6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (6/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 6. This one is really an eye-opener! This is a phenomenon you only see in R+ training!

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#6 Horses increase the criteria


Your horse will do more and more for one click, if you know how. He will raise the criteria of the behaviour on his own in order to ‘train you to click’.

That is very unconventional in horse training! And scary too: “What if you are being trained by your horse instead of the other way around?! That is outrageous! You will loose your leadership!”

To tell you the truth: horses are training us. From day 1. Now you realize this, you can use this knowledge and turn it into a mutual benefit! Since we- clicker trainers- are encouraging and reinforcing the animal’s initiative he will be very likely to show you what else he can do.

At first you click and reinforce every step towards the goal behaviour. Once a behaviour is consistent, you can change to a variable reward schedule. This is where the fun part start: the experimenting! I love this part! Once the behaviour will be on a more unpredictable reinforcement schedule your horse will figure out that the more effort he will put into the exercise the more likely it is to receive an appetitive.

Video of a horse increasing her own criteria

In this video you can see how this works: First Kyra gets clicks and reinforcers for ‘walking around each cone’. Soon she figures out that she can influence the click and getting it sooner by getting to the cone faster! Now my more-whoa-than-go-horse offers a trot! By herself!

I reinforce this with clicks and treats. Now the criterion is raised. By Kyra! I  click less often (variable reward schedule) and I got a canter! Bingo! Kyra raised her criteria again! This is how you can work together with your horse in training.

The behaviours trot and canter are put on cue. Then I click only for cued behaviour. Final step in training is to fade out the clicks (but not completely appetitive reinforcers). How you can use this is in your own training is what I teach in the 8 week online Ultimate Horse Training Formula course.

Influencing the clicks and reinforcers will keep your horse very much engaged and enthusiast in training. He will offer better quality behaviour or longer duration by himself. As trainer you can easily capture this with a click and reinforcer. Tadaa, now the criterion has been raised. By the horse!

Something I have never seen in negative reinforcement (traditional/NH) training methods. Yes, I have seen horses run faster because the threat of the aversive increased (e.g. giving a second leg aid and then a ‘tap’ with the whip), but that only lasted for a short period of time. It wasn’t the lasting change that we see in R+ training.


Soon the horse will figure out how to offer a minimum of behaviour: just enough to avoid the aversive.

Think back or look around you: How often did you have to give a leg aid twice or three times because you thought your horse ‘didn’t pay attention’? How many horses do you know that get ‘deaf’ for light leg aids and even spurs? Maybe horses know us better than we know ourselves…

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

Sandra Poppema, BSc
Founder of HippoLogic
Enhancing Horse-Human connections through clicker training


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Techniques to get behaviour: luring and moulding

[Klik hier voor de Nederlands versie van dit artikel]

Luring, moulding, shaping, targeting and capturing are five different ways of teaching a horse new behaviour with positive reinforcement.  What are the pros and cons of each technique? 

This is part I: the pros and cons of luring and moulding. Luring and moulding are techniques I use the least in training.

In luring you use a primary reinforcer to lure the horse into the desired behaviour. For instance holding a carrot between the horses’ front legs to entice him to bow. The horse gets the lure as soon as he is performing the goal behaviour. Luring differs from targeting because the lure is the reinforcer (treat).


Pros of luring
It can be a good aid to communicate what you want the horse to do.
It is a fast way of getting (the goal) behaviour. 

Cons of luring
The lure (bait) can be so distracting that the horse doesn’t pay attention to the trainer and his cues in order to get to the lure as quickly as possible.

The lure can also prevent the horse from focusing on the behaviour he is suppose to learn.

It can cause serious safety issues if you lure a horse into behaviour with food and you can’t see your hand and/or the horses mouth while you are feeding him. Using a lure can promote biting behaviour because the horse is only focused on getting the lure.

Luring can cause confusion regarding their expectations and change their behaviour around food. This confusion can come from the lure marking the behaviour and not the bridge signal. This in turn can encourage undesirable behaviours like mugging or biting.

Because the lure is so attractive it can cause frustration in the animal as long as he doesn’t get (to) the lure and /or doesn’t understands the assignment.

The horse already knows what his reward is going to be. This predictability can cause the behaviour going extinct instead of getting (more) behaviour. We all know horses that can be caught with a bucket of food in hand, but we also all know horses that see the bucket (lure) and run the opposite way. Same goes with luring a horse into a trailer. It might work once or twice. But if the animals needs are not met (take away his fears), luring will not work and your bond of trust can be damaged.

It can be hard to fade out the lure: your horse might not even want to try to bow if he doesn’t see a carrot.

Luring seems quicker than teaching your horse targeting first, but I find the cons outweigh the pros here. I wouldn’t recommend luring in training.

_1Luring_food_into bow_hippologic

Moulding also sometimes referred to as ‘molding’ or ‘manipulation’ is physically guiding or otherwise coercing a horse (or one body part)  into the behaviour you want to teach (goal behaviour). Then bridge and reinforce the behaviour. Example: with a lead rope between your horses front legs gently guiding your horse into a bow. 

Pros of moulding
Like luring it can help to communicate more clearly what you want your horse to do. In that way it can prevent frustration.

It is easy to understand and to carry out for humans.

It can be used to teach complex behaviours in ‘one go’, for instance a bow or kneeling.

Cons of moulding
The horse is not enticed to use his brain in this method, his body is set up in the desired position. Therefor it can be hard to fade out the training aid you used, in this example the halter and lead rope.

Warning: sometimes there is only a fine line between moulding and forcing. Forcing a horse, or any animal for that matter, into behaviour is not ethical and should not be acceptable as a training method. Be careful with moulding especially if you start getting frustrated.


In the next blog I will discuss the pros and cons of shaping, targeting and capturing. Techniques I use a lot in horse training.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019

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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!
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