The Fluid Nature of Language

JOY Full Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains – Part 5 of 5

The Fluid Nature of Language
We began this discussion of negative reinforcement by eavesdropping on a late night gathering of the Clicker Expo faculty.  It is now twelve o’clock and the conversation in the faculty lounge is still going strong.  We have shed Kay and several of the others.  I had promised myself that I would leave at 11:30, and yet here I am.  Another ten minutes and then I really will leave.  That’s what I say to myself, but I have been saying it all evening.

Eva has asked another question.  I am loving the twists and turns the conversation is taking, but really I do have presentations to give.  I find an opening in the conversation and stand up, bringing the discussion to a natural close.  The others all stand up, as well.  Good.  I won’t miss anything.  But as I am leaving, I hear Susan Friedman asking Ken Ramirez a question.  I want to stay, but I know if I do, I will be good for nothing tomorrow.  I leave, but the following day, I hear from Ken that he and Susan remained locked in a discussion over terminology until 1:30 in the morning.

Language is not fixed.  We add words.  We change words.  We think we understand the intended meaning when we hear words used in context, but do we?  We are so accustomed to the fluid nature of language we don’t even notice how the language has evolved until we run into someone who uses the same words but in a different way.

In behavior analysis precision matters, and the use of language is very structured and controlled. It is like that puppy in yesterday’s post who stays in the base position of lying down while he learns to move just his paw.  Lying down keeps the number of things that are moving to a minimum.  Change too many variables at once, and it becomes harder to notice the one thing that you’re doing.  Scientists attempt to constrain the language to make themselves clearer.  Terms such as positive punishment and negative reinforcement have very precise meanings.  Unfortunately, when you bring that language back into the realm of common usage, confusion is often the result.

As I thought about our wonderful late night conversation, I found myself straddling both sides of the fence.  I agree that we need to understand the technical definitions of the terms we use.  But along with that understanding is the consideration of how the terms have been used, interpreted, and misinterpreted over the years.  Are the definitions are still valid in light of additional research and development?  Do we need to modernize/change the definitions to bring them more in line with modern usage?  Is it time to develop new language that reflects more accurately our current understanding of the systems we’re studying.  Archaic language can keep us stuck in archaic belief systems.

How Words Are Used
Are there some terms that we need to snatch back from the scientists?  Are there some that are simply so useful and so easily understood that we need to say to the scientists you can’t have this one?  I think chains may well fall into this category.

A chain of behaviors is such a descriptive term.  It doesn’t take a lot of explaining for a novice to understand that you are asking for a series of behaviors, each one linked to the next.  It’s a good term, one that suggests it’s meaning almost without the need for a formal definition – except . . . the scientists have given this term a very specific meaning that excludes much of what many animal trainers mean when they refer to chains.

The scientists have their technical chains: you give one cue that starts the process.  The next behavior is triggered by an internal cue.  It’s like dominoes.  You push over the first block and all the rest follow.

A sequence is something very different.  It’s a series of behaviors in which you cue one after the other after the other.

Hmm.  But are they really all that different.  Why does it matter if the cue comes from the green cone the horse sees after the jump or from a handler calling out “green”.  Both are cues.  And both link behaviors together.

The kind of chain that you wear around your neck is made up of links.  You can open up one of the links to take a section of the chain out or to add in more links. That’s why it is such a good image.  It provides such a clear visual image of one behavior connected to another.  You begin with one link.  You make that consistent, then you add the next link in the chain.  Link by link you can imagine growing your chain into longer and longer sections.  You can also imagine how links can be opened and a section of a longer chain taken out to be worked on separately or used in a different context.

It’s such a great image, I’m reluctant to give it over to the scientists.  We can certainly refer to technical chains, but I am also going to use the term chain to mean any series of behaviors which are deliberately linked together by cues.

poco-hug-3

 

With Poco I was using these links to build a two way conversation.  Touch could be highly aversive for him.  I wanted to show him that it didn’t need to be.  He could let down his guard and let me in.

 

The Power of Play
Play brought us step by step to this point.  It kept me laughing.  It kept me from treating him like something broken that needed to be fixed.  It kept me from becoming so fixated on his ears that I simply convinced him all the more to keep me at arm’s length.  Remaining PLAY FULL opened up creative possibilities.  It brought back old training memories, memories of Linda-Tellington-Jones in the mid 1980’s working with a fearful llama by doing TTEAM circles with her forehead, not her hands.  It let me take familiar lessons and combine them in novel ways.  It kept me listening to Poco and letting him lead me through the process.  It kept the training fun.

If you had walked into the arena in the middle of this session, you might not have said – “oh they’re playing.”

You would certainly recognize as play the rough and tumble of two young horses rearing up together in a field, or two dogs playing keep away with a stick.  You would see play when a handler clicks and throws a tennis ball to her dog or engages with him in a game of tug.  But this subtle exchange with Poco probably would not look like anything you would call play behavior.

With dogs you can use natural play behaviors very effectively to build bonds between you.  That’s not so much the case with horses.  Given their size, a horse’s natural play behavior means you are “playing” with dynamite.  So Poco and I developed our own form of play.  It evolved out of my approach to the session more than the specific behaviors I used.  If I am full of play, the horses respond by doing what Poco did – letting down their guard and inviting me in.

