JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 8.) Cues Can Change and Be Changed
The previous post introduced the concept of tap root behaviors. You strengthen a base behavior by returning frequently to it. Like a well-nourished tap root, it keeps getting stronger. The reinforcement history becomes extra deep, and you’ll have a rich network of behaviors branching off from it. In this next section we’ll build on the solid foundation of good manners that approach creates.
Saying Please and Thank You
Suppose a friend is visiting you with her four year old daughter. The toddler sees some toys you have in a basket. (We won’t tell her mother they’re dog toys you keep there for your other friends and their canine companions.)
The child asks to play with the toys. Immediately, her mother is saying “What do you say?”
“Please,” the child answers.
You hand the child a toy to play with (a new one that hasn’t yet been chewed by your canine guests).
Again, the mother prompts, “What do you say?”
The child parrots out the answer: “Thank you.”
“Please” and “thank you” aren’t just for toddlers. She isn’t learning to say these phrases just to satisfy her mother. They are the glue that holds our social lives together.
We ask permission. We don’t demand.
We say thank you in appreciation for all the little gestures of accommodation that make life easier. It takes time for please and thank you to become habits, but once learned and understood, it becomes second nature to include them in conversations.
Good Manners are a Good Habit
Grown-ups is similar. At first you have to keep reminding your horse that manners matter. He can’t just go straight to your pockets for goodies. It takes a while for good manners to become a good habit.
I remember when I first started working with Panda, Ann was worried about her interest in my pockets. Ann was struggling with her new guide dog. He came to her with a total lack of basic living-with-humans manners. Her previous dogs had always had the freedom of her house. This dog had to live either crated or behind baby gates. If he was given free access to the house, he would turn anything that wasn’t tied down into a chew toy.
This can be a problem for anyone living with a dog, but for someone who is blind it is especially so. Every time you hear your dog chewing something, you have to check to see what he has. It could be your best dress shoes, a harmless dog toy, or a pill bottle filled with medicine that could kill him.
Manners matter. This dog was supposed to be showing me the model to copy for training a super guide. Instead he was showing me everything you didn’t want. Ann didn’t need two problem animals. When a very young Panda wanted to see what else we were hiding in our pockets, I could feel Ann tensing. She had enough trouble with this dog. She didn’t need a pushy horse, as well.
I’d only had Panda a week when we had our first long car trip. I was teaching a clinic at a barn that was about an hour from my home. We were quite the Noah’s Arc heading off that day. Panda was still learning how to ride in a car, so I sat in the back seat with her. Ann sat in front with her guide dog wedged in between her feet. And another client drove us.
Panda was essentially right in my lap so my pockets were at nose level for the entire trip. I couldn’t be more vulnerable, and there was no putting her away and taking a break. For the entire hour’s drive we worked on grown-ups.
Each time Panda took her nose away even for a second, click, she got a treat. What Ann was hearing from the front seat was a rapid-fire barrage of clicks. She’s an experienced clicker trainer so she knows how training works. You begin with high rates of reinforcement for little things, and you gradually expand them out. But I knew she was worried. Her shepherd was supposed to be a “trained” dog, but everything was still in the “terrible twos” toddler stage with him. How was this going to work for Panda?
Panda was our true “toddler”. She was only nine months old on that first car ride. Just like a human child, she needed a lot of reminders to say “please” and “thank you”. She was learning that mugging my pockets not only never got her treats, it wasn’t necessary. There were so many other, great ways to get me to click.
The Grown-ups Really Are Talking
Panda was also learning that she didn’t need to bang the proverbial kitchen pots and pans to get attention. She got plenty of attention, but sometimes my focus needed to shift away from her. She was learning at those times it was okay to take a nap.
By the time she went to live full time with Ann, the grown-ups really could talk uninterrupted. We could go out to dinner with Panda as Ann’s guide. She had learned to stand next to Ann’s chair dozing while waiters set yummy smelling food on the table. Panda would occasionally poke her nose above the table to check out what was on the menu, but she never interrupted – not until after the desert course, and then it was only to let Ann know she needed to go out.
(By the way – if you want great service, take a guide horse with you. It was always great fun watching the waiters competing to see who got to serve the table with the mini horse.)
This reminds me of a great Panda story. The very first store we took Panda into was Lowes Hardware. We quickly discovered that Panda loved to shop! I don’t know what there is about the long cavernous aisles of the big box stores that she likes, but from the very beginning Panda has always enjoyed her trips to these stores.
She had trotted down several aisles before we found the PVC pipe we had come for. Ann and I were discussing what size we needed for our project when I looked up. Normally you have to hunt for someone to help you. Not this time! We were surrounded by twelve sales clerks. One of them said, “We heard on the walkie-talkie there was a horse in bathroom fittings.”
I could just imagine what they were thinking – some idiot has brought a full sized horse into the store. They had all come running.
Of course, we got great service! And think of the conversations they must have had that night around the dinner table!
Coming Next: Consistency
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.
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 “JOY Full 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: