Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Operant Conditioning Behaviour Analysis - what I learned in the beta-test course, Part 1

As promised,  I want to write down some highlights from the course I recently finished being a "tester" for.
The Agriculture College of Nova Scotia will soon launch this course  (not sure when) but you can keep an eye on their website:  http://elearn.nsac.ca/  if you are interested.

Seven of us went through the first 4 lessons (I think there will be 10) which required background reading, practicing teaching behaviours using the four techniques of operant conditioning, then video-taping our assignments, writing shaping plans and behaviour charts and posting this to a shared drop box where teachers and other students could see, evaluate and critique our work.

Here is the first installment of what I think the most valuable lessons where for me.  I won't go into definitions, as there are lots of books and web sites where these are explained (see my list on my home page for some wonderful web sites.)

The Four Techniques of Operant Conditioning:

Capturing:  waiting for the animal to "do" something in particular (i.e. ears forward) or simply reinforcing something that they chose to do on their own.

Molding:  "Putting" the animal into a position, reinforcing them for allowing themselves to be put there and then gradually increasing duration.  Hard to do with a donkey, especially at liberty, but easier with lead rope, reins, bits, etc. as you can them mold a position, such as Alex's "pose."   With Siog, I held up a front foot while she was standing up on a pedestal.  The molded position is not something the animal is likely to do by themselves.

Luring: "Donkey follows carrot on a stick" would be the classic example of luring!"  Not a technique of choice, I'd say, for using with equine.  However, there are some useful applications, for example, for teaching a donkey to spin around, you could lure her with a target stick so she follows her nose around to her butt and then moves her feet.  In a pinch, I have been known (seen?) to lure a donkey out of an area
by offering a handful of hay if she will just follow!

Shaping:  Ah - the most useful technique in the toolkit!  Through baby steps, successive approximations, you can fine-tune behaviours to perfection!  For example, teach a donkey to walk on a lead rope and through shaping, you can have her walking with her shoulder just next to your hip, you can "shape" her to soften her neck towards you, etc.  Very useful when combined with pressure and release using soft, soft hands.  This is a combination for positioning the donkey, "asking" for things like lateral flexions, yielding to pressure and changing direction.  You can shape all kinds of agility behaviours and trick behaviours, as well as basic care needs.

I found it so interesting to choose a behaviour to train and then choose the technique I thought most applicable to working on that behaviour.  There are usually several ways to teach the same thing, so great to have a variety of options to reaching that goal.

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