Summer Pleasures – Watermelon Parties and The Two Sides of Freedom

Watermelon Parties

watermelon

Summer means watermelon parties for the horses.  They are always a surprise.  As I walk through the barn, bowl in hand, I’ll announce: “It’s party time!”

Watermelon parties are held outside. That was quick learning on my part. It’s astounding the amount of happy drool even a few pieces of watermelon can produce.

Robin and Fengur follow me outside.  While I pass out chunks of watermelon, they stand waiting, one on either side of me.  There’s no pushing, no trying to jump the queue, no grumbling at the other horse. We have a happy time together. The horses get to enjoy one of their favorite treats, and I get to enjoy their obvious pleasure.

Summer also means sharing an afternoon nap with Robin. I’ve just come in from mowing the lower pasture. It’s time for a cool down. I’m sitting in a chair in the barn aisle, cold drink by my side, computer on my lap, and Robin dozing beside me. Fengur has wandered off to the hay box to snack. He’ll join us in a little while.

Robin asleep lip drooping

The view from my chair – Robin’s lower lip droops while he naps beside me.

Why am I writing about these simple summer pleasures? My horses live in a world of yes. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this means. Living in a world of yes gives me the freedom to enjoy these simple pleasures. But the freedom isn’t one-sided. Living in a world of yes gives my horses just as much freedom.

We often think of training in terms of what we need from our animals. When I walk down the barn aisle, I need you, horse, to move out of my space. When the door bell rings, I need you, dog, to go sit on your mat. I’ll teach these things using clicks and treats, but the behaviors are for my benefit more than my animal companions. The freedom to ask is all on my side.

That’s not how things are in my barn. It’s set up to maximize choice for the horses. Doors are left open so they are free to go where they want. Right now what Robin wants is to nap in the barn aisle. I couldn’t give Robin this luxury of choice if I hadn’t also given him behaviors that let us share space amiably.

When I walk down the barn aisle, Robin will often pose. It’s a simple gesture, a slight arch of the neck is all that’s needed. If he thinks I’m not paying attention, he’ll give a low rumble of a nicker. I’ll click, and give him a treat. Often I’ll get a hug in return.  That’s good reinforcement for me.

The pose is a guaranteed way to get attention from me. If Robin wants to interact, he knows how to cue me. And I am under excellent stimulus control! That’s how cues should work. They create a give and take, a back and forth dialog. They erase hierarchy and create instead the three C’s of clicker training. Those three C’s lead in turn to the freedom my horses and I enjoy sharing the barn together.

Before I can tell you what the three C’s are, we have to go back a few steps to commands.  It’s not just in horse training that commands rule. They control most of our interactions from early childhood on.  Commands have a “do it or else” threat backing them up. Parents tell children what to do.  In school it is obey your teachers or face the penalties. In our communities it’s stop at red lights or get a ticket. Pay your taxes or go to jail. We all know the underlying threat is there. Stay within the rules and stay safe. Stray too far over the line and you risk punishment.

This is how we govern ourselves, so it is little wonder that it is also how we interact with our animals. With both horses and dogs – commands have been the norm. We tell our dogs to “sit”. When it is a true command, it is expected that the dog will obey – or else! The command is hierarchical which means it is also unidirectional. A sergeant gives a command to a private. The private does what he’s told.  He doesn’t turn things around give a command back to the sergeant.

We give commands to our horses, to our dogs – never the reverse. We expect our commands to be obeyed. We say “sit”, and the dog sits. I tell. You obey. Because they are hierarchical, commands exclude dialog. The conversation is all one-sided. Commands put us in a frame that keeps us from seeing deep into the intelligence and personality of the individual we’re directing.

Cues are different. Cues are taught with positive reinforcement. At first, this sounds like a huge difference, but for many handlers it represents a change in procedure, but not yet of mind set. The handler may be using treats as reinforcement, but the cues are still taught with an element of coercion.  How can this be? It’s not until you scratch below the surface, that you’ll begin to understand the ever widening gulf that the use of cues versus commands creates.

dog touching a targetTo help you see the coercive element, let’s look at how twenty plus years ago we were originally instructed how to teach cues.  You used your shaping skills to get a behavior to happen. It might be something as simple as touching a target. Cues evolve out of the shaping process. The appearance of the target quickly becomes the cue to orient to it.  But this cue is often not fully recognized by a novice handler.  We’re such a verbal species, this handler wants her animal to wait until she says “touch”.  As she understand it, that’s the cue.  So what does she do? She begins by saying “touch” and clicking and reinforcing her learner for orienting to the target.

This part is easy. Whether she had said anything or not, her learner was going to touch the target. She’s ready to make a discrimination. Now she presents the target, but she says nothing. What does her learner do? He orients to the target, just as he’s been doing in all the previous trials. He expects to hear the click and be given a treat, but nothing happens. His person just changed the rules which has plunged him into a frustrating puzzle.

He’s in an extinction process. He’s no longer being reinforced for a behavior that has worked for him in the past. He’ll go through the normal trajectory of an extinction process. That means he’ll try harder. He’ll try behaviors that worked in the past, and he’ll become frustrated, anxious, even angry, before he’ll give up for a moment. In that moment of giving up, his person will say “touch” and present the target again.

She wants him to learn the distinction. In the presence of the cue perform the behavior – click and treat. In the absence do nothing.

The problem with this approach is she never taught her learner what “do nothing” looks like. She stepped from the world of commands into what she thinks of as a kinder world of cues, but she didn’t entirely shed the mantle of “do it or else”. With cues the threat of punishment may not be there, but extinction is still an unpleasant and frustrating experience. Why isn’t this key on my computer which was just working now locked up and frozen?!! Until you can find your way out of the puzzle, you can feel very trapped and helpless. A good trainer doesn’t leave her learner there very long. She’s looking for any hesitation that let’s her explain to her learner the on-off nature of cues.

There’s another way to teach this that doesn’t put the learner into this extinction bind.  This other way recognizes that cues create a dialog, a back and forth conversation.  I want my learner to wait for a specific signal before moving towards the target.  Let’s begin by creating a base behavior, a starting point.  For my horses this is the behavior I refer to as: “the grown-ups are talking please don’t interrupt”.  I will reinforce my horse for standing beside me with his head looking forward.  He’ll earn lots of clicks and treats for this behavior.  And he’ll begin to associate a very specific stance that I’m in with this behavior.  When I am standing with my hands folded in front of me, it’s a good bet to try looking straight ahead – click and treat.

Ruth Scilla grown ups.png

“Grown-ups”

In separate sessions he’ll also be reinforced for orienting to a target.  When both behaviors are well established, I’ll combine them.  Now I’ll look for grown-ups.  I’ll fold my hands in front of me, knowing I’ll get the response I’m looking for.  Only now, instead of clicking and reinforcing him, I’ll hold out the target to touch.  Click the quick response and treat.

The message is so much more interesting than the one created by using an extinction procedure to introduce cues.  Cues have just become reinforcers which means they have become part of a conversation.  If you want to interact with the target, here’s an easy way to get me to produce it – just shift into grown-ups.  That will cue me to lift the target up.  A conversation has begun.  We’re at the very elementary stage of “See spot run”.  I’m teaching my horses the behaviors they can use to communicate with me, and I am showing them how the process works.  You can be heard.  You WILL be heard.  Let’s talk!

The conversation that emerges over time comes from looking more deeply at what cues really are. We can think of them as a softer form of commands, but that doesn’t oblige us to step out of our hierarchical mindset. It is still I give a signal. You – my animal companion – respond. Click and treat. Diagram this out. The arrows all point in one direction.

Signal from human leads to response from animal

Peel another layer of understanding about how cues work and you come to this:

It isn’t just that cues are taught with positive reinforcement. Cues can be given by anyone or anything. A curtain going up cues an actor to begin speaking his lines. We would never say the curtain commanded the actor.

If cues can be given by anyone or anything, that means they are not hierarchical. We cue our animals, and they cue us. Cues create a back and forth exchange. They lead to conversation – to a real listening to our animals. We adjust our behavior based on their response. Cues lead to the three C’s of clicker training which I can now say are: communication, choice, and connection. And in my barn that in turn creates opportunities for more freedom. It means doors can be left open. It means I can have watermelon parties and sit with my horses while we both enjoy the afternoon breeze through the barn aisle.

Let’s parse this some more.

The mindset that commands create is very much centered around stopping behavior. Other training options won’t make sense. They won’t work.

Cue-based training makes it easier for you to see your horse’s behavior as communication, as a bid for attention. That makes it easier for you to look for solutions that satisfy his needs.

Let’s see how these differences play out in a typical boarding barn scenario. Your horse is hungry. His initial whicker has been ignored. In frustration he’s escalated into banging on his stall door. His human caretakers see this as “demanding” hay. In a command-based frame demanding hay equal rebellious behavior which can’t be tolerated. The behavior must be stopped.

Within this frame the only training options you can think of are those centered around stopping the unwanted behavior. Other options don’t make sense and won’t work. The command-based frame narrows your field of view. It’s as though you have a tight beam focused on the problem behavior. Everything within that beam is crystal clear, but everything outside the beam might as well not exist. You can’t even begin to think about other solutions. You are targeted on the unwanted behavior.  Banging on the stall door must be addressed and addressed directly.

Now let’s look at the contrast that a cue-based frame creates. Your horse is hungry. His initial whicker to you is noticed and responded to. You appreciate his alerting you to the lack of hay. You have read how important gut fill is in preventing ulcers. You attend to your horse’s needs. Within this frame many options become available including hanging a slow feeder in his stall so he doesn’t have to become anxious about his hay.

Which training options make sense will depend upon which frame you are in. If you are a teacher and you want your instructions to be effective, you need to help your students open a frame that matches what you are trying to teach.

In her presentations Dr. Susan Friedman uses a graphic showing a hierarchy of behavior change procedures beginning with the most positive, least intrusive procedures.

