Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Frustrating Problem Solved?

Frustrating Problem Solved?

I am working Cole in the arena a few times a week, now, when I can’t get him on the trail.  With that, came the resurgence of our most frustrating problem--his snorting.

When Cole trots, within a few minutes, he needs to make a great big snort.  This happens regardless of whether we are in the arena or trail.  Even on the trail, he tends to slam on the brakes to gather himself up and snort.  Sometimes, I will trot about a minute on the trail, stop him and then he snorts.  If he is following a friend, he often snorts in motion, so I know he can do it.  I praise him and rub his neck when he snorts in motion.

Things get complicated when I ride in the arena.  Back in the early days; knowing he likes to stop and snort, I let him.  I was just too nice, I guess.  Then, we would trot along and everything would be fine--until he needed to snort again.  If he didn’t really need to snort, he would stop--and pretend he was going to snort.  I would ask him to trot, and he would refuse.  He had to snort.  We would get into arguments about this.  If I pushed him too hard, he would buck and then trot a half lap, stop and say he had to snort.  Eventually, he would do a small snort and get back to work.

If we were trotting and I gave him a break from it for a couple minutes, he acted like he had to snort when I wanted him to trot, again.  He would trot slow with his head up in the air in protest.

It was all annoying, and something I probably started just by letting him stop for his first big snort.

I may have stumbled on a solution.  For Christmas, Ellen gave me some tasty treats for him.  I typically use carrots as a treat.  I knew that he liked these better than carrots, so I decided to use both at the same time.  I would click and treat him for ordinary things with carrots, and when he excelled; I would give him the good treats.  

When Cole has very good treats, he tends to over achieve.  I get too much of everything.  His trot will get faster and bigger.  His stops can give me whiplash.  He overbends.  Walking in a staight line becomes tough because he volunteers a lot of behaviors without me asking for them.  He figures straight won’t get him a treat--but sideways might.

I thought by mixing the treats, he will strive to improve without going overboard.

It worked on the very first day.  We did our warm up and review with carrots, but when I started asking for tougher things, I gave him the good treats when he did awesome.  We had a great ride.

He repeated it the next ride, too.  Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I thought the ride went so well was because we didn’t get trapped into the snorting spiral.

After that, I started paying attention.  He still needed his big snort, and he still did it in the same way.  After that, once I started mixing in the good treats, he forgot all about snorting.  I even tried taking a walk break for a few minutes, and then asking him to trot.  I would click him and give him a good treat--and the snorting issue was a non issue.

As I expected all along, he was playing a game to get out of work.  Fighting about it didn’t get him to cooperate.  What seems to be working is creating a better game.  Cole is focusing on figuring out how to get to good treats.

It is working for now, and hopefully it will continue to work.  It certainly is making arena work more enjoyable for me.

No comments: