Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

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Liz
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Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Liz » Thu Jul 22, 2010 10:21 am

Just wondering how people feel about the rather confusing article on clicker training by Dr. Marthe Kiley Worthington in the latest edition of Horse and Rider.

LynneAC
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby LynneAC » Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:48 pm

I'm new here too but have used clicker training for the past few years.

Unfortunately I don't think that the article portrayed the reality of clicker training. The author obviously isn't a clicker trainer as she was wrong on some of her points. It was a potentially good article gone wrong. I'd like to see an article on clicker training actually done by someone experienced in clicker training!

To address a couple of the things she says:
“It requires a lot of practice to be quick enough with the clicker to make it work”
It does take practise but then doesn't every skill? If you're training a horse you need good timing no matter what method you're using. I'm presuming that she's talking about using a mechanical clicker though which I don't use, I learned a tongue 'cluck' which I found much easier as I could be more specific (I was rubbish with the mechanical clicker, I'll admit that :) ).
“It is not possible to direct the movement with the clicker”
She's totally missing the point. When we use clicker training we're not directing the movement, we are marking the tries and the things done well. You can still direct the movement if you want to but use the clicker to mark the behaviour that you're looking for.
“Using the clicker discourages the use of the voice”
She's never heard me then! I use verbal commands as well as visual cues. We have some really good conversations in fact :D

“With the clicker, the horse can’t be taught not to do something”
That's totally wrong. The second thing that you teach is not to mug! You can teach a horse how not to do something just as easily as you can teach them to do something. You just need to learn the basics of learning theory (which you should learn no matter what method you're using).


The reasons that I like clicker training as opposed to other methods which focus on negative reinforcement (eg pressure/release) is that you can tell the horse what they're doing right rather than them learning from their 'mistakes'. A good analogy is would you prefer to work towards getting a promotion or bonus or would you prefer to work to avoid being demoted or fired.
[b][color=#8000BF]The best whisper is a click[/color][/b]

Irishcobfan
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Irishcobfan » Thu Jul 22, 2010 1:47 pm

Lynn,

I have to agree with you there. I started clicker training my boy a few days before I bought this issue of H&R and was really looking forward to looking at interesting ways to implement this method of training. I was disappointed in the article to tell you the truth. I've been doing some basic target work and I found it really easy to get started and had a lot of fun to boot and so did my horse and as you point out the mugging does not happen as he soon learned he only got a reward when he did something right and kept at a respectable distance. It has been a useful bonding exercise for me and I think it would have been nice to have had a pro-clicker trainers viewpoints in the article. It was rather one-sided.

ponyprincess
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby ponyprincess » Thu Jul 22, 2010 2:54 pm

I love clicker training but did find the different point of view in the article interesting. I'm not sure the writer really grasped the concept of clicker training at all.

Expert_LizPitman
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Expert_LizPitman » Sat Jul 24, 2010 7:24 am

I use clicker training as part of my tool box, so to speak. I don't use it on it's own, though, because I like the flexibility of being able to combine different tools to have the most effective combination for that horse in that situation with that problem, and also with that owner. In some situations I'll use it quite a lot, in others not at all, it all depends.

One point I'd like to pick up on is this:

The reasons that I like clicker training as opposed to other methods which focus on negative reinforcement (eg pressure/release) is that you can tell the horse what they're doing right rather than them learning from their 'mistakes'. A good analogy is would you prefer to work towards getting a promotion or bonus or would you prefer to work to avoid being demoted or fired.

Learning from your mistakes is vital, in my opinion. I don't think it's nearly as fair to let a horse (or anyone else) keep repeating the same mistake while you hope they work it out, as it is to clearly but kindly say "no, not that, this". Horses can get very frustrated when they keep trying behaviours that have previously worked and now don't and that frustration can be avoided by just simply saying "no". Don't forget, after all, that withholding a treat is technically a punishment for having done the wrong thing.

There's a game Kelly gets us to play on the horse psychology course - the yes no game. Someone has to perform a task (they don't know what, of course), with others saying either just "yes" (pure clicker) or just "no" (pure P&R). Neither actually get you to the end very quickly, whereas a combination of both explains very clearly, very quickly. As well as that, the person who is the one trying to guess what to do usually talks about how frustrating it was to not be told when they were getting it wrong. Try it and you'll see!

Back to the analogy of the job situation, promotion vs being fired. Which would you rather, a boss who lets you keep getting it wrong until he has to fire you, or a boss who acknowledges your good work but also lets you know when you're on the wrong track so you can do it better? Surely the latter will get your promotion more quickly and avoid you having to be fired at all?