Dr. Susan Friedman's Hierarchy of interventions

You begin by looking at health and nutritional considerations and then move to antecedent arrangements. Hanging a hay net for our hungry horse would fit in here. Her graphic pictures a car moving along a highway. As you begin to approach more invasive procedures, there are speed bumps blocking the way. They are there to slow you down, to make you think about other approaches before you bring in the heavy guns of positive punishment. The hierarchy doesn’t exclude positive punishment as a possible solution, but it does say you would use this only when everything else has first been tried.

This hierarchy makes sense when you are looking at behavior from a cue-based perspective. From a command-based frame, the car enters not at the bottom of the roadway, but at the top.

My Changes To Procedural Changes slide

The first intervention is positive punishment. The barriers are still there, but now they act to keep you from seeing other options. It is only when punishment fails, that you are dragged, kicking and screaming, to consider other ways of changing behavior.  I’ve heard these stories so many times from people who are attending their first clicker training clinic. They’ve been brought there by “that horse” – the one who challenges everything they thought they knew about training. Nothing else worked, but then they tried, as a last resort, a bit of clicker training and everything changed! So here they are, ready to learn more.

They don’t yet know what an exciting world they are entering. Everything they have thought about training is about to be turned truly upside down and inside out. That’s all right. They have the fun of watermelon parties ahead of them.

Live in a World of Yes.png

If you want to learn more about living in a world of yes and the freedom that creates for both you and your animal companions, come join us in Milwaukee for the Training Thoughtfully conference.  https://www.trainingthoughtfullymilwaukee.com/

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 13

Puzzle Solving
In the previous post I gave several examples of how a complex behavior could be taught through the imaginative use of resurgence.  Training is not a random process where you hope your learners will offer you something you can reinforce before the intense emotions associated with extinction shuts them down.

Instead you teach your learners a whole range of behaviors.  You are in effect planting the seeds for what you want to grow.  With this rich repertoire of behaviors to draw on, your learners may come up with some new or unlikely combinations.  We have a procedure for setting up the creative process.  You give your animals the repertoire, the components that form more complex behaviors, and then you set up a puzzle and let extinction be the catalyst for solving it.  Sometimes what pops out of this process is something that wasn’t even on your training radar.

The “Pose”
Robin’s pose is the perfect example of this.  I’ve told the story of how this behavior evolved many times.  I’ll keep it brief here.

Robin first learned a stationary “pose”.  It originally was a by-product of cleaning up his treat taking manners when he was two years old.  He was such an eager learner.  I loved his enthusiasm.  He would grab the treat from my hand and immediately be offering me something even more brilliant than whatever brilliant thing he had just done.  I was enchanted.  The food delivery was a little problematic, but so what.  He was brilliant.

Robin drove home the importance of one of my favorite training mantras.  “If you don’t notice an unwanted behavior when it is just a little thing, don’t worry about it.”  That’s not normally the kind of training advice you expect to get, but here’s where this takes you:  “If you don’t do anything about the behavior when it’s just a little thing, don’t worry. It will get bigger.  Eventually, it will be too big to ignore and then you will do something about it.”

I ignored his all too hasty treat taking for a while, and then I decided I really did need to do something about it.  This was a long time ago. I probably would choose a different method today.  Robin, and all the other horses I’ve worked with have been good teachers.  They have shown me many more options to replace the one I used.  At the time the strategy I chose was to stop the behavior I didn’t want by taking away something Robin wanted.  In other words, I was using negative punishment.

Here was the set up: I put Robin in his stall with a stall guard across the door.  I picked out the biggest carrot from a bag of big carrots and stood across the aisle from him holding it out.  Of course, he reached out for the carrot.  Immediately, I snatched it away and turned my back to him.  I counted to three and offered the carrot again.

Again he reached for it, and again I snatched it away.

I offered it a third time.  This time he hesitated ever so slightly. Click.  I reached into my pocket and handed him a piece of carrot.

A couple of clicks later I could hold the carrot directly under his chin, and he was drawing up away from it.  He wasn’t going to reach for that carrot!  He had learned that drawing back from it generated what he wanted.  If he reached for it, it disappeared, and I handed him nothing.  But if he drew back from it, click, he got exactly what he wanted – a piece of carrot and my laughter.

Robin being Robin made a quick leap from the carrot cueing this behavior to offering it to me without this prompt.  Of course, I clicked him.  He was looking so handsome.  I wasn’t expecting this added bonus, but I was certainly liking it.  As always, when I worked with him, I was enchanted.

He made the leap so fast to offering “the pose” without needing the prompt,  I was blown away by his brilliance.  He started “posing” more often, arching his neck and looking for all the world like a well-trained dressage horse.  I liked the look so much I continued to reinforce it.  It became a default behavior. In the absence of any other active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him.  In other words I became the cue for the behavior.

It meant that if Robin wanted to interact with me and engage in the clicker game, he had a sure-fire way of doing so.  Even if I was busy doing barn chores, if I saw him posing, I would click, interrupt what I was doing, and reinforce him.

At the time I was keeping my horses at a boarding barn where a good portion of their day was spent in their stalls.  I didn’t want them to become like the proverbial four year old child banging the kitchen pots and pans trying to get mother’s attention.

Robin wasn’t ignored when I was busy with other things.  If he wanted attention, he had a polite way of asking for it.   He never had to become that frustrated “toddler with the kitchen pans” banging on the stall door or raking his teeth up and down the stall walls.

I didn’t create a regression into these unwanted behaviors.  Instead I was able to reinforce a behavior I liked, one that was a useful warm-up for our formal training sessions.  When he asked for attention, Robin was always confident that I would engage with him. He lived secure in a world filled with clicker-training interactions.

Reinforcing him for the pose went on through that winter.  I didn’t have any plans for developing the behavior.  It was simply something I liked. It was Robin who was the creative one.

It must have been late March.  I was lunging him in the arena one evening.  He was giving me a ho hum trot.  There was nothing there I could reinforce.  Robin went once around the circle, twice, three times without reinforcement. Normally I would have been clicking and reinforcing him at a much higher rate, but given the plow-horse trot I was presented with, there was nothing there I wanted to say yes to.

At the time I would not have described it in this way, but I was putting him into an extinction process.  I could see him searching, trying to decide what to do.  On the third time round he had the answer.  He would try his pose.  But in order to pose and still stay in the trot, he had to add energy.

Within one stride he transformed his trot into magazine-cover magnificence.  I captured the moment with a click, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. That single stride has evolved into horses all over the world moving in magnificent self-carriage.  The “pose” has evolved into a major component of my work.  Robin showed us that we could indeed shape self carriage.  What began as a happy accident has become a deliberate and very systematically-trained behavior.

I don’t introduce the pose to other horses the way I taught Robin.  I needed him to show me what was possible, but today I use other shaping methods.  I originally called it “the pose”, admittedly not a good name.  Since then I’ve expanded the name to the “pilates pose”.  Others have called it crunches, rock backs, “look pretty”, etc.  It really doesn’t matter the name it is given.  What is important is our understanding that horses can become very active partners in maintaining their own good balance and long-term soundness.  It was Robin who first showed us just how possible this is.

Seeing Familiar Landscapes with Fresh Eyes
When I first told this story to Jesús, he commented that the pose came out because of resurgence.  I remember the comment well, though I didn’t understand the significance of it at the time.  Jesús told me later that Robin’s story got him thinking more about resurgence.   It prompted him to use PORTL to look at the different extinction processes. I described the results of those experiments in the earlier sections of this chapter on “Understanding Extinction”.

So here is one further result of Robin’s brilliance.  We now we have a much more systematic way of creating unlikely behaviors.  Because we understand the process better, we can be more deliberate in it’s use. The end result may look like magic, but there is good science behind it.

This is one of my favorite videos.  It was taken a long time ago when Robin was three.  He is lunging around me at liberty.  You’ll see I have two dressage whips in my hands.  I am using them as targets, giving him reference points to balance around.  When this video was made, he had never been in side reins or any other type of mechanical device.  He had not yet had a rider on his back, and yet he is presenting me with this beautiful balance.  I know the lighting is terrible.  The indoor we worked in was poorly lit, but to me it is a shining example of the connections that form when we mix together science, clear communication, and a lot of love.

Coming Next: The Creative Process

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 11

Being Emotional Is Being Alive
In the previous section we looked at degrees of freedom.  We often assume that someone who is at the top of their chosen profession must also be emotionally at the top of the world.  How can this successful actor or professional sports hero be anything but happy?  And yet we hear over and over again how miserably unhappy these people often are.

Degrees of freedom help us understand this paradox.  If you have become “The Expert” because that’s all you can do, you may well feel trapped and isolated.  Emotional  labels become attached to these extreme conditions.  You’ll describe yourself as being depressed, frustrated, anxious, unhappy.

Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz offered us another gem, a reminder, from his discussion of regression and resurgence.  Often when people talk about “emotional behavior” such as aggression, they are forgetting that we are always emotional. It isn’t that now we are happy, and then a switch turns off and we feel nothing.

“Living is being emotional.”

The nature and intensity of the emotions fluctuates.  We experience different degrees depending upon conditions and our reinforcement history.  But thinking in terms of “emotional behavior” is too simplistic. Emotion is part of all behavior. It is not separate from it.

Traveling helps you to understand how much our emotions are a product of the habit patterns that have formed within our familiar environments and how true it is that emotions are always present. Perhaps you are one of the huge number of people who have more to do than you could possibly accomplish in one day. You have a family to care for, a house and barn to maintain, horses to feed and clean up after – not to mention ride.  All that and then there’s also an overfull schedule at work.  You’re always under stress, but it’s become so the norm, you don’t pay much attention to how you’re feeling.  A mildly stressed state is just the normal emotional background “noise”.

And then you treat yourself to the Five Go To Sea cruise where everything is different.  You still have a full day, with more to do and see than any one person could possibly squeeze into a day, but your normal triggers aren’t there.  The phone isn’t ringing.  You aren’t on the internet with the constant influx of work-related emails.  Your co-worker’s voice coming through the office wall isn’t annoying you.  All those triggers are gone and now you get to experience who you are and how you feel without them.  You become acutely aware of just how stressed you’ve been now that you’ve stepped out of your normal habit patterns. You’re still emotional, but now the environment is set up to trigger the kinds of supportive, pleasant emotions you want to experience.

So the next time you find yourself saying that your horse, your dog, your fellow human is being emotional, remind yourself that that’s an ever present condition.  “Living is being emotional.”  The question is, how can you influence conditions so the emotions that support a JOY FULL experience are the ones coming to the fore?

Coming Next: Building Unlikely Behaviors with Resurgence

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Understanding Extinction- Part 3

Extinction Reveals the Past
Reinforcement builds your future. Regression and resurgence reveal the past.  And it’s extinction that produces resurgence and regression.

To understand this we must first define extinction.  Jesús gave us this definition in his Five Go To Sea conference presentation:

“When reinforcement is no longer forthcoming, when a response becomes less and less frequent, you get operant extinction.”

How does this play out?  What do you see in your animals?

In the classic rat study the rat is reinforced consistently for pressing a lever. When lever pressing fails to pay off, the rat shows a sudden flurry of lever pressing behavior.  When this fails, the rat becomes aggressive.  This is the rat version of the classic kicking the vending machine when the coke can doesn’t drop out.

This is followed by a period of the rat giving up.  Then the rat tries again with a flurry of activity, trying to see if the original behavior will work again. The cycle repeats, but the bursts get smaller and smaller and the pauses in between longer.

The Equine Version
Throughout all of this process the rat is clearly experiencing emotions we would not want to see in our horses.  For example, this is where you see displacement aggression.  The horse is frustrated.  If other horses are nearby, you may see the horse pin his ears and snake his neck out to warn the others away.  Or he may grab at his lead rope or the handler’s sleeve.

You are seeing behavior that has been modeled for this horse. You are seeing his training history.  And perhaps you are also seeing his herd background.  If he’s lived in crowded/confined conditions that promote more horse to horse aggression, it’s possible that’s what you’ll see acted out.

It would be interesting to look at two groups of horses – one containing horses that grew up in stable herds living in large open spaces.  The other would have horses that were raised in much more confined spaces where competition for resources created more horse to horse aggressive interactions.  What difference, if any, would you see when these horses are exposed to a mild extinction process?  What behaviors would regression reveal?  What does your knowledge of your own horse’s background predict?

That seems like a good place to pause for today.

Coming Next: Extinction: Big, Small and Accidental

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Resurgence and Regression

Reverting to Past Behaviors
Imagine you have joined us for the Five Go To Sea conference cruise.  You have just come from breakfast which you enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the open waters of the Carribbean.  You have now settled yourself comfortably in the Reflection’s conference room to listen to Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz’s lecture on resurgence and regression.

Jesús began by sharing the story of a professor who was attending a conference in Mexico.  She got trapped in an elevator.  At first she tried pushing all the buttons, calling out for help, things we would all think to do.  Two hours later, when they finally got the elevator working again and the doors open, they found her huddled in the corner of the elevator calling for her mother – and her mother had been dead for years.

What does this story tell us?  We regress in predictable patterns that reveals our history.

When a behavior that was being reinforced no longer works, you enter an extinction process in which you regress back to previously learned behavior.  When the first behaviors you try don’t work, you go back another step and then another.

As Jesús said, very tongue in cheek, during the extinction process we see behavior that was modeled for us in our childhood.  If you want to learn about someone’s early family dynamics, watch what happens to them when they are under stress.  If one of his students is acting out, he tells them – “Don’t blame me.  Blame your parents.  You’re simply presenting behavior that was modeled for you in childhood.”

So extinction can reveal history.  That’s definitely a gem to take away from our Caribbean treasure trove and carry back to our horses.

Extinction Reveals Your Horse’s Past
When a horse is first learning about clicker training, much of what he knows no longer applies.  You’re holding a target up for him to touch.  A lot of horses figure out quickly how the game is played, but some get confused.  Suppose you’re working with a horse you recently adopted from a horse rescue.  He isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do. Consider the dilemma he finds himself in.  You only mean well, but he doesn’t know that.  Past experience has told him wrong answers get punished, but the few things he knows how to do aren’t working.   He is plunging head long into an extinction process.

The extinction process can reveal a horse’s training history. It helps us to understand the “childhood” our horses have had.  Did your horse have a fair introduction to people, or are there issues you need to know about?

In most cases when you introduce a horse to the clicker, it’s smooth sailing.  The horse quickly figures out the game. You may have to go through a little bit of explaining around the food, but for most horses this moves along without any major hiccups.  You hold a target up, he investigates it, click, you give him a treat.  Easy.  Unless he’s one of those horses who has been punished for showing any self-expression.

If your horse has learned that being “well behaved” means he doesn’t offer any behavior you haven’t asked for, he’ll be good at following orders, but not taking the initiative. In fact your “well-behaved” horse may have learned that offering behavior is dangerous.  The best way to avoid punishment is to wait to be told what to do.

This is why I put well-behaved in quotes. Is he well mannered in the way a clicker-trained horse can be? Or is he simply not offering much in the way of behavior? There’s a huge difference.  In the first, the personality is expressed. In the later, it is suppressed.

