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Clicker Camp Topics

Body Awareness and Feldenkrais

Body awareness

Alexandra Kurland will be guiding us through a series of body awareness exercises. These exercises help us not only to become more aware of our different body parts and their relation to each other but also how to influence and improve our posture and balance. This is not only relevant for our own health and wellness but also important for the interaction with our animals. Horse trainers are generally aware of the importance of posture for riding but they often unaware of the relevance of their own balance when they are interacting on the ground. Knowing of the importance of balance is a first step towards finding good balance which is a never-ending process but one that improves more and more with practice. 

The exercises that Alexandra teaches can be done anywhere and basically anytime, so you can take them with you and practice as you wait for you tea water to boil or standing in a cue at the post office.


As we explore these exercises during the summer camp, we will get feedback from our peers on how certain movements felt to the other person. This is key information for us as we apply these movement through a lead rope or leash or the reins or simply by our hands. We can further refine the movements using that feedback and then ask the horses what they think of it. What a great learning opportunity in a safe environment for everyone!

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Sue Hall working with people IND

Anita Schnee, a Feldenkrais practitioner, will guide us through a Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson. If you are not sure what that is, google it, you will find thousands of resources.

Anita's skillfully crafted Awareness Through Movement lessons give you direct experience with a constructional approach to learning new skills.

Exploring your own movement over the course of three days, you may experience significant changes. Movements will become more fluid, easy and graceful. This can have a significant effect on the interaction with our animals.

If you want to learn more about Anita and the Feldenkrais method, listen to the two part Equiosity podcast interview with her:

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Feldenkrais sessions at the Italian Clicker Camp site.

Passive vs. active shaping

In order for a trainer to reinforce a behavior, the behavior has to first occur. Some trainers just wait for the animal to offer the behavior. Other trainers say, “Why wait?” These trainers actively work to create an environment that generates reinforceable behavior. In this topic, we’ll discuss these two approaches to shaping. Then, we’ll look specifically at different tactics for how to arrange the environment so that it is easier for the animal to do the behavior we want. 

There are many ways to arrange the environment. First of all, choosing the environment for training, but also using objects and decide which ones are the most useful to help the learner or how to deliver the reinforcer. Setting up the best position and balance to facilitate a behaviour can be considered as environmental arrangement, which links beautifully to our explorations of balance and to errorless learning during our Summer Camp.

Cues and the Stimulus Control Quadrant

It is common knowledge in the training community that it is best practice to first teach the behavior, then add the cue. Trainers often say that this is what they are doing. As a result, the cue and the behavior are regarded as entirely separate domains. However, is it really possible to have a behavior without a cue? Furthermore, is it possible to teach a behavior without teaching a cue? In this topic, we’ll explore different views about cues, including the practical implications for thinking about cues and behaviors in isolation versus thinking about everything in terms of cue-behavior relations. 

This topic will evolve out of the discussions on cues and behaviours evolving together


In an Equiosity webinar, Jesús Rosales-Ruiz introduced us to the "Stimulus Control Quadrant". What is important about it for trainers is the understanding that learning is facilitated if the learner can identify a change in the environment that predicts an outcome. When we change a criterion, we should also change something on the environment that tells our learner that in order to obtain reinforcement, behaviour needs adjustment. If we maintain everything constant but change criterion, the learner will become frustrated, as behaviour that was previously reinforced, no longer produces that outcome (extinction)


Curious? The webinar recording is available on the Equiosity website (and many more)

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Our Resident Animals

Our resident horses and goats are clicker-trained to different levels.They will be assisting us in exploring the various questions that will arise during the Summer Camp. With their help we can explore the importance of balance, how cues evolve during shaping, how to set up the environment to facilitate learning with minor or no errors and how PORTL can help us in this process.


Most of the hands-on work will be with the cashmere goats, but I'm sure the horses will want to make their presence known.

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Foundation Lessons - Advanced Performance: Connecting the Dots

Alexandra Kurland

For those of us who have become addicted to the look and feel of a beautifully balanced, light-as-air horse, piaffe is the “holy grail" we seek.  For those who aren’t familiar with this term, in piaffe the horse appears to trot in place.  It is seen by some as a test of a horse’s training, an advanced move performed in upper-levels of dressage competitions.  For others it is a very powerful, very beautiful, and very useful gymnastic that is taught to the horse to improve his overall balance and to help maintain long-term soundness.  


If we asked one of the attendees at the conference, someone who is new to horses, to teach one of the resident horses to piaffe, she’d no doubt make a muddle of it.  Even if we showed her video examples of a well-trained horse performing a correct piaffe, she would still struggle, especially if she tried to tackle the behavior directly.  But if we wound the training back and looked at the core elements that go into the development of this very advanced behavior, she’d be able to make a good start.  And everyone watching would be able to understand what she was doing.

