Month: April 2013

ClickerExpo 2013 : Animal Qualities

Another question posed at the Q&A session was ….Does Clicker Training bring out qualities in animals that you don’t otherwise see?

clexpo Kay LKay Laurence’s reply related to their human trainers.  She feels that it makes for better people.  This is because it demands that we improve our skills and learn more ourselves.  She also feels it makes us much more compassionate.  Julie Shaw remarked that CT gives pet owners permission to enjoy their pets and develop a great relationship

Kathy Sdao commented that CT allows animals to show behaviours that reveal their true personalities, while Ken Ramirez said that he sees comfortable and happy animals.

Horses chortle and chuckle, expressions that no other training has ever produced according to Alexandra Kurland.

porpoise jumpKaren Pryor described how CT teaches animals to think, pick up concepts, combine cues and teaches them to be more observant.  It makes for excellent relationships and trust.  She talked about the creative porpoise experiment (which you can read about this in detail in her book home_karen_01“Reaching the Animal Mind”  or have a look at her video here) which gave her the biggest surprise of her life.  A porpoise was Clicked and treated only for a novel behaviour each time.  The porpoise went through it’s repetoire and then showed behaviours never before seen.  It appeared that the porpoise thought up new behaviours in the tank at night!

blindness-guide-dog-for-the-blindFinally Michele Pouliot described how guide dogs who have been taught to find things for their blind handler, lead their person to the correct spot.  If the handler reaches out and keeps missing the item the dog pushes the person into the correct place for the hand movement that they are using….not a taught behaviour.  This has been shown to happen with many dogs.

So it seems that CT causes both human and animal to learn more, develop their relationship with fun and to allow expression of personality and creativity.  What has been your experience with your animals?

Carrot or stick?

Having just read a great article by Inge Teblick How a carrot can become a stick  I wanted to make a few comments.

When teaching clicker training to new learners, there are two common mistakes they make, firstly, they don’t click often enough at the beginning of training a new behaviour and secondly, they keep clicking that first step far too long!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy is important to click lots at the start?  The function of the click is to mark the performance of the correct desired behaviour and it also acts as a bridge to the moment when we deliver a reward (be that food….most commonly, or a good scratch, or whatever your horse is prepared to work for).  Horses need to learn that what they are doing is the correct behaviour by repetition.  How much repetition is needed depends so much on the horse, his/her experience etc.  It is important to recognise that just a few repetitions may not be enough for a behaviour to be truly learned (how many times in learning how to ride have you been told to keep your heels down?), but it’s also very important to keep the horse interested and enthusiastic and not bore them by too many repetitions.

Alexandra Kurland talks about training in loops….CUE…leads to …BEHAVIOUR…..leads to CLICK/REINFORCE….leads to….CUE….leads to …BEHAVIOUR…..  and so on.  She says that when a loop is clean, (meaning the horse is performing the behaviour readily), that you get to move on (increase the difficulty) and not only can you move on, but you should move on.

kid write Os for writingThe example I give my trainees is that when we learned to write, we started by tracing very simple shapes, following the dots.  When we got a gold star from the teacher we went home thrilled and delighted.  However some years later, we are writing long essays for the reward of a tick on the end of the page and maybe a ‘very good’ comment from the teacher….we would not appreciate gold stars every two letters at this stage!

gold star

A little about Cues

This year I got to go to ClickerExpo and it was an amazing learning experience. Organised by the Karen Pryor academy, this conference runs twice a year in the USA. There was a myriad of excellent speakers and four parellel sessions so it was difficult to decide who to go and listen to but all of the speakers were at a Q & A session at the end where the topic of cues was discussed.

Kathy Sdao said that clear consistent cueing is the best thing we can do for our animals and that less precise cues were like music with static. One of the speakers ( I think it might have been Karen Pryor herself) went so far as to say that clear cues were a welfare issue!

belugasKen Ramirez, of the Shedd Aquarium described how they had trained whales to do 2 behaviours that can be elicited by visitors to the aquarium: a right hand wave is a cue to spin while a two-handed open/close means ‘talk’. Visitors are clearly not animal trainers and their interpretations of a right hand wave are many and varied. The whales have learned to generalise that anything a visitor does with their right hand means spin. Similarily for talk………..However if a trainer gives a sloppy cue, the whales look askance and the behaviour doesn’t happen!

Clinic with Alexandra Kurland

Alexandra Kurland is giving a three day clinic near Tralee, Co Kerry Ireland…why not take advantage of Ryanair flights to Kerry airport (30 min away) to come and have a wonderful break in Kerry while learning new skills.

alex taking photoLearn how to communicate clearly with your horse, solve common problems, improve performance and build a great partnership!

3 Day Clicker Training Clinic with Alexandra Kurland at, The Irish Clicker Centre, Tralee, Co Kerry, Ireland. May 31st to 2nd June 2013

This 3 day clinic starts with introductions on the evening of Thurs 30th May, followed by 3 full clinic days from 31st May to 2nd June

There are limited horse places available on the clinic. Book early to avoid disappointment. Auditor/Without horse places are available.  Everyone who attends is a full participant and will have hands-on learning throughout the day.

Panda_Albany_restaurant_010Alexandra Kurland is the foremost equine clicker trainer in the world and is the author of a range of books and DVDs.

Enquiries and Bookings: phone Mary on (353)87-1370162  email: