What Did You Mean – Not What Did You Say?

Be The Teacher Your Learner Needs 2 THM.pngThe Kentucky Derby was run this past Saturday.  Years and years ago I used to pay attention to the Triple Crown races.  How could anyone who loves horses not be captivated by Secretariat?  But the glamour wore off as I came to know many ex-race horses, including some of Secretariat’s offspring. Now, if it didn’t pop up on the national news coverage, I could easily forget that the first Saturday in May is Derby Day.  What brought it to mind today is a photo I use in my conference presentations.  I was skimming through the talks I gave this past winter. That’s when I spotted the photo.  It was in a talk connecting George Lakoff’s work with horse training.

American pharoah lip chainIt’s a photo that appeared in my local newspaper, as well as on the internet.  It shows our most recent Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh, being cooled down after a workout.  It could have been a photo of any race horse, or really of any hard-working performance horse.  There was nothing particularly distinctive about this picture.  You can see the sweat and the steam rising off his coat.  And you also see the chain that runs through the halter ring and into his mouth.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but the chain is probably over his top gums, an area that is even more sensitive to pain than his tongue.  That’s how young, very fit thoroughbreds are controlled on the track.

Why was this photo of a thoroughbred race horse in a talk about George Lakoff’s work?  What’s the connection? Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has studied the power of metaphors in shaping how we think.  He is particularly interested these days in American politics.  One of his central ideas is that the current divide in our politics can best be viewed through the metaphor of family.  Long before any of us were aware of national governments or political parties, we were aware of the authority of our parents.  They set the rules and modeled the behavior that became the template for how each of us thinks society as a whole should be structured.

Lakoff has proposed that there are two primary family models:  the strict father family and the nurturant parent family.

In the strict father model, the father is the head of the family.  As the moral authority of the family, it is the father’s job to teach his children right from wrong.  He communicates this to the children in a hierarchical way.

Lakoff’s description of a Strict Father patriarch sounds eerily like force-based training.  You have only to substitute a few words – trainer for father, horse for child – and you have this:

“The trainer is the legitimate authority, and his authority is not to be challenged. . . Obedience to the trainer is required. It is upheld through punishment. Bad behavior from the horse is always punished.

The trainer teaches the horse right from wrong, and he communicates this to the horse in a hierarchical way.

Punishment is seen as absolutely crucial. It is the trainer’s moral duty to punish bad behavior in the horse.”

The nurturant parent model provides the contrast.  In this family structure it is moral to show empathy, to nurture, and to take on individual as well as social responsibility.  Cooperation with others is seen as more important than competition.

Instead of hierarchical communication, the Nurturant Parent model focuses on open communication. There is mutual respect between children and parents. This is different from other parenting models where children are expected to show respect for their parents, but not vice versa.

People often say words matter, but words are defined by our core values.

The chain in American Pharaoh’s mouth becomes a  symbol of command-based training.   In this very conventional view of training, horses are considered to be stupid animals.  If we look at that through the lens of Lakoff’s metaphors, we see more clearly what these words mean.  It implies a hierarchy – people above horses.  It means people can do whatever they want with horses.

Here’s the rest. Because horses are stupid animals, you have to use force to control them.  You have to show them “who’s boss”.  Here’s the corollary to that:  “But don’t worry.  They don’t feel pain the way we do.”  The frame these metaphors create very much influences what we are able to see.

In this view of the world, when a horse shows resistance, he’s being disobedient. He’s challenging the trainer’s authority and must be punished.  This training frame makes it hard to see other reasons a horse might fail to obey.  Only secondarily will the trainer break the lesson down into smaller steps, or look for physical causes.

Here’s the contrast:

Robin hug

This photo represents my core belief system.  It says something very different.  It is much more in line with Lakoff’s description of the nurturing parent model.  I believe that horses are intelligent animals, and that they should be treated with great kindness and fairness.  There is no hierarchy.  There is no separation between their needs and mine.  We are partners together.

What matters more than the words we use are the core values we hold.  Words only have the meaning that those values give them.  Respect is a perfect example.

Suppose you are new to the horse world.  You’re looking around for an instructor who can help you train your first horse.  You’ve been told that you should go watch a few lessons before taking your horse to anyone, so that’s what you’ve done.  You’re watching this trainer interact with his horses.  They are behaving exactly how you would like your youngster to be.  They move out of his space – no questions asked.  They stand politely to be groomed and saddled.  They seem safe to ride.   You like how he talks about his horses.  He talks about partnership.  He says it’s important that your horse respects you.

Respect is an important word for you, as well.  You like what this trainer is saying.  You like how calm and safe his horses are.  You leave feeling very confident that you have found what you’re looking for.

But have you?  What kind of respect do each of you mean?  In the strict father model respect is maintained through the use of punishment. So, yes, horses can appear to be very respectful, meaning they are afraid of the trainer.  They have learned what to do to escape punishment.

In the “nurturing parent model” respect means something very different.  It is something that is earned.  It is not something that is demanded.

Both parenting models can produce horses that show what you would call polite, safe manners, but the teaching process the horses experienced will have been very different.  If you send your horse to this trainer, you may find it’s a perfect match.  You were both talking about the same kind of respect. Or you could find yourself second guessing your decision.  You like him.  You can see that he’s skilled.  He certainly gets results, but the lessons make you squirm.

When you find that for you there’s a disconnect between someone’s  words and their actions, it’s time to look at core values.

What do the words really mean?  When we train thoughtfully, we learn to look beyond the outer shell of the familiar words we use. Are we letting someone else’s meaning take over?  Do our words reflect the kind of relationship we want to have?  Do the training methods match our core values?

Do you want an example?  Kay Laurence has just produced a promo video for our October Training Thoughtfully conference.  It’s a beautiful video.  Words and images are aligned.  They tell you so much. When I watch this video, I know it was produced by someone whose core values match my own.  If they match yours, as well, I hope you’ll join us for some Thoughtful Training this October.

Training Thoughtfully Milwaukee, Oct 20-22, 2017: Visit: https://www.trainingthoughtfullymilwaukee.com/

Training Thoughtfully Milwaukee Oct 20-22 2017.pngWatch the video: https://vimeo.com/216184198

If you want to learn more about George Lakoff’s work, read my January 8, 2017 post. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/01/08/)

Enjoy!

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 14

Our Creative Horses
Yesterday I shared with you the story of Robin’s “pose”.  The use of resurgence has helped us develop a much more systematic way of creating unlikely behaviors.  Because we understand the process better, we can be more deliberate in it’s use.  I ended the post by saying: “The end result may look like magic, but there is good science behind it.”

When we open up our training in this way and turn our learners into more active participants, we often find that they are even more creative than we are.  Once again Robin provided me with a great example of this.

When Robin was three I took him to the Equine Affaire to be my demo horse.  I wanted to show people what freeshaping via clicker training looks like.  I didn’t want them just to see the end product of freeshaping.  I wanted them to see me teach Robin a completely novel behavior.  The problem was he already had a pretty extensive repertoire. I was stumped for ideas, but I thought the easiest solution would be to use a prop.  One of my clients had been teaching his horse to flip a hula hoop up over his head.  I thought I could make a start on that with Robin.

Robin had been our first equine retriever.  Picking things up was solidly in repertoire.  I figured if I put the hula hoop on the ground, he would try to pick it up.  I’d be able to reinforce that and build it into Robin holding it longer which might over three days of demos lead to him flipping it over his head.  Such was my level of creativity, that’s all I could think of to work on with a hula hoop.

So during our demo, I brought out the hula hoop and tossed it out on the ground.  I was still explaining freeshaping to the audience so I wasn’t focusing yet on Robin.  While I was talking, he walked over to the hoop and stood with his front feet planted in the middle of it just as he would have stood on a mat.  Before I could respond to him, he reached down, picked up one side of the hoop and began walking himself forward foot by foot with the hoop!  That was his level of creativity!

The Creative Process
Here are the steps the horses have been teaching us:

First, you build a strong history of reinforcement for the component behaviors.

You change the situation somewhat so mild extinction comes into play.

You get a resurgence of these previously reinforced behaviors and new combinations emerge.  That’s creativity.  The most fun for me is seeing what the horses invent. As we have seen, they are often so much more creative than their human partners!

Familiar Landscapes
Kay Laurence might say we were seeing familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz would say you have to understand the process of extinction before you can master it.  If you understand it, you’ll avoid situations that create macro extinction processes and all the frustration that goes along with them.  Instead you’ll use micro extinctions to build complex behaviors.

