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:
- How does the horse behave (describe)
- Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
- Where are his feet ideally?
- Where is is head
- How does he use his neck
- What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
- Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
- And so on
- The horse is calm and is relaxed
- Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
- His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
- His head is relatively low
- Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
- Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
- 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?
Smart strategy to re-train a halter shy horse with video.
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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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