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