I would say that monitoring the level of extinction your learner is experiencing is a keys-to-the-kingdom part of good training.

I’ve just spent a couple of days working with a group of horses I have come to know well. One of them is a retired performance horse. Without going into a lot of details, I would describe him as an emotionally fragile horse. He’s easily worried.  If he thinks he has the right answer, he’s a superstar, but I always have to be careful how far I stretch him into new behaviors.  If he thinks he might get something wrong, he worries.  He’s come out of a training environment in which he had to perform correctly or his rider could get seriously hurt. I suspect he was punished for mistakes which accounts for his worry.

Mastering Micro
His back was looking prematurely aged so I wanted to teach him Robin’s “pilates pose”.  I had already shown him that he could get reinforced for lifting his back up and releasing at the poll.  In this particular session I was holding out for slightly better versions. As I withheld my click, I saw him experimenting.  Was it higher with his poll? Was it more lift of his back? What did I want?

The shifts he was giving me represented micro changes.  They were all within a clickable range.  Clicking him for any of these variations would have been fine, but I was waiting fractionally to see what else would pop out.

I was using micro extinctions to create the next step.  And because I was thinking about this in terms of extinction, I was monitoring closely his emotional responses.  I did not want him to become macro worried.  We were always just a second or two from a click so I could let him experiment without risking the emotional fallout of a larger extinction process.

Micro Masters
Micro is so very much the key.

Macro extinctions are frustrating.  Micro extinctions are part of good teaching.

Macro shaping can be confusing.  Micro shaping is elegant.

Macro negative reinforcement is literally painful. Micro negative reinforcement is clear communication. It is a conversation with cues exchanged in both directions.

When you go micro, your learner is always just a second or two away from a reinforceable moment.  You can cue another behavior, or you can simply click and treat. Either way, you are saying: “Yes! Great idea!” Micro Mastery is what we should be striving for in our training.  When you say someone is a great trainer, you are really saying that individual is a Micro Master.  In training that’s the “black belt” we should be aiming for.

robin-pg-lying-down-micro-masters

With this last section we come to the end of my JOY FULL Horses book – almost.  What remains is one final chapter and that’s what’s coming next.

Coming Next: Doorways

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 12

Mastering Micro: Building Unlikely Behaviors with Resurgence
Nothing is either all good or all bad.

We want to use positive reinforcement with our animals because we see it as being both effective and more humane.  But the associations created through positive reinforcement can create addictions to harmful behaviors.  Think about the way advertisers manipulate our behavior to encourage smoking or overeating.

Resurgence and regression can be very negative procedures, but they can also be used to produce what might otherwise be very difficult behaviors to obtain.

If you aren’t sure how you can turn what seems like a negative procedure into a positive teaching strategy, PORTL can once again help to illustrate how this works.

Here’s the set up:

The trainer sets a toy chair on the table for her learner to interact with. The goal is to get the learner to push the chair over the table the way she might push a toy car.

We’ll now observe quietly in the background while the learner begins to interact with the chair.  The trainer could get lucky.  The learner might begin offering the behavior she’s after within the first couple of clicks.  But with this learner there’s no sign of any chair pushing behavior. Why?

History matters.

The learner is going to draw on all of her previous repertoire of things she has done with chairs.  In this case we have a learner who was scolded as a child for pushing her chair over the floor, so she’s not very likely to offer this type of behavior with the toy chair.

A history of punishment has played a role in depressing chair pushing behavior for this learner, but pushing would also have been an unlikely behavior if the trainer had set down a dice. The learner would have tossed the dice or shaken it in her hand because that’s what you do with this kind of object. Pushing a dice over the table like a toy car is not an obvious behavior to try.

Through a series of small approximations, the trainer could try to shaping the behavior she wants.  Her first step would be reinforcing the learner for touching the chair.

The learner in this case is not particularly creative.  She offers simple touches, but nothing else.  Again, the trainer may be dealing with a history of punishment.  Her learner doesn’t have a lot of experience being reinforced for trying things.  In fact, quite the opposite – she may have been punished for stepping “outside the lines”.  She is like so many of our animal learners – hesitant, lacking in confidence, and not showing any outward signs of curiosity.  In her first few attempts she touches the chair, but she doesn’t try any other behaviors.  Getting her to push the chair is going to be hard.

