Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And the answer is.. Sideways!

This evening, I headed outside to play with Guinness with the goal of preparing for the trail competition this weekend. Specific skills that we need to improve include directional backing and sideways - especially over objects.

Over the past few weeks, Guinness has really gotten the hang of moving sideways. We started off in-hand with me cuing him from the side with me facing the same direction as him in a sort of Porcupine game. (About this time I began to put this to a purpose by positioning him to open and close a gate, as a simulation for this task mounted.) Then I moved to the front of him (driving) while blocking his forward motion with my body. Next, I asked him to move straight sideways as I approached him from the side, with his forward motion blocked by a fence. After that came sideways without a fence using my very strong focus and approaching him from the side with a "choo-choo" motion with my arms.

As we progressed, we began to play with this while mounted. We started by briskly walking along a fence and then me asking him to rapidly yield his hindquarters in the direction of travel. This caused him to naturally take a few steps sideways. Next, I donned "prince of wales" spurs (short & blunt) to make my cues clearer as we moved along a fence. Then we tackled opening & closing gates - no problem due to our unmounted practice! (Just another pattern to be learned.)

This evening, I put a rope around his middle and asked him to move toward me a step or two. It took him sorting through all of the possible options before he stumbled upon the answer and was rewarded. His biggest issue with this was wanting to move forward or to turn toward me, but he finally figured it out in both directions.

Next, we moved out of the roundpen and played on-line in the small field with lots of obstacles. I would take him to an object and wait a moment while he anticipated what I would ask him to do (his first idea was almost always to put his foot on it). I tried to mix it up but the correct answer was, 3 out of 4 times, you guessed it - sideways! The thing that kept him on his toes was that I asked for sideways in as many different ways and positions that I could.

This really became a game for him and he was excited that he could successfully figure out the riddles to earn the reward. I could totally see the "wheels" turning in his brain. :-) By the end of the session, his first answer was to offer sideways!

I was hoping to progress into mounted practice this evening, but it felt like too much to ask (plus I was running out of treats). Instead, we moved into the roundpen, leaving the gates open. At liberty, he gave me 3 good laps clockwise! For that he won his entire dinner.

One other thing that we played with today was holding his head down and shaking it. It started out this morning with me realizing from the look on his face that he had something down in his ear. He would shake his head and partially dislodge it, and then I would feel for it and inadvertently push it back into his ear.. I realized that I could trigger the head shaking by putting a couple of drops of water into his other ear (previously suggested by my vet to dislodge a choke). When he shook his head, I clicked & treated. Later, I could cue it by touching his ear. I'll have to figure out a good final cue to morph this into.

Tomorrow, I'll aim to start him with sideways on the ground and to follow up with sideways mounted.


Tina said...

Love this idea - making the answer to all the different puzzles the same. I'm thinking I can use this to get Dixie's backup better. Thanks for sharing!

Some thoughts on the headshaking on cue - be careful with this! Think of all the things you might want to do with his ears/head that you don't want him shaking his head for. And think of all the agony Lisa has gone through with it. Is this something he really needs to know? If he does need it as a choke sure (which is unlikely) you could just use the water to do it, couldn't you?

Naturally Gaited said...

Excellent point, Tina. That is exactly why I've not yet reinforced half-rears and will never reinforce pawing! I'll just let it go.

How is Dixie doing? Any more about the Lyme disease diagnosis? I need to go check your blog. (Unfortunately, I can't seem to a get it to automatically send me anything.)