The sky was threatening rain all day and I kept putting off going to the barn every time I heard thunder. Finally, I decided it wasn't actually going to rain and headed out to the barn. I decided it would just be a short easy session of some clicker stuff. I mostly wanted to work on backing and standing still as I backed away or stood to the side. This is the beginning step of ground tying. However, I was presented with a great training opportunity at the hitching post!
Someone at the barn had put out four rugs to dry on the hitching post. They were braided rag-strip rugs with fringe and they were flapping in the wind. They were all about 4-5 feet long, so there wasn't really any chance of them flying off the rail. Boomer was leery, as expected. At first I had him on the windy side, and the rugs were flapping towards him. He snorted and backed away and we spent some time on 'head down'. Then we went around on the other side of the rain and the rugs were blowing away from us. I encouraged him forward and gave him a C/T for sniffing/touching the rug. I did that about 4 times for the first rug, then moved on to the next one. He caught on quicker. Again, I had him touch, C/T about 4 times then moved on to the third rug. With each rug he got faster and faster with his touching. At the end of the rail we went back to the windy side where the rugs were flapping towards him. He was leery but touched it within a few seconds. By the second rug he was trying to pick it up with his teeth. Eventually he was sniffing and touching the bottom fringe part, even as it was flapping towards him!
Now, it is hard to say what his reaction would have been without the clicker and reinforcement treat. I really feel that he would have eventually gotten used to being near them with time. However, I don't think there is any way I could have gotten him to touch them without the clicker and treat reinforcement. Especially not over and over again. I feel that this touching and exploring helps to ease fear and build confidence.
One thing that came up that I though was interesting was that a few times he got so engrossed in sniffing and touching, he didn't look immediately for the treat. So, I just held the treat outstretched towards him until he was done sniffing. I think I did the right thing by clicking to signal that he was doing something good, then just waiting for him to get his reward once he was done exploring. I was quite pleased to have him so interested in the scary object!
We did work on backing and stand a few times, but it wasn't anything worth writing home about. I think it, like other things we have worked on, will take a few sessions to sink in. He does a great job of standing still if I back away from him while standing in front of him, but if I stepped away from his shoulder sideways, he wanted to follow. We also worked a little on waiting for me to present the treat and not mugging my pockets. He did seem to get pretty quickly that he doesn't get to reach for the treats. The whole standing nicely thing is going to be a work in progress. I hadn't noticed before but he is constantly looking around, trying to graze or snuffling at me. It doesn't really bother me except when he fixates on something in the distance or tries to bump me with his nose.
So, we will be working on standing politely and then start to increase the distance between he and I until he can stand calmly with me further away. We will also continue to work on taking food nicely.
Oh, and it started raining just as I was turing Boomer back out! I just knew it was going to rain eventually!