Importance of Putting Behaviors On Signal or On Cue

In the above photo, if I did not have ‘PICKING UP A CONE’ so it happens only when I give the Cue/Signal for picking it up, it would be hard to use cones as arena markers for other activities.

To become an adept and safe equine clicker trainer, it is essential to learn to put learned behaviors ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ as quickly as possible. We want the horse to wait for our signal before offering the behavior.

A horse throwing his learned behaviors at us might feel like fun at first, but it can rapidly get out of hand and become dangerous when the horse choses an inappropriate moment. For example, when I taught Boots to ‘spin’, it was quite startling when she wanted to show it to me and visitors all the time, while standing right beside us!

It pays to think carefully about the possible consequences of specific behaviors before we teach them. It pays to be aware that we can get into trouble, especially if the horse is a confident, imaginative and high-energy type of horse. 

The most recent thing you have taught your horse often becomes his favorite move because that behavior has recently been strongly rewarded.

Such horses may perform a learned behavior then ‘demand’ the treat. It’s important to make sure the horse does not develop this option. The treat is always a reward for something you have asked the horse to do. It can’t be demanded.

Reminder, always Click BEFORE you reach your hand toward your treat pouch or pocket. If you don’t, the horse’s attention will be on watching your hand rather than focused on what you want him to learn.

Once you have a strong relationship and your clicker training repertoire is well established, you will have built up a connection that suits you and a particular horse. For example, if I sometimes forget to click&treat a behavior that falls into our list of things I usually/always click&treat, Boots makes sure to remind me with a gentle nudge.

No other training method elicits the enthusiasm and fun that can be had with well-planned and well-executed clicker training. Many horses playing click&treat games never want their sessions to end. Rather than having to worry about ‘ending the session on a good note’, clicker trainers must teach an ‘end of session’ routine to let the horse gently and clearly know that the session is finishing.

Although the ‘marker’ does not have to be the sound of a mechanical clicker, using a distinctive mechanical clicker when first teaching something new has the advantage of greater clarity for the horse. It also helps make the handler extremely observant about where to place the current click point.

Once the horse knows a behavior and your signal for it, it doesn’t seem to matter if a tongue click or a unique, consistent sound/word is used as a bridging signal instead of a mechanical clicker.

Putting every new behavior ‘on signal’ as soon as you can, will gradually reduce the horse’s desire to throw the new move at us as soon as he sees us (much like a child dying to show us his new painting).

Usually, a horse will have one or two favorite behaviors that he pulls out to see if he can get the vending machine to pay attention. Boots’ smile is the one she always tries first. It’s good to develop a few relatively quiet ‘default’ behaviors like this that you can reward when just going to say hello to your horse or generally checking up on him.

Boots using her smile to see if a treat will be forthcoming.

The following two clips are from a while ago. The detailed notes mentioned at the end have now morphed into my books.

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