Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marker Post

This is a post to remind me of the beginning results of using a marker consciously.

Last week I read "Don't Shoot The Dog" by Karen Pryor. Pat Parelli* recommended it to us all at the Gold Summit in Redmond a few months ago. EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK! Its one of those that you read and are kind of embarrassed that you haven't before. lol. I kept saying...."when was this written?" (the original copyright is from the 80's!)

When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver BC, every week my parents took my brothers and I to see the "Killer Whales" at the Vancouver Aquarium. We loved sitting in their underwater windows....watching them play with the trainers and each seemed eventually that they even recognized us. For years I watched the trainers use whistles to mark a behavior and then reward the marker with fish or scratching or toys or whatever.

In recent years I have heard more and more about this "clicker training" phenomenon. I even bought a clicker several years ago to use on my dog. It totally worked when I used it. Ask for something... click when you get it.... reward. But I really haven't wanted to teach any new things to my dog since then and so it went into the drawer.

For the most part behavior shaping seems to simply consists of reinforcing the behavior that you want. Figure out what the "organism", as Karen Pryor puts it, wants....wait for them (or cause them) to do something that you want...mark the behavior and then reward it. In the Parelli Program we use life down as a marker a lot or a bring back or going into neutral in ourselves.

With Linda's Horsenality* model its way easier to understand where our horse's motivation lies in any given moment. Is my horse a Right Brained Extrovert* and needs to feel safe? Is my horse a Left Brained Introvert* and just wants to stand still? Or is my horse falling all over himself trying to get the treats? Understanding what my horse wants is so key!

Nigel is the one that caused me to fish my clicker out of the junk drawer. Surprise Surprise.

There are times in which I want and in fact need Nigel to stand still. Tied and in the trailer are a few biggies. The single biggest issue I've been having is that he wasn't giving me the time to reinforce the behavior that I wanted. He was only standing still for a split second.

In the trailer I wasn't using a marker. I was just hoping that he'd eventually make the connection between that split second of stillness and me moving towards the trailer to open it. The same issue with tying. He had to make the connection between standing still for a heartbeat and me making a move towards untying him. By the time I opened the trailer or untied him he would have resumed tantruming for much longer than he had stood still.

A little over a week ago I realized that he does his trailer temper tantrum in his stall everyday when I let the horses out. And everyday I've been reinforcing the temper tantrum by letting him out.

It was one of those 6million dollar man leaps of consciousness in my little brain. I could feel it griiiiinding away in suuuper slow motion. The speed of the clicker as a marker would work! Sure enough...over the last week...I've been reading "Don't Shoot the Dog" and clicking and reinforcing Nigel to stand still before turn out. Yesterday we got 15 seconds twice and 20 seconds as our crowning achievement for the week. For this stand still for 20 seconds when he does not want incredible! Like my friend Beth said: "that is more impressive than passage or flying changes for that horse!"

As I understand it, the reason Karen refers to "organisms" is because almost any is prone to developing and repeating behavior that is positively reinforced. She has great stories about people, chickens, whales, dolphins, tuna, cats, dogs and even a crab. She was telling the craziest stories about what intricate things animals can learn how to do.

So I have this really whiny cat. I mean really whiny. She wants attention but if you pet her at all she'll then follow you around and make you crazy. As a result, we end up just ignoring her most of the time. It has always made my heart sad. I love to give my animals what they want. Especially affection!

I began to wonder if I could shape her behavior. Again the clicker would be a great tool because she hardly takes a breath once she gets going. So reinforcing the moment of quiet needed the speed of the clicker as a marker. I clicked and reinforced when she was quiet. Within 10 minutes I went running into the house. "Kip Kip you've gotta see this!" Owl (said cat) was laying quietly next to me waiting for the click and some rubs.

My plan is to read the book to Kip as we drive up to the lake today. I've held back re reading it just for this purpose. Ever get that good sick feeling....when you feel like your life has just changed?


  1. Thanks for the inspiration! I click train my dog. Soo why not my horse!!! Thanks!

  2. YES!!!! No one believes me when I tell them how much of a difference that it has made with Guinness - my thick-skinned LBI. They just seem to think that he is a natural super-learner..

    Here is a link to my blog post about this with some links to additional references that I've found to be helpful:

    Also, David Lichman (5 star PNH clinician) told me that he uses a variant of clicker training derived from this lady's work: This is closer to how I do things with G. than the customary clicker training. The goal is to be more like a slot machine then a vending machine. ;-)

    Have FUN with this!! - Clare

  3. Janine! you'll have to let me know how it goes!

    Clare...omg right? Thanks for the links I'll check them out next week:)

  4. The only time I've seen my LBI mare run - and I mean a dead gallop from the far back lush grass field - to me was the brief time I dabbled with CT.

    The goal of almost all CT is to be like a slot machine because a variable schedule is a stronger reinforcer than a fixed schedule.

    Alexandra Kurland is a pioneer in equine CT. Another good reference is Sharon Foley (she does CT and dressage).

    I think it's time I pulled out my clicker and treats and started making this fun again!

  5. lisa! thanks for the great reasources! i'll check them out. i have nearly finished "reaching the animal mind". karen pryor does mention several times that once the behavior is learned varied reinforcement is quite important. i am so excited to learn more about all this.

  6. I've restarted "Don't Shoot the Dog" and I have Sharon Foley's "Getting to Yes" on my coffee table. From what I remember of Alexandra Kurland, so much of her philosophy is congruent with everything we've learned in Parelli.

    I think changing tactics - asking Cricket to work for something she wants rather than to avoid/stop something she doesn't like - is going to be the key to moving forward with her.

    Thanks for addig a little inspiration to my journey.

    ~ Lisa

  7. Wow, you have some high intensity animals! Looks like you probably do need the real clicker to match their intensity.

  8. Kali, they make me crazy! I'll tell you though...I'm soooooooo excited about this whole new thing.