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Clicker Training
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dancewithlife
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 Posted: Mon Oct 29th, 2007 10:15 pm
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I would be very curious to know what Dr. Deb feels about Clicker Training?

Courtney

danee
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 Posted: Wed Oct 31st, 2007 05:31 am
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I have been toying with more positive reinforcement based training and I find it much harder than I thought it would be.

 

I started with my own horse- keep in mind, my little mare rides bridle-less, does liberty stuff, she follows me anywhere, is so willing it is scarry, and tries very hard at everything we've ever done.  I started by putting my hand out, palm down, and when she touched it, I would reward her- with treats even!!!  ( My mare will piaffe in a halter and lead if I jog in place beside her if she thinks food is involved)  At first I stayed right beside her and all she had to do was stretch her nose out for a treat.  But than I walked thirty feet away and offered my hand.  Again, keep in mind, we do performances at liberty- coming to me from thirty feet away is seriously no big deal.  She didn't come and didn't come.  It was so tempting to yield her HQ or run backwards and try to draw her as we typically do, but I wanted to stick to positive reinforcement and not use pressure and release.

Not only did she finally run off, but she had a huge attitude for three days.  I could NOT figure it out at all.  Finally I realized she likes clear cut leadership.  When I put my hand out, yes, she knew what I wanted, but the fact that I refused to back up that question with another command made her question why.  John Lyons has a great article on how horses don't care if they oare o the top or the bottom but what really get's their goat is not knowing where they are.  I think that was really what happened.  I kinda handed leadership over to my mare and she litteraly ran from it.

 

Another horse I'm working with- an 18 month Dutch colt- has been doing basic pressure and release concepts for a year now.  He STILL does not try to LOOK FOR the release!!!!!  He knows sometimes I put pressure on and sometimes I am all nicey nicey and he still can't see the pattern.  (His wires aren't all conected !!!!)  All the other horses I've worked with eventually come to a point that they know that when I pressure, there is a certain response I am looking for and they rationally try to find options.  Yes they may get stuck and impulsive here and there, but in general they get the concept- he doesn't.   I started clicker style target training with him and he loves it!  He is much more responsive and is actually starting to TRY to please.  When I moved onto things he already knew pressure an release style but wasn't exactly earning A's on, he did much better becasue he was in the right frame of mind.

 

I want to learn more about positive reinforcment based training, but as I foud with my mare, it seems like there is a point where horses want leadership- more leadership than a click and a carrot can offer.  I am trying to find the line with my own horse between being as nice as I can without me seeming wishy washy.  I was brought up in the "if they aren't doing it beat them harder" style of training, so I am trying to explore the other end of the spectrum, but i think there needs to be a middle ground.

Tasha
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 Posted: Wed Oct 31st, 2007 10:07 am
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deleted my pointless question.

Last edited on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 11:05 am by Tasha

LindaInTexas
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 Posted: Thu Nov 1st, 2007 04:29 pm
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I used clicker training to help one of my horses who had mild wobbler syndrome.  She had trouble know where to place her hind feet.  The clicker helped me get my timing right.  I actually whistled as the "click", and then rewarded her with baby carrots or a scratch on the whithers, which allowed me to use both hands while mounted.

The key to my success was not clicker training....it was getting myself to recognize and immediately reward the most miniscule "try" from my horse.  I did find the clicker training instructions helped me understand the principles of positive reinforcement.

Tasha
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 Posted: Thu Nov 1st, 2007 07:47 pm
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I've been using clicker training more and more; in part because I get good results and in part because I have no idea how to teach the ponies some tasks any other way. Last night I finally had a go at teaching Beau and Blizzad to place their feet on a hoof stand, something that neither of them have been happy about doing in the past. It was a sucessful session

I think some of the success I'm finding is because clicker training does force me to break the tasks down to small steps and not blur them altogether.

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 12:58 am
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One of my friends who reads this board regularly forwarded me the discussion about clicker training... I haven't read ESI for quite some time, but the new forum is quite an improvement!!! Very nice!! I couldn't resist re-registering.

