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

JOY FULL Horses: Animal Emotions

Emotions: To Feel or Not To Feel – That Is The Question
When you begin talking about animal emotions, emotions run high.  The belief systems that have grown up around emotions are truly amazing.  In the past people have denied that animals even feel emotions.  They’ll tell you animals may feel pain, but they aren’t really aware that they feel pain.

Wait a minute.  What are they saying!?  That just made my head spin.

What nonsense.  Clearly these people have never been on a thoroughbred.  Thoroughbreds are wonderfully emotional creatures.  That’s their charm.  They let you know everything they are feeling – the excitement, the fear, the worry, the joy.  They truly “wear their emotions on their sleeve”.  To say that these wonderful horses are not aware of their emotions is nonsense.

With his work on the seven core Affective circuits, Jaak Panksepp has helped bring the discussion of emotions “out of the closet”.  Suddenly talking about emotions is the “in” thing.  If an animal is being “too emotional”, people will tell you you’re clearly doing something wrong in your training.

Wait a minute.  What did you say?  Too emotional.

Words are amazing.  They show us our belief systems.

Too emotional.  What does that mean?

One of the roles of a behavioral analyst is to make us think about the words we use.  Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz would say we are always emotional.  Emotions can be pleasant or unpleasant.  You can feel excited and agitated, calm and serene, but they are all emotions.

The Emotions of Extinction
We can look at a particular process, such as extinction.  Suppose you have been consistently reinforcing your horse for standing on a mat.  He has your undivided attention, so the clicks have been very consistent.  But now you’re interrupted.  Your friend has asked you to watch how her horse is trotting.  She’s not sure if he’s lame.

Your attention shifts away from your own horse.  He’s still standing on the mat, but now he’s not being reinforced.  You’ve just put him into the early stages of an extinction process.

While you’re focusing on your friend’s lame horse, your own horse is going through his most recent repertoire of behaviors.  What is going to work to get you paying attention to him?  He puts his ears forward, he poses, he drops his head, he paws, he nudges your arm.

While he’s presenting those obvious behaviors, he’s also experiencing emotions.  He’s feeling confused, then frustrated, then possibly angry.  If the extinction process continues on long enough, he may begin to feel helpless because nothing is working.  Finally, he’ll become resigned as he gives up and settles into a more subdued state of acceptance.

Extinction’s Emotional Pattern
We see this extinction process as a negative thing because it “produces emotions.”

Jesús reminds us that ALL processes produce emotions.  We tend to think about emotions when they are the size of a five alarm fire, but really we are always “being emotional”. There are emotions associated with ALL behaviors.  Ideally in training we’d like to avoid the five-alarm-fire type. That’s why it is so important to understand these processes.  The sooner you recognize that you are in an extinction process, the sooner you can do something to get out of it.

In extinction the individual (rat, human, horse, etc.) follows a predictable emotional pattern.

First, you see response bursting.

rat-pressing-leverHere’s what that means:  You are observing a rat that has been reinforced consistently for pressing a lever.  Abruptly the lever pressing no longer produces the expected result.

What does the rat do?  It presses the lever with even more energy trying to get it to work. This has been equated with the classic hitting the button over and over again on the vending machine when your coke doesn’t fall out.

In the next stage you get angry.  Now you’re kicking the coke machine.

Next you see regression.  Behaviors which have been useful to you in the past reappear.  What have you seen modeled? What is your past history when things like this fail?

Then there is a pause followed by another period of response bursting. Gradually the cycles become less pronounced.  Each phase becomes smaller both in scale and duration until the individual settles into a calmer stage of acceptance.

Grief
Some psychologists have equated this pattern with the stages people go through when they are grieving.  When you lose a loved one, a job, a home, you are thrown into an extinction process.  Your loved one is gone.  The reinforcers associated with that individual are gone, and your behavior is ineffective.  Nothing you can do will change the reality of your loss.

The stages of grief begin with denial, followed by anger, then depression, bargaining, and finally acceptance and a return to a meaningful life.

