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February 21, 2005

The "Touch" Game - Part 1

Here is a fun and also very useful game that you can teach your mule, donkey or horse.

KristieJorgensen.jpgI have found the "Touch" game to be a very useful part of my donkeys' training. Whenever I buy a new donkey or have a new foal, this is usually one of the first things I teach them. It is a great "tool" to have in my "training toolbox" as I move on to teaching my equines more complicated things.

About 4 years ago I stopped in at a Wild Horse and Burro Expo that was being held in our area. They had a clicker training demo scheduled that afternoon, and I decided it would be interested to watch the demo and learn more about clicker training. I had read about people using clicker training very effectively with many different kinds of animals, but I had never seen it done before.

In the demo the lady showed a lot of different uses for clicker training with horses. She showed how to teach a horse to target things, hold up their feet on command, and do other tricks using clicker training.

Even though I wasn't really comfortable with coordinating using the clicker in my training yet, I really liked the targeting and how easy it was to teach. So I started teaching my donkeys (and the neighbor's yearling horses) how to target or touch things with their nose. Every equine I have trained since then has learned "touch" as part of its basic training. I'll explain the steps I use to teach this, so that your donkeys and mules can learn it, too.

You do not have to know how to do clicker training to be able to teach this trick, but if you do know how to clicker train and want to include that in the process, you may. I'll explain how I did it without using formal clicker training.

Equines love treats and are also naturally inquisitive. Before you begin teaching the "touch" game, it is helpful if your donkey or mule is already used to being around you, enjoys your attention, and knows that whatever treat reward you are using is good to eat.

Start by giving your donkey or mule a taste of grain, fresh picked grass, carrot bits, or some other small treat that he likes. While he is eating it, praise him and tell him what a good boy he is! When he has finished that taste and is ready for more treats, hold your hand a few inches in front of his nose and snap your fingers to make a clicking sound. Give him the command "touch" while you snap your fingers. Some donkeys will just stand there and give you a blank stare like they have no idea what you are trying to do. Others will get curious and reach out to sniff your hand when they hear the noise.

If your donkey or mule reaches out to sniff your hand, quickly give him a treat and praise him lavishly! If he just gives you a blank stare, never fear, there is still hope for him! If he just stands there and doesn't reach out to your hand within a few seconds, move your hand forward and gently bump the tip of his nose with your hand. As soon as your hand has bumped his nose, lavishly praise him and give him a treat just like he had touched your hand on his own. Soon he will make the connection that when you snap your fingers and tell him to "touch", he will get a treat as soon as he touches your hand.

Repeat this process several times until your mule or donkey has that part down good. Some will catch on faster than other, but it shouldn't take long before he is eager to touch your hand every time you ask him to.

Once your mule or donkey is proficient at touching your hand on command when your hand is level with his nose, start adding a little more challenge to it. Hold your hand a little higher than his nose or a little lower or off to one side while you snap your fingers and ask him to touch. Soon he will start looking and listening for when your hand is whenever you give him the "snap, snap" and command to "touch".

Next time we'll explore how to expand on this game and use it to help in other areas of your training program.

For now, have fun playing "touch"!

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at February 21, 2005 11:15 AM