Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Posts tagged ‘reward schedule’

6 Things Your Might Not Know About Clicker Training (1/6)

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 1.

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.

#1 The purpose of clicker training is to teach new behaviours or retrain undesired behaviours

People often get the wrong impression about equine clicker training. They think you need to keep clicking and feeding for ever. That’s not true at all!horse-934534_640

I think it is because there are so many videos out there about teaching our horses new behaviours. If you see a lot of those videos you indeed can get the wrong impression and could be mistakenly thinking that we clicker trainers never stop clicking and are always giving treats.

Fact
Once the horse understands the new or more desirable behaviour, the marker (click) and food are faded out.

We still reinforce the behaviour once in a while with an appetitive (treat, praise, scratches or with other reinforcing behaviour), but we don’t keep clicking and feeding treats for the same behaviour over and over.

If we would do that, it would decrease the goal behaviour rather than it would keep it’s quality or increase it.

Part of the power of positive reinforcement is that there is a chance of getting a reward once the behaviour is trained. That chance can also involve to do other behaviour (one that they really like to do). That will make the horse always want to perform his best.

After the first few sessions of clicker training the horse starts to pay attention to the click and his behaviour at the the time of the click.

In clicker training he focus shifts pretty quickly from the food to the click and their own behaviour.

If people make videos about clicker training their horse, they are usually filming behaviour that is in the process of being taught, not behaviours that are already well trained and established. Therefor the horse is clicked and reinforced a lot in those videos.

The clicks and treats are faded out after the goal behaviour is trained.

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

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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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Setting yourself up for Success: Reward schedule

When things are going smoothly we tend to go on for too long or do too many repetitions of the same exercise. While we are still having fun showing off our horse’s newest trick, the horse gets bored…

Continuous reward schedule

A continuous reward schedule is very useful when we are teaching our horse a new behaviour. Rewarding every effort in the beginning, encourages our horse to stay focused on us and will help him to keep offering new behaviours. In this stage of training we want the horse to expect a reward. As soon as the horse masters the new behaviour and we’ve put it on cue, we should change our reward schedule.

If we don’t change our reward schedule and we keep using a continuous schedule of reinforcement, we become way too predictable. Our horse will lose interest in improving his efforts. He knows exactly what you ask and when his reward is coming. He probably will also know what reward you will be giving him, too.

How to prevent predictability

If the reward doesn’t change or the reward schedule stays the same (most people have a schedule of 100% chance of a click and reward), the reward ‘wears off’. Chances are the horse’s performance will deteriorate: he will try to find the least amount of effort he needs to exert to still get the reward. His enthusiasm simply fades and the training stagnates.

Keep your horse engaged

In order to keep your horse engaged in training it helps to give the animal the feeling he can influence his environment. When the reward schedule and the rewards are predictable, his actions don’t seem to influence you/the rewards anymore. This is why it is important to keep the horse ‘guessing’ when and what kind of reward is coming.

There are several ways to become more unpredictable in your reward schedule in order to stimulate your horse.

Rewards

Carry low and high value treats. You can reward good tries with lower value treats and excellent performances with high value treats.

Don’t forget the power of rewarding with a jackpot. A jackpot is a very large (think one or two hands full of treats) and/or a very high value reward that is only given on special occasions.

Best thing to do after a jackpot is to give the horse a break, so you will end training this specific behaviour on an excellent note. You don’t have to stop your training that day entirely, only that specific behaviour.

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Vary the ratio of the click

You can use a fixed ratio reward schedule where you only click and reward for every 2nd or every 5th good performance of a behaviour. Mind you, your horse can learn to predict a fixed ratio schedule. When that happens his behaviour may deteriorate for the performances that are ‘in between’ an expected click and reward.

variable ratio schedule means that it will be random when a behaviour (once it is established) will be rewarded. With a variable ratio schedule it will take a long time before a behaviour will become extinct.

In what way do you use treats to keep your horse engaged in your training?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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How to… train for a dressage test with clicker training

Dressage riders who use positive reinforcement have asked me: ‘I can’t click and reward my horse during a dressage test. So how can I practice a test and still use clicker training?’

Or they say: ‘I don’t want my horse to stop in the middle of the test because he expects a treat’ or ‘He stops because he is used to a click and treat every few minutes’ or ‘If I don’t click and treat often he stops and gives up trying’.

One possible solution to prevent this is to use ‘back chaining’.

Rider

The rider has to memorize the test. If you are a visual learner you can use a dressage-test-white-board.DIY_dressage_test_board_by_hippologic_2015

If you are a practical learner you can memorize the test by walking it yourself. Make a little arena on your lawn or in your living room with letters you’ve printed out and walk the test several times until you know it by heart.

 Chaining

Once you know what to do you want to practice with your horse. The expression ‘chaining’ in positive reinforcement training refers to splitting the behaviour into smaller steps and train every step separately. Each step is one link of the chain.

After you practiced each link separately, you can start pairing two links together before clicking and reinforcing. If that goes well add another link of the chain before that. This is how you make a behaviour ‘chain’.

Back chaining

In ‘back  chaining’ you also start training every exercise (link of the behaviour chain) separately. It doesn’t matter in what order. Once the horse knows all the separate steps you can start ‘back chaining’. Start to reinforce the last exercise in your chain of exercises.

Almost every dressage test ends with ‘A: Down center line, X: Halt, salute, leave the arena in free walk’.

In back chaining you start with this last exercise (free walk and exit the arena). Train the free walk consciously: click and reinforce right after leaving the arena. You can’t click and reinforce during the test, so you have to do it after the test.

Then you add one exercise before the last one (X: Halt, salute) leave the arena in free walk, click and reinforce these two links. Then add a third link before ‘X: Halt, salute’ and so on.

The power of back chaining is that your horse will anticipate and he will learn what to expect. The last part of your chain becomes very predictable and easy because it is always the same. It only becomes longer because the trainer adds exercises ahead.

In this way your horse doesn’t expect a treat during the test, but he will know at the end will be a tasty reward waiting.

The chain can also become a reward in itself: you have reinforced the last link so many times it has a really positive and strong association with something pleasurable in the horses’ brain.

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Possible pitfalls

If you are too predictable in your use of your bridge signal and or too predictable in the rewards you offer and the reward schedule you are using, back chaining, can backfire on you. You get the opposite result of what you want: a horse that performs worse instead of doing the best he can.

Keep in mind that you need to vary your reward schedule and your reinforcers in order to keep your horse motivated. Don’t be afraid to experiment with back chaining.

As always: start small, reward big.

Dressuur-amazone Annemarie Sanders-Keyzer tijdens de Olympische Spelen in Seoul 1988

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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