Sometimes I’m at a loss at what to train Jack? Jack is my standard grey donkey that is incredibly intelligent. I want to keep him “thinking”. The problem is I’m a total novice in equine behavior and management. What CAN Jack learn and do? Recently I bought a ball from a feed store. I wondered if I could train Jack to retrieve this ball much like my Golden Retrievers love to retrieve tennis balls?
I started by letting Jack sniff the new toy. His natural curiosity made this an easy accomplishment. Then I toss the ball a short distance. When Jack went to the ball and sniffed it, I clicked to let him know that is what I wanted him to do. Jack knows that a “click” means he did something “right”. He immediately left the ball to come back to me for his “reward”. Jack received much verbal praise and a small treat for investigating the thrown ball. This process continued with him then mouthing the thrown ball and then picking up the ball. Since he was looking at me to see if he did the “right thing”, taking a few steps towards me was a natural thing for him to do. I slowly increased the criteria in that Jack needed to take more and more steps towards me with the ball in his mouth to receive that coveted “click” that indicates he did what I was asking him to do.
Each step builds on the previous step with the criteria slightly increased after the previous behavior was understood. One of the last behaviors was to bring the ball to my outstretched hands. My outstretched hands then became the hand signal or “cue” that Jack was not to drop the ball and if he did, he needed to pick it up again and put the ball in my outstretched hands. When he did this, I clicked immediately to let him know he did the right thing (exactly what I was asking him to do.) He received a “jackpot” of treats, verbal praise and head scratches. In other words, he definitely knew he did the “right thing”.
Playing “retrieve” with Jack has many benefits. It encourages Jack to “think” and it is in this thinking mode, we are able to communicate with each other. Retrieving the ball is also good exercise for Jack. While he certainly could stroll over to the ball, everything Jack does is with gusto! His energy and excitement proves he enjoys this game as much as I do. And retrieving a ball is a building block for future communications, skills learned and growing confidence. Sucess builds success.
Some may say this is “trick training”. I say it is sharing time with an intelligent companion. It is one of my most favorite things to do!
I would love to read other training success stories. Please share in the comments!