*  *  *  *

With this tenth characteristic of cues well in place we’ve moved from the realm of macro-responses to micro-shaping.  You’ve had a taste of what this means in the descriptions of Pocos sessions.  We’ll be covering it in even more detail in Part Three of JOY FULL Horses.

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro

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

Hidden Motivators

JOY Full Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains – Part 4 of 5

Hidden Motivators
Yesterday’s discussion of negative reinforcement considered the impact that each individual’s learning history has on the emotional response to a particular procedure.  Something you regard as fun might make someone else run for the hills.  When we’re choosing which teaching strategy we’re going to use with our horses or dogs, their past experience matters.

We often think of negative reinforcement in terms of the overt actions someone is taking.  We can see the slack being taken out of a lead and understand that pressure is being applied.  The release of that pressure is intended to reinforce a desired response.  But there’s another form of pressure that’s not as easy to see that plays an important role in horse training.  I’ll use an example you can experience yourself.  Suppose I’m working with you showing you some of the rope handling techniques that I teach.

I’ll begin by having you stand in balance over your feet. I’ll slide down the lead very softly.  You’re relaxed, and I want you to stay that way.  If I slide down with a lot of “make it happen” muscle, I’d be picking a fight, and you’ll stiffen into resistance.

I want you to stay soft and relaxed, so I take care how I come down the rope.  I slide into a neutral position that doesn’t effect your balance.  This is the “get ready” stage of my cue.

Now I shift my own balance.  I let my overall balance shift forward onto my toes.  This subtle shift rocks you back on your heels.  The shift is so subtle, you may at first not even notice.  I wait.  I’ve taken the slack out of the lead, but I am not pushing on you in any way.  I have simply set up a shift in your balance.

After a bit, you’ll begin to feel uncomfortable.  You can’t maintain this slightly-out-of-balance position forever. You’re having to use muscle to sustain your position, and it’s creating uneven pressure on your joints. So you take a step back.  My hand releases, click and treat.

sue-3-photos-tai-chi-wall-2

At clinics people get to feel how subtle this is.  All I have to do is rock my balance slightly forward and the other person will shift back into her heels.  She won’t feel threatened by the action. In fact she often isn’t even aware that I have created this shift in her balance.  Her focus has been on my hands, not the subtle shift in her own balance.

It’s like a magician’s trick.  You’re so busy watching where the magician is directing your attention, that you don’t notice when he slips your watch off your wrist.  It isn’t the pressure from my hand on the lead that creates the change or causes that slight discomfort.  The lead gives me the framework through which to create the shift.  It’s the mild discomfort that the balance shift creates that triggers the step back.

This shift out of what feels normal to you draws your attention inside.  I want you to become aware of your balance, to learn to pay attention to these subtle shifts and to make adjustments that bring you closer to an optimal state of comfort.  I want to help you shift from what feels normal but may actually be a state of imbalance to what feels good because you are now in functional balance. That’s also what I want for the horses.  Body aware horses stay sounder longer.  And body aware horses not only look very beautiful, they are more athletic than their out-of-balance counterparts.

harrison-3-photos-before-after

This set of three photos show Natalie Zielinski and her horse Harrison.  In the top left photo he’s standing all higgeldy-piggledy.  Whenever he stopped, he was always out of balance.  He tended to fall over his left shoulder, so when she led him, he was always crowding into her.  The beautiful trot you see in the other two photos evolved out of work that helped him become much more body aware.

What Triggers Change?
Here’s another example of hidden negative reinforcement.  This one is a dog example.  I’ve watched Kay Laurence teach a puppy to put his paw on a target.  It looks like a wonderfully elegant example of shaping with positive reinforcement.  But is that all that’s going on there?

If you want a puppy to put his paw on a target, most people would start with the target.  Kay doesn’t. Instead she sets the puppy up to offer a consistent motor pattern.  She gets the puppy moving his paw, and then she puts the target in the path of where the paw is going to land.  Simple and elegant.

She begins by having the puppy lie down.  This is the base position she uses to teach the behavior.  Lying down limits the behavior which the puppy can offer.  Instead of offering responses from the entire range of things a puppy can do with his body, now he’s restricted to those things he can do while lying down.  This makes it much easier to get only the desired behavior and to get it without a lot of unwanted add-ons.

Kay jump-starts the process by placing a treat off to the side away from the direction she is eventually going to want the puppy to move his paw.  He has to shift his balance and move his paw to the side in order to reach the treat.

He’s left out of balance.  If he were to stay in this position, he’d quickly become uncomfortable, so he rights himself.  He moves back to center.  Kay clicks as he moves his paw back towards a more balanced position, but she doesn’t feed him there.

Instead she again feeds him so he has to move his paw to reach for the treat. He gets his treat and returns to center.  Click!

Why does the puppy not just stay out there in this position where all the treats are delivered?  Why does he right himself?

Over time the answer becomes because he is being positively reinforced for moving back to center.  The function of the click is to identify for the puppy the right-answer behavior that leads to a treat being given.  But initially he rights himself because he’s out of balance and that feels odd. So even here there is a negative reinforcement component in what appears on the surface to be the most elegant of positive reinforcement training.

Trying to decide what to call a particular procedure can make your head spin.  If you are trying to stay on the positive side of training, of course, you want to avoid the harsh use of aversives, but, as we’ve just seen, not all discomfort creates a negative emotional reaction.  Rather than fight against the terminology, I prefer to use it.  I think it is useful to understand that that slight feeling of muscle fatigue will cause you to take a step back.  I don’t have to push you back or do anything else to get the behavior.  I can simply wait and let you figure out the puzzle.  The same thing holds true for my horse.

My horse’s emotional reaction will tell me if I am on the side of the angels or sliding fast down the slippery slope that appears when soft words don’t match hard actions. I use the terms to remember the history of the harsh methods modern horse training has evolved out of.  At some point we may be able to let go of that trail, but for now I think it is wiser to keep remembering.

Coming Next: Part 5: The Fluid Nature of Langauge

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

Procedure versus The Emotional Effect

JOY Full Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains – Part 3 of 5

Procedure versus The Emotional Effect
Yesterday’s post began a discussion of negative reinforcement.  Especially when you have a horse who is new to clicker training it is important to separate procedure from emotional effect.  I can perform what appears to be the same procedure with two individuals and end up with completely different emotional outcomes.

That’s true whether I am using what appears on the surface to be a positive reinforcement or a negative reinforcement procedure.  Think of all the people who run in the opposite direction if you suggest playing a training game.  I view these experiences as fun opportunities to improve my skills.  Others see them as a torturous experiences, even when you are passing out reinforcers they want. Their childhood experiences have set them up to see training games as anything but fun.  Same procedure – different emotional response – different behavioral outcome.  So for one person the training game is a positive experience.  It will get them in the room, engaged in the process.  For another it has the opposite effect.  It will get them looking for the nearest exit!

If I’m working with a horse that has been handled well all of it’s life, sliding down the lead will convert easily into a cue, and there may never really be any aversive elements in the process. That’s especially true if I have set up the use of the lead through the first couple of foundation lessons.  If I begin with basic targeting and use my food delivery to move a horse back a step or two to get his treat, he will quickly respond to my body language.  When I turn into him, he’ll easily back up.  Now I can add in the activation of the lead as I turn towards him, and he’ll back up just as readily.

robin-touch-target-back-up-with-caption

I’m really using more of a transferred cue process than negative reinforcement.

History Matters
An individual who has been hurt by leads will be deeply suspicious of them, even if I have gone through the same foundation lessons that prepared that first horse so well.  I can be super soft, but any interaction with a lead will be regarded with suspicion.  Same action, different emotions.

For the first horse the pressure acts as a cue from the very beginning. But what about the second?  When I slide down the rope, that horse is going to read it as a threat. That’s his history. If he guesses wrong, he’s expecting to be hurt.  If he comes crashing into my space with a lot of energy attempting to escape the inevitable, the wall I create with the lead is going to have to be pretty solid.  I’m ricocheting his own energy.  I’m not adding any pressure beyond that, but his previous experience will control how he feels about what I’m doing.

The Emotional Spectrum
When I slide up the lead to richochet this horse’s energy out of my space, I am operating in a zone that sits between true, easy-to-define negative reinforcement and positively taught tactile cues.  With some of the horses that I work with, it is very clear to me that I am starting out with negative reinforcement.  No question.  Slide down the rope and you meet with the guarded response of a horse who knows the pressure will escalate if he guesses wrong.  My job is to show him that that’s not going to happen.  No matter what he does, I am not going to retaliate.  His history may be creating some major flare ups of aggression, but I am not going to be drawn into a counter attack.

It’s Not Your Fault
At times like these I remember a line from Ismael Beahl’s autobiography “A Long Way Gone”.  Beahl was a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war.  He and the other boys he fought with were given drugs that contributed to the horrific acts of cruelty which they committed.  He describes his actions with great honesty in his book.

When he was pulled out of the army and sent to a hospital for rehabilitation, he lashed out at the people who were trying to help him.  He had done such terrible things.  How could he live with himself?  He wanted to hurt everyone who came near him.

“It’s not your fault,” his caregivers would say, refusing to be drawn into the drama of his conflict.  Again and again they would repeat this:

“It’s not your fault.  It’s not your fault.”

At first this enraged him even more, but gradually he could hear the words and accept their meaning.

Changing Expectations
When horses are flaring up with aggression, I say the same thing to them: “It’s not your fault.”  I’ve seen how horses are handled.  In far too many places harsh handling is the norm.  It’s how we’re taught you have to be around horses.  It’s not the handler’s fault either.  It is our heritage, but it doesn’t have to be our future.  We can pass on a different legacy to the next generation of horse owners.

When I’m using a lead, my task is to direct the horse away from this expectation of retaliation.  Eventually, he will truly believe that the lead will always and only be a positive communication tool. That’s when he’ll let you in past his guard, and the relationship becomes magical.

