Monday, June 29, 2009


We've been working pretty diligently on our target training and everyone is doing very well. If the target is out, they will run up and touch it... whether I want them to or not. Since they are very consistent, I have started adding the command, "touch," to our routine. Now they don't get a treat unless they are prompted to touch the target. Snow is a champ:

Here she is stretching high to get a treat. This is what it looks like if you are the target:

Pretty scary stuff. Here is Ellie Mae working:

Ellie is also doing great. When we started, she was pretty nervous when the target was lifted over her head, so this is a big step for her.

Since things have been going so well, I decided to make it a little more difficult this week. We pulled out the Jolly Ball and started using that as the target. Then we started tossing the ball and sending the horses after it to "touch." Here's the sequence: 1) I show the Jolly Ball to Snow;

2) I toss the ball a few feet away;

3) Snow trots up to touch the Jolly Ball.

I had a small audience when taking these photos so Ellie opted to not participate:

Regardless, she is also doing very well with the new challenge. Ellie does not really like it when the ball is thrown. She is pretty certain that this is the first step to beating her to death with the Jolly Ball. Ellie, however, has begun to pick up the Jolly Ball if it is placed softly on the ground a short distance away. Every animal is different and will take to certain aspects of training, but that is why it is fun. Training provides a great way for you to get to know your animal better and it is a great bonding experience. At the end of the day, we got our animals to bond with and make a connection, so you might as well jump right in and start working.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where to start?

OK, so we have new horses on the property and they need some work. I must confess that I am not a "horse person." I've actually always been a bit afraid of horse people... they scare me with their gruff personalities and strange smells. Unbeknownst to me, however, I married a horse person. My wife does the dressage (pronounced: hawrs dansing). We have a lovely barn and horse dancing ring, so it seemed reasonable to help out some horses.

Having never trained a horse before, I will approach it with the same techniques that I use for dog training. Here are the tools I use:

As you can see, it is all very technical stuff. I use the following: 1) a clicker, like you would find at any pet store; 2) a canvas tool pouch (this one is from Home Depot) that ties around your waist; and 3) a large kong on the end of a 1" pvc pipe, my target.

The first step is to find an animal you want to train. Put that animal someplace that it feels very comfortable and go get your training tools (Note: I like train around feeding time because my animals are hungry and a little more motivated). Tie the canvas pouch around your waist, fill it with some really good treats (bite sized works best), grab your clicker and target and let's go.

Here we have Snow in her stall:

It is a really rainy day and she was a bit bored so it seems like a good time to do some work and keep us both entertained and out of trouble.

Now that we are all situated and relaxed, click the clicker and give your animal a treat. Wait a few seconds and do it again and again. You might be thinking, "this is very easy, but not very good." True, but this is just a primer for your animal. Think Pavlov and his dogs. We are teaching your animal that when she hears a click, food is coming. To break it down to the most basic point, your animal must know that click=good. Fancy types call it "Pavlovian conditioning." Your animal should get the idea after about 10-20 clicks. If your animal hears a click and looks at your hand, she's got the concept.

So your animal has learned something today, but let's not stop there. Stick your target (kong on a pipe, ball on a stick, clown nose on a broken car antena, whatever) in front of your animal's face like so:

When your animal sniffs the target or even hits it accidentally, click the exact moment she touches the target and then give her a treat. The click now marks the behavior we wish to reinforce and it serves as a sort of bridge to let the animal know that the food is coming. After a few touches, you can see the lights turn. Your animal's eyes will light up a bit and she will start moving to touch the target like so:

This very simple and fun game will allow you to do a lot of more advanced things later on and it is going to help get your animal excited about being trained. After all, it has to be fun for both of you if you both are going to be willing participants in the training process.

Note: when working with animals that have suffered some abuse and/or have not been socialized properly (in my case Ellie Mae, HT, and Petunia) , the target can be a very scary object. Ellie Mae was pretty certain that I was going to beat her to death the first time I pulled out my target (I could see the whites of her eyes which is a good sign of fear in both horses and dogs). I worked really slowly with her and kept the target in a lower, less threatening position. I have worked and/or seen professional behaviorists work with dogs that were so scared, that we started by rewarding the dog if it just looked at the target. In these situations, the dog is safely tethered to a wall and the professional tosses treats to the dog to reinforce the behavior we want repeated.

Target training teaches the animal that she can do things to elicit a click and thus, get food... pretty cool. Since we only click and reward the actions that we like, she will be more likely to repeat those actions. This is called operant conditioning (it is actually one concept of operant conditioning, but we will get to the others later). Think B.F. Skinner and his pigeons.

During the training process, your animal may try to do other things to see if she gets fed for those behaviors. If it is something you want her to do, click and reward, if not, simply ignore the behavior. You can start forcing your animal to be more precise as you both progress through the training. Thus, if you have to start out with your animal just looking at the target, that is fine, but become a little more demanding as time goes on until she is performing the exact behavior you want. Just take your time and start with something that your animal can accomplish. There should not be any flaming hoops to jump through the first day. If you or your animal are getting frustrated, make it a little easier and end on a high note.

Start slowly with a good foundation now, and your animal will be jumping through hoops before you know it.

Go have fun.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knock knock...

What other new visitors are coming to Bully Hill?

Why its Snow and...

Ellie Mae.

Snow, Mona's Snow Angel to be exact, is a Percheron. We are currently fostering Snow to see if we can improve her ground manners and determine if she is going to be a good match for us. She's a really pretty horse and has been wonderful to have around... well, there was an adjustment period, but it seems like things are working out nicely now.

