Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

Leave a comment! Just click on Comments at the bottom of each post and a box will appear. If you have a question, I always respond!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Operant Conditioning Behaviour Analysis - Part 3

I think one of the most important "light bulb" things I learned in the course, was how to take a behaviour from introduction through to stimulus control, step by step.

The clinics I've been to (all fabulous) stressed all the terminology and I saw some amazing horses that had been trained to accomplish such finesse and detail.  But I never really "got" the step by step process.
I also witnessed well-trained horses that would throw out a plethora of learned behaviours, such as "the pose" or Spanish walk regardless of whether they had been cued for that or not.

I think this is the place many people (beginners) get stuck, or just stop in their training.  We teach a behaviour and then leave it at that.  The animal sees us and starts running through her routine, in case she will earn a reward.  And we, are delighted and know that whenever we are with our animals, we are, in fact "training" them, so we click and treat!

So here are some simple steps to keep in mind:

1.  Teaching a new behaviour should be done in short sessions, maybe counting out the number of times you will ask for it, whether through capturing, shaping, molding or luring.  In the course, we repeated the behaviour just 5 times.  If it was something that involved the animal using both sides of it's body, such as "head turns," we'd do 5 times on each side.  But when we were teaching the animal to "come," then we'd stop after 5 tries.  So this is concise and uses a high rate of reinforcement.

Note that the trainer does not cue the animal in any way - no words and only gestures that are needed for the technique you have chosen to train with.  In other words, for teaching Siog to "come!" I might extend my arms towards her and pull them in towards my body as she approaches but I don't say "come" until she starts to repeat the behaviour in what is called fluency.

2.  Fluency means that the animal will repeat the correct behaviour at least 80% of the time, before you can move on.  100% of the time is ideal.  When this starts happening, you add a "cue" just before you click.  So, donkey turns her head to the right - as she does I say "head!" or "blip!" or whatever I have chosen as my cue.

3.  Cues- in Kathy Sdao's lab at Clicker Expo, she told people to "write a cue dictionary."  I thought this was an excellent idea!  You want to be sure to say the same cue for each behaviour - not "come" one time and "come here" the next time!  In the course, the instructor Heather, suggested that we say the animal's name before the cue, especially if we have more than 1 animal.  So my cue would be "Siog come!"

So that we don't muddy the waters and confuse our animals, don't do any other mumbling or talking,
just be quiet until it's time to say the cue.

Now you've got your animal offering a behaviour that you have taught and you've added a verbal cue.
Say you want to add a gesture instead of a word.  I think you'd start by doing both and then phase out the word. Or your cue could simply be a gesture, the same clear one every time, without a verbal cue (I think this is harder.)

Important to say the cue immediately before or as you click and it's so important to click for action and not after the animal comes to a stop.  During the behaviour is when you need to click!

4.  Stimulus Control, to my way of thinking, is a behaviour linked to cues.  So now the behaviour is performed promptly when the cue is given, not performed if the cue is not given and some other behaviour is not offered in response to the cue.

So to summarize:  First you teach a new behaviour and as you practice, the animal becomes "fluent" which means she understands what is making you "click!"  Once the animal gets it, you add a cue and practice with the cue attached and when these tow things work smoothly together (behaviour on cue) you are working towards putting that behaviour under stimuls control!

I think many people (me) give up after teaching the behaviour and don't follow through to this final step.
But really, if you see the direction (goal) you are headed towards and follow a clear path to get there it's much easier.


  1. #1 is so important, and I just recently grasped it. I get to excited about training and try to train a whole bunch of stuff in a big long session. I needed to simplify!! Today I did 5 clicks per(side) per donkey, kept super simple and short!! I'll see how much they 'digest' tomorrow! I just recently started doing this with my dog, keeping stuff really simple and short and she seems to retain and understand it faster. I think my donks gets bored if a session is longer than 10 minutes. Love the blog!!

  2. Good for you! I found found that when the light bulb goes ON, it's so much fun! And above all, you want to avoid frustrating your donkey! How many donkeys are you working with?