Why do I write?

I’ve always enjoyed writing.

To get those thoughts down on paper, before they’ve flown away, out of my mind.

To return to them, remember them and gain inspiration from them.

To challenge my perception, develop, and grow.

To explore possibilities.

Now I write with an audience in mind.

Can I give others inspiration?

Change their perceptions?

Help them explore new possibilities?

Writing is to share, to learn, to teach, to help each other.

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Busy Times

Lots of things on the go at the moment, and not enough time for everything.

I have several writing projects on the go, course development, work with clients and their horses and dogs, and of course training my own horses and new puppy Wolfie.

Today I’ve been out to see a prospective venue for hosting my new courses for horses and their owners. What a lovely venue Hallsannery Farmhouse in Bideford, Devon is. This ticks all the boxes for my needs, I’m looking forward to hosting events there. The first is to be a 3 day foundation course in free will teaching and positive reinforcement methods.

Training for Charlie and Star has taken a back seat whilst I spend time with Wolfie. With less time spent on training, Star has decided that she should show me how to do it! So I get a lovely demonstration of exercises from her as she reminds me that I should be asking for them! Charlie stands by the exercise yard looking hopeful. It’s clear they want to do more training than they are currently getting. This is one of the many benefits of working with positive reinforcement, they ask to learn and train.

Training

Wolfie is 20 weeks old today and needs lots of attention and guidance at the moment, which is why I’m doing less training with Charlie and Star. He is doing really well, and with the same methods he already has a good amount of self awareness and is able to interrupt himself when in the grip of emotions – well, not all the time yet – he is still a puppy! His hormones have also just kicked in, so his first teenage phase is under way, a time that can be very challenging for owners.

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I’m also busy with the final tasks before my book A Tale of Two Horses, is finished and ready to go to the printers. Final edit done, we’re now on layout, last amendments and indexing. It details Charlie and Star’s first year with me and first experiences of positive reinforcement methods, and I’m really excited to see my manuscript in print.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 19th July 2015

As you can see by the date, I’m a bit behind with this diary.

I’ve been working on the final edit of my book, A Tale of Two Horses, writing articles for magazines, and we’ve recently bought a new puppy, who seems to be taking up all my time!

Following on from our short outing beyond the safety of the yard, I went through the usual routine in the exercise yard. Then I put Charlie’s lead collar on attached a lead rope and walked around. As expected Charlie was perfectly comfortable with this.

We walked over to the gate, Star watching us. A touch of anxiety in her body language I think. Charlie and I walked to the gate, turned around and I took his headcollar off. I did a couple of exercises with Star, then fetched her headcollar. Put it on no problem, she’s quite happy with that. Her problem comes when you ask something of her when she is not familiar with it. She simply cannot cope with that. So, I attached the lead rope and just asked for some left and right targeting. She did that fine. Then I asked if she could do a right turn. She looked anxious, and put her head up in the air. That’s her way of telling me she can’t cope, so I followed her lead and raised my arm so there was no tension on the lead rope. Tension would ensure she got even more anxious. Without any pressure on the lead rope, or from me trying to get her to do something, her head came back down, and she started to take a step for the right turn. Click and reward. More than I expected, and a great result. At that point I finished things. Always good to stop on a high, and I want to make sure that she has no negative emotional reaction to this work, ensuring that this is normal, routine, and eventually, when we do go out, a pleasurable experience.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 14th June 2015

Following on from last weeks diary post, the upshot of all that galloping around after moving to the summer field is to lie down and relax. Charlie and Star have been intensely studying relaxation, and I can report that they do not seem to have moved for several days!

I expect to get back to some training next week, hopeful that they will have finished their research into relaxation, which is the best part of the field, and the best position to lie in!

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Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 8th June 2015

Well, there has not been much training going on recently, other commitments have kept me busy these last few weeks. Also, we have just picked up a 9 week old puppy, so I don’t expect to have much spare time for the next few weeks.

It’s a good time to take a break from training anyway, as we have just moved Charlie and Star from their winter paddock to their summer paddock. This results in great excitement, and no motivation to come down to the exercise yard for several days! So, instead of a training diary, here’s a short video of Charlie and Star enjoying themselves galloping around the summer paddock.

Positive Reinforcement – What’s it all about?

Simply put, positive reinforcement means;

Adding something the animal will work for to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behaviour.

It looks fairly straight forward, what’s the big deal?

Every being has a motivational system, so why would you not tap into that and make life easy for yourself? You can make training difficult if you like, but why would you, when there is a much more effective and easily understood way. The natural motivations for food, comfort, play and affection are already in place in the animals, you don’t need to teach them. I know that my dog will come to me if I have a bit of sausage in my hand. I know my horse will follow me if I have a carrot in my hand. This is easy. It uses built-in behaviours and emotional drives to great effect. And crucially? It is all positive reinforcement. Which means the dog or horse is very likely to want to do it again.

When you think about the various training methods and what to use, think of these sayings;

Don’t fix something if it isn’t broken.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Keeping things simple, straightforward and making the most of things that are already in place can be more effective than trying to invent it all yourself, and makes life easier.

It doesn’t make any sense to use aversion and force, as you have to teach these things. Yes, I know animals also have motivational systems for avoidance, but not as humans apply it. That is learned the hard way by the horse, through repetitive means until the horse complies. To make matters worse, it is not clear to the horse what the correct response should be, until he happens to stumble onto it. It is all very ambiguous, inefficient, and ethically wrong.

Give your horse an enjoyable motivation to do what is being taught and he will learn quickly. Not only that, what he has learnt will be reliable, and transferable to many other situations. This is very different to getting him to do something by giving him the motivation to avoid something else. This is also transferable to different situations, but who wants a horse that is conditioned to avoidance? Horses are quite good at this without any additional reinforcement from us! If this is his default strategy, this is what he will do in any new situation that he finds he doesn’t want to be in, and that makes it very hard for you to achieve a different response and outcome.

So what will motivate a horse to do something, rather than avoid something?

What will motivate a dog to do something, rather than avoid something?

Every horse or dog may have different likes and dislikes, so what have you found that works? Please leave a comment, I’ll discuss this in the next post.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 10th May

Monday

Today we practised with distractions. When out and about their behaviour needs to be reliable, and I need to know what their reaction to various interesting or scary things is. It’s a busy morning, and people, horses, cars and tractors are about. Quite unusual, as we live in a very quiet area and nothing much happens. We practice ‘ready’, ‘look up’, ‘lets go’ when there is a distraction, adding in other exercises once their attention is back on me.

Wednesday

Charlie and Star are doing really well. Star was really interested today, and I worked with her most of the time. Charlie decided that he didn’t want to play and spent most of his time eating the hedgerow! No problem, it’s quite a straightforward matter to build up length of attentiveness, whereas if I try to get him to do more than he is able he is not going to enjoy it, and will be more reluctant the next time.

Thursday

Charlie has decided that he doesn’t want to miss out on training games today! He’s happily following me around like a shadow. I do a little more with him and leave him eating grass to work with Star. She’s doing well, and we’re back to balancing movements. I often talk out loud to myself, and I was deciding what to do next, when I said, ‘Right’. Star immediately turned right! Clever girl, she was listening to me when I wasn’t talking to her.

Saturday

A busy weekend for us, so not much training time. I did find time to just be with them, and give them a nice brush, which as usual results in a good roll in the grass. I also now have Chilli the cat asking to play. She tears around the exercise yard when we are out there, playing with anything she can find. Once I finish with Charlie and Star, Chilli runs into the barn ready to ambush me! She’s not ambushed Charlie and Star yet, but it’s only a matter of time..