Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 7

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 7

 1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.
5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.
6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent.
7.) Clicker trainers take the time to fill in all the training pieces.

Good trainers are splitters not lumpers.  That’s true whether they use clicker training or other more conventional methods.  Good trainers break lessons down into many small steps and they take the time to fill in all the pieces.  Lumpers lump.  They ask for too much, too fast.  That can be hard on a learner, especially when being wrong means you’re in trouble.  In clicker training we make sure that the learner feels safe.  It’s okay to experiment and make mistakes.  And if a lesson begins to be too hard, we break it down into smaller, more manageable units.  The result are clicker superstars.

One of our clicker superstars was an appaloosa named Crackers.  Crackers belonged to one of my long term clients, Bob Viviano.  They were two of our very early clicker pioneers.  I began working with Bob originally because Crackers used to rush over fences.  We began with foundation work.  That included basic targeting which grew into fetching which grew into so much more.  Bob taught Crackers a huge repertoire of target-related tricks.  And then he began sharing Crackers with others.  Crackers was a regular visitor to the Hole in the Wall Camp for children with cancer.  He visited nursing homes and at Christmas he rang the bell for the Salvation Army.

Target-based tricks are easy to teach.  Getting Crackers to open a mailbox, pull out a newspaper and hand it over to us was the work of an afternoon.  That part was easy.  The complex part of the training was filling in all the basic handling steps that would let Bob “take the show on the road”.  Crackers had to be just as comfortable handing a small child in a wheel chair the newspaper as he was for any of us.  And he had to do it in the parking lot of a busy shopping mall at Christmas time, or at the county fair with kites and hot air balloons flying over his head.   Because Bob took the time to fill in all the training steps, he was able to share Crackers with thousands of people.

I’ve been at this work for such a long time now, we are losing our early pioneers.  In September of 2012 at the age of 30 Bob lost his good friend. Crackers brightened so many lives.  Bob led the way in showing how clicker training could be used to teach tricks.  He had the fun of teaching Crackers, and then he shared the magic.  One of the many stories Bob shared with me was of a little girl who decorated her hospital room with pictures of Crackers.

It was always Bob and Crackers.  They were a team.  If you knew Bob, you knew Crackers.  And Crackers was always up for anything.  From tricks to line dancing, he would perform for hours.  As long as there were people who wanted to see him, Crackers was always willing.  Bob not only made Crackers’ life better through clicker training, together they enriched the lives of the thousands of people they came in contact with.  He is a great example of what can be achieved when you pay attention to the little things.  It’s a wonderful legacy, and I know Crackers will be remembered with great love.  

Coming soon: Part 8

Your Approved Alexandra Kurland
Clicker Training Instructor
in the UK…..

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 6

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 6

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.
5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.
6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 
 

In Part 5 I talked about the challenges that emotionally complex horses pose for their handlers.  For these horses attention to details becomes essential.  Not all horses confront us with such puzzles.  Some, like Panda, the mini I trained to be a guide for the blind, are straight forward, and super easy to get along with.

I often say with horses like Panda you can skip the first two thirds of every training book – the parts that deal with emotional issues – and go straight to the fun stuff.  If Panda had simply been a family pet, her training would have been very easy indeed.  But Panda isn’t a family pet.  She’s a working guide for her blind owner.  Her training was complex because she is doing a complex job.

Having said that, training Panda to be a guide was not hard.  All the tasks she performs can be broken down into simple steps.  The key to her training was consistency.  I knew there would never be a time when her blind handler would be able to see a curb or a partially open door.  If Panda was going to be consistent in her job, I had to be consistent in her training.  That meant that each and every time we came to a curb crossing or an open doorway we stopped. If I was running late and needed to dash into the post office before it closed, that didn’t matter.  Being consistent meant we couldn’t cut across the parking lot.  We had to track the edge just as a blind handler would.  It might take longer, but I had to take the same route a blind handler would use.

Consistency is such a huge keys-to-the-kingdom part of training.  Often when training issues arise it is because the handler has been inconsistent.  So keeping things successful is in large part a function of being consistent.  Panda stayed easy because her training didn’t confuse her.  She was learning some very complex concepts, such as: go forward at a curb crossing when your handler asks you to – unless there is a car in motion that will cut across your path.  In that case block your handler from going forward.  Moving cars trump go forward cues.  She learned these concepts within a framework that made sense.  We ALWAYS stopped at curb crossings, at the top of stairs, at the entrance to buildings, etc.  No exceptions. The click ALWAYS meant a reinforcer was coming.  No exceptions.  I have often said that if we trained our big horses with the same consistency and attention to details that I maintained with Panda, we’d all have superstar horses!

Coming soon: Part 7

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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers – Part 5

Here’s the next installment of the article: Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers Part 5

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.
5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

When I am working with horses like the mustang I described in the previous section, or a stallion who has become angry because of aggressive handling, one of the mantras that I keep repeating is “it’s not your fault.”  When I slide up the lead to ask a troubled stallion to take a step back out of my space, I want to take all the make-it-happen force out of my body.  He should feel only a quiet asking, not a command.  Reminding myself that there are reasons for a horse’s anger and mistrust helps me to be non-reactive.  When you are working with emotionally complex horses, you need to pay incredible attention to detail.

The expression, “It’s not your fault”, comes from the book “A Long Way Gone” by Ismael Beah.  Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone.  He didn’t just witness the atrocities of war.  He committed them.  When he was pulled out of the army and sent to a rehab center, he and the other child soldiers at the facility would lash out at their caregivers.  The adults never retaliated by punishing the behavior.  Instead they would remain non-reactive and repeat over and over to the boys: “It’s not your fault.  It’s not your fault.”  At first this enraged Ismael even more.  How could it not be his fault  – he had done terrible things. But gradually their kindness broke through to him, and he was able to move on from his nightmare years as a child soldier.

This part of his story reminded me so of some of the horses I encounter.  They have so much rage inside them, so much to say about how they have been treated.  I don’t want to suppress that rage through the use of punishment.  Instead I remind myself that it is not their fault.  I am not ignoring their terrible behavior.  Instead I remain as non-reactive to it as I can.  In clicker training we begin by managing the environment well, so we do not have to manage behavior through force and intimidation.  That means we have to become very good with the details of training.

When I first started teaching clicker training, the instructions I gave to people were pretty simple.  Horse by horse I learned that more was needed.  One of the participant in my new on-line course recently wrote:  “Its subtleties like this that I had no ideas about before this course and when watching the video on finding your balance point I thought, ‘yeah, but what does it have to do with training?! I very soon found out! It definitely makes a big difference to my sensitive horse.”