The response to the lead shows us it’s hidden history. I cannot make a blanket statement that the slide down the lead is experienced as something pleasant and acceptable, something neutral, or something aversive.  The horse’s history creates an expectation that effects his initial emotional reaction to the rope.  In some cases the emotional reaction is one I hope to change.  By changing the way I use the lead, the lead itself may no longer trigger an unwanted emotional response.

scout-on-lead-two-photos

Coming Next: Part 4: Hidden Motivators

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: Unit 10 – Part 2 of 5: What We Say

JOYFULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing With Chains – Cues Evolve into Chains

What We Say
It’s ten p.m., an hour at which I should be heading off to bed, but I can’t leave yet.  I’m sitting in the faculty lounge at the Clicker Expo.  We’ve just come from dinner and a presentation by this year’s guest speaker.  After a full day of presentations you would think we would all be ready to call it a night, but instead we’re just getting warmed up.

Around the table with me are Dr. Susan Friedman, Ken Ramirez,  Eva Bertilsson, Kay Laurence, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, and Laura Monico Torelli.

We are discussing terminology.  Eva got the ball rolling with a question about chains. We are wrestling with the different definitions of chains that are in use.

chain-2

Dr. Friedman is defining a chain from the perspective of a behavior analyst.  A chain has a very narrow and very specific meaning.  For a true chain, you give one cue that starts the process.  The next behavior is triggered by an internal cue.  It’s like dominoes.  You push over the first block and all the rest follow.

This type of chain can be very elegant to watch.  Imagine a series of agility obstacles set out in your arena.  You give your horse a cue that sends him out to the first obstacle, a small jump.  Just beyond the jump is a cone.  Your horse spots the cone as he clears the jump.  The cone itself serves as the cue for him to trot over to it, and pick it up.  Nearby is a large bucket.  He walks over to the bucket, drops the cone into the bucket.  A few feet past the bucket is a large platform.  Your horse now walks over to the platform, steps up onto it with all four feet, and lifts one foot high into the air while you click and run over with his treat.

That’s a technical chain.

Now imagine a different scenario.  You send your horse out over the first jump.  Just beyond the jump are two cones, a green one and a red one.  As your horse jumps, you shout “green”.  You’ve added a cue to tell your horse which cone he’s to pick up.  He heads straight over to the green cone, but now there are more choices.  Instead of one bucket, there are two identical ones, except one has a symbol of a circle painted on it, and the other a triangle.  As he picks up the green cone, you shout “circle”.  He walks over to the correct bucket and drops the cone in.

After this he again has more choices.  There are two platforms, one to the right and one to the left of the buckets.

You shout “Left”, and he walks over to the platform that’s off his left shoulder and steps up on it.

If you are using scientific terminology, this very sophisticated series of behaviors is not a chain because you are cueing each one.  It would be considered a sequence.

Our discussion rolled on around these two terms.  We all understood the distinctions.  The question was how fluid and flexible should we be with the language we use.

The Meaning of Words
In the field of learning theory scientists took for their own use many terms which already had a common-usage meaning.  Punishment is a great example.  When someone says we need to punish a child, a criminal, a terrorist, another country, the meaning is clear.  There is a moral element to it.  You don’t simply want to stop the behavior.  You want to impose a penalty.  You want the person to suffer in some way, to “pay” for his offense.  You are punishing the individual, not the behavior.

When a behavioral analyst uses the term, the meaning is very different.  There are no moral overtones of retribution.  If you smack a horse for biting, and the behavior decreases, you can say that the smack punished the biting behavior.  If the biting continues, the smack did not punish the behavior.  It may have annoyed or even frightened the horse, but if the behavior of biting didn’t decrease, the smack wasn’t a punisher.

When scientists take words that are already in common usage and redefine them, we can get a muddled result.  We also have confusion when scientists use words that we’re sort of familiar with, but not really.

A great example is operant conditioning.

That’s the big umbrella under which clicker training sits.  Operant sounds like operator.  And conditioning we understand from fitness programs.  But what do those two words put together really mean?

Look at what else happens when scientists start combining words we thought we understood.

Consider the four quadrants of operant conditioning: there’s positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment.

Positive punishment!?  Really.

Okay, the scientists explain.  The positive means simply that something has been added.  You’re adding something the horse doesn’t want and that stops the behavior, at least for the moment.  You add the smack of your hand when your horse bites you.

That’s clear enough, except it’s hard not to feel the harsh “take that” edge when you even just think about smacking your horse.  We can say we understand the plus and minus of the terms, but we still experience emotions we’ve come to associate with the words: positive equals good, negative equals bad.  Of course people get confused by these terms!  They understand them intellectually, but they experience them emotionally.  The only term that matches up and creates no conflict in meaning is “positive reinforcement”.  The rest get us into a real “knickers in a twist” state of confusion.

Negative Reinforcement
I was listening to the conversation, but I was also keeping an eye on my watch.  Eleven o’clock.  I had presentations to give the following day.  I should be calling it a night.  I decided to stay just a few more minutes.

Eva was asking more questions.  Now we were talking about negative reinforcement, a subject that always gets my attention given it’s connection to horse training.