So the trainer takes the chair away and sets out a toy car. Using an object that normally would be pushed makes it very easy to get the desired action.  The learner pushes the car over the table top. Click and treat.

This is repeated several times, and then the trainer takes the car away and sets the chair out.  The learner goes back to touching it.  The chair accidentally falls over – click and treat. The learner latches on to that, expanding her repertoire to two behaviors – touching the chair and knocking it over.

We see this so many times with our animal learners.  One click and suddenly you’ve locked in a behavior you don’t want.  With a creative learner this isn’t a problem.  You can quickly shift the behavior into something you want, but with these “one trick ponies” you have to be so very careful what you click.  In this case the learner persists in knocking the chair over even when she is no longer getting reinforced for the action.

Her trainer makes a quick decision and decides to put everything but pushing the chair like a car on extinction.  Her learner is clearly becoming frustrated.  To avoid having her shut down completely, the trainer takes the chair away and sets the car out again.  The learner immediately starts pushing the car over the table top.  Click and treat.

To help with the generalization the trainer puts a third object out – a small block. The learner pushes the block.  Click and treat.  This is repeated several times, then the trainer takes the block away and sets out the car.  The car is pushed. Click and treat.

The trainer sets the chair out, and the learner pushes the chair.  Job done.

Resurgence and Dog “Yoga”
Using the car in this way is an elegant teaching strategy.  Often when we come up with these clever ways of helping our learner to be successful, we know that it works, but we don’t really have good explanations for why.   Understanding resurgence helps us with the why in this case.  And it helps us to be more deliberate in the use of this kind of teaching strategy.  Here’s another example.

One of Kay Laurence’s students taught her dog to step up with his hind legs onto a chair.  It was elegant training, a beautiful example of setting the learner up for success.  In his talk on extinction, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz helped us to see that it was also a great example of using resurgence.

Here’s the lesson: First, the dog learned to stand one foot each on four small plastic pods. This alone was impressive training.  The pods were the same ones physiotherapists use to help people improve their balance and proprioception. It took great coordination for the dog to stay balanced on the four pods. But that was only step 1.  Next he learned to keep his front feet on the floor while he maneuvered his hind feet up onto the brick ledge of a fireplace hearth.

Adding in the precision of the pods came next.  Now the dog wasn’t just standing with his front paws on the floor and his hind end up on the ledge.  He was also balancing on all four pods.

This was not done as a cute party trick.  The dog’s owner is a yoga teacher.  Her interest was very much the same as mine – helping her animal learner maintain a healthy spine.  In this orientation she could ask her dog for weight shifts that contribute to a flexible spine.

The last step was setting up a training session next to a chair. The handler withheld the click, putting the dog into an extinction process. With very little experimentation, the dog oriented himself so his hind end was to the chair.  He certainly demonstrated the flexibility of his spine by stepping up onto the chair with his hind legs so he was standing hind end up on the chair and front feet on the floor.

Generalization and Creativity
Jesús commented that if we didn’t know about resurgence we would simply be saying the dog generalized.  That’s not a sufficient explanation.  What we were seeing was a great example of resurgence. PORTL has given us a better understanding of how to encourage this kind of problem solving.  When we want to train for this type of generalization, knowing about the “why” of resurgence helps us to be more deliberate and efficient in our training.

It isn’t positive reinforcement by itself that creates a positive learning experience.  An eagerness for learning comes from being a successful puzzle solver.  That success in turn comes from the kind of efficient, clean training that the clever use of resurgence encourages.

These examples give us a great perspective on creativity.  When we’re training, we aren’t waiting and waiting for our animals to do something we can reinforce.  Instead we can “seed” the behaviors we want them to draw on.  Then we set up the conditions and let them have the pleasure of discovering for themselves new or unlikely combinations.

We have a procedure for setting up the creative process.  You give your learner the repertoire, the components that form more complex behaviors, and then you set a puzzle and let extinction be the catalyst for solving it.