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That’s the strength of the foundation lessons.  They give us the launching pad for developing advanced performance.  That’s one way of viewing them.  Another is these behaviors only appear to be simple because we have thin sliced the training to the point where we can begin with clean training loops.  The complexity lies in the skill of finding those clean loops and developing them so these core behaviors can expand to give us advanced performance.  Throughout the week we’ll be exploring what all of this means. [Not sure what is meant by clean loops? Visit Mary Hunter's blog article where she explains loops and loopy training. click here


The resident horses will show us both the core starting loops and the more advanced gymnastics.  We’ll explore the connection between the two.  When you teach a horse basic targeting, yes, you are teaching him to orient to an object.  But you are also putting both the horse and the handler on the first rungs of the ladder that connect them up to advanced performance.  


Throughout the week we’ll be connecting the dots between the basic, introductory lessons and advanced performance.  We’ll be exploring the back and forth connection between the micro splitting of behaviors into component parts so we can develop those first clean loops, and the macro assembling of these components into the larger units we call performance training.


Foundation lessons are only beginning lessons the first time you encounter them.  After that, they morph quickly into advanced training.  Every time you revisit these core lessons, you bring more experience with you.  Throughout the week we'll be exploring how the concepts we discuss in the morning can be applied to the real world training.  We’ll do this through the foundation lessons.  We'll be using simple behaviors to help us understand some very complex concepts.  For example, on Day 2, after Mary leads us through a discussion of errorless learning, we’ll explore together how we can apply these concepts to the afternoon training sessions. 


Everything truly connects to everything else.  Each day we’ll be looking at the connection between core behaviors and advanced training.  And we'll be asking how the concepts that emerge from the field of behavior analysis can be used in a practical way to make the afternoon training sessions better.  By better we mean for all the individuals involved: the horse, the handler, the coach, and the observers.  


The focus isn’t just on the horses.  Yes, we want to develop our training skills, but animals generally come with people attached.  We also want to look at teaching skills.  How can we set up a lesson so everyone involved has a positive outcome - both in terms of learning goals met and the enjoyment of the process.


We’ll be drawing throughout the week on our many shared experiences beginning with the early morning body awareness sessions (always assuming everyone doesn’t stay up so late around the campfire that we need to sleep in a little!), the morning lectures and discussions, the PORTL games, the Feldenkrais sessions, and the horse sessions.  The horse sessions will always include group exercises centered around skill building so everyone will be participating directly in this part of the training.



If you want to learn more about Alexandra's foundation lessons, listen to the Equiosity podcast #4 or read the interview with Alexandra on Karen Pryor Clicker training.

Non-linear analysis

Have you ever had a situation where a person or animal’s behavior just didn’t seem to make sense, based on the immediate consequence that you observed following the behavior? To make sense of some of these situations, we need to use what Dr. Israel Goldiamond termed “non-linear analysis.” That is, we need to look at the individual’s alternative contingencies (A-B-C relations) and, in particular, what would happen if the learner did not engage in this behavior. In this topic, we’ll discuss the basics of non-linear analysis. This concept can expand your understanding of behavior and help you see new solutions for perplexing problems. 

For the curious minds

  • Goldiamond, I., 1974. Toward a constructional approach to social problems: ethical and constitutional issues raised by applied behavior analysis. Behaviorism, 2(1), pp.1-84.

  • Goldiamond, I., 1975. Alternative sets as a framework for behavioral formulations and research. Behaviorism, 3(1), pp.49-86.

  • Layng, T.J. and Andronis, P.T., 1984. Toward a functional analysis of delusional speech and hallucinatory behavior. The Behavior Analyst, 7(2), pp.139-156.

  • Layng, T.J., 2009. The search for an effective clinical behavior analysis: The nonlinear thinking of Israel Goldiamond. The Behavior Analyst, 32(1), pp.163-184.

  • Goldiamond, I., 2004. The Blue Books: Goldiamond & Thompson's Functional Analysis of Behavior. Andronis, editor. Cambridge Center for Behavior Analysis.

The Blue Books are an excellent resource and easily available as ebook or CD at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Errorless learning

You’ve probably heard the term “errorless learning.” But, what does this really mean? Does it refer to the number of errors the learner makes, certain types of training procedures, an attitude (strategy) for how to approach training, or something else entirely? In this topic we’ll discuss different things that errorless learning can mean. We’ll also debate whether it is really possible or practical for animals and humans to learn without making errors. Finally, we’ll explore ideas for how we can make our own training more errorless. 


Mary Hunter gave a fabulous talk on errorless learning at the "Life is for Learning" Seminar organised by Happy Fellow® in May 2018. We want to elaborate further on this during our discussions and practical sessions with human learners using PORTL and exploring the concept with the resident horses.