When horses are handled with conventional training methods, rope handling is a very clear example of negative reinforcement.  The horse can avoid/escape the threat of escalating pressure by moving in the direction the handler wants.  As the horse learns to obey, the pressure diminishes to a subtle command.  The work looks soft, but the threat of escalation remains.  The soft command tells the horse how to avoid the escalating pressure.

Often people watch the finished result and think the trainer is very soft and kind.  This is very much a case of don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  The handler can look gentle because the horse understands the threat of escalating pressure that’s hidden inside every soft request.

That’s very straight forward.  If the handler is skilled, many horses thrive in this kind of system.  They know what they need to do to stay out of trouble. There’s no guess work. The commands are clear, the consequences are swiftly applied. Respond well, the pressure goes away. Fail to respond, and it escalates.  If you can figure out what is wanted – and if you can physically do it – you can stay out of trouble.

It’s easy to understand this kind of handling.  It’s textbook negative reinforcement.  And it’s also standard-issue horse training.

So what do we call it when the pressure doesn’t increase? When there is no threat of escalation, what is it?

I’ve always kept the use of the term negative reinforcement when I write about clicker-compatible rope handling.  I do this in part because I want to remember our history.  I want to remember where so many of the techniques that we use evolved from.  I want to remember so I won’t ever be tempted to go back there.

I have always combined pressure and release of pressure with the clicker.  You could say that I am simply piggy backing the clicker onto existing training systems, and that’s not really clicker training.

Perhaps, but it is a bridge.  If I am working with a rider who has spent years perfecting her horse-handling skills, I don’t want to say: “Throw all that away.  You won’t be using leads, or reins, or anything else you’re familiar with.”  That’s a great way to lose someone before they’re even out of the starting gate.

But if I say the communication system you know still works, we’re just going to teach it very differently, that makes more sense.  There’s still a huge learning curve, but I’m not going to begin by “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

By the way do you know the derivation of that expression?  Before the modern era of indoor plumbing, baths were a rarity.  You brought water in and heated it for one bath.  The patriarch of the household took his bath first, followed in rank by everyone else.  The children would be the last ones to bathe.  By the time it was the turn of the youngest babies, the water would be murky brown.  You literally had to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water!

This derivation comes courtesy of the historian, Lucy Worsley and her wonderful book, “If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home”.

Just as we still take baths – but my how they’ve changed – we still use lead ropes and other pressure cues in clicker training. But again – how things change when you take the threat away and make them clicker compatible!

Coming Next: Procedure versus The Emotional Effect

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

Tactile Communication

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 12 of 12

Adding the Click
In an earlier section I said we expand a field not from within, but from without.   Innovations come from bringing ideas together from different areas of study.  Poco gives us a wonderful illustration of this.  I was combining two things I knew worked well: body work and clicker training.  The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco.  I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him.  Poco and I were involved in a conversation.  I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers.  Poco had to provide those.

I was asking him to release through the poll.  What could you find, what could you release that would let you melt into my waiting hands?  I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.

Tactile Communication
The release through the poll was just one area I wanted to explore with Poco.  I not only wanted to get to Poco’s ears.  I also wanted to get to his hindquarters, but he had huge “DO NOT ENTER” signs posted everywhere.

I don’t know the horses I meet at clinics well enough to know which are the ones who really do mean KEEP OUT and which ones are all bluff.  If you ignore the “warning signs” of the ones who mean it, you can get seriously hurt, so I respect the “signs” all the horses post.  I try not to bludgeon my way in.  I much prefer to have them take down the warning signs themselves and invite me into their personal space.

Cues Evolve
I wanted to reach Poco’s hips.  I began my approach with long arm strokes across his back.

Poco dropped his head marginally.  Click and treat.

You can’t not cue.

Cues evolve out of the shaping process.

I was on the look out for associations which could turn into cues.  I stroked his back, and Poco dropped his head.  Again, I clicked and treated.

Poco was a tuned-in clicker horse.  He caught on right away.  I was cueing head lowering.  Very neat.

I always chuckle when this sort of thing pops out.  It’s so easy to miss that first little head drop.  It’s so easy to think that all you’re doing is stroking your horse’s back.  But if you are on the lookout, you will spot that first little drop of the head.  Once you’ve captured it with a click and a treat, you can grow it into a more definite, predictable response.

Cue Communication
Poco now had a way to tell me when it was okay for me to move on.  I could stroke a little further back along his barrel.  If his head dropped right away, I knew he was at ease, and next time I would be able to ask for a bit more.

But if he hesitated, I knew I was asking for too much.  I needed to move back towards his withers and ask for less.  Poco very quickly realized he had control.  I wouldn’t go any further, any faster than he was ready for.

I built a small, predictable loop.  First, I stood in front of him and invited him to release forward and down into my hands.

Click and treat.

Then I moved to his side and stroked along his back.  He dropped his head.  Click and treat.

That sent me back to the start of the cycle, asking for a release of his poll.  As I invited him into my hands, I leaned directly over the plane of his face.  My chin at times rested against his ears. I could feel his worry melting away.  At least in this context, he was trusting me to keep my word. I was not going to hurt him.

