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

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

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

The Many Forms of Micro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, you read that correctly.  98%.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro: Base Behaviors

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

The Fluid Nature of Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poco-hug-3

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

*  *  *  *

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

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Unit 10 – Part 1 of 5: Creating Change Through Chains

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

The List of Ten
We’re coming to the final element in our list of ten things you should know about cues.  What began as a basic introduction has taken us to some complex concepts and sophisticated uses for cues.

We began with the fundamentals:

1.) Cues and commands are not the same.
2.) Not all cues are verbal.
3.) Cues can come from inanimate objects.  You can have environmental cues.
4.) Our animals can cue us.
5.) Cues evolve out of the shaping process.
6.) Having a cue attached to a behavior isn’t enough.  We need stimulus control – a fancy term for saying you get the behavior you want when you want it and only when you want it.
7.) We can use cues to counter balance one another to create stimulus control.
8.) Cues change and evolve. You can use this to create the degree of lightness you want.  You can also create new cues for existing behaviors.
9) You can’t not cue.  You saw this applied to the “play” session with Poco, the ear-shy horse.

This naturally brings us to:

10.) What’s more fun than playing with cues? Playing with Chains.

Creating Change Through Chains
In the previous unit I introduced you to Poco, an ear-shy horse.  I described a series of sessions in which I combined clicker training with body work.   Poco wasn’t just ear shy.  He was tight throughout his whole body.  Backing was hard.  Turning was hard. Yielding his hips was hard.

It may be that all that worry over his ears made him generally tight, or the ears were the red flag telling us that there was much more going on that we couldn’t see.

The Story for Poco
Remember we want to tell stories that help our horses.  So here’s the story I told about Poco.  Horses who are ear shy often get wrestled with.  They get jerked on and pulled around and told to STAND STILL OR ELSE!  At best they simply become wary and defensive.  At worst they can sustain serious injuries, especially if they are pulled off their feet in their struggles.

The story I told for Poco is that he was one of the horses who was wrestled with and who may have sustained some injuries.  We needed to ask him some questions to find out if we were dealing with simple tension or something more serious.  I suspected that part of the reason the ear shyness remained a persistent problem was because it hurt every time he threw his head up to avoid being touched.  That predictable spike of pain convinced that being handled around his ears was a bad deal.

I wanted to get to his ears, and I also wanted to get to his tail.  Most of us have seen frightened dogs with their tails tucked between their legs.  When they’re afraid, animals from many species clamp their tails tight to their bodies.  The best explanation I’ve heard for this behavior is it blocks the release of pheromones into the air.  When an animal is afraid, it may not want to broadcast that fear to everyone in the neighborhood, so it clamps down on its tail to cover the anal glands.

Whatever the reason, horses certainly do carry a great deal of tension in their tails.  Working the tail can help release that tension and free up the hind end.

Poco’s Learning Loop
Under saddle you learn to free up a horse’s hindquarters by working from the front end first.  And to soften the front end, you begin with the hind end.  So what do you do when you need to gain access to both ends and both have “do not trespass” signs posted?  The answer with Poco was I set up a predictable pattern.  Poco always knew what I was going to do next.  Because he knew what to expect, he could let me know when he was ready for me to move on. Until I got a sign from him that he was comfortable with what I was doing, I did not move deeper into the cycle of behaviors.

Step one began with a hug.  Standing at his side, I used the components I had built earlier to ask Poco to rest his nose in my hands.  I could then press my head against the side of his face.  A casual spectator would have seen me hugging Poco.  What a lovely picture!  But look more closely, and you would see that I was also asking for a lateral give at his poll.

I was placing my head on his forehead.  It gave him a reference place around which to soften into a bend.  The give was tiny.  Gives are.  But I could feel him release through the poll – a release that traveled down his spine towards his withers.

That was my cue to step in front of him and ask for the next link in the chain: the forward stretch that asked for another give at the poll.  I was inviting him to lengthen forward, down and out.  I could feel the release so clearly as he melted into my hands.

poco-forward-give-2nd-link-caption

The third link in this sequence was long strokes across his back and down his hindquarters asking him to drop his head.

poco-head-lowering-3-photos

His response told me how ready or not he was for me to go on.  As he took down his “no trespassing” signs, I was able to slip in behind him.  I was being given tentative permission to proceed.

poco-tail-lift-2

I used TTEAM body work techniques to lift his tail.

I slid my hand gently under his tail and lifted up.  The muscles of his hindquarters spasmed, and he stepped quickly away swinging his tail away from me.

Clearly my “story” had some merit to it.  He was showing me places where there were huge questions.

 

He was facing me again.  I reached up as though nothing had happened and asked for another hug. The chain began again.

Link 1 was the hug asking for a lateral bend.

Link 2 was the forward stretch and release through the poll.

Link 3 was the stroking across his back looking for head lowering.

His response gave me permission to move onto his tail.

Link 4 was working his tail looking for a release through his whole spine.

The result: Poco felt soft as butter.  Instead of a wary, tense horse keeping himself well removed from me, he was seeking out my company, melting into my hands.  We were having a conversation.  These gives were asked for, not demanded. I was asking the questions.  He was finding the changes.  He was coming up with the answers. That changes everything – not just in his body but in the relationship.

Coming Next: What we Say

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

Tactile Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poco dropped his head marginally.  Click and treat.

You can’t not cue.

Cues evolve out of the shaping process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click and treat.

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

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

Adding in Lateral Flexions

poco-stroke-back

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

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

Immediately I clicked and treated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

Moving On

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

Celebration!

poco-hug-2nd-day

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

Laugh.