With a straight-forward, easy-going horse you can get by with simple.  But the emotionally complex horses tell us that details matter.  If you take on one of these horses, be prepared for a steep learning curve.  They will stretch the boundaries of what you think you know about training.  They are incredible teachers, and they can wind themselves into your heart like no other horse.  If you stay the course, you will end up with a relationship that has no measure.  You will also gain a deep understanding of, and appreciation for the details of training.

 

 

Coming soon: Part 6

Your UK Alexandra Kurland Approved Clicker Training Instructor….http://www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers – Part 4

Here’s the next installment of the article “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”

Part 4: Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.

If WHAT we choose to click matters, then just as important is WHO we click.  Clicker trainers know that they need to structure their training to meet the learning needs of each individual horse.  It helps to pick a horse who is a match with your own training style.  If you enjoy easy, pick easy.  Easy horses give you time to think.  They are forgiving and will fill in for you if you make a handling error.  If you want a challenge, consider well what you are getting yourself into.  Are you up for the emotional roller coaster ride this horse will take you on?

At a recent clinic one of the participants had several mustangs.  Her oldest is a 13 year old stallion who was “gathered” when he was five.  When he was captured, there was a miscommunication between the company who caught him and the company who were supposed to transport him.  His herd was left behind in the holding pens for two weeks with little food or water.  Many of the horses died.  He was one of the few survivors.  He was passed around from one horse rescue to another before my client finally adopted him as an essentially untouched and rightfully fearful ten year old.  To say that he was complicated would be the understatement of the year.  He is a deeply troubled, emotionally damaged horse. You can’t start with him at the same point where most other horses begin.  He forces you to be creative, patient and above all persistent.

His new person is more than up for the challenge.  She’s an experienced clicker trainer with a broad understanding of learning theory.  She’s both creative and persistent.  And she has other horses which gives her a better understanding of this horse’s unique learning challenges.  Difficult horses take you on a journey of discovery.  If you find yourself with one of these horses already living in your barn, you are in for quite an adventure.  They are the best teacher you will ever have!  If you’re still looking for the perfect equine partner, consider well what sort of emotional journey you want to go on.

One of the best ways to get a quick insight into the type of horse you’re taking on is to do a round or two of basic targeting.  If this is a horse who has not yet encountered clicker training, you’ll learn a lot.  Is he curious?  Does he catch on fast?  Is he more interested in the game and the social attention, or is it the food he’s fixated on?  Is he the timid one who sees the target and plasters himself in the back corner of his paddock?  Or is he the pushy one who touches the target and then demands more, NOW, FASTER!!  Does he grab the treat and then instantly bump the target, or does he chew his carrot slice with slow deliberation while he thinks over the situation?

Which horse would open your heart?  Which one would drive you crazy, or overwhelm your skills?  Simple targeting can give you great insights into the kind of training project you’re about to take on.  And if this is a horse who has already taken up residence both in your barn and in your heart, it will tell you how many proverbial cups of tea you’re likely to be drinking while you figure out the best way into his heart!

Coming soon: Part 5

Your UK Alexandra Kurland Approved
Clicker Training Instructor…..www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 3

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 3

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.

Clicker trainers know that not every lesson works for every learner.  Here the mantra is: There is ALWAYS more than one way to train every behavior.  If one shaping method isn’t working, change what you’re doing.  I’ve heard people say that they tried clicker training and it didn’t work with their horse.  This always makes me feel sad.  I know what a wonderfully good time both the horse and the handler are missing out on.  And I also know that they didn’t really try clicker training.  They may have tried one or two things and then got in a muddle, but that doesn’t mean clicker training doesn’t work.  Normally it means they need to tidy up their basic handling.  Maybe the timing of the click was off or their treat delivery was inconsistent.  Once people get themselves sorted, horses generally respond really fast.

I’ll occasionally get into a muddle with a horse.  The lesson that normally works so well with other horses isn’t making sense to this particular horse.  When that happens, I don’t abandon clicker training.  Instead I go have the proverbial cup of tea while I think out a better way to explain things to my horse.  Sometimes I need to break the lesson down into smaller steps.  Sometimes I need to change the environment.  Sometimes I need to change my teaching strategy altogether.  Maybe I was trying to free shape the exercise but this horse needs more guidance.  Okay, I can do that with a target or a lead rope.   I can set out some mats or maybe ground poles will help.  Whatever the answer, clicker training encourages creativity.

Have you ever played the game where everyone in the group takes a turn naming a breed of horse?  You keep going around the circle until one by one people can’t come up with an answer, and they have to drop out.  How many rounds would you last before you’d exhaust your list?  Now think about the same game but this time think of all the different ways you can come up with to teach a horse to lower his head, or pick up his feet, or – most interesting of all – go in a trailer.  Do you run out of ideas in just the first round, or would you still be coming up with ideas after everyone else has dropped out.  Give yourself that mental challenge.  It was the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” who gets the credit for saying she likes to think about six impossible things before breakfast.  Instead of six impossible things, can you come up with six new ways to train an old behavior.  The more you exercise this skill, the better you’ll become at it.

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

Coming soon: Part 4

Follow the link for your
Alexandra Kurland approved instructor

in the UK….www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers – 2

As promised here is Part 2 of “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”

Part 1 described the first characteristic: Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
Part 2 looks at the second characteristic: Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
Clicker trainers are non-reactive to behavior they do not want.  That doesn’t mean that they ignore bad behavior, but they don’t add “fuel to the fire” by responding directly to it.  When you focus on WHAT YOU WANT, you get more of that good behavior.  Let your attention wander so all you can see is what you don’t like, and you’ll find yourself in a training muddle.  You’ll also find a horse who is at risk of losing the safety net of a secure home.
So what do we train?  If you love your horse, there’s an easy first answer – good manners.  We need to feel safe around our horses.  Horses who are scary or just plain pushy are not fun to be around.  As much as we may love them, unsafe behavior can begin to unravel any horse’s safety net.  So our love for our horses leads us straight to the beginning steps of clicker training – teaching the good manners a horse needs to get along with his human partners.
The trick here is not to fall back into the trap of focusing on unwanted behavior.  It’s all too easy to find yourself saying: “I don’t want my horse looking like an evil grump.  He’s always pinning his ears and crowding into me.”  Instead I want to define clearly what kinds of behavior I enjoy being around.  That’s what I’ll focus on, and that’s what I’ll reinforce.  Easy!
I’m writing this while my senior horse, Peregrine, is eating his morning hay.  I’m sitting within easy reach.  We both enjoy the company, and I know he stays eating his hay longer when I am with him.  At 28 that’s important.  The manners I’ve reinforced over the years make these quiet moments possible.  When he was two, I probably wouldn’t have sat quite so close to him with my laptop!  Together we’ve evolved a way of being around one another that we’re both comfortable with.  People often ask the question: when do you get to fade out the clicker.  After twenty plus years of living in a clicker-trained world, Peregrine is secure in the answer to that question.  The click and treat are woven into all the little, everyday interactions we have together.  He knows clicker training isn’t going to disappear from his life.
As I sit next to him, I am wearing my vest.  My pockets are full of treats, but Peregrine knows he doesn’t need to back up, or pose, or offer leg flexions, or perform any of the other behaviors that would be appropriate in a different context.  This is a quiet, just-be-together time, and Peregrine knows the difference.  This wasn’t taught by withholding treats or denying him clicker interactions.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’ve used the clicker to show him how we can both be comfortable in each other’s company.  What that gives me is a complete relationship.  He is both my working partner and my good friend.  It’s easy to get so caught up in the big “fancy” behaviors, that you forget that the quiet little ones are just as important and just as enchanting.  In fact, this morning as I share some quiet time with my old friend, I would say that it’s the accumulation of little behaviors that create great training.
This seems like the perfect section to be sending off as we approach the New Year.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Alexandra Kurland
Coming Soon: Part 3

Your Alexandra Kurland Approved Clicker Instructor in the UK
is here…..www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers – Part 2

As promised here is Part 2 of “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”

Part 1 described the first characteristic: Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.

 

Part 2 looks at the second characteristic: Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
Clicker trainers are non-reactive to behavior they do not want.  That doesn’t mean that they ignore bad behavior, but they don’t add “fuel to the fire” by responding directly to it.  When you focus on WHAT YOU WANT, you get more of that good behavior.  Let your attention wander so all you can see is what you don’t like, and you’ll find yourself in a training muddle.  You’ll also find a horse who is at risk of losing the safety net of a secure home.
So what do we train?  If you love your horse, there’s an easy first answer – good manners.  We need to feel safe around our horses.  Horses who are scary or just plain pushy are not fun to be around.  As much as we may love them, unsafe behavior can begin to unravel any horse’s safety net.  So our love for our horses leads us straight to the beginning steps of clicker training – teaching the good manners a horse needs to get along with his human partners.
The trick here is not to fall back into the trap of focusing on unwanted behavior.  It’s all too easy to find yourself saying: “I don’t want my horse looking like an evil grump.  He’s always pinning his ears and crowding into me.”  Instead I want to define clearly what kinds of behavior I enjoy being around.  That’s what I’ll focus on, and that’s what I’ll reinforce.  Easy!
I’m writing this while my senior horse, Peregrine, is eating his morning hay.  I’m sitting within easy reach.  We both enjoy the company, and I know he stays eating his hay longer when I am with him.  At 28 that’s important.  The manners I’ve reinforced over the years make these quiet moments possible.  When he was two, I probably wouldn’t have sat quite so close to him with my laptop!  Together we’ve evolved a way of being around one another that we’re both comfortable with.  People often ask the question: when do you get to fade out the clicker.  After twenty plus years of living in a clicker-trained world, Peregrine is secure in the answer to that question.  The click and treat are woven into all the little, everyday interactions we have together.  He knows clicker training isn’t going to disappear from his life.

 

 

As I sit next to him, I am wearing my vest.  My pockets are full of treats, but Peregrine knows he doesn’t need to back up, or pose, or offer leg flexions, or perform any of the other behaviors that would be appropriate in a different context.  This is a quiet, just-be-together time, and Peregrine knows the difference.  This wasn’t taught by withholding treats or denying him clicker interactions.  In fact, just the opposite.  I’ve used the clicker to show him how we can both be comfortable in each other’s company.  What that gives me is a complete relationship.  He is both my working partner and my good friend.  It’s easy to get so caught up in the big “fancy” behaviors, that you forget that the quiet little ones are just as important and just as enchanting.  In fact, this morning as I share some quiet time with my old friend, I would say that it’s the accumulation of little behaviors that create great training.

 

This seems like the perfect section to be sending off as we approach the New Year.

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

Alexandra Kurland

 

Coming Soon: Part 3

Your Alexandra Kurland Approved Instructor in the UK….
www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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Charcteristics of Good Clicker Trainers – Part 1

Over the past several weeks I’ve been sharing my article: “What is Clicker Training?”.  There’s always more to be added, so let me do that with another article which again I’ll share in small installments.  This one is called: “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”.  This seems like a good subject to begin on Christmas.

Enjoy!

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers
By Alexandra Kurland

Simple and Easy aren’t Always the Same.

One of the things that appealed to me when I first started exploring clicker training was it’s simplicity.  I always think about the proverbial elevator speech.  How do you describe what you do in the time it takes to go up a couple of floors in an elevator?  With some of the things I’ve studied, I’d need to trap the elevator between floors for a couple of hours to even begin to have someone understand what I was talking about.  But clicker training is different.  Once you’ve referenced B.F. Skinner and marine mammal training, people are at least in the right ballpark.  They may not really know how the game is played, but at least they have some general idea of what you’re talking about.  Then you add in the simple mantra: if you like it, you click and reinforce it.  There, done.  You’re on the third floor. You can get off now.

Except that brief description doesn’t really tell you very much.  Like all good things that are worth studying, simple does not always mean easy.  Lets tease apart that opening mantra.  If you like it, click and reinforce it.  What do you like?  What behaviors are you going to train?  And what aspect of the behavior are you going to click?  It can sound so easy.  I want my horse to back so I’ll click every time he takes a step back.  That should work.  The left front foot lifts up slightly – I’ll click that.  The right front lifts slightly – click again.  The left front picks up and then sets down again. Click that.  The left front lifts forward to paw just before the horse shifts his weight back.  Click.   Four clicks for four very different behaviors.  Some horses can handle this.  Others can’t.

Go play the training game and find out what kind of “horse” you’d be.  Would you go with the flow and figure out the answer in spite of your trainer’s handling errors?   Or would you be the “horse” who becomes frustrated and confused when the criteria are not clear?  Is it any wonder some of our horses become confused?  It sounded so easy, just click when your horse backs, but your horse’s behavior may be telling you need to look a bit deeper into the equation.

