Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I've been tossing this topic around in my head for a while now but have been having trouble pinning it down into anything resembling organized thought. So I'm going to try writing it and see what happens!

The various pieces that are trying to come together are:
  1. In TAGteach, we need to be careful to separate praise from information.
  2. Using a Keep Going Signal (KGS...see previous posts for detail) in clicker training requires a specifically conditioned KGS, as opposed to verbal diarrhea (thanks to Amanda for that lovely descriptive term)
  3. In all training we have to be clear in our requests, both in our minds and in the horse's mind
First off, when using TAGteach, I have a hard time letting the marker signal do its job without also adding verbal commentary. Since one of the advantages of tagging is the objectivity of the auditory marker, I am taking away from the benefits by muddying things up with "good job", or "excellent". At the last seminar, I learned that I don't necessarily need to stop the verbal praise, I just need to separate it from the tagging, and put it in later if I want to. So it is more like

skill > tag > skill > tag > skill > tag > > > praise

That keeps me quiet while the tagger is doing the work to its full potential.

Verbal diarrhea- yuck, right? But how many of us know people, ourselves included, who chatter away nonstop to horses? We keep up this continuous babble and the horses of course have NO idea what we are saying so they are just hearing blahblahblahblah. It's just background noise- it has no meaning, so, here is the critical part, it gets tuned out. Therefore, if we want any verbal communication with our horse to be effective, we need to learn to shut up unless we are giving important information, whether a cue or feedback. While practicing at the seminar, my own TAG point became "duct tape"...which to me was a reminder to tape my lips shut. Focusing on that TAG point enabled me to be quiet and just use the marker until it became habit.

Likewise, our horses are going to be able to hear and understand "walk on", a lot more easily than they understand "c'mon Trigger, keep going, you can do it, walk on, keep marching, it's ok yadayadayada". And yes, that means we have to TRAIN them what "walk on" means, as opposed to relying on the nagging voice or leg or seat to maintain that forward. Taking this into the concept of a KGS, many of us use "good girl", but is that a real KGS that means "keep trying and a reinforcer is coming"? Or is it sometimes accompanied by kicking legs and driving seat which we may see as encouraging but in fact the horse finds unpleasant and so the "good girl" is conditioned to mean nothing at all, because sometimes it's accompanied by reinforcers and sometimes by punishers.

These are really just examples of many situations where we think we may be clear, but the horse is not at all clear on what we mean. The same is true of all our aids and responses. If we are not consistent and clear, it is unfair to get frustrated when the horse does not interpret and respond the way we want.

The photo was taken at our March TAG seminar here in Vermont. Theresa McKeon of TAGteach Int'l is on the left and Sarah Memmi of Equiclick on the right. The exercise was about trying to learn with distractions but excess information is also a distraction!


Golden the Pony Girl said...

Guilty as charged! I am pretty bad about frivolous chatter maybe I will actually duct tape my mouth shut and see what I can accomplish!

Bookends Farm said...

It is really hard! :)

Mad Dog Ranch said...

Check out the cartoon posted with this blog.


This has helped me cut down the chatter. I just remind myself, blah, blah, blah.

And I think most of the "good girl" exclamations are for US, not the animal. As I come to trust my clicker/tagger more, I need to say less.

Bookends Farm said...

On my screen that is way too small to read - how do you blow it up? but I've seen it before and it is very accurate!
I think my next post is going to be the same general topic as some experiences the past two days have been even more eye opening. Thanks for the link Cindy!