Best Clicker Training Tip for Advanced Horse Trainers

advanced clickertraining tips hippologicOne 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.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training

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.
 

Why people get stuck

 
Lumping in clicker training means that you make the steps too big for your horse to be successfulThe 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).
 
_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce2) 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 this

 
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!
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Shaping Plan for Haltering in 3 Steps (Clicker Training Horses)

What is your biggest struggle in clicker training? Splitting behaviour? Do you catch yourself sometimes lumping behaviour?

The most challenging task for a positive reinforcement trainer is to ‘thin slice’ your goal behaviour into trainable steps. This process is called a shaping plan.

Key Lesson for Trainers: Shaping plan

One of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers in HippoLogic’s horse training system is teaching horse people how they can make good shaping plans for their horses.

Shaping plan in 3 easy steps

Step 1 Determine your goal behaviour

Step 2 Divide it into smaller steps. And even smaller. If you can, even more baby steps.

Step 3 Write them all down

#1 Determine Your Goal behaviour

Describe your goal behaviour in a detailed way. Asking questions will help you with this description:

  1. How does the horse behave (describe)
  2. Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
  3. Where are his feet ideally?
  4. Where is is head
  5. How does he use his neck
  6. What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
  7. Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
  8. And so on

Example: Haltering

  1. The horse is calm and is relaxed
  2. Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
  3. His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
  4. His head is relatively low
  5. Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
  6. Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
  7. I am in front of the horse (I know traditionally you need to stay at the left. Clicker training is not traditional. It’s OK to break some rules. I like to be in front so it’s easy to teach horses to ‘self halter’.)

#2 Divide Goal into Trainable Steps

When you did a good job describing the behaviour you have a lot of starting points to make a good shaping plan.
In your shaping plan you write down every step you need to teach your horse in order to train your goal behaviour.

It helps to remember that your horse has no clue what you want to accomplish!

Every step in the description above can help you divide the goal behaviour ‘haltering’ into smaller steps.

The first step has to be that the horse stands still and is approachable. We all know how hard it is to halter a walking or trotting running horse, don’t we?

So all the above steps in the description of the goal behaviour can be steps in your shaping plan. If you think this is undue than you’ve probably never tamed and trained a wild horse. Also for halter shy and ear and head shy horses these steps all can be necessary.

Now you have the perfect body posture trained the next step is to bring in the halter. Some of the other steps in the shaping plan of training haltering are:

  • Horse stands still and keeps his head still when he sees the halter
  • Halter can move towards the horse and the horse keeps his head still
  • Head is at a height that is convenient to halter
  • Horse keeps his head still or
  • moves slightly down when the noseband is around his nose (Key Lesson Head lowering and Key Lesson Targeting are excellent training tools to train this part)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece touches ears (for head and ear shy horses you need to thin slice this even further!)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece goes over his ears
  • Horse keeps head still when handler closes the halter

Each and every step in the above list can be divided even small if the horse needs it.
In your shaping plan you also write down when you want to move to the next step, what reinforcers you use and what the set up of the training environment is.

#3 Write it Down!

Studies have proven that writing your goals down help improve accomplishing it with 39%. People who share their goals and make themselves accountable (by sharing their goal with their coach or close friend) even increase their chances to 79%!

If you’ve written your shaping plan down it’s also way easier to remember. You’ve already visualized it in detail in order to write it down. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen! If you need help writing shaping plans, I happen to be a star in it! I also offer accountability for my students, so if you want to increase your chances of success, you know how to find me, right?

Read on

Smart strategy to re-train a halter shy horse with video.

HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Join our Happy Herd group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

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!
Get a free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Clicker Training Academy gives students personal support and offers online training

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those students who receive extra privileges because they are the first) .
The 25 founding members get a free 90-minute coaching session with me (value $150 CAD). There is still room for you!



4 Tips to improve your Horse Training Skills

Many horse owners and riders, me included, started out one point in time using reinforcers to train our horses. It doesn’t matter if we used positive reinforcement/clicker training for trick training or more ‘serious’ behaviours like standing for the vet and farrier or in the saddle. Not every one is successful in teaching their horse new behaviours or improve the quality of existing behaviours with positive reinforcement. How to become more efficient when using R+ is what this blog is about.

Use a bridge signal

_hondenclickerThe use of a click to bridge the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of the reinforcer is tip number one when you use reinforcers in training. The horse has to know what made him earn the treat. The bridge signal is also called ‘marker’ or marker signal’ to indicate that that signal marks the desired behaviour.

Set a goal

If you know what your goal in training is, write it down and describe it as detailed as possible. When you to it right, you’ve made a great start for your shaping plan. Important is to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. It sounds like an open door, but how many of us have yelled in despair to our horse: “I wish you didn’t always walk away when groomed.” or “I wish you stopped stepping on my toes” or “I wish you weren’t so nervous around fly spray“.

This is focusing on what you don’t want. What you focus on, you create more of!

What do you want instead? “I want my horse to stand still while being groomed”,”I want my horse to stand next to me.” and “I want my horse to be relaxed when I apply fly spray”.

Here is a video of Kyra and my results of fly spray training:
https://youtu.be/gHwXTo4uuIM

PS If you want to train your horse to accept fly spray, join this month HippoLogic Clicker Challenge. Two weeks of focus, support and training tips.

Details matter

Describe your goal into as much details as you can think of.

