Let’s look this week at how clicker training can help every day issues like deworming.
Is your horse easy to deworm or does he run at the sight or smell of the dewormer tube?
Again a lot of where you begin will depend on just how bad your horse is to deworm.
So some data to gather before going in and writing your training plan.
1) Can I walk into the stall with the dewormer and how does he react?
2) Can he sniff the tube?
3) Can I put my hands on his muzzle?
4) Can I put my fingers in his mouth?
Once you collect some information about just where he starts to react re: the dewormer then you will know where to begin. If you can’t touch or put your fingers into his mouth and have him be ok with that without the wormer then there is no point in starting any further with the wormer until you can do that!
So if you can’t touch, hold or manipulate his lips and nose then this is where to start. (Assuming that you can walk into the stall normally without the wormer and not have him run to the back corner..if he is not ok with you coming into the stall then you have more work to do with this before proceeding to the muzzle work!)
Once again you will gather data as you handle his nose and lips. Is he ok with your hands on his nose? Yes? Then click and treat. Is he ok with you opening his lips? Yes click and treat. If not then break this into smaller steps and click and treat each step till he is comfortable.
Next I would review the foundation lesson of targeting. If you present a target will he touch it? Click and treat for this well known behaviour to build his confidence that he is doing the correct thing. Try several different targets and mix them up. Once he is solid with this lesson I would introduce the dewormer tube. Here again you will need to monitor his reactions carefully.
If you get a really big reaction to the dewormer tube you will once again have to break down the steps even further. Try to think of his fear of the tube like a person’s fear of say spiders. If I force you to touch the spider your fear will not in all likelihood get any less and you will not willing go up and touch a spider but if you can gradually feel ok in the mere presence of the spider and are not made to touch it eventually your fear may get less all depending on how things are handled.
Horses are normally curious so if he is really afraid of the tube see if he will even look in the direction of the tube. Click and treat for that. Then go back to targeting his safe targets to let him feel good again, then see if you can hold the tube up far away from him and have him even look at it. I might have washed out the old tube and filled it with something that smells better like apple sauce to help him along a bit here too.
If you have a solid relationship that was built through the foundation clicker lessons your horse should be more willing to try things knowing there will be no punishment for a wrong answer. You might not get the whole behaviour that you want right away but a small ‘step’ in the right direction is enough to get you there. If you get a small improvement with this session quit and come back and try again later. The sessions should be short and positive, and spaced out to allow for process time for both of you. If the session was really bad that is ok too. You just need to rethink how to try it the next time. Deworming is not usually something that HAS to be done immediately. You have the time to work on the behaviour and make it a pleasant experience.
So this week perhaps go and gather data on how your horse reacts. Play with a bit of the behaviours you need in place before you present the wormer and get those solid. Next week I’ll have some video to show you a couple different ways you can shape this behaviour.
I want to share a video link with you this week. It demonstrates punishment versus reward training in dogs using Smarties and a shock collar on humans.
What I want you to focus on is the emotions of the two learners as that is what I think is the interesting part here. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.