When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. (more…)
Posts tagged ‘end-of-training’
‘My horse can’t stop throwing behaviours at me since I started clicker training‘ or ‘My horse keeps doing tricks, even when I don’t ask him to do so‘ are common ‘problems’ when
people start clicker training their horse.
Problem? No, not at all!
I have written ‘problem’ between quotations marks because it is not ‘a problem’. It is in fact a normal part of the process: your horse is getting enthusiastic about the influence he now has on his training and of course he is excited about your rewards. It is a step you can’t skip.
Have encountered this problem when you started clicker training? I certainly have! I have struggled with this for a while and I didn’t know how to handle it. (more…)
In this series I will keep you posted about the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.
In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned. (more…)
Clicker training or positive reinforcement is based on a simple concept: adding something the learner wants (an ‘appetitive’) in order to strengthen a behaviour. What can possibly go wrong with a simpel concept of noticing (a tiny step towards) the desired behaviour – mark the behaviour (‘click’) and reinforce (strengthen) it by giving the learner something pleasurable?
Theory versus Practice
Like every training method there is the theory which assumes the trainer, the target animal (learner) and the environment are perfect and then there is reality…
History of the Horse
Not all horses are blank slates. It is very rare to come across a horse that hasn’t been handled by humans before he’s trained by an experienced positive reinforcement trainer.
In other words, almost every horse already has a history with humans and he has already made lots of associations with situations, humans, things et cetera. Both good and bad.
If the horse has negative associations with certain cues, tack or situations the trainer has to counter condition (make them ‘neutral’ or ‘positive’) them first.
In positive reinforcement an appetitive is added to strengthen a behaviour. When the horse doesn’t understand what he has to do in order to earn the treat or if the horse is too excited by the high value treat, he can become frustrated.
If the trainer is not noticing little signs of frustration in the horse and doesn’t respond adequately the learned behaviour can regress or the horses loses interest in the exercise. If the frustration builds up the horse can even become aggressive.
Make sure your horse understands when he can and when he can’t expect food rewards. Implement a ‘start session’-signal and an ‘end of session’-signal.
Lumping criteria (making your steps too big) or raising criteria too quickly can cause frustration. Split the goal behaviour into enough steps that you can reward.
If the treats are too distracting and causing frustration, use low(er) value treats and make sure the horse is not hungry during training. Provide a full hay net during training.
Some horses are very excited once they discover that (high value) treats or other very desirable rewards can be earned in training. Due to their excitement they can get aroused or even over-aroused. If not properly addressed the physical signs (like dropping the penis or erection) can be reinforced (unconsciously) in training.
Prevention works best but in order to prevent this you have to have a keen eye for body language and behaviour. (Over)arousal can be caused by frustration, see above.
In order to counter condition and/or prevent reinforcing physical signs of arousal, start marking and reinforcing before the arousal happens. In other words: split the behaviour, increase the rate of reinforcement and counter condition the behaviour.
Like in any other training method there are many mistakes a trainer can make. I think that is inherent to learning a skill.
Find an experienced teacher to guide you around the pitfalls. There are enough things to learn without falling into them.
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website
When you are interested in trying clicker training one of the first questions is: what should I teach my horse? I suggest teaching a brand new behaviour which isn’t dangerous.
If you start experimenting with a new training method start with a simple lesson. There are 7 Key Lessons that are perfect building blocks to other behaviours. These are:
Why Key Lessons?
Stephanie Kwok and I decided to call them Key Lessons because they are in a way your key to success in clicker training. Why? They are simple behaviours and a few of these already belong to your horses normal behaviour repertoire. Every horse can lower his head, back up or look away from the handler.
Easy to start with
These are good exercises for all new trainers to practise their basic mechanical skills like: present a target – click- take target out of sight- reach for a treat – feed it to the horse – start again. It will improve your timing and observational skills. You’ll get experience in making a training plan, setting criteria, increasing them and lowering them if necessary and to keep a training journal [click here-> 4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal <- to read more]. It is a good exercise to learn how to set your horse and yourself up for success and learn to think ‘out of the box’.
A fresh start
Another good reason to start with these are that your horse probably doesn’t have bad associations connected with some of these lessons. Your horse can make a fresh start with a whole new approach to learning. Reward-based training with clear communication rules: the bridge signal that give the horse the “yes you did this excellent and your reward is on its way”-signal, a “start-session”-signal and an “end-of-session”-signal that tells the horse “now it is time to earn lovely rewards” and “not mugging the handler is the fastest way to earn the goodies”. Once the horse gets these rules he will be eager to go to class with you!
All these key lessons are very good building blocks to more complex behaviours. For example, targeting can help you trailerload your horse, get your horse out of the pasture without you going through the mud, helps teaching your horse to accept a deworming syringe, helps you to teach your horse to jump at liberty, come when his name is called, easily transfers to targeting other body parts like hooves (cleaning and trimming feet), shoulder/hip (lateral work), overcome fear for scary objects and so on.
Every key lesson is an excellent building block and therefor equally important. I wish I had known these when I started with clicker training. It would have made my journey a lot less ‘bumpy’. At least now I can teach them to my clients and let them enjoy the knowledge. I love it.
Here a video of the Key Lesson ‘targeting’ in real life: