This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Watching The Paint Dry..........

Yeah, that's pretty much what clicker training is all about.....watching the paint dry or the grass grow. Ho-hum....at least to the casual observer. To those of involved in the process, it's really exciting to see those little, tiny steps toward success. And sometimes they're so microscopic you think, "Did I just really see that?" Take Jelly and that soccer ball........
So...I bring the soccer ball into the kitchen and place it on the floor in front of Jelly. She glanced at it, walked around it and sat in front of me. I nudged the ball with my foot. Jelly gave it a cursory glance and went on staring at me. No interest whatsoever. I got out my treat-filled fanny pack and suddenly those little beagle eyes lit up like high-beams and her tail started wagging "to beat the band" (my grandmother's expression!). She knew then that she was in for some fun! 
Jelly hadn't yet associated the ball with the treat at that point so I gave her a little help. I nudged the ball with my toe again and when Jelly looked at it, I clicked and treated (C/T).
It took several minutes for her to associate "look at the ball" with getting a treat but once she got it, you could see the wheels start to turn. She looked at me, cocked her head, glanced at the ball, and then looked at me again, clearly asking, "Is that it?" I then added lavish verbal praise. (I tend to be quiet when I'm clicking for a new skill because I don't want to confuse or distract the animal. Occasionally I will add a quiet "good, good.") When "look at the ball/CT" was established, I stopped C/T for looking at the ball and simply waited to see what Jelly would offer once she figured out that just looking wasn't working anymore. She looked at the ball and then at me several times - not receiving a treat - and then stood up and looked at the ball - C/T! She remained standing and looking at the ball. We repeated this loop several times. Because Jelly was clearly enjoying the game and wasn't frustrated by it, I decided to add another criteria - would she go to the ball and put her nose on it? I helped her out a bit by pointing to the ball and saying, "Touch it." As soon as she did, she got a small "jackpot" treat (3 treats instead of 1). She caught onto that right away! I probably could have gone right to "touch it" from the get-go since Jelly has targeted a box before but I thought I'd try starting at the beginning. Anyway, after 10 successful nose touches, I again extended the period between clicks, wondering what other behavior she would offer. She touched the ball with her nose several times and returned to me for the treat. She never gets disappointed when the treat is not offered.....she simply stares at me (and one must have a lot of patience at this juncture! LOL). I smile and wait, hands behind my back, smiling and waiting, smiling and waiting.......She finally went to the ball, touched it and tentatively put a paw on it!! Exciting stuff!! I immediately clicked her and gave her lavish praise and a jackpot. When she had completed 5 successful paw touches (being C/T after each one), I called it quits for the day. I have no idea how long that all took us. I've discovered that when you're first teaching or wanting to shape or capture a behavior, you should take off the watch and just allow things to develop on their own. If I'm pressed for time, I find I WANT IT NOW and that just makes things more difficult so I choose a time during the day when I know I have "all the time it takes."
We're doing more with that soccer ball and I'll fill you in as we go along.


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