Clicker training - sensitive muzzle!

Iron Maiden

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Sep 14, 2006
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Mrs P is completely phobic of being touched around her mouth, I have no idea why - she was like it when I bought her. I can only assume that she's had some sort of trauma, twitching horror maybe? She seem to accept being tacked up OK these days but things like oral wormers are a nightmare. She has recently had a rough time with a vet visit that turned into a battle, and YO wormed her orally a couple of days ago and it sounds like that turned into all out warfare.

I've decided to try clicker training to try to overcome this, and borrowed a friend yesterday who has done a lot of this with her horses. We started by doing click/treat when she touched an object (we used a piece of plastic) with her nose, but it soon became apparent that Mrs P hated touching things with her nose to the extent that after she touched it, she jumped away and acted like we were trying to stick knitting needles into her muzzle :eek: She was even worried about accepting the treat! She is fine with the noise of the clicker and was like this with two different objects. It was as though she was expecting us to trick her & do something horrible to her if she touched the object. She would do about 3 touch/click/treat repetitions then get so worried she'd stand, lick & chew, wander about, & generally fret for up to 10 minutes until she would have another go. It was very slow going! It was also upsetting, I think recent events have left her quite traumatised so I'm determined to crack this is as kind a way I can.

As far as I can gather the touching things with the nose exercise is almost a foundation exercise for clicker training but I feel as though we're making P confront her worst fears by doing it! So is the best thing just to be patient & persist with this, or are there other things we can do?
 

Bebe

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Aug 15, 2001
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I'd work up to the nose touching thing. The key with the foundations of clicker work is to ingrain that click = reward = good. Usually getting a horse to touch something with their muzzle is easy and you can get them to do it by accident the first few times, which makes getting a positive association quite easy. Since this isn't easy for Mrs , I'd find something that is and use that to create the positive association. Once you've got that, then I'd try the muzzle desensitisation work, as a goal in itself rather than the beginnings of clicker work. You can't really reinforce the positive message if she's stressing about the action that precedes it, not this early in the game anyway.

What's she like for pawing things? Given her rogue foot I wonder if this might be an easier thing to get her to do in the first instance? Bebe will tap the ground with a hoof on command and even do the hokey cokey in a tyre if I ask her to and it came quite easily to her. That might work, e.g. paw a cone/plastic sack/tyre = reward = good association.

Or, I'd get a cone that's not got a hole in the pointy end, load that up with treats and let her work it out herself, no pressure from people at all. Once she's happily doing that you might be able to build up to target work (which is what the touch a piece of plastic thing is).

I think I've got a couple of Clicker books still knocking around. If you want to borrow them I'll have a look and see if I can find them.
 

martini55

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I would want to build up the association between clicker = treat. Perhaps you could even just start by clicking and following quickly by treating. Just so she gets the idea that clicker = reward. I did that with my dog. Click, treat, click treat .... repeat. Until he got that the clicker was good! Then I began using the clicker to teach sit etc. I guess with dogs it is easy to know when you have it right as they watch the clicker waiting for that click!

So maybe you could try just clicking and treating until you know she understands that a reward follows the click, then find something she finds easy and teach her to do that. I would certainly leave the target training until last since it is her muzzle she has issues with, though I appreaciate that is the normal starting point.
 
Y

Yann

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I'll stand to be corrected but I'm not sure you actually need to establish target training in order to use the clicker to help with desensitisation. If you pair it with any tolerance of a touch, and a retreat of that touch, I think the horse will work it out anyway soon enough.

I think you're on the right track though, I used this sort of approach to help get Rio better with worming and it worked.
 

animal mad

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I did clicker training with my mare the main aim to start with is to get them to connect the click with reward, so I started with click treat, then sniff hand, click, treat, then touch hand click, treat. This was done over about two weeks, you need to do very small amount s to start with to build your horses confidence, and also because they find it very tiring mentaly. You can then build up on this, Every thing needs to be done gradualy to keep the horses confidence.
 

Daffy Dilly

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You could break it down even further to have her simply turn to look at the object, then take a step towards it, sniff it, etc.

How is she at taking food from your hand? You could maybe offer her a grass nut or two, and then as she takes it, click/treat with a sugarfree polo.
 

capalldubh

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May 26, 2006
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Targetting doesn't have to be with the muzzle :) I trained Jackson to follow/lead at liberty by teaching him to target the bridge of his nose to my fist - so I hold out my fist, and he walks up and touches it with the bridge of his nose. We did this because when he was anxious about something, asking him to target my fist with his muzzle often ended in a snatch. He actually worked out himself it was less stressful to touch me with another bit of him ;)

So you could choose what part of Mrs P you would like her to target with - but it's easiest to choose something that happens naturally anyway ;)

I've also started other horses without doing any targetting, because the owners didn't necessarily want to clicker train, but wanted to solve something specific. So one horse was in trouble for lunging at passers-by over a stable door. We taught him to step back when someone passed just by lounging outside his stable and clicking/treating for a weight shift back, then a step back, then whole horse back inside stable... Another one was just taught head lowering because she was hard to bridle and had a thing about being touched on the mane/neck. So it's really up to you what you start with :)

The best book IMO at the moment is Sharon Foley's Getting to Yes - has some great easy exercises to get started that don't involve targetting at all :) and I think works very well for cross-over horses that have maybe had some NH training.

ETA just thinking - BabyBear taught Casper to retrieve - he was just great! Is there anything Mrs P would naturally pick up in her mouth? That might be a good way to start...
 

