The title of this post should be a mantra. I have been running into difficult situations with Siog lately and am a bit stumped and ... I have to admit ... discouraged by her behaviour. But I am reminded that Siog is telling me what she needs to learn - the challenge for me, is to develop a plan to work through all this.
Siog is an absolutely adorable black donkey, 5 years old and very independent. She was handled a lot as a foal and came here 2 years ago. Curiously, she doesn't like to be handled a lot, either by me or by visitors and I've always allowed her to make the choice. She'll be the one to wander off when the other donkeys are clambering around for scritches and hugs.
She is really smart and loves clicker training. When she became pushy about treats, I put head-down and backing on a really high rate of reinforcement (teach an alternative behaviour) and that is now her default behaviour.
Siog works really well at liberty but hates pressure and becomes resistant. When I take her out for a walk, we'll do a pre-walk warm-up in the paddock before I clip on a lead rope and she does beautifully.
She's keen and excited by the attention. So out on the road we go!
Although she'll walk well much of the time on a lead, she's taken to
stopping or to scooting behind my back, twisting her head around and
pulling. She's also snapped at me a few times lately which is something she does to the other donkeys too and it's scary and
hurts when she makes contact!
When she gets stuck and refuses to move, no amount of pressure or driving her from behind will work.
What I've discovered is that she will respond to the word "come" and an invitation (offered by my outstretched hand) to move forward.
When she stalls on the road, I refocus her by asking her for easy behaviours that she knows. I'm wary of creating a training "loop" - this is where she'll offer a behaviour in order to get rewarded before she does the behaviour I'm asking for. I don't want her to stop, then get to do some hand touching or backing in order to get a few treats before she walks on! So that's a challenge I haven't yet mastered! I think the exercise called 300 Peck Pigeon may help - this is where you click and treat for 1 step, then 2, then 3 and so on, increasing the time and number of steps between clicks.
Siog often has her ears back. I haven't been too concerned about this as Ive seen donkeys concentrate this way. It's not an angry-ears-pinned look, just back as though listening for something coming up behind us. However, I have tried to encourage those ears forward - I've used molding and capturing to try to teach this but so far to no avail.
When I look at the whole "package" that is Siog, I think I need to back up and work on softening, yielding and relationship-building. For some reason, she seems unhappy to me.
I recently read a post on Bookends Farm blog: http://bookendsfarm.blogspot.ca/
She is writing a series of entries about her recent visit to Alexandra Kurland's new Clicker Centre in upstate New York. These entries have really made an impression on me and one in particular, where she describes Alex's technique of "hugging the horse" (which is not quite what you might think) in order to encourage softening and relaxation: http://bookendsfarm.blogspot.ca/2012/08/chapter-2-in-which-i-float-balloons-at.html
I am definitely going to try this with Siog!