28 Jul Steps to Clicker Training a Behaviour
Steps for clicker training a behaviour:
1. Pick a goal behaviour/criteria. Description of criteria should be observable, measurable. Describe how the animal uses its body in the criteria rather than describing a feeling or emotional state. E.g criteria is head down with feet still, rather than “relaxed”. (We can never truely know how an animal feels, but we can see what the animal is doing). Also when making a criteria think about what you want the horse TO DO, rather than..”how do I stop XYZ.”
2. Set up environment. How can I set up the environment so that the horse is comfortable and in a good mental state for learning? How can I set up the environment or set the horse up so they are likely to make an attempt towards the behaviour I am looking for?
3. Be ready with clicker in hand. Mark and reward the slightest try. Click DURING the behaviour then give the reward. Click = Treat. Always give a reward after a click. Feed with your hand extended out away from your body.
4. Use a high rate of reinforcement. (Lots of Clicks per Minute).
Do repetitions and aim to get a clean training loop. E.g Behaviour, click, treat, behaviour click, treat. Clean loop means no extra other behaviours happening in the loop.
5. When horse is offering correct behaviour straight away, with no delays then you can shape the behaviour by raising criteria gradually in tiny increments. Get more repetitions of new criteria. Then raise criteria again…etc.
6. If/when behaviour deteriorates, go back to a stage where your horse was easily successful. Do more repetitions at that stage and try to build up in smaller incremental steps next time.
7. Add a cue immediately before behaviour. If you give a cue, reward behaviour. If horse offers uncued behaviour, redirect, ask them to do something else that you can click them for. Do lots of clicks and treats for the alternative behaviour so they stop offering their new behaviour. That is why it is so important to have safe default behaviours established at first. It is easy to teach a new behaviour and easy to get it on cue control, just remember that you need to train cue control!
8. Train behaviour from the beginning each new session. Train behaviour from beginning with each new distraction, change of environment or context. Retrain behaviour in at least 10 new environments. It won’t take as long each time you retrain the behaviour as it will become more established.
9. Re-train/reinforce any other similar behaviours or cues. E.g If you teach Spanish walk you will need to also remind the horse to have its feet handled, picked out etc.
10. Reinforce the opposite behaviour. Every behaviour has an opposite behaviour. E.g head down-head up, standing still – moving fast, sideways left – sideways right… etc. When you work on one end of the pendulum, do a lot of reinforcement and improve that behaviour, you will then need to work on the opposite behaviour to keep things in balance. E.g If you just thoroughly trained standing still and did hundreds of repetitions, you will also have to work on doing repetitions of rewarding the horse for moving. Otherwise the horse will be more “stuck” than usual until you also reward them for “moving”. Once things are back in balance you will have an awesome new behaviour as well as the old established behaviours.