Do It Differently

It was bound to happen.  At the start of this year I said every month this year I was going to use this blog to write a thank you to some of the many people who helped bring clicker training into the horse community.  This is my way of marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for Your Horse”.  Sometimes it was just by a whisker, but I managed to get this done every month – except August.  I will blame the extreme heat that slowed me down to a snail’s pace.

I can’t blame my travel schedule because I travel every month.  August was no exception.  I was out in Washington State at Ken Ramirez’s Ranch for his “Animal Training for Professionals” course.  For twenty years he taught this as a semester long course at the University of Illinois.  He also taught a concentrated week-long version of the course at the Shedd Aquarium.  Most of the time is spent in the classroom but twice a day students get to have some animal time.  For the week-long course at the Shedd attendees got to watch the trainers working with animals.  At the Ranch attendees get hands-on experience working with goats, miniature donkeys and alpacas.

IMG_5425 Ken Ramirez with alpacas

Ken Ramirez with his alpacas

For this course I got to be Ken’s assistant which was a great fun, especially since most of the training sessions involved his herd of dairy goats.  I enjoyed very much seeing what Ken was teaching his herd of clicker-trained goats – what was a match up with what I was teaching my goats and what were some good ideas to take back to them?  It was also very interesting to see how Ken structured the course.  What did he put in his foundation?  What stair steps did he use to take people into the more advanced aspects of training?

Ken Ramirez teaching husbandry behaviorsOn the third day Ken focused on husbandry, especially as it relates to medical care.  He is uniquely qualified to speak on this subject.  Both at the Shedd and through his consulting work, he has overseen the teaching of cooperative husbandry procedures not just to more animals than most of us will ever handle in a lifetime, but to more species as well.

Ken’s basic strategy can be summed up in a very simple phrase: do it differently.  Every day in your training you should be practicing some form of husbandry skills, but the key to success is don’t try to mimic a procedure someone else is going to be doing.  Your touch is going to be different, so even if you try to make everything the same as the real thing – you won’t succeed.  And besides, you don’t know what you are preparing your animal for.  Is it to stand quietly while you doctor a wire cut on your horse’s leg, or to put eye drops into an infected eye?  We don’t have crystal balls that can tell us what medical procedures our horses will need to tolerate.  X-rays might be standard, and certainly shots, but beyond that what are you preparing your animal for?

So Ken says do it differently.  Get your animal accustomed not just to being touched all over his body, but to being touched in different ways.

Do it differently also applies to getting an animal comfortable with changes in the environment.  Every day introduce some change, something different.  You aren’t trying to scare your horse.  You just want him to get used to the idea that change happens and it’s nothing to worry about.

Do it differently is a great life metaphor.  Sometimes we need to follow the rules, to do things the way “they have always been done” because the way they have always been done works.  The motto here would be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But even if it “ain’t broke”, can it be better?  Are we stuck in a rut just mindlessly copying what has been done before?  Horses have been trained for thousands of years.  On the surface the training that I learned from experienced horse trainers didn’t appear to be broken.  They could get on and ride their horses.  They could make them jump and cross scary streams.  They could make them go where they wanted.

“Make” was the operant word.  The end result could be very appealing, but if you scratched too far below the surface, you discovered a very broken system.  It was littered with discarded horses and far too many frightened would-be riders.  Something needed to change.

I was very lucky to be learning about horse training at a time when two very important change makers were shaking up the horse world.  One was Sally Swift who brought the Alexander technique into the horse world and changed the way riding was taught in the United States. Sally came regularly into my area so I was very fortunate to have been able to attend many of her workshops.

The other change maker was Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of T.E.A.M. training (Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method).  Through Linda the horse world was introduced to the Feldenkrais work.  Early on I encountered T.E.A.M. training through a magazine article.  In it Linda described the body work she had developed, including the T.E.A.M. circles.

Peregrine’s mother was a wobbler.  She had a spinal cord injury that impaired her balance and made her very body defensive.  When she was a yearling, if I tried to touch her anywhere, I was met with gnashing teeth and pinned ears.  Her whole body couldn’t hurt, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong because she wouldn’t let me in to ask questions.

I was reading everything and anything related to horses, and I was eager to learn.  These funny T.E.A.M. circles Linda was describing sounded intriguing.  I tried them on my mare and her world changed.  In minutes her eyes had grown soft.  Her head was drooping.  She was letting me in all over her body – except in one area around her right shoulder.  That was where the pain was.  For the first time she could relax enough to let me know what was wrong.

Within a few weeks I was on an airplane headed to the mid-west to attend a workshop Linda was giving.  I had to learn more!

That was the first of my many travels for horses.  At first I was traveling to learn, and then I was traveling to teach (which really means to learn even more!)

At one of the T.E.A.M. workshops Linda was letting us experience for ourselves the T.E.A.M. body work.  She let me feel one version of the T.E.A.M. circles, and then she did it another way.  She had her hand on my back so I couldn’t see what she was doing, but, oh my goodness!  It felt so very different!

I turned to face her.  “What did you do!?”

Her answer meant nothing to me.  “I breathed up through my feet.”

Now I’ve been trained in the biological sciences.  I’ve studied anatomy and physiology.  I’ve done dissections.  I know we breathe through our lungs, not our feet.  And beside, I had hay fever when I was little.  I was constantly congested.  Even breathing through my lungs felt like a foreign notion.  My breath got clogged somewhere at the top of my chest.

But I knew that breathing up from her feet meant something to Linda, so I went in search of the translation to that phrase.  One of the teachers I found lived in my area. She had a horse with a hard-to-diagnose lameness.  She contacted me to see if I could help her with him.  It turns out that the lateral work I was learning helped enormously.  When he carried himself in good balance, there was no sign of the lameness.

His owner, Marge Cartwright, was an Alexander practitioner, and she had also studied the Feldenkrais work.  So we ended up doing trades.  I worked with her horse to help him to be sounder, and she worked with me. Overtime I learned not only what it means to breath up through my feet, but to breathe up from the ground.  Learning that changed how horses relate to me.  It isn’t magic.  It isn’t some mystical gift of a horse whisperer.  It is simply the systematic unblocking of tension.  One metaphor that I love is the shining of a light on the dark places.  These are the places where movement become stuck, and we hide from ourselves the reasons for the stiffness.  This image comes via Anita Schnee, a Feldenkrais practitioner and regular attendee at the clinics I give at Cindy Martin’s farm near Fayetteville Arkansas.