So behavior – what does that mean?  Are you selecting a single component out of a larger behavior, or are you focused too much on the end goal?  And what are your goals?  What do you want to teach?

And click – when, how often, for what?  Reinforce – how often, with what?

Lots of questions pop out of even the simplest of equations.  So let’s look at some of the things that make simple also easy.  I’ll do this by looking at the characteristics that good clicker trainers have in common.

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.

Now note: you can use clicker training as a procedural tool and have a very sterile view of animals.  There are trainers who choose to use the techniques of clicker training because they are the most effective and efficient training method they have found.  But they view the animals they work with as little more than tools.  When I talk about someone being a clicker trainer, this is not what I mean.

You can also love animals deeply and not be a clicker trainer.  We don’t have a monopoly on that particular claim.  There are wonderful horse people out there who have no intention of ever giving clicker training a try, but who deeply love their horses.

Within the clicker community we can have different ideas about how a particular lesson should be trained, but those differences melt away in the face of our common love of horses.  That deep caring for our horses and our concern for their welfare brings us head on into a collision with the first puzzle clicker training presents: what do we train?

Clicker training is incredibly powerful.  We can easily teach horses behaviors that they would not on their own ever undertake.  So the training mantra for this is: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

For example, just because you can use the clicker to teach your horse to jump, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Your horse may have soundness or conformational issues that make jumping problematic.  Or he may simply be too young.  I bought my young horse, Robin from a man who trained grand prix level jumpers.  Robin was only a year old at the time, but the trainer still sent him at liberty over a full jump course.  The jumps were high and the turns were tight.  No horse Robin’s age should have been jumping anything like this course, but that’s how this trainer tested all the horses who came into his barn.  I could hardly wait to get Robin’s young legs out of there.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Robin loved jumping.  I think he was disappointed that the game didn’t continue in his new home.  He even showed me how much he enjoyed jumping by springing over the paddock fence to come greet me every time I arrived at the barn!  It would have been so easy to let him have his fun, but he had to wait a couple of years before jumping was officially reintroduced.

So even with some of the most common things people teach we need to be asking the “should we” question.  Should we be asking our young horse to jump, our older horse to canter at speed, our arthritic horse to travel in a trailer, etc.?  The answer to these questions isn’t always easy.  What we want and what our horses need don’t always match up.  Loving a horse can sometimes mean giving up what we thought were our goals.  The good news is with clicker training what we can train often ends up being so much more fun than what we originally set out to do.

And very often when we tease a lesson apart into the small steps that are part of good clicker training we find ourselves not just back at our original goal, but surpassing it.  Small steps shrink big ones into behaviors our horses can safely and easily handle.

Coming soon: Part 2

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

Contact Your UK Approved Alexandra Kurland,
(The Click That Teaches) Instructor – Visit….
http://www.smaarthorses.co.uk

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What is Clicker Training ? Part 6

What is Clicker Training?

Here’s the final installment of the article: “What is Clicker Training?”

Part 1 defined What clicker training is.
Part 2 looked at the basic procedures of clicker training.
Part 3 looks at reinforcers.
Part 4 asks WHAT we teach.
Part 5 returns to How we teach.
Part 6 concludes with what it means to be a good splitter.

Splitting Apart to Build Great Things

If you are used to conventional riding, you might not recognize the early lessons in the clicker training teaching progression.  Because we tease every lesson apart into very small component pieces, the beginning steps will look very different from conventional training. From a clicker trainer’s perspective where most people begin is at a very “lumped” stage in a teaching progression.

My personal riding niche evolved out of classical dressage.  I have learned to use the movements of dressage to help horses find their own beautiful balance.  It is this balance that promotes lifelong soundness.

The building blocks of this work can also be used to ride a dressage test, develop your jumper or cross country horse, train your western performance horse, prepare your trail horse etc.  Whatever your riding goals are, The Click That Teaches training program will help you achieve them.

What Kind of Horses Benefit From Clicker Training?

All horses.  No matter the breed, age, size, or training history, clicker training is good for horses.  The starting point is not always the same.  A very young foal can certainly be clicker trained, but you’ll be using scratches instead of food for reinforcement.  Aggressive horses will need to begin with more protective contact.  Very fearful horses may need you to be clicking for any sign of relaxation.  Food may not be a strong reinforcer for them yet.  They’ll appreciate much more having you look away to give them more distance.

Super reactive horses may need you to spend a lot of time clicking for any outward sign of calmness.  And starved horses may need more time settling in to the idea that food is not something to become anxious or overly excited about.  They are now living in a world where food will not be withdrawn or denied to them.

All of these horses can be worked with using the principles and methods of clicker training.  The Click That Teaches provides a thorough, detailed training program that will help you train the horse you have.

What Clicker Training is NOT

Clicker training is not a recipe.  It is not a one-size fits all form of training.

What Clicker Training IS

Clicker training is an approach to training that empowers YOU the handler to find the solutions that will help you and your horse develop a super relationship.  It is a dynamic, creative, FUN process.  Sometimes you will have to go have the proverbial “cup of tea” while you have a think about a particular puzzle your horse is presenting.  You’ll get ideas from the books, DVDs, on-line course and other material.  You’ll also get ideas from others who are using clicker training.  But remember this is not a recipe driven type of training.  You’ll be using the principles and structure of clicker training to develop a training plan that is tailored to your own horse’s needs.

Have FUN!

To read the full article visit: http://www.theclickercentercourse.com/what-is-clicker-training.html

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

To find out more about your UK Approved
The Click That Teaches Instructor
Visit www.smaarthorses.co.uk

sativa2000
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What is Clicker Training ? – Part 5

Part 1 defined What clicker training is
Part 2 looked at the basic procedures of clicker training.
Part 3 looks at reinforcers.
Part 4 asks WHAT we teach.
Part 5 returns to How we teach.

How Do We Teach

Clicker trainers use a variety of teaching strategies to help their equine partners succeed.  Think of your own learning experiences.  In some situations you want to puzzle your way through to find an answer.  And in others you just want to be given the answer.  One of the keys to clicker training is understanding that there is always more than one way to train every behavior we want.  Clicker trainers design their training to meet their learners needs.  How they teach a particular behavior is based on the past history of their learner as well as how they plan on using the behavior.

Teaching strategies include: targeting, free shaping, modeling, capturing, and mimicry.  It also includes the use of pressure and release of pressure.  This last one may surprise you, especially after what I said in the previous  about escalating pressure.

