Zebra & Zebu Training, Day 4
When I arrived at the Z's home, I ran into their person and was finally able to ask their names. They hadn't been named yet! Their person informed me that her grandchildren wanted to call the zebra Stripes, so when I told her that this is what I had been calling her, she made Stripes the zebra's official name 😊 Mr. Cute still needs a name though! Something more dignified than Mr. Cute.
For our morning session, I decided to try using just one bucket for Stripes and hand feeding Mr. Cute. This way I could keep their behaviors and reinforcements separate. I needn't have bothered however, as Stripes was keen to start working for her food right away. Love it when that contra freeloading kicks in!
Mr. Cute was starving, or at least that's what he told me when I arrived 😉 Unlike Stripes though, he was quite willing to steal the food directly from my pouch, as opposed to working for it.
Once we had done a little training and Mr. Cute wasn't so desperate for the food, I went back to two buckets, and we were able to maintain a nice little rhythm of behavior/reinforcement going back and forth between the two animals. Mr. Cute was doing very well with touch acceptance, while Stripes was really getting the targeting behavior down.
This was all very exciting for me, as I had not expected to progress so rapidly with Stripes! The first few sessions was really all about just establishing a relationship with her and creating the association between her behavior, the mark, and the food. By this session, however, it was time to start some real training, but first I needed to figure out some sort of protected contact. Stripes was getting just a little to bold for her current state of internal conflict, and the situation was becoming unsafe.
When I went back for our 2nd session, I brought my shorter feeding pipe and used the longer one as a divider between us. Not the best protected contact, but it was certainly better than nothing! I also fed Mr. Cute more food after each behavior so that I would have more time to focus on Stripes.
Stripes was demonstrating some emotions during our interactions that I want to be careful with. The ear pinning and head tossing, along with her occasional bold approaches, are all signs of internal conflict. She wants the food, but is still nervous about me, and probably frustrated by the learning process. I have to be careful not to build these emotions in to the behaviors she is learning. In this session, I tried waiting a few times for her to relax and offer some focus without the ear pinning and head tossing, but my feeling is that it's too soon for her to offer this on her own. The solution to this dilemma is to increase protected contact so that Stripes feels safer in my presence, and/or to ask for less behavior. Until the internal conflict is resolved, Stripes needs a very high rate of reinforcement.
My goals at this point are to teach Stripes 3 different forms of targeting. The first one, that we are working on now, is just a simple nose to target touch. This will be useful for her person to be able to have Stripes come to her, or to have her turn one way or another. The second one will be to have Stripes touch and hold her nose to the target until the mark, and will be taught with the same target stick. This will help to keep Stripes still for certain purposes, like delivering a shot or drawing blood. The third one will be for Stripes to follow a target, and will be taught with a different target stick. Learning to follow the target will help facilitate learning future behaviors, such a leading.