There is a misconception that pressure and release is nasty in some way. It can be, of course, if your pressure is too high or if you're not working well with in some other way. It is, though, a part of our every day lives, so to my mind it's better to learn how to use it well and incorporate it into our communications with our horses rather than see it as something evil to be avoided at all costs. I was called out to a pony a couple of years ago who had been trained with 100% clicker while avoiding any pressure the pony did not want and the result was a pony who could not cope with anything outside his normal environment, or with strangers, or with any changes at all. He was 6 years old and you couldn't even lead him. It's vital that horses understand how to cope with pressure, how to release themselves from it.

I'm not at all saying clicker isn't good, it is and as I say I use it with some clients in some situations. I think, though, that it needs to be taken in the context of the horse and of reality. There can be a tendancy to fall in love with it too much for its own sake and so exclude other great training tools that are equally valid.

To sidetrack a little, onto voice commands... I'm not certain they are actually all that effective. I personally think that we use body language at the same time as the voice, and that's what the horse is reading and responding to. A collegue and I gave a workshop a couple of months ago and used a horse whose owner was adamant she understood voice commands. The horse, we were told, would back up if she just said "back". So we asked her to show us. As she said "back", she raised her arms and walked towards the horse. The horse backed up. We then got her to stand still, keep her arms by her side, not look at the horse and just say "back". The horse didn't respond at all. We got her then to think the word back while using her body as she would normally, the horse backed up. I think more research is needed on the effectiveness of voice commands but, for the moment, my vote is that horses are more like Clever Hans than we sometimes remember!

Snipper
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Snipper » Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:01 pm

Well I haven't tried clicker training personally, but I met someone a little while ago who absolutely swore by it! She was very nervous and it helped her to build a really strong relationship with her horse. It also helped her confidence because she felt she was able to train her horse to do anything. Apparently, the was a large set of roadworks outside the yard, and she was the only one who could get her horse out of the yard and past it for a hack, by using the clicker training. I think it definitely has some uses.

Tess
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Tess » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:27 pm

Liz-Pitman said


There's a game Kelly gets us to play on the horse psychology course - the yes no game. Someone has to perform a task (they don't know what, of course), with others saying either just "yes" (pure clicker) or just "no" (pure P&R). Neither actually get you to the end very quickly, whereas a combination of both explains very clearly, very quickly. As well as that, the person who is the one trying to guess what to do usually talks about how frustrating it was to not be told when they were getting it wrong. Try it and you'll see!


‘pure clicker’ isn’t just “yes” and pure ‘P&R’ (I am assuming you are referring to positive punishment and negative reinforcement) isn’t just “no”. No training approach could possibly work if it only allowed trainers to say either “yes” or “no”.

In clicker training, not clicking and reinforcing the behaviour is the equivalent to saying no. ‘No click’ is valuable information to the horse – it tells him he is on the wrong track and he needs to try something else. So the C/R is ‘yes’ and no C/R is ‘no’ (this is referred to as negative punishment).

When using negative reinforcement, the application of pressure is a ‘no’, and the release is a ‘yes’. Technically speaking, when using negative reinforcement the possibility of positive punishment is always present – but even without getting into that discussion it is clear that negative reinforcement (aka pressure and release) can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

I think that if we look at things from a human-centred approach, it might seem sensible to have people say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to other people they are ‘training’ in these types of games (I know it as ‘the training game’ or ‘the shaping game’). However, that is because we humans rely very much on verbal cues. As the purpose of these games is to improve people’s understanding of the process of training, their timing, and give them a notion of how it feels to be trained, I think it is valuable to let people experience the situation as a horse would – with pressure equating to ‘no’ and release of pressure (albeit verbal) for ‘yes’ and C/R meaning ‘yes’ and withholding of C/R for ‘no’. This also clarifies how they are saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to their horses all the time … whatever approach(es) they adopt. In clicker training, I do think the focus is much more on ‘yes’ – the person is looking out for what to reward their horse for, and unwanted behaviour is ignored (negative punishment) whereas with negative reinforcement (generally speaking) there is more emphasis on ‘preventing’ or ‘correcting’ behaviour.