The work Marge shared with me stands as one of the central pillars of what I teach today.  It is woven into every lesson both the ones that I give directly to horses and the lessons that I teach to their handlers.  Unless you live in my area and had the good fortune to learn from Marge, you won’t know her name.  But I owe her a huge thank you for enriching my life beyond measure.  Her work is woven into what I mean by equine clicker training.  If you have participated in a body awareness lesson at one of my clinics, you have been the direct beneficiary of her work. If you have thought about your own balance as you feed your horse a treat, that’s Marge’s influence again.  If you are learning about school figures – circles, lateral work, diagonals, etc. – by walking them without your horse, Marge has a hand in that, as well.

An awareness of balance, no much more than that – an appreciation for balance, an understanding that balance and soundness go hand-in-hand is something that I explored with Marge.

Clicker training for horses might have been little more than the teaching of tricks if it weren’t for this fascination and appreciation for balance.  Instead clicker training is a complex, wonderfully rich and diverse training system that can meet all needs. It includes the fun of tricks, but it doesn’t stop there.  The central core, the pillar that supports everything else is balance.

So thank you Marge for sharing your work so generously.  When you suggested we trade services, I’m sure you had no idea the ripple you were about to set into motion.  You helped make clicker training so much more than simply the pairing of a marker signal with treats.  What we teach and how we teach have become woven together to create a magnificent whole new way of doing things.  We dared to to it differently and look what grew out of it!

Thank you!

Giving The Ball A Push

2018 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  I am celebrating by writing thank yous each month to people who helped bring clicker training into the horse world.

Are you trying to guess who it’s going to be this month?  Anyone who has followed my work knows the stories.  You’ve met the horses through my books and DVDs. Who will I single out this time?

I could turn it into a guessing game.  This person has appeared in the game show: “What’s my line?”.  Does that help?  Maybe not.  But if I tell you that the panelists correctly guessed that she was a dolphin trainer, now some of you will know who I’m talking about.  July’s tribute belongs to Karen Pryor.

So many of us were first introduced to clicker training through Karen’s book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog”.  I discovered her book through a friend who bred and trained Irish wolf hounds.  We were having lunch together (with one of her wolf hounds literally looking over my shoulder).  Needless to say, we were talking about training.  I’ve forgotten the exact subject, but I do remember my friend saying, “But of course, you’ve read “Don’t Shoot the Dog”.

Don't Shoot the Dog

She said it in a tone that implied that of course I had.  How could I not?  But in 1993 I had never even heard of “Don’t Shoot the Dog”.  Perhaps if Karen’s publishers had called it “Don’t Shoot the Horse”, the horse world would have been exploring clicker training ahead of the dog world.  We’ll never know.  But in any event, I tracked down a copy of “Don’t Shoot the Dog” and read it with great interest.

Those of you are familiar with Karen’s book know that it is not a training book per se.  Karen was writing about learning theory, a subject which can sound very dry and off-putting.  “Don’t Shoot the Dog” is anything but.  You read it, nodding your head in agreement.  “That’s why that horse, that dog, that person responded in that way.  It all makes so much sense!  How could they do anything else.”

When I read the chapter on punishment, I remember thinking, “The horse world needs to know about this.”  The horse world needs to understand that when you use punishment, there is ALWAYS fallout.  You always get other unintended, unwanted consequences.  Punishment doesn’t work with laser-fine precision.  You may shut down the behavior you’re after, but the effect spreads out and creates negative consequences and a general dampening down of behavior.

Use it often, and you will get what in the horse world is often called a “well behaved” horse, meaning a shut down horse.  Punishment stops behavior.  That’s the definition of punishment (versus reinforcement).  When you use reinforcement (plus or minus), the behavior you’re focusing on increases.

When you use punishment, the behavior decreases.  So you may punish biting.  Strike hard enough, fast enough, the biting may indeed stop – for the moment.  But punishment isn’t a teaching tool.  It doesn’t tell the horse what TO DO to avoid the unwanted consequence.  However, it is reinforcing for the punisher.  That’s what makes it such a slippery slope.  It may not get the results that you’re after, but in the moment, oh it can feel so good.

When skilled positive reinforcement trainers talk about the four quadrants meaning positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment, they don’t take the use of punishment completely off the table.  They recognize that under the right conditions punishment – applied well – may be a necessary and correct choice.

In many of her presentations Dr. Susan Friedman talks about the hierarchy of behavior-change procedures.

 

Susan Friedman's hierarchy

You begin with the least intrusive interventions.  You begin by exploring medical reasons for the behavior, then you move to changing the environment, and positive reinforcement procedures.  Only after many steps and pausing always to consider if there might be other alternatives, would you consider the more intrusive methods and sitting last as a possibility would be punishment.  And before people puff themselves up and say – I would never use punishment, remember Dr Friedman spent much of her career working with children with major behavioral problems that included self-injurious behavior.  So what would you do with a child who is trying to gouge her eyes out?  Is punishment of that behavior always off the table?

Punishment is certainly not where you begin, but there may be extreme situations where it is where you end up.  If a fire were fast approaching, and you needed to load a reluctant horse on a trailer NOW or leave him behind, would you resort to punishment?  Until you’re faced with that situation, it’s an open question.

Ken Ramirez, another trainer I greatly admire, doesn’t take punishment off the table either.  However, when he was overseeing the training program at the Shedd Aquarium, the novice trainers were only allowed to use positive reinforcement.  They could reinforce behaviors that they liked, but they had to be non-reactive to behaviors they didn’t like.  Only when they were more skilled could they begin to use more advanced techniques.  In his talks on this subject Ken explains why he puts these limits on his young trainers.  At some point early in their career they will come to him, asking for permission to move up the hierarchy.

“Ken,” they will say, “I could so easily solve this problem we’re having with this animal if only you would let me use this procedure that I’ve read about.”  Ken won’t let them.  He wants them to become very experienced with the basics.  If you let them begin to add in other techniques too soon, they really never learn how to be skilled and creative with the basic tools.  They jump the queue too fast and head for more intrusive techniques.

As they become more skilled, he lets them expand into the rest of the hierarchy.  His senior trainers can use any technique, including punishment, that they deem to be appropriate.  But he knows that these trainers have the experience and the skill to apply punishment well, meaning with good timing and at the right intensity to create the desired effect and minimize the fallout.  He also knows that they are so skilled and experienced that they don’t need to use punishment.  They will find other alternatives.

The odd thing in the horse world is we flip things upside down.  We reach first for punishment.  The horse bites – we strike.  It’s the horse’s fault.  And if he bites again, we’ll hit him harder.  We don’t look first for medical conditions.  Maybe that horse is full of ulcers.  Treat the ulcers and his reason for biting will go away.  We don’t rearrange the environment.  Use protective contact – put a barrier between you and the horse so he can’t bite you, and then use positive reinforcement to teach him alternatives to biting.

Instead we give six year old children riding crops (often pink riding crops with pretty sparkles), and we tell her to hit her pony harder.  We give punishment to the least experienced, most novice riders.  That’s completely upside down.  No wonder what we get back are so many sad stories, so many bad endings for both people and horses.

When I said the horse world needs to understand what Karen was saying about punishment in “Don’t Shoot The Dog”, I’ve always though some genie of the universe heard that.  “Got one! She’ll do.”  I was sent the clicker training bug.  More than that, that genie sat on my shoulder and kept urging me to write about what I was experiencing with my horses.  Lots of people, including Karen Pryor, had used clicker training with their horses before I ever went out to the barn with clicker in hand.  I was by no means the first person who ever used it with a horse.  But they didn’t disappear into their computers to write about it.  That good genie on my shoulder made sure that I did.

“Don’t Shoot the Dog” sparked my interest.  I wanted to know more about clicker training.  I read “Lads Before The Wind”,  Karen’s chronicle of the founding of Sea Life Park and the development of the first dolphin shows.  She shared with us the many training puzzles that had to be solved in order to figure out how to train dolphins.  Old-style circus training wasn’t the answer.  She turned to science and the work that was coming out of B.F. Skinner’s lab.

“Lads Before The Wind” took me a step closer.  I wanted to know more about training with a marker signal.

My friend brought me a copy of a magazine article she thought I’d find interesting.  I have no idea what the article was about.  I’m not even sure that I read it, but down in the left hand corner, in very small print, was a tiny ad for two of Karen Pryor’s early VHS videos.  I sent away for both.

The first one was recorded at a seminar that Karen gave with Gary Wilkes to a group of dog trainers.  Gary was the canine trainer who approached Karen with the question: “Do you think clicker training would work with dogs?”

In a conversation I had years ago with Karen, she said she had always had dogs, but they weren’t really trained, not like she had trained the dolphins.  They were just around.  But when Gary wondered if clicker training would work with them, Karen thought, of course!  Why not!  So she and Gary teamed up to give a series of seminars to dog trainers, and we all know what grew out of that for the dog world.

The clip from that seminar that intrigued me and sent me out to the barn to try clicker training my horse showed Gary training a twelve week old mastiff puppy to sit and then to lie down – all without touching the puppy.  These days that’s become so the norm, it wouldn’t get a second look, but in 1993 the dog training I had seen involved leash pops and pushing on the puppy to make it sit.  I was intrigued by the ease with which Gary got this puppy to lie down and stay down.

I was even more intrigued by a clip that was on the second video.  It featured Gary Priest, the Director of Training at the San Diego Zoo.  Gary talking about an African bull elephant named Chico.  Chico had tried to attack his keepers on several occasions so the decision had been made that no one could go into his enclosure with him.  So for ten years Chico had gone without foot care.  At that time the farrier literally got underneath the elephant to trim the front feet.  Gary showed a video of a farrier standing under the elephants belly to trim a foot.  “One wrong move from the elephant,” Gary says in the background – point taken.

So they had to come up with a different approach for Chico.  Gary decided to try clicker training.  They built several small openings in the gate to Chico’s enclosure.  Then they used targeting to bring him up to the enclosure gate.  It took many months, but they finally taught him to put his foot through the opening and to rest it on a metal stirrup bar for cleaning.

The video showed the keepers using targeting to guide Chico to turn around so his hindquarters were to the gate.  Then following a smaller target, Chico lifted his hind foot through the opening for his first trim in ten years.

Gary says in the voice over:  “I can’t impress upon you enough how aggressive this elephant was, but he’s standing here quietly all for the social attention and the bucket of food treats.”

I know how all too many horses even today get handled when they refuse to pick up their feet.  With some trainers, sadly, out come the lip chains, the hobbles, and three men and a boy to hold the horse down, all to force compliance.  We in the horse world do indeed have a lot to learn.

Those two videos gave me what I needed to get started.  I’ve told this part of the story many times.  My thoroughbred, Peregrine, was laid up with hoof abscesses in both front feet.  I wanted to keep him mentally engaged during what was likely to be a long recovery.  What a perfect time to give clicker training a try.  I went out to the barn with treats and a clicker.

In “Lads Before the Wind” Karen had talked about charging the clicker.  With the dolphins you blew a whistle then tossed a fish, blew a whistle then tossed a fish – until you saw the dolphins begin to look for the fish when they heard the whistle.   Now you could begin to make the blowing of the whistle contingent on a specific behavior.  For example, now the dolphin has to swim in the direction of a hoop suspended in the water.  Swim towards the hoop, and wonders of wonders, you can make the humans blow the whistle and throw you a fish.  That’s a powerful discovery.  Suddenly the animal feels in control.

I tried charging the clicker.  I clicked and treated, clicked and treated.  Peregrine showed no signs that he was connecting the click to the treat.  I remember thinking: “If this is going to take a long time, I’m not interested.”

I decided to try targeting.  There was an old dressage whip propped against the corner of the barn.  That would do.  I held it out. Peregrine sniffed it.  Click, treat.  I held it out again, same thing.  The ball was rolling.

I couldn’t do much more than ask him to target.  His feet hurt too much to take more than a step or two, but as he began to recover, I could ask for more.  I started to reshape all the things I had taught him over the years, everything from basic husbandry skills to the classical work in-hand I was learning.  When I started riding him seven weeks later, he was further along in his training than he had been before he was laid up.

Hmm.  Long lay-ups aren’t supposed to work that way, especially not with a thoroughbred.  Normally, as they recover, you go through a rough patch where they’re feeling very cooped up and your job is to convince them to walk not rear during hand walking.  With Peregrine there was no rough patch.  And he was understanding what I was asking of him so much better that he did before the lay-up.

The good genie that sat on my shoulder had picked well.  It was no accident that clicker training gained such a strong toe hold with me.  I’ve known so many people who gave clicker training a try, loved their horse’s response to the initial targeting, and then got stuck.  What do you do with it?  For them ground work meant lunging – and often lunging badly.  Ugh.  We just want to ride!

I wanted to ride as well, but I also loved ground work.  I had raised all my horses, so ground work to me meant so much more than lunging.   It meant teaching a young horse all the skills it would need to get along with people.  It meant learning how to stand quietly for haltering, grooming, foot care, medical procedures, saddling, etc..  It meant learning to lead and from that core foundation, learning about balance through the classical work in-hand and all the performance doors that opened up.  It meant expanding their world by introducing distractions and new environments.   The list went on and on.  And finally it meant connecting the ground work into riding.  Riding truly is just ground work where you get to sit down.

So as Peregrine began to recover from his abscesses, I had a lot to play with.  My training was already structured around systematic small steps.  It was easy to add in the click and a treat.  At first, you could say that all I was doing was just sugar coating same-old same old.  I would ask in the way I knew and then click and treat correct responses.  But even just that first step into clicker training was producing great results.  And when I explored targeting and free shaping – WOW! – was that ever fun!

I was liking this clicker training!  So I began to share it with my clients.  Together we figured out how to apply it to horses.  So fast forward three years to July of 1996.  I had written a series of articles that I wanted to put up on the internet.  I had built a web site, but I wasn’t sure if I could use the term clicker training.  Gary Wilkes had trademarked “Click and Treat” and the llama trainer, Jim Logan, had trademarked “Click and Reward”.  It was frustrating.  If people kept trademarking all these phrases, pretty soon there would be no way to refer to the training.

So I emailed Karen.  I introduced myself and sent her the articles I wanted to publish on my web site.  I needed to know if she had trademarked clicker training.  Could I use the term in my articles?

Twenty-four hours later I received an email back from Karen.  She had read my articles.  Would I like to write a book about clicker training horses for her publishing company?

You know the answer.  Karen gave the “ball” a huge push down the hill.  So thank you Karen.  Thank you for that initial support.  For me personally it was a great pleasure working with you on the editing of that book.  And over the past twenty years I have treasured our continued friendship.

At one of the early Clicker Expos when you were introducing the faculty, when you got to me, you began by talking about conventional horse training.  You described it as what it is – organized horse abuse.  Wow.  To be brave enough, bold enough to say it out loud.  It was shocking to hear, but so true.  You understood the horse world.  You knew about the wide-spread use of punishment.  You knew the importance of bringing positive reinforcement into this community.

You couldn’t be everywhere, doing everything yourself, but when you asked if I wanted to write a book, you gave the clicker training ball a huge push.  Twenty years later, the book we created together is still helping horse people to find alternatives.  And the horse world is changing!

Thank you Karen.

Goat Diaries Day 10: Distractions!

Distractions

I’ve been distracted by several projects this week so I am a bit behind getting these Goat Diary reports posted.  That seems very appropriate somehow because today’s post is about distractions!

In one of his Clicker Expo presentations Ken Ramirez talks about the importance of introducing distractions into the environment.  When he was the Director of Training at the Shedd Aquarium, he instructed his trainers to make changes every day to the training environment.  He wanted the dolphins and belugas that were used in the public demos to be so comfortable with change that if a tornado ripped the roof off the Aquarium, they would just think – “Oh look what our trainers have done for us today”.

I have always loved that image.  It creates a high standard of creativity and  consistent good training that is worth aspiring to.  With the goats at this point in their training it was easy to introduce change – essentially everything I did with them was new.  I wasn’t yet thinking about adding distractions as an active strategy.  I was starting with fearful animals so I knew I had a long way to go before they would be comfortable in a changing environment.  In their evening session I was about to discover just how easily something that I didn’t consider a distraction at all could completely derail their eagerness for training.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! – And People, Too!  The July Goat Diaries: 7/14/17 7 pm session

In a previous post I shared with you what a happy goat looks like (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/26/).  I had taken E and P into the arena and watched with delight as they turned the mounting block into a playground.  I wanted to share the fun with Ann.  She can’t see their antics, but she can certainly hear the laughter in their feet as they run across the mounting block.

Ann came in the evening to visit with Fengur.  While she was playing with him, I sat with the goats.  When the arena was free, I set up the camera and brought them in.  Ann stationed herself beside the camera well away from them.  After my big build up about how much fun they had running over the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  There was no energy, no joy, no laughter, no interest in the mounting block at all – just a cautious inspection from a distance of Ann.  What was she doing out in the middle of the arena?  Having a new person in the arena was clearly a concern.

After a few minutes of non-performance, I decided to put them back.  They followed me into the barn aisle and went eagerly into their stall, knowing that I would be dropping treats on the floor.  It turns out that I neglected to turn on my camera, so none of their non-interest was recorded.

I let the goats settle back into the comfortable familiarity of their stall, then I took them out again individually for another leading session.  The main focus of the session was on treat delivery and their behavior around food.  I was continuing with the work I described in the previous two goat diary posts. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/29/  and https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/02/

A Panda Story

This focus on treat delivery and the time it takes to establish good manners was reminding me of Panda’s early training.  Cold winter days are a good time for stories, so I’m going to indulge in a couple, beginning with a favorite Panda story.  Panda is the miniature horse I trained to be Ann’s guide.  I remember when I first started working with Panda, she was as eager as the goats were to get into my pockets.

A week into her training – at about the stage I was now with the goats – I took Panda with me to a clinic I was giving at a barn that was about an hour away.  Ann rode in the front seat with her new guide dog curled between her feet.  Another of my clients was driving.  I was in the backseat with Panda essentially in my lap.  I was definitely a captive audience.  Doing a short session and then putting her back in her stall to process was an impossibility.  I had an hour’s drive with a horse in my lap!  What’s more I had a horse who knew I had treats in my pocket.