It’s interesting to see the comparison people make between the process of grief and the process of extinction. Understanding does bring with it coping skills.  If you understand the process you are in, you can keep things in perspective and find a faster way out of the worst of the emotional tangles.  You can also be more understanding towards others (horse or human) if they are caught up in an extinction or grief process.

One of my Click That Teaches coaches, Cindy Martin wrote:

“Your description of the process people and horses go through, when things don’t work the way they expected, was so accurate and yet so full of empathy. The more I do clicker training, and teach and share clicker training, the more I realize there are some very profound lessons in the process; forgiveness, compassion, consideration. Those occupy a deeper layer, beneath the observation, handling skills, planning and preparation.  Lately, I’ve been describing this type of clicker training, the kind that emphasizes details, and consideration for the learner, as ‘thoughtful clicker training.’”

When people ask Kay Laurence how she trained a particular behavior, the answer she often gives is: thoughtfully.  As we gain more of an understanding of this work, we converge along similar paths.  They all lead in the same direction – toward an ever deepening appreciation of others – whatever the species.

Coming Next: Understanding Extinction to Master 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 Part 3: How Clicker Trainers Play

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

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

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

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

celebrity-reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: Resurgence and Regression

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

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

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

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

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: How Clicker Trainers Play

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

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 2: Base Behaviors

Base Behaviors
In the previous post I introduced you to Kay Laurence’s definition of microshaping.  Often when people are freeshaping behavior, it is very hit or miss training.  They are too macro in their shaping plan, resulting in long dry spells between clicks.

Microshaping takes a very different approach.  In microshaping you are using very small steps, clear criterion, and well thought out training plans to create a success rate of 98% or better.  Base behaviors help to create this high degree of success.

A base behavior is similar to the tap root behavior I described earlier.  (Refer to: Cues Evolve: Part 2 published Sept. 1, 2016 https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/01/) Returning to these behaviors over and over again creates a deep history of reinforcement and helps builds the learner’s confidence.

The base behavior is just what the name implies.  It is a behavior you keep returning to that serves as the end of one movement cycle and the starting point for the next.  Kay will often click as the dog returns to the base behavior, but she will toss the treat out away from the dog.  The dog runs to get the treat and then returns promptly back to the base behavior for another click.  If you’re clever, – and Kay is – you can build a huge repertoire of reaction patterns using the concept of base behaviors.

A base behavior might be a dog coming to a balanced stop with all four feet on a platform.  The dog returns to the platform because he knows he will get clicked.  As he lands on the platform, Kay clicks and tosses the treat so the dog must leave the platform to get it.  As soon as he gets the treat, the dog returns to the platform to get clicked again.

Kay tosses the treat out very strategically.  The path the dog takes to get back to the platform produces the behavior Kay wants.  That might be trotting around a cone to get back to the platform.  Kay gradually moves the cone out to the side.  The dog could by-pass the cone and go straight to the mat, but he’s learning that going out in a wide arc around the cone is part of the behavior.

Another function for base behaviors is they let you bring your learner into stillness so you can draw his attention to a small muscle movement. Kay offers a great example of how this works.  Suppose you want to teach your dog to wag his tail on cue.  When he’s with you, tail wagging is almost always present, so it may be hard for him to realize that’s what he’s being clicked for.  The solution: have your dog lie flat on his side.  This is your base position.  The rest of your dog is still.  Only his tail is moving.  As you click each time his tail lifts up off the floor, he’ll begin to realize that’s the desired behavior.

Grown-ups and standing on a mat are two great base behaviors we use with the horses.  Both keep the feet still so you can focus on ears forward, the pilates pose, or any other muscle pattern you may be working on.
robin-on-mat-1a
Tossing Treats
With horses we don’t generally toss treats the way you can with dogs.  It isn’t that horses aren’t capable of tracking a thrown treat.  It’s more that we don’t usually work on the kinds of surfaces that we want horses eating off of.  Tossing a treat out into a sand footing raises concerns about sand colics.  And the trouble with tossing a treat out into grass doesn’t need explaining.

