In positive reinforcement training, it's so important to focus on how we want our animal to behave, as opposed to behaviours that we want to correct. While this may seem like a small, hair-splitting point, it's really not! Clicker training practice asks us to shift how we think and that's not as easy as one might think!
Here's why: In order to develop a plan for how to teach behaviours and then fine-tune them (put them under stimulus control) we need to picture our animal(s) in a positive framework. So when we go into the paddock, we don't think "oh no here comes that pushy rude animal" because that already sets up a negative thought process. And what we understand as humans is punishment. That's how we've all be taught - "clean up your room or else" kind of stuff - with consequences!
The Parelli natural horsemanship training uses consequences - there's always the threat of Phase Four even if it's never used. Animals understand that. So if the horse doesn't "get" what the trainer is asking, the trainer applies more pressure. In clicker training, if the horse doesn't get what the trainer is asking, the trainer backs up and breaks the lesson down into smaller steps until the animal understands.
Clicker training starts with this change of attitude: "I want a donkey who will ..." fill in the rest - say it's "stand quietly." Okay then, how to teach that? That's the basis of a training plan!
- Write down your dreams for your animal. "I picture a donkey who will stand politely, walk willingly, back up when I ask her, be calm around strange new things," for example.
- Create a training plan for each of the above goals and start at the beginning: foundation lessons!
- Set the environment for success, meaning remove the other animals and any distractions.
- Have everything you need at the ready: clicker, treat pouch and training aids.
- Train in short sessions using small steps, I mean really small steps, towards your goal, using a high rate of reinforcement.
I think one of the biggest mistakes that many people make when they begin clicker training is to try use it to problem solve. My donkey "wont" do this or that, so clicker training will fix the problem. It ain't necessarily so.
Bring a positive attitude and apply it to the tiniest behaviour, a lean in the right direction, standing for just a second or two, a weight shift. Train in small sessions, but train often and remember as Alexandra Kurland says "the animal doesn't know when it doesn't count, so it always has to count." In other words whenever you are with your animal you are training!
Don't shout, don't whack, don't back away, in fact don't even speak! If you stay quiet and focused, then when you add in a verbal cue (once the behaviour is 80% fluent) it will be clearly understood. Of course I do speak and give praise to my donkeys - I want them to feel encouraged. But most of our short sessions are done in silence until the end when I tell them how absolutely brilliant they are!
Remember: just because we are clicking, there's a science behind this type of training.