When you hold out the target, a suppressed horse may be stuck for answers.  He doesn’t know what you want.  The “right answers” that normally work don’t seem to apply in this new situation.  This horse finds himself in a difficult position.  He knows he’s supposed to do something, but past experience tells him if he guesses wrong, he’ll be punished.  He’s not sure what the answer is so he’s plunged into an extinction process.

Extinction follows a predictable pattern.  At first he may try offering the one or two things that might possibly fit this situation.  When those don’t work, he’ll shift rapidly from feeling frustrated and worried to being aggressive. That’s the next, predictable stage in the extinction process.  Your “well behaved” horse is suddenly coming at you with teeth bared.

It’s easy to blame clicker training or the treats for this sudden turnaround in behavior, but I’ve always seen it very differently. I’ve always said that what is happening is the training history of the horse is being revealed.  Jesús’ presentation on resurgence and regression confirmed this.  It helped me understand even more clearly this dynamic. Sadly, there are all too many horses who have been at the receiving end of excessive punishment.  Often you don’t know which is the horse who really is sweet and well behaved, and which is shut down through punishment.  This is one of the reasons I put so much structure around the beginning steps of clicker training.  The support of these lessons helps insulate the punished horses from their history.

Well Behaved or Shut Down?
Often what we refer to as “well behaved” horses (and people) are really individuals whose behavior and personality have been shut down through the use of corrections. They have learned to wait to be told what to do.  Offering behavior, and expressing their personality has been punished.  Give them a command, and they will respond promptly.  They can seem like such perfect horses.  Safe, easy to direct. But put them into a situation where they don’t know the answer – in fact they really don’t even understand the question – and you will begin to see things unravel.  As the extinction process unfolds, they will take you back through the stair steps of how they have been treated, and often the story they tell is not a pretty one.

Clicker training did not cause these outbursts.  When these horses are not sure of the “safe” answer, they’ll began to regress back through their training history. You are seeing the behavior that others “swept under the carpet” by suppressing it with punishment.

When you are brand new to clicker training, and, especially if you are also new to horses, this can be a hard dynamic to understand.  What you hear about clicker training is how much fun it is, how much horses enjoy it.  So you give it a try.  But instead of smooth sailing, your horse falls apart.  Instead of having a wonderful time, you’re dodging teeth.

You’ve been promised a dream horse and all you have is a nightmare. How could you not blame clicker training?  But just as equally, how can you go back? How can you return to the use of punishment to suppress the behavior you’re now dealing with?

You keep hearing from others that you need to trust the process.  That can seem like a hard choice, especially when you don’t really understand what the process is, but what other choice is there?  You don’t want to go back to your correction-based training, so you plunge ahead, clicker in hand.

Coming Next: Leaving History Behind

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses Part 3: How Clicker Trainers Play

Five Go To Sea
If someone had asked me a few years back what the likelihood was of ever finding me on a cruise ship, I would have said you had a better chance of winning the lottery – the real one, not the kind I described in the last section.  But in the spring of 2014 that’s exactly where I was.  Kay Laurence had decided to celebrate her sixtieth birthday in style.  She was going on a Caribbean cruise, but not just any cruise.  She invited Ken Rameriz, Dr. Jesús Rosales Ruiz, and myself to join her on a Five Go To Sea conference/cruise/adventure.   I’m really not sure what to call it, so I’ll just settle for amazing!  That describes it the best.

I’m sure you’ve done the math.  Kay, Ken, Jesús and myself make four not five.  Number five were all the other conference attendees.

Before I plunge into describing the conference and all that we learned, let me set the stage by describing the ship we were on.  Prior to going on the cruise, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew cruise ships were enormous, but this ship dwarfed anything I had imagined.  I looked up it’s dimensions.  It was 127 feet wide and 1047 feet long. Some people think in terms of football fields.  I translate dimensions into riding arenas.  The ship was twice the width of my indoor arena and more than eight times as long!

Now take those dimensions and stack up 14 floors of guest accommodations, restaurants, theaters, pools, meeting rooms, dance floors, lounges, spas and all the other amenities a cruise ship has to offer, and you’ll begin to get a sense of the size of the ship.  And however big it was from the ground floor up, there was that much again below to accommodate the crew, kitchens, engines, fuel, water, food storage and everything else that it takes to provide for well over 4,000 people. My barn looks like a big building sitting by itself on the side of a hill, but it would be easily swallowed up inside the belly of this ship.

celebrity-reflection

Most of the 4,000 people who were vacationing on the ship were there for the spas, the theaters and all the other guest amenities.  And then there was this rather odd group of clicker trainers who completely baffled the staff.  We weren’t sleeping in after a night of partying.  Instead we were getting up at the crack of dawn to meet up for a morning t’ai chi and body awareness session.  Instead of lounging for hours at a time by the pool or gambling in the ship’s casino, we spent the days at sea in the conference room.  That was our idea of fun!

“Riding” the Ocean
I know heading into the cruise many of the conference attendees were concerned about being seasick. I can now tell you that yes, you do feel the pitch and roll of the ocean. Was anyone sea sick? On the first day some people were definitely feeling a bit queasy. Experienced travelers like Ken Ramirez had taken precautions and were wearing motion sickness patches.

