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Friday, August 8, 2014

Leading & How I use Pressure & Release of Pressure

Being able to lead a donkey is, of course, simply one of the essential things that both you and your donkey need to learn.  But, having said this, even a well trained donkey may decide he or she is simply not up to the task!

There are various reasons from what the donkeys tell me, such as: "I don't feel like going anywhere just now;" It's too close to when you might feed me;"  "I'm feeling particularly attached to my herd;" "You want me to walk UP hill?" "Okay I'll come but we're going to eat grass, right?" ... just to name a few.

This evening I headed out with Heather and she inspired me to write this post.  She was keen to go ... at least for the first few yards, then she stopped and it was stop and go to the end of the driveway and then stop and go partway down the road until finally, (phew!)  she decided she was up for it!  Had I not cajoled her at the start, we wouldn't have gone at all.  If I didn't have some clicker training skills in my toolbox, I might have gotten impatient and frustrated with her, which wouldn't have helped either one of us.

So here's what I do.  After putting on a halter and lead rope, I invite my donkey to "walk on."  I do this by facing forward, standing at the donkey's shoulder and extending my left hand forward which is my cue for "walk on."  Invite is a key word here, as this is a partnership and I ask instead of tell.

IF my donkey doesn't step forward, I take my left hand, gently slide that hand down the lead rope towards the snap and apply firm but still gentle, steady pressure.  Make sure, you aren't pulling the donkey's head sideways towards you but just forward and I keep the lead rope fairly short.  Now I just wait her out.

I don't escalate pressure by pulling harder or raising my voice.  I do have one donkey who is trained to drive and she is used to responding to a small tap on her rump - but the others don't have driving experience so I don't do this with them.

Pressure creates a desire for change and as soon as I feel the slightest movement forward - a lean or  shift in weight, I immediately release all pressure on the lead rope.  This is so important that I have underlined the key bits!  It's also important that you don't release the pressure before that weight shift - i.e. don't pull and release, pull and release if the donkey hasn't shown the slightest inclination to move!

If you practice clicker training as I do, click and reinforce the forward movement immediately but if you don't work this way, then the release of pressure also acts as a reinforcement or reward.  Timing is critical - you really must release that pressure on the lead rope immediately as the donkey moves - and if you are consistent and your timing is good, very soon she'll understand.

My goal is to walk at a brisk pace at the donkey's shoulder (you don't want to creep forward and block her vision,) which by the way is peripheral.  Sometimes, I find that my donkey is happier following me and this is especially useful on a narrow trail or for some reason the donkey needs the security or confidence of being in the rear, so I'll take either position.  I have one donkey though that will yank me over to the grass if she is behind me - "aha!" she thinks, "my leader can't see me, I think we'll go this way!"

I want to walk with a loose lead, the snap hanging straight down and the belly of the rope forming a "U" shape between me and the donkey. And I want my donkey's neck and head to be soft and either facing forward or slightly towards me but not to the right.  If you lose control of a donkey's head because she is pulling to the right, she can get away from you or you end up in a tug of war.  I just HATE pulling and yanking on my donkey's head so I train for the correct head position using clicker training to reinforce baby steps towards what I am looking for.  I also reinforce for ears forward - even one ear!  By doing this, I am reinforcing attitude as well as behaviour.

Last night after Heather decided a walk was a good thing, we had a great time!  I took her down to the beach and she plowed right through the deep beach stones to the water's edge.  We jogged a bit along the road too and investigated some new things to touch.  All in all a lovely evening stroll for both of us!

Oh and it's good to practice leading from both sides of the donkey too!


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