Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘clicker’

‘Clicker training doesn’t work’

The first thought that comes to my mind when a person tells me ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ is ‘Why not? Is he sleeping?’ Just kidding. (Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel).

Listen to this blog on YouTube:

Horses can be trained either by using an aversive to reinforce behaviour (negative reinforcement, -R) or using an appetitive to reinforce behaviour (positive reinforcement,+R).

What does the statement ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ mean, when someone says that? Does it mean that:

  • The trainer doesn’t understand the concept of +R and therefor is not applying it properly?
  • The horse doesn’t respond to the marker, the clicker?
  • The horse is not interested in the reward the trainer offers?
  • The horse is not paying attention to the trainer and therefor doesn’t respond to the cues and/or clicker?
  • It only seems to works part of the time (with some behaviours)
  • The horse (sometimes) performs ‘worse’ during clicker training

What_if_Clicker_training_does_NOT_WORK_hippologic

#1 Trainer doesn’t understand the concept
A lot can go ‘wrong’ if the trainer isn’t conscious of what he is doing or doesn’t understand what he is doing and expects a different result. The basic terms to understand are: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcementmarker or bridge signaltimingshaping behaviourproper hand-feeding, cues, reinforcer and learning theory.

#2 The horse does not respond to the clicker
Can your horse hear the marker (the click)? Does he knows what your marker/bridge signal means? It usually takes 30 – 50 repetitions (marker+reinforcer, marker+reinforcer etc.) before the animal has learned that the marker is an announcement of an appetitive.

Does your marker sounds the same every time? A clicker always makes the same sound, therefor it ‘travels’ the same pathways in the brain. If you use a special word, it can take longer for your horse to generalize the marker sound, so it can take a little longer for your horse to respond and repeat the behaviour you’ve marked. If you use different markers make sure your horse has been introduced properly to each of them.

The marker is not (yet) paired associated with an appetitive or the trainer has not yet figured out what the horse considers a reward, see #3.

#3 Horse is not interested in rewards
The key is that the reward must be reinforcing the behaviour. ‘The receiver determines the reward’. If the behaviour is not getting stronger, the reward did not reinforce the behaviour so it wasn’t a real reward.

Pay attention to your horses needs and wants. A reward can also vary in value: a tuft of hay can be reinforcing in winter, but not in Spring when you keep your horse in a field full of juicy grass. It is the trainers responsibility to find out what the horse wants to work for at that moment.

#4 The horse is not paying attention
Why not? Is there something more urgent going on for the horse than the trainers cues? Can the distraction be removed or the horse taken somewhere else to train? Does the horse think he’s in danger? It doesn’t matter if the trainer doesn’t see the danger, for the horse it is real. Is the horse in ‘learning mode‘? Is he relaxed and engaged enough to learn?

Does the horse responds to the marker, see #2? Are the cues clear and fully understood by the horse? Does the trainer keeps the horse involved or is he distracted himself? Is the horse frustrated or maybe has mentally shut down for one reason or the other? Are the rewards reinforcing? Is the proper behaviour reinforced? It is all about timing: you get what you reinforce.

_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce

#5 It only seems to works part of the time
The horse is not interested in the ‘rewards’ you are offering that day, see #3. He might be distracted, see #4.  The cue is not yet established in a different context. The horse doesn’t respond well because the training steps are too big, the criterion has been raised to quickly (also known as ‘lumping’). Or your rewarding schedule is too predictable, see #6.

#6 The horse performs ‘worse’ during clicker training
The rewards have lost their value or the reinforcement schedule is too predictable for the horse and therefor the behaviour becomes extinct. In other words: the click doesn’t motivate the horse anymore.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg for the many reasons that positive reinforcement aka clicker training doesn’t work for you(r horse). Can you name another reason? Please share!

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Bridges, powerful tools in horse training

Recently I have received the same question from several people. Why do you need a clicker when you could just use your voice as a bridging signal? What are the advantages of a clicker?

Why a bridging signal is needed
If you want to reinforce certain behaviour one has to reward the horse at the moment the behaviour is still going on or within a few seconds the behaviour has stopped in order for the animal to associate the behaviour with the reward he is receiving. It is almost impossible to give the horse his reward during the behaviour, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use a bridge signal.

