The Panda Project

A Guide Horse for the Blind

Report 2: Panda is Guiding!

Written by Alexandra Kurland

This second report is a detailed account of Panda's second month of training. My goal here is not to teach you to be guide horse trainers, but to chronicle the development of one horse's foundation training. While Panda's future job will require some specialized training not generally expected of other horses, the basics of good ground control are the same. The difference at this stage in her training is more where Panda works, not what I am asking her to do.

 

Her training illustrates beautifully how little pieces accumulate to create a well-trained, emotionally flexible and stable working individual. That really is my goal with this report, to show you how I am building the steps in her training, and how Panda is processing those steps with some truly amazing and awesome results. Hopefully, you will get some ideas from this report that will help you with your own horses.

 

The first Panda Report chronicled Panda's first month of training. Panda astounded me with her emotional maturity and the speed with which she learned. Within days of her arrival she was house broken, and traveling around in the back seat of my car. She traveled with me to the barn, on shopping trips, and to clinics.

 

Three weeks into her training she accompanied me to Boston where I was one of the presenters at the Tufts Animal Expo. She spent two days with me in the Prudential Center, traveling in elevators, walking over marble floors, greeting people, and being in every way a wonderful ambassador both for clicker training and miniature guide horses. My first report to this list covered her training from her arrival on Sept. 19, 2001 through her Boston trip.

 

Month Two: Training Basics

After the Tufts Animal Expo in Boston Panda had a quiet week at home. We went back to our more normal schedule. Most mornings included a training walk around my suburban neighborhood. After our trip to Boston I used these walks to look for signs of stress. If Panda had started to spook at things that had not bothered her before, that would have told me that I was asking too much of her. But on our walks she continued to be her unflappable, happy self.

 

Panda's confidence let me concentrate my attention on basic leading skills. When I first got Panda she led well on the left, but not at all on the right. As a working guide, her handler will be on the right, so this was an issue that had to be addressed.

 

Initially, Panda was very crooked on the right and leaned into me with her shoulder. She also had a tendency to rear. I had seen this response on the first sales video we were sent of her. On that tape she was just learning about halters and restraint. When she hit the end of the lead and felt pressure on her head, she popped up into the air. On most weanlings this would be cause for alarm, but when the horse is less than 26 inches tall it's more amusing than anything. When she did the same thing out on our early walks, I just laughed at her and called her my little airs-above-ground horse.

 

Rearing

"Aggression comes from a place of fear." The more I work with Panda, the more I come to appreciate the truth of this statement. Our guardedness, and, by extension, our training choices are shaped so much by our worry: worry for ourselves, worry for our horses. When Panda reared, I could laugh at her antics. I could smile and stay soft with her. With a larger horse it would have been a struggle to remain so calm. I'd be worrying about my own safety and that of the horse's. My training choices would inevitably be colored by my fear. With Panda I could remain consistent, quiet, effective. The contrast made me appreciate just how much of an impact this unspoken concern has on our training.

 

Panda's antics were certainly entertaining, but they were also unacceptable. As the "move, counter-move" balance to her rearing, I began teaching her lateral flexions, the same exercise I teach to the big horses. This did a number of good things for her. First, it stopped the rearing by redirecting her energy. Prior to introducing this exercise, she was like a car crashing head-on into a wall. She'd hit the end of the lead, and pop up into the air.

 

I changed this by redirecting her energy. Now when she scooted forward, the leverage from the lead redirected her into a lateral flexion. She had an alternative avenue for her excess energy and emotion. Instead of popping up, she softened politely into a lateral flexion. I never made her wrong for rearing. Instead I gave her an opportunity to earn a click and a treat by offering an alternative behavior.

 

Pulling

The flexions did something else that's very important. They gave me control of leg speed. Most of the working canine guides I have seen pull. The dogs lean into their harness and basically drag their owners forward. This pull is beyond anything that is needed for guide work. It is the same water-skiing pull on the lead that you see in horses who are ridden on steady contact. Pulling back does not stop the pull in either horses or dogs. It just makes the animal pull harder.

 

When Panda first started with me, she followed behind me. I was literally leading her. For guide work she would need to walk slightly ahead of my position. From day one, I'd been reinforcing her for moving more briskly forward and for positioning herself so her hip was even with my leg. She adapted to this new style of leading very quickly. When she was in perfect position relative to me, and also straight along the edge of the road and keeping a steady, even pace out in front of me, I would click and reinforce her. At that point she had a light feel on the lead, something I definitely wanted to preserve.

