Working with behaviour can be like painting a fence, you are so focused on the bit you are doing that it’s not until you stand back you can see what has been achieved, in its totality. And sometimes it’s a big fence so best learn to enjoy painting.
So, yesterday I worked with six different sets of feet, three donkeys and three mules. What is interesting is that although all the problems were with feet, the reasons for the problem were all different, the causes were different, the individual animals all had different characters and temperaments and all at different stages of training. Finding the answer to a unique situation is the challenge.
One set of feet I worked with was just by getting next to the donkey, who is terrified and sceptical of people from previous experience and has learned to defend himself very effectively. So, I was working with his feet, even though I was just standing next to him, if he can’t accept that, then he will never be comfortable with his feet being picked up although that is months down the line.
One mule has come so far from the angry dangerous animal we started with ready to kick and pull faces, now running up to work with me when she hears my voice. Ok, running up to work with my bag of positive reinforcement, aka high fibre nuts and chaff and my clicker. I pick up all her feet to stretch them out back and forward and rest them on my knee just like I would expect the farrier to do and not a moment of anything defensive.
It is such a privilege to be part of an animal’s life to help them through a fear, or a worry to help them understand whatever their background and reasons for having to defend themselves they don’t need to do that now. Forgetting that is sometimes easy in the business of getting things done.
What’s amazing is that all five animals progress, they are the brave and smart ones, overcoming their fears and learning to figure out the problems I give them, such as how to balance on three legs, or what to do now when kicking hasn’t got rid of the “two legs “ like it normally does.
Trying to find the solutions to the individual needs of each animal is the key, but it can be based on some simple elements:
- Understand the true nature of the animal you are working with.
- Stretch the comfort zones, but only a little.
- Ensure correct communication through good timing.
- Allow the animal to solve their own problems.
- Make sure you take really tiny steps, and importantly enjoy the journey.
Every animal I work with I go on a journey with, learning about them, their behaviour and mine, sometimes the journey is really long such as today’s mule, a 2 year journey, and another short. One of today’s donkeys was picking up feet after just a few weeks and less that 90 minutes training.
When you work with a donkey or mule enjoy the journey otherwise one day you will stand back and realise you missed out on some much opportunity.