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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Monday, July 23, 2012

Operant Conditioning Behaviour Analysis - what I learned in the beta-test course, Part 2

Following on my last post, we were asked to train behaviours using all four techniques of operant conditioning.  I found this interesting and at first, I thought I'd never use molding or luring with the donkeys but then I learned how and where it is appropriate.  And realized that, in fact, I do use these, unwittingly!

Several things were stressed early on:

1. Setting up the environment for success.
This is so important because anytime, you have neglected to do this, your animal may suffer from confusion and/or distractions.  Not only does this interfere with the learning process, but it can create aversive situations which is totally contrary to what you want to achieve, which is a positive situation that encourages success.  I ran into this problem all the time when I had 3 donkeys, or even training the 2 minis together.  Now I take more time to plan where, when and whom I am going to train, what I need to gather before I invite the donkey into the space!

Having said this, I realize though, that anytime time I am with my donkeys, I am in fact "training."  As Alex says "the animal doesn't know when it doesn't count, so it always has to count."

2.  Good trainer position.
This differed from what I learned previously but so important to practice how and where you are standing (what is your own body language saying?) how you hold the clicker and how you feed.  I don't think I can go into too much detail (as this would be course material) but the message really is be consistent and clear.  Alex stresses" feed where you want the animal's head to be" and that is NOT in your space (unless invited) and I would add that the donkey should not be craning her neck towards you to get her reward.  Better with her nose pointing down.

3.  High rate of reinforcement
Although this wasn't specifically talked about, I was reminded again that I tend to ask for too much from the donkey before clicking and treating, when teaching a new behaviour.  Possibly because I am always worrying about their weight!  But it is true that fast, short sessions with a high rate of reinforcement gets results!  When I say "fast" I don't mean that the behaviours have to happen quickly, but if you stay focused and ask for say, 5 head downs in a row, click and treat each one and move on, this is effective.  It also helps to extinguish anything unwanted as the donkey has no time to nudge or anything else she may be tempted to do, usually because of frustration.  Of course this changes as you build duration into a behaviour - you need to gradually add time before clicking and treating.

4.  Clicker versus tongue click.
I had moved away from using a mechanical clicker, preferring instead to make the sound with my tongue.
But now I have gone back to using a clicker, for it's sharp, clear, distinct sound.  Since timing is crucially important (what you click is what you are teaching,)  I find the mechanical clicker is really the best tool.
I have one on a plastic coil that I can wear around my wrist and still have in the palm of my left hand.

That's all I have time for this morning .. more tomorrow!

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