 

As she gained confidence in this new position, she also gained leg speed. I didn't want to be tricked into taking a firmer and firmer hold to check her back. That's a slippery slope that's all too easy to head down. That little extra hold on the lead is barely noticeable at first. The horse feels just slightly stronger in the hand, but it's such a small change, it doesn't send up red flags of alarm in your brain.

 

You and the horse get used to the feel which means that you have to start holding a little firmer and a little firmer after that to check the forward rush. After a while, you're both water skiing against each other. You can't let go even if you want to. Now instead of a pleasant, light connection, you feel as though you need to lift weights before you can go for a walk.

 

That was a path I didn't want to go down with Panda. As I felt that first extra ounce of pressure, I checked myself. Lightness is my responsibility. It's something I have to create, not by being soft and permissive, but by being clear and consistent.

 

Pulling is normal. The alternative to pulling is something I have to teach. So every time Panda surged forward, instead of pulling directly back to check her speed, I turned the lead into a "t'ai chi" wall and redirected her energy into a lateral bend. I won't describe here the mechanics for doing this. For that I'll refer you to my book, "Clicker Training For Your Horse" and to the video lesson series, "The Click That Teaches". In particular, the "duct tape" lesson I show on "Lesson 2: Ground Manners" and the "t'ai chi wall" described in" Lesson 3: Head Lowering" explain what I was doing with Panda.

 

What I will describe is what it created. At first, each time she softened laterally and gave at the poll, click!, she'd get a treat. We'd go a few steps, she'd start to rush, I'd ask for a lateral bend, she'd continue to pull for a stride or two, then give softly. Click and treat! Over our next couple of walks the lateral flexion became something she offered automatically. I didn't have to ask her to give. She was already. Her pace became more consistent. If I did need to make a balance correction, she understood what was wanted and softened to me easily. I could start to build duration, asking not just for one or two lateral steps, but a whole series.

 

Heel Position

The lateral work eliminated the rearing. This wasn't something I worked on directly. It was just a result, a side benefit. Another side benefit was I now had a way to ask Panda to stand still. Up to this point when we stopped to chat with curious neighbors, Panda would fidget by my side. It was just like having a toddler in tow. She wanted to move, not stand here while the "grown-ups" gabbed. Up to this point if Panda walked off, I simply redirected her feet to keep her close to me. I didn't fuss at her to make her stand still.

 

Now this is an important point. One of the most important principles of training states that: "I cannot ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless I have gone through a teaching process to teach it to my horse."

 

This is a principle that I take very much to heart. I could have MADE Panda stand still. She was after all only a hundred pounds. I could have forced her to stand, but I had no way of ASKING her to stand. There is a huge difference. The lateral work gave me a way of explaining to her that I would like her to stand still, and not only that, I would like her to stand in a particular position.

 

This in turn opened up a couple more areas that I could begin to work on. Not standing well had meant that Panda was also fussy about being handled. She tolerated grooming, but I needed to restrain her with the lead to keep her from ducking out from under my hands.

 

She loved being scratched. Scratch her withers, and her neck would arch, and her little nose would start to wiggle in delight. Scratching was good, but not grooming, and certainly not hugging. If I put my arms around her or asked her to stand still for currying, she'd start wiggling and squirming like a little kid who is being smothered by an unwanted embrace. Again, I adhered to my principle. I hadn't taught her to accept such contact, so I didn't force it on her. I simply waited until I had the training steps in place to deal with it in a clear and consistent manner.

 

Normally, I would have tackled this gap in her handling early on in her training, but with Panda other things were a higher priority. House breaking, car travel, stair climbing, and foot care were much more urgently needed. But now with the skills the lateral work put in place, when she squirmed forward, I could redirect her back to my side. As she came into "heel" position, click she got a treat.

 

On our walks I practiced having her wait patiently by my side as I chatted with neighbors and answered all their questions about training a mini to be a guide. As we played the "grown-ups are talking, please don't interrupt game", I added a new criterion. It wasn't enough that Panda caught on to this aspect of the game fast. She learned to line herself up right beside me, and then shift her body into a counter bend so her ribs pressed against my leg. I loved the "bear-hug" feel of this maneuver. And I also appreciated the security it gave to both of us. I didn't have to look down at her to know where she was. As I was chatting, I could monitor by feel exactly what she was doing. I wouldn't teach a full size horse to press into me like this. I'd be teaching the exact opposite, but for a working guide this behavior will be wonderfully useful.