For the duration of the drive I clicked and treated anytime Panda’s nose moved even fractionally away from my pocket.  The idea was to keep her on such a high rate of reinforcement that she didn’t have a chance to mug me.  Over and over again, through the food placement I was saying to her – this is where the treats are delivered.  Going to my pocket gains you nothing.  Out here away from me, this is where you will find treats.  You might as well keep your nose here and not waste your energy going to my pockets.

Ann was in the front seat listening to the constant barrage of clicks.  I know they were making her anxious.  She had only recently taken on a new guide dog.  Everything about this dog was a struggle.  He should never have been placed.  The school was hoping that because Ann was such an experienced guide dog user, she would be able to make him work.

“Make the dog work” was truly the philosophy behind this dog’s training.  The result was a dog who showed extreme avoidance behavior.  Ann had one problem animal.  She didn’t want another.  How could she have a guide who needed to be clicked and treated every couple of seconds?  Ann knows how training works.  She knows that we would be building duration, but in that stage where the mugging is still such a strong reaction, the future good manners can seem impossibly far away.

Good manners emerge over time.  They are the result of consistent handling and a growing confidence in the learner.  By the time I handed Panda over to Ann, the guide dog had gone back to the school to be re-trained for a different job.  He went into search and rescue work, a job that suited his temperament much better.  And Panda became Ann’s full time guide much sooner than we had originally planned.

We celebrated the transfer by going out to dinner.  Panda kept her nose to herself and stayed quietly by Ann’s side throughout the evening.  Even when the salad course arrived, all she did was have a curious sniff before ducking her head back under the table to continue her nap. That’s great duration in a behavior that had begun with barely seconds between clicks.

Good manners emerged for Panda, and I was confident that they would also become the norm for the goats.  Time and consistency would create the behavior I wanted.

p46_PandaInRestaurantWithTrainerAlexandraKurlandOwnerAnnEdieNeilSoderstrom 343

Dining out with Panda

(If you want to learn more about Panda and her training, read the Panda Reports on my web site: theclickercenter.com.  Some of her early training is also featured in my DVDs: An Introduction to Clicker Training and Lesson 4: Stimulus Control.

Treats: Whatever Is Logical Do The Opposite

At some point in the distant future, it might be fun to travel with the goats in my car.  But at this point the thought of spending an hour trapped in the backseat of a car with an eager, greedy goat sounded exhausting.  We had a long way to go before they would be as settled about treats as Panda.

You meet your learner where he is not where you want him to be.  When I took P back into the arena, the session was very much focused around food delivery.  The children in the 4-H program may have giggled and let him snatch pretzels from their mouths.  With me P was learning that we played a very different game.

I brought P back out on a lead.  He continued to show good progress. He backed away from my closed hand.  He did a bit of head flinging which means he was feeling frustrated by having to back up.  I’m sure it did conflict with how he thought things should be done.  He wanted to push forward to get to the treats.  That’s what he had always done, but now he had to remember to back up instead.

Whatever is logical, do the opposite.  I could sympathize with his frustration.  From his point of view it made no sense that backing should work.  Going forward was how you get children to spill treats all over the ground.  Why should backing work?!!  We have all been given directions that make no sense.  Why should turning left instead of right get us to our destination?

And how many of us turn right because we’re convinced that should be the correct answer.  Even when we do turn left, it feels wrong.  Surely we’re heading in the wrong direction.  This can’t be right.  We’ll never get there.  Oh look, there’s our destination just ahead. How did that happen!?

It can take a while to relax and trust the directions.  That’s the stage I was in with P.  With a little more reinforcement history behind us, he would relax into the confidence that treats were coming.  There was no need to rush to get them.

The Goat Palace written Dec. 27 – Our Animals Always Tell Us

Meeting your learner where he is, not where you want him to be makes me want to share this story.  It was prompted by the goat’s current training.  If E and P’s treat taking manners were reminding me of Panda, a session I did with Trixie and Thanzi at the end of December made me think of Robin.  There are several of training mantras that apply to this session:

Our animals will always tell us what they need to work on next.

You get what you reinforce. 

My favorite, though, is this one:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

Before I describe the goat’s training, here is Robin’s story:

Over the winter when Robin was still very new to clicker training, he started to snatch his treat from my hand.  I’d click, he’d grab, and then he’d eagerly be offering me the next clickable behavior.  I ignored the snatching.  He was eager.  It was cold.  He was offering lots of great work.

The snatching increased.  You get what you reinforce.  I didn’t like the snatching, but if it was getting worse, something in our interactions was reinforcing it.

I ignored it.  Robin was eager.  It was cold.  We were having fun – until I wasn’t.  The snatching was becoming more than annoying.  I was starting to count fingers after I gave him a treat.  It was time to do something about the way he took treats.

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

I’ve told the story many times about the way I solved this particular problem.  It’s detailed in both my Riding book and The Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures.  I went back to basics.  I put Robin in his stall with a stall guard across the door.  I stood across the aisle from him and held out the biggest carrot from a bag of big carrots.  Robin stretched his neck out to try and reach it.

I immediately turned my back, removing the carrot from sight and counted to three.  Then I turned back and held the carrot out again.  Robin stretched out his nose.  I turned my back and counted to three.

I again offered the carrot.  This time Robin hesitated ever so slightly.  I clicked, reached into my pocket and handed him a piece of carrot. I was using negative punishment.  I was taking away something Robin wanted – the carrot – to decrease a behavior I didn’t like – the reaching out towards me to get a treat.

(When an activity decreases – it is being punished, either by adding something unpleasant or by taking away something the individual enjoys (positive punishment and negative punishment – it’s just math adding or subtracting).  When an activity increases, it is being reinforced, either by adding something the individual wants or taking away something he doesn’t like. So again there is positive and negative reinforcement.  When the behavior increases it is being strengthened, i.e. reinforced.  When it decreases, it is being punished.  In both – the positive and negative refer to adding or subtracting, not value judgements.)

I offered the carrot again.  Robin hesitated.  Click, I handed him a piece of carrot from my pocket.  Robin is a super fast learner.  He had the dots connected.  If he drew back away from my hand, he got treats.  I could hold the carrot directly under his nose and instead of snatching it off my hand, he arched his neck and drew up away from it.  Click and treat.

