Case Study: Samwise the Fearful Mini Mule Update
If you haven't been following the story of the Hobbit Equids, three pint-sized charmers named Samwise, Frodo, and Bilbo Baggins, mysteriously showed up at Lynda's house one February morning.
No owners came forward, and while they are being fostered by Lynda, they are in the legal custody of Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS). Samwise, the most fearful of the trio, is also blind in his right eye. Lynda began to work with Samwise to help him become comfortable in the presence of people, and she called me when she needed additional help. Lynda sent me a video from April 5, 2020, to show me where she and Samwise are at with their training. I have inserted a baseline clip at the beginning, so you can see where Samwise started. Lynda has been doing an excellent job following my recommendations - almost entirely by distance as we are currently in Covid-19 lockdown.
Positive reinforcement was used to teach Samwise that looking at and then approaching people could result in desirable consequences. Lynda used counter-conditioning and systematic desensitization to change Samwise's emotion of fear when people reached for him and touched his halter ring. Positive reinforcement was used to teach Samwise to follow Lynda at liberty, in both directions. Then negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement were tactfully used together to teach responses to light pressure cues on a leadrope. When working with behaviour clients, not only is each horse, donkey or mini mule a 'study of one', so are their people. Behaviour change is a process, not an event, and all parties need to be considered when creating a behaviour modification plan.
The goals of behaviour modification work with animals should always be threefold:
to minimize the frequency and intensity of behaviours which may be problematic for animals and their people
to improve the welfare of the animal, and maximize their ability to live a quality life
to enhance the bond between the animal and their people
I look forward to continuing to work with Lynda and the Hobbit Equids, and can't wait to once again visit with them in person.