Zebra & Zebu Training, Day 2
In the morning I decided to just throw a bunch of different stuff at the two and see what appealed to them. Not literally. I didn't actually throw stuff at them! Seriously, what kind of trainer do you think I am? 😳
I brought my target stick, some smaller, shallow buckets, and a couple of stationing mats out to their pen. I figured I might as well introduce them to a bunch of stuff right off to see 1) how they would react to novel objects, and 2) if I could get more reinforceable behaviors from them, like accidentally stepping on a mat. You would be amazed though, at how incredibly dexterous even the largest animals become when they decide something on the ground is akin to hot lava.
Lucky for me, Mr. Cute showed a little bit of curiosity and sniffed the mat, prompting my click/treat. Stripes on the other hand, well, she seemed a little more interested in what was going on, but she certainly tried her best not to show it!
The buckets helped in facilitating delivery of the reinforcement, as I could leave one and have another ready to go for the next behavior. Stripes was still getting a lot of free food, but at least she was hanging around closer and paying more attention to what was going on. Mr. Cute, the little genius, had already mastered nose to hand targeting, and seemed to figure out that sniffing the mat got him a click/treat too. I even started working on a little touch acceptance with him, even if that touch was just the tip of my finger briefly on his face.
With both mats out, it was time to introduce the target stick. I was a little worried about how that was going to go, as humans brandishing sticks is not usually a good thing. I try to move as naturally as possible though, albeit in slooooooooowwww moooooootion. Slow motion works great to keep spooks at a minimum, so nobody seemed too terribly worried about my target stick. I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Cute even decided he should probably try touching it with his nose too!
In the afternoon, I went back with just one bucket and the target stick. Stripes seemed about ready to start actually working for her food. She just needed a little more incentive. I figured not being able to share the bucket with Mr. Cute without offering me something first, would be incentive enough.
The two were lying down resting when I arrived, but got up as soon as I went in the pen and seemed pretty eager to start. I'm not sure why I did it, but I changed directions from how I was before and set the camera up by the entrance to the pen. They seemed to prefer this set up and things moved along fairly quickly. This time I focused my attention on Stripes, marking and reinforcing her for looking at me or approaching, which meant now Mr. Cute was the one getting some free food. I'm not sure he liked that idea too much though. Contra freeloading is strong in that one!
There was kind of a funny thing that I noticed about working with Stripes that is a little different from the horses I've worked with, and even from Mr. Cute. With the horses, there's always either that lightbulb moment when the horse understands that behavior = click = food (or some other reinforcement), or it slowly dawns on them and they try some stuff to see if what they think is happening is really happening, that behavior = click = food. With Stripes, I don't know when she figured it out, but I could tell during our first session in the morning that she already knew what was up. With her, instead of seeing the lightbulb moment, it was more like she just decided to go ahead and offer me a behavior to get the click/food.
So, now I know I need to make some changes! Stripes is smart as a whip, but she's still scared. That makes for some interesting internal conflict. Because I'm not working in protected contact, I don't want her to come to close to me, anticipating her reinforcement, and then realize she's too close for comfort. Her little hooves look dainty enough, but I'm sure they won't seem so dainty when she caves in my chest! My first task is to come up with a safer system of getting behavior and delivering reinforcement.
I also need to arrange our training so that I can get behavior from Mr. Cute seperately and reinforce him close to me. I don't want him to feel left out!
Stay tuned for next week's training!