JOY Full Horses: Pt. 1 Ch. 6: Being PLAY Full

Play Full
The dictionary would tell me that I should write this as playful.  But just as Panksepp wants to emphasize that when he writes PLAY in capitals he is speaking of one of the seven fundamental affective systems, I want to remind you that playful means we are full of play.

The six properties of PLAY which I wrote about in the previous section remind us why being PLAY FULL with our horses is important.  Being full of play helps us find creative solutions to training problems.  It keeps us in a relaxed mental state that makes it easy to reach for the positive solutions instead fear-based corrections.  Play creates a safety net for our horses.  Especially when you are working with difficult or potentially dangerous situations, being in a play state helps you find horse-friendly solutions.

Playing with Horses
But how do you play with a horse?  After all safety always comes first. I can’t play with the Icelandics in the same way that they play with one another.

sindri Fengur rough play

Horses at play

At a recent clinic I was sitting in the host’s living room. Her three dogs were having a rough and tumble play session.  It looked for all the world like a miniature version of the Iceys.  There were the same mock bites, the same leaps up into the air.

My host walked boldly through this maelstrom bringing me a cup of tea!  If they had miscalculated and bumped her leg, the worst that would have happened was the tea would have been spilled on her carpet.

Cindy with her dogs

Dogs at play

If the Iceys miscalculate, I could end up in a full-body cast. So what is the answer? How can I safely play with my horses?

Playing with Behavior
Without a great deal of skill and experience, I may not be able to engage with my horses via their natural play behaviors, but I can play via the behaviors that I teach them.  That’s the beauty of clicker training.  If I am in a state of play as I teach new behaviors to my horses, they will turn those behaviors around and use them as a way to play with me.

Even seemingly hard behaviors can function in this way.  Playing a Beethoven concerto can seem like either an onerous task imposed by your teachers or the greatest joy in your life.

How a behavior is perceived is more important than what it is. Our senior horse Magnat loved to piaffe.  Give him the least hint that piaffe might be on the table, and he would be offering it with gusto.  He also loved to retrieve.  At the start of a training session in the arena, he would insist on being turned loose so he could retrieve any dropped objects that might have been left in the arena by others.

Magnat belonged to Ann Edie.  Ann is blind.  Many know her through her other horse, Panda, the mini she uses as her guide.

Panda great walk

It may look like a casual walk, but Panda is guiding her blind handler.

For years Ann and I boarded our horse together in a large lesson barn.  The Iceys and Magnat belong to her.

Playing with Play
Because Ann is blind, it was very useful to her to let Magnat clean up the arena at the start of every session.  She was handed gloves, riding crops, Kleenex, cones.  If there was nothing else to retrieve, he even brought her larger than normal pieces of the shavings that made up the arena footing.

Piaffe and retrieving are two very different kinds of behaviors.  Retrieving was taught in an afternoon.  Piaffe took many months of structured work, but for Magnat they were clearly both regarded as play.  They were taught with laughter and they brought laughter.

CTFYH cover with caption1

Coming next: Part 1: Chapter 7: Training Playfully Mixed with a Little Science

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Part 1 Ch. 4: Inside The Trainer’s Brain

Recognizing Play

sindri fengur playing 3 photos

When they’re turned out together, our two Icelandics engage in mock battles. How do I know they are playing and not fighting for real?  Their drama is intense.  Both rear up and crash into one another.  One will come down over the neck of the other seemingly trying to bite the other horse through his thick mane.   They’ll spin apart and kick out, then race off at a gallop shouldering one another for an advantage in the turn.

To a causal observer it looks both very dramatic and very real, but these Iceys are good actors.  Their battles are all make believe.  They leave the “battle field” without a mark on them.  The kicks are all pulled punches and the bites nothing but pretend.  One moment they are body slamming into one another, the next they are standing side by side in their other favorite activity – social grooming.

After a good play session they come into the barn relaxed, refreshed, and always ready for more.  At twenty they play with the same vigor and intensity that they did when they were four.

When you watch your dogs or your cats wrestling together, you have no trouble recognizing this behavior as play.  You see the bites that aren’t bites, and the claws that don’t draw blood.  You see them taking turns.  First, one is on top pinning the other down, and then they’ll flip roles.  The stronger animal has learned that if he dominates the play, the other animal will quit.  I don’t know which of the Icelandics is the faster horse.  They always run together.  If Fengur has his nose out in front, it is only because Sindri, our stallion has let him, not because Sindri has fallen behind.

When Peregrine, my senior horse, was a two year old, he was chased by another horse through a fence.  I’ve seen what it looks like when these clashes are not play. It is terrifying to watch.  There is no mistaking the real thing for play.  When I see my cats confronting the neighborhood stray, it does not look in any way like the play they engage in together.  But that play between friends has prepared them well for the negotiations they are about to have.  All of us – cats, horses, people – know when the play has stopped, and we are now engaged in the real thing – a struggle for survival.

Part 1: Chapter 5: What is Play?

Defining Play
So we can recognize play.  But what is it?  Stuart Brown wrestled with this question in his book. He opened by saying he resisted giving play a definition for a number of reasons.  Play is so varied.  As he points out, an activity such as writing this chapter might seem like play to me, but it might be work to somebody else.  So we cannot define play simply through the activities we engage in.

For Brown play may be hard to pin down with a rigid definition, but at least in people, it does have very recognizable properties.  He would say:

* Play is done for it’s own sake.  Play has no direct survival value.
* It is voluntary.  You don’t “have to” play.
* Play is inherently reinforcing.  Play is fun so you want to play more.
* Play provides freedom from time.