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

Moving On

poco-come-into-hands

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

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

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

poco-give-full-body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poo-deep-release-4-good

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

Coming Next: Tactile Communication

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

Stepping Stones

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

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

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

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

Remembering Play

poco-in-hug

Poco

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

 

poco-ear-shy

Poco showing us his concern over having his ears touched.

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake.

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

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

Never start with your goal.

That’s one of the rules of good training.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poco-touch-nose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click and treat.

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

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

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

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

poco-nose-chin-head

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

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

poco-click-on-exhale

I am waiting for Poco to exhale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh.

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

poco-hug-1st-day

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

 

Coming Next: Moving On

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

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

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

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

What Is Clicker Training?

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 3 of 12

Labels
In the previous section I introduced you to Poco, an extremely ear-shy horse.  I ended that section by saying: “Poco wasn’t going to be helped by following old recipes, but by coming up with solutions that were tailored to his needs.  To do that we had to look more broadly at all that clicker training means.”

I put my first JOYFULL horses post up on January 2, 2016.  This far into the book may seem like an odd time to be asking such a basic question: what is clicker training?  But this question refers to so much more than just the surface definition of clicker training.

The term clicker training was coined by Karen Pryor.  In it’s simplest form it refers to applied operant condition in which a marker signal is paired with positive reinforcement.  In other words, if you like what your animal is doing, you click and reinforce him.

For years at clinics I’ve had people say to me you really need to call your work something other than clicker training.  What you do is so much more than clicker training.

I always throw this right back to them.  What would you call it?

I get lots of suggestions but nothing so far has stuck.  So many of the words that describe my work have been used, abused, and over-used.  Or they are too specific to a narrow area of horse training.

Harmony, balance, partnership have all been used so many times by so many different approaches to training they have lost any meaning.  You can have two diametrically opposed training systems both talking about partnership.  They’ll end up with very different looking horses and each group will be convinced they have “true partnership” and the others don’t.  Sigh.  Labels can leave behind a huge and very controversial mine field to navigate.

When I first came across clicker training, it had no associations attached to it.  It was just a label, a way of referencing a particular approach to training.  I had not seen other clicker-trained horses because there weren’t any around.  I hadn’t yet experimented with it, so I brought no strong biases to the term – good or bad.  It was simply a label, a convenient way to reference a system of training in which a marker signal was paired with positive reinforcement.

For me the term “clicker training” is still a convenient way to refer to a system of training that uses a marker signal, but it has grown to have many more associations for me and for others.  If someone has seen clicker training applied badly, just the mention of the name may send them over the edge into a long diatribe against it.

I’ve seen plenty of clumsy, not well-thought-out clicker training sessions over the years, but that doesn’t make me want to run from the label.  It makes me want to find better ways to teach the work.

What Clicker Training Means To Me
I’ve experienced so much joy both in my own horses and in sharing the work with others that I don’t want to walk away from the label.  Instead I want to make it clearer what clicker training can be.  I don’t know what clicker training has come to mean to others, but to me, when I think of clicker-trained horses, I see happy, well mannered, beautifully balanced horses who are a joy to be around.
icky-what-is-clicker-training-3
My clicker-trained horses make me smile.  I hope how I handle them gives my horses the equine equivalent of those happy feelings.  That’s what I want to share with others.

In 1993 when I started experimenting with clicker training, I didn’t head out to the barn thinking – “I’m going to write a book about this.”  I just wanted to find a way to keep Peregrine entertained while he was on stall rest.

There weren’t other people clicker training horses who I could turn to as role models or who could provide how-to instructions.  That meant I got to invent my own version of clicker training.

Defining Clicker Training
If you were to ask me to define clicker training, I would begin with Karen Pryor’s definition: clicker training is applied operant conditioning in which a marker signal is paired with positive reinforcement.

That gives us an operational definition, but clicker training is so much more than that.  I see it as a huge umbrella under which I can fit many different approaches to horse training.  For example, I studied for a time with Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of TTEAM, so I fit her training under the umbrella.  I also put the work I learned from John Lyons under this same umbrella even though Lyons himself is not a clicker trainer.  These two training methods represent fundamentally different philosophies of horse training, but I was able to draw good things from both and adapt what I learned to fit under my clicker umbrella.

When I think of clicker training, I see a complete and very structured approach to training that results in well-mannered, happy horses.  I think of beautifully-balanced horses who are both having fun and are fun to be around.

Lucky with caption

That’s what I see.  But if all you’ve seen of clicker training is someone using it to teach simple tricks, you may see the fun – but not the balance.  Or maybe you’ve just seen someone who was fumbling around the edges of clicker training.  Your picture of clicker training may be a frustrated horse who is acting aggressively towards the handler.

Creating Stepping Stones
The more people who encounter clicker training the more different images of what it is there will be.  Clicker training will evolve and morph into something else.  That’s the nature of all creative work.  It is never static.  Clicker training, which seemed so revolutionary, so very much on the leading edge of training when I first encountered it, will become mainstream.  It will be the stepping stone to the next leading-edge idea.

We can’t yet know what that idea will be, not until it has had time to evolve.

This is the nature of the creative process.  Humans thrive on creativity.  This is part of play.  You are exploring two separate ideas and suddenly you see how you can put them together to create a completely original combination.  Both ideas by themselves were great.  Combined they are transforming.

So let’s look underneath the clicker training umbrella and see what’s really there.  Let’s also ask the question: are you a clicker trainer, or are you someone who just uses a clicker?  And what is the difference that that question is seeking to answer?

(And yes, I will get back to Poco and his ear-shy problem.)

Coming next: Are You A Clicker Trainer or a User of Clicker Training?

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