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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Clicker training the stand?

I was sitting in class today, day dreaming (as usual) about endurance, blogs, puppies.

I've been toying with the idea of doing some clicker training with Farley.  Specifically, the stand. 

The one issue that continues to frusterate the hell out of me is that she won't consistently stand.  MOST of the time she does, but when it counts - likely she'll keep moving her feet.  Getting frusterated doesn't help.  Jerking on the halter doesn't help. Me yelling, whispering, pleading, doesn't help.  Being consistent kinda helps.....but she ignores the cue as often as she obeys it, and from my dog training lessons I know I am diluted the cue by using it when she doesn't obey I need to get the behavior first.

I'm learning from Tess that if something is hitting my (unfortunately too low) frustration threshold, it's because I'm missing a foundation piece.

Which brings me back to my Bingo moment.


The Stand I'm trying to teach Farley is identical in principle to the Recall I'm trying to install in Tess.

Today, I started playing a very structured "recall" game which includes a very structured progression from less distractions (rated as a 1), up to distractions that are HIGHLY fixating for Tess.  It's all about repetition, enforcing the command, and moving through more and more distracting situations in a very progressive way.  The post on Tess's blog was initially suppose to publish on Thursday, but I've moved it to Wednesday (today) so that you can take a look at the method I'm using for the recall. 

At the end of my "program" I want Tess to come to me no matter what. 

I want Farley to "stand" whenever I ask, no matter what.

Currently, I'm asking Farley to stand before I have really solidified that behavior in a variety of situations.  I have to first teach the behavior in a comprehensive way and "bank" lots and lots of successes.

So - could teaching the stand with the clicker and a progressive, structured program be beneficial for Farley?   I'm not interested in doing "full blown" clicker training with Farley - it's great with Tess, but it's just not what I want to do with my horse - but I'd be wiling to try it for the "stand" just so I can train it in a different way (and perhaps get a different result - remember the definition of insanity?  doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?). 

Farley is very food motivated, but doesn't have any pushy dominant behaviors that I'm worried about making worse.  The personal space boundaries would remain the same and I won't tolerate "mugging" so I'm not worried about that "side effect".  I don't think trying this would make it worse, and it might make it better.

Here's the plan so far:

For the first "trick", teach her to look away from the treat with her head down, or something similar - a trick I don't mind being repeated over and over and every possible situation.  Similar to what AareneX has done with her Standardbred mare. 

After Farley gets the concept, start asking for a stand, and rewarding it in low distraction situations for longer and longer duration (probably going up to 2 or 3 minutes - enough time to get through a line in a pulse check or replace a boot).  Eventually ask for the same behavior in more and more distracting situations.  A rating system of distractions might look like (less distracting to more):

in pasture
pulse check
mounting at home
mounting from an object NOT a mounting block (like a truck or fence)
on trail turned away from home
on trail turned towards home
tying or removing ribbons
mounting on trail
mounting during gunfire
horses leaving or passing
food on the ground
water tank (when thirsty)
During a race start with horses milling around

A key to this approach is to recognize situations that are above your ability to ask for a stand and NOT ASK, or don't put your horse in that situation where you are forced to ask until you are ready for that level, but working through "lesser" distractions first.  By working through these levels and layering success upon success in a variety of situations, I'm hoping that at the end of 2 months, I have a horse that will stand, even in the most distracting of circumstances!

Using this approach gives me a "path" to a horse that has a proven ability to stand during a variety of situations and help me recognize situations I haven't sought out, and forces me to seek them out!

If anyone has any online resources that would point me in the right direction, feel free to comment (or write a post on your blog!)

I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I always thought that when you're training (any kind) you are rewarding a horse for DOING something. And it's hard for an animal to realize that they did NOT do something and are being rewarded for that. As an example, I see people letting their horses graze as a reward for a good ride, and not letting them graze because they had a bad ride. I don't think the horse gets that...

    In your situation, I'm not sure that standing still is "doing" something in the horse's mind. So if your horse is standing in the aisleway and you click to reward, the horse is thinking "what the hell did I just do? I was just standing there, I didn't DO anything."

    What do you think?


  2. Here's a few more things to consider:

    I started the "look away" trick with just that: the horse looking away from the treat. If her feet were holding still, that was a bonus, but it wasn't the key to the reward at first. Over time, the trick was refined so that now the trick is, "look away from the treat with your feet holding still and a pleasant expression in your ears." That would have been too much to ask at first, but it's not to much to ask after 4 (nearly 5) years!

    Standing still: my ponycamp instructor told us to hold still and count to three after mounting. Recently, I've modified this (with Hana, who is a wiggler) to a count of 45...or 82...or 127. IOW: when I get on, the horse will stand...for a long time...until I give a distinct cue with my legs AND my voice. I need to be able to wiggle around in the saddle when I first get on--adjust my raincoat, put something in my saddlebag, hand the keys to somebody on the ground, etc. We do not "go" until I settle quietly in the saddle, give a leg cue and say, "okay, let's go."

    You are at an EXCELLENT point to practice this with Farley, b/c you won't be racing for months. When you are able to control her movement (i.e. when you've got her leadrope or a bridle on her), give the command "STAND" and wait for the count of 5, THEN GIVE A MOVEMENT COMMAND, so she knows that the stand command is over. Change the movement command: around "over", "back", "let's go (forward)", or you will teach your horse to stand and then immediately step to the side or back or whatever.

    The next time you give the command STAND, wait for the count of 11. The next time, wait for the count of 3 before giving a movement command. Then 19.

    MIX IT UP, so she doesn't start doing the count herself and then leaving when she figures that she's stood there long enough.

    ADVANCED WORK: This requires some acting on your part. "I'm in a hurry, I'm in a hurry," you will say with your body, but in your mind you say, "we will stand still for a count of 35." Enforce it, reward it, give a movement command...then repeat, with the same actions: "I'm in a hurry, I'm in a hurry" but consistantly asking for a long stand and then a movement.

    (ahem, the advanced work is also training for you...the next time you ARE in a hurry, you will enforce the STAND command because you've practiced doing it)

    Let me know how it works for you!

  3. Karen - I agree - that's what I've always struggled with - both with the heel and the stand - I'm trying to reward for a continuous behavior and when I click, that signals the behavior is over. I was thinking more of having her hold a position that also had her feet still.

    AareneX - thanks for giving me such comprehensive instructions! I'm going out ot today to see my pony and I'll let you guys know how it goes. I am my biggest enemy when it comes to the stand.

  4. When you teach Farley, maybe you teach Bica?

    Her not standing is a big pain and i need to do something about it.


  5. So the plan is Farley is the guina pig? That was not good planning on my part!

  6. One of Alexandra Kurland's primary lessons for clicker training is called "The Grownups are Talking, Please Don't Interrupt." It is specifically to teach horses to stand and not mug.

    You stand next to the horse in a relaxed manner. As soon as the horse looks away from you, click and treat. Once they're moving their heads away from you immediately you can start to build duration. Can you look away for one second? Click and treat. How about two? and so on.

    You aren't rewarding them for doing nothing, you are rewarding them for not doing anything else.


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