This is the characteristic that most resonates with me.  I am constantly losing track of time.  I’ll be working with the horses, or working on this book, and suddenly realize that several hours have passed and I’m about to be late for an appointment.  I have been so absorbed in what I was doing, so in “the zone” in a PLAY state, that I have completely lost track of time.

At clinics I am constantly surprised that the hands on my watch have moved forward by several hours. “How can it be four o’clock?”, I’ll exclaim.  “It was just 12:30 the last time I looked.”  It is as though I’m surprised by the notion that time passes.  I know the hands on my watch will be progressing around the clock face, but in my PLAY state it truly does seem as though no time has passed.

* Play produces a diminished consciousness of self.

pool noodle GermanyWe stop worrying so much about how we look to others.  In imaginative play we may even become a different “self”.  When you’re trying to learn to ride and you have an instructor barking commands at you treating your lesson more like military boot camp than something you’ve chosen to do for fun, you’ll be a long way from a PLAY state.  Barked commands create FEAR and make the learner more self-conscious – not less.  To promote the best mental state for learning and retaining information, we want to be PLAY full.

When people are first learning clicker-compatible rope handling skills, I start them out without their horses.  At first, people may be thinking how silly they look practicing their technique with a rope tied to a door handle.  They’ll be terribly self-conscious.  Once I get them in a PLAY state, this kind of thinking disappears. They forget what it might look like to an outsider as they become fully engaged in the process.

* Play has improvisational potential.

When you play, you aren’t locked into a set way of doing things.  You can experiment and invent.  Many of the details that we now know make a huge difference to the horses were discovered during play sessions without any horses being involved.

People took turns being the handler and the “human horse”. They stepped outside of themselves and left behind their usual, I’m-an-adult-and-I don’t-play-silly-make-believe-games.  They let go of their self-conscious rigidity and let the act of playing take over.  The result was they saw things in a different way and with fresh insights.

Canine clicker trainer, Kay Laurence, often refers to a quote from Proust:

A journey of discovery comes not from a voyage into new landscapes but seeing familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Over and over again, our animals show us the truth of this expression.  As each new layer of training is explored, we see our animals and all their brilliance with fresh eyes.

* Play provides a continuation desire.  You want to keep doing it.  Once the play stops, you want to do it again.  As Brown puts it: “Play is its own reward, its own reason for being.”++

++ The Properties of Play are from: “Play: How it Sharpens the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”    Stuart Brown M.D. and Christopher Vaughan, The Penguin Group, NY New York 2009.

Coming next: Part 1: Chapter 6:  Being PLAY FULL

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Part 1 Chapter 3: What Neuroscience Teaches Us About Play

aa Panda scrabble

The Archeological Dig Through The Brain
So far I’ve discussed:

SEEKING.  This is the “granddaddy” of all the systems. You have to find the resources needed for survival. This is why so many people love to shop.  The SEEKER circuit is being activated even if you are just window shopping. This system is also activated in conjunction with the other emotional systems so it is too simplistic to say the SEEKER circuit alone was activated.

RAGE: Someone wants to take your resources so you have RAGE.

FEAR: Other organisms want to eat you, so there’s FEAR.

LUST: You need to reproduce.  This leads to the evolution of the next system: CARE.

CARE: You need to care for offspring.

PANIC: The loss of your caregiver and protector triggers this system.

This leaves just one more system to talk about and that’s PLAY.  After I first heard Panksepp speak, I was trying to remember the seven systems so I could share his work with others.  I got six of them without any trouble.  What was the seventh?  I had a hard time remembering PLAY.  Somehow PLAY just seemed too frivolous and inconsequential to belong on this list, but then I started learning more about play and the key role it “plays” in brain development.

So here is the last of the seven systems:

PLAY: Animals need social engagement which is manifested in play. PLAY is the last system Panksepp lists, and he gives it special significance. It is through play that the neocortex becomes integrated.

Clicker Training and the Seven Affective Systems
For a clicker trainer, this list of the seven Affective Systems is of particular interest.  Consider what it means to use a marker signal and to pair it with things an animal wants.  The click becomes my “yes answer” signal.  For the horse it’s a predictor of good things.  My horse wants to get me to click so he can engage in activities he enjoys.  That means he’s going to be more likely to perform whatever behavior was occurring just as I clicked.  It’s a wonderfully reinforcing loop.  We’re both happy.  I’m getting more of the behavior I like, and my horse thinks he’s got me all figured out!  He knows how to make that magic click happen.

Clicker training is a fun, effective, horse-friendly way to train.  When I look at Panksepp’s list, I understand even more clearly why my horses and I enjoy it so very much.  Clicker training activates both the SEEKER and the PLAY systems.  I’m not relying on FEAR to move a horse out of my space.  In fact I actively work to avoid triggering FEAR, RAGE, or PANIC.

As a clicker trainer, I’ve learned how to trigger the SEEKER circuit and to turn training into play for both myself and my horses.  At any point where the training begins to feel like a chore, it’s time to rethink what I’m doing.  I want to come up with training solutions that don’t just manage my horse’s fear and anxiety.  I want to turn the trailer, the farrier, the scary end of the arena into a source of play and social engagement for my horse.  I want him actively seeking out opportunities to engage with me and the environment.

Part 1: Chapter 4:  Inside the Trainer’s Brain

The Neuroscience of Training
When I think about Panksepp’s list, I wonder what happens in the brain when different training methods are used. Two trainers could be working towards the same end goal behavior. On the outside you’d see the behavior emerging. But inside the brain – what is happening?