Francis Burton

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I like Bebe's approach, and would start with non-nose targetting such as pawing a specific object like a cone (but not pawing by itself, of course!).

The horse can learn to associate the clicker and the treat in a non-specific way as described by martini55, but it isn't quite the same or as strong/efficient as training to a target. I think that's because the horse isn't actually discovering that she can make the reward come by doing something specific. (In technical terms, it's classical conditioning and you really want operant conditioning.)

With specific targetting, most horses will get their "Aha!" moment within two or three minutes, and after that they know exactly what the clicker means.
 

Bebe

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I like Bebe's approach, and would start with non-nose targetting such as pawing a specific object like a cone (but not pawing by itself, of course!).

Oh yes, Bebe doesn't do pawing in general, wouldn't do it with a horse that's inclined to do so when bored/frustrated. She does try it on when I'm clicker training and the treats don't come fast enough, but that's the only time it ever appears as a behaviour, so it's situation specific.
 
K

kturner

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All the above are good ideas and there is no rush. It will be good training for her to get over her fear of touching objects in the long run and just the first week or two will be best/worst for her.

Objects she may not mind touching could be, headcollar, haynet held in front of her, back of empty food bucket etc.

Good luck, it turned my little mugging monster into a gentleman. He now looks away then turns back to me for the treat, no more grabbing my jacket or people, hardly anymore nipping to get his own way with anything anymore.

Incidently I used to battle with wormers and then took to putting in bang slap in the middle of a nice meal so it would be the first mouthful and problem solved. I havent tried again since clicker training as it has just become habit now to put it in his bowl smothered in garlic.
 

capalldubh

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May 26, 2006
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There's a great selection of ideas on here, what a good thread :D

One thing to bear in mind - the first thing you teach tends to be the one the horse reverts to in times of confusion, or when impatient. (Once you get going and have a range of behaviours, the one that gets reverted to is the one you found most exciting - I am still getting the occasional jambette when I'm not clear enough about what I want ;)). So choose with care :D

BTW here's a thread on Clickryder that might be interesting/relevant :)
 

Iron Maiden

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Sep 14, 2006
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Thanks all :)

We were going to try the pawing thing but it occurred to me that Mrs P worst habit (aside from attempting to murder vets) is door kicking, so I decided that the risk of training something bad through my crap timing & general cluelessness was a bit too great :rolleyes: Then my friend had a eureka moment & we tried a very simple thing - just leading her in hand, then I stop, and if she stops, click/treat. Sounds easy but she can be very rude to lead sometimes! Then if she stopped ahead of me - one of the things she is inclined to do - I asked her to take a couple of steps back so she was level with me & if she did it, click/treat. Worked a charm! :cool: She was not at all worried about doing this & there was none of the apprehension she showed yesterday. The session ended up with me running round the roundpen in random circles with her trotting next to me at liberty and getting a click & a treat if she pulled up next to me when I stopped. It was lovely and the penny definitely dropped ;) So tomorrow we will do more of the same and maybe try getting her to follow me over some obstacles, then we might have a go at target training again using an empty feed skip :) Hopefully we are getting somewhere!

Thanks everyone, you've been really helpful - any further suggestions, just shout :D

ETA - Capalldubh - I think the only thing Mrs P picks up in her mouth is food ;)
 
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Iron Maiden

Koumpounophobic?
Sep 14, 2006
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It's my OH who is the koumpounophobic. Hence the question mark! I think it's rubbing off on me though, I keep seeing buttony clothing and going yuck! :eek: He is adamant that he does not want to be therapied out of his phobia, buttons are quite revolting and he has no desire to get up close & personal to them thanks very much :eek:
 

popularfurball

Learning all the time
Jul 18, 2005
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Sorry OP to rudely interrupt your post thread...but am considering this with my little mare - how do you treat them? If you treat her she starts nipping at coats/fingers etc for treats - have started rewarding by dropping treat in bucket but not much used when she is tied up as i still have to hold bucket up so effectively she may as well eat out of hand:rolleyes:

Again...sorry! *runs and hides!*
 

Iron Maiden

Koumpounophobic?
Sep 14, 2006
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No prob :D You only click the clicker & give them a treat when they stop mugging you. At first you will have your sleeves tugged, pockets rummaged & your horse will be quite cross with you. But hang in there, just ignore all the mugging, but as soon as they stop mugging you, click & treat. Mrs P picked this up quite quickly. Once you've got that bit established, you can move on to click/treat when they do something you want them to do. The principles are deceptively easy but my friend has been really helpful because I try to do everything far too quickly, so best advice I can give is really take your time, take baby steps at a time and be super-patient :)
 

shoniedaspony

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I'm lazy so for treats for clicker training i just use pony nuts- not too messy to have in your pocket, but as long as your sessions are short they aren't really getting more than a large handful?

And yes you treat from the hand. I'd stick with the normal principle of if they are being pushy about getting the treat out of your hand, you withhold it until they calm down- a sharp 'OI' normally works to deter my pony, and then her gets it.
 

Iron Maiden

Koumpounophobic?
Sep 14, 2006
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Yep, I did it by holding the treat in my fist & when P stopped mugging me I went click on the clicker & opened my hand so she could have the treat. So far I've used chopped bits of carrot, grass nuts, bits of cow parsley, polos (as a special treat when she's been really good!) and 'proper' horse treats :) For a porky horse maybe small bits of carrot might be good?
 
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