_hondenclicker

Bridge 
A bridge or bridging signal is a specific signal for the horse that connects the moment the reward is given to the behaviour he was doing. Most clicker trainers use a special device named a clicker as bridge. The clicker makes a click sound.

When the horse has learned that a click is always followed by a reward, the horse starts to pay really good attention to the behaviour he was displaying at the time of the click. He is smart and he wants to train you to give him more clicks. Animals like it when they have the feeling they can control the environment (you and his rewards).

Advantage of a clicker
A clicker always makes the same sound and therefor it ‘travels’ the same path in the brain. The horse understands quickly what the sounds means. A click is not influenced by emotions of the human voice. It doesn’t matter who presses the clicker, it still sounds the same. So other people can ride and train your horse without confusing the horse about the bridge signal. The click of a clicker can be delivered instantly. Timing is everything. The more accurate your bridge is, the easier the horse learns what you want to reward him for.

_clickers

Other bridges
As long as the bridge signal  is a specific sound it can be used. I taught my horse to respond to different bridges. I use the high pitched and long stretched word “Good” as bridge and Kyra also knows that my tongue click is a bridge.

Advantages of other bridges
The main advantages of a verbal bridge and a tongue click are obvious. The first is that you always have it with you. No matter where you go you can always use your bridging signal.

The second is being able to keep your hands free. Using a clicker always requires a hand to click with. In some situations being able to use both hands can have be a huge advantage.

Disadvantages of a vocal bridge
A vocal bridge always has a little delay, because before you can speak you have to inhale fist. Your voice also can differ according to circumstances: a cold may effect your voice, but also your emotions. When I am excited or annoyed the pitch can change, for us it means the same thing because we know the meaning of the letter of a word. A horse knows the meaning of the sounds of a word. Because your voice sounds only “generally” the same every time, it makes a different, wider pathway in the brain. This sound means: a reward is coming. And this one too. And this one means the same thing. The horse needs to decide every time he hears your voice: was this a bridge or not? Therefor it can take a little longer for the horse to become “clicker savvy” with a voice bridge.

When I introduced the word “Good” I still lived in The Netherlands. They generally don’t speak English to horses, so it was a safe word to use. It was a unique sound. I was the only one who used it and my horse was never trained by someone else. The difficultly with the word “Good” in Canada is that other people use it as praise (reward) instead as bridge signal. That means it might not always be followed by a reward. This can confuse the horse.

Another reason to teach your horse the click of a clicker as the bridge: other people can train or ride your horse and communicate clearly. The click sounds the same every time.

Related post: Introduce your horse to the click

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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Clicker Training 101: How to introduce your Horse to the Click

In clicker training we use a ‘click’ as bridge signal to communicate to the horse that he has done something wonderful. Immediately after the click we deliver a reward to the horse. How do you start teaching what the click means?

Tools
You need a bridge signal or an unique sound, like the click of a clicker, a tongue click or a unique word. I prefer a clicker because that always sounds the same and it is very quick to deliver. The bridge signal connects the click and the time it costs to deliver the reward.

Rewards. Choose your horses favourite treats. Even if they are not very healthy, you want to choose a treat that has a high value to your horse. Something that will get their attention._treat_hippologic_clickertraining

Reward pouch/bucket. You need to stash your reward in a place where you can access them quickly but in a place out of reach of your horse. A money belt or an accessible pocket will work, or a bucket. Place the bucket on a chair so you don’t have to bend over every time you need to reach for a treat. Make sure your horse can’t reach it or start training ‘ignore the food bucket’.

Barrier. If you want set up your horse and yourself for success, start training with a barrier between you and your horse. A fence or stall door prevents the horse coming into your space to get the treats himself. You set yourself up for success if you don’t have to handle your horse or a lead rope and a clicker and the treats, all at the same time.

_protective_barrier_clickertraining_hippologic

Lesson 1: introducing the bridge
When you want to start clicker training you will have to introduce the click sound to the horse. You also need to teach your horse that this sound has a meaning.

You can just start with a click & reward your horse. Deliver the reward as soon as possible after the click. The quicker the reward is delivered after the click the sooner  the horse will associate the click with something positive coming. With ‘soon’ I mean within 3 seconds or even faster. It can be almost simultaneously: click&reward.

