One of the first skills I teach advanced clicker trainers is to write a shaping plan. Or shall I say: as soon as they are able to write successful shaping plans, they are advanced… Not sure.
The most common pitfall in clicker training is that people tend to ‘lump’ and make the steps too big. Their horses can’t follow and get frustrated why they don’t get clicks anymore for what they offer. All kinds of undesired and sometimes even dangerous behaviour can happen if that happens too often.
The trainer gets frustrated too: why is their horse not cooperating? They have treats for them… (if they do the right thing). The solution is to thin slice your training. That’s called a shaping plan.
Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success
Shaping Plans, Do You Think it’s Difficult?
The challenge with writing a shaping plan for a behaviour you want to train is that you have to think about something that hasn’t happened yet.
Writing a Shaping Plan is a skill
- You need imagination and visualisation skills, and
- You need to know how a horse moves and reacts.
- In order to write a good shaping plan for your horse you need to be a skilled horse person.
The reason many of my clients find it difficult and get stuck (or skip this process in training) is that they are new to it and don’t realize that they need to learn this skill. Mastering a skill takes time. I have several techniques developed that I teach so that they can make a shaping plan on their own. The clients that went through my Ultimate Horse Training Formula, an 8-week online course with live classes became stars at writing their own shaping plans! That makes a HUGE difference for them in becoming autonomous trainers.
Not many people have in person clicker instructors available
As we all know clicker instructors are still a rare species in the off line world and for my clients it’s really important that they can train (/play with!) their horses in a safe way. They like to bond and getting results with their horses.
Why a Shaping Plan is an essential Training Tool
Realizing why making a plan is so important helps in motivating my students to keep developing this skill. The reason is simple: in positive reinforcement you need to know exactly what you will click (before it happens) because:
1) The desired behaviour happens first, then you reinforce. Therefore you NEED to know what will happen.
In R- you can easily skip this step and if you don’t get what you want you make the aversive stronger (“just a bit more pressure, if he doesn’t listen”) to force the horse into the behaviour, then let the pressure go and VOILA: the desired behaviour.
In R+ you need to WAIT until you GET (= are given) the behaviour before you can reinforce it. HOW can you make that happen? By clicking and reinforcing (saying”Yes!” to your horse) and guide him with clicks and treats to where he needs to be (goal behaviour).
2) You get what you reinforce, so timing is of the essence.
If you have no clue of what your horse will do before he does it, do you think your timing will be good enough to get what you want?
Writing a shaping plan for behaviour is one of the 6 HippoLogic Key Lessons for Trainers. It’s their key to success in clicker training.
Imagine a very young child, let’s say 4 years old, with a clicker and treats training her Shetland pony. Do you think a 4 year old is able to clicker train her little horse successfully on her own? Why not? What skills does she miss?
Name one skills she misses and she needs to clicker train a horse on her own in the comments. Just name one and let other people chime in, too. 😉
Read more about shaping plans on my blog. Use the search tool in the menu on your right or start here.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!