I have had quite a busy week and just returned from four days away. Got home during a noisy, gusty wind
storm with a bit of rain - quite a shift in the weather from the long stretches of sunny summer days.
Ringo was in a wild mood! He galloped straight to me, ears pinned and teeth showing. Not the most comforting welcome! I stood my ground, then quickly put the electric fence between us and talked quietly, my open hand on his muzzle. He settled a bit but was clearly agitated. Later that evening, I found myself getting impatient with him. I absolutely HATE being threatened and my default reaction is to scold him. This is NOT the clicker trainer's way!
A good clicker trainer would do the following:
1. Stay safe and use protective contact if necessary - this means working with a gate or fence between you and the animal.
2. Go back to basics and work in baby steps - this might mean offering something really familiar, easy and comforting for the animal to do - something he knows well and can be successful at, like touching a target.
3. Keep the donkey feeling positive by working in baby steps and using a high rate of reinforcement.
4. Observe closely to make sure there isn't something else going on, i.e. rule out that the animal might be in pain and is acting out because of it.
5. Teach an opposite behaviour to the one you don't want him to do - for example, if he is coming into your space, teach him to back. The thing I have been working on when Ringo uses his nose or head to bop me, I ask him to gently place his muzzle in my soft open hand. He can't be bopping me and doing that at the same time. So concentrate on the behaviour you want, NOT the stuff you don't want.
6. Ignore the bad stuff, don't get riled and ASK for SOMETHING! This can help the animal refocus.
7. LEAVE and make a cup of tea rather than stay and punish the donkey!
Well ... good advice, eh? I have made a lion's share of mistakes and one of them is not following this sage counsel! Ringo and I have been working through this "mood" of his for the past three days and he is gradually settling again and I am gradually heeding the advice above. That's not to say that I beat him or anything ... but I do scold, sometimes yell (if I think I might get hurt) I say "NO!" sharply and yes, oh yes I have been known to bop him when the going gets rough. Bad stuff, this discipline and my reaction is surely fear based on my part.
So ... living closely with animals does indeed teach one a lot about one's own self and it ain't always pretty. But through the thoughtful and gentle approach of clicker training, I can learn patience and tools for dealing with uncomfortable situations. I'm certain that every harsh word spoken is a harsh word remembered and trust needs to be earned again.