Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 1
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 2
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 3
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 4
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 5
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 6
Read Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses; Part 7
This is Part 8 of
“Clicker Training and Mouthy Horses”
by By Alexandra Kurland, 3 Oct 12
“Work on this for a little bit, then go do some targeting or some “grown-ups”. As you progress with this process, you’ll have some activities where he is very much puzzle solving through freeshaping. Other activities will be taught with much more guided or directed-learning via the lead. Or you may be guiding him to the right answer with a target. All these different teaching strategies are important. They help to develop a bright-eyed, eager, well-rounded, and relaxed student.
In addition to the foundation lessons you’ll begin to add in some everyday activities. For example, while he is standing in “grown-ups”, you’ll begin to ask some simple questions: can you stroke his neck as though you were grooming him?; can you run your hand down his leg to ask him to pick up his foot for routine cleaning?; can you move around him, go behind him, while he continues to stand still? If the answer comes back no, you’ll break your questions down into smaller steps so he can be successful.
As you work through this process, gradually expanding out the repertoire of behaviors that you can include in the “playground”, you’ll be able to chain some behaviors together. For example, now instead of clicking after each little unit, you might ask for “grown-ups”. When he is doing well, at the moment when you would normally click, present him with a target to touch instead. When he touches the target, click and reinforce. The opportunity to touch the target reinforces his good “grown-ups”. If you aren’t sure why this works in this way, again I’ll refer you to the books and DVDs. The Loopy Training DVD in particular will help you to understand this process.
So now you are well on your way to establishing a great clicker foundation. If your horse gets overly excited or shows signs of confusion or frustration, you’ll have a process in place that lets you regroup. You can ask for “grown-ups are talking”, or head lowering, behaviors he’s now familiar with. This gives you both time to regroup and settle down. You won’t be trying to eliminate unwanted behavior with time outs or corrections. You’ll be able to stay focused on what you want your horse TO DO, not the unwanted behavior. This overall teaching strategy lets you progress at a pace that is comfortable for both of you.
I am writing this on my way home from the latest clinic. We had three start-up horses on this course. On day one we began with protective contact. The horses were nudging and exploring our pockets. That’s expected. They knew we had goodies, and they didn’t yet understand that those goodies were off limits until they were offered from the hand. All three horses caught on pretty fast to the general outline of the game. On day two we were out in the arena. And on day three we were adding in new elements, including the beginning of the rope mechanics. Folding our arms into grown-ups had become a very definite cue that all three horses knew meant look straight ahead. There was no mugging. Instead we had engaged, happy horses with handlers who were developing good clicker skills.
Good handling skills is a major key to developing a great clicker foundation. If you are encountering issues with your horse, video your training sessions. You’ll often see places where your timing is off, your criteria are unclear, your handling skills are getting rushed or inconsistent as you react to your horse’s energy level. Video can reveal many places where a little dress-rehearsal practice can go a long way to cleaning things up.
The bottom line is this: if you are encountering some unwanted behavior as you move through the early stages of clicker training, if your horse is showing signs of frustration, or confusion which is manifesting in mugging behavior, if he is getting overly aroused and excited by the process, go through a review of the start-up steps I’ve outlined in this post. Don’t think of it as going back. It’s not like school where your horse is being made to repeat first grade. You are simply going back through these early lessons and clarifying for him steps that you may have both missed the first time through.
Review your own handling skills. They can makes a huge difference. I’ve seen this so many times with horses. As the handler becomes better balanced and the handling becomes streamlined, the horse settles.
Julia, hopefully this review of the initial set-up for clicker training will help resolve any mugging issues you may be having. The books, DVDs and clinics are invaluable resources for taking you through this process. And if you feel as though you need more direct one-on-one help, I have developed a network of skilled clicker trainers. They can provide you with some on-line coaching. If you want some extra help, email me privately and I can provide you with a list of names.
When horses understand the overall process, clicker training is tremendous fun. And that’s what I wish for all of you.