Clicker Training – The First Law of Shaping Behaviours

Once you are underway with clicker training (positive reinforcement) you can teach your horse anything.  However, there are some keys to training that are key to successful teaching of clicker training.  These rules or laws were defined by Karen Pryor (from her book;  Pryor K (1999) Don’t Shoot the Dog! Bantam Books, USA) and the first law is presented below with my explanation of each rule.  Check back each week for the next 9 laws of shaping behaviours.

When clicker training your horse, if behaviour start to break down, you can’t seem to get to your end goal, get stuck at one point in the path towards your end goal, then check in with the 10 rules of shaping and it will be one or more of these rules that are affecting how and how quickly you get to the end goal….

  1. Raise criteria in increments small enough so that the subject always has a realistic chance of reinforcement.

This means that each end behaviour that you want to achieve needs to be broken down in to very small steps so that the horse has a good chance of getting the right answer and so, earn a click & treat (C/T).

A good example to use for this is picking up a foot.  If you look at how a horse picks up a foot you can then begin to break this down in to small increments or steps.  First the horse has to shift it’s weight to the other feet.  These small shifts in weight can be rewarded and the horse will then begin to offer a greater weight shift.

This weight shift then starts to lift the horses heel off the ground.  Once the horse understands the weight shift you can increase the criteria to now reward the heel lift.

At each stage of the process, once the horse understands the new criteria, they will begin to offer an exaggeration of that criteria, which will naturally lead to the next criteria.  So be watchful for when the next criteria naturally emerges.  It is good to have a plan for what you think you will be rewarding at each stage but when thinking about the next step in your plan, point 7 (if the plan isn’t working, be prepared to change the plan).

If you think of this in terms of an arithmetic equation.  If we expected someone to get from the initial question (Q) to the right answer (A) in one step that would be quite an unrealistic goal, and not very achievable.  However, if we go through the step by step process with the person and reward at each stage when they get it right, they not only will be enthusiastic about trying the next step, they will better remember the process to get to the right A.

If I never explained the steps and if every time you got the wrong A, I simply gave you the right A, you would most likely never be able to figure out how to get from Q to A.  But if I explain the steps, you can not only get this type of question right every time from now on, you are set up well to go and tackle more complex equations because you have been given the tools to work things out for yourself.

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