Coming Next: The “Pose”

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 10

Degrees of Freedom
In the previous section we saw that creativity comes from having a rich repertoire to draw on. This makes puzzle solving much easier.  With my horses I work really hard to create optimistic puzzle solvers.  One way to do this is to expand the repertoire of both the handler and the learner. The broader and more extensive the repertoire, the more options an individual has. If a horse knows only two choices and neither one is working, he’s in trouble.

Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz referred to this as being coerced by your repertoire. Here’s an example to explain what that means: suppose a high school student is a great debater.  In fact, he’s so good, he’s captain of the debating team.  You’d expect someone like that to have really high self-esteem. He’s so successful how could he not?

But look a little closer and you’ll see why.  This individual is great at debating, but he’s no athlete.  He’s left out of a lot of other school events.  He doesn’t play sports.  He doesn’t go to school dances.  He has poor social skills so at lunch he’s off by himself.  Yes, in debating he wins all the prizes, but he has only that one skill.

He’s being coerced into improving his debating skills because that’s all he can do.  He’s the best debater in the school, but that doesn’t keep him from feeling left out and miserable.  With only that one skill he has only one degree of freedom.  Other members of the debating team may not be as good as he is, but they are also involved in other school activities.  Compared to him they have three or four degrees of freedom, and they are much happier.

The captain is far and away the best debater on the team, but he’s been coerced into that position because he has no other choices.  For him, as well as for our horses, the way to improve his emotional well-being is to expand his repertoire so he has more options, more reinforcers available to him.

A great real life example of this is the tennis great Andre Aggassi.  In his autobiography, “Open”, he describes how his father forced him to practice tennis for hours every day.  His class mates spent their free time playing after school sports, hanging out with friends, watching TV, playing video games – in other words developing a broad repertoire of skills.  Aggassi hit tennis balls – tens of thousands of tennis balls.  He hated tennis, but he was forced to play.

His friends went off to the local high school.  He was sent away from home to a tennis academy.  He hated tennis even more, but it was all he knew.  When he turned pro, he was miserable, but how could he quit?  What else could he do?  He had no skills outside of tennis.  All he could do was become better at the game.  He was coerced by his repertoire.  He won Wimbledon and seven other Grand Slams.  He was a 1996 Olympic gold medalist.  He made millions, but he was miserable.

If he had had other choices, who knows what the outcome would have been.  He might still have chosen tennis, and perhaps he would have been an even better player. Whatever the choices, the greater degrees of freedom might well have produced a happier life.

Expanding Repertoires
Kay Laurence uses this concept with her dogs.  If you’re working with an aggressive dog, you want to expand his repertoire. Teach him a dozen new behaviors: sitting, lying down, turning his head to the left, to the right, lifting a paw, walking in a circle, etc.. Now in a threatening situation he has a dozen new ways to respond, instead of just the two or three that he started with.

Coming Next: Being Emotional Is Being Alive

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 7

The Training Game
I’ve mentioned training games several times.  The original clicker training game was a close cousin to the children’s game “Hot and Cold”.  The learner was sent out of ear shot while the rest of the group chose a goal behavior.  When the learner returned, the only instructions she was given were to offer behavior.  If she did something that her designated trainer liked, she would be clicked. She was then to go to her handler for a treat.

I’ve seen situations where the learner got the behavior seamlessly.  One easy click after another led the learner directly to the goal behavior.  I’ve seen other situations where the same behavior tripped people up completely.

When we train our animals, we want the first scenario – seamless, successful training.  That’s what we want for our equine learners.  But in the training game, we often learn the most when we experience clumsy shaping.  It can be frustrating to struggle through a session that lacks a clear training plan, but you do gain a great appreciation for what NOT to do.

Genabacab
Kay Laurence developed a different style of training game.  In this one trainer and learner are seated opposite one another at a table.  Instead of acting out the behavior like a game of charades, the learner manipulates objects which the trainer has set out on the table.

alex-genabacab-with-caption

Kay always has great fun collecting objects for the table game.  She has small plastic fruits and cakes, toy cars, small cones, plastic insects of various varieties.  It’s a colourful mixture that she hands over to her trainers.  When I play the table game at clinics, I raid the host’s kitchen junk drawer.  My toys aren’t as much fun as Kay’s, but they serve the purpose just as well.

Kay calls her game Genabacab.  It has very few instructions and really only one rule: the only person who is allowed to talk is the learner. The trainer and spectators are not to give any verbal hints or to discuss what is going on until afterwards.

The table game lets you work out shaping plans BEFORE you go to your animal.  Do you want to learn how to attach a cue to a behavior and then change that cue to a new cue? You can work out the process playing the table game and spare your animals the frustration of your learning curve.

Kay has described workshops at her training center where someone arrives with a “how do I teach this?” type of question.  Maybe the handler wants to teach match to sample, or she wants to see if her dog can indicate which object is bigger or smaller.  Instead of going straight out to the dog and confusing it with missteps and false starts, everyone in the group will pull out their Genabacab games. Kay says people will often spend half the day happily absorbed in developing the best teaching strategies for their dogs.  The dogs spend the day relaxing while their people work away at the puzzle.  It’s only once the process is well understood, that the dogs are brought in for training.

PORTL
Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and his students at the University of North Texas have been using Genabacab to understand basic principles of behavior.  He wants to bring the game to the scientific community as a research tool, so he gave his version a new name:  PORTL – Portable Operant Research and Teaching Laboratory.   Kay still has her Genabacab for teaching her canine handlers and Jesús has PORTL for teaching behavior analysis.  On the surface they are similar games, but they serve different functions.

Animal studies are increasingly difficult to do because of ethical concerns and expense.  PORTL offers an alternative for research.  You can have a question about how a particular process works, design an experiment using the PORTL game, and in hour’s time have gathered enough data to write a paper – all without frustrating a single lab rat. Now that’s progress!

His students meet on a regular basis to play PORTL games. When they turned their attention to the extinction process, they made some interesting discoveries.

In one game, the learner was shaped to place one hand over the other – right hand over left, and then to reverse it – left hand over right.  The behavior was put on a fixed ratio of 5, meaning the learner was clicked and reinforced on every fifth swap of hands.

The second task was tapping a block.  Again the learner was put on a fixed ratio of 5. (The learner was to tap the block five times for each click and treat.)

The trainer then increased the ratio for the tapping to 30. The learner began to tap the block, but now there was no click and treat after 5 taps.  The learner kept going to about 13 taps.  At that point she began to experiment.  She reverted back to swapping hands.  Then she tried a few more taps, before going back to hand swaps.  She tapped the block a few more times.  The trainer was still keeping track so each of these taps was counting towards the count of 30 she was looking for.

In the twenties the learner began to be creative.  She tried different ways to move hand over hand.  She’d go back and forth between experimenting with hand swaps and tapping the block.  Finally she reached a count of 30 at which point her handler clicked and reinforced her.  All the extra gunk was also chained in.  Now as the handler kept reinforcing the tapping of the block, the frequency of the hand swapping also skyrocketed.  That behavior was no longer being intentionally reinforced, but it increased right along with the tapping.

Now you may be thinking:  “Well that’s just poor training.  No one is going to jump from a fixed ratio of 5 to one of 30.” My response would be to say that this can happen inadvertently.

Suppose a handler has had a behavior on a high rate of reinforcement. The horse is responding on a consistent basis, but then he’s distracted. He’s no longer offering the same consistent response.  Instead the handler is seeing a string of unwanted behaviors.  Sometimes the horse almost meets criterion, but not enough to click. And then he comes through with the right answer.  The handler captures that moment with a click and a treat.  The question is: what is the long term result of that click? Has the handler just identified a single clickable moment or has she chained in a long string of “junk” behavior?

The horse’s future responses will answer that particular question, but Jesús’ response in general is: if you want clean behavior, you need to train in clean loops.  Kay and I would add that you need to microshape.  You need to learn to set up your training so the behavior you want is the behavior you get.

Here’s a link to a great youtube video of  a PORTL game presented by Mary Hunter.   Many of you will know Mary from her StaleCheerios.com blogs. Mary is president of The Art and Science of Animal Training, the organization that puts on the annual conference of that same name in Dallas TX.  She and Jesús will be presenting a program on PORTL at this year’s clicker Expos.

Coming Next: Mastering Extinction

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 6

Cues and Extinction
In Part 2 of the JOY FULL horses posts I wrote at length about cues.  We went through the list of ten things you should know about cues.  That list took us from the basics of cues to some very elegant training concepts.  Cues also play a role in this discussion of extinction.  They have a lot to do with reducing the emotional effect of extinction.

Cues can tell an animal whether or not you’re engaged with him in training.  If your cues say “not now”, he knows he can go take a nap. Kay Laurence has very clear protocols for her training classes. If someone with a dog has a question for her, the handler is first to park the dog.  Parking means the handler anchors the dog to one spot by standing on the leash.  With her hands off the leash, she can now switch her attention away from her dog to Kay.  The dog quickly learns that a parked leash means he doesn’t need to watch his handler closely.  He can take a break from the training conversation.

Teaching “Chill”
With our horses we often forget to put this piece in.  We are usually training by ourselves.  The time in the barn is our time to relax and be with our horses.  It’s only when someone comes to visit that we discover the grown-ups really can’t talk.  Your horse wants to be part of the conversation, as well!  If you abruptly ignore him, that’s when you can get macro extinctions with all of the associated problems. The solution is to teach an equine version of “park”.

The bigger lesson is to become more aware of your body language and the attention your animal is giving to it.  If you see him surfing for answers, intercept the process.  Reset the conversation.  Turn it into a teaching opportunity that gives your learner a clearer idea of what is wanted so you can both avoid the frustration of macro extinctions.

Coming Next: Training Games

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 4

Extinction: Big, Small and Accidental

Accidental Extinction
Extinction is not a rarity.  Extinction is going on all the time, but we aren’t always aware of it.  Suppose you’re working with your horse. Perhaps you’re in the early stages of clicker training and the focus of your lesson is “grown-ups are talking”.  You’re walking a few steps, stopping and asking your horse to stand quietly with his nose centered between his shoulders.  He’s been doing well.  You’re almost done with the session when your cell phone rings.   You answer it, taking your attention away from your horse.

Your horse doesn’t realize that you’ve disconnected from him.  You haven’t gone through a teaching process to tell him that the ring tone of your cell phone is a cue for him to take a nap.  While you are on the phone, you will not be engaging with him.  Your horse doesn’t know this, and he doesn’t understand why the flow of your session has so abruptly changed.

He offers you a nice bit of “grown-ups” that meets all the previous criteria, but you aren’t paying any attention.  He doesn’t get clicked.  He tries harder, maybe throwing in some head lowering.  That doesn’t work either so he tries some earlier experiments – some head bobbing, some lip flapping, some gentle nudging, and finally a hard nudge.  That gets your attention, but now you’re thinking what an impatient, muggy horse you have!

Your horse is offering “rude” behavior, bumping, nudging your arm, snuffling around your pockets.  He’s scrolling through the behaviors that he’s tried in the past.  You click something, anything out of desperation.

What you are reinforcing is not just that single moment, but all the scrolling through his repertoire he’s been doing trying to get you to click. You have just locked into your future training all those other unwanted behaviors.  It’s going to be very hard to convince your horse to put into moth balls those unwanted segments. They’ve become an instant part of the whole sequence.  If the current behavior isn’t working, scroll through all your past mugging behavior.  That will get your person’s attention back where it belongs – on you!  That’s what he has just learned through that one desperation click.

Case in point: Jesús showed a video of an experienced trainer teaching a dog to retrieve a dumbbell.  The dog had been successfully delivering the dumbbell to the handler, but now she wanted to raise the criterion and have the dog place it more firmly in her hands. When the dog did not get reinforced for the usual behavior, he dropped the dumbbell, did a quick head bob, and then picked the dumbbell up again. Just as the handler clicked, the dog sat. Oh oops!

She lowered her criteria.  The dog handed her the dumbbell, but now he was also sitting as he did so.  Her hand reaching to take the dumbbell had in one click become a cue to sit.

Mini versus Maxi Extinctions
When the dog started offering behavior to get his handler to click, that’s the extinction process at work.  We don’t tend to think of it in this way.  To develop the behavior we are training we actively want the offering of behavior.  Shaping depends upon differential reinforcement.  The dog offers a head bob, a paw lift, a sit.  We pick and choose among these behaviors.  We think of extinction as something separate, something to be avoided. It’s a long drawn out process with lots of painful emotions associated with it.