What did I experience? I can now say that I loved being out on the open ocean. Was the rolling of the ship fun?  Absolutely! I loved it!  It felt like riding!  I might have a different tale to tell if we’d been crossing the north Atlantic in a winter gale, but I loved the rolling of the ship.  When you ride, you let the motion of the horse take you.  It’s not about blocking the energy or keeping yourself rigid. You let your joints follow the forward and up of the horse’s back. The ship was like that.

There’s an exercise I teach called the “four points on the bottom of your feet”. It’s a Feldenkrais exercise.  You begin by noticing how you move, how you shift your balance as you roll around the four points on the bottom of your feet (inside toe, outside toe, outside heel, inside heel).  How do you shift your balance forward and back, side to side? How do you send and receive these shifts in balance?

In the “Four Points” exercise you are asking yourself:  Where does the movement begin?  Where does it stop? What blocks it?  What could I release, what could I find that would let me flow more easily around the four points on the bottom of my feet?

The roll of the ship let me explore those questions.  I loved the feel.  The ship would pitch to the side, and I would roll with it, catching my balance at the top of the swell and rolling down with it.  I kept thinking how boring it was going to be to be back on land that didn’t roll and sway under my feet.  I loved “riding” the ship.

I suspect the people who were feeling a little “green around the gills” were wishing I would stop grinning like a Cheshire cat each time the ship pitched up over a wave. There’s nothing so annoying as someone who is having a good time when you’re feeling miserable – especially when what is making you feel sick is the very thing they are laughing about.

I do think it is a great example of how we create our own reality.  I went into the cruise expecting to have a great adventure.  I could have stiffened against the pitch of the ship and made myself miserably sick.  Instead I flowed with it and had a grand time “riding”.

I love exploring balance.  On that first day at sea I had a hard time staying balanced.  I could roll around the four points just fine, but I couldn’t stand with my feet together.  I had to keep stepping out wider to catch my balance. There was also no walking a straight line down the endlessly long corridors of the ship.  I swayed from wall to wall looking like I’d just downed a bottle of Caribbean rum.   But a couple of days later, not only could I stand feet together, so could everyone else. I led the group through the beginning steps of learning to stand balanced over your feet.  On day one this would have been a challenge for all of us.  But on day three of the conference everyone had gained sea legs.

The Conference
We do create our own reality.  Kay Laurence discovered she likes cruises, so she created a conference cruise to celebrate her 60th birthday.  She designed a conference like no other.  We had overall themes for each day, but we weren’t tied to particular presentations.

Normally at conferences the organizers want to know what you’re going to talk about months ahead of the event.  I understand their perspective.  They need to advertise the event, but eight months out I don’t know what is going to be inspiring me.

I much preferred Kay’s approach.  Creativity comes from combining familiar elements in new ways.  All four of us had heard each other speak before.  We were familiar with the material that was going to be presented, but in the format of this conference we had so much more time for conversation and discussion.  We could expand on ideas presented and adjust our choice of presentations to follow up on topics that were of interest.  That meant the impact of the presentations went beyond that of most conferences.

What emerged from those talks was a true Caribbean treasure trove.  If you asked each of the participants who went on the Five Go To Sea cruise what the highlight of the trip was, I’m sure you would get dozens of different answers.  For some it might be an adventure they had on one of the excursion days. For others it might be a dinner time conversation with one of the speakers. For me I would say the cornerstone of the event was Dr. Jesús Rosales Ruiz’s talk on resurgence.  In the previous unit I talked about Kay Laurence’s microshaping.  This is very much linked to the concepts Jesús introduced us to in his talk.

Kay wants a 98% or higher success rate.  To get to that you need to thin slice your criteria.  If you’re sloppy, if you’re waiting for your animal to offer behavior, you will end up with a hodgepodge of clicks.  You’ll miss clickable behaviors.  You’ll click for a head turn this time and a foot lift the next.  Kay calls this dirty shaping.

For both Kay and myself clean, elegant shaping evolves out of microshaping.

Reaction Patterns
Micro.  That’s always been the direction I’ve looked.  Remember Dr. Susan Friedman’s phrase – level of analysis.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/16/) She talks about that in reference to the focus someone has.  If you are looking through a Caribbean pirate’s spy glass, are you focused on the distant horizon or the bird that’s skimming across the water just a few feet out from your ship?   When you consider why a certain behavior is occurring, are you trying to figure out what part of the brain is activating and what individual neurons are firing?   Or are you looking at observable events that surround the behavior which might be effecting the frequency of it’s occurrence?

Levels of focus very much relate to training.  You can go macro and be outcome driven and send your horse directly over fences.  If you and your horse are bold and athletic enough, you’ll be successful.

Alternatively, you can go micro and look at the reaction patterns that will allow you to jump those fences successfully.  (I discussed reaction patterns in the previous post.)

going-micor-textGoing macro prematurely can lead to crashes.  Going micro will produce the macro outcomes without seeming to work on them directly.

Most of us have been told that we need to walk, trot, and canter our horses in both directions every day for training to advance.  But if your horse is out of balance in the faster gaits, practicing them just makes the balance problems more entrenched.