Kay uses tossed treats to tremendous advantage when she’s working with her dogs.  Suppose she wants to teach her dog to back up.  She’ll teach this using a mat.  Once again, coming to a balanced stop with all four feet on the mat is the base behavior.  She clicks, and then tosses the treat out in front of the mat so he has to leave the mat to get to it.

Once he’s got his treat, the dog is going to return to the base behavior.  Initially the food is tossed just a step or two away from the mat so taking a step back is the easiest way to return to the mat.  Click.  The food is tossed out a step or two from the mat and the cycle repeats.  The behavior Kay wants is backing.  She get this through the strategic use of treats and the return to the base behavior of stopping with all four feet on the mat.

Once the dog is consistently taking a step or two back to get the mat, Kay will toss the treat a little further away.  Note, the change she makes is in the distance she tosses the treat.  She doesn’t move the mat.  The dog knows where it is.  He’s learning how to return to it from increasingly greater distances and varied directions.  This creates a very confident backer.

Precision
A 98% success rate depends upon precise criteria.

So picture this.  Kay has just tossed a treat out in front of her dog.  It’s a short toss.  He only has to go a step or two forward to reach the food.  Returning to the mat means backing up a similar number of steps.

Many of us would watch the front feet, and as soon as they were both on the mat, we would click.  And we would be wrong.

We would be clicking an outcome not a behavior.  The outcome is the dog standing with all four feet on the mat.

The behavior Kay looks for is the right front steps back onto the mat, followed by the left front stepping back onto the mat – click.  That’s precision training.

What is the difference?  This level of precision means the same behavior is consistently being marked.  In the outcome driven view of the world the dog might back right front, left front this time; followed by left front, right front the next; followed by a half step forward, then right front, left front.  Those are three different approaches to the mat.  Precision training creates clean, precise results.

Dynamic Food Delivery
We may not be able to toss treats to our horses in the same way that Kay uses them with her dogs, but we can certainly put the concept of strategic treat delivery to work and use it to our advantage.  When I’m teaching backing, I turn and walk with my horse as he backs up.  After I click, I’ll turn forward and walk as I get the treat from my pocket.  I move my feet WHILE I am getting the treat out of my pocket.

I’ll end up exactly where we started when I initiated the backing.  This resets the whole behavior so I can repeat that unit over and over again until it is clean and fluid.  Then I’ll follow the mantra of loopy training: when a loop is clean, you get to move on.  Not only do you get to move on, you should move on.

I’m not asking the horse to back up, click and treat, and then back up again without going forward.  That may seem as though it’s the same behavior – backing. To the horse each additional step back is a step into unknown territory.  Is he about to step into a hole or onto unstable footing?  Is he getting too close to the electric fence or the other horses?  Each step presents a new question which means each step is a completely new behavior.

Resetting via the food delivery means I can ask for the same step over and over again, creating a consistent response for this simple reaction pattern.  I’m not being outcome driven – backing through a specific pattern.  Instead I’m focused on the reaction pattern that will create for me the ability to ask for backing at any time, for any number of desired steps, in any direction and in good balance.

Training via reaction patterns means I can be precise in my criteria.  It isn’t any step back I am looking for.   It is this foot stepping back.  And more than that, I will be watching how the horse lifts his foot.  I’ll time my click so I’m marking the upward lift of the foot, not the part of each step where his foot is returning to the ground.  I will do this until my loop is clean.  At that point it will be time to change criteria and move on to an expanded version of this movement cycle.

The video illustrates how to use strategic food delivery in combination with a request to back.  It also illustrates the difference between training for reaction patterns versus outcome.  The overall function of this set-up is to teach my horse to back in a square.  If I were training with that narrow goal in my sights, I would ask my horse to continue backing around the perimeter of the square.  Instead I build the underlying reaction pattern that will make this an easy outcome to achieve.

Precision and Play Go Together
Precision training creates precision results.

This sounds hard.  It sounds as though you have to really be focused and thinking every second.  Clicker training is supposed to be FUN! How can you play if you have to be thinking every second about which foot is moving and what part of the arc to click in?

