Interesting topic - I've read it all and forgot what I wanted to quote so I'll just write things that are on my mind after reading all. ;
I do think it's good to be aware of that everything you do does have side effects that you don't necessarily are aware of right from the start. And that goes for clickertraining as well as for pressure-release based systems.
There were a lot of statements starting this topic and I'm not sure if they are questions or opinions or discussion points, but this is what my experience is:
- clickertraining is a short-cut for beginners
I do know that beginners can get results very fast by using clickertraining. However, I don't think that's because of the clicker or just the food, but more because of the fact that the human uses extremely precise timing right from the start. That means that your horse knows exactly what you're asking from him. If you have a rewardsignal and then scratch him on an itchy spot or do something else un-foodrelated that he likes, he will learn quite fast as well. If you just generally always make him feel the same and don't use any (positive or negative) stimulation that tells your horse how you feel about what he's doing, then learning indeed will go very slow as a horse simply doesn't understand what it is that you want then.
If you don't want/need/expect anything, then working without timing and stimulation is fine as well. However, when teaching something makes the quality of your horses life better immediately, then I would want to teach him that as soon as possible. If you can teach a horse not to be scared of something, then that really is such a relief for him and makes his general wellbeing so much better. And if you can make him understand easily how to move in a physical more healthy way, then I wouldn't heasitate to do that as soon as possible either.
- clickertraining is dangerous as it teaches the wrong behavior
It is if you reward for the wrong moments!
And in that it's exactly the same as regular pressure-release based methods. A big problem with training spooky horses in the regular way, is tha when the rider is on board and the horse jumpes away from that scary corner, the rider is thrown off balance and releases the reins. If he then redirects the horse towards the corner, he will tighten the reins in order to prevent the horse from jumping away from it again. The horse spooks again, throws the rider off balance, the reins are slackened for a moment again and the problem slowly increases. The problem is that whenever the horse approaches the scary corner, the reins become tighter, and whenever he spooks away from it, the reins and the control of the rider are lightened. So the rider effectively teaches the horse to spook more and more.
I did read the Leslie Desmonds links you placed here before and read somewhere that she uses 'as little pressure as possible and as much as needed'. That's exactly the same thing: Leslie knows when exactly to push a bit harder, when not to give up or release pressure to get that right result. The fact that she uses the power of timing in her training does speed up the training sessions a lot, because if she didn't use it, the horse would have no idea of which behavior was wanted. And that generally wouldn't be a problem, if Leslie wouldn't be trying to teach the horse something!
You could even say that timing really is the cause of and solution to every problem. That's also the reason why the best (softest) pressure release trainers can get results without using a lot of force: they realise that when they use pressure and release right at the second the horse does(n't do) something, they can use the tiniest amount of pressure simplye because the behavior hasn't escalated so much yet that brutal force is needed. You see the same in classical dressage: you teach things first in halt, then in walk, then in trot and then in canter - simply because in a slow gait you simply have more time to respond to thing correctly.
- teaching ears forward is bad
Well, I've done that with Blacky and I wonder if it has been bad. I haven't taught it as a trick with a cue, but simply wanted to see if he really meant to have his ears back when I approached. What we did essentially was the way of approaching a horse as is described over here: when I went to the gate and Blacky had his ears back, I would stop and walk backwards away again. Whenever he put his ears forwards, I would move towards him. When I got next to him finally, I would thank him a big time and also give him a treat. But the fact is that Blacky only got that treat the first time after he had decided that he wanted me with him anyway.
Another thing that is good to know, is that Blacky came from a bad background and had always hated/attacked humans before, so ears back had become a sort of default mode. When after a year of positive training (with food, without clicker) he still did this, I decided that it was time to see if he really meant what he was expressing with his face.
Apparently he didn't, as when I responded to his angry face by moving away, he started looking more neutral or positive in order to draw me back in.
- Teaching movements teaches horses to lie
I'm not sure about this. I think that what the owners of Karens dog have done, to teach the dog to give off calming signals whenever he felt scared, actually was quite a good idea, because it could very well have been that the alternative past was that the dog attacked everything that scared him. However, it is handy to tell this to people who don't know this. Just as it's very handy to tell people who have no experience with horses how the horse expresses himself naturally. If you can't read his signals, then there is bound to be trouble someday. I did teach Sjors to lower his head when he was nervous, not because of the hormones and stuff, but more because it gave him a chance to express to me in a safe way that he was nervous. The alternative was exploding and running away fast. Which of course also is very sensible from a horses point of view, but not handy in every situation
and that also didn't give me a chance to point out that there was nothing to be scared of.
- you can teach horses dangerous things with a clicker/food
Yes, and it's good to be aware of that, I think. It's not a flawless system, simply because the human component is still involved.
- horses get aggressive from food
This is an interesting one, because I feel that it actually is the other way round: you can teach horses to become aggressive around food. Many people unconsciously have done so even before they started rewarding with food - simply because the horse sometimes pulled the reins out of their hands to snatch some grass, because at feeding time at night the horse has realised that if he crowds the human or scares off other horses, he will get more food. And he will have learned that at the end of the ride when the human has an apple in his hand, he can just grab it and eat it without a second thought. So it is only obvious that when you then say to your horse 'I'll work with foodrewards from now on', your horse will add up his previous experiences and will put all his effort in getting the food from you as much as he can.
The only thing you really have to do, is to teach him how to behave around food - just as you've taught him how to behave around you. For some reason horses generally know not to bit, trample and harrass you in general - now all you have to do is ask him not to do that when you wear a red jacket, or carry a bale or hay, or a pocket with carrots as well.
- The horse who kicked is an example of a clickertrained horse gone wrong
I haven't followed that discussion and haven't seen the video either, but you can wonder if the horse was being bad? Was his action actually clicker/or foodreward triggered? I do work with treats, and regardless of that can cause the ponies to play harmoniously with me or kick me in the head.
Just the fact that I use foodrewards doesn't mean I've become a saint! I can still be overdemanding, obnoxious, boring and as hyperperfectionist as I was before. I think that response the woman who got kicked will get on the c/t list will go in two ways essentially:
One: teach your horse not to kick/that kicking is wrong (which in my opinion seems like solving the results, not the problem underlying)
Two: realise that your horse has given you valuable feedback on what he thinks of the training (which would be more like AND; use the signals your horse is giving you to improve your own behavior).
My suggestion to her would be twofold: indeed see the kick as valuable feedback and make a list of what might have triggered it and how you can prevent doing that in the future - and also teach your horse that you interpret a kick as such a huge 'go away!!!' signal that you will listen to it immediately by going away and staying away from your horse for several minutes. Often horses just use the bodylanguage they have always needed to get through to humans, and often they have learned to speak very loud because humans are very stupid. If you show your horse that big signals will cause big results in your behavior, he will very soon realise that he probably didn't want you to leave him for ten minutes, but that he just wanted to tell you to stop annoying him by asking that same exercise over and over again. So he will make that feedback more appropriate in size: 'if the human is annoying again, I'll just walk away or stop playing along, as obviously she has started to understand smaller signals as well. There still might be some hope for her.'
So I do agree that just teaching the horse not to kick (or to put his ears forwards always even when he feels bad) doesn't solve the immediate problem - if there is one underlying the behavior.
However, I don't believe in totalitarianism. Just because teaching a horse not to kick can be unwise in some instances (when you teach the horse not to express his anger), doesn't mean that it is always wrong. Just because you can stab a horse in the eye with a hoofpick, doesn't make hoofpicks a tool of torture either.
For me teaching a horse B always involves two simple steps:
1. Ask myself: why does he do A now? Why doesn't he do B? What can I chance already in order to make A less necessary and B more logical to the horse?
(for example, not annoy him so he doesn't kick - not allow him to steal treats because he just looks so cute whenever he does it
2. Teach him that B works even better than A in getting what he wants
(and with that I mean not just food, but also making the human behave better simply because now you've established a signal together that means 'you annoy me, stop it')
- Clickertraining turns horses into brainless zombies who will sell their soul if it would earn them treats
Well, we're puzzling with treats and the piaffe for 1,5 year now, and I still wouldn't call it a real piaffe and improvement is steady, but sloooow. Partly because I'm not that good at finding the right timing in this movement, partly because it's tough to do for Blacky as well, and also because I'm not the real 'only reward for improved behavior' clickertrainer. I reward for everything, including the lesser options that Blacky gives me a lot because I'm just a big softy and I'm already brimming with joy whenever a pony just halts on my cue. That makes it less likely for the ponies to overstretch their possibilities as they will get the reward otherwise anyway. I'm quite suprised that they actually improve what they do so much, and I really feel that I should blame that on the fact that they simply love to solve puzzles and to surpise me (probably into giving them more food, but still).
If you clickertrain sharper (only reward for improved behavior and by that make the rewards rares) then the horse will rate the rewards higher and will do more to get that reward and then training will speed up, but will also become somewhat more risky as the horse is more likely to overstretch his borders in order to get it. However, it is really, really, really difficult to be such a trainer! If you talk about clickertraining being for beginners, then the general get lured into rewarding almost anything really is simply.
becoming extremely specific in what you reward and having the mental and emotional power not to reward anything else that your horse tries in order to please you - that is really, really tough. Horses simply are too irresistable cute. At least I still haven't been able to master it.