 

Liberty Training

"Heel position" laid the foundation for the next stage in Panda's education. (I was about to say training, but somehow education seems much more accurate.) Up to this point when I brought Panda into the house, I had kept her on a lead. Now as I worked at my desk, I turned her loose. At first, when Panda wandered off, I would call her back. As soon as she heard her name, she'd come right back to my side and line herself up in heel position. I loved the boomerang effect the recall had on her. And I loved the way she so deliberately and without any prompting from me would swing her hips into position so she could press her ribs up against my chair. Click and treat!

 

After a couple of days of this, I experimented with some pure shaping. When she wandered off, I did nothing. I just kept working. Panda wandered into the front hall, then turned and came back on her own. She lined herself up into perfect heel position. Click and treat.

 

Panda took her one pellet of grain politely from my hand and wandered off again. This boomerang game went on for ten minutes or so. I'm sure at this point many people would have been worrying about her leaving as soon as she got her treat. They'd be thinking they weren't ever going to get their horse to just stand still.

 

So many of us don't stay with an exercise long enough to see what it can give us. We start fixing it before it is broken. With Panda I just kept reinforcing the behavior I wanted which was heel position. I kept my rate of reinforcement high. Each time she offered the behavior, click, I reinforced her. I made no attempt to make her stay next to me. She was free to go after every click.

 

After about ten minutes, Panda hesitated after getting her treat. I captured that hesitation with a click. She held her ground again, maintaining a tight heel position by my side. Click and treat. Before she had a chance to leave, I was capturing the behavior I wanted. Panda was discovering that all that leaving and coming back was a lot of work. Staying not only was easier, it yielded more goodies. Without changing anything I was doing, I had a horse who was glued to my side. Once I had that, I could begin ever so gradually to stretch out the time between clicks.

 

One of the great things about training with positives is each lesson opens the door to so many more other good things. I had begun just a few short weeks before with the simple intent of teaching Panda to yield softly to pressure. (See The Panda Project, Report 1). I had needed her to stay by my side while I attended a clinic, so I had basically molded her into position by pressing gently on her hips. When she shifted over closer to me, click, she got a treat.

 

In that lesson she learned many good things. She learned to step away from instead of in to pressure. She learned that I would not force her, or trap her to get something done. She learned that there is always an answer even if it does not at first seem obvious. She learned to trust the training, and to trust me. And she learned that gluing herself to my side was a highly desirable, highly reinforced behavior. With the basic framework of the behavior fleshed out through molding and pressure, I could now free-shape more exactly what I wanted.

 

That in turn opened the doors to even more lessons and to a refinement of the behavior beyond that which I had originally envisioned. The press of her body against my leg created a wonderfully solid connection that I could now use to to teach off leash heeling.

 

I had been turning her loose in a small fenced-in garden to play. Now that she was sticking to me like glue, I could give her a larger space as her playground. I turned her loose in my back yard and stood back to watch the fun. She zoomed around, leaping over the flower beds, doing quick 180 degree turns past the bird feeder, then hunkering down for the race past the pine trees. Panda loves speed. Give her space, and she turns into a determined little race horse!

 

She did lap after lap, then came galloping straight up to me, slammed on the brakes and presented herself in perfect heel position. Click and treat! I started walking, and she stuck to me like glue. I stopped, she stopped. I turned, she turned. I backed, she backed right by my side. Wherever I went, she went. This wasn't something I was forcing on her. She was free to leave, free to put her head down and eat grass, free to do whatever she liked. What she liked was playing the heel game and sticking to me like a pea in a pod.

 

I know there are many people who have expressed concern over using horses as guides. With Panda they worry about training such a young horse. She is only ten months old, and they are concerned that she is not out in a herd, free to be just a horse.

 

For me one of the main reason to train any horse is it allows for greater freedom, not less. I could turn Panda loose in my house, and now out here in an unfenced yard because of the connections training created. The more we worked together, the more bonded to me she was becoming, and the more privileges I could give her. Training let me take her to the barn every night. It let me trust her to be safe around the bigger horses. It gave her the security to work independently of a herd and to handle new and often distracting environments. Whether you are a horse, a dog, or a human, training does not mean a loss of freedom. Rather it creates it.

 

Horses can become all too easily restricted by their "horsiness". Stories abound about herd-bound horses, and the problems their owners have with them. For these horses their instincts interfere with the bond their owners would like to have with them. Yes, they may be out in a herd, but their lives are restricted in so many other ways. They have no safety net under them. When their owners become frustrated, or just too scared to work with them any more, these are the horses that get passed from hand to hand.

