Clicker Training – 2nd and 3rd Laws of Shaping

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 second and thrid laws are presented below with my explanation of each rule.  Check back each week for a new law for 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….

Law 2:   Train one aspect of any particular behaviour at a time (don’t try to shape for two criteria simultaneously)

Often when we train, we subconsciously train for many criteria all at the same time.  We want the behaviour to be perfect (just a little more speed, elevation and collection) and have duration (last for the whole training session.  So with this we are training for pace, position and duration….3 criteria.  This would be quite demanding on the horse.

The aim with clicker training is to train only one criteria at a time.  So you would initially work on the collection, then once you have that, you can add the speed/energy to the gait.  Once you have that, you can begin to build duration.

See * in Law 4 for a human example.

When changing criteria, it is important to also consider law 4 (relax what are wiling to accept for the previous criterion when moving on to a new one).

Law 3:  During shaping, put the current level of response on a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising the criteria

There is great debate about changing the rate of reinforcement (reward) when you feel you have a behaviour well trained.  The general consensus seems to be NOT to change the rate of reinforcement and to:

  • always treat when you click
  • always click the criterion you want, ensure you are clicking for improved quality of the behaviour


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