I believe that you get to know your animals through working with them. Good training opens up lines of communication that go both ways. To hone my skills, and to really think through what I’m doing, I’m enrolled in the KPA Professional Class. The course is geared for dog trainers, but we’re also expected to have one non-dog species to train. As you know, I have quite a few to chose from! I’m about 40% of the way through the course. Scooter is beyond delighted that after seven years of living here, with his only job that of being cute and pestering Lily, that I’m finally training him. Who knew he’d so eagerly whack his paw on a post-it note when I say target? I’ve also trained Caper, and a goldfish. (I’ve trained the chickens, too, but not for this course.) I’ve been investigating how this positive reinforcement training applies to horses, so Tonka is learning almost all of the behaviors that I’m teaching Scooter (although Tonka is a tad too big to duck under my bent knee while I’m sitting on the floor!)
There’s one animal here at Little Pond Farm, in the very pond that the place is named for, that I haven’t yet trained. The Beast. My eleven year-old koi.
The Beast has recovered from her summer sunburn. If anything, she’s larger and more active than ever.
She certainly has an appetite that suits her size. The fish get a couple of handfuls of floating pellets daily.
I decided to get to know the Beast better and to let her get to know me. Asking for a complex trick isn’t necessary, nor is clicker training. I simply use that age-old technique of patience.
I bought some shrimp pellets. They don’t float, so I can hold out my hand underwater, with them in my palm. I wait. The Beast comes. She has big eyes. She looks at me. She looks at the food. I let a few trickle down to the rocks. She eats. She comes closer. She’s willing to say hello when there are shrimp pellets involved.
I wonder where the conversation will go.
(Steve caught this moment with his iPhone and the bird-spotting scope that’s in his office.)