I use positive reinforcement training more than anything else. I don't use a clicker, but use my voice. You can use the bridging aspect of the clicker without using food, but food is a primary reinforcer that is generally accepted by all animals. Petting or human attention is not a primary reinforcer.... When a mustang is first caught, looking away from it can be an effective reinforcer! My mules are not reinforced by food half as much as by food and petting combined.

I recently went to see Nancy Nunke train zebras and found that she manages the pens and neighbors to make social interaction a stronger reinforcer. The way she does this makes social interaction more effective than food as a reinforcer. (By the way, Nancy lost her ranch in the Witch Creek fire, but her animals all made it through).
So to me, when you say clicker training, you are talking about using some kind of reinforcer following a bridge sound to mark the moment of the right answer.  So you have two variables: the bridging aspect and the reinforcer aspect. People get in such a huff over whether it is right to use food reinforcers and forget that the "click" is really a different issue.

If the horse learns patterns of behavior through repetition, does it matter if it learns through negative reinforcement (pressure/release) or positive reinforcement? I am finding that by teaching with positive reinforcement, then conditioning in a classical pressure cue, I get an animal that is very sensitive, trusting, and willing. Sometimes it is hard to actually cue with pressure because the animal learns to be so light from the positive reinforcement.

For example, an animal that turns with rein pressure usually turns before the bit ever actually has any pressure on it - the reins only have to be lifted. The animal can be ridden, turned, etc., but does it truely yeild to the bit??? No! You have to figure out another way to teach that. Dr. Debs "twirling" is a good thing to help the problem. I am sure that someday I will be glad that I went the distance and taught my horses to yeild to bit pressure even though it seems redundant and crude when you can just "point and click".

Any way, if you like training that way, it is fun because the animal loves it as well. It is never a drill or boring to them and you can get them to most anything. You can use "clicker training" on animals that you can't rope, halter, or even get in the pen with safely. You become an object of great interest to the animals as the "vending machine" with legs. It might not get you where you want to go with your horse but it can be used to solve some problems that are pretty tough to work through any other way. Good tool in the toolbox.

Yrs,
Patricia
ps. Danee, have you tried just walking away when your horse doesn't willingly interact with you. If your horse is enjoying the training, ending it is a punishment. I turn my back to mine when they are not focusing and start doing something else and they get quite upset, trying to get my attention again. Of course this is counter productive if your horse would rather you just left anyway.

Tasha
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 Posted: Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 07:17 am
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I tend to use a vocal bridging signal more than an actual clicker since it isn't always convenient to have a clicker in hand. I just tend to say clicker training because it implies a bridging signal and reinforcer and is less wordy than saying I use a vocal bridging signal with positive reinforcement. ;-)

Danee, I have just reread your post. Holding a piece of carrot for your horse to reach out for is not clicker training or positive reinforcement. I would tend to class it more as bribery because you were offering the reward before the action, not after. With clicker training/positive reinforcement you only give a reward after your horse has done what you wanted him/her to do.

You also need to break down any task you are teaching into smaller steps and not blur them altogether. Think about when you started out in teaching your horse to come to you when you run backwards. I am fairly sure you didn't ask him for one step towards you and then suddenly expect him to do the same thing from thirty feet away.

Breaking it down is important whether you're using positive or negative reinforcement. Look at the mannering lessons that Dr Deb put on here, each lesson is built up of small steps. And as Linda has already said success comes when you recognise the smallest try.

There is a great little video on youtube which shows a woman teaching her horse how to mount a pedestal. http://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=u-WZL8RQj24
It is a great illustration of how clicker training can work.

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Sat Nov 3rd, 2007 02:15 am
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It's not clear to me that Danee is bribing the horse.... Is the treat in your hand when you show your hand to the horse, or is the treat in a pocket, etc.?

I think horses want leaders, but I think horses also want friends. There is nothing inexorably linking leadership with total control. Second ranking animals get a lot of latitude.

