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!
Why 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.
The 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!