Imagine you're sitting comfy and cozy in bed doing something you enjoy - probably reading and posting on HorseForum.com ;) Or even just sleeping!
Someone comes in speaking a language you don't know, pulls you out of bed, puts clothes on you that you're not particularly fond of, and leads you to the front yard. Then, they pinch the underside of your upper arm - that's right, the place that's soft and tender and hurts when it's pinched! And then, they don't let go! You push them away, try to pull away, swat at their hand, and do anything that makes sense to you to get them to stop pinching you, but somehow they just keep holding on. Finally, out of frustration, you start hopping on your right foot - and they let go and say some stuff to you in their language (though you don't know what it means)! You stop hopping and yell at them "what was that all about?!", but they start pinching you again. After going through all the things you did before with no luck, you randomly hop on your right foot again - and they let go and say the same thing again! You start putting two and two together: if you hop on your right foot, they'll stop pinching you. So then whenever they go to pinch you you immediately start hopping on one foot. In fact, if they even start to reach for your arm, you start hopping, and they don't even pinch you at all! That's all fine and dandy until, one time, they pinch your other arm. Now, they won't let go even when you start hopping on your right foot. You try and try, and then eventually out of frustration you start hopping on your left foot - and they let go! You figure out a little quicker this time that the side they go to pinch tells you which foot you're supposed to be hopping on... Eventually other cues and behaviors are added and you get quicker at figuring this out until you have a whole set of things you can do and avoid getting pinched at all. Now that you've figured out the system, you might even like it when this person comes to get you because you don't get pinched very much and you may even get a back rub when you're all done. You have been "trained".
While I don't like to believe it's quite
that negative, and is probably much better for experienced trainers, this is how I imagine traditional training seems to horses.
Now, lets switch the scenario starting from the very beginning:
Someone comes in speaking a language you don't know, pulls you out of bed, puts clothes on you that you're not particularly fond of, and leads you to the front yard. Then, they just step away from you and stare at you. This isn't very comfortable for you and you tell them to stop. They don't listen. Then, you go to walk over to them - as soon as you pick your foot up to take the first step, they clap their hands once and give you a dollar! You look at them funny and think they're crazy. You try to ask them what's going on, but they just step away and begin staring again. Pretty soon, you walk towards them again, and they clap and give you another dollar! Ok, so something is up now. For whatever reason, whenever you start walking toward them, they clap and then give you a dollar. This happens a few more times, but then they stop clapping and giving you dollars when you walk towards them. They're still staring at you expectantly, though, so you try other things. You try walking towards them faster, walking different directions, walking away from them, and eventually you try walking by picking your feet up really high. As soon as you lift your foot up high in the air, they clap a bunch of times and give you five bucks! You lift your foot high again, and the same thing happens! Yay! Then they start clapping once and only giving you a dollar when you lift your foot up, and then it stops all together :( So now, you try taking a giant step with your right foot toward them, and, naturally, you take a giant step with your left foot - as your left foot is in the air, you get a clap and a treat! Yay! Another clue! So now you've figured out that you need to lift your left foot up. You pick it up a few times, and get a big clap and $5 again! You do it a few more times, but now you're back to only one clap and one dollar, but then it stops again :( What is the next step? You stand on your right foot with your left foot in the air and try a few things. Since this all started out as you going toward them, maybe they want you to hop toward them on your right foot? You start hopping toward them and you earn another big clap and $5! Yay! You think you've got it - they want you to hop towards them! Except, wait, nope :( The treats stop again. You hop all around and don't get any treats - until, not knowing what else to do, you just hop in place. Ding Ding Ding - you hit the jackpot! Now, you've got a round of applause, $10, and a back rub - then you're sent back to bed Did you know you can do this for real? Try it with your friends/kids! The "training game" is one of my students' favorite things to play:
One student leaves the room and the class decides what the "behavior" is going to be and what our "cue" will be. For example, we decided once that we were going to have someone grab a piece of candy out of the candy jar and feed it to a specific person. Our cue was actually to shake our heads "no"! The student comes back in and tries to figure out what we want them to do. I have to sometimes coach my students not to say or do anything except give the cue when our "training subject" gets closer to figuring out what we're asking them to do. In this case, we shook our heads when he got close to the candy jar. 10 people shaking their heads at you is odd, so they caught on quickly that it was the cue. The moved back and forth trying to figure out the exact location, and, once they did, we stopped shaking our heads for the location and he had to figure out the next step. He started touching everything within arm's reach, and eventually touched the candy jar - and we all shook our heads! Aha! We continued our game until they eventually figured out to grab the candy (which they immediately opened and took a bite of), then started trying to "feed" it to other students - and we gave him a big applause when he offered it to the correct person. They love coming up with weird and crazy things for each other to do! Practice it with the people you know and you'll really get a feel for timing, accuracy, and how it feels to figure it out yourself!
The only difference between this and clicker training is the reward - humans are willing to work for a reward as simple as knowing they figured it out. Plus, we have much higher thinking capabilities in order to understand that many little "cues" for "yes" can lead to the ultimate goal, so a reinforcer isn't needed for every correct behavior.
Anyway, just some food for thought on the horse's perspective :) And a fun game to play whether or not you actually do clicker training!