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, May 5, 2014

Always Training!

"Whenever you're with your animal, you are always training!" so says Alexandra Kurland, pioneer of clicker training in the equine world.

This sounds like a no brainer, however how many times have you gone to "get" your donkey, to halter, pick hooves, put on a blanket, deliver food, lead from one paddock to another, etc. etc. and NOT thought of it as a training opportunity?  Gone about your tasks hurriedly and with your own agenda?

I've seen people go to separate an animal from a herd and with the rudest shoving the others back and dragging the one forward, in order to take the single one to "begin" a training session!

I've done similar things plenty of times in the past but since I have been studying and practicing positive reinforcement  training with such dedication, happily this behaviour (of mine) has been extinguished!

Clicker trainers think of absolutely everything as a training opportunity.  Another great mantra of Alexandra Kurland's is: "The animal doesn't know when it doesn't count, so it always has to count!"

Alex teaches six foundation lessons and from there, everything else is built.  It's an amazingly successful approach to training.  Consistency and repetition are key elements so why not include some of these basics in every interaction with your donkey?

Here's an example of what I mean, broken down into each small step, with the name of behaviour I am training in CAPS.  Last evening, I decided to take Siog out for a walk.  Here's where training begins.

#1:  Call her name and invite to come to me. COME
#2:  Invite her to come through a gate into a small paddock so I can put her halter on. FOLLOW
#3:  Ask her to station her front feet on a mat (MAT WORK) and touch her nose to my hand (TARGET)
#4:  Put on her halter and lead to the gate (LEADING)
#5:  Open the gate and lead her a few steps.  Ask her to Whoa (LEAD & STOP)
#6:  Stand beside me and face forward, (WAIT) then I drop the lead rope under her chin and ask her to stand (GROUND TIE) so I can go back and close the gate (the space is too narrow to turn her around.)
#7:  Walk on (LEADING)

Since Siog is fluent in all these behaviours, I choose to click and treat intermittently.  If I need her focus more, or if I am teaching a new behaviour, I would put her on a high rate of reinforcement, otherwise she might be on what is called a variable rate of reinforcement.

Off we go down the road.  I want her neck to be soft and not pulling away from me.  I also want the lead rope to be soft and not taut, with the snap hanging straight down and a nice "U" shape in the middle of the rope.  In dog training, this is called loose leash walking.  I won't go into how I train this or this will be an awfully long post! 

But you can see that simply going for a walk can turn into an interesting lesson with many training opportunities built in.  During our walk, I may ask my donkey to stop, back up, walk just two steps forward, target my hand, touch something potentially "scary" such as a sign or parked vehicle ... a whole bunch of creative ways of getting from A to B!

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