Thursday, July 14, 2011

You don't know what you don't know

My apologies if this post ends up being kind of boring but I feel like I've got to get this out...

It's come to my attention recently that I haven't been doing this clicker training thing quite right. Well, really I should say that Coriander has told me I'm doing it wrong. In a nutshell- he doesn't get it. Figuring this out has kind of knocked me for a loop. Where did I mess up?

After conducting some research it all boils down to the fact that I didn't really understand what I was doing either. I was incompetent and I didn't even know it. Maybe you've heard of this before- the four stages of competence:
1. Unconscious Incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit.

2. Conscious Incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit.

3. Conscious Competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.

4. Unconscious Competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. He or she may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
 This recent bombshell has slung me right out of stage 1 blubbering and shivering into stage 2. Now I'm trying to claw my way into stage 3 by learning as much as I possibly can. The funny thing is while I was doing my research I ran into this description of the horse's stages of clicker training from Katie Bartlett's site:  
  1. All You Can Eat Food Bar Stage:  The horse thinks the trainer is a walking food bar.  The horse can be greedy and can be pushy.  He only sees what this food bar can do for him.
  2. Trigger Stage:  The horse makes a connection between the bridge sound and the food.  It might be easy for some folks to think that this stage means the horse has figured out what this training is all about, but I don't think so (yet). Mugging can be just as obnoxious if it isn't stopped, but he is coming to see there is a sequence.  At this point, they may appear to get it, but the horse tends to be inconsistent and easily frustrated. 
  3. Lightbulb Stage:  The horse makes a connection between a behavior causing the bridge (click), which triggers the food vendor to vend.  If the horse is emotionally immature and hasn't bought into the 'process', they may appear to have 'gotten it' but in reality, some personalities may be easily frustrated because they are struggling with: do they want the treat enough to do .   They are coming to see this is their choice and that alone can be a new and unusual state for certain horses.   At this point, some prior understanding of training will help progress the horse to the next stage.  A trainer can *prevent* a horse from moving on to the next stage by increasing pressure instead of waiting for the horse to choose the correct response at this stage because the horse learns that if he doesn't do it, he will be pressured.  In the worst case, the treat can become a bribe instead of a reward.  This is a trainer issue, not a c/t issue.  The only way to progress a horse thru this stage is to keep on keepin’ on with consistent training behavior so that the horse can 'buy in'.
  4. Buy-In Stage:  The horse develops an understanding of “learning” (not just a behavior causes the click but a particular behavior causes a click.  He has developed some level of trust in the trainer - that the trainer will not ask for anything too unreasonable, even if things appear scary.  I think this stage is where many repetitions often occur in order to refine a behavior.  And at this state, the horse is beginning to see that there is an end to the means, in his own way.
  5. Eureka Stage: The horse and trainer develop a dialog of learning where chains of behavior can be built without extensive repetitions because a dialog has been established between the horse and trainer.  At this stage, the horse has finally learned to learn and in this last phase, the actual food motivator can become less important than the dialog and the game.  Some people may not make a distinction between Buy-In and Eureka.
It appears that Coriander's been stuck in stage 2; amazingly, I would put Gwen in stage 3. I think because I've taught her more behaviors than Coriander she's had more of an opportunity to "get it." She also has a much more cooperative personality than her brother does. Not to say that he's not cooperative, he just needs more of a reason for doing things than she does. Consequently he's a great teacher. Love your horses for all their characteristics, folks. You never know what they'll be worth.

Anyway, back to my research. I bought a copy of Karen Pryor's, "Don't Shoot the Dog," and I'm SO happy I did. The title is a bit of a misnomer- this is not a book about dog training, there is some dog training in it but that's not the focus. The point of the book is to explain what operant conditioning and positive reinforcement are and how to use them to train any being with a central nervous system. Including people. Get a copy, you won't be disappointed.

Since I'm still casting my net far and wide to find the best sources of knowledge, I was excited to find this excellent quote from Bob Bailey that Mary just posted on her site, "Animal training: Simple, but not easy," along with the trailer for one of his operant conditioning videos (that video is on its way to me now). Boy is he ever right about that. I can't wait to watch that video.

In the meantime I'm going to continue playing with Coriander, trying to get the light bulb to turn on. First up, advanced targeting. Wish me luck!


  1. The chicken video was so awesome. I agree that training animals is about training people. Controlling our movements and responses with timing is so difficult.