__hippologic_grazing_horseExample: I want my horse to stand still and stay relaxed when I apply fly spray. I want my horse to be comfortable with all kinds of spray cans and their content, all kinds of sounds, smells and feels. I want my horse to be OK wherever we are, when I use a spray can or spray bottle on his body, neck, legs and tail. I want my horse to be OK with being sprayed when he is at liberty. I want my horse to be confident to walk away if he doesn’t like it or had enough.

If you go into so many details you already can see how you can approach your “spray can training“. You can use different kind of bottles later on in training: start with a plant sprayer with water before you start using aerosol cans that make a hissing sound and from which the content often is very cold. Next step is training in different places (stall, pasture) and so on.

Shaping plan

Once you have your goal set, you are ready to make a shaping plan. That’s your step-by-step approach of your training. Divide your goal into lots of smaller steps. Make each step so tiny it describes a click worthy moment.

The first step can be ‘Horse approaches spray can’, the next step can be ‘Horse targets spray can’.

Repeat each step until you see the horse is confident enough before you ask a bit more. Your horse might even increase his own criteria by skipping one of more of the steps in your plan. Don’t forget to click and reinforce when that happens!

Track your progress

Last but not least is to keep track of your process and also your progress. If you don’t make progress write down what you changed in your setup so you will remember next time you train a horse.

Keeping track is such a valuable habit. You never have to invent the wheel again! Keeping a training journal or logbook will also help you become more creative in finding new angles to training challenges.

Writing down your process will also provide you with valuable information of all the things you did well in training! Always keep it positive! That what makes a training journal a good read!

Do you set goals, write them down, make shaping plans and keep a training journal? Or do you think this is difficult?
What is your approach that helped you become more successful? Share your training tips in the comments!

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If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

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Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

In positive reinforcement training we need our horse to think about what we want and to make a conscious decision to do it.

We don’t push, pull, force or threaten our horse in the right direction and release the pressure, force or take away the threat when he performs the desired behaviour. No, we have to create an environment in which he can use his brain, so that he can choose to do what we want.

In order to learn, your horse needs to be in thinking mode.

This self-imposed challenge to ask the horse to use his brain, demands proper preparation from the trainer:

  1. We need to think about we want in advance, in order to
  2. Set our horses up for Success.

How do you Set your Horse up for Success?

You only have a marker (to mark the behaviour), a reinforcer (to strengthen the behaviour) and your brain to make it happen.

Shaping plan_hippologicYou have to guide your horse with your clicks from where he is to where you want him to be, the desired behaviour. In order to do that successfully you need a plan. This is called a ‘shaping plan’. You need to shape the behaviour step by step.

Shaping Plan

A shaping plan is your written approach to train a specific behaviour.

It describes every little step (criterion) in the process to train the desired behaviour. This process is called ‘splitting’ behaviour.

When you split the behaviour in small enough steps, it is easy for your horse to understand what you want (and what he will be reinforced for).

It gives in detail an objective description of the desired behaviour, your goal behaviour. A good shaping plan also contains a description of the circumstances of the training: where you train, the date, the name of the horse, the trainer, what reinforcers will be used and how many good tries will lead to the next criterion.

With a good shaping plan you can guide your horse with clicks to the desired behaviour.

If you split the behaviour in small enough steps, you create enough stepping stones to go from A to B to C to D (Desired behaviour).

If you don’t have enough steps, you get stuck. That is called ‘lumping’ behaviour and your horse can’t make the jump from behaviour A to C. He gets stuck and doesn’t understand anymore where you want him to go.

If you go back to your shaping plan you can see that B is missing. It is easy to come up with an extra stepping stone if you already have a direction of where you want to go.

Purpose of a Shaping Plan

  1. You know what your criterion for a click is
  2. You know after how many successful tries you go to the next criterion
  3. You know what the next criterion is (for what behaviour you will click and reinforce)
  4. You know what reinforcers you are going to use and which ones you’ve used in the past
  5. You know when to give your horse a break.

Training without a shaping plan

What happens if you don’t make a shaping plan? You set yourself up for failure and frustration.shaping lumping hippologic

  • Without a plan of approach it is much harder to recognize if you are making progress.
  • Without a written plan you easily forget what your starting point was and you might not celebrate your successes enough
  • You will miss ‘click-worthy’ moments because you haven’t set parameters what is click worthy and what is not.
  • It is harder to raise your criteria
  • It is also harder to be flexible in your training and adjust as soon as frustration in you of your horse occurs. You don’t have an alternative ready and it is harder to go back to the step where your horse still was successful. As you get more experienced in writing shaping plans, you will notice that you become way more creative in finding solutions to challenges that occur in training.

5 Benefits of a Shaping Plan

  1. If you get stuck you get yourself unstuck way faster because it is easier to see where you need to add an extra step, need to change your reinforcer and/or go back to where your horse was still successful.
  2. The more you practise the more experience you get in splitting behaviour. You will ‘lump’ less and prevent frustration and other undesired emotions and feelings in training
  3. Once you’ve written a good shaping plan you can re-create your training successes with other horses. Even years later, just because you’ve written it down.
  4. It is easier to be flexible in training and come up with an alternative step if you get stuck because you’ve given your training approach already so much thought.
  5. A good plan will speed up your training.

One of the Key Lesson I teach is how to write and use a shaping plan. Shaping plans are your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training.

Read this blog too: Key to Success is Making a Shaping Plan

Help us get the word out!

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below this post. Please share your thoughts and questions about the use of a shaping plan in the comments, I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want and teach them how to get results in training.  
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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