Monday, October 10, 2011

Training Roadblock . . .

*The pictures are from the walk and have no relevance to the text. :)

Okay, so I wrote out this really long unhappy, depressed rant because of a crappy training session I had with Chrome. Well only the last five minutes sucked because I got frustrated and let my emotions take over.

Here's the gist of it. I was grooming Chrome and just for the heck of it (because we haven't worked on it in ages) I asked Chrome to lower his head. He didn't, so I figured I just needed to review it because he forgot. He also was very reluctant to pick up his front hooves (which we also haven't worked on in a while). So when I finished grooming I decided to get my clicker and review the things he seemed to have trouble with . . .

I grabbed my treat pouch and he saw it . . . when I asked him to lower his head he did it perfectly!! This is after completely refusing to do it when I asked without treats. He also did his hooves perfectly. In fact he did it before I even touched him. So that means he didn't "forget" those behaviors, he just didn't want to do it without his "paycheck".

Sniffing neighbors' horse's poop on the road lol.

So either horses are truly selfish creatures who won't do anything without a reward or punishment (if you're into that) or I've failed somewhere in my training. At first when I was emotionally involved I thought the first (which could still be part of it), but now I'm thinking it has to do with my training. With clicker training you're supposed to fade out the clicker/treat, by following a variable reinforcement schedule, where you sometimes click and sometimes don't. Eventually you completely wean them off of a click and food reward. You still tell them they're good and give them scratches and rubs. The thing is I've never done that. Once I've taught the behavior I move on . . . I still click/treat every time I ask for certain behaviors. Now I have to figure out why he will lead and pick up his rear hooves perfectly without a reward, but things like his front hooves and head lowering he won't. I'm so confused.

Investigating the sign.

On a happier note he did fantastic with our ground tying work (using the clicker obviously) and was pretty good on our walk considering we haven't been in a while. Here's a video of the ground tying.

So I guess I need to be more thorough in my training. Anyone have any tips? Videos? Blogs?

Checking out another sign.


  1. You don't really need any advice, you answered your question in your post. Lol. Don't kick yourself too hard, it is quite easy to get carried away with behavior=reward. And forget that we were looking for a in depth lesson. Pippi doesn't always think that a treat is reward enough, so she does not always do the behavior. I like the idea of clicker training, but with a really smart horse it can easily become a hostage situation. And so Pippi must work until she gets it, and her reward is being done when she shows progress. Nothing mean of course, but repetition and not letting her slack off. When she gets it, or part of it, her reward is being done and brushed, petted, and taken care of. "Treating" her too much makes her work for treats, and when she gets tired of them she quits.

  2. Don't be too hard on yourself. I think what you are dealing with is a very clever horse. Even after three years, Dexter knows when I have treats and when I don't. He doesn't even seem to be fooled by an empty treat bag. If I have treats he walks like a gentleman even without rewards. But if I don't smell like hot dogs, forget about it.

    What trainers tell me is that I have faded the reward too quickly. I suppose that is true. You really do have to train a skill until they are doing it without thinking. Sigh. Patience, patience, patience.

    Mango Momma

  3. I sat here for a while thinking about what I just wrote, and then went back and read your post and my comment again. It didn't come out the way I wanted it to; hmmm. I think you have noticed that the way you use the clicker isn't working, and that changing its use will help. That's what I meant by " you answered your own question." we have found that Pippi will only work for treats for a very short while, and not really permanently learn that way. When we settle down to really work, and keep trying until she gets it, she seems to keep that new skill. But when she learns for treats, she tends to forget the lessons quickly, but maybe I am treating wrong to. Hmmm

  4. LOL Emme, I actually knew what you meant by that heheh. :D Chrome will work until he falls over dead for treats. He will do anything for them. He rarely gets bored with training (unless it's without clicker/treats) so I have to make sure not to let sessions go on too long. I really think a big part of the problem is that it was hot today and he'd been playing hard with the donkey. I think he just wasn't into it today. Bad timing on my part.

    I'm not "teaching" the behaviors wrong with clicker training, I'm just not "finishing" them. I get lazy and don't want to do the tedious fading of the clicker and treats, or like Mango Momma said I may be fading the clicker/treats too soon.

    That's the sad part is I know what I need to do, I just don't like that part of it lol. I just need to buckle down and review all of our old work (yawn - I do the same thing with my dog hehe). I guess I was more asking for specifics on how to fade them correctly. I might have to find a forum or email list specifically for clicker training so I can get some feedback.

    I don't think he's forgetting what he's learned because he did it perfectly when I got the clicker out. I just think he didn't feel like doing it today and because I've never faded it he doesn't know that he has to do it anyway. I just let the whole thing bother me too much. Now that I've sat and thought about it I know he wasn't being ugly or anything. And he is only two. He's gonna have good and bad days. I just need to stop doubting myself when we have the bad days. :)

  5. I can see you are just ooozing with frustration! I'm sorry! Think about this "roadblock" as an opportunity to make you a better trainer!

    I've started fading more and more with Grayson and he does fantastic with it. I bet Chrome will too once he realizes this new game also means treats. So with a side pass, in the beginning I clicked and treated every move of the foot in the right I can get him to step 4 or 5 times, click each time and then treat at the very end. It's that whole power of variable reenforcement. Someone was trailer loading Grayson the other day and the person unknowingly sort've cued for side pass and sure enough Grayson did it. The whole trailer loading thing was awful but that made me smile.

    Side note: I think getting frustrated with the clicker and treats is part of it. Honestly, I was a little down about it this week because I failed with the trailer and it was my first time someone said something negative to me about clicker training. "I don't mean to chastise you..." He thought I was going too slow with the whole process and didn't understand shaping. Unfortunately I'm sensitive to critique.

    For what it's worth, I think you are doing wonderful with him! I can't believe he's only 2...I always forget that. Karen Pryor mentions in her book that you should look at what you've accomplished not what you failed at. I know, easier said than done but you've done a lot with him so pat yourself on the back. :)

  6. Sorry, I don't use clicker training so I don't have any tips. I used the treat training early with my App and he very quickly decided that he only did what was being asked if treats were involved. I now train where you get a treat when we start and a treat when we are done. He is worked until he obtains what I am working on and rest, a scratch or a pat is the reward. The App is way too smart for his own good too. Good luck!

  7. Do you use lots of very enthusiastic verbal praise and strokes, hugs, etc, with Chrome while you're clicker training, alongside the treats? I always do this with all of mine and they seem to come to value my appreciation and admiration as much as the treats.

    I think CT can become a bit cold and mechanical without the positive emotional feedback and I find that, with Bella in particular, if I don't give her enough praise, starts to lose heart, even if she's still getting the treats.

    A wise old friend of mine said that horses are just like us - we're all mammals and we all run on emotion. I do believe that when horses learn to really listen and tune into us (and of course CT is the ideal tool to teach them to do this) they do learn to really value our affection and admiration.

    The other thing is we are all creatures of habit and when Chrome has been responding consistently for long enough he will just respond to these often repeated requests without even thinking about it, so a kind word and a stroke will be reward enough by then.

    I don't use variable reinforcement myself, it's too complicated for me! I like simple - a click means a treat - I just make sure I'm getting more and more for less and less clicks and treats, but I'm always lavish with praise and affection whenever it's earned.

    He's probably being a bit of a "teenager" at the moment and testing your resolve. If you can stay consistent and emotionally stable then he'll learn from you. Remember part of the process for horse and trainer is learning to handle our own frustration and staying calm and focused. He's teaching you how to do that so he can learn how to as well!

    I don't think horses are truly selfish creatures but all young mammals have to be selfish to begin with to survive. I do think that willingness, generousity of spirit and affection are learnt responses and develop over time, both in humans and in horses.

    He's looking fabulous and you're doing just great!!! A lot of conventional horse trainers would be grateful just to have a 2yo that 's reasonably safe to handle and you're miles beyond that! By the time he's four you'll think you were mad ever doubting yourself, he'll be so brilliant for his age! Be very proud!!!!

  8. I've just re-read your post and it sounds to me as though leading and picking up back feet has become habitual, but head lowering and front feet aren't yet - don't worry, they will be soon!

    I've got a bumbag I use for proper sessions but I've always got a couple of treats in my pocket, just in case they're called for. The riders at The Spanish Riding School have treat pockets sewn into their riding jackets so it's not just us CT-ers!

  9. Could I just make one final suggestion. I think when we're clicker training we get spoiled and used to a very attentive horse giving us very fast responses (when they understand what we want) and we tend to forget that most horses aren't like that to train.

    When I had a lunge lesson the other day on someone else's schoolmaster my brilliant instructor told me that I was always in too much of a hurry and that I should slow down, ask very quietly and then wait, expecting the correct response but allowing the horse time to process, organize himself and respond softly.

    I guess perhaps it's not fair to expect the same level of concentration and enthusiasm when you're not CTing, especially with youngsters who don't yet have the years of acquired good habits behind them.

    Hope something in all of this is of some use and I still think you're doing brilliantly!!!

  10. I think you're doing great with Chrome. He looks gorgeous too.
    It is true about the Spanish Riding School and their treat pockets. I read that somewhere also.

  11. I click and treat often in the beginning to teach the behavior. Then I start to fade it out and click only when he does better than average--so we can always improve. For instance, I want to do 10 clickable transistion--and I only click the great ones.

    Sometimes, he gets upset when he does something well and I don't click, so I have been trying to add more verbal praise and wither scratching. It seems to be helping.

    I also like to throw in random clicks for good behavior. If I feel liek saying "Good boy," I click.

    Think of it as gambling. If you win a small prize all the time, that becomes a routine--and you expect it. If you have to pull the slot machine handle many times to get a big jackpot--as long as you get one sometimes--you will keep pulling that handle. It is an actual science that they incorporate into gambling to hook people.

    I think you are doing great--maybe just need to fade the clicks on the things that he mastered.


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