Often people are first attracted to clicker training when they see the “magic” of shaping, or the ease of targeting.  There is no pressure.  They’ve seen how much force is commonly used in horse training, and they want no part of it, so they are surprised to see pressure included under the clicker umbrella.  But if we put halters and leads on our horses, if we are going to ride our horses, we need to teach them how to respond to pressure.  

Pressure and release of pressure is a wonderful teaching tool.  Here’s the key to understanding how this works.  Pressure and release of pressure is used in conjunction with the click and the treat.  It provides hints, clues, guidance that helps the horse get to his reinforcement faster.  It is information.  If a horse does not respond promptly to our requests, we don’t intensify the pressure.  Pressure should not escalate or become painful or fear inducing.  It is never used as a threat as in: do it or worse things will happen.  Instead, if a horse is not understanding what we want, we break the lesson down into smaller steps.  The work evolves through small stair steps. By the time you are ready to move on, the next step is already popping out ready to be reinforced.

That’s one of the keys to understanding good clicker training.  We break training down into small, achievable steps to keep the puzzle solving fun for the learner.  Clicker trainers take care designing their lessons and setting up the environment so learning progresses in these small, achievable steps.  

There’s a wonderful expression: “Good training should be boring to watch.”  This means that there shouldn’t be any wild “fireworks” going on in the learning process.  Each new step is just a small, manageable stair step away from the preceding step.  Good clicker trainers are splitters, not lumpers.  

What does it mean to be a splitter?  Coming soon in Part 6

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

for Your The Click That teaches Approved Trainer in The UK
Visit www.smaarthorses.co.uk

 
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What is Clicker Training – Part 4

Here’s the next installment of the “What is Clicker Training?” article.

Part 1 defined What clicker training is.
Part 2 looked at the basic procedures of clicker training.
Part 3 looks at reinforcers.
Part 4 asks WHAT we teach.

What Do We Teach?

What do we teach?: Horse Friendly Behaviors.  Clicker training is a very powerful teaching process.  That means we need to be ethical in how we use it.  For example, I can easily teach a horse to orient to a target for a click and a treat.  I can imagine how I could then teach that horse to track the target up until he was rearing up on his hind legs.  I could then teach him to stay up and to walk the length of my arena on his hind legs.  It’s easy to design the lesson plan for this, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Having a horse walk upright on his hind legs certainly makes for a showy circus trick, but it does nothing for the long term soundness of that horse’s joints.

So what DO we teach with the clicker?

1.) Basic handling and husbandry skills such as leading, grooming, foot care and other health-related procedures.
2.) General good manners and emotional self control.
3.) Safe riding skills.
4.) Balance.
5.) Performance.
6.) Enrichment (This includes trick training and other fun activities that bring people and horses together.)

I know that clicker training can be used to teach a huge variety of behaviors.  No matter what your interests are: jumping, dressage, reining, endurance riding, horse agility, pleasure riding, etc. clicker training can help you achieve your performance goals.

Over the years I’ve made a huge effort to make clicker training as all inclusive as possible.  I don’t want to exclude someone who rides in a western saddle because they see me riding in a dressage saddle.  However, in that effort to be so very all inclusive I think the keys-to-the-kingdom core of clicker training is sometimes overlooked.  There are two words that describe what I think should be at the center of every training program and they are: GOOD BALANCE.

Too many times we see riding break horses down.  Most of us have seen horses who live with the chronic pain that can result from hard riding.  I’ve heard trainers state outright that riding damages horses.  They will tell you that if you ride, you are breaking your horse down.  That has NOT been my experience.  What I know is good riding can actually help horses stay sounder and be healthier.

My horses are family.  It’s important to me that they stay as comfortable and healthy in their bodies for as long as possible.  With the good nutrition and medical care we can now provide, horses are routinely living into their thirties.  So keeping our horse companions sound doesn’t mean for a year or two.  It means for decades.

So the core of clicker training is teaching good balance – mental, physical and emotional.  Tricks are fun.  Riding is fun.  But the core foundation is balance.  To be a complete clicker training program balance needs to be a key component.

What does this create? Most of think of leading as simply getting a horse from point A to point B, but when you teach work in-hand via the clicker leading becomes a dance.  Your equine partner answers you with a glorious on-pointe, floating-on-the-tips-of-your-fingers connection.  You communicate with one another through the tiniest change of weight or focus of thought.  This transfers directly to riding where the central focus on balance creates a free flow of power and joy.  If clicker training were just about teaching basic manners or fun tricks, it would be an interesting side bar to training.  But it is this feel-like-heaven ride and the story book relationship it creates that keeps us delving deeper and deeper into clicker training.

As one person put it: clicker training is like the Tardis from the Dr. Who science fiction series.  It is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

What we teach leads us back again to how we teach behaviors.  That’s coming soon in Part 5

Alexandra KurlandThe Click That Teaches

Visit http://www.smaarthorses.co.uk to find your
UK The Click That Teaches Approved Instructor

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What is Clicker Training ? Part 3

 

As promised here is Part 3 of What is Clicker Training

 

I enjoyed very much the discussion of cues that Part 2 generated.  Let’s see what Part 3 brings.

 

 

 

In Part 1 I defined WHAT clicker training is.  In Part 2 we looked at HOW clicker training works.  Now in Part 3 we’ll consider what it means to reinforce your horse.

 

Reinforcers 

 

Reinforcers are chosen from the perspective of the learner.   There are many things horses find reinforcing: a roll in a sand pit, taking a nap with your equine friends, a run across the field on a cool day.  That’s just a small sampling of the many things horses enjoy.  The problem with this list is these aren’t very practical to use in a training environment.  We need reinforcers which can be delivered in small, repeatable “packets”.  Once a horse has had his roll, he usually doesn’t want another right away.  And anyway – if he’s got a saddle on, his person isn’t going to be too pleased to have him rolling!

 

So with horses the easiest reinforcer we can use is food. Food is such an effective reinforcer that many people shy away from it.  They will tell you that you can’t use food around horses.  They will be distracted.  They’ll mug you for the treats. They may even bite.    All of this is true is if the food is not well managed.  In clicker training the foundation lessons all center around teaching the horse safe manners and emotional self control.  Instead of running away from using food, we use it to teach great manners.  Once those good food manners are established, food can then be used as a reinforcer for other behaviors we want.

 

When you teach behaviors using positive reinforcement, the behaviors the horse has learned can become reinforcers for the next new thing you are working on.  So food is not our only reinforcer.  We use the behaviors we’ve taught as conditioned reinforcers.  All of this strengthens the overall bond we have with our horses.