Here is a great example from Mary, showing us how you can teach a complex conditional chain with minimal or no errors.

Cues and Behavior Evolve Together

Your dog, your horse, your goat, your guinea pig has just performed the perfect pirouette spin.  What does the person watching you ask?  


“What’s your cue for that?”  


Wrong question!


Knowing your cues won’t help her.  Your friend could go home and give the exact same cue to her dog, her horse, her goat, her guinea pig, but unless she has gone through a teaching process to teach it to her learners, they won’t have a clue what to do.


Conventional practice tells us that a behavior is “put on cue” after the learner is reliably performing it.  That convention hides a powerful reality. Cues—information that helps an animal get to his reinforcement faster —are evolving throughout the shaping process.  Putting a behavior on cue only after the behavior is formed is a bit of misdirection.  It can keep handlers from seeing all the clues/cues that an animal is using to figure out how to get to a desired outcome.  Hence the question that gets asked: “what is your cue for that?”


Even if the person watching decides that your cue is going to be “the cue” for this behavior, it still doesn’t help her.


The question she needs to be asking is: “How did you teach that?”


Cues evolve out of the shaping process.  During our Clicker Training and Behavior Science Summer Camp we’ll be working mainly with the resident goats, but there may also be opportunities to involve the horses.    Horses, of course, are the species that is represented by Clever Hans. Many of you will be familiar with the story.  Clever Hans lived in Europe in the early 1900s.  His owner had trained him to perform all sorts of amazing, one could even say miraculous feats.  He could answer complex mathematical equations.  Ask him a question, and he would tap out the answer with his hoof.   


How was he doing this?  Surely it must be a hoax!  To prove that Clever Hans couldn’t really be doing mathematical equations researchers had his owner step out of sight.  Clever Hans still got the right answer.  It took some clever investigating to discover that as long as the people watching knew the answer, Clever Hans was always right.  They were ever so subtly telegraphing the answer to him through changes in their body language.  


When they figured out what Clever Hans was doing, there was a collective sigh of relief.  People could go back to believing that horses were the stupid animals they had always thought them to be.  "You see,” they said, "Clever Hans wasn’t really doing math after all!"


Silly people.  They missed the real brilliance of horses.  Horses are so good at reading us - we can’t not cue!   


Here’s a simple example: when a handler is clicking and reinforcing her horse for putting his ears forward, where is she looking?  At his ears.  In contrast when she wants him to back up, where is she looking?  At his chest.  


Her horse will pick up on those differences and use them as clues to get to his reinforcement faster.


Cues are not separate from the behaviors they prompt.  They evolve together.  Throughout the week Alexandra Kurland will be helping us learn more about how this process works.  How do you spot the cues that your learner is using so you can turn them into deliberate cues?  How do you use their keen observation skills to your advantage to help you:


* develop good stimulus control over individual behaviors

* transfer your cues to performance cues

* become more subtle and light in your cues

* build complex sequences of behavior


We’ll be looking at cues versus commands.  We’ll see how cues work to bind behaviors together and create reinforcement opportunities.  We’ll look at how you can set up deliberate context cues that can help shift you out of poisoned cue scenarios.  And we’ll explore how you can become more aware of your own body language so you have a greater repertoire of cues to choose from.  


The morning body awareness sessions led by Alexandra, and the daily Feldenkrais sessions with Nathalie Van Cauwenberghe will help us become more aware of our own balance.  How does it affect our ability to communicate clearly?  What are we signaling to our animal learners and how can we become more intentional in the clues/cues we are giving?  In the afternoon training sessions we’ll see how clever our horses are at reading us. 


In the afternoon of the first day we’ll meet the goats  who will be our co-teachers.  This will be a data collecting session.  What do these goats know?   What do we want to work on to move their training forward?  How does an understanding of the evolution of cues help us communicate better with them?  Always we will be looking both at the goats and the handlers.  It’s not only how can we train better, but how can we teach better?  


Through the many discussions, PORTL games, body awareness and feldenkrais lessons, and the practice sessions where we work on improving handling skills, everyone will be involved.  The question throughout is how do we develop the best learning experience and training outcome for our animal learners, the handlers, the coaches?   

We also have the resident horses.  Not everyone who attends will get to work directly with a horse, but there may be opportunities for some individuals to be chosen to be our handler “guinea pigs”. 

As coaches, observers, and handlers, we’ll be exploring concepts and techniques that will make teaching and learning a more enjoyable and productive experience for all involved. 

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Have you heard about PORTL?

The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab (PORTL) is a tabletop shaping game that teaches individuals about behavior and shaping. Through playing the game, individuals get to see the principles of behavior in action and practice applying those principles to change behavior.

(PORTL now has it’s own website! To learn more, visit

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This only a taste of what we'll be exploring.  Come join us and share in the exploration of ideas.
Get more information about the camp here.

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