But my horse is STILL muggy!
So what if you have tried to follow the steps but your horse is still not great at grown-ups? You now have the cleverest horse in your barn but in between being brilliant he is after your pouch looking for treats. This clicker stuff might just start to lose its appeal.
As Alexandra Kurland says, “Grown-ups isn’t something you do a couple of times in the start-up of clicker training and then forget about. Grown-ups is your glue. It ties everything else together. Canine trainer Steve White has a great image he uses for teaching core behaviours. He refers to them as tap root behaviors. Grown-ups makes a great tap root behavior. You ask for grown-ups – click/treat. Then you do a couple reps of a different behaviour. Click/treat. Now it’s back to grown-ups to establish that your horse can still show you calm, good manners, even with the treats right under his nose. Each time you return to grown-ups, you strengthen it. Just like a tap root, it grows bigger, stronger, deeper. Select grown-ups as your key, core tap root behavior, and over time your horse’s manners will become world class.”
We’ve spoken about training with protective contact, but let’s revisit the why we want to do it. By putting a barrier between you and your horse it gives the freedom to explore and by doing so learn what works and what doesn’t with regards to getting clicked and a treat. In the beginning of training I will, as long as I feel safe, allow the horse to muzzle my pockets etc. In clicker training we want the horse to offer behaviours without fear of corrections. He won’t get treats for this exploring. If I feel unsafe at this stage of training I can move out of range. Now there are trainers out there that say you shouldn’t let your horse move you. In clicker training both of us have control. I am in control when I click and treat and he in in control of his behaviour. He can choose to mug me and not get rewarded or he can choose to keep out of my pockets and get rewarded for that choice. This makes both of us feel ’empowered’ and we both get reinforced. I get the behaviour I like and he gets a treat.
Clicker trainers focus on behaviors they want, not the unwanted behaviors. We also need, therefore, to learn to be non-reactive to behaviours we do not like. Now that does not mean we ignore but as long as we remained safe we will be nonreactive to it. We look for that instant where there is the behaviour we are looking for and reinforce it.
Yes the end goal is a polite horse but we cannot begin with the end we have to start small and build on small steps; a lesson to be worked on for a long time to get the duration we’d like.
To quote Alexandra again. “My end goal is a polite horse, but I can’t begin with the expectation that he’ll have perfect self-control around food. That’s a lesson we ‘ll be working on over an extended period of time. I don’t want my horse trying to push his way into my pockets. That’s not acceptable, but every time I find myself grumping at this unwanted behavior, I need to restate my goals in terms of what I do want. What’s something I can train FOR, not against. That’s the real keys to the kingdom switch that says I am thinking like a clicker training.”