 

Choice is a huge reinforcer.  When horses feel in control, they feel safe.  So giving horses the freedom to experiment, to make choices, to make mistakes without the fear of punishment is hugely reinforcing.  Food may appear to be the reinforcer we’re using, but it is really choice that underlies the whole system.

 

What we do not rely on in our training is motivating our horse by taking away his feelings of safety.  This is often used in traditional training where escalating pressure is used.  If a horse is afraid, the most reinforcing thing you can do is give him back a feeling of safety by removing the pressure.  But when the handler is the source of the fear, reducing the pressure and then increasing it again to get the behavior that is wanted takes away the horse’s freedom to choose.  

 

 

We can certainly work with fearful horses, but we work hard to structure the training and the environment we’re working in to minimize fear.  We do not want to be adding fuel to the “emotional fire” through our actions.

 

I recognize that even with the best of intentions “Life” can happen.  A horse can unexpectedly become afraid.  I need to know how to manage these situations to keep both of us safe.  Sometimes that means moving to a more familiar, secure environment.  Sometimes it means asking for less.  Whatever the choices, I need to have the handling skills to manage the situation.  But I do not manipulate the horse’s fear levels to appear to be a source of safety and security.  I do not escalate pressure and then remove the pressure when the horse complies.  This falls outside the parameters of clicker training.

 

That’s how we teach.  So the next question is: WHAT do we teach?

 

That’s Part 4 – Coming soon.

 

Happy Holidays!

 

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com

theclickercentercourse.com

 

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What is Clicker Training ? Part 2

In Part 1 I began by defining clicker training, beginning with a definition from Karen Pryor and then expanding upon that definition to describe the “clicker umbrella” that is the framework for all the interactions I have with my horses. Now in Part 2 we’ll look at the basic procedure;

Part Two: One Click – One Reinforcer

 So how exactly does all this work?  When my learner gives me the response I’m looking for, I mark that behavior with a clear, distinctive, consistent signal.  That’s the “click” in clicker training.  It can be made with a plastic clicker, but more often I use a tongue click.  

The click is ALWAYS followed by a reinforcer.  There are some people who use the clicker in a different way.  When they click, they may reinforce, or they might ask for the behavior again.  The click serves more as a keep going signal.  Other indicators, such as reaching into the treat pouch, become the clearer marker signal for the horse.  

This is NOT how I use the click.  The click is a cue.  You use and respond to cues all the time.   If you were to say “come” to a dog, you would want “come” to mean “come”.  You wouldn’t want it to mean “come” this time, but next time it might mean spin in circles.  That doesn’t make any sense.  

The same holds true with the click.  It tells your learner that he has just done something you like, and he should now go into treat-retrieval behavior.  That  means he first orients to you, the handler, to find out where his treat is going to be delivered.  Are you going to bring it to him, or does he need to come to you to get it?  That’s just a detail.  What he can count on is: if I click, he’s going to get reinforced.  That’s a pairing that I want to keep very clear to avoid confusion and frustration. 

When I was first exploring clicker training, I watched canine behaviorist Gary Wilkes with his cattle dog, Megan.  She was a clicker superstar, especially when Gary gave her new puzzles to solve.  Gary used treatless clicks as a shaping tool.  Megan would become frustrated when something that had just gotten a click and treat now only earned her a click.  In her frustration she’d try harder or she’d offer something new.  That’s what Gary wanted.  He was using treatless clicks and the frustration they caused to get behavior to vary.  

Gary warned people about falling into patterns.  Humans like patterns and our animals are very good at spotting them.  So he cautioned everyone who was experimenting with treatless clicks to watch out for inadvertent patterns.

I was impressed by Megan, so I asked my horse what he thought of the technique.  I found he wasn’t the only one who was getting frustrated.   If I clicked and treated the first time, but not the next, what should I do on the third and fourth trial?  Was I falling into a pattern?  Treatless clicks gave me too many things to keep track of.  I decided two things: 

First: it may have been okay for Gary to use treatless clicks with Megan.  She seemed emotionally resilient enough to work through the frustration, but I was going to be sitting on the animal I was training, and frustration didn’t seem like a good shaping tool to be using.  I didn’t need to rely on this strategy.  I had other ways I could get behavior to vary.  

Second: I could be much clearer if I clicked behavior that met criterion and reinforced EVERY time I clicked.  That avoided the trap of falling into patterns. What I varied was not whether or not TO TREAT, but what to use as my reinforcer.

Gary Wilkes was one of the early pioneers of clicker training.  He helped introduce clicker training into the dog community.  Since those early experiments, we have learned a great deal about how to set up our training plans for success.  We don’t need to rely on treatless clicks and other extinction processes in our training.  There are better techniques available to us.  

This can sound as though I am clicking every little thing that my learner does.  This is not the case.  I am clicking on a one to one ratio.  Every time my learner meets criterion, I click and treat, but the complexity of the behavior I’m looking for will be increasing over time.  What was reinforced in a previous session is now a component of a larger chain of behaviors.  I’ve moved on in terms of what I click.  That changes over time, but always – if I click, I treat.

Coming Next: Reinforcers  If I treat after every click- what do I use for a reinforcer?

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What is Clicker Training ?

What is Clicker Training? Part 1

With so many people now clicker training there is no longer a clear one-size-fits-all definition of what this means.  People use the term “clicker training” to mean so many different things.  Some people use the click as a keep going signal.  For others it is linked always with a reinforcer.  For some it is simply one of the many “tools” they use to modify the behavior of their animals.  Others see it as the framework under which they organize all their training.  If you are new to clicker training, these different approaches can be very confusing.  What approach do you try first?  Whose methods should you follow?
 
Think of it like going to the grocery store to buy some butter for a new brownie recipe you want to try out.  At the grocery store you’ll have several choices. There’s salted and unsalted, organic, whipped, even butter from sheep’s milk instead of cow’s.  There is also a whole array of margarines that are packaged to look just like butter.  If you don’t know the difference, you might well end up buying the margarine because it costs less.  But when you make your brownies, you’ll be disappointed.  They aren’t anything like the wonderful brownies your friend made.  When you ask her what her secret is, she tells you she uses only real ingredients – real butter, not the butter look alike, along with fresh farm-raised eggs and organic flour.
 
Clicker training is the same.  You want to use real ingredients that are well-grounded in learning theory.  With so much being presented about clicker training on the internet, it is sometimes hard to tell what you are getting.  Because there are so many different versions of clicker training emerging, I thought it would be useful to outline how I define and use it.
 
