Saturday, February 19, 2011

43. Backing Level 3

Goal: Backs 10 steps with you stationary in front verbal cue only 

Getting Stationary
If you are stepping into him or with him as he backs, fade your movement. Take the first step with him, then slow to a stop and see if he continues on his own. If not take, several steps and slow your speed but click him as long as he keeps moving. Eventually take a step then stop. Next try cueing him when standing stationary.  You may have to lean forward as if you are going to step with him, then just stand there and verbally cue but he will soon learn he can back up without the physical cue of you moving with him.
Drop the cue and continue training by clicking for movement as before to add distance backwards.

To add a verbal cue in, click here.

Use the verbal cue alone to get him to back up several steps. If you notice that he is slowing, give the cue again to continue it. Over time, you can fade the extra verbal cue or add a 'keep going signal'.

A 'Keep Going Signal' (KGS)
This is areally just a marker that says to your horse "you are doing the right thing, I want more of it!" Eventually the click and treat will follow.

Usually a KGS is a verbal phrase like "Good Boy", one that you do not use for precision (such as the clicker or "Yes!") and is used to add duration to a behavior that the horse knows.

How to You Teach a KGS?
Most of us use KGS without even thinking about it. We think of it more as encouragement for our animals than the actual signal it is.

Use a behavior that your horse already knows well. As he is performing it, about 3/4 of the way into the behavior, give the KGS, then click and treat at then end of the behavior. With repetition, the horse will learn that it means what it is called. "Keep going and you will get your click and reward."  You can vary the placement of the KGS as needed in each behavior.

Some people do not like to use KGS with their horses as they find some horses get frustrated. Other just want a continuous behavior with a single cue. It's up to you whether you use them or not, but it can be a useful tool for getting more duration or distance. KGS can be phased out too once the horse is offering the desired distance, duration etc.

Tip: If you accidentally use a sound or word that your horse already understands as a behavior marker (conditioned reinforcer), you will find that the horse stops the behavior as soon as he hears it to get a reward. My previous dog did that when his first owner had inadvertently taught him that 'Good boy' was a marker so I had to be careful not to encourage him with "Good boy" or he would stop what he was doing, thinking he was done! One time he stopped in the niddle of a super agility run, and another time while learning the weave poles when I made the mistake of using the marker "Good boy". In this case the sound was not a KGS, but a marker like a click. Choose a different one and train it.
When your horse is reliably offering to back up 10 steps or more, add the hand or body cue just before he does the behavior.

42. Backing Level 2

Goal: Horse backs 3 steps on 2 cues with trainer standing in front

In level 1 you chose your preferred method of teaching the horse to move back at the beginning. For level 2, try starting to add distance with another approach that is less comfortable for you (pressure, shaping, nose target, or back foot targeting). You learn by doing and so will your horse. This expands both your training repertoires. You just might be surprised at how well the other approaches work too! Later, you can use that new approach to teaching other behaviors.

Your Position
Depending on which approach you used before, you may have to shift your position in small changes as you train until you are standing in front of your horse. Review what he knows from level 1 with you in the same position you were (say standing off to one side). Now, take one half step towards the middle position and retrain the same criteria x10 repetitions. Before the next sessions, take another half step towards the middle position. Continue until you are in front of your horse.

Add DistanceNext, add distance backwards by dropping cue usage and clicking while your horse is still moving backwards.
If you click after he has stopped, that's as far as he will move back and he thinks that's it for the behavior. For all the approaches (except back foot targeting), clicking while still moving should be your focus.  This way, the horse learns that he can offer more each time, and not get stuck offering only two or three steps back. Good clicker trainers know this and that's how they backing distance so quickly with their horses, especially with horses that are clicker savvy and have good back-end awareness.

Tip: When using food for training, you always want to ask for a little more as the horse is able to offer it. Otherwise, the horse gets stuck at that level of behavior.

Try to get at least 5 steps backwards before you add a hand signal or verbal cue back in. If you ask for more, you know you will be able to get the minimum.

Adding a CueTo add a cue, you can read here, or to refresh:
*Wait until the horse is doing the whole goal behavior consistently without a cue
*When you are willing to bet $100 that the horse will do it again, say or do the cue just before the horse does it
*Practice this for several sessions until the horse starts doing the behavior immediately after the cue (seems to be understanding what it means). This tells you he might be ready to test it to see if he really gets it.

At the beginning of a new training session in the same location that you trained, on a day when you have not trained the behavior yet, give the cue and wait to see if he responds correctly. If he does, he likely understands what it means in that training context. Do not assume however, that he will know it in another location until after you have started training him from the beginning in the new location.

Generalizing a Cue
Horses do not generalize most behaviors well like humans can. They need to be taught a behavior from the beginning in many new locations before they start 'remembering' what the cue means.

Train this behaviors in at least 5 different locations and test him in the last one before moving to the next level.