Hurdles of clicker training instructors

I did a little research and asked positive reinforcement trainers ‘What is your biggest struggle or concern?’ Why are not more people into clicker training their horses? Here are some answers I got.

Why horse people don’t use R+ according to clicker trainers

  • “I find the biggest hurdle is the food. It is so ingrained in people not to hand feed.”
  • “Newbies to marker training can create cookie monsters who bite. It’s sad, but true. Every time that happens and the person tells their story anyone who hears it has a negative impression about the possibility of using something as crazy as clicker training with their horse. And they believe that it creates biters and muggers, because in reality, it can when improperly practised. So as we share the wonder and magic of this method, we also have a responsibility to make sure we keep this in mind.”
  • “I think the problem is people are not patient enough. They don’t want to listen they are physical with horses. They want it quick.” 
  • “We all love horses and find humans irritating, it takes a special person to be a good coach to both.”

Let’s make some changes!

How can positive reinforcement trainers and coaches overcome these hurdles? I know these are quotes, but I choose these ones because they are very common. We’ve all heard these or very similar ones, right? Here is what we can do to

  • Focus on the solution (results in R+ training!), not on the problem (people focusing on the carrots). If horse people think “It’s all about treats” in clicker training I think it’s result-3236285_640because we (‘we’ = R+ trainers, instructor or not) present it like that (almost) all the time! Let’s start promoting clicker training as a training method that gets RESULTSThat’s what other methods do: they don’t emphasize the how (coercion, aversives, sometimes even pain inflicting methods).
  • Yes, novice trainers and new horse owners can create ‘cookie monsters‘. It happens and let’s not deny this fact. This is not a specific clicker training problem: it happens in all training where inexperienced people start training horses. How many horses got horrified by whips or training sticks? How many horses are head shy or don’t let them catch themselves in the pasture? (I still get giggly when I hear the word ‘catch’ because it is so much the opposite of what I do, but it is what some people have to do). Let’s focus on the amazing long-lasting results (intermediate and expert) clicker trainers accomplish!
  • I think it’s a myth that clicker training takes longer than training a horse with coercion. It only takes longer if we want to accomplish 2 goals in one go: training the horse and teaching the owner new ways of training that are almost opposite of what they have learned in the past. Let’s point out how fast horses learn new behaviours and skills! (No other training method I know of emphasizes how difficult it is or can be for the person to learn this method X, Y, Z. So let’s just quit doing that.)
  • I love horses and humans . That’s why I got into coaching: I not only want the skills in the horse but also in the horse person. So the next horse can benefit from it too, and the next one. I hope more people will learn and start teaching learning theory and will emphasize the benefits of positive reinforcement (R+) training over traditional and natural horsemanship training (and other methods based on R-). Let’s make the world a better place and start with ourselves: Be the change you want to see in the world! You never know who you inspire!

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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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Myth Monday: Training with Food rewards causes pushy Horses

All positive reinforcement trainers have heard people say: ‘Training horses with food rewards makes them pushy’. Some people even state ‘dangerous‘ instead of pushy. Maybe you have said it yourself before you started using positive reinforcement (+R) to train your horse.

You get what you reinforce

In +R training you use a reward that reinforces the behaviour you want to train. The trainer uses a marker signal to mark the desired behaviour in order to communicate to the horse which behaviour he wants to see more of. Key is the marker signal.

What is mugging?

Mugging or other undesired behaviour around food or treats is just learned behaviour. If you understand how learning works, you see that mugging is caused (reinforced) by the trainer. Even if it wasn’t a professional trainer, but just a mom who wanted to give her daughters pony a carrot just because …. If the pony was sniffing her pocket or maybe just gave mom a little push with his nose and mom thinks: ‘Oh I forgot I had a treat in my pocket. Here you are, sweet pony. You are so smart.’_mugging_hippologic

If someone has rewarded a horse for sniffing his pockets, this behaviour was encouraged. Therefor the horse will repeat this behaviour. It leaded to a reward. The same goes for a horse that is pushing you around in order to get to the food. If he gets rewarded for pushing you around, you have ‘trained’ him to do so. Even if it was unconscious, for the horse it was not. He was the one that paid attention (Read more in my post What to do if your horse is mugging you.)

Teaching ‘polite behaviour’ around food

The same way you can encourage (read: train) a horse to mug or behave pushy, you can encourage him to behave ‘politely’ around food and treats. I put polite between quotation marks because it is not per definition an equine behaviour. It is a trained behaviour. Polite behaviour is one of my key lessons (the keys to success in +R training).

Just like children have to learn not to speak with food in their mouth and other polite behaviours, so must horses learn what behaviours we want to see and consider polite (and save). It’s the trainers task to spent time on these.

Mugging is a trainers’ fault

Since mugging is a learned behaviour one can re-train it by reinforcing the opposite behaviour more and ignoring the mugging. Horses are smart and they will learn quickly what behaviours will lead to rewards and what behaviours will not.

If the trainer understands the learning theory and the equine mind, mugging is easily prevented or changed.

Train desired behaviour instead

Just think about what the opposite behaviours of mugging look like and start reinforcing those.

  • The horse looks straight forward or slightly away when you reach into your pocket, instead of moving his nose towards your pocket.
  • The horse backs up a step when you are about to hand-feed him, instead of coming towards you to get the food.
  • The horse takes the treat gently off of your hand and uses his lips only,  instead of taking it with his teeth.
  • The horse stays out of your personal space instead of pushing you with his nose.
  • And so on.

So, when people state that using food rewards causes mugging, pushy, dangerous or other unwanted behaviour in horses I know they just don’t understand how learning occurs. That’s OK. They can learn, we just have to reinforce the desired behaviour (or thoughts).

Related post The Dangers of working with Food (rewards).

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Therese Keels commented on Facebook : “It does cause pushy horses! They push you to think faster, use your imagination more. They push you to observe more closely, to pay attention and be present. They push us to be kinder, more considerate and understanding. They push us to be better at being us. Take that kind of pushy any day. :-)”

Thank you, Therese for this wonderful comment! Love it!

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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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