Simple Definitions
 
Let’s begin with Karen Pryor’s definition.   Karen Pryor is the author of “Don’t Shoot the Dog”, and “Reaching the Animal Mind”.  She is one of the early pioneers in the use of marker signals.  She defines clicker training as applied operant conditioning in which a marker signal is paired with a positive reinforcer.  This is a good start.  It describes the process we use in the training. When our learner does something we like, we mark that with a distinctive signal which is then paired with something the learner will actively work to gain.  The marker signal gives the learner very precise information about what he did that has earned reinforcement.  This makes it easier for him to offer the behavior again in order to get more of the reinforcer.  Adding in the marker signal takes a lot of frustrating guess work out of the learning process.  When it is consistently paired with things the LEARNER wants, YOU get more of the behavior you want.  It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
 
This is a good starting point, but for me clicker training is much more than this procedural definition.  Clicker training is a reflection of my core beliefs about animals and the relationship that I want to have with them.  It is the “umbrella” under which I organize all my training.  It includes procedures and lesson plans, but it is grounded in science and built on a solid bedrock of ethics.  
 
It is a detailed, complete training program that can take a horse from his very first interactions with people, through his early training, his start under saddle, and on into his performance work.  It is used to teach beautiful balance that helps to keep horses sound. It carries on throughout the life of the horse, helping the handler to maintain lessons already mastered and to teach new skills.   Through each stage in a horse’s life, clicker training is there to enhance the relationship.  It provides clear communication for our performance horses, playtime for our family companions, and enrichment for our equine friends as they enter their geriatric years.
 
All this means that clicker training is not simply a “tool” I use.  I view it as a short hand term that refers to a way of being around horses. It also reflects how I conduct myself more generally.  As a clicker trainer:
 
  • I focus on the behavior I want – not the unwanted behavior.  This is the major keys-to-the-kingdom hallmark of clicker training.  I’m not trying to correct unwanted behavior.  I focus on what I want my learner TO DO.  
  • I understand that I can’t ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless I have gone through a teaching process to teach it to my learner.  This is my safety net.  It keeps me from over facing my learner.  Instead of assuming my learner understands what I want, I go through a teaching process that fills in any holes he may have.
  • If my learner fails to give me a desired response, instead of escalating pressure or punishing him for his failure to respond, I break the training down into smaller steps. 
  • I recognize that while punishment can be an effective management tool, it has significant negative consequences.  I actively choose to avoid the deliberate use of punishment throughout the whole of my relationship with my learners.
  • I also recognize that trial and error learning can be frustrating.  Using extinction processes where I wait out my learner while he tries different options is a learning strategy that I try to avoid.  Instead I look for creative ways to help my learner to be successful.  This involves using a variety of teaching strategies, breaking my training down into very small steps, and setting up the environment for success.
  • I know that it takes time and experience to become a skillful shaper.  I know that everyone who explores this approach to training will make mistakes.  As we gain experience, as we learn from our horses and from other trainers, we will find better ways to train.  I very much subscribe to an expression I learned from the poet Maya Angelou: “When I was young, I did the best I could.  When I knew better, I did better.”  That is a good mantra to keep in mind for all our interactions with our learners.  The sharing of the discoveries we make is part of the enjoyment of clicker training. The intent is not to set the training “in stone”, but to keep evolving the process for the good of our learners.
Note throughout this I have used the term learner, not animal.  As a clicker trainer, I want to treat people and animals with the same regard for their emotional well being.  I recognize that getting it right with people can be much more challenging, but if I am using positive reinforcement with my animals, I should also treat people in the same constructive way.
 
So how does all this work?  Find out in the next Installment – coming soon!

Alexandra Kurland
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Are You a Squeeky Toy ?

Have you every noticed how horses push some people around and not others ?  They seem to pick the same people and are able to push them and shove them and mug them and almost have them off their feet.

The reason is quite simple, its about balance. 

Physical Balance

If you are in not in good balance then it is easy for the horse, or any animal, to be able to wobble you on your feet.  When they bump you you bounce a bit.  Its a bit like when you get to a door and when you push it it gives just a bit, so you try again and you feel it give just a bit more.  You start to wonder if the you shove just a bit harder if the the door might just open and you can get through it.  It becomes a challenge to get the door open. 

If instead you are in good balance (Amanda can teach you how to find good balance in yourself both on the ground and when riding) when the horse bumps you you are steady on your feet.  You have aligned your body in such a way that you are relaxed and you don’t have to use much muscle strength to keep yourself in balance.  The door is quite definitely shut.  When you pushed it it felt firm and there was little give, it was obvious it was locked.  So no point in persisting.

Emotional Balance

Emotional and physical balance are very closely linked.

When we are in good physical balance we are focused and aware of our body.  That means we have to be in good emotional balance.  So being in good physical balance can feed in to good emotional balance.  Think about walking on a balance beam; we have to be focused on our body and be in good physical balance and we can’t do that if we are thinking about the fact we running out of time to get to an appointment.  Likewise if we are upset about something, we tend to introduce tensions in to our body and that means we can’t physically balance.

If we can shut out the stresses of they day and focus just on what we are doing with the horse then we can remain in good emotional balance.  That good emotional balance will improve our physical balance as it allows us to release tensions from our body.  That good physical balance will allow us to focus more on our body and ‘internalise’ so it can help us balance better emotional.  The more we can physically balance the better we can emotionally balance, and the better we can emotionally balance the better we can physically balance.

Contact Amanda to find out more about finding good physical and emotional balance when you are training your horse and progress your in-hand and ridden training.

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Agility…Right from The Start !

headerSMAART Horses are delighted to be hosting an agility workshop weekend
with Eva Bertilsson, co-author of Agility, Right From the Start and
ClickerExpo (Karen Pryor) faculty.

This will be a fantastic weekend that will cover dog agility.  However, the information shared will be very applicable to those interested in Horse Agility.

If you would like to
BOOK A PLACE on the workshop
Email: info@smaarthorses.co.uk

Dog Agility 11 and 12 May 13

About Eva

Eva resides in Hällevadsholm in northern Bohuslän and has a university degree in psychology and education and is currently studying for (2011-2013) a master’s degree in behavior analysis (“Laering in Complex Systemer) at Akershus University College in Oslo.

Previously, I worked as a teacher in grades 4-5 in Hällevadsholm and on Naturbruksgymnasiet in Dingle. But courses and bokskrivande took up more of my time, so since 2006 I have worked full time with Carpe Momentum. Parallel to this, I have read some university courses in ethology (SLU Skara + Linkoping) and behavioral analysis / autism (Stockholm University), and also studied animal care in Dingle. And now it will therefore focus on behavior analysis – this incredibly fascinating subject – with Masters Degrees in Norway (but I still live in Hällevadsholm). Among other things, the training that I have a training project with giraffes at the Kristiansand Zoo.