Adding in Lateral Flexions

poco-stroke-back

I asked for a series of these lengthening through the spine.  Then I moved to his side, but now I was looking for the next level of criterion in the head lowering.  It was no longer enough that he was dropping his head.  Now I wanted him to drop his head AND give to the side I was on.  In other words I was looking for the same lateral give that I would have been looking for if I had had a rein in my hand.

At this point I could stroke along his top line and down the backside of his hindquarters.  He dropped his head, but I didn’t click.  He brought his head up.  I re-cued head lowering by stroking my arm over his hindquarters.  He dropped his head and gave slightly to the side – a lucky discovery in his part.

Immediately I clicked and treated.

I stroked again, and he dropped his head and gave into the left bend.  Click and treat.  What a smart horse!  Our communication was expanding.  Each criterion we added gave us another bit of “syntax” to weave into the conversation we were having.

Do Not Enter Signs
It was time to ask him if he was ready to take down another of his KEEP OUT – NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED signs.

This one was on his belly.  As I also stroked along his back with one hand, I tried stroking along his sternum with the other.  He hunched up away from my hand.  This reaction revealed the kind of tension that can turn into a buck under saddle.

I eased my hand back.  He could tell me when he was ready.  When he dropped his head, click and treat, I returned to the stretch forward.  I was telling him once again that I wouldn’t proceed without his permission.

Permission granted. He took down the first of his signs.  I could stroke his belly.  He signaled his content by dropping his head and giving into the bend.  Click, treat, and walk off casually to give him some break time for processing all the new information.

Microrhythms
Cues evolve in many ways.  When you open yourself up to listen to your horse, you will quickly discover what it means when I say you can’t not cue.

When you are in conversation with someone, there are always subtle cues that are being exchanged.  We nod our head, we smile, we add in a quick word.  These simple gestures become cues that keep the conversation going. We notice them when they are absent.  When you talk on the phone and the other person doesn’t say anything in the pauses you provide, you start looking at your phone to see if the call has been dropped.

Poco and I were creating our own subtle micro rhythms.  We were understanding that our actions had influence.  I could cue him, and he could respond by cueing me.  He was showing me so clearly not only that cues evolve out of the shaping process but also that you can’t not cue.  The exchange of cues goes on even when we are not consciously aware of it.  When I turned our session into play time, I simply made these cues easier to spot.

Review
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this unit.  These videos will give you a quick review of the work I did with Poco.  The first clip was taken during the second session I did with him.  I am asking him to target his nose, then his chin, and finally I can rest my head against his forehead – click and treat.  (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)

 

Next came adding in duration by clicking on the exhale of his breath.  (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)

The next video shows the release of the poll and the building of head lowering. (refer to Part 11 of 12: Moving On https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/19/ and this current post.)

This final video in this series shows the taking down the “Do Not Enter”signs.  I’m coupling the stroking along his back and belly with head lowering.

This ends this section: Number 9: You Can’t Not Cue.

Coming Next: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains 

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

Moving On

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 11 of 12

Celebration!

poco-hug-2nd-day

The previous section began my description of a series of Play sessions I had with an ear-shy horse named Poco.  Step One was teaching Poco to target his nose to my hand.  After two sessions, I could cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would previously have worried him.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

Moving On

poco-come-into-hands

Training is all about moving on.  With Poco I moved on by adding yet another dimension to the body part targeting.  I stood in front of him and asked him to place his nose into my hands.

I drew my hands forward, inviting him to follow me with a give through his poll.  He wasn’t sure what was wanted.  He lifted his nose out of my hands.  Again, I invited him into my hands.  I could feel the tension in his poll, the habitual holding.

My hands offered him a suggestion, an invitation.  He found the answer.  I could feel the release as he let go of the tension.  He lengthened into my waiting hands.  Click and treat.

poco-give-full-body

Poco as he releases through the poll for the first time.

What Could You Find? What Could You Release?
Years ago I had a client who was an Alexander practitioner.  She had also studied Feledenkrais work and a number of other, related types of body work.  We did trades.  I worked on her horse and his balance issues, and she worked on mine.

Marge never gave you answers.  Instead she presented you with questions.  “What could you find, what could you release to let go of the tension?”

I remember one day she was moving my arm through a series of rotations, exploring the range and ease of motion that was available to me.  I let her circle my arm.  It was an oddly pleasing sensation.  I could just let go of all expectations and let her take my arm through a series of rotations.

Abruptly she released my arm, but instead of dropping down to my side, it remained suspended in mid air.

I remember looking at it.  How odd.  Gravity should have taken care of that.

I remember Marge chanting: “What could you find, what could you release that would allow your arm to just drop down?”

I had no idea since I had no idea why my arm was still up in the air.

Posing the Questions
Marge didn’t solve the puzzle for me.  She posed the question.  I had to find my own answers.

This was what I was doing for Poco.  I was presenting him with a puzzle.  Through my hands I was asking the same questions Marge had all those years ago: “What could you find, what could you release that would let you follow the invitation of my hands?”

Adding the Click
The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco.  I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him.  Poco and I were involved in a conversation.  I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers.  Poco had to provide those.

I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.

I’ve done body work without the added dimension that clicker training brings.  I know how profoundly it can change horses.  Adding in the clicker gives you more.