 

By working with Panda now I hope to develop a secure, confident individual who can enjoy the freedom that emotional stability creates. It was certainly creating a horse who was eager to head out on any adventure I might suggest for us, including our next one, a trip to Virginia for a clinic.

 

The Virginia Clinic

The lessons Panda was learning let me take her more and more places. Two weeks after the Tufts Animal Expo in Boston, we were on the road again, this time to Virginia where I was giving a clinic.

 

I had originally planned on taking three horses to the clinic: Crackers, Sindri, and my young horse, Robin. In fact I was looking forward to giving Robin a much needed training run, but I had to bump him from the trip to make room for Panda. Sindri and Crackers rode in the back of the trailer in straight stalls. For the trip Panda got the luxury suite, a seven by eight box stall, as her private home away from home.

 

Each time I checked on Panda during our rest stops she seemed perfectly at ease. In fact when I went in to visit with her, she insisted on playing the "heeling" game with me, sticking to my side like a barnacle. I was pleased to see that she was every bit as enthusiastic as she was at home. Traveling did not seem to bother her at all.

 

Panda has an amazing ability to generalize behaviors to different environments. Some animals are place dependent. They will retrieve a cone, but only in the arena in which they first learned the behavior. Change the criterion by changing the environment, and the behavior falls apart. Panda showed none of this, which I took as an indication both of her ability to generalize, and of her emotional stability. In our first month together when ever we traveled, I had taken extra care with her. I wanted her feel secure, so she would acclimate well to change. I was pleased to see she could now travel without stress.

 

Panda was an enchantress at the clinic. We started with an evening lecture Friday night. Panda came into the house with me and showed off her good manners. While I talked about training, she glued herself to my side. It was a unique clinic for everyone, especially for our hostess, who I am sure never imagined she'd have a horse in her living room!

 

For the evening session I turned Panda loose and free-shaped heel position, just as I had at home. The distraction of a new setting and a roomful of ladies all eager to cuddle with her, meant nothing to her. She plastered herself up against my chair and earned a pocket full of reinforcements for an evening of attentive behavior.

 

As I observed her behavior throughout the weekend, several points stood out for me. I was very impressed by the solidity of her heeling skills and her house manners. But what particularly pleased me was the progress we had made in her leading. Two weeks into her training I had attended a John Lyons clinic. Panda stood next to me through the entire day while I watched Lyons work horses.

 

At the end of the day we had to walk across a football field to get back to the trailer. The open space was irresistible. Panda couldn't contain herself. Finally, it was time for recess! She leaped and reared, cavorting happily at the end of her lead. On a big horse this behavior would have been alarming, dangerous, and totally unacceptable. With Panda, it just made us all laugh, especially since Ann's guide dog joined in and started frolicking, as well. We had two guide animals in harness, both leaping around having themselves a grand time. What a sight!

 

At her diminutive height, Panda was easy to control. Her "airs above ground" were enchanting instead of threatening, but the behavior was still unacceptable. That's why I had added the lateral flexions to her training. In Virginia we had to cross an equally large field to get from the barn to the house. Throughout the entire weekend she led perfectly. The rearing, leaping, dancing about was simply gone.

 

Round Pen Training

Panda is enjoying her "recess" time.

That didn't mean that Panda didn't feel like playing, quite the contrary. Saturday morning we started the clinic off by turning her loose in a round pen. Panda put on quite the show for everybody, digging in deep like a little barrel horse as she zoomed around the pen. She wasn't running in fear the way many horses do when they are turned out. This was clearly play. After a couple of laps, I called her into me. She galloped up to me, and just as she did at home, slammed on the brakes, and then maneuvered herself into perfect heel position. We spent the next few minutes showing off her beautiful "off-leash heeling" and lateral work.

 

What struck everybody, myself included was how much self-control she had. Just minutes before she had been in the house dozing in heel position by my side, and all the while she had had this much energy inside her needing to come out! Extraordinary!

 

So Panda played, and learned, and had fun in the round pen. At no time did the training look or feel to her like a "serious" lesson. She was having a grand time, playing with me and earning reinforcement through some very familiar games. That was one view of the session. The other was that I had a ten month old foal executing some perfectly beautiful shoulder-in completely at liberty. Extraordinary!

 

Of course, it really wasn't extraordinary. I was simply making use of Panda's herd instincts. I was reinforcing her natural desire to be part of a group. Nothing I am doing runs counter to Panda's own inclinations. In the round pen I never made an issue of her staying locked on to me. At the point where she needed to zoom around and be a foal, I stepped back and let her.

