You have probably noticed that the owner of the video has removed the video clip that I put up in my last entry of the lady with the clicker trainer horse. I don’t know why it has been removed. But she has added the exact same clip to YouTube under another title with a different voice over. Here is the link.
I love your critiques of clicker training because I think they are bang on the money.
Behavioural science, where I believe the use of the clicker originates, is kind of looked down on by most scientists as "not really very sciencey" as far as I can tell.
The problem is reproducibility.
You can prove that clicker training works in a reproducible way, which makes it great for writing a science paper. "We trained the animal to touch the target with it's nose and clicker training was 47% more effective than poking it with a stick," you can say. The trouble with reproducibility is that in terms of animal training you are restricted to absolutely trivial tasks. This is precisely the area that clicker training excels. So it gets this stamp of scientific authenticity.
The problem is that most of what we do with horses is not really reproducible. Not once it gets interesting - people don't tend to cue up the transition from piaffe to passage in exactly the same way with an eye to scientific reproducibility and of course for all these real-world tasks the clicker is essentially useless. I know of a couple of people in this part of the world who have tried to build up a riding programme based entirely on clicker training. As far as I know they are still trying and perhaps they will continue to as long as their horses live. That seems a little sad to me.
For some reason it seems to get people really religious about it too, which is odd. These Pure Positive Reinforcement folk who seem to live in the best of all possible worlds, yet inexplicably have to bitterly slate anybody who doesn't sing from their hymnsheet.
My other concern about restricting oneself to this approach is that there is simply no preparation for controlling a situation if the horse gets afraid- people go to such lengths to ensure that nothing is ever bothersome to the horse that they have no preparation for what happens when something does bother the horse. I don't think I'd want to do any kind of trail riding with anyone with that mindset.
Also your opinionated discursions on equestrian topics have inspired me to start sharing my own opinionated nonsense, which I'm doing here: http://pragmatichorsemanship.co.uk
So far I can safely assure you that WordPress is easy to use...
All the best,
I think you make a very good point regarding clicker training being used for simple tasks that are easily reproduced. In my experience, CT is largely confined to tasks that require just a few steps, such as curing headshyness or loading onto a float. But when it comes to training complex tasks that are the result of a build up from a multitude of simple tasks, like half pass, there is always a need to resort to negative reinforcement techniques.
Your point about CT being impotent when control flies out the window is also an excellent observation. CT relies on the horse being highly reward orientated. This usually means the horse needs to be fixated on food above all else. But what happens when something else other than the reward of a treat becomes the horse's main priority? What happens when the prospect of a slither of carrot is just not worth staying around when a killer wombat pokes his head around a tree? I know any of my horses would tell me where I can stuff those carrots and be half way to New Zealand before I can get the clicker out of my pocket.
Further to that, CT tends to teach all or nothing results because it is very task orientated. So a horse might be taught to do a very specific exercise like stepping onto a pedestal. He learns the task and can repeat it over and over again. But the way he steps onto the pedestal or the quality with which he does it, is what he gives you. You don't get much say in how he does it. There is no ability to change how he steps onto the pedestal without re-training the task. For example, if he steps up left foot first, but you want the right foot first, you have to go through the whole training of getting onto the pedestal all over again. This is because the training is focused on achieving the end result and not on how he got there. Good horsemanship should focus on the journey that leads to the end result. If the journey is correct, the end result will be taken of.
Thanks for the link to your new blog. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to link to it. The page tries to load, but nothing appears. So I now have proof that WordPress does not work - you lie!
A few days ago I received a lecture by a lady on the virtues of clicker training. I have talked about clicker trainer before and I’m sure most people know what it is. But just in case…
Clicker training involves using a cue like a clicking sound or a vocal sound like “good boy” to signal a horse he has done the right thing. He knows it is the right thing because the click sound is followed usually by a food treat like a slither of carrot or apple. With repetition a horse learns that the click is always followed by a food reward, so he searches for ways to cause the trainer to press the clicker. If the trainer is consistent the horse learns that only the requested behaviour will result in the use of the clicker and subsequent food reward. It’s a positive reinforcement technique that is widely used in training sea mammals like dolphins and seals. It has gained popularity with horse people who don’t like using negative pressure with a horse and is particularly popular when teaching tricks.
Anyway, the lady lectured me about how clicker trainer helped her cure her horse’s head shyness. She couldn’t touch her horse’s ears no matter what she did until somebody suggested clicker trainer. Voila! Within a few short sessions she could bridle horse with no problem.
Before I give my thoughts on CT, check out the video below first.
In the video the horse is not happy. He has learned not to physically push on the trainer, but mentally that is all he can think about.
What CT lacks is the ability to get a horse to think about anything but what he must do to get his reward. It not about being focused on the trainer and building a connection. CT is about teaching a horse that out pops a carrot when he does what the human asks. A strategy for getting the carrot becomes the horse’s focus, not the trainer. It is pure obedience training and nothing more.
I have told the story before, but it is worth repeating again. Many years ago I watched a demonstration by the pre-eminent CT trainers in the US. She showed how she had re-trained a horse that was a rogue to load into a trailer. She demonstrated what a quiet and polite fellow he had become after being trained using CT. He loaded without hesitation into the back of the trailer and then politely backed out by himself when asked. I had no reason to question that he was a totally improved horse from the one she started with. But I asked her if she could load the horse half way, stop him and back him out. The lady thought about it for a minute and said that she would have to re-train him to stop half way. Then she made a joke at my expense about what good is a horse that only goes half way into a trailer.
What she had done is train the horse to perform a trick. He learned a routine or job. But he didn’t learn to be attentive to the trainer and be ready for anything that might change. He just new a job and if the job was going to change he had to be trained to do the new job.
In terms of the alternative training scale of focus, clarity and softness, CT fails to deliver. It certainly lacks focus. It’s probably pretty good at offering clarity because food rewards are such strong motivators for many horses. But it fails in teaching softness because the focus is about a food reward and not the human.
I tried explaining to the lady my view, but she couldn’t see how the focus problem with CT was getting in the way of a good relationship between a horse and its trainer. I then tried to point out to her that all the time we were talking her horse was sniffing her pockets and hands. But I don’t think my observation was appreciated.