Clicker trainers talk about their horses being different. Panksepp’s work seems to support this. When we use clicker training, we’re very much activating the SEEKER circuit. We’re engaging our animals in PLAY, and we’re avoiding FEAR and PANIC.

You can train a horse with a whip and spurs followed by a pet on the neck.  Alternatively, you can take the threat away and train with a clicker and treats.  Panksepp’s work would suggest that very different systems are activated within the brain. And so, yes, when we say our clicker-trained horses are different – at the basic level of brain mechanisms, it turns out that they truly are.  So, if play is critical for integrating the neocortex, what is this saying about our animals? And what is the effect on us as we participate in the process? Anyone who clicker trains can easily answer that last question.

Coming next: Part 1: Chapter 4:  Recognizing PLAY

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Part 1: Ch. 2 Animal Emotions con’t

Joy Full Horses title page coverIf you are new to this series, this article is part of a book which I am publishing here on this site.  I suggest you begin with the first article published on January 2, 2016 https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/01/02/

Part 1: Chapter 2: Animal Emotions continued

In the previous section I introduced you to the work of the neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp.  Panksepp has identified seven affective emotional systems which are common to all mammals.  The first of these is the SEEKER System which I came to understand better through the actions of a courageous mouse.  In today’s article, we’ll look at five more of these systems, beginning with RAGE.

aa mouse walking

RAGE
Once a mouse finds the resources it needs, it must then protect them.  So another primary system is RAGE.  With our wonderful modern technology we can hide remote cameras in all sorts of unlikely places, including hollowed out tree stumps in which a scientist has cached nuts and grains.  If you want drama, just wait until a shrew, a mouse, and a vole happen upon the stash at the same time.  Prize fighters in a boxing ring would be hard pressed to put on such a show!

For a ring-side view of this epic drama, use your SEEKER system to hunt up on some past episodes of the BBC’s “Spring Watch” series. You’ll find them on youtube.  The “boxing match” was high drama for a series that takes you into the English countryside to watch over bird nests and spring lambing.

FEAR

aa mouse

Mice SEEK, but there are others who are SEEKING them. So one of the other deep archaeological layers of the mind reveals the FEAR system. Those of us who work with horses know this one well.  Sit on a horse who hears an unfamiliar sound, and you will feel his heart pound in a sudden adrenaline rush of FEAR.

LUST, CARE, and PANIC
Or if you are on a stallion, perhaps it is another system that distant sound has just activated: LUST.

LUST leads to reproduction which leads in mammals to the CARE system.  This is obviously especially strong in females.  I wonder if this explains in part why so many more women than men are drawn in these modern times to horses.  Horses certainly require a great deal of care and nurturing.

Mammalian babies are dependent upon their mothers for survival so the sixth ancient system is PANIC.  The loss of your caregiver triggers this system.

aa zebra nursing

When I first heard Panksepp give a basic lecture on the seven systems, he made an interesting observation.  When a young animal is afraid, it is silent.  When it is separated from it’s caregiver, it cries out.  FEAR and PANIC are different systems.

Here’s another interesting observation from Panksepp: in the brain the areas that are activated when an individual is physically hurt and when they are separated from their social group are very close together.  This may be why we experience separation as “painful”.

How does this relate to horse training?  We often refer to a horse being in a panic.  If we are following Panksepp’s terminology, what we may really mean is he’s afraid.  When our horse sees a herd of cows and bolts out from under us, how do we describe the event to our friends?  As we relate the tale later (hopefully not from a hospital bed.), we may say he panicked   The question is: was that really PANIC or was it FEAR?   We may think they look the same, but the underlying emotional systems are very different.

aa trailer loading Robin.pngHere’s another example: Your horse doesn’t want anything to do with the shiny new trailer you’ve just bought for him.  You picked it out especially with his comfort in mind. It’s an inviting space with lots of windows, and a bright interior. He’s always been good going up over platforms and onto the wooden bridges you’ve built for him.  But now he’s got his feet planted at the foot of the trailer ramp, and he’s refusing to go another inch forward.  Anytime you’ve gotten him to move, it’s been over the top of you trying to get back to his pasture mates.

So here’s the question: Is your horse afraid or is he in a panic? The answer matters because it will help determine the most effective course of action you can take to get him to walk willingly and easily onto the trailer.

So what is the difference?  We often use the words interchangeably. You’ve gone to a friend’s barn for a weekend trail ride, and your horse all but runs over the top of you trying to get away from the llama he’s seeing for the first time.  Later when you’re telling the story, you say he was in a panic.  But again, if we think about Panksepp’s discriminations, is that a correct use of the term?

If you know which emotional system is being triggered, you can come up with a more effective training solution. If you think just about the difference between FEAR and PANIC, you may find that it very much effects the training choices you make.  Consider the horse who doesn’t want to go on your new trailer. Is he fretting because he’s being separated from his pasture mates?  Or is he uncertain about the strange smell of the new rubber mats on the trailer floor?  Can you see that these call for different training solutions?

If you think the issue is fear of the trailer when really you’re dealing with separation anxiety, you could be spending a lot of time getting your horse used to walking through narrow chutes, and stepping up onto ramps, and you’d still have issues getting him on a trailer.  If he’s worried about his friends on the other side of the fence, making him go onto a trailer could end up “electrifying” it in his mind – making it a much more terrifying place than it ever would have been if his friends had been with him when he first went on it.  You may have begun with only PANIC, but now you’ve got FEAR layered on top, making the whole training situation that much more difficult.

Before you begin any training plan, it’s worth considering what the underlying emotions are that you’re dealing with.  Does your horse fret over having his feet worked on by the farrier because he’s in the barn by himself and he wants to get back to his herd?  Or is he afraid of the farrier because he’s not very well balanced and the farrier has hit him – hard – when he’s shifted around? For your training to be most effective and efficient you want to choose a training solution that fits the emotional system that is being triggered.

To be continued . . .

Next up: Part 1 Chapter  3: What Neuroscience Teaches Us About Play

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

JOY Full Horses: Pt. 1: Ch 2 Animal Emotions – Affective Neuroscience

Joy Full Horses title page cover

If you are new to this series, this article is part of a book which I am publishing here on this site.  I suggest you begin with the first article published on January 2, 2016 https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/01/02/

 

Part 1: Chapter 2: Animal Emotions continued

In the previous section I introduced you to Virginia Morrel’s book “Animal Wise”.  In her book Morrell shares the work of scientists from all over the world who are doing pioneering work in the field of animal cognition.  That includes the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp.

ratAffective Neuroscience
Virginia Morrell gives a wonderful summary of Panksepp’s work in a chapter entitled “The Laughter of Rats”.  It’s a great primer to prepare you for Panksepp’s own books on Affective Neuroscience.  For those of you for whom this is a new term, Morrell supplies us with a simple definition: that’s the zone where neurons, emotions and cognition meet.  The question here is how does the brain generate emotional feelings and what impact (affect) do these feelings have on behavior?

Panksepp sees emotions as evolutionary skills that help animals survive and reproduce.  Evolution is a conservative process meaning structures tend to be preserved and reused rather than discarded.  We can use mice and rats in medical studies because their biochemistry is so similar to our own.  So why should we think the nervous system is any different when it comes to recycling existing structures?

Panksepp titled his second book “The Archaeology of the Mind”.  It’s a great title.  Just as an archaeologist can study past cultures by digging down through layers of sediment, the neuroscientist can study the evolution of cognition by going down through the layers of the brain.  We share the same ancient structures with all other species of mammals.  We are not separate from other animals.  We share a common heritage, and Panksepp now has evidence to support the idea that that means we also share common emotional experiences.

By electrically stimulating the brains of rats and guinea pigs Panksepp has identified seven emotional systems found in the mammalian subcortex.  These seven systems serve similar functions in the animals he has studied.  When he talks about these systems he writes them in capital letters to differentiate them from our vernacular use of these terms.  I will follow this practice here.

The Seven Affective Emotional Systems
The SEEKER System is the most primitive and extensive of the seven systems. The SEEKER circuit is activated when a healthy animal explores it’s environment.  It needs to know where it’s resources are, where to look for food and water, shelter and mates.  When people talk about the SEEKER circuit, they often use someone’s love of shopping as a modern example of this system in action.

Karen Pryor has speculated that the SEEKER system is activated by clicker training.  That’s why we see such enthusiasm and eagerness to engage in the training.  It isn’t so much about the food that comes after the click, as it is the hunt for the right solution.

It’s easy to see how the SEEKER system applies to dogs and other predators.  They have to hunt for their prey, so it’s no wonder dogs love clicker training.  But horses?  They live on a carpet of grass.  How does this relate to them?

Even horses need a strong SEEKER System.  They may live on a carpet of grass, but they still need to find the bits that haven’t been recently grazed.  They need to know where the water holes are, especially in a dry climate.  They need to know where to find shelter in a storm, and what the best routes are out of a canyon should they be chased by predators.

I came to appreciate the SEEKER system in a rather odd way.  I don’t know about you, but I am a mouse rescuer.  When one of my cats comes parading past me with a mouse or baby rabbit dangling out of her mouth, another of Panksepp’s primary systems sends me into action.  The nurturing CARE system makes it impossible for me to see an animal in distress without wanting to do something about it.  Yes, I know mice are considered pests and all that, but mice also have emotional lives.  They are amazing creatures.

A Courageous Mouse

aa composter

I’m going to digress for a moment.  At the new barn we use an O2 composting system for the manure.  Instead of creating a  large manure pile somewhere – hopefully out of sight – and leaving it over a period of a year or more to rot down, manure goes into a cement bay.  When the bay is filled, a pump forces air through the pile.   You can see how this is done by looking at the photo.  The empty bay in the middle shows two rows of wooden slats. These cover a trough in the floor.  Air is pumped into this trough and up into the pile through holes drilled in the slats.   This not only speeds up the composting process, the intense heat from the rotting manure kills weed seeds, insects and parasites.  In three months it can produce a high quality compost that can go directly back onto the fields as fertilizer or into the garden.  And because the manure is contained throughout the process in the cement bays, there’s no unsightly muck heap in the barn yard.

aa flowers and composter.png

Some of the flowers produced by the compost

We don’t have a tractor so when a bay is ready to be emptied, I do that by hand – wheel barrow by wheel barrow.  It’s a time consuming process but well worth the effort.  As I shovel in yet another wheel barrow full of compost, I think of the flowers that will be growing out of it later.

One cool fall day I was emptying the composter, digging in with my pitch fork when I disturbed a mother mouse and her nest filled with babies.  She scurried out from under my pitch fork with seven almost-grown babies clinging to her belly.   She ran up what was for her a mountain of manure to the top of the composter.

There she was confronted with a sheer cliff many times higher aa composter pilethan herself.  One of her babies had lost it’s grip.  She paused just long enough to give it time to reattach itself to her belly, and then she scaled the cement wall, ran across the wooden planks of the walkway at the back of the composter, and disappeared into the safety of the mouse tunnels she must have known she would find on the other side.

I was in awe.  What courage. Am I projecting human emotions onto a mouse?  Maybe. But I will still call it heroic what she did, especially pausing long enough to carry all of her babies to safety.  She could so easily have left that one behind to save the others.  She could have kept herself safe and simply abandoned them all.  We have much to learn from the dedication of that little mouse to all of her offspring.

The Cat Dilemma
So when one of my cats come meowing proudly through the house showing off some little mouse that she has brought back for me, I turn into a rescuer. But I am always in a quandary.  I hate the way a cat will play with a mouse before she kills it.  I want to rescue the mouse and set it free.  But am I really doing it a favor?  Who knows how far the cat has come.  When I release the mouse, will it be able to find it’s way back to the safety of its nest, or am I condemning it to a slow death by starvation?

I always do rescue the mouse, but for years I worried if this was really the best thing to do.  And then at one of my clinics I got the answer.  During our Friday evening introductions, one of the participants said he was a field biologist.  He looked the part.  I could easily see him tromping through the woods of northern Minnesota, radio tracking equipment on his back, following a pack of wolves.  I’m sure you can conjure up your own picture based on all the nature programs you’ve watched on TV.  I asked him what species he studied.  His answer: mice.

“Oh,” piped up another attendee, “Are you an exterminator?”

Hardly.  It turns out he loves mice.  He was studying an endangered species that lives in the coastal sand dunes of North Carolina.  Here was the perfect person to ask about my dilemma.  Was I doing the mice I rescued any favor.  I was very much delighted to hear that, yes absolutely, the mice would know how to orient back to their nests and stored food supplies.

It turns out mice can travel huge distances over the course of a single night.  They are updating the map of their territories.  They need to know where their resources are.  Where is the grass that is about to seed, the berries that are about to ripen?  Hearing this gave me a much deeper understanding of the SEEKER system and the primary role it plays in an animal’s life.

To be continued . . .

In the next installment I’ll continue to explore the Seven Affective Emotional Systems identified by Jaak Panksepp.  Next up is RAGE.

JOY Full Horses: Part 1: Why Play?

Joy Full Horses title page coverI’ve teased you with an introduction to this book, and with the Table of Contents.  Now finally here is Part 1: Why Play!

This is a short section – just to get your feet wet.  Enjoy!

 

 

blue bar

Part One: Why Play?

Panda scrabble - leaning against me

When science and art come together,
they become indistinguishable from play.

blue bar

Chapter 1: Mammals Play

Fengur Sindri rearing 5:19:13

 

Airplane Reading
When you travel by plane as often as I do, you begin to know all the major airports in the country.  I can tell you which ones have free internet access and electrical outlets at your seat, and which ones force you to sit on the floor to recharge your computer.  I can tell you which airports have decent food and which ones assume that the entire traveling public wants to eat junk food.  I can also tell you where all the good bookstores are.  I enjoy browsing through airport bookstores.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed by an overabundance of choice in the mega bookstores, the airport bookstores are confined to cubbyhole spaces.  They give you just a small sampling of what is current and popular.

What I want for traveling is what I call airplane reading – nothing too heavy.  I mean that both physically – I may have a long walk between gates and my backpack is already weighed down with my computer and camera equipment.  And I also want something that’s light enough reading to let me dip in and out as I nap on the plane.

I often check out the business and science sections where I’ll find titles that might not otherwise have crossed my radar.  That’s how I spotted a book on play, called appropriately enough “Play”.  For a long time, whenever I referred to this book, I could never remember the author’s name.  I finally tracked down my copy for the express purpose of being able to reference the author in a talk I was preparing.  It was written by Stuart Brown.

Stuart Brown. How was I going to remember that?

Stuart is easy.  Stuart is Stuart Little from E.B. White’s charming children’s book.  And if we are thinking about children’s books, then, of course, we have Paddington Bear, and that gives you the author’s name. Not sure of the connection?  Paddington Bear lived with the Browns.  Hence Stuart Brown.

That’s a playful way to remember the author of a book on Play.

Stuart Brown book covers

Why Do Animals Play?
Stuart Brown is an M.D. who has studied play.  In his book he posed an interesting question.  Play carries with it enormous metabolic costs and genetic risks.  Two horses playing mock stallion battles are not only expending a great deal of energy, they are exposing themselves to possible injury.  In the wild if they miscalculate and one of them is injured, that horse could very quickly be out of the gene pool.  So given this, why is play so prevalent?  It’s not just people and puppies who play.  You’ll find play behavior across all species of mammals.

aa Iceys play in snow 3 pictures caption

It’s not my intention here to give a detailed review of Brown’s book.  The main point he was making is that regardless of the evolutionary forces that led to the prevalence of play, what we are left with is this conclusion: play is important for the development of healthy brains.

When you compare brain scans of individuals who have been play deprived with those who are living in enriched environments with many opportunities for play, you see a marked difference.  Should you wish to, I’ll leave it to you to explore this in more detail.  You can begin with the lighter read of Brown’s book and then move on to the work of neuroscientist and play specialist, Jaak Panksepp.  And if you want even more, their books will give you plenty of additional references to explore.

The launching point for what I’ll be covering is this basic premise: play is important for healthy brains.  That means it is important for our horses, and, equally, it is important for us.  As I explore what play means in the context of training, I will be focusing my attention on both ends of the lead rope. I’ll be looking at what it means for both the horse and the handler to be engaging in play.

aa crackers basketball

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Part 1: Chapter 2:  Animal Emotions

aa crackers hit ball

Bob Viviano and Crackers – Great partners who knew how to play and to share their connection with others.