 

I used her own games to call her in to me. As she zoomed around the pen enjoying the opportunity to run, I looked for my own opportunities to bring her to me. It was easy to wait for her to line up with my position and then use my own energy and body position to draw her to me. Click and treat!

Panda backing

Every time she checked in with me, she got a click and a treat. If she needed to leave, I let her go. This was the same exercise we had played at home in my dining room. It didn't take her long before she was locked on to me. I was never a threat, never a source of pressure. Everything I did was an invitation to come to me, never a demand to stay. The result is a horse who would rather stick by my side than eat grass.

 

There are many reasons for incorporating liberty work into your training, not the least of which is it's just plain fun. It shows you how much the horse understands on his own the behaviors you are asking for. In Panda's case having good liberty skills, particularly a solid recall, will provide an added layer of security for her blind handler. So, while this lesson may have seemed like play to Panda, it did have a serious intent behind it.

 

Step Stools and Patience

While we were still in the round pen, Panda showed me another advance she had made in her training. In the center of the round pen there was a plastic step stool which was used as a mounting block. I free shaped Panda to orient to it, clicking her for showing interest in it. At first she sniffed it. Click and treat. Then she pawed it. Click and treat. She lost interest for a moment or two, and I began to think that maybe I had gotten all I was going to in that session, but then she put her front foot up on the first step. Click and treat. A couple of clicks later and she had both front feet balanced up on the top step. What a clever little horse!

Panda is more than willing to step up onto the footstool. Even when the stool tips underneath her, she's willing to try again. Her bravery is a great asset for guide work.

What I particularly liked about Panda was that even when the step stool tipped, it didn't frighten her. She was perfectly willing to try again.

 

Once Panda figured out what was wanted, there was no stopping her. Panda loves these "mountain goat" games. At home in my backyard, Panda knows a sure way to get me to reinforce her is to climb up on the back steps of my house. This is a game I encourage because it gives her lots of practice going up and down stairs on her own. She's looks like a little mountain goat, climbing up the two steps and posing proudly at the top. Maybe she enjoys the extra height she gains, or maybe she just likes getting clicked, but she acts just like a toddler in her enthusiasm for this game. She always wears me out before she shows any signs of getting bored with it!

 

So here she was in the round pen with a foot stool to climb. Horse-heaven! She put her front feet up on the top step and posed for everybody. Click and treat! "Oh, you didn't get a good shot, well let me do it again, and again, and again!" That was clearly her attitude. But I wanted her to move away from the step-stool and do something else. And this is where she showed me just how much she has progressed in what is still a very short period of time.

 

"Stupid Humans" and Learning How To Learn

Just ten days earlier at the Tufts' convention, I had free-shaped her to stand on a mat. That was easy. Getting her to leave the mat was the hard part. She wanted to keep playing. When I tried to direct her away from the mat, she pinned her ears and snaked her nose out in a threat display.

 

Panda was still at the stage where she was learning the "game". She knew that standing on the mat earned reinforcement. She had me figured out. All she had to do was stand on the mat and I would turn into a "vending machine". Life was good, except that all of a sudden I was standing in her way, blocking her access to the mat. "What a stupid human!"

 

At least that's how I'm sure it seemed from her perspective. If I would only get out of her way, she could give me what I wanted! It was so frustrating. So Panda pinned her ears, and made faces at me. That's perfectly normal behavior at this stage in her training.

 

She didn't yet have enough experience with the clicker to understand that there are many behaviors that earn reinforcement. Think of it this way: the first thing you teach a horse is easy. Touch a target, get reinforced. It's a simple game. The horse is successful. In fact, he's delighted to discover how easy it is to control your behavior.

 

But then the game changes. Now touching the target isn't the key to success. Some other behavior is the trigger that unlocks the "vending machine". With each new behavior you add comes another layer in the learning.

 

At Tufts Panda was getting solid on individual behaviors, but she hadn't yet strung them together, or fully understood the significance of cues. Cues tell the horse which behavior now has a "green light" in front of it. They have to pay attention to the handler to see what will earn reinforcement. But first they need to understand that there is more than one behavior that will work. If standing on the mat is no longer an available option, that's all right. There are many other ways to earn a click and a treat.

 

That's the stage where Panda was early in October. She was less than three weeks into her training, and she simply didn't yet have enough shaping history behind her to have made all these leaps in her understanding of the game. So at Tufts she pinned her ears and made faces when I asked her to shift to another behavior.

