As promised here is Part 2 of “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”
Part 1 described the first characteristic: Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
Part 2 looks at the second characteristic: Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
Clicker trainers are non-reactive to behavior they do not want. That doesn’t mean that they ignore bad behavior, but they don’t add “fuel to the fire” by responding directly to it. When you focus on WHAT YOU WANT, you get more of that good behavior. Let your attention wander so all you can see is what you don’t like, and you’ll find yourself in a training muddle. You’ll also find a horse who is at risk of losing the safety net of a secure home.
So what do we train? If you love your horse, there’s an easy first answer – good manners. We need to feel safe around our horses. Horses who are scary or just plain pushy are not fun to be around. As much as we may love them, unsafe behavior can begin to unravel any horse’s safety net. So our love for our horses leads us straight to the beginning steps of clicker training – teaching the good manners a horse needs to get along with his human partners.
The trick here is not to fall back into the trap of focusing on unwanted behavior. It’s all too easy to find yourself saying: “I don’t want my horse looking like an evil grump. He’s always pinning his ears and crowding into me.” Instead I want to define clearly what kinds of behavior I enjoy being around. That’s what I’ll focus on, and that’s what I’ll reinforce. Easy!
I’m writing this while my senior horse, Peregrine, is eating his morning hay. I’m sitting within easy reach. We both enjoy the company, and I know he stays eating his hay longer when I am with him. At 28 that’s important. The manners I’ve reinforced over the years make these quiet moments possible. When he was two, I probably wouldn’t have sat quite so close to him with my laptop! Together we’ve evolved a way of being around one another that we’re both comfortable with. People often ask the question: when do you get to fade out the clicker. After twenty plus years of living in a clicker-trained world, Peregrine is secure in the answer to that question. The click and treat are woven into all the little, everyday interactions we have together. He knows clicker training isn’t going to disappear from his life.
As I sit next to him, I am wearing my vest. My pockets are full of treats, but Peregrine knows he doesn’t need to back up, or pose, or offer leg flexions, or perform any of the other behaviors that would be appropriate in a different context. This is a quiet, just-be-together time, and Peregrine knows the difference. This wasn’t taught by withholding treats or denying him clicker interactions. In fact, just the opposite. I’ve used the clicker to show him how we can both be comfortable in each other’s company. What that gives me is a complete relationship. He is both my working partner and my good friend. It’s easy to get so caught up in the big “fancy” behaviors, that you forget that the quiet little ones are just as important and just as enchanting. In fact, this morning as I share some quiet time with my old friend, I would say that it’s the accumulation of little behaviors that create great training.
This seems like the perfect section to be sending off as we approach the New Year.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Coming Soon: Part 3
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