Is Your Training Fun?
When we think about clicker training, we often think about play.  After all, we’re often using clicker training to teach some very playful behaviors.  But just because you are having your horse kick a beach ball, doesn’t necessarily mean either one of you is having fun.  If you’re so caught up in the science behind the training, if you’re thinking about what the discriminative stimulus is for kicking the ball and whether you should be using a least reinforcing stimulus after that last miss, your brain may be processing the interaction in a way that’s a long way away from play.

If you’re concentrating on your handling skills, if you’re thinking about the timing of your click, and whether your hand is staying out of the treat pouch between clicks, again you may be a long way away from play.  It’s easy to get so caught up in “getting things right” that play drops out of the equation.  The function of these articles is to remind you that we need to keep bringing play back to the forefront of our training.

I mentioned Jaak Panksepp earlier.  His work is getting a great deal of attention at the moment within the clicker community.  Karen Pryor gets the credit for this.  Karen Pryor is one of the very early pioneers in clicker training.  Her book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog” has introduced thousands of people to this modern form of animal training.  Karen wanted to know what the neuroscientists could tell us about how the click is processed in the brain. In her book, “Reaching the Animal Mind” she talked about the SEEKER system, one of the seven primary emotional states Panksepp has identified.  It is the SEEKER system that Pryor attributes to the enthusiasm and – dare I say it – joy we see in our clicker-trained animals.

Animal Wise
Panksepp has been studying what was once a forbidden area in science – emotions in animals.  Here’s another “airplane” book I’ll recommend, Animal Wise by Virginia Morell.  Morrell begins her book with the following:

“Animals have minds.  They have brains, and use them, as we do: for experiencing the world, for thinking and feeling, and for solving the problems of life every creature faces.  Like us, they have personalities, moods, and emotions; they laugh and they play.  Some show grief and empathy and are self-aware and very likely conscious of their actions and intents.

Not so long ago, I would have hedged these statement, because the prevailing notion held that animals are more like robotic machines, capable of responding with only simple, reflexive behaviors.  And indeed there are still researchers who insist that animals are moving through life like the half dead, but those researchers are so 1950s. They’ve been left behind as a flood of new research from biologists, animal behaviorists, evolutionary and ecological biologists, comparative psychologists, cognitive ethologists, and neuroscientists sweeps away old ideas that block the exploration of animal minds.  The question is now not “Do animals think?”  It’s “How and what do they think?”

Hurray!  Finally people are coming around to my view of animals as intelligent, very aware beings with rich emotional lives.  I know this goes against strong cultural biases.  But where did this notion that animals do not think come from?  Why do scientists have such a horror of being accused of being anthropomorphic (attributing human mental abilities to an animal)? How can we deny the evidence we see in every interaction we have with our horses, with our cats and dogs?

Outdated Belief Systems
Morrell points out in her introduction that this idea that animals do not think or have emotions as we know them is an old one. Aristotle did not believe that animals could think rationally, but he did at least grant that they experienced physical sensations such as hunger and pain, and they could be angry.

It turns out that Aristotle represented an “enlightened” view of animals – even with all of it’s limitations.   Later philosophers denied that “animals had any thoughts, emotions, or sensations and therefore we did not need to extend any moral consideration to them.” (Morrell)

Belief systems are a curious thing.  There’s that wonderful line that crops up during political discussions: you wouldn’t want a little thing like facts to get in the way of a good argument.  It applies here, as well. Belief systems become self supporting.  We tend to attract experiences that support our belief systems.  I find it beyond comprehension that anyone could deny the emotionally rich life that animals have.  You have only to sit on a panicked horse who has been separated from his herd to know very directly the emotions he’s feeling!

But I suppose there will be those who would say I’m just delusional.  I’m the one attracting evidence to support a faulty belief system.  Perhaps.  But I am no longer alone.  If you want a good read, add Animal Wise to your list.  Morrell has been visiting with scientists from all over the world who are doing pioneering work in the field of animal cognition.  That includes the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp.

Coming next: Part 1: Chapter 2: Animal Emotions: Affective Neuroscience

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

 

Joyful Horses: Table of Contents

In my previous post I explained how my book, JOY Full Horses, came to be written.  Then I left you hanging while I went off for a week to a conference.  So here, finally, is the first installment of the book.  I’m beginning, as books do, with the Table of Contents.

As you scroll down through the Table of Contents, I hope the chapter titles excite your interest.  I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by a sudden flood of articles into this blog, so my plan is to publish a block of material once or twice a week.

Before I begin, let me share with you what this book overall is about, and what it is not.  In clicker training we learn not to focus on the unwanted behavior.  We want to focus on what we want the learner TO DO.  So it seems odd to be saying what this book is not.  It is not a “how-to” guide to clicker training.  I’ve written those books, produced those DVDs, written that on-line course.  If you are new to clicker training and need the nuts and bolts of how to get started, I will direct you to those resources.  You can find them all via my web site: theclickercenter.com.

So what is this book?  And who is it for?  The second question is easy to answer.  It is for you – especially if you have animals in your life, and you’re interested in training.  Over the past twenty plus years I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what can be done with clicker training.  How do we use it?  How do we think about it?  What is our current understanding of cues, chains, reinforcement schedules, etc., and how has that changed over the years? In these articles we’ll be going well beyond the basics of clicker training.  I want to share with you the differences that make a difference – that transform you from a follower of recipes into a creative, inventive trainer.  Play is the transformer.  In the articles that I have collected together to form this book, you’ll discover what I mean by that.

Alexandra Kurland   January 12, 2016

Joy Full Horses title page cover

Here’s a look at what’s coming:

Contents:

PART ONE: WHY PLAY?

Chapter 1: Mammals Play
Airplane Reading
Why Do Animals Play?

Chapter 2  Animal Emotions
Is Your Training Fun?
Animal Wise
Outdated Belief Systems
Affective Neuroscience
The Seven Affective Emotional Systems
The SEEKER System
A Courageous Mouse
The Cat Dilemma
RAGE
FEAR
LUST, CARE, and PANIC

Chapter 3: What Neuroscience Teaches Us About Play
The Archeological Dig Through The Brain
Clicker Training and the Seven Affective Systems

Chapter 4:  Inside the Trainer’s Brain
The Neuroscience of Training
Recognizing Play?

Chapter 5: What is Play?
Defining Play

Chapter 6: Being PLAY FULL
Play Full
Playing with Horses
Playing with Behavior
Playing with Play

Chapter 7:  Training Playfully Mixed with a Little Science
The ABC’s of Training
Reinforcement Variety
Antecedents

Chapter 8: Cues and Their Connection to Play
What are Cues?
Explaining Cues to a Beginner – Your List
Explaining Cues to a Beginner – My List

PART 2: PLAYING WITH CUES:
Ten Things You Should Know About Cues

Number 1: Cues are not Commands
Chapter 1: Asking Versus Telling
Commands
Cues
Paradigm Shifts
Playing with Cues

Number 2: Non Verbal Cues
Chapter 1:  Shh. Don’t Talk.  I’m Listening To Your Body
Clever Hans
Unintended Cues

Chapter 2: Turning being PLAY FULL into a Habit
The Power of Habits
The Effect of Cues
Unexpected Habits
Emotional Habits
Traveling Outside Your Habits
Microhabits
The Structure of Habits
Changing Habits
Bad Habits
Forming Habits – Good or Bad
Focus
Cravings
Changing Your Habits
Do You Believe?
The Power of Community
Keystone Habits
Small Wins or Big Fights – You Choose
Brick Walls
Dismantling The Brick Walls
Patience and Persistence
“They Don’t Feel Pain the Way We Do”
The Evolution of Belief
Balance – The Core of Everything
My “Salt Box”
Learned Helplessness
Standing Up For Our Horses
Force-Based Training
What Good Trainers Have In Common
Speaking Out For Our Horses

Chapter 3: TagTeaching – You Can’t Train My Child Like a Dog!
TagTeaching
Tag Points
WOOF Criteria
The Focus Funnel
The Focus Funnel Applied to Horse Training
Constructive Feedback
Tag Teaching and Keystone Habits
Journals
Forming The Record Keeping Habit
Forming a Journaling Community
KeyStone Habits for Life

Number 3: The Environment is a Cue

Chapter 1:  Emotions and Environmental Triggers
Environmental Cues
Guide Horses
Goose Neck Trailers
A Trainer’s Play Ground
The Herd Horse Advantage
My Cue Trumps Your Cue
Intelligent Disobedience
Horses as Guides
Evidence in Support of Intelligent Disobedience
Trusting Intelligent Disobedience
Teaching Traffic Checks
Testing the Training – How Strong are your Habits?
Guide Work: Yes She Can!
But, But, You MUST Need to Correct Her

Chapter 2: Using Environmental Cues
Every Day Environmental Cues

Chapter 3: The Time Has Come the Walrus Said to Talk of Many Things: Premack, Asking Questions, Mats, Airplane Runways and Creativity
The Time Has Come
Behaviors as Reinforcers
Turning Mats Into Tractor Beams
Feldenkrais Work
Asking Questions
The Translation to Horses
The Lead Tells A Story
The Runway
Give Them What They Want
Stopping on Mats
Constructional Training
Mat Manners
101 Things
The Opposite of Flooding
Playing with Language
Transforming Horse Training Into Play
Using Props
Playing with Images
Creativity

Number 4: Cue Communication

Chapter 1: Dr. DooLittle Knew How To Listen
Everything You Need to Know About Cues
Cue Communication
Everyday Conversations
Animal Trainers – The Ones to Really Learn From!
A Well-Trained Human
Behaviors Become Cues
Mounting Blocks as Cue Communication
Trust Your Horse, Trust the Process
Capture the Saddle
The Why Would You Leave Me? Game
Expectations
Walking Off Casually and the Why Would You Leave Me? Game
Capture the Saddle – A Target Game
Pre-Ride Safety Check List
“Grand Prix” Mounting Block Behavior
Listen To Your Horse
Detective Work
“Just Tell Me How You Feel”

Chapter 2: Finding “Yes”
Saying “No”
The Horse As Teacher
The Conversation
Fixing the “Fixers”

Number 5: Cues Evolve

Chapter 1: Cues Evolve Out Of The Shaping Process
Review
Head Lowering
Keeping Things in Balance
There’s Always More Than One Way To Teach A Behavior
Not A Forward-Moving Exercise
Moving the Hips
Backing in a Square
“Walking and Chewing Gum”
Dynamic Food Delivery
Mapping Out The Dance
Reading Your Dance Partner
Cues Evolve – Adding the Lead
Cues Evolve: How Light Can Light Be?
Who’s Not Showing Respect?
Starter Button and Constant On Cues
The Horse’s Perspective
Soap Box Time
Backing with Starter Button Cues
A Change in the Game
More “Being the Horse”
Heating Up a Behavior
Priming The Head Lowering Pump
Head Lowering from Backing in a Square
Calm Down NOW!
Heading Toward Lighter Than Light Cues
Playing with Cues
“How’d you do that?”

Number 6: Getting What You Want When You Want It: Stimulus Control

Chapter 1: Getting What You Want
More About Cues
Cues and Our Eager Clicker Horses
Stimulus Control Version 1.0
The Four Criteria of Stimulus Control
Speed Bump: Teaching with Extinction
Through “the Wardrobe”

Number 7: Stimulus Control and Play

Chapter 1: Even Play Has Rules
Reminders
Balancing Cues
Building a Repertoire of Behaviors
Base Behaviors
An Equine Ostrich
Clicker “Drill Sergeants”
Laughing with our Horses
Playing Safe
Remember To Laugh

Number 8: Cues Can Change and Be Changed

Chapter 1: Cues Evolve
Change Happens
What Comes Before What Comes Before
How Light is Too Light?
Wait

Chapter 2: The Cue Transfer Process
Changing Cues
Basic Manners
Tap Root Behaviors
Saying Please and Thank You
Good Manners are a Good Habit
The Grown-ups Really Are Talking
Great Service
Consistency
Over-eager Students

Chapter 3: New Cue – Old Cue
Creating New Cues
Sleight of Hand Magic Tricks
Understanding Pressure
Play and the Transferred Cue
The Transfer Continues
Sleight of Hand Magic – The Trick Revealed

Number 9: You Can’t Not Cue

Chapter 1: Using The Cues Your Horse Discovers
Collecting Gems
Clever Hans
Working WITH Your Own Clever Hans
Canine Teachers
Selecting from the Menu
Use Your Cues
An Accident Waiting To Happen
All Work and No Play . . .

Chapter 2: What is Clicker Training?
Labels
What Clicker Training Means To Me
Defining Clicker Training
Creating Stepping Stones

Chapter 3: Are You A Clicker Trainer or a User of Clicker Training?
Are You a Clicker Trainer?
Why Clicker Train? The Science Foundation
Three Blind Men and the Elephant
Modern Animal Training
Relationship
Using Clicker Training
The Clicker Super Glue
Science
Relationship
Repertoire
Persistence
Using Clicker Training
The Clicker Umbrella
Just Because You Can . . .
More Questions
Levels of Analysis
Adding a Question Mark – Feldenkrais Work
Asking Not Telling
The Questions

Chapter 4: What is the lesson? – Playing with Cues
The Teachers We Get Are The Teachers We Need
Stories
One Day At A Time
TTEAM
Innovations Come From the Outside In
Following Antennae
The Joy of Discovery
Ready To Teach
Change Makers
Change Our Beliefs, Change the World
Detective Work

Chapter 5: Stepping Stones
More To Learn
Remembering Play
Getting “Yes” Answers
Training Choices
Building Clean Loops
Scritching
Sequence Matters
You Never Know What You’ve Taught.  You Only Know What You’ve Presented
Using Your Head
Breath
Celebration!
Moving On
What Could You Find? What Could You Release?
Posing the Questions
Adding the Click
Tactile Communication
Cues Evolve
Cue Communication
Adding in Lateral Flexions
Do Not Enter Signs
Microrhythms

Number 10: Playing with Chains

Chapter 1: Cues Evolve into Chains
The List of Ten
Creating Change Through Chains
The Story for Poco
Poco’s Learning Loop
What We Say
The Meaning of Words
Negative Reinforcement
Procedure versus The Emotional Effect
History Matters
The Emotional Spectrum
It’s Not Your Fault
Changing Expectations
Hidden Motivators
What Triggers Change?
The Fluid Nature of Language
How Words Are Used
The Power of Play

PART 3: GOING MICRO

Chapter 1: The Many Forms of Micro
Why Micro
MicroShaping
Outcome Versus Reaction Pattern
Base Behaviors
Tossing Treats
Precision
Dynamic Food Delivery
Precision and Play Go Together
Patterns
What Does the Click Do

Chapter 2: How Clicker Trainers Play
Five Go To Sea
“Riding” the Ocean
The Conference
Reaction Patterns
Extinction

Chapter 2: Regression
Reverting to Past Behaviors
Extinction Reveals Your Horse’s Past
Well Behaved or Shut Down?
Leaving History Behind
Data Collecting
Tuning Up the Handler’s Skills
Building Your Repertoire
The Animal Emotions
The Emotions of Extinction
Extinctions Emotional Pattern
Grief

Chapter 3: To Love a Horse
Extinction and Shaping
Regression and Resurgence
Extinction History
The Catalyst, Not the Cause
Extinction Reveals the Past
The Equine Version
Accidental Extinction
Mini versus Maxi Extinctions
Training Game Mishaps
Micro Extinctions
The Measure of Success
Using “Hot” Behaviors
Click For What You Already Have
Cues and Extinction
Teaching “Chill”
The Training Game
Genabacab
PORTL
PORTL Games
Mastering Extinction
Experiment One: Resurgence
Experiment Two: Regression
Mind Games
Using resurgence – Insight
What is Creativity?
Persistence
Degrees of Freedom
Expanding Repertoires
Being Emotional Is Being Alive
Building Unlikely Behaviors with Resurgence
Resurgence and Dog “Yoga”
Generalization and Creativity
The “Pose”
Seeing Familiar Landscapes with Fresh Eyes
The Creative Process
Mastering Micro
Micro Masters

AFTERWORD
I Can’t Do What You Want
Finding Joy