 

Someone in the audience expressed concern over this, and saw it as a flaw in Panda's personality. Certainly, unregulated, Panda's temperament could become a stumbling block to a successful partnership, but that's true of any animal. Timid or bold, dominate or passive, low energy or high energy; it is up to us and the training methods we choose to help all these different personality types adapt to our needs. When you are watching any animal it is important to understand it's shaping history. Where is it in the training process? Has it "learned how to learn"?

 

This is true no matter the training method. What is a reasonable expectation for that animal at that moment? Where is it in the learning process, and what is normal for that stage?

 

Not long ago I was just teaching a young, unbroke horse to step up to a mounting block. The horse didn't understand what was being asked of it. It's initial response to the tap of the whip, was to move into the whip away from the mounting block. That's a perfectly normal response, but the people watching wanted to help out with all kinds of suggestions. They didn't realize how "normal" his response was. There was nothing "wrong" with what he was doing. There was nothing that needed "fixing". I knew the behavior would change if I just just remained consistent and let him explore his options. "An operant behavior is determined by it's consequences". The horse very quickly put "two and two together" and discovered that stepping away from the whip earned reinforcements.

 

It's too easy to become reactive and to focus on things that will sort themselves out by virtue of the process. At Tufts Panda felt frustrated when I asked her to leave a highly reinforced activity. In Virginia, Panda left an even more highly reinforced game without even so much as a flicker of an ear. She had gained enough experience with the clicker, to know that leaving one game didn't mean that all the games were over.

 

When you understand where an animal is in its training, it's easy to stay focused and not let distracting behavior distract you. I've watched enough people playing the training game to know how normal it is to feel frustrated when one strategy that was working before suddenly shuts down or becomes off limits.

 

A certain amount of frustration will occur in training. The right answer that unlocks the "vending machine" is not going to be immediately obvious all the time, nor should it be. Yes, I want the horse to be successful, but an animal that is spoon fed all the answers and never allowed to make a mistake will never develop any emotional flexibility.

 

At Tufts Panda got mad when the strategy for getting reinforced no longer worked. She expressed her frustration by pinning her ears. She tried to step on the mat another time or two, then shifted gears and moved off with me into a leading game. Perfect. I would have been much more concerned if she had gotten frustrated and quit, or if she had deteriorated into a full-blown temper tantrum.

 

"Go to people for opinions and horses for answers." That's another one of my organizing principles. When Panda moved off the step stool at the Virginia clinic, she was telling me I had chosen the right response to her ugly faces. Ignore them, focus on what you want, and the horse will sort through the puzzle and come up with the right reaction.

 

Does that mean I always ignore ugly faces? No, but in this type of situation where the horse is just learning the "game", it is usually the best approach. If the horse you are working with does more than just make ugly faces, you need to start with out with the horse in a stall or a small paddock. Any time I think a horse might bite, I begin with the protective contact of a wall between us. With the barrier ensuring my safety, I then shape what I want using positives so the horse untangles the frustration that is at the root of his violent outbursts.

 

People Manners

All this glowing praise of Panda progress doesn't mean that she was perfect at Virginia. She continued to show me a major hole in her training, and that's her aversion to being handled. Grooming was still an issue for her. That doesn't mean I couldn't groom her, but she tolerated rather than enjoyed the process. Again I was reminded that there is a huge difference between being able to ask for a behavior and forcing it on the horse.

 

I could make Panda stand still, but it was clearly a forced behavior. She didn't like being groomed, and she particularly didn't like being hugged. She did love to be scratched. That sent her little nose wiggling in ecstasies of delight. But anything beyond that was likely to get her squirming in aversion. She reminded me so much of a little kid who is being engulfed by some great Aunt at a family reunion and whose only thought is one of escape.

 

Unfortunately for Panda she is so incredibly cute that everybody wants to hug her. She is also incredibly sweet, but when people rush up on her, her pattern has been to pull back and pin her ears. While people are petting her, I've been careful to monitor her reactions to keep things well within her comfort zone. Any time she started to look as though she had had enough, I would shift her out from under the person's hands.

 

If Panda were going to be a pet, this might be sufficient, but for a blind handler, Panda's discomfort is a problem. She has to be absolutely solid. No matter how intrusive or inappropriate the handling is, Panda has to be at the very least non-reactive to it. What I would really like would be for her to enjoy the physical contact.

 

------------------  Click here to read the rest of this report.  -----------------

© Alexandra Kurland - The Clicker Center

Questions? Email kurlanda@crisny.org

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