There’s a lovely expression that sits at the core of my training:
“The walk is the mother of all gaits.”

What this means is you can focus on the underlying reaction patterns that lead to great balance in all three gaits without needing to go out of the walk.  When you do ask for the trot or canter after a hiatus from these gaits, it will feel as though you have a completely different horse under you.

Extinction
Going micro gives us something else.  It allows us to transform the make-it-happen force and violence of traditional horse training into clicker-compatible good technique.  It is this transformation that makes true play between horses and humans possible.

To get there we need to look at extinction and the role it plays in shaping.  To help us we’re going to return to the Five Go To Sea cruise and sit in on the lecture Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruis gave on Extinction and Resurgence.

So get out your notebook, pull up a chair and join us on the cruise.  You’re about to be treated to a gem of a lecture.

Coming Next: Resurgence and Regression

P.S.: We so enjoyed the conference cruises that Kay came up with yet another innovation: a land cruise. We had our first Training Thoughtfully Land Cruise in the UK in January 2016.  In 2017 we will be holding our second.  This one will be October, 20-22, 2017 in Milwaukee WI.

If you are thinking Milwaukee seems an unlikely place for a land cruise, one of the reasons for picking the locations is Kay and I want to use these conferences to provide a stage for local talent.  People often feel that there is no one close to them they can go to for help.  These conferences will help connect people to their local training resources.  At this conference two of my Click That Teaches coaches, Jen Digate and Natalie Zielinski, will be presenting, along with several dog trainers Kay knows.  All of them are local to the Milwaukee area.

Anticipation is a wonderful thing.  If you are reading this in November 2016, there is currently an early bird special available for the conference registration.  Visit trainingthoughtfullymilwaukee.com for full details.

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 3: Patterns

Patterns
Play evolves out of success.  Play evolves when both learner and teacher are relaxed and confident in the process.  Good technique, attention to detail, attention to your learner’s emotional needs are the breeding ground for play.

In the previous section I talked about base positions and movement cycles, and how they can be used to create high success rates.  These create repeating patterns.  You are doing the same sequence of behaviors over and over again.  I’ve heard people say they don’t like drilling patterns.  Their animals get bored.  They get bored.  Patterns, they will tell you, are the death knell to good training.

All I can say is that’s not been my experience.  Horses thrive on patterns.  They like the predictability of knowing what is coming next.  They like being successful.

They aren’t the only ones.  We thrive on patterns.  Want proof.  Look at how easily we fall into them.  We are creatures of habit, which means we are creatures of patterns.  Rather than fighting against this tendency, I’m going to use it to my advantage.

I’m going to create tight, clean, repeatable loops.  I’ll follow the mantra of loopy training.  When a loop is clean, I get to move on.  And not only do I get to move on, I should move on.  

When my whole behavior cycle is clean, I’ll change my criteria slightly.  Maybe I’m teaching my horse to back up through a corner.  I’ll begin by getting just a step or two of backing. I’ll ask for this well away from the corner.  I’ll start out very micro in my requests.  I’ll be satisfied at first with just slight shifts of his balance.  I don’t need a full step back to get the process started.  Even a slight rock back is enough.  Click.  I’ll feed him so he rocks forward to the starting point.  I have a movement cycle.  He is in position to begin again.

When the loop is clean, it’s time to move on. That’s what keeps the use of patterns from becoming boring.  They are changing, growing, becoming more complex, more interesting at such a rapid pace.  I am reinforced by the progress I experience in every session.  I don’t stay stuck on one criterion, drilling away at it until it feels stale and begins to fall apart.  My steps are small, my criterion precise, and that means my horse and I experience tremendous success.

The process reminds me of bending a coat hanger.  The more you bend it, the softer it gets.  So, as my horse rocks back and forth between the ask and the food the delivery, he will be getting softer and softer.  The clickable point will shift seamlessly.  I’ll ask him to rock back a little more, click, feed forward.  A couple of clicks later, I can ask him to take a full step back, click, feed forward.  I’ll build that loop, let it stabilize briefly, and then move on to the next small shift in criterion.   As my loop expands, my pattern will grow increasingly complex, but always I am expanding it one very achievable, small step at a time.

My pattern will become a large, predictable, repeatable loop.  My learner won’t be worrying about what is coming next.  He knows the pattern well.  It’s click, check in with the handler to see where the food is going to be delivered, retrieve your treat, and then continue on to the next well-rehearsed step in the pattern.  Because every element in the pattern has been taught with such clarity and with positive reinforcement, every element can serve as a reinforcer for the behaviors that precede it.

That’s another benefit of this process.  The behaviors that I have taught through my clean loops can now be used to reinforce other elements in my ever-growing pattern.  I can place the click and treat at strategic points wherever I feel the added information they provide is needed.  Adding to their motivating value, every behavior in a well-constructed pattern also serves as a reinforcer.  If you want to understand how to teach patterns as complex as a dressage test using the clicker, this is the key that will unlock that puzzle.  Going micro creates the macro.

This is a game that’s fun to play because it is so easy for you both to win.  Isn’t that one of the characteristics of play?  You’re both winners.

Coming Next: How Clicker Trainers Play

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com