JOY FULL Horses: Cues Evolve: Part 2

Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 8.) Cues Can Change and Be Changed

Changing Cues
In the previous section you saw that cues evolve and change all the time.  You start out with one cue, and it quickly morphs and becomes more subtle.  You may think the cue is some large hand gesture you’re presenting, but really your horse is tuning in to much smaller signals.  All those hand gestures are just window dressing.  The real cue lies in some subtle shifts of balance.

These changes in the cues often happen without your even noticing.  It’s only after the fact that you realize your horse is changing gait when you breathe, not when you give him what you thought were the cues.

This is one way that cues can change.  Another, more deliberate, process involves changing an old cue to a brand new cue.  But before we get to the details of that process let’s review the basics of good clicker manners.

Basic Manners
With your pockets filled with treats, suppose you were to walk into the stall or home paddock of a horse who isn’t clicker trained. What’s likely to happen?  You’d be mugged.  That’s especially true if you gave him one of those treats.  He’d be sniffing around your pockets wondering how he can get to the rest of what you’re hiding.

Now walk into the paddock of a clicker-trained horse. What is likely to happen?  He’ll back up, or he’ll pose for you.  He’ll fetch the hat you dropped on the ground.  He’ll do anything but mug your pockets.  He’s learned that’s not how the game is played.

Mugging you, nudging your hands looking for goodies, biting at your sleeve, pawing in frustration – none of these behaviors will get you to reach into your pocket to hand him treats.  But moving out of your space and standing politely at your side will.

Robin pose on mat 2016-06-18 at 3.53.41 PM

Good manners are at the core of clicker training.

I call this base behavior “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”  I gave it this name very deliberately.  I wanted to say to people we may be feeding lots of treats, but we aren’t permissive.  Our clicker horses have great manners.  They are first and foremost safe to be around.

We don’t have to be strict to teach these good manners.  We just have to be consistent.  Finding the right images helps to keep the whole process fun.

Tap Root Behaviors
“The grown-ups are talking” is at the core of all clicker ground manners.  Canine clicker trainer, Steve White, has a great image for teaching this.  He calls behaviors like grown-ups tap root behaviors.

tap root behavior - carrots with captionThink of the tap root a plant puts down.  It goes deep into the ground with many smaller roots branching off from it.  Pull up a young plant before it has time to develop, and the tap root will be very small.  But give that plant time to grow, and the tap root will grow thick and reach deep into the ground.  It will have a complex network of smaller roots branching off from it.

In training we want to grow strong tap root behaviors.  The idea is simple.  You have a core tap root behavior, such as grown-ups. Every time you work on some other behavior, you return to the tap root.

So you might start with grown-ups and then add in a little targeting.

Back to grown-ups.

Next it’s head lowering.

Back to grown ups.

Now for some leg lifts.

Back to grown ups.

By returning each time to grown ups, you are strengthening this core behavior.  Like a tap root, it will grow stronger each time you return to it.  The reinforcement history becomes extra deep, and you’ll have a rich network of behaviors branching off from it.

Coming Next: Saying Please and Thank You 

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

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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: