Deenah and I walked to the mailbox today. "So what," you might ask? Actually this IS a big deal for Deenah! For the longest time she wouldn't leave home at all unless another donkey came too.
Once she learned to follow a target this changed and she was willing to walk out ... a bit.
I have found that there is a hurdle to jump when a donkey thinks that taking a few steps forward earns them a treat. This has come up with everybody at some point. The exercise called 300 Peck Pigeon is a big help at overcoming this ... more on this later.
Anyway back to Deenah - so off we go down the road but then the other thing that can turn her straight for home is hearing the minis call. Somebody brays and she thinks she needs to go home and see what's what. So you see, it's been a challenge to get ALL the way to the mailbox (about 1 km.)
Today though, she soldiered on despite braying minis and infrequent treats. We got to the mailbox and I absentmindedly pulled my jangly set of keys with the boondoggle lizard key chain attached out of my pocket. Poor old Dee nearly left her skin! It hadn't occurred to me that this would scare her!
Quickly into my Tai Chi wall position then into my lunge/ ricochet-her-back position (more on this later too!)
as she was turned and about to head down the road - she stopped and I gently asked her to approach the keys, let her smell them, clicked and rewarded her. Good!
Just a few more steps to the bank of mailboxes and .... ooooh! the clangy bangy sound of the padlock and rusty hinges was just too much! Back into my lunge position and she stopped. I released all pressure on her lead rope immediately and asked her to approach again. After a few tries she stood next to me (although wide-eyed) - we collected the mail and walked home.
Once back within the safety of the paddock, I spent about 10 minutes with Deenah and my set of keys.
I started by letting her smell and touch the keys - good - click and treat. Building it up very slowly, I shook the keys where she could still see them ... she stood still - yeah! Click and treat. Now move the keys to different places, shake, jangle. As long as she stood still, I stopped, clicked and treated her. If she showed any sign of fear, I backed up to something she had already done and was easy, like just smell the keys. Wish I had it on film.
Clicker training works in two ways: 1. The animal learns to trust you (so she develops confidence in her handler) AND 2. the animal learns self confidence (so she develops confidence in herself.)
The process builds a bond and establishes a good relationship based on trust. You are spending time with your animal and teaching her things that will broaden her world - you're probably not going to go out walking or riding with an animal who doesn't trust you or the world around it.
By breaking a lesson into small chunks (and this is tailored to each individual) and then rewarding every "try" for the right "answer," your animal learns that she won't get punished for being scared or resistant or not understanding what you want at first.
Every bit of work that is accomplished with kindness and then rewarded, helps the animal to feel positive and secure, about herself and about her handler. This in turn builds confidence.