Yrs,
Patricia

Tasha
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 Posted: Sat Nov 3rd, 2007 01:03 pm
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Okay, perhaps I was just reading a little too much into where Danee said " At first I stayed right beside her and all she had to do was stretch her nose out for a treat." and I completely missed the end of the next sentence where she said "I offered my hand."

When I wrote my last post I was also thinking back to a couple of years ago when I thought I was toying around with clicker training but I really didn't understand it. I thought Danee was making mistakes similar to I what I made at the time which had me convinced that clicker training was difficult.

Sorry Danee, I don't mean to come across as critical in a nasty way. That's not my motivation.

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 01:51 am
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Dr. Deb, your comment about clicker training in the roundpen discussion sent me to searching for anything you might have written about it.... this was the most on point discussion of it, but the question is still standing unanswered.

I am interested as well why not use clicker training? Is it positive reinforcement training in general that you object to? I would be very interested in knowing your reasons.

I use it enough that I know it is no panacea, but trick training is fun for the animal and can be totally addicting for the human. That poor bedraggled mare on the pedestal in the photo in the Birdie book would have been have been a happier horse if someone had played clicker games with her. As it was, the one trick she knew was better than knowing none at all. In my experience she is the kind of horse that benefits most from training by positive reinforcement.

Yrs,
Patricia

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 03:26 am
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Patricia, et al: You do not need clickers or any other gimmick to create great responses in horses.

That "poor bedraggled yellow mare" in the Birdie Book was standing on the drum because someone (a very good student of ours, Yvonne Miller) HAD been playing with her. We used those photos in the book to illustrate the time in that mare's particular path where she was still teetering on the edge of not being OK. The great photos, taken by Yvonne's husband Carl, who is a very talented photographer, capture the angst in that mare's eyes. So your judgements on this are totally inappropriate and your statements are misleading because you have failed to understand their true import. It bothers us also to see a horse experiencing inner turmoil, but we need to find examples of it so that we can teach students, like yourself, who are at the beginning of grasping an understanding. 

So I repeat: the clicker is a gimmick when used in horse training. You do not need any gimmick to train your horse. You just need yourself -- your timing, your skill, your awareness of and control of your own energy.

All training that succeeds, of any kind, is "positive reinforcement training". There is no distinction to be made there.

I meet many women, Patricia, who for whatever reason feel that they cannot present themselves as competent or professional in the world unless they have something "on" in front, something that stands between them and whatever it is they have to face, whether that be clients, or an academic review committee, or other people at the barn, or even the horse standing across the pen. So the ones who want to be alternative-care therapists, some of them get involved in this scam with a black box that has blinking lights on it. This "scanner" has absolutely no therapeutic powers or function, and this has been published and the women who buy into it -- to the tune of six thousand bucks -- know this or have been made to know it. Nevertheless they still buy into it, because THEN they have something that they think will impress their clients that they can get out of their truck when they arrive at the farm. And they go ahead and pretend to make "diagnoses" and "treatments" with it; and sometimes, the horses they do this to get better. But what I tell them is that any healing they ever effected was due to their own loving energy, not the black box.

I think not only clickers, but all kinds of fancy bits, the famous ear hobbles (old time Forum readers will remember those), and any amount of straps and pads and magnets and copper bracelets and blankets that can be bought and put on horses fall into the same category. If there is success in getting the horse calm or causing him to obey or to perform, that was due to the handler's own actions, even when the handler was unaware (as they so often are) of what actions were actually the effective ones. The horse fills in for us; he often performs or obeys despite what we do, not because of what we do. So the clicker isn't doing anything. What makes the operation effective is something else -- something deeper and greater, and that relates to Patricia, not to the clicker. You can't fool me into thinking that you are less than you really are, you see, Patricia.

For if you say to me, "well, the clicker makes a noise", then I say to you, stop talking to your horse all the time. Stop jabbering. That way, he will begin paying attention to what you have to say to him. And if you say, "well it isn't the noise, it's that the sound immediately precedes the reward," then I say to you, why are you not working on your awareness, so that you KNOW when you are pressuring him with your body position, and so that you KNOW when he has yielded or responded to that, so that you may immediately reward him in that case?

