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.
# 2: Clicker training will make you more resourceful
When using pressure-release in training and the horse doesn’t cooperate, the go-to strategy is to increase pressure until the horse does what you want. This is actually the only strategy I they taught me, when I was learning traditional and later on natural horsemanship training.
When you decide to use less pressure-release in training and focus more on positive reinforcement, you give your horse a voice and a choice in training. Therefor you have to learn to listen what your horse is communicating to you if things don’t go as planned.
If you know the reason your horse does not follow your cue, you need to come up with a way to address his feelings or concerns first. It helps if you have knowledge about (natural) horse behaviour and natural needs horses have.
What if my horse doesn’t want to do what I want?
Depending to the cause of saying ‘No’ you can come up with another way, a new strategy to make it easier for your horse to say ‘Yes’ (without making something else more difficult!).
Possible causes of not cooperating are:
- something else is more reinforcing
- something else is more urgent (e.g danger, internal processes like hunger, pain)
- your horse doesn’t understand what he has to do
- and so on.
You have to come up with strategies that will be:
- Addressing the reason your horse said ‘No’ so he gets into learning mode again.
- Easier to understand (splitting behaviour and making a shaping plan)
- Worthwhile for your horse to participate (it’s the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer!). You don’t want him to ‘zone out’ (and go into learned helplessness)
- Interesting and fun for your horse, so he will stay engaged
So you have to become very creative! That is the fun part of training animals!
When you allow your horse to say ‘no’ in training, you have to accept that ‘no’. Treat the ‘no’ for what it is: valuable feedback from your horse. It is ‘just information’. Information you can use to benefit you and your horse!
You have to find out why: What is causing your horse to say ‘No’?
If you figure that out, you listened to your horse. This helps you come up with a strategy to entice him to say ‘yes’, without forcing him.
Read his body language
It can be as easy as recognizing that he is just tired. Simply ending the training session will give you more of the desired behaviour next time.
If it is mental fatigue, you can focus on a well known and established behaviour that take no thinking effort. And so on.
Tell me your story
Share your story (use the comment section at the bottom) about one time you had to come up with an alternative strategy. What did you do differently than you would have done traditionally?
What was the situation and what do you think caused your horses to say ‘No’ ? What solution did you come up with and what was the result? Do you think it benefited your relationship with your horse?
This approach (listening to your horse) will bring me to the next advantage of using positive reinforcement… More about that next time.
Stay tuned for part 3 of 6 Things You Might Not know About Clicker Training. You can follow my blog (see top right to sign up) and get an email every time I post a new one.
Read here part 1
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Safe the date: March 6, 2019
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get results in training they really, really want. Getting results with ease and lots of fun for both horse and human is important to me. Win-win!
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