I thought I’d share with you guys some thoughts that have come up while working with McKee and my latest training goal. I’ve been expanding his ability to hear several cues, sometimes given all at once, other times I give him cues while he is in motion.
An example of this is a series of cues that involve walking forward, stopping in front of an object, then waiting for instructions as to what to do with the object.
So it might sound like “Walk-on,” “And ho,” “Wait,” “Bite,” and “Come here.” This looks a bit like a fetching sequence, but I’m giving cues while he is in transition, and I’m asking him to be attentive and listen to the verbal cues even while he is in motion.
Now the fascinating part, for me as a trainer, began happening when I would ask him to “Step-Up” on the item instead of doing a “bite” of the item. What I found out was that all round soft objects were, in HIS mind, to be “bite” items, and all wooden objects were deemed to be “Step-up” types of items.
I hadn’t realized that I had inadvertently created such a clear distinction for him, or I didn’t realize HE had created such a clear distinction for himself! Either way you look at it, I saw the training challenge in front of me. Could I take a “bite” item and help him see that even though it was soft and round, he could “Step-Up” on that item, or at LEAST put a hoof on it.
Conversely, I wanted to see if I could take a piece of wood, traditionally seen by him as a pedestal or stationing item, placed on the ground, and teach him to “Bite” and pick up that item, overriding his conditioned history of how he perceived that item.
So I took a piece of wood, added a hole and a little zip-tie so he could pick it up with his teeth. Voila, instant training challenge. I also took a squishy roundish toy and began to shape him to step on it.