Tips

  • Make sure the food always moves towards the horse, so the horse never has to come to you to get it.
  • Make it a habit to feed with a stretched arm, so the distance between your pocket (the source of the treats) is as big as possible.
  • Deliver the treat straight to the horses mouth, so he doesn’t have to search for it. This prevents frustration and mugging.
  • Deliver the treat as fast as possible to prevent mugging and frustration.
  • Make sure the treat is a reasonable size, so the horse can easily find it and it doesn’t get lost.
  • Count your treats and always check if you still have a treat left, before you click.
  • Click first, then reach for the treat. You want your horse to (re)act on the sound of the click, not on your hand reaching for a treat.

In general it takes 30 – 50 clicks until the horse has learned that the click has a meaning and it means something positive. Most horses show interest in the click much sooner and you can already start to work on specific (easy) behaviours. The horse now wants to figure out if he can influence the click by his behaviour and that is the point where you can start clicking purposefully for a certain behaviour. Now you can give your horse a break until the next training session.

Read also 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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Keeping an open mind is a challenge

Of course we all think we are open minded, right? At least I love to think that I am open to new approaches and ideas. But when it comes to horse training I noticed that it can be a real challenge to keep the mind open. One of the challenges I took on a few years ago was to make reward-based training my only training method.

Turning a “whoa-horse” into a “go-horse”
When I started Kyra on long reins and under saddle I noticed that she was more of a “whoa-horse” than a “go horse”. The only time when she was very forward was when she was in ‘flight mode’. Not really a preferable state of mind to work with.

It was really difficult for me to find ways to activate a slow, calm horse with rewards only. The challenge was to let her decide to ‘go’ voluntarily. That is after all the whole idea behind clicker training.1_movingtarget

Experience
Before Kyra I worked with some Lusitano horses and they had way more “go” than “whoa”. Something I could easily handle. I had no experience with clicker training horses that where not motivated to go by themselves.

I noticed that my default reaction was to apply pressure if I ran out of ideas to entice a horse to go forward. “Use your whip, the horse has to listen,” said one voice in my head. The voice of my heart said: “She is doing all this voluntarily now and that is really precious to me, but I do want to trot some day…”. What to do?

I decided to stick to positive reinforcement only. I had to become very creative. No one else I knew could help me tackle this problem. I am glad there is internet now and a lot of very experienced positive reinforcement horse trainers want to share their valuable knowledge. Combining the gleaned knowledge from internet and some of my own ingenuity I made a plan. The required time-frame was still a mystery however.

Open mind
When I started Kyra under saddle I hadn’t realized that I had ‘cantering multiple tracks around the arena’ as a goal. It seemed so obvious that she would be doing that within two or three months after starting, right. That was a ‘norm’ I grew up with.

I was lucky to have some knowledgeable horse people around who assured me that she would offer ‘canter’ to me the day she was ready. That was a hard thought to digest, she cantered at liberty, why not under saddle? Other horses that got started could do it in 4 – 6 weeks. Did I really had to wait until she offered it, so I could click and reward it? When would that be?

It was difficult to trust the theory of this science based training because I felt there were no guarantees for me to get results. I had to open my mind and start trying things I had never done before. I didn’t have any experience yet with activating a slow horse with rewards. The fact that a few other clicker trainers on the internet got wonderful results with this kept me going and the theory behind the science gave me a little confidence too.

A long road
I must say it was a really long process to teach Kyra to trot even for a few minutes, but we accomplished it. She also now wants to canter multiple circles in one go in the arena under saddle, which I am really enjoying.

I think the road I took was way longer than the road of negative reinforcement would have been, where the results can be instant. But in my heart I am convinced that this longer road has been much more comfortable to travel for Kyra. After all it is not about the goal, it’s about the road to the goal that is much more important. I also know that the experience I have now will be very helpful in the future.Working on stamina in trot

So many temptations
I was tempted many times to go back to my default behaviours (pressure and release and sometimes even -just out of frustration- to use a whip or a similar device to make Kyra go). A lot of times this tendency came up more than once in a session and it was hard to resist, because I knew I could ‘teach’ her to go with pressure. Instant results are always tempting.

At the same time I was very scared that it would compromise our good relationship and the trust bond we built over the years. So every time I ‘hit the wall’ and became frustrated because I had the feeling I lacked training tools, I just stopped training.