With regard to voice cues, they can be very effective if they are taught correctly. If taught in conjunction with a visual cue, the visual cue tends to overshadow the verbal cue, which means the horse will focus on the body language of the visual cue and not be responding to the verbal cue (whatever Dr Kiley-Worthington may think). Trainers can overcome this by teaching initially with a visual cue – so to ask a horse to back up, one can step towards the horse and place their hand on the horse’s chest if necessary – to ask a horse to lift a leg one can touch the leg, or apply light pressure to it to achieve the lift initially. When the horse is consistently responding appropriately to the visual cue, the trainer then simply inserts the new, verbal cue, three to five seconds before giving the old, visual cue. As horses are very good at figuring out “what happens, before what happens happens” the horse will quickly associate the new cue with the old cue, and soon learn to respond to the new, verbal cue without waiting for the old, visual cue. Good trainers then ‘proof’ their cues by ensuring that nothing in their body language is giving the animal clues what to do – for example, for my dog and I to pass one course that we attended I had to give a range of ten different verbal cues to my dog while I was in a range of different positions – including with my hands over my face and lying on my back, and face down on the floor, and facing away from my dog. Animals most certainly can understand verbal cues, but they do need to be taught appropriately. The majority of horse owners usually use a combination of visual and verbal cues, with the verbal tending to be over-shadowed by the visual.


I'm not at all saying clicker isn't good, it is and as I say I use it with some clients in some situations. I think, though, that it needs to be taken in the context of the horse and of reality. There can be a tendancy to fall in love with it too much for its own sake and so exclude other great training tools that are equally valid.

I think what tends to happen is people fall in love, not with clicker itself, but with the notion of trying to communicate with horses without aversives – then they go too far and try to remove all negative reinforcement from the training situation. Most people then come to realise that if they want to do anything at all with their horses they will have to use a degree of negative reinforcement with them, but used correctly it isn’t a problem. The more accurate and clear people’s understanding becomes about methods of training and how to apply them appropriately, the better for their horse’s welfare, and their relationship with their horses.

Lucinda
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Lucinda » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:40 pm

It does take practise but then doesn't every skill? If you're training a horse you need good timing no matter what method you're using. I'm presuming that she's talking about using a mechanical clicker though which I don't use, I learned a tongue 'cluck' which I found much easier as I could be more specific (I was rubbish with the mechanical clicker, I'll admit that ).

Then why do you need a clicker if you can use a tongue click? Just out of interest, as I don't feel strongly either way.

Centaur
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby Centaur » Thu Jul 29, 2010 10:01 am

This is just one of those subjects where everyone has an opinion! Obviously clicker training does work for a lot of horses and other animals, otherwise it wouldn't be as popular as it is today. And it's great to be able to use a simple voice or click command as opposed a big stick!! A big stick in the wrong hands can do much more damage than a simple noise.

I thought the article was a bit bland, and not particularly engaging - although it did raise the important issue that although it might work for some people, it is less suited to others - eg it takes a lot of practice, so someone with limited time looking for a quick fix probably wouldn't benefit from it.

It's one of those things that you either agree or disagree with, as with every other natural horsemanship ethos - pnh, ih etc.

I would have liked to see some more practical stuff in the article, eg how to get started, easy exercises to start off with, etc - i don't particularly care when/why it began - i just want to know that it does (or doesn't!) work!

I understand very little about some of your posts - esp Tess - but I guess I'll just have to buy a good book to understand the basics. Of course if you like one method you're going to find the downfalls of others, and vice versa. I think every diff method has its ups and downs, so lets all try to be more open-minded about this.

LynneAC
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Re: Are there any Clicker Training enthusiasts here?

Postby LynneAC » Thu Jul 29, 2010 2:30 pm

Just to clarify, I did use IH techniques before I moved onto clicker so I have used both systems and found the clicker technique to be better for me and my horse (our herd, in fact, they're all trained using clicker).

Nobody is saying that negative reinforcement is nasty or that we don't use it. Of course we use LIGHT negative reinforcement when working with clicker unless we're free shaping. I do believe, though, that we have to be aware of exactly what we're doing and why no matter what training system we use. My preference is to work with predominantly positive reinforcement with as little negative reinforcement as is necessary.

Negative reinforcement is the removal of an aversive stimulus to increase the likelihood of the the behaviour happening again. Obviously what the horse sees as aversive depends on the individual horse but, by definition, the horse must want to escape the stimulus for it to be aversive. Personally I would prefer to reward the 'try' than have the horse learn by 'escape'. I don't believe that the release of pressure is a 'reward', for example, it is, more correctly, a relief. Pairing heavy negative reinforcement or positive punishment with positive reinforcement is something that I would never do, however, as it can be counterproductive and you end up in poisoned cues territory.

An excellent book on learning theory which is easy to read but also provides some practical scenarios and some basic science is 'Knowing Your Horse' by Emma Lethbridge. It's well worth a read no matter what method you follow.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Knowing-Your-Ho ... 1405191643
[b][color=#8000BF]The best whisper is a click[/color][/b]


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