My beloved phalène Misty❤ passed away in February 2012, more than 18.5 years old. And since her son Soya (born -98) now living an active life of cousin Karin that includes a freestyle career like this in old age, so I have only border collie Tizla (born -06) at home. In the past I competed almost every weekend (mostly agility course, but also previously obedience), but now it’s mostly training for fun – as well as courses of course. Courses and lectures can actually give a similar kick that competing offers!

Read Eva’s Blog

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My Horse Is Terrified of the Wormer Paste!

The yard was unusually busy and filled with anxiety when I arrived. Amongst the chatter I managed to glean that not long before lunch one of the livery horses had collapsed and been rushed to the vet school. Her life was hanging in the balance.

The cause was every liveries worst nightmare… an encysted red worm burden. It was so severe she had been given less than a 50% chance of surviving. Even if she did survive she would have permanent damage to her intestine that would mean careful dietary management for the rest of her life.

The horses at the yard, as with many yards, were turned out in groups and the groups never mixed. So any horse not in the group with this mare were most likely going to be unaffected. That didn’t stop many of the liveries going in to an emotional meltdown. My head was spinning and my stomach turned over as I digested the news. This mare shared a field with my youngster!

Read Full Article

Watch the video on wormer paste training….

http://www.smaarthorses.co.uk
info@smaarthorses.co.uk

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What Makes Someone a “Clicker Trainer” ?

What makes someone a clicker trainer
as opposed to someone who trains with  a clicker in their hand?

Let me start by giving a definition of clicker training (as defined by Karen Pryor, KPCT);

Clicker training” is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it. Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.

Karen goes on to say;

When an animal intentionally performs a behavior in order to bring about a desired consequence, as clicker trained animals do, they are learning in a way that researchers call “operant conditioning.”

Animals (and people) may also associate an action, event, place, person, or object with a consequence, whether pleasant or unpleasant. The more a certain event or environment is paired with a particular consequence, the stronger the association. This type of learning is called “classical conditioning” and represents reflexive or automatic behavior, rather than intentional behavior.

While clicker training initially employs classical conditioning, it quickly becomes operant conditioning as soon as the animal intentionally repeats an action in order to earn a reward. Training through operant conditioning results in purposeful behavior, while training through classical conditioning results in habitual behavior.

The difference between an animal that behaves with purpose, rather than by habit, is vast. Clicker trained or operantly conditioned animals try to learn new behaviors. They remember behaviors even years later because they were aware of them as they learned them, rather than acquiring them without awareness. They develop confidence because they have control over the consequences of their actions. They are enthusiastic because they expect those consequences to be pleasurable.”

Those last two sentences start to highlight a side to clicker training that is unique to “clicker trainers”. With clicker training the animal is motivated to learn new behaviours, they develop confidence and they are enthusiastic because they expect the consequences to be fun and reinforcing.

“A consequence of any behavior can be unpleasant as well as pleasant. So why shouldn’t punishments follow unwanted behaviors, just as rewards follow wanted behaviors?

Research tells us that punishment may decrease the frequency of an unwanted behavior, but usually results in producing another unwanted behavior. The results of punishment as a training method are difficult to predict and to control.

In addition, punishment is not usually identified with an event marker. It almost always comes after the event and is rarely clearly connected with a specific behavior. In the animal’s perception, punishment is a random, meaningless event. It is, therefore, less effective than the combined use of an event marker and positive reinforcement in changing behavior.

Clicker trainers also feel that their relationships with their animals are stronger and more rewarding when they focus on the positive rather than the negative. Like the difference between an animal behaving with intention rather than by habit, the difference in attitude and enthusiasm between an animal that works to earn rewards rather than to avoid punishment is vast.

This raises a very key question; what is punishing? Therefore, what is reinforcing? This is where the training can get interesting. What I think might be reinforcing to my learner might not be received that way by the learner. Whether something is a punisher or a reinforcer is always owned by the learner (the person or animal on the receiving end). It can’t be owned by the trainer as they can’t know for sure how it will make the learner feel. I can make really good guesses as to what will be punishing or reinforcing to my learner, but the only way I can be really sure whether I am working with a reinforcer or a punisher is to see what the learner thinks of it.

If you have a sweet tooth and I offer you chocolate cake as a reinforcer for washing all the dishes you are more likely to wash them again tomorrow. If instead I gave you cheese you are less likely to do the dishes tomorrow. The chocolate cake acted as a reinforcer, the cheese acted as a punisher. I could have guessed if I knew your tastes in food, but I would never be really sure until I actually try it out.

Reinforcers “motivate” the learner, punishers “demotivate” the learner to repeat the behaviour again. When we talk about motivation we are starting to dip in to the emotional aspect of training. If you are motivated you are eager, you are ready, you are enthusiastic to learn, you feel good about what you are doing. and it leaves you wanting more. If your learner bounds over to you with enthusiasm and starts to offer behaviours you know you are on the right track. You clearly left them feeling good about how you interacted with them the last time. You are starting to form that relationship that Karen Pryor talked about.

Clicker trainers focus on what they DO want from the animal which means they can reinforce the behaviours they like and have asked for and that leaves little room for the unwanted behaviours and eliminates the need for punishers. The end result is a learner who is motivated… the learner feels good about the interaction with the trainer and wants to come back for more.

“Sometimes people are surprised by the enthusiasm and dedication clicker trainers have for their method. These trainers may have first started learning to click as a way of training their dog, but soon realized that the fundamental principles of clicker training could be applied to other areas of their lives. Changing one’s focus from the negative to the positive can certainly be a life-changing event.

This final statement from Karen Pryor sums up clicker training quite nicely and how it can make a “clicker trainer”. A “clicker trainer” endeavour to leave people feeling good about interactions with them. To achieve that they become acutely aware of, and are caring about, how everyone and everything they interact with feel as a result of that interaction. They don’t just have a clicker in their hand to train their horse or their dog…the have a clicker training approach to life and everyone they meet in life.

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Behaviour fundamentals: Filling the Behaviour Change Tool Box

Behaviour Fundamentals:
Filling the Behaviour Change Tool Box

Susan Freidman, Dept. of Psychology, Utah State University,
Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behaviour, 3(1), 36-40

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Behavior Fundamentals, S. G. Friedman

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