Stopping a Clicker Training Session
When To End a Clicker Training Session
When to stop a training session is a great question and one that crops up a lot. The answer is not so easy, as with everything horsey, the answer is “it depends”.
What Does it Depend On ?
When to stop a training session depends on a number of things which come under the basic umbrellas of; how your horse is reacting to the training and how you are reacting to your horse.
Alexandra Kurland (The Clicker Center) has a great rule called “the 20 treat rule”. This is a fantastic way to get used to assessing your training sessions and lets you get lots of practicing making decisions about when and how to stop your session.
The 20 Treat Rule
The 20 treat rule is as it says, you train in blocks of 20 treats. You simply count out 20 clicks worth of treats and go to your horse with a plan for your training session (know what you are aiming to achieve and have a good idea of how you will get there). At this point I would also refer you to the 10 laws of shaping behaviours (see previous blogs) which talk about training plans, if the plan is not working, and the 5 second rule (featured in The Click That Teaches Step By Step Book).
At treat 20, click, give your horse the treat and make a big fuss. Then you are going to leave your horse and go to count out 20 more clicks worth of treats. While you do this you should be thinking about how the last session was, what went well, what did not go so well, were you making progress, do you need to change something, do you need to break the behaviour in to smaller criterion, do you need to move on faster, how clean was your loop, how does your horse look, is he engaged, are you still focusing….and so much more. This assessment will help guide you as to
what you need to do with your next 20 treats, or even if it is time to stop for the day and the 20 treats are given to your horse a freebie.
How To End a Clicker Training Session
Using the 20 treat rule not only allows you time to think about your training, it also gives you and your horse lots of practices at stopping a training session. You get used to knowing how to gauge when your treat pouch is empty and learn when to give signals for the end of a session, and your horse gets more opportunities to learn that the clicker training stops but comes back again thus reducing any stress around the game leaving.
However, these are short sessions ending and you are going to be coming back quite quickly. So we do need to think about how to tell our horse that we are finishing up for the day and going home.
Think about leaving a meeting at work, there tends to be a bit of a ‘ritual’ as to how people finish up meetings. You follow an agenda and at the end there is often an ‘any other business’ (AOB) topic. So you are being given a cue that we are nearing the end of the meeting just by the AOB topic being covered. There will also be some language used, e.g. “so that just leaves us with AOB” and body language; people might start to relax, pack up documents, put pens away etc. What this tells us is that we give lots of clues that we are about to finish up, leave the meeting room and get on with daily chores in the office.
Now think about being in a meeting where you are not sure of the agenda, AOB does not necessarily come at the end and when people are finishing they just get up and walk out. Would you feel like you could relax in the meeting or would you be constantly watching for clues about what is coming next ? Without being able to tell our horses what is coming next, or when we are starting to wrap up the training, they must feel a bit like this….its unpredictable.
Unpredictability can lead to stress in some horses.
A way we can ensure our horses do not get stressed when you are wrapping up your training session is to get in to a routine. Find things that you can do at the end of a session that are just for fun, or you could let him lead the dance and tell you what he wants to do for the last 10 mins or so.
Then as a way to let him know that the session is over is to leave him with some free goodies on the floor of his stable, or a treat ball or something like that. You could also remove your treat pouch (if you wear an external treat pouch…which is a good idea as it is a great cue for the horse for game on and game off).
Horses love consistency, when we take that away we can make them feel stressful. So instead lets find ways to give them reliable cues (consistencies lead to reliable cues) and make sure our training sessions are fun for horse and handler.