Horses who “target” too much, and the women who love them.

There is a¬†HUGE attitude change, from the horse’s perspective, when shifting from other training styles to clicker training. One of the main reasons is that when there is something IN IT for the horse, he wants to REPEAT what worked for him. Right? So he’ll offer to do everything he knows in order to get the person to start delivering reinforcement again.This can be a bit disconcerting if you’re not used to seeing a horse offer behavior (unless except when he’s worked up, and then he might be offering behavior you don’t want!). However, when you’re clicker training, you want the horse to offer behavior, especially when you’re in the learning phase of a behavior. After the behavior is learned, you need to know how to teach the horse specific signals or CUES that let him know WHEN you want him to do the behavior.

A great example of this is targeting. A lot of people, including me, teach the horse to target in the beginning. You see, once he learns that targeting can earn him a click/treat, he’ll just keep touching the target, usually pretty quickly, because it worked for him, and the visual presentation of the target is a cue, in and of itself. Make sense? In fact, we could walk away and show him some hay and chances are he’d touch that target a couple more times just to see if it makes the click/treat thing happen again. Why mess with a sure thing!

So if you find yourself in the luxurious spot of realizing your horse is offering a behavior over and over, YOU need to take the next step and learn how to teach him a special signal that means, “Touch this now, and only when I ask.” It does take time, skill and understanding to teach this to both human and horse. This step is a VERY important part of clicker training. There are some frustrated people AND horses out there because the people didn’t know how to support the horse in learning this central point of good clicker training. Don’t be one of them. Learn the ins and outs of good cue control.

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