I would go home and search the net for new ideas and I would read my training journals which encouraged me to stay on the chosen road. I have stopped a lot of training sessions over the years to prevent my frustration from taking over. Kyra ‘has won’ so many times. Just kidding, I don’t believe that nonsense. We are on the same team, so we win together or lose together. I prefer to win together.

Letting go of the desire of instant results
It was hard to open my mind and try a completely different approach like using a target or teaching Kyra to stand on a mat and then let her go from mat to mat in order to get her moving. The hardest part was to let go of the immediate results (“whip and go”) and focus on the tiny steps, the building blocks, that would lead to the end behaviour. To trust that the positive reinforcement training method would reach the same result.

It was difficult to keep the faith that once Kyra could walk slowly from mat to mat, she would want to canter from mat to mat. I didn’t have any experience with these training tools in this situation to rely on. I could see the theory that a behavior consists out of little building blocks and that you can train them one block at a time to get to the end result. I had experienced this in a lot of other behaviours I taught Kyra over the years. That knowledge kept me keep going and gave me the patience needed to accomplish trotting for a minute or cantering a circle in the future. And I did!

My biggest challenge
Giving Kyra the stamina to trot and canter under saddle is one of my biggest challenges. I think because training stamina under saddle is an ongoing challenge and the behaviour is never ‘done’. When I could canter three strides,_reinforcingscratch2 I wanted to ride a whole circle and then two. Now I am training the canter for minutes instead of seconds or strides, like I did in the beginning.

I hope I can inspire the passionate horse lovers to stay on the road of clicker training and to enjoy the ride. Even in rough times. Maybe it takes longer but the view is much, much better!

Sandra Poppema

10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (I)

What is so powerful about clicker training? Why does it work and what do you need to succeed?

Here are some of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training.

1 Clicker or bridge sound_hondenclicker
The most powerful communication tool I ever had is the clicker. This simple device has had such a great impact on my life and on all of the horses I trained.

It is the concept of the clicker that is important and changed my whole training approach and philosophy. It changed my focus to what I want from what I don’t want. By focusing on what I want, I get more of it.

The click marks the exact behaviour and then a reward follows. In this way I can communicate very clearly to my horse what it is I want. He will try to do more of that behaviour and he will be rewarded again. I never reward him ‘for a good ride’ anymore, but I reward specifically for 1 perfect step of shoulder in. If my horse understands that it’s the shoulder in I reward for, he’ll give me more. When I ‘rewarded’ my horse after a ride by feeding him dinner it has never guaranteed me a better ride next time. He simply didn’t connect the food with the quality of the ride, he probably associated it with taking the saddle off.

If the horse doesn’t have to be afraid of punishment or aversives, the chances improve that he will try more behaviours which makes it easier to teach him more and more things. It encourages the creativity of the horse.

2 Reinforcers
_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesWhen I changed my focus from traditional training to working with rewards I was forced to think about the question ‘What is rewarding for my horse?’ If the reward is not reinforcing the behaviour you’re training it is useless as reward.

This resulted in observing my horse with new eyes. I started to pay more attention to his preferences: what kind of exercises/training did he like best? What treats did he eat first if I gave him a choice? What was his favourite scratching spot? I also noticed other things about him, like who were his friends in the pasture and where he stood in the herd hierarchy. I learned a lot since I started focusing on rewards and my horses’ opinions about them.

3 Timer
When I started using clicker training I trained with my pocket full of treats, but often I used a kitchen timer to make sure I didn’t over-train my horse.

I used 5 minute training blocks with breaks in between. I had never used a break in my training before! I used to train and train and train. My horse improved, I changed my criteria, my horse improved, I raise my criteria and so on, until my horse didn’t improve anymore. That often resulted in ending our rides with some frustration for both of us.

_time-your-training_hippologic

The timer made me much more aware of the improvements we made per session. Taking breaks also gave me the opportunity to reconsider my training approach if necessary. A break can also be a big reward, just a few minutes to relax.

In the break my horse can decide what he wants to do. If I work at liberty the breaks I give my horse can give me valuable information. Does he stay with me, does he walk off? What is he going to do in the break? If he is heading for the door, it is a sign that he’s had enough.

I still use a kitchen timer when I train new behaviours. ‘Less is more’ applies to training time. More training time does not necessarily result in better performance.

