There are many ways to built on ‘duration’ in behaviours you train with positive reinforcement. I will give an example of building duration in stationary behaviours and building duration in moving behaviours.
General Training Tips
Set your horse and yourself up for success:
- Make sure the horse understands the goal behaviour before adding the criterion ‘duration’
- Minimize the distractions in the environment when adding duration
- Make sure your horse is focused on you and interested in learning
Key Lesson for Trainers: Timing
In clicker training there is a saying You get what you reinforce. In practise it is often quite hard to recognize what behaviour you are actually marking with your click.
Only after a while -when you get a certain amount of the reinforced (marked) behaviour- it shows what you’ve been clicking for, according to the horse. If that was not what you intended, you have to change your timing.
Is your timing right?
If you have difficulties training for duration or other criteria ask yourself: What am I clicking for? A video will help you discover it.
Building duration in stationary behaviours
With stationary behaviours I mean behaviours when the horse is not suppose to move. Examples are: Key Lesson Patience, Key Lesson Mat Training, Key Lesson Head lowering.
Building duration in stationary behaviours can be done with increasing your Rate of Reinforcement (RoR): as long as your horse displays the desired behaviour you keep clicking and reinforcing. When the horse moves out of the desired position you stop clicking and reinforcing.
Timing of the click
The click must be timed when the horse does not move.
Example 1: when your horse is standing on a mat and it is difficult to built duration, are you really reinforcing ‘standing on the mat’? Describe your criteria and focus on what you want. Standing on a mat: hoof or hooves are touching the mat, horse has weight on his foot/feet.
If your timing is not correct, you might have clicked more often for ‘moving towards the mat’ or ‘moving away from the mat’ than ‘touching the mat’.
Both movement behaviours are present in pawing. If your horse paws the mat, are you really only clicking for the moment he touches the mat or is your horse already moving his leg and are you actually reinforcing the movement of the leg? If that is too difficult to time, start focusing on another criterion: ‘putting weight on the hoof that touches the mat’.
This is an example of the horse doesn’t yet understand the assignment. You need to teach him first to really stand on the mat (not just touching briefly) before adding duration to the exercise.
Example 2: as long as your horse stands ‘Patiently’ waiting next to you, you click, give a treat and when he hasn’t moved, you click and reinforce again. You keep doing this until your horse decides to try out another behaviour, eg moving forward one step and you stop clicking. Once he offers the desired behaviour again you start clicking and reinforcing.
Most horses will learn quickly that ‘not doing anything (else)‘ is very rewarding.
Next step is to withhold the click to built duration
When your horse offers the desired behaviour, wait 1 second (counting out loud can help you and your horse) then click and reinforce. Then you count to 2 before clicking and reinforcing. Don’t train this in a lineair way and go from 1, 2, 3, 4 to 5 seconds.
Instead, alternate the duration and go from 1 second before you click to 0 seconds (click right away), to 1 and then 2 seconds before you click. Then do 1 second, click, 2 seconds, click, 1 second, click, 2 seconds, 3 seconds click, 1 second, click 4 seconds, click and so on.
You horse learns that as long as you are still counting he must do whatever he is doing. If he moves before you can count to 2, you start counting from 1 again.
If you already have an established ‘keep-going’ signal, you can use that instead of counting out loud.
Building duration in movement
With building duration in movement I mean the behaviours when the horse is is suppose to keep moving. Example: Key Lesson Backing.
Timing of the click
The click must be timed when the horse does move.
Make sure you click and reinforce the movement itself and not after the movement stopped or before the movement is happening.
Example: in Key Lesson Backing you want to focus on the movement. You start clicking for weight shift while that movement is going on. Then of one step with one hoof, one with two hoofs and so on. Once your horse understands the behaviour, you can build duration by clicking for the movement only.
Click ends behaviour
Please remember that click means also ‘end of behaviour’. So when the horse stops after hearing the click that is OK. He was moving when the click was happening. The click marks the behaviour.
Add a stop-cue
Once your horse has learned to keep moving, you need a cue to ask him to stop, because you won’t always keep clicking to break the pattern of movement.
You can ask for a incompatible behaviour in order to stop the movement you’ve been training. Don’t forget to reinforce that behaviour, too! In backing you can ask for ‘halt’ (cue ‘Whoa’) or ‘go forward’ ( cue ‘Walk on’).
More ways to built duration
There are many more ways you can built duration in a behaviour. What works for you depends on the animal, the situation and on your level of expertise.
This blog has no room to share all possibilities, I usually keep the word count around 500 and this one is already more than twice as long.
If you want to share your approach or training tips about building duration add them in the comments for everyone else to read.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse and get the training result they really, really want.
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