Sometimes people ask me what to do if the horse continues to offer behavior after they’ve heard the click. To me, this is a signal that the horse and I are no longer working towards the same goal.
So when a horse continues with the task after I’ve clicked, I tend to interrupt what we’re doing, offer a couple of easy tasks and then go back to what I was training. I like to have clean repetitions that repeat frequently with the horse stopping to get the reinforcement after each click. Why? It’s a good way for me to gauge if the animal is learning what I’m training. If they hear the click and do not stop or if they hear the click and do not return to the task after receiving their reinforcement, then they may not be learning the task.
Stopping and restarting the behavior also allows me to refine what were training to a very high degree.
What if I just want to let them play with the item?
Sometimes a horse wants to explore something on his own and that can progress in a couple of different ways. However sometimes they explore because they’re actually afraid of the item. That’s when things can go awry; the horse can become less predictable and more reactive.
I tend to like the training to be predictable which is why I will usually interrupt if my horse doesn’t stop what he’s doing when I click.It’s a judgment call you need to make. Realize that I work with troubled horses a lot so I’ve gotten pretty hyper-vigilant.
But if you think your horse is safe and just wants to explore the item, you can try that technique. You can always play “101 things to do with the item.” Just let him explore the item until he gets to a point his attention returns to you as if to say, “Oh, it’s you there, what do I need to do to get you back in the game with me.” In other words, he gives you his attention in a manner that suggests he is ready to engage with you again.
So when that happens, I might offer an easy cue, something I’m certain he’ll be successful at, and then I go back to the task I’m trying to train. You need to be the judge in this situation. If the horse seems fearful, then you’ll want to back down and make your requests easier. If your horse is frustrated, you might check your rate of reinforcement, and give it a boost.
Be aware of your own safety; re-engage when it’s safe, and see if you can get back to a quick behavior/click/treat/training cycle.