Today my husband and I faced our seventh failed attempt to protect our vegetable garden from squirrels. As I thought through our recent war with the critters, I was reminded of the principles of excellent animal training:
1. Set up challenges that become increasingly more difficult over time, as each prior challenge is mastered.
2. Motivated animals learn fine with a single repetition if and when they find the answer to the problem for themselves (and are richly rewarded for their success).
3. Use positive reinforcement techniques combined with allowing the animal to problem solve as often as possible. Shaping is thus preferred to luring, all things being equal.
4. Tenacity and confidence are built through success.
Our overriding error was building our vegetable sanctuary (as it came to be known) step-by-step. We started with chicken wire only four feet up. They mastered that challenge. Then we added netting. They mastered that. Then we brought the wire higher on the sides. Then the top. Then patching the holes. And at each step, they figured it out and snacked away on our cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes. And now, in the latest round, we have the sides and the top fully enclosed in both bird netting and chicken wire.
Unfortunately, as a result of building up so much success over time, the squirrels worked at the problem until they figured out how to climb the wood and wires, hang upside down while moving for several feet on a metal bar across the top, and then entered the vegetable sanctuary through a tiny seam between two pieces of chicken wire.
One side of me would like to be annoyed at the loss of my delicious fruits and veggies. Instead, I have chosen to focus on what I have had reinforced about animal training….success breeds success; set up for successes within problem solving to create a confident and determined learner.
If a few of you take the message to heart as well, I’ll write off the strawberries and call it a day. They win. We trained them well.
If you’d like to join me tonight (July 30th) at 6 PM Pacific time, I’m going to do a webinar on anything you want! You can even ask me about training squirrels since I’ve learned a few things about that too.
It’s free. Free is nice.
A link will be sent to you one hour in advance of the webinar so you can hop in with your questions! You must register by 5:00 PM Pacific time today, at which time the registration link will be taken down.