Apollo learns to stay

Occasionally when I am at the barn, I realize that I have forgotten something that is still in the tack room. Apollo, of course, can’t come in the tack room with me. Until recently, I have had two options for what I can do in this situation. 

Option 1: I can give him some feed in a bucket to keep him busy while I run inside to grab whatever I forgot. This option works well if there aren’t other horses and people around. 

Option 2: I can tie Apollo in the barn aisle or to the fence. This works, but it can also feel somewhat disruptive to the flow of our training. 

Apollo practices staying right outside of the tack room door. We are using clicker training to teach this behavior.

I realized last weekend that it would be really nice if Apollo knew how to “stay.”

This would mean he would know how to wait patiently at the doorway while I went in to grab something. For the finished behavior, it would be fine with me if he moved his head to the side or up and down. But, his feet would need to stay planted. I would not want him to wander away or to follow me into the tack room.

We started training this behavior last weekend. I started by standing just inside the doorway to the tack room, with Apollo right in front of me on the other side of the doorway. He earned some easy treats for just hanging out in that spot with me.

Then, I started moving just a little bit. I would take one step to the side or one step backward. Then, I would click, walk back to him, and feed him a treat. 

At the beginning, I was just moving away for a second or two. This way, I could move away and come back before he even had time to think about moving. We repeated this until he was waiting, relaxed, while I took a step away to the left, right, or backward. 

Next, I started moving two steps away, then three steps, and then four steps. I was careful about increasing the distance in small enough increments so that he continued to stay.

Once I could walk all the way to the back of the tack room, I started adding in a bit more duration and some other distractions. After I walked several steps away, I would do something briefly before I returned, such as picking up an object, looking at something, or opening a container. 

We have worked on this behavior three times now, and Apollo has made great progress so far. As we continue to work on this, I will increase the duration and also add in harder distractions. 

Here’s a short video clip from one of our recent training sessions:

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