It is a constant dilemma in my mind helping Dante as much as possible but without over reaching him, stretching his comfort zones as much as possible so that tomorrow I can start to train the team to work with him. So we try another session in the afternoon. He seems a little more unsettled again perhaps because the afternoon routine is beginning after the day’s human training course. Again I work with tiny steps to allow him to tell me if he feels it is OK to proceed and I can stop at any point he feels to uncomfortable.
I go back through the steps from the beginning. The team that is watching is a little concerned because after this morning’s good start why isn’t he behaving better? Mainly because that the way learning works.
We are working with the neural pathways in the brain, and they take time for new ones to grow and overpower the old unwanted pathways. Also perhaps because for the first time in a while perhaps all the attention I lavished on him this morning has filled his need for scratches and foods has become more important. You see when you understand behaviour you accept that everything changes all the time, no two sessions are alike and you come to trust the donkey knows that they are incredible at learning and working things out.
He is more distracted, and pushes at the fence a bit more than this morning. This is good to see as it allows me to know that I will be recommending the team here doesn’t work with him at this time of day, but I need to know if he will escalate this behaviour if I try and work with him. You see I don’t mind putting myself at risk, but I don’t want to risk the safety of the staff after I have gone by asking them to work with an animal that is likely to really attack them if they make a mistake. So I work quietly with him using the same steps as the morning - head collar, behind the gate, out into the paddock.
He is tense but controlling himself, he is not really enjoying the scratches as much, and as we walk a few steps across the paddock, I feel him tense, his head raises a little and I know what’s coming, you develop a feel of these things, and true enough he lunges forward, teeth out, he misses, I am sure that if he really wanted me he would have got me. You develop a sense of glass half full when you work with behaviour. All I see is that actually he didn’t bite me, he didn’t follow through and he didn’t try again. These are all really positive steps.
The steps I am taking are tiny but I just pushed him a little too far, my mistake, sorry Dante.
We work quietly, he starts to relax and enjoy the scratches again especially the spot between his ears. He finishes quietly and calmly and I leave the paddock, he doesn’t rush after me he just stands relaxed and watches me leave. At least we have succeeded in finishing the session with Dante calmer than he started it which is always an important goal for me. So actually despite what seems like a difficult session, he has experienced working through his difficulties and come out the other side which is great for the assembled staff to see and actually despite being a little calmer this morning he actually did less biting this afternoon.
Lee comments later “Well, I guess that if that’s the worst he does when it's feed time, lots of people are watching and you are stretching his comfort zones then, that’s really good to see, as it's not that bad.” I hope she feels the same way tomorrow when it's transfer day and she will have to start the process of working with him, but that’s for tomorrow, for now I am just happy we have started the process of helping Dante, and in tomorrow’s blog we will see how Dante and the staff do as we start to training the team here to work with him.