    My cockatiel used to threaten to bite and give a nasty pinch when he did not want to be put back in his cage. I realized that pulling my hand away was triggering his behavior, so I braced myself for a bite and placed my hand in front of him determined not to pull away. He threatened and then touched my hand without biting. After a few repetitions he pretty much quit biting altogether, but that was not easy!

  2. I've done some limited training with Blue and Donnie and I'd say within a few days they were at stage 2. Maybe even more I don't know since I'm not too good at this yet. But after a few days they would go touch the cone no matter where I put it in the arena and come back to me for their treat. Now I tried this touch the cone with your nose treat with Dusty. She absolutely refused to get into the game. After about 20 minutes she barely touched it with her nose. I know she's not stupid she just doesn't do tricks for treats...very demeaning. Unfortunately, she's in for more whether she likes it or not while she's on stall rest to alleviate the boredom for her. I've still got lots to learn about this stuff.

    I'll check out that book. Liked the video and was surprised that chickens can be taught things.

  3. Ouch Val, that must have hurt your fingers but I agree with your method. We learned with our cats that if teeth or claws make contact with our skin the worst thing we could do was pull away. Staying still and saying "no" works a lot better.

    GHM- maybe targeting just isn't her thing or her foot pain might have been an issue. Try shaping her to back up in her stall when you approach the door. Start with weight shifts and go on from there.

    The issue with Coriander came up when I tried to "shape" leg raises. We very quickly got to the point where he'd lift his leg if I touched it but I couldn't get him to make more of an effort and lift it higher. He hasn't learned that if first you don't get the click- try harder. That light bulb hasn't popped for him yet.

  4. I think clicker training is really useful for getting that understanding with a horse that "hey, if you work with me here, good things WILL happen." I know some really advanced horse folks don't like clicker stuff, and I wouldn't use it as my primary training method, but sometimes you really need a way to get that "buy in" moment. If a horse has to unlearn a really bad habit, is terrified, or you're having trouble getting a connection with them--I think it's a great option.

    We had an abused Paso show up at our place a couple of winters ago (someone dumped him) and this was the only way I could get through to him. After I was able to get him to come up to me to eat out of a bucket I was holding, I just asked him to touch something I was holding with his nose, and I'd reward him. This horse was so traumatized that he wouldn't allow himself to be touched or haltered, and I really needed a way to get across to him that following my requests would lead to something good for him.

  5. I LOVE Don't Shoot the Dog! When I was much younger my mother went back to college and it was a 'textbook'. I stole it and read it. :D

    I usually only clicker train for unpleasant things--ie, ticklish clippers, needles. Most of the time I want them to do something 'because I said so!', but if it's ticklish, that's just not fair! They learn fairly quickly. ;)

    Interesting post!

  6. Good for you figuring out you needed to regroup. Horses are the best teachers.

    I have been considering clicker training with Val - he seems like a good candidate as I have trained him to do a number of behaviors just with cookie rewards - definitely food motivated. The buy-in and eureka stages sounds like they're really about trust and redefining the horse/human relationship... just where I want to go with him.

    Thanks for the excellent info and book recommendation! Looking forward to following your progress. :)

  7. You are always working towards enriching the relationship you have with Gwen and Coriander. I'll say it again - your love for your horses and the determination you have to be part of the process to help them reach their potential is wonderful.

  8. Fetlock that's why I started clicker training. Gwen was so wild and scared when I got her that clicker training was the only way I could get through to her. Introducing her to "yes" did so much good.

    DIJ- Isn't it a wonderful book! I've been recommending it to everyone I know.

    CFS- I bet Val would do very well with clicker training. He seems like a smart cookie :)

    Thanks Wolfie, it's about more than just the horses though. Learning how to implement positive reinforcement well will help me with every facet of my life. Plus I just really like to learn new things :)

  9. I'd love to hear your review of Don't Shoot the Dog. It's one of my favorite books and one I often recommend to people.

    You would probably also really, really enjoy Karen Pryor's book Lads Before the Wind. It's a bit harder to find, but well worth the read.

    It is more of a "story," but there is a lot of good training advice and training tips woven in. It is about her beginnings as a training, training dolphins in Hawaii back when very little was known about positive training. How the book is written, you feel like you are learning and discovering along side her. Lots of very cool training stories in that book.