I was enchanted.  He looked like a beautiful dressage horse.  Robin being Robin, he quickly made the connection.  If he arched his neck, click, I would give him a treat.  He wasn’t snatching anymore.  Instead he scooped the carrot slice gently off my hand with his enormous soft lips.

He started to offer what I have since called “the pose”.  When I walked by his stall, Robin would draw himself up and arch his neck.  Click.  I’d pause in my barn chores and give him a piece of carrot.  Through the winter I reinforced him a lot for this behavior.  I might have begun with negative punishment as I tried to stop an unwanted behavior – snatching treats off my hand.  Now I was actively reinforcing him for something I wanted – “the pose”.

I should add that this is not the way I teach the pose today.  It popped out when I was working on something else.  Now that I know this behavior is worth going after, I shape it more directly, most often with the aid of targeting.  And in general, when I find myself reaching towards a negative punishment strategy to solve a problem, I go have a cup of tea instead. I think about what I want and look for reinforcement-based teaching strategies instead.

The “pose” is not the best name that I could have come up with for this behavior.  For many people, a pose is a fixed, rigid, stilted posture.  It’s that awful grimace so many of us have when we’re forced to have our picture taken.

Instead, for me, the pose is a very dynamic behavior.  For Robin it has become a default behavior.  I was the cue.  In the absence of any active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him.  It meant that if he wanted attention from me, he could get me to engage with him using a behavior I actively liked.

Horses are always doing something.  A horse in a stall has a long laundry list of behaviors to choose from.  Some are behaviors that I like, some are behaviors that I can ignore, and some are behaviors that I never want to see.  The laundry list includes taking a nap, eating hay, having a drink, watching the activities in the barn aisle – all perfectly acceptable and easy to ignore.

A horse could also be fighting with his neighbor, kicking the stall door to get attention, cribbing, raking his teeth up and down the wall, pacing, weaving.  These are behaviors I definitely do not want.  But if I fuss at a horse when I see him engaging in them, I could easily be reinforcing them through my attention.  Think of the small child who bangs the kitchen pots and pans while mother is on the phone.   Even negative attention is attention, and that can be better than no attention at all.

Robin doesn’t have to kick the wall to get me to notice him.  All he has to do is pose.  Click and treat.  I love having behaviors which my horses can use to ask for my attention. They know I will always acknowledge their request for connection.

Think of all the ways people interact with one another:  “Good morning.”  “How are you?” “Never better.”  These quick exchanges connect us.  Think how chilling and unpleasant an environment becomes when these social pleasantries are absent.  We need them to tell us things are okay between us.

Robin says good morning by posing.  I respond with a click and a treat.  All is well between us.  Our social bond is strong and getting stronger with each click and treat.

I reinforced Robin for the pose because he looked pretty.  I wasn’t heading for anything in particular beyond that.  This is what makes training so much fun.  Sometimes the next unexpected piece just pops out.

Here’s what happened to the pose.  One evening I had Robin in the arena.  I was asking him to trot around me on a circle.  He was giving me a nothing of a trot.  He looked like an old plow horse.  There was no energy, no pizzazz, nothing I wanted to reinforce.

Robin was expecting me to click.  He went once around the circle.  Nothing.  The way I tell the story was you could all but see the cartoon bubble appearing above his head.  “I’m not being reinforced.”

He went around again.

“What can I do to get reinforced?”

On the third time around he had the answer: “I know! I’ll try the pose!”

The way Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz tells this story is this: by withholding the click I was putting Robin into an extinction process.  He began to regress back through behaviors that had been successful in the past.  The pose had been highly reinforced, so it was the first thing that he tried.

Whichever version of the story you prefer, Robin had to add energy to the trot in order to get into the pose.  Suddenly, his trot looked as though it belonged on a magazine cover.  He was gorgeous!  I clicked and gave him a treat, all the while gushing over how pretty he was.  I sent him back out around me.  It took him a few strides to find his balance, but he once again added the pose to the trot.  It was just one stride that I was clicking – but wow! What a gorgeous stride it was!  The rest is history.  Robin led the way.  He showed us that we could shape the beautiful, suspended balance of a classical dressage horse just through well timed clicks and treats.

Why am I telling this story? Because this morning’s session with Thanzi and Trixie made me think of Robin and the pose.  It reminded me of the expression:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

In December I had been trying to work them individually.  We had snow Christmas eve and then the temperatures dropped and the wind rose.  Trixie was nervous about being out in the hallway by herself, so I let Thanzi join her.  Suddenly with two goats I had lots of crowding.  Hmm.  You get what you reinforce.  I knew at night when I was tucking them in, I was in a hurry.  It was cold.  It was late.  I just wanted to get done with the final chores and get back inside where it’s warm.  Had I been letting them crowd me and hurry the treat deliver?  Apparently the answer was yes.

I needed to sort out the crowding so in this session I set two mats out face too face.  Trixie hopped on one, Thanzi on the other.  I stood in the middle with both goats crowding into me begging for treats.  I waited.

“Oh right.  Crowding doesn’t get treats.”  They took their noses away from me.  Click. I reached into my pockets.

They were right back, pushing against my hands.  I got the treats out of my pockets and then drew my hands together.  I stood as though in calm meditation, waiting.  First one then the other took her nose away.  I waited until they were both good, then held out the treats to them.

They got their treats, and then they were right back crowding me, pushing against me with their muzzles.  I waited.  They took their noses away.  Click.  Get the treat.  Wait again with hands held together in quiet meditation.  They both drew away from me.  I held out my hands and let them take the treat.

It only took a couple of repetitions. They were both working so hard to stay away from my pockets.  Click, pause, feed.  They were both so good.

I left them in the hallway while I filled their hay feeders.  I was just finishing up when I looked out into the aisle.  They were standing each on her own platform waiting for me.  How can you resist?  I went out and did another round of paying attention to their good manners.

Your animals always tell you what they need to work on.  I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know it is what they need.  If it makes me think of Robin’s pose, I must be on the right track.

Staying Consistent

It’s easy to be focused and consistent through one training session.  It’s much harder to maintain that consistency over time.  When we transferred Panda full time to Ann, it was actually a relief to hand her over.  I missed her constant presence by my side, but maintaining the level of consistency that is needed for a guide was demanding.  When you can see, you don’t need a guide to tell you that you’ve come to a curb. If I started cutting corners in Panda’s training because I didn’t need all the things I had taught her to do, it would undermine her performance as a guide.  Ann would never be able to enjoy the luxury of seeing the curb that’s in front of her.  She would be relying on Panda to point this out to her.  A horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count so it always has to count.  I followed that mantra throughout Panda’s training.

The same thing applies to the goats.  The same thing applies to the goats.  If sometimes I let them push into me to get treats, I will never get to the consistent good behavior that I want.  But it’s been cold!  It is so easy to get in a hurry and let standards drop.  So their training has been a bit like a yo yo.  I let things slip in my hurry to get chores done and my gloves back on.  They begin to crowd me, but now I am catching it sooner.  The manners pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.  Over time the cumulative effect shows me that the balance is tipping towards good manners.

Just for Fun!

I told you the story of Robin’s pose.  Here’s one of my favorite videos of Robin.  He was only three when this was filmed.  He had not yet been started under saddle.  So he’d never had a rider on his back, and I had never lunged him in side reins or any other type of mechanical device.  This beautiful balance and cadence had been shaped entirely with the clicker.  You’ll see I am holding two dressage whips.  You can call them anything you want, but they are functioning as targets.  They give him points of reference to balance between.  I know the lighting is not good in this video, but this was a long time ago, and this was the best the video camera could do.  Enjoy!

 

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries Day 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their current training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

 

 

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

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

JOY FULL Horses: Unit 10 – Part 2 of 5: What We Say

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

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

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

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

chain-2

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

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

That’s a technical chain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great example is operant conditioning.

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

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

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

Positive punishment!?  Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: Procedure versus The Emotional Effect

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

A Summer of Adventures!

scenery whales conference horses

Labor Day weekend seems like a good time to post this report on the Five Go To Sea conference and the August clinics. It’s taken me a while to put it together.  The problem with heading off on a summer of adventures is at some point you come bumping back into reality.  That happened to me when I returned from three weeks of travel.  I got home to find the hot water heater in my house was leaking and the tank was sizzling ominously.  I turned off everything I could find that was even remotely connected to the hot water tank and headed off to spend the night at the barn.  Thursday got the hot water tank replaced.  Friday a repair man came to fix the snowblower that wouldn’t start last winter.  I know the first snowfall is still a fair way off, but waiting until November to get it fixed is a bad idea.  Just to round things out, I also took my aged truck in for servicing.  I was learning that these machines have one thing in common with our brains.  They all operate under a use it or lose it principle.

Our brains thrive on novelty and that was certainly provided by the Five Go To Sea conference cruise.  The first cruise took us to the Caribbean. This year we sailed up the Alaska coastline.  The route the ship took was through what is referred to as the inner passage.map with caption
It travels between islands and through spectacular fjords so it doesn’t matter where you are on the ship, there is always something breathtaking to look at.  Our conference room had floor to ceiling windows so we didn’t miss out by being in a conference.   By the end of the first day, I think we were all in agreement that every conference from now on should provide a similar spectacular backdrop.  It certainly gave us some memorable conference moments.conference attendees 3

One such moment occurred during a presentation Kay was giving on PORTL, a training table game.  Kay was in the middle of a demonstration.  She was working with one of the conference attendees showing everyone how to get the game started.  Her learner made an unexpected move that Kay had not planned for.  Kay began to talk about these “oh, oops” moments.  Do you have a strategy in place to deal with this kind of situation?  How do you move on without confusing or frustrating your learner?  She had barely posed the question when one of our keen spotters cried “whale!” and everyone, Kay included, rushed to the windows.  Apparently, that’s what you do.  By the time we returned to the game the sticky moment was completely forgotten!

whale watching during conferenceIt helps to bring along your own naturalist on these cruises.  Ken Ramirez isn’t just a first class trainer.  Not surprisingly, he’s also an expert whale spotter, and he could tell us what we were looking at based on the size and shape of a quickly glanced spout.  My first whale sightings were just that.  A fleeting glimpse of a very distant spout.  But in Juneau I joined four of the conference participants for a whale watching tour.  In addition to seeing some spectacular scenery, we had close up views of hump back whales.

whale watching collageOther trip highlights included a hike through the coastal rainforest.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.  Moss covered trees created a magical landscape.  I spotted a large hole disappearing under the roots of one massive tree.  “What would live in there?” I asked our guide.  She gave me a general answer, running down the list of small mammals that inhabit these forests.  What she left off her list were elves, brownies and fairies.  In a woods like this they were just as likely to be the inhabitants of this hidden cavity as any martin or rabbit.

giant tree with caption

nurse tree with caption2

At Skagway I boarded a train that followed the route the “Stampeders” took in the late 1800s on their journey to the Yukon in search of gold.  You have to wonder at the mass insanity that overtakes people.  Riding in the comfort of an old-fashioned train, I could marvel at the beauty of deep river gorges.  But if I had to carry a year’s worth of supplies up these same mountains, would I have thought they were beautiful?  The train was built in 1898 to carry the Stampeders to the gold fields of the Yukon.  Today it brings gold in the form of tourist dollars into the area.

railroad 4 photos tain picturestrain follows same routeminers narrow trail 2ghost bridge 2climing into the clouds 2The train passes through a section of trail called “Dead Horse Pass”.  It’s estimated that over three thousand horses and mules died along this stretch of trail.  Ignorance was the culprit.  The shop assistants and mill workers who were racing to the gold fields knew nothing about how to balance a pack.  They didn’t even really know where the Yukon was or what kind of conditions they were heading into.  Pictures taken of them in San Francisco before they headed north to the gold fields showed prospectors posing in front of painted mountain scenes with palm trees in the foreground!  But it wasn’t palm trees that they encountered as they drove their over packed horses up the White Pass Summit.

I thought of these horses as the train passed through this section of the trail.  I think of them now as I write this in my barn where my very pampered horses get to live a life of great comfort.  Perhaps it balances the scale just a little.  Throughout our history with horses we have a lot to answer for.

We met a very different kind of horse in the Butchart Garden in Victoria, British Columbia.  Along with a delightful giraffe, a camel, an ostrich, a reindeer, and a large cat with a salmon in its mouth, the horses pranced around an old-fashioned Carousel.  We wanted to ride them all, so we ended up taking several turns on the Carousel.  I rode a rabbit and, in honor of Kay, a large white dog.  One of us should have ridden the Orca, but we were running out of time.  The garden closed at nine, and we didn’t want to miss the bus that would take us back to the ship.carousel butchart 2

Did I mention that we also spent our days at sea in the conference room?  Ken treated us to an update on the training he’s been doing teaching dogs to count.  I had requested that for the day that I organized.  The results of his experiment are impressive, but what I particularly wanted him to include were the preliminary steps he goes through to design a good training set up.

So many of us simply jump straight into training.  We find out too late that we can’t really manage our props, that our set up is clumsy, and we haven’t given any thought to all the things that can – and now are going wrong. Ken showed how a bit of training practice without any dogs revealed some major issues in his original set up.  He also showed his clumsy first attempt when he was still evolving the best training procedure to use.  He refers to this as exploratory training.  What do you need to change before you begin the real task of training and data collection?

Ken is such a skilled and creative trainer, it was good to see things going wrong for him in this early phase of the training.  This isn’t to gloat but to understand that this planning phase is part of good training.

He also shared with us his recent foray into butterfly training.  He couldn’t show us any video, but his detailed description of the training process was a definite trip highlight.  I don’t know which surprised us more – that butterflies could be trained or that butterflies could be bullies.

Kay focused much of her time on the training game, PORTL.  She divided people up into groups of three: a learner, a teacher and a coach.  The first tasks were fairly simple.  The teacher was to introduce the learner to the game.  Kay instructed them to plan thoroughly before they brought in their learner.  What were they going to do if their learner did something unexpected, if there was a bad click, if they got stuck and needed to consult with the coach?Portl planning session 2With Ken’s emphasis the day before on planning the teachers and coaches took this training prep very seriously.  Normally people rush through this part of the process.  They jump right in with their learners and then don’t have any plan for dealing with the unexpected.  You see that kind of approach creating a lot of frustration on both sides of the table.kay coaching Portl planning sessionNot so with this group.  More than half an hour went by and none of the learners had been called in.  The teachers and coaches were still engaged in careful planning.  The poor learners weren’t sure what they were supposed to do.  No one had anticipated this contingency – that the prep would be so very comprehensive.  The advantage of being on a cruise ship is we could send them off to get a drink or to whale watch while the rest of their team planned out their training strategy.

break time at the conferenceWe learned from this experience.  On the last day of the conference we again played PORTL.  This time Kay set more challenging tasks which definitely required some planning time.  I took the “learners” through some body awareness/training exercises.  That produced some interesting results.  When the teachers came to get their learners, people didn’t want to leave to go play the game.  One “teacher” ran into a training puzzle and needed a moment to think.  She told her learner that they would only be a couple of minutes.  She could stay at the table while she consulted with her coach.  “Oh no”, her learner told her.  “Take your time.” She was going back to rejoin the body awareness session.

Ken coaching POrtl standingPortl plan first then playI must say having the backdrop of the open ocean created the perfect setting for body awareness exercises.  The gentle pitch and roll of the ship added to the proprioceptive experience.  Even the occasional “whale” cue which sent us all rushing to the windows contributed to the learning.  How quickly could you come back from a mammoth distraction into a state of calm balance for your animal?  And since I was among those who rushed to the window I couldn’t fuss when others did the same.

(I’ll write a separate post on some of the work I covered during the conference, including the body awareness exercises.)

The cruise ended all too soon.  When we docked back in Seattle early on Friday morning, I felt as though I could easily have set sail again.  Alaska is a landscape I could easily become lost in.  We are talking about where to go next.  What adventure should we have for our next cruise?  I could easily return to Alaska to sail up through the inner passage and see again those magnificent fjords.

For those who don’t want to go on a ship, Kay is talking about a land cruise next winter in the UK.  I’ll enjoy that as well, but I will also be looking forward to our next ocean adventure.

The cruise was over, but not my travels.  I headed next to a small clinic at Monty Gwynne’s, one of my Click That Teaches coaches.   Many of you have met Monty through her wonderful PRE Icaro.Monty and Icky 2 photos

Icky is only one of the many horses Monty has trained.  She also has a barn full of ponies who have all learned lateral work.  They made my job so easy.  They were the true teachers.  I simply stepped aside and let them teach people how to dance with horses.  On the third day we brought three of the horses into the arena for the start of a quadrille.  We had originally planned on having six horses working together for our drill team, but two of the participants had to leave early, and the third was busy attending to her own horse.  So we settled on just three horses which was enough for everyone’s first attempt at working in sync with one another.

Watching them coming down the long side together in shoulder-in was the highlight of my entire trip.  What a treat!  Monty has a treasure trove of wonderful horses.  If you want to explore what the combination of clicker training and an understanding of good balance can create, you should plan a trip to visit Monty.drill team Monty's ponies

I flew home on Tuesday, spent half a day catching up and then drove to the Cavalia Retirement Farm for a three day clinic.  It was another great event.  Several of the attendees were brand new to clicker training so the focus this time was on foundation work.  One of my Click That Teaches coaches, Sue Bennett, joined us.  Having Sue there to help meant we could split up into smaller groups to give people lots of one on one coaching.

Bilbo enjoying the clinicThe star of the clinic was Bilbo, an enormous Ardennes daft stallion.  When Bilbo enters the arena all eyes are on him, and it isn’t just because he’s so big.  Bilbo has charisma.  We generally save him for the end of the day.  We let him play his version of Panda catch.  He’s not as good at it yet as Panda.  She runs at full gallop from person to person.  I am glad to say Bilbo chooses a more sedate speed.  His reward for moving from one station to the next is not just a click and a treat.  He also gets a back scratch from everyone in the clinic.  He’s so big you can have the entire clinic group around him and everyone can find a spot to scratch.  Did I mention that Bilbo likes clinics and wouldn’t mind if they happened every weekend?favorite photos from 2015 clinics 2

I enjoy the clinics and all the other adventures, but it is good to be home for a bit.  I have pastures to mow, plumbing to fix, and horses to enjoy.

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com