It’s the morning, Jon and I come out to feed the animals and Chloe is at the gate stomping her foot, pawing at the ground. We walk up to the gate and stop. We stand there looking at her both of us knowing that as long as she continues stomping the ground she won’t get any treats or hay.
It takes a little while but she finally stops and turns away from us. I count silently to 60 knowing inside my self that if she starts stomping her foot again I start counting all over again. I’ll stay out here as long as it takes to make her stop this behavior before she eats.
Chloe must be pretty smart and we must be making the message very clear, because over the next few days, she stomps less and less until this morning when she didn’t stomp her foot at all.
In the book I got on training your horse to do tricks, it said you can use your horses behaviors to teach them tricks. Just name the behavior and reinforce it. They even name stomping at feeding time as a behavior to use for teaching a horse to “count”.
I’m beginning to understand the thing with training is getting the timing right, having a clear intention and meaning it.
It turns out that through trying to teach Chloe to count and who knows what other reinforcement I’ve been giving her , I’ve been training Chloe to behave really obnoxiously almost every time she sees me. Her stomping till she gets fed is like having someone drum their fingernails impatiently on a desk top while you’re trying to get something done. It’s really annoying.
My first thoughts when I realized her stomping was becoming a constant behavior was that she was being annoying because she could. My guilt kicked in and I thought maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. I saw her like a kid having a temper tantrum.
But after seeing how quickly Chloe’s behavior changed just by me and Jon changing our behavior before feeding and making our intentions clear, I don’t think those things are true. I believe we were unintentionally reinforcing Chloe’s stomping and she was just doing what she thought we wanted her to do.
This is a lesson I seem to need to learn again and again. To be clear and direct and honest. With myself and those around me. And not let my emotions and neurosis cloud my truth.