“When I was young I did the best I could.  But when I knew better, I did better.”    
        adapted from the poet, Maya Angelou

Doing better means I want the conversation.  I’ve experienced the difference, and I know I want the horse actively involved in finding his own answers.  This in no way negates the value of what I had learned all those years ago through Linda Tellington-Jones.  Nor does it devalue what others are doing with their own listening hands.  I don’t know what magic exists in the hands of a skilled body worker.  But for me the magic comes through the science of clicker training.

poo-deep-release-4-good

Remember this is an ear-shy horse.  Poco is offering me a lovely soft release through his entire spine.

Coming Next: Tactile Communication

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

 

Stepping Stones

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 10 of 12

More To Learn
In the previous section I described the profound difference TTEAM training made for Peregrine’s mother.  Peregrine, on the other hand, didn’t like TTEAM body work.  I remember feeling so frustrated with him.  Here he was with his own private body worker, and he wasn’t interested.  There were so many horses who loved and benefited from the sessions I gave them.  Peregrine fussed and refused to participate.

So I put my antennae up and went looking for solutions that he liked better.  I didn’t reject TTEAM work.  I didn’t say it was wrong or it didn’t work.  It had given me far too much to ever turn my back on it. Peregrine was simply telling me there was more I needed to learn.

I think of all the elements that have gone into my horse education as stepping stones.  I’m never regretful of any of my stepping stones.  There may be things I don’t use any more, techniques I disagree with now that I have more experience, but each of those stepping stones gave me something of value.  When you are finding your way over uncertain ground, you don’t always find the clear path right away.  Learning where you don’t want to step – and why – helps guide you to the secure footing of a path that’s worth following.  TTEAM was definitely a path worth following.  Because I stepped on that stone, I found all the others that set me in the direction of clicker training.

Remembering Play

poco-in-hug

Poco

Today if you watched me working with horses you wouldn’t see very much that would jump out at you as TTEAM work. But every now and then I’ll have a horse who brings out my TTEAM background.  Poco was one of those horses.

 

poco-ear-shy

Poco showing us his concern over having his ears touched.

I introduced you to Poco earlier.  He’s the ear shy buckskin who I had been watching over a period of several months progress from being a completely don’t-touch-me horse to one who could tolerate being bridled and handled around his head.  But tolerate was the key word.  He was by no means comfortable, especially with people he didn’t know.

I was itching to play with him.  I’d watched his handler give him some great work sessions, but that’s not what he needed.  He didn’t need to work.  He needed to play.  Or more to the point, he needed US to play.

When you play, you become creative.  You take elements from different parts of your life, and you combine them in new ways to come up with solutions you haven’t tried before.  Your stepping stones become important.

Getting “Yes” Answers
During one of his work sessions, Poco’s handler was called away to check on something in the barn.

“Would you mind holding him for me?” she asked.

Big mistake.

You never want to hand me a horse – not if you want to get him back any time soon.

I began in a round about way with Poco.  I knew I wanted him to target his ear to my hand, but I also knew I couldn’t begin there.

Never start with your goal.

That’s one of the rules of good training.

I couldn’t go directly to his ears, but I could teach him the overall concept of body part targeting.  There wasn’t much I could get a consistent “yes” answer to, so I began by simply grabbing his nose firmly between my hands and squeezing tight for the briefest of brief seconds.  Click and treat.

Now that last sentence doesn’t sound very clicker compatible.  Grabbing his nose between my hands sounds rather rude and abrupt, but I’ve found that this is often an effective way to begin.  I am in effect saying to the horse:  “This is what I want to do.  This is what it will feel like.  There’s nothing else that I’m going to do, just this.”

Training Choices
I could have gone through a shaping process to teach Poco to bring his nose to my hands.  That’s another, very valid approach.  With Poco I went the more direct route.  Sometimes it is important to show the horse that what he’s worried about really isn’t all that bad.

If I shaped him to bring his nose towards me, I might have been bringing all his worry and concern right along with the rest.  “Yes, I’ll bring my nose closer to you because I want the treat, but I really am still afraid.”

Sometimes what the horse discovers through the shaping process is he really doesn’t have anything to worry about and his fear melts away.  But sometimes the worry stays locked in.  It twists its way around each reinforcer just as surely as a vine twists around the tree that supports it.

With Poco I also knew I didn’t have much time with him. I needed to explain to him fast what I was going to be asking him to do.  So I reached up and held his nose firmly between my hands.  I gave him a solid squeeze.  I clicked as I released the pressure.

I thought of Temple Grandin and her description of the comfort she felt from being squeezed tight in an enclosed space.

Who knows how horses experience this, but I have found that a firm squeeze around the nose helps to settle many anxious horses.

This quickly evolved into my asking Poco to target his nose to my hand.  The first couple of times it was more a matter of my bringing my hand to his nose than the other way around.

poco-touch-nose

It was touch his nose fast – click treat. Note he is wearing a bridle because his handler had been working on bridling when she was called away.

It was touch his nose, click fast before he could pull away.  Treat. Touch his nose again.

I used a verbal cue.  “Nose”  It began as a signal of my intent.  It meant: I am going to reach out and touch your nose.