Read here part II

Read here part III

Read here part IV

To be continued…

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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My 5 best investments for my horse

What is the best investment you did that improved your horse’s life? While I was pondering about this question multiple things came up. In a random order I’ll give you my 5 best investments below.

1) Knowledge
I’ve spent hours and hours reading about horse behaviour, their needs, health and training. boeken_hippologic_kennisWhen I was editor at a publishing house which specialized in animal books I traveled by train. For four years I read 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, on my way back home. Every single day. And at work I read about pets and horses too! I also invested time in watching YouTube videos, attending demo’s and clinics and taking and giving lessons. The best way to learn something is to teach it, is what they say.

2) Time
It takes time to learn new skills. I took me hours and hours of practice to master riding, taking care of horses, training them and teaching them new behaviours and so on. Time is a really good investment. One of my favourite sayings about time is: Take the time it takes, then it takes less time. So, invest time in yourself and in your horse. It pays back really well.

3) Boarding

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Mees, Ziggy & Kyra (left)

An expensive monthly investment is boarding your horse. I have really high standard for boarding facilities. It must have everything to make my horse happy: they must be living in a herd, have 24/7 access to roughage & water, shelter and room to exercise daily. And besides that, I have a few requirements myself: access to trails, indoor/outdoor, a washroom and I also value nice human company. The only thing that grows by sharing is happiness, right?

Most important of all: the facility must provide excellent care for my horse. Because that saves me a lot of worrying. Sleepless nights and worrying all day about the safety or health of my horse kills my happiness instantly.

4) Cavesson
I just love my cavesson. When I bought it I thought it was way too expeKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAnsive, but all my knowledgeable horse friends recommended a cavesson. I am very grateful I listened. And I am grateful for my friend Saskia who convinced me to buy one without a polstered chain in the nose band.

My Vienna cavesson, with a nice soft leather padded nose band, has proven to be a very versatile piece of equipment. I’ve used it almost every day for the past 5 years. It is still nice and beautiful after all those years and it is a very gentle piece of tack.

5) Clicker
The cheapest investment and one that is even more versatile than my Vienna cavesson, is my clicker. It is such a powerful tool to communicate to animals once you know how to use it. If you can think it, you can train it!

Let me know what your 5 best investments in your horse are.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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DIY: a golden clicker

Today I am going to share a DIY project: How to turn a ordinary looking clicker into serious eye candy. After all, if you are a clicker trainer you’re using this tool daily. It might as well look pretty and reflect your personality.

Since all my tack is Havana brown with brass, I thought it would be nice to add a ‘Golden’ Clicker to my collection._DIY golden clicke_ hippologic

Materials:
– a clicker
– a pair of scissors
– a hobby knife
– golden duct tape
– glue gun
– trim
– wooden stick

Step 1: duct tape
First you measure the amount of duct tape you need to cover the ends of the clicker. Cut the duct tape with scissors. Don’t tear it, because the tape will get stretched and you’ll get wrinkles.

Then you measure the peace of tape for the middle of the clicker. Cover the whole clicker in tape and cut a small circle out above the ‘metal sound maker’, where the hole is. Carefully make some cuts in the circle, so you can fold in the borders nicely.

Then measure a little piece of duct tape to cover the metal ‘sound maker’ of your clicker. Stick it onto the metal. Now your clicker is covered in gold! Wow!

Step 2: Finishing touch
Use for the finishing touch some bling-bling trim and glue it to the sides of your golden clicker. Use only a little bit of the hot glue at a time. Use the wooden stick to press the trim to the clicker without burning your fingers!

Now your bling-bling eye-candy super-duper clicker is ready to use!

Tip_rearview_mirror_hippologic
If you think it is too beautiful to use you can hang it on your rear view mirror in your car. I find it the best place to store a few extra clickers. They always come in handy if you’ve lost a clicker.

Instruction video
Here is my DIY Golden Clicker video about this project.
I also have saved some of the bloopers, like my cat who jumps on the table, sits in my chair and more.

Share your ideas
Please let me know if you have personalized your clicker and how you did it. I am looking forward t_silver_gold_clicker_hippologico your creative ideas.

You can share yours in the comments below or place a link to your project.

Sandra Poppema

 

 

 

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