September 11, 2006

Buckwheat has taught me many things, but probably the most profound lesson is the necessity of “waiting” for him to make the right choice. Though this is a corner stone lesson in the Clicker Training world, it hasn’t always been an easy one for me; I have a tendency to want to be “helpful.” Sometimes that means taking a more direct approach and giving him a known physical cue as a backup to the verbal cue. Other times when I know that HE knows the answer but isn't interested in the task, I want to add a little more “pressure” as I learned in the Natural Horsemanship days.

Since Buckwheat is a kind of "I'll get to it in a minute horse" he continues to make me face this issue head on, to “wait” or NOT to “wait.” The most interesting part of this question shows itself when I watch Buckwheat with the other horses. There is no doubt in my mind that he does NOT care one “whit” about saving his hide. He can go day after day acquiring new “dings” from Buck's teeth by refusing to move when Buck pins his ears. Once again, Buckwheat's M.O. is to say “in a minute,” and even another horse applying enough pressure to remove some hide is not enough motivation for him to move.

So by watching Buckwheat interact with other horses I'm seeing the "fly in the ointment" with the "keep adding pressure" types of training modes. I'm also seeing that with Buckwheat in particular, POSITIVE reinforcement is a far more powerful tool than negative.

So where does that leave me as a trainer? It’s a constant reminder to wait…and wait….and wait….and…..It leaves me with the knowledge that if I DO wait, he’ll take a big sigh and do the task I’m asking; he’ll make the choice to join me. And the good thing is the next time he offers it more quickly. Our goal becomes mutual and it finishes with giving him what he wants. Yes, giving him what he wants; dignity, respect, food and the time for him to decide to make a change. And it's working better every day. Phew!

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