We adopted Ellie Mae. She is a Belgian draft horse with Brabant bloodlines (Brabants are the Beligian draft horses from Belgium... apparently, Americans have bred them to be a little lankier and taller). She is a strawberry roan which is not uncommon in Brabants.
Ellie Mae was an Amish plow horse... well, for clarification, she was owned by an Amish farmer, I'm not sure if she has any particular religious affiliation. In fact, she seems to like the lights on in the barn, so if she does have a specific set of religious beliefs, it seems unlikely that her beliefs are aligned with those of the Amish. Regardless, she was used as a working plow horse and apparently had a very tough life. She bears a lot of scarring all over her body and she certainly has some fear issues. That being said, she is a very sweet horse and we have been working through things with basic clicker training techniques. It will take a bit of time, but she is going to be a fantastic horse.
OK, well, let's switch from those animals that I think are fantastic back to my reigning problem child. Last winter, I presented the following visual regarding Petunia:
A) good;

B) very bad.

The point being that I need to keep my eye on her, lest she decide to get into trouble. Now today, in the middle of fetch, Petunia ran after the ball and did not return immediately. This is how I found her:

It seems that Petunia saw a bullfrog jump into Big Fat Pond. Petunia decided that she would go bullfrog hunting... in the pond. I found her trampling my water plants and making the pond a big, brown, muddy mess. She refused to come out too. There were bullfrogs everywhere and she was determined to get one. Thus, I had to go in after her, pick her up, and carry her inside to the bathroom.

Petunia did not like this turn of events, but she was quite dirty and smelled pretty bad. After a good scrubbing, Petunia looked and smelled like a new dog.

So it seems that although things are changing quite quickly on Bully Hill, some things remain quite the same.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Meet the Flockers

Whilst my computer was setting itself aflame like a protesting Budhist monk, I was collecting a few chickens. Just after Easter, I was asked to take some chicks that were purchased during the holiday. Apparently, what seemed like a lovely holiday surprise, turned sour when the fluffy little chicks started growing and pooping everywhere. I had the space, so I was happy to take them. There were two pullets (young hens) and a cockerel (young rooster) so it seemed like a good balance. I named them Little Brett Buckwalter (after an old roommate with whom I watched a lot of Seinfeld), Camilla (from the Muppet Show), and Flossy. It soon became obvious that Flossy and Camilla were Leghorns and Little Brett was a hybrid known as a California White... they look like Leghorns with black flecks.

Of course, things don't always go as planned. As it turned out, there were two cockerels and one pullet. I decided to rename Flossy, Chicken Alfredo. I just called him Fredo for short. Things were going pretty well, but since I had two males, I decided to order a few more chickens online (who would have guessed that was even possible). I ordered three Orpington chicks which were shipped overnight mail to my office after they hatched. Unfortunately, there was a tragedy before the new chicks arrived. I had been leaving the chickens to free-range, but one day I found Fredo had been whacked by two broadwing hawks. It was pretty upsetting. Fredo had been the most outgoing of the three.

Now we have five chickens:

(Camilla and Little Brett Buckwalter)




They have been a blast. If you put in some time with chickens and give them positive reinforcement, they can really be good pets. Little Brett will happily sit on my shoulder and hang out with me. He's a good roo.

Now, I've noticed that this blog might have a tendency to go low-brow. My last post was based on genital humor and I'm concerned that this post could spiral down the same path. It would just be too easy to sink to that level. Accordingly, I have made a concerted effort to refer to Little Brett as a rooster. Nonetheless, let's get it all out there and move on, lest there be some temptation towards potty humor. Little Brett is my big white... rooster. He is about 12 inches tall. Yes, I do stroke Little Brett and I let him rest on my shoulder. Yes, that is my [rooster] and no, I'm not happy to see you. Yes, Little Brett started getting a fleshy, red growth on his head... and no, the doctor didn't think I should be concerned. We could go on and on, but none of us are going to feel good about it. Let's all agree to be better than that and keep this blog high-brow.

In the meantime, to cleanse things a bit, I'm going to leave you with a photo I took of a bunch of baby bunnies:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Responsible truck ownership

My computer recently died. It has taken me a while to get back up and running with the website. The time off gave me an opportunity to consider improvements. One of the improvements I made was moving my blog to blogspot. Hopefully, the ease of use will allow me to post more often.

There have been a lot of new additions to Bully Hill Farm. We have added some horses and even chickens. Unfortunately, I have been busy tending to all of the new animals and have not loaded the software for my camera onto my new computer. Once I get that done, I will introduce the new kids.

In the meantime, I have notice a trend out here. Obviously, when you live in a rural area a lot of people have trucks. What I had not been privy to was the prevalence of "truck balls." If you don't know what "truck balls" are, here:

OK, now I must admit, I did not know that trucks had genitals or could reproduce. I guess that puts the term "auto workers" in perspective. No wonder why they formed a union and strike for better working conditions.
That got me thinking. I don't believe I have ever seen an intact Honda, Toyota, or Nissan. I assume truck balls are considered a delicacy in Japan. The prevalence of un-neutered American trucks may also explain why companies like GM and Chrysler have filed for bankruptcy. If you buy an American truck, please be responsible and get it neutered. There are too many unwanted trucks at dealerships all over the country. Similarly, if you are looking for a truck, make sure that you are purchasing one from a reputable dealer. Don't support side garage breeders.

I considered for a moment that I could be wrong about the reproduction of trucks. After all, the only thing visible are truck balls and I'm pretty sure that you need more to procreate. Rest assured though, if you see truck balls on the back of a truck, you can be sure that there is a penis behind the wheel.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


One, two, three.