You see -- you do not need any clicker. You have all that you need, already.

And just as I would encourage all students to lay down their whips when learning to longe, I would encourage you to put the clicker in the trash can. You do not need a whip to longe any horse, and you do not need a clicker to either signal or reward any horse. But unless you put these things away, you will continue to use the gimmick as a crutch, and that will prevent you from ever finding what you are, and how deep that really does go.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Ailusia
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 08:57 am
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For sure horses are not dolphins, and all the difference between horses and dolphins is against clicker tranining. We are much closer to horses and they need to respond to touch and yield to pressure, even if they are not dominated. With my mare I started to use the clicker at the beginning of her training, and after a year she really mastered it. She's better and faster than many dogs. Unfortunately, I'm still learning ;)
I wanted her to be always at liberty, most of the time without any headgear (what a gimmick...), and I wanted to be able to play with her and give her food rewards and teach her many "tricks" from front crunch to spanish walk to some pirouettes to collection. Of course I didn't need the clicker for that but it just makes things faster if you don't want to punish your horse, no matter what.
So I'm happy that I never had to hit her with a whip and put a bit in her mouth or use any other stuff, and she still learned what she had to learn. Now I will be working with another young mare, of the same age, and probably I will not use the clicker with her, at least for a long time. She is very clever and I suppose that she will understand me very soon, and a saddle and some kind of bitless bridle. Her biggest problem is fear, but her curiosity will probably motivate her enough. I'm planning to use the clicker somewhere at the "end" of her basic education, when I will teach her to approach a mounting block, because I don't know how to teach her another way. But maybe she will guess :)))
There is yet another horse, older one, which bites and pushes people around. He is very tall but his people didn't use mounting block with him, so I suppose that they had trouble with mounting him at all. They also say that his gaits are not very comfortable, so probably he's stiff. I want to use clicker to teach him not to bite, to teach him good manners when mounting, and to teach him some other things.
So for me clicker is useful when there is a concrete problem to solve, because it saves a lot of time and it motivates the horse. However I respect people who don't replace clickers with bits and whips, or rope halters and such stuff...

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 09:43 am
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Ailusia, I appreciate that you are trying to find ways to agree. However, in this post and in several of your previous posts, you reveal to me that you are mixed up about what it means to use a bit. I did NOT say that all bits are gimmicks. The bit is a tool of communication -- not a gimmick. What is a gimmick is when you use a bit to replace yourself. That could then be any kind of bit, although generally what people go for when they have a need for a gimmick is something with a lot of moving parts.

In a post you made some time ago, you stated that one of your goals is to ride without a bridle or bit. This is dangerous and foolish, Ailusia. I am not speaking here of it being dangerous and foolish for reasons of keeping YOU safe. Rather, it is dangerous and foolish because having no bit is never to be the goal. Communication is the goal, and if you go anyplace else, you are worshipping an idol -- bowing down before the wrong thing.

I want you to have the whole enchilada, Ailusia. You will not get it if you hold riding without a bridle to be better or higher than riding with one. They are BOTH THE SAME -- or ought to be. So there is a time and a place to ride "actually" without a bridle, and that is when you are completely in private. Because you see, when you are out in public, not only is there the constant temptation to show off (because other people will certainly notice when they see your horse without a bridle), but you also constantly endanger your horse -- had you thought of that part? Because you cannot tell at any time when something will come along in the external environment that the horse MUST flee from or react to, and no person can uphold the statement that they have so deep a control of their horse as to utterly be able to prevent the wreck that is going to result.

This is what I see at so many "horse expos" that feature these mixed-up people: their "bridleless rides" are no fun for me to watch, no pleasure at all, because I see that they are not only calling on their horses to fill in for them, but they are doing it at a much grander scale, with much more ego-investment, than people ordinarily do. The idea was to go the OTHER way.

So you work out your feel and your communication with your horse in private, and you should certainly have it as a goal to have deep mutual trust in each other. But you will also remember, please, that part of that trust is a responsibility on your part to keep your horse safe at all times, to protect him. He is innocent of your desires and ambitions -- he does not understand that when you take him away from home and ride him outside the roundpen or other safe, private, enclosed area that he is NOT SAFE, and you are lying to him when you tell him he is. The single most dangerous place in the world to ride, with the most potential wrecks, is a parade, for example.

You have nothing whatsoever to show anyone else -- keep that always in mind. You have nothing to prove to anyone else. I encourage all my students not to evangelize. The person needs to realize these things -- that the desire to "show" other people, which really means to judge them -- is what is really driving their desire to ride without a bridle. When you give that desire wholly up, it will take an enormous load off your HORSE.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Ailusia
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 05:07 pm
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Thank you for your reply! I actually like it, although I see where we disagree. I know that you are not against the use of "normal" bits, and maybe I shouldn't be so much against them, either. To explain myself a little bit... I'm not from the "clicker training sect"... but rather from the "sect of people who believe that it's possible to train horses to the high school level without the bridle" (only with a string around the neck). But now I'm not worshipping any of them (or any other). I'm trying to find my own way. For sure I don't like any kind of "showmanship", so I even hope that nobody will see me riding, because it's not going to be a good example ;)
This is what I see at so many "horse expos" that feature these mixed-up people: their "bridleless rides" are no fun for me to watch, no pleasure at all, because I see that they are not only calling on their horses to fill in for them, but they are doing it at a much grander scale, with much more ego-investment, than people ordinarily do.I can imagine this... although I have not seen anyone riding bridleless in real life, except myself. But last time that I rode was almost two years ago, and then I falled down and broke my collarbone. The horse had bridle, bit, and even some more equipment, but I was adjusting my stirrup leather when she spooked. Of course it's nothing very scary and I would start riding again long time ago, but my "sect" influenced me on that time ;) I still think that a lot of this is possible, although can be dangerous for the horse too. So... even if my mare becomes a super horse one day, I will not go for a parade, because probably I will not be a super rider :)
And with other people's horses, I would prefer to fix their "problems" on the ground, because this is what I was doing with my horse. Luckily in my stable people are rather okay. They even think that horses are sort of boring. So I want to encourage them to do something fun and useful and maybe new for them.
By the way, once when I was searching for a stable, I called to one place where they had no paddocks or pastures, but they had horse walker and indoor arena. I asked them if the horses are ever released anywhere (I thought that maybe they use the arena like this from time to time). They sayed that they don't, because it's dangerous and foolish. Their horses spend whole time in boxes, walkers or under saddle...

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 05:48 pm
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Dr. Deb,
I am a scientist. My background in animal training includes study of operant conditioning and the way I think about training is the paradigm of conditioned responses. The method I use does not involve a clicker, but it does use the bridge (a sound the animal is conditioned to interpret as "yes, that's what I want you to do"). It is very handy to have an auditory signal for the animal. I use "clicker training" as a generally understood term to mean training by using positive reinforcement with the help of a bridge signal.  To be more specific, it might help to refer to the method as "bridge-signal training" so we can throw the clicker out completely.

People occasionally explicitly use this concept when they help someone find something using the words "hotter" and "colder" to let them know if they are getting closer to the target.  Bridge-signal training is just that.

I respect the fact that you choose to use other protocols and you look at horse training from a different perspective. I suspect that our goals for our animals are very different. There is nothing judgmental about that.  The fact that it is a different perspective is what interests me. I like to experiment with things to figure out why things work or don't work, as the case may be. I am always interested in learning.

I am sorry if I sounded judgemental about the Birdie book mare.  I understood what the photo represented (as you explained), but what I was trying to say was that bridge-signal training is a way to engage that type of animal.  Animals that are too difficult to reach in normal ways (given the limits of a humans willingness to spend time trying) become more likely to be trained. The way that I look at it is that the human's efforts are reinforced by the results (small as they might be), making it more likely that the human will spend time doing it.

If one's goals are simply to have fun with their animals, bridge-signal training is a great tool. If you have other goals, it may not be useful. It's only a tool in the toolbox.

Patricia


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