Telling him in advance what I was going to do gave him time to prepare.  I wasn’t sneaking up on him so it actually helped him to accept the contact more calmly. He knew exactly what I was going to do, and he also knew it wasn’t going to last long and the contact would be followed by a treat.

Very quickly I could hold my hand ever so slightly away from his nostril and wait for him to come that last little bit to me.  Click and treat.

Building Clean Loops
I progressed towards this in tight clean loops.

We did a cycle of squeezing his nose – click treat, repeat.  Then I’d walk off causally with Poco following behind me on a loose lead.  That gave him a break and set us up for a change in the next cycle.

So now it might be place my hand over his nostril – click treat.  Again, repeat this several times and then walk off casually.

The next cycle was bring your nose to my hand – click treat.

Then it was target my cupped hand to your chin – click treat.

The treat was so much more than just the piece of carrot I was offering him.  The treat included lots of verbal praise –  “Aren’t you great!  You’re so smart”  – together with lots of scritching.

Scritching
Scritching is my word.  It isn’t petting or stroking.  It’s a get-your-fingernails-dirty, deep kneading of a horse’s neck and back.  Think about how horses socially groom one another.  That’s what you are imitating so get in there and get your fingers dirty!  There’s nothing soft or diffident about it.  If your hands are clean after one of these sessions, either you are a superb groomer, or you aren’t doing it right.

I’ve had people tell me I need to come up with a name for the training I do.  Here’s a suggestion: The Dirty Fingernails Club!  Somehow, it’s never caught on.

Sequence Matters
In clicker training we’re used to hearing that timing matters.  The sequence in which you do things matters, as well.

Poco’s handler had done a lot of rubbing on his neck, but she had put it BEFORE the click.  I was putting it AFTER.

Before the click, there was always the question: what more are you going to do?  There was always a bit of guardedness in Poco’s emotional response.

After the click, it was all celebration.  You’re so good!  I wasn’t trying to see how much closer to his ears I could get.  I was simply rubbing and scritching him and telling him he was wonderful.  There was no agenda other than to celebrate the previous clickable moment.  Poco let his guard down.  He melted.  Panksepp could tell us about the dopamine that was being released in his brain.  What I could observe was a softening around the eyes, a dramatic change in muscle tone, an increase in responsiveness towards me.

I wish I had filmed that first session to share with you the change in Poco.  I was opening a dialog.  Because I was in a play state he could stay to listen and begin to let me in past his guard.

You Never Know What You’ve Taught.  You Only Know What You’ve Presented
The next day I did a follow up session with Poco.  I was still a long way from being able to handle his ears so I wanted to continue the conversation I had started.

In this next session Poco was much more accepting of my hands around his muzzle.  I built a small chain.

“Nose”  The cue initially simply told him what I was about to do.  I was going to cup my hand over his nostril.  It grew into Poco actively seeking out my hand.

As soon as my left hand was cupped over his nostril, I said “Chin”.

Poco responded by dropping his head so his chin rested in the cup of my right hand.

Click and treat.

Using Your Head
I wanted to get to his ears, but I had run out of hands, so I used my head – literally.

Nose.” He brought his head into position to meet my hand.

Chin.” He gave at the poll so his chin dropped into the cup of my hand.

As I supported his muzzle between my hands, I leaned in closer to him until I could rest my forehead between his eyes.  Click and treat!

poco-nose-chin-head

“I almost got a kiss!” I told him as I rubbed his neck and exclaimed to him that “He was so good!”

Breath
Building duration was next.  As I cupped my hands around his muzzle, I waited.  I was feeling for the exhale of his breath.

poco-click-on-exhale

I am waiting for Poco to exhale.

If you want to keep your rates of reinforcement high, this is a great behavior to go after.  We want our horses to relax so we like to click behaviors we read as signs that they are “happy” and “at ease”.  So we like to click for things like ears forward, but if the horse is concentrating or listening to activity behind him, you can wait a long time for his ears to move.  And if you withhold the click too long, your horse may begin to feel frustrated.  You’ve suddenly put him into an extinction process that you hadn’t intended.

If a horse has been earning clicks pretty consistently and now suddenly he isn’t, he’s going to become frustrated.  That’s a predictable outcome of extinction.  The more frustrated a horse becomes, the less likely he is to put his ears forward.  So now you’re stuck.

What do you do?  If you wait it out, you could be unraveling all those good dopamine-propelled feelings of relaxation.  You could end up with a frustrated, angry horse who is convinced that he doesn’t want anyone touching him anywhere.

Or maybe in desperation you click him for something, anything to get yourself out of this muddle.  I’m going to come back in a later section to desperation clicks and their fallout.

For now I’ll offer a different approach.  Instead of focusing on his ears – go for his breath.  Unless you are working with a sperm whale, you know he’s going to be exhaling on a regular, easily clickable basis.  So click as he exhales, and you’ll very quickly feel your horse melt even further into your hands.

Now wait for the deep exhale that truly signals a letting go of tension.  He is well on his way to letting his guard down and inviting you in.

Celebration!
Poco would now cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would have worried him previously.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

poco-hug-1st-day

Press my forehead against his. Click. Treat. Celebrate!

 

Coming Next: Moving On

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