Remember that convenience store where all the lottery tickets are printed with winning numbers?  You look at your numbers and you’ve won!  Hurray!  You don’t have to think about what your lucky number is.  You don’t have to wonder if your non random numbers look random enough.  You can choose the same set of numbers over and over again.  Each time you’ve got a winner!  Easy!

Your horse steps back onto his mat – left front, right front.  You’ve won!

Hand him the food a step or two forward.

He steps back – left front, right front.
You’ve won again!

This is easy.  This is child’s play!

Learn to set up behavior, and it truly does become playful because laughter thrives on success.  Laughter dies away when there’s confusion.  When the clicks are few and far between, when your learner decides he’d rather go sniff the nearest manure pile than interact with you, that’s when play disappears.

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

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro: Patterns

P.S. To learn more about Kay Laurence’s training visit: learningaboutdogs.com

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

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 1 – The Many Forms of Micro

This begins Part 3 of JOY FULL Horses.  I ended Part 1 by posing the question: what are ten things you would want someone who is new to clicker training to understand about cues?  I asked you to make your own list.   In Part 2, unit by unit, I shared my answer to this question.  How did my list match up with yours?

The exploration of cues took us on quite a journey.  In any journey, once you’ve taken in the overall look of a landscape, you can begin to focus in on the finer details.  That’s what we’ll be doing in Part 3.  We’re going Micro.

The Many Forms of Micro

monty-with-miniWhy Micro
Going Micro doesn’t mean we’re all going to take up training miniature horses.  Going Micro refers to the level of focus we bring to the training.

At first blush becoming more detail-oriented would seem to be anti-play.  It’s easy to visualize a horse cantering through an agility-style obstacle course and think of that as play.

We tend to be very goal oriented.  We see someone “playing” tennis, and we think that individual is having fun.  But when that individual is a professional tennis player who spent his childhood being forced to practice for hours at a time every day, there is nothing playful in the behavior.  It is work, work, and more work.  Read Andre Agassi’s autobiography,  Open, to discover how far from Play this form of forced practice can take you.

HOW something has been taught is much more important than WHAT the behavior is.  A horse trotting through a series of obstacles may be doing so because he loves the game.  Or he may be trying hard to avoid the sharp lash of his trainer’s whip.  In this section we’re going to look at what it means to go MICRO and how that can lead directly to a creative Play state for both the handler and the horse.

MicroShaping
Kay Laurence coined the term MicroShaping.  For her it refers to a very specific form of training.  The conversation I was having with Poco, the ear-shy horse you met at the end of Part 2, depended upon my being able to ask small questions.  In clicker training we often call this thin slicing.

Kay Laurence uses this term in her training, but when Kay talks about microshaping, she doesn’t just mean breaking the training down into super small steps.  She means setting the training up so the success rate is 98% or higher.

Yes, you read that correctly.  98%.

If you want a 98% success rate, you need a well thought out training plan.  You aren’t waiting, waiting, waiting, hoping that your horse will give you something you want.  You are setting up the training environment in such a way that, of course, he presents clickable moment after clickable moment.

It also means you are looking for underlying reaction patterns – not the final outcome behavior.

Outcome Versus Reaction Pattern
When you focus on reaction patterns versus outcome, what difference does it make to your training?

If you want your horse to back up in a square, you won’t simply ask your horse to back up, and then back up some more until you have somehow gotten him around the pattern. (Or more likely trapped in a corner.)  That’s being goal driven.

If you are training reaction patterns, you’ll view backing as a movement cycle. Movement cycles are just that.  They don’t have a linear beginning, middle and end.  Rather the behaviors within the cycle loop back to the beginning point so the whole pattern can occur again.  A cycle is not complete until the individual is in position to repeat the entire pattern.  Sitting in a chair from a standing position isn’t the complete movement cycle.  You’re only half way there.  The person needs to stand up again, returning him to a position from which he can sit down.  Only then can he begin the next loop in the cycle.

So with backing you’ll begin with a very small unit.  You’ll ask your horse to shift his weight slightly back.  Click.  You’ll feed so that he’s brought forward again.  In this way you can keep repeating this small unit.  You will know you can expand to the next criterion when it is already occurring on a consistent basis.  You’ll end up with a clean, finished behavior because you trained clean throughout.

