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Clicker Training Nino The Mule

Nino is a 3 year old john mule that has had very little handling. In a way, this is good because we won't need to undo someone elses mistakes and bad habits. We've got a clean slate to work with and, hopefully, Nino will turn out to be a good using mule.

Since Nino has not been caught, while out in pasture, we put him in a corral, near the house, where he wouldn't have a large area to avoid us. After letting him settle in for a day or two, we put his full sister, Rosie, in with him to keep him company.

Because Nino hasn't been handled much, his feet are in bad shape and he is in need of a trimming. So first things first. In order to be able to handle his feet safely, we need to get a halter and lead rope on him and have him comfortable with us picking his feet up. He was afraid of us when we tried to walk up to him and he would back off. Mules are curious and soon he was coming up to the gate as I stood there and gave Rosie clicks and treats for doing her tricks. You could tell that Nino wanted to have whatever Rosie was having but he was too shy to come close. I put Rosie on the other side of the gate and continued to work with her. Soon Nino reached his nose towards me so I clicked and treated him with a small handful of grain. Didn't take him long at all to figure out the game.

Next I started by having Nino target his halter. He was so scared that at first, I had to settle for him just looking at the halter while I held it up. He soon learned that a click=a treat and was touching the halter with his nose within a few minutes.

When he got good at touching the halter with his nose, I held off with the click and treat until he would let me put his nose in the halter.

Soon I was able to put the halter strap behind his ears and buckle it. All of this was done with tiny steps. Lots and lots of clicks and treats. It took about an hour to get to this point.

Now that I had control of his head, I wanted to be able to touch his body all over. Since it wouldn't be safe for me to just reach out and start petting him, I used a whip to make my arm longer. I started touching him on his shoulder.

When he was calm about me touching his shoulder, I moved the whip to his back.

Next, I worked with the whip on his belly.

And finally, his hindquarters.

Now it was time to work with getting him to lift his feet. The following pictures show Nino lifting his front feet, first with my hand on his upper leg, and then with just me pointing at his legs.

Now for his back feet. For this I used the whip again.

Nino has been here for 12 days now. I am thrilled with how fast he has caught on and with the help of the clicker, he is learning fast. I'll update this page as he progresses.

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