Cues and things

I thought I’d share with you guys some thoughts that have come up while working with McKee and my latest training goal. I’ve been expanding his ability to hear several cues, sometimes given all at once, other times I give him cues while he is in motion.

An example of this is a series of cues that involve walking forward, stopping in front of an object, then waiting for instructions as to what to do with the object.

So it might sound like “Walk-on,” “And ho,” “Wait,” “Bite,” and “Come here.” This looks a bit like a fetching sequence, but I’m giving cues while he is in transition, and I’m asking him to be attentive and listen to the verbal cues even while he is in motion.

Now the fascinating part, for me as a trainer, began happening when I would ask him to “Step-Up” on the item instead of doing a “bite” of the item. What I found out was that all round soft objects were, in HIS mind, to be “bite” items, and all wooden objects were deemed to be “Step-up” types of items.

I hadn’t realized that I had inadvertently created such a clear distinction for him, or I didn’t realize HE had created such a clear distinction for himself! Either way you look at it, I saw the training challenge in front of me. Could I take a “bite” item and help him see that even though it was soft and round, he could “Step-Up” on that item, or at LEAST put a hoof on it.

Conversely, I wanted to see if I could take a piece of wood, traditionally seen by him as a pedestal or stationing item, placed on the ground, and teach him to “Bite” and pick up that item, overriding his conditioned history of how he perceived that item.

So I took a piece of wood, added a hole and a little zip-tie so he could pick it up with his teeth. Voila, instant training challenge. I also took a squishy roundish toy and began to shape him to step on it.

 
The training has gone well, and has, as usual, provided me with lots of things to think about.
 
One of the continual reminders for ME as a trainer is just how EASY it is to assume a horse has complete understanding of a cue. Hey, I’m pretty thorough with training and generalizing my cues, but this one slipped by me. Look how easily I had created the association between soft, round items and his “bite” cue, and flat, wooden items with his “Step-Up” cues.
 
The other thing this training goal provides is a welcomed “wake-up” call for me; it is a reminder of just how much I need to monitor the responses, test the cues in different environments and never, never, never blame the horse for a missed cue. Developing good cue response is MY job as a trainer, not his job as a horse.
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About clickertraininghorses - Peggy Hogan

I teach people and train horses using positive reinforcement. The horses I work with are given choice, the freedom to volunteer behavior. The joy is that they strive to volunteer what works for both of us.
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