Jesús wants us to understand that the process can occur in seconds. When you are shaping, you are working with mini extinctions.  When learners are offering behavior, they are going through a resurgence process.  You don’t have to go hours or even minutes for the extinction process to begin.  It happens in seconds.

My ears perked up the first time I heard Jesús talk about extinction in this way.  I love this concept of mini extinctions.  It fits with microshaping and shaping on a point of contact.  All three are learner-friendly because they make use of thin slicing and create high rates of reinforcement.

We looked at Microshaping in previous sections (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/11/10/).  Kay Laurence stresses that it’s not thin slicing alone that defines microshaping.  It is high rates of reinforcement.  In microshaping Kay wants a success rate of 98% or higher. To get that you have to be very skilled at setting up the training environment.  The learner is not surfing through a long series of behaviors trying to find the one that is “hot”.

Instead the learner is set up to keep giving correct responses. There are very few opportunities for unwanted behaviors to creep in.

Kay contrasts microshaping with what she refers to as sloppy or dirty shaping. Here the handler lets the animal offer behavior after behavior looking for the one that will satisfy the criterion.  I’ve always been uncomfortable watching people freeshape in this clumsy fashion.  They miss so many opportunities to click because they are looking for too much.

Now Jesús has helped me understand why this type of shaping makes me so uncomfortable.  Mini extinctions are part of puzzle solving.  But they are mini. Success happens frequently so the frustration level stays low.  You could in fact see it as a positive motivator.  That little bit of: “is it this or is it that?” leads to a feeling of satisfaction each time you make the right choice.

Contrast that with macro extinction.  Now it’s not “this or that, or this other solution either.”  In fact nothing you try seems to work.  The frustration level rises to a level that takes away the fun. You can see this when you play shaping games with people who are new to training.  It’s supposed to be a fun experience, but when the one doing the clicking doesn’t have a clear plan, it’s anything but.

Training Game Mishaps
Suppose you’re the learner in one of these games.  The person who is acting as your trainer sets a teacup on the table. You get clicked a couple of times for touching the teacup.  Okay, so far so good.  The teacup is clearly a “hot” item, but what are you supposed to do with it?

You try turning the teacup, picking it up, turning it upside down.  Nothing works.  You pretend to drink out of it, you spin it, you hold it delicately with your little finger out, you scoot it over the table. Nothing gets clicked.  Your frustration rises in direct contrast to your willingness to play the game.  You’re in a macro extinction that can be painful to watch.  You go back through the history you have with teacups.  What else can you try?  Nothing is working.  You want to give up or better yet throw the tea cup at your trainer!

This offering of behavior is part of the extinction process.  You are experiencing a resurgence of previously reinforced behaviors.  In the teacup example, when you were no longer reinforced for just touching the teacup, when reinforcement for that behavior stopped, you tried things that you had done with tea cups or tea cuplike objects in the past. But in this case your trainer is a new shaper.  She is outcome oriented, so she is looking for big macro responses. She doesn’t yet know how to set her learner up to give her the small reaction patterns that would lead seamlessly to an end goal.  The result is an unhappy and very frustrated learner.  Both the learner and the trainer go away feeling unsuccessful, and they both vow never to play the training game again!

Micro Extinctions
When someone is shaping and they want to raise the criterion, they stop reinforcing for a behavior that was just successful. The learner goes through a resurgence/regression process.  She begins to offer other behaviors that have worked in the past.  People tend to think of extinction as happening over a long period of time, but Jesús kept emphasizing that it happens over seconds.  Two to three seconds is all you need for a mini extinction. You’ll begin to see the learner offering behavior other than the one that was just being reinforced.

Again, this got my attention.  I don’t like the frustration you see when a puzzle appears to be unsolvable.  Shaping shouldn’t be marked by sharp drop offs in reinforcement.  I don’t want to see macro extinctions.  If reinforcement is that sticky, it’s time to change your lesson plan.  Either put the horse away altogether while you go have a think, or regroup by shifting to another activity.  If you keep waiting, waiting, waiting until your learner finally gets close to the answer, you could lock in some unwanted behavior, and you will almost certainly lock in some unwanted emotions.

What are some good teaching strategies that help you avoid the frustration of macro extinctions, and that lead you instead to the elegant use of micro extinctions?  That’s what we’ll be exploring in the next section.

Coming Next: Using “Hot” Behaviors

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