Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 3
1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
Clicker trainers know that not every lesson works for every learner. Here the mantra is: There is ALWAYS more than one way to train every behavior. If one shaping method isn’t working, change what you’re doing. I’ve heard people say that they tried clicker training and it didn’t work with their horse. This always makes me feel sad. I know what a wonderfully good time both the horse and the handler are missing out on. And I also know that they didn’t really try clicker training. They may have tried one or two things and then got in a muddle, but that doesn’t mean clicker training doesn’t work. Normally it means they need to tidy up their basic handling. Maybe the timing of the click was off or their treat delivery was inconsistent. Once people get themselves sorted, horses generally respond really fast.
I’ll occasionally get into a muddle with a horse. The lesson that normally works so well with other horses isn’t making sense to this particular horse. When that happens, I don’t abandon clicker training. Instead I go have the proverbial cup of tea while I think out a better way to explain things to my horse. Sometimes I need to break the lesson down into smaller steps. Sometimes I need to change the environment. Sometimes I need to change my teaching strategy altogether. Maybe I was trying to free shape the exercise but this horse needs more guidance. Okay, I can do that with a target or a lead rope. I can set out some mats or maybe ground poles will help. Whatever the answer, clicker training encourages creativity.
Have you ever played the game where everyone in the group takes a turn naming a breed of horse? You keep going around the circle until one by one people can’t come up with an answer, and they have to drop out. How many rounds would you last before you’d exhaust your list? Now think about the same game but this time think of all the different ways you can come up with to teach a horse to lower his head, or pick up his feet, or – most interesting of all – go in a trailer. Do you run out of ideas in just the first round, or would you still be coming up with ideas after everyone else has dropped out. Give yourself that mental challenge. It was the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” who gets the credit for saying she likes to think about six impossible things before breakfast. Instead of six impossible things, can you come up with six new ways to train an old behavior. The more you exercise this skill, the better you’ll become at it.
Coming soon: Part 4