his brain and then gives him incentive to try to figure out whatever the new thing is that I introduce him to. Phantom has always been very motivated and engaged. Cisco hasn't shown that yet for this type of work, but has in other work, so I just need to find that one thing that puts it together for him. The next thing I'm going to try is kicking a ball. Phantom loved that one, and I think Cisco will once he figures it out. I just have to figure out where in the arena I can keep an exercise ball so that the dogs can't get at it.


  1. That is interesting that he couldn't figure out how to lift up his foot. Or was unmotivated. Guinness is not super treat motivated so clicker training has not been highly successful for him.

  2. ha i know that feeling of an unmotivated horse.... not sure charlie would be any better at that trick than Cisco!!