How the past affects our cues

I’m currently running an online course on cues and something happened today with McKee and Handsome that was so timely I just had to share.
When I performed the dance routine “Gotta Go Feed the Horses” with the minis, I had a fun section of the routine where the boys would perform two spins. Both horses would turn away from me; McKee would turn clockwise and Handsome would turn counterclockwise. We practiced these spins hundreds of times for our routine.
(If you want to see the routine, follow this link)

A precursor to this story is that I the day before this post, I dressed up in a disguise to make a point about cues and generalization and offered some cues to McKee. One of the cues I asked for was the spin. Although my disguise was a bit confusing, he certainly did perform the behavior two or three times during that session.

So today I decided to take both Handsome and McKee to an area of the pasture in which they haven’t played for probably a year. However, years ago, this area is where we practiced our routine for months and months.

I wasn’t planning on practicing the routine, but as we entered the familiar area, after couple of minutes of romping around, both boys came back and lined up in the dance formation.

Sure enough McKee started to initiate a spin, un-cued, and Handsome, being the good follower that he is, followed suit. In the routine we only did two spins, but today, they just kept spinning and spinning and in wonderful unison as I walked along.

I did not click and treat them, and it killed me ignore this lovely effort after such a long an absence from the behavior, so I did ask for a “whoa” to which they responded. That was a clickable event.

Next I gave the cue for the spin two more times and clicked and treated both efforts.

What fascinates me is, after all of this time, the amazing strength of the contextual cues. By contextual cues I mean the cues that were a part of the surrounding environment and became obvious triggers for the behaviors.  Despite the fact we have not regularly rehearsed this behavior, nor have they been in the area where we practiced, those old environmental cues were still very salient.

It also made me think again about how this dance routine was trained. The ingredients were: No pressure, all shaped behaviors, lots of careful practice and a generous supply of food reinforcers to make the game worth with their effort.

There is NO doubt in my mind that the behaviors were perceived as fun, interesting and worth playing. After all, look at the response after all of this time.

It really does provide a peek into how our horses learn in an setting that includes lots of positive reinforcers, and just how important the environment plays into what they are learning.

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