The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 4:08 pm 
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Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2010 7:42 am
Posts: 2147
Location: Vienna, Austria
Cyndi wrote:
But I have gotten myself in trouble by using the phrase, "Good girl!" because if I'm on her and she gives me a trot when I ask for it, "Good girl" pops out of my mouth without even thinking, and she stops for a treat :roll:
If "Good girl" is your secondary reinforcer, then stopping is unfortunately the proper response. The secondary reinforcer is a terminating signal and the horse is correct in waiting for the primary reinforcer.
It is actually a very common problem of trainers who do not employ a proper reinforcment plan. They use their "clicker words" ambiguously, sometimes as secondary reinforcer (often means horse can stop afterwards and is petted), sometimes the same word is meant as bridging signal though. That leads to grotesque scenarios where the trainer has to use code language with the student to circumvent the accidentlly established "clicker words". ;)

I would suggest, as Donald already hinted at, the best way to solve this problem is to establish a concise clicker word/sound.
If you load that clicker sound prior to every session for a while, I'm sure that the terminating meaning of "Good girl" will soon fade out and you can introduce it as a handy bridging signal :).
A clicker sound is easy, as the chance to use it accidentally is minimal. When using a word, just choose carefully. I use "Bravo", as it is a word I usually don't use in training and other people don't use it as well. So far it works fine.


The horse owes us nothing.

PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:17 pm 
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Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 4:10 am
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Location: Pacific Northwest U.S.
LOL ... right you are, Volker. Some weird things happen.

I forget to mention one of the slickest ways out of this problem ... the behavior chain. At first you click and reward for one small behavior, say lifting a hoof. The you click and reward for a step forward ... bet you can already see the Spanish walk coming, eh?

We are not limited to only two actions in a "chain." I chained for Altea's circle work, and am now doing so with Bonnie. A horse gets pretty quickly that a series of events are actually a single event. How many and how long depends on a couple of factors, the horse's ability to sustain action (usually pretty darn long) and the skill of the trainer.

Shaping is based on the same principle. I also like the idea that though the horse knows that a treat is always coming at some point in a series of his responses, he starts to not know exactly where. Three steps, two, seven?

If you stick to this concept you can have a horse increasing his energy willingly. This is where trainer skill comes in .. he or she spots the horse is growing stale, and introduces variations on a behavior to excite the horse's interest again. Smart teachers of humans knows this teaching logic quite well usually.

Suppose for instance you wanted to teach your horse to pick up and object and bring it to a box and drop it in. Suppose after you taught him this and obviously the treat comes after he drops the object. And pretty soon he's bored with this and slowing down his response time.

I would introduce the idea that this is not the only object, and or this is not the only place to put it. I would create choices. And imagine what would happen if I varied the click and payoff among those choices?

This is what builds investment, engagement, and energy and interest. It's not enough to get just the primary reinforcer. A horse, and we too, want more than that. As anyone that has worked in the same job for very long. If it's always done and will always BE done in the same manner always it can get old pretty quick even though you still get your paycheck.

I see, here at AND, and elsewhere, some very sloppy "conditioning," going on at times. I see also that I am wild about, love, that very thing. The horse can expect something new to challenge him. The "trainer," forgets to move the arm a certain way for a requested response (heck, they might not even know they were doing that with their arm) and the horse suddenly has to think and trust more and try to understand this crazy human and her tricks. LOL

The strict application of conditioning principles for a specific behavior is the hallmark of operant conditioning. The development of a positive relationship and a positive trusting and interesting evironment is the hall mark of classical conditioning.

The latter requires you understand the normal and naturally derived responses ... say, salivating in anticipation of something that tastes good. Apply it to other areas of behavior and start to create a fun place to be in and fun things to do.

Unless we have both even clicker training with strict adherence to the rules of operant conditioning can become a dead end. It's not just the treat, it's the challenge and fun.

So, "I wants me money and me fun too," is what I think they say - just like us.


Love is Trust, trust is All
So say Don, Altea, and Bonnie the Wonder Filly.

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