It’s easy to read fast through this last paragraph and miss completely the significance of what I am saying.  Suppose you are reinforcing your horse for standing beside you in the stationary behavior of the “grown-ups are talking”.  You want him to keep his head balanced evenly between his shoulders.  Check, he’s doing that consistently.

Behavior varies.  Doing the same exact thing over and over again just doesn’t happen.  Even Olympic athletes, as consistent as they are, show some slight variability performance to performance.  So, while your horse is standing beside you, your eye may be caught by the movement of his ear flicking forward.  He may have been listening to the sounds of horses moving in a paddock behind him, and that’s why his ears were back.  Now something has caught his attention in front of him, and his ear flicks forward to listen.  You’ve been focused on his head position.  Now that that overall position is becoming consistent, your attention can broaden out to include the flick of his ears.

If his ears were always back, it would be hard to make that the next criterion.   If a behavior isn’t happening at all, waiting for some piece of it to pop out can take your learner straight into the frustration of an extinction process.  Your learner will begin throwing behaviors at you trying to get you to click.  One of those behaviors just might be a flick of an ear, but it’s a messy process.  You’re more likely to get pinned ears as he becomes increasingly frustrated trying to figure out what you want.  Frustration can lead to a whole lot of behaviors you don’t want. They’ll become unwanted guests attaching themselves at odd times to the desired behavior.

Instead of this form of hit or miss shaping, you’ll wait until the behavior begins to pop out as you consistently reinforce your current criterion.  If the new behavior begins to happen often enough for you to notice it, then it is likely that it will happen again fairly soon.  So even if you go a tiny bit down the extinction road by withholding your click as the previous criterion occurs, your learner will very quickly land on the right answer.  Click then treat.  He won’t feel the frustration of an unsolvable puzzle.  Instead he’ll experience the pleasure of another successful answer.

Waiting until the next shift in criterion is already occurring removes a lot of training frustration for everyone – horse and handler alike.  Once you get the hang of this approach, you’ll begin to understand what it means to train via reaction patterns.  With that shift you’ll also discover that you are reaching your overall training goals faster.

Kay Laurence has a great video example illustrating the difference between training that is goal driven versus training for reaction patterns.  The final outcome that she is working towards is having her dog put his foot up on a small box.  In the goal-driven example, Kay waits to click until her dog lifts his paw onto the box.  Her dog doesn’t understand that the box is important or that she wants him to put his paw on it, so even though he has received a click for approximating that behavior, he’s not sure what he should do next.

In the video Kay trains in sixty second units.   During his first session, he presents many behaviors.  He looks around, he noses the box, he lifts his other foot, he paws at the box, he walks sideways, he backs up, etc..  At the end of the sixty seconds the number of behaviors he’s offered versus the number that were clicked puts him down around a 20% success rate.  But you don’t need to do the math to know that he’s a confused dog who isn’t having much fun.  You just have to watch the clip to see that he’s teetering on the brink of shutting down altogether and going off to have a nap.

In the second video the box is still there, but now Kay is looking for something very different.  In order for the dog to put his front foot up on the box, he first has to lift his leg up.  So she is clicking for any shift of balance through his shoulder that brings his foot up off the ground.

This transforms the training.  Suddenly the dog is getting click after click.  It’s as though you’ve walked into a convenience store to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket only to discover that every card is printed with the winning numbers!  I would eagerly buy that kind of lottery ticket.  I like knowing I’m going to win, and so do our animals.

In this second video clip instead of looking lost, the dog is fully engaged.  Very quickly he’s consistently lifting his paw.  So now it’s an easy step to move the box so it’s in the path of the paw lift.  Click, treat – you have your outcome behavior.

The dog didn’t begin by putting his paw on the box.  Kay wasn’t waiting, hoping he would do something, anything she could click.  He was set up to succeed at a 98% or higher success rate.

An important element in creating this kind of training success is the use of base behaviors.  I’ll define what that means and give some training examples in the next section.

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro: Base 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

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