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 4th law is 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 4: When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of the behavioural skill, temporarily relax the old ones.
Once you have perfected one part of a behaviour (e.g. touching the cone on the top), and you want to move on to the next criteria (e.g. move the cone further away and see if the horse can now actively go and touch the cone), you need to allow for less than perfection on where the horse touches the cone. While the horse explores the new criterion, they might forget some of the old criterion. This is ok and you will find that once the horse has learned the new criterion, you can start to be more selective about where the horse touches the cone.
(also see law 2) *It’s a bit like learning to play tennis. You have learned to hit the ball to particular areas of the court with good accuracy. But if you need to increase the power behind a shot, your instructor will often get you to just focus on power and the technique required to get that power. They might tell you to forget about where the ball ends up, just focus on getting the power. Then once you get the power, they will say, ok now see if you can maintain the power AND aim for areas of the court as you used to do. So they have taught criterion 1 (direction), then taught criterion 2 (power) but while learning criterion 2, the rules for criterion 1 were relaxed, once you learned criterion 2, you now put that together with criterion 1.