Clicker Training and Positive Reinforcement methods are in an interesting place right now and I have to be honest and say it's a little scary. Its successes are attracting attention and getting press. There has been a 2 series article in "Practical Horseman" magazine recently as well as mention of it in a feature article on the jumper stallion Judgment in "The Chronicle of the Horse". So it's getting out there to the masses which is a good thing.
But along with the popularity comes a lot of misunderstanding and that's what worries me. People try to simplify it into an easy recipe: "just reward your horse when he does something right". Yeah, well, sorta. Or they think pressure and release is positive reinforcement (it's not- it's negative reinforcement). Or they feed their horses sugar cubes, thinking they are doing some good when their timing is such that if the horse learns anything from it, it's not what the people intended. Or they refuse to "bribe" their horses with food (clicker training is not bribery).
When it comes to teaching other humans, people fall into the trap of mindless praise. They think positive reinforcement means not screaming at students, but instead gushing over them and telling them "good job" every time they cross the street without falling down. That just creates "praise junkies"- people who can't function without begin told how wonderful they are all the time, and that is pretty damaging to kids. In the world of TAGteach, we use positive reinforcement along with an acoustical marker and other specific techniques. TAG teachers are certified after training and hours of documented and approved practice.
My current feeling is that to understand Clicker Training and positive reinforcement, you really have to have a basic understanding of Operant Conditioning. But some people just glaze over when you try to explain that. They don't want the gory details. They just want the magic that is in the little clicker box and well, sorry, no magic involved.
The whole thing makes me occasionally want to bang my head against a wall because the very notion of positive reinforcement does not allow me to shake these people and scream "You don't get it!". My biggest fear is for all those who try this watered down, incorrect and/or misunderstood version and walk away from it because it didn't "work". It works. But you have to do more than scratch the surface. And for those who do, we are rewarded with some of the most amazing eye-opening experiences and relationships you could ask for.
So I shall try to refrain from banging my head and shaking people. Instead I will remember the tenet of "babysteps". I will try to teach one person at a time, in a way that they find reinforcing and hopefully thereby help one horse at a time. And I will be so appreciative of those who are willing to educate themselves rather than look for someone to hand them a magic potion which will ensure rapid success.