Learning Together: The Constructional Approach to Training

Stay At Home Clinic Series

In March I started canceling the spring clinics.  Regretfully, one by one we had to admit that the corona virus wasn't going to be brought under control in time for the spring events.  But that didn't stop people from wanting clinics.  So Rebekka Shulze, the organizer of the May North Carolina clinic,  asked if we could try a virtual clinic.  My answer: Let's experiment and see what happens.


There are times when you get to say you smashed that one out of the ball park, and this was one of them.  I loved the format.  I loved how much it felt like an actual clinic.  I loved how much everyone was able to participate.  People weren't just passively watching a webinar and writing their questions in a chat box.  The group size was kept intentionally small so there was time for questions and time for everyone who wanted to to share video.  We could see animals change from one session to the next.  That's always fun. In some ways this was better than an actual clinic.  As one person said, she would never have been able to bring her horse to a clinic.  She lives too far away for that, but she was able to bring her horse to this clinic via video.  She had the pleasure of sharing her horse with me and getting feedback on her handling.

We watched horses.  We watched dogs.  We even watched one cat, and we learned from them all. 


The conclusion: virtual clinics work!  So I am going to hold some more.  Even if the corona virus disappeared tomorrow, I would give more of these Stay At Home clinics.  I love how they erase the constraints of geography.  Now everyone can participate no matter where you live!  Our first event was set up for the eastern time zone, but that won't always be the case.  In fact the July 10-12 event is set up for west coasters.  It will be held in the Pacific time zone. 


Rebekka Shulze did such a great job organizing the first Stay At Home clinic, I have asked her to help me again. She'll be organizing several of the clinics that are coming up this summer.

You can skip ahead to see the dates and topics of the events.  Or continue reading to learn more about this new clinic format.  We'll look first at the title I have given these clinics.

Learning Together  That's what we'll be doing.  You can always work on your own.  I have the books, the DVDs, the on-line course, the blog posts and podcasts.  These are great resources, but sometimes it's fun to get together with other people.  It's good to spend time with people who understand your love of animals and who share your passion for positive reinforcement training.  It's good to see what others are doing.  You learn from their questions.  You learn from their animals.  Given the news about the corona virus, you may not feel comfortable yet traveling to clinics.  With this on-line format, you don't have to.  We can learn together as we are invent together this new teaching format.

The Constructional Approach To Training  I'm a clicker trainer.  Yes.  That tells you a lot about my core values and how I train.  But it isn't sufficient.  I could be a clumsy trainer, one who paints with a broad brush. I'll be using positive reinforcement, but that doesn't guarantee that my animals will be having a positive learning experience. I could be generating a lot of frustration, both for them and for myself by not thinking through how I want to structure my training.


I want to be a constructional trainer.  That means I am process-oriented, not goal driven.  I look at a complex end goal and consider all the component pieces that I can teach separately that will make that final goal much easier to reach.  In constructional training I learn how to set up the environment for success.  I learn how to train in clean loops so errors are minimized.  This is a structure I can apply throughout my training.  What do I want to teach?  How do I structure my lessons so they can be taught easily through this constructional approach?

Stay At Home Clinic Series  You don't have to travel any further than to your computer.  That's the beauty of this format.  You get to stay home, and so does your horse!  You'll be working together in a familiar environment.  You don't have to deal with the stress of travel.  At clinics I hear so often people lament: "He never does this at home!"  Well now he is home and via video we get to be the "fly on the wall" while you work with him. 


You get the best of both world.  You get to be away from home without being away from home.  And you get to have a lesson with your horse in the comfort of his familiar surroundings. 

How do these clinics work?

For now we are using zoom.  This may change as better options are developed.  For now Zoom is really very easy to use, and with the upgrades they have added, it is a safe and convenient space. 

What you need, IDEALLY
- a computer, tablet or mobile phone, with hi-speed internet connection
- a web cam, either built-into your device, or connected to it
- ear phones/ear buds
- a microphone (built-in, or connected - some ear buds have a mic in the wire)

- a quiet place where you can participate with little or no interruption.

- we will be looking at video and presentations so you will want to use a device that lets you see the zoom meeting room screen.

I will email you ahead of time a link to the Zoom meeting, along with a security password.  Here is a video about how to join a meeting.  https://youtu.be/hIkCmbvAHQQ

If you are on your computer, or tablet, you should click the link a few minutes before the designated start time. Zoom will want you to download a bit of software. Please do. It is safe. If you are using a tablet or mobile phone to access, you may need to install an app.

What is the schedule for the event?


Friday Evening

Friday evening we gather together via zoom for introductions.  The Friday night introductions are an important part of every clinic - real or virtual.  It represents your first shaping experience of the weekend.  We can’t possibly cover the whole of any topic in the time we have together.  Your introduction helps to guide me in selecting discussion points that will be of most use to you.  So you are literally shaping the weekend that is going to be unfolding through your answers to the following questions:

What is your background with horses? If you don’t have horses, what animals do you work with?  What is your clicker training background?

Are there particular training questions that you would like to explore? What has brought you to this clinic experience.  What are you hoping you get from it? After the clinic ends, you are saying that was just the BEST computer gathering I have ever had because . . .  What is the because that you are looking for?  You may not have the answer to this last one yet, but you may have some clues that can help us get there.

You can be thinking about these questions ahead of time.  We’ll share these introductions Friday evening.  I’ve always found that sharing them in a group is very helpful for everyone.  It’s a great way to get to know one another, and it also brings to light many training questions others may have as well.

For our virtual clinic the Friday evening gathering will have another function.  It will get us all comfortable using the zoom platform.  I am looking for something that is much more than a webinar that you watch passively.  I want to create the same back and forth exchanges that occur at clinics.  

Saturday Morning (9 am to noon)

Don't let these times scare you.  You won't be sitting at the computer for three hours straight.  We will be taking breaks.  We'll begin with a conference-style presentation that is related to the topic of the "Stay at Home Clinic" you are attending.  The presentation will be followed by discussion, video analysis and skill building sessions. 

Lunch break  - During the lunch break, you should plan on some time to work on the morning’s homework assignment. This will require a short training session.  If you aren’t able to get to your horses during the day, you can always practice using the family dog, cat, or other available critters.  If possible, you should video this session. 

Saturday Afternoon (2 to 4:30 pm)

We will begin with a wrap up of the morning session.  What questions do you have before we move on?  We’ll discuss the homework assignment and watch the videos people made during the lunch break.  Video length: 2- 3 minutes maximum.  This baseline video often functions as a check on general handling skills.  Are there details that can be changed that will make your training clearer and more effective?

After a short break, we'll watch another presentation and then I'll give you a training assignment for the evening.  Again, if you can’t get to your horse, you can use a household pet.

Sunday Morning (9 am to noon)

We’ll begin with questions from the previous day, and a discussion and analysis of the video people made of the evening homework assignment.

After a short break we'll have another presentation.  We'll break for lunch at noon.  You'll have another training assignment which you can work on during the break.

Sunday Afternoon (2 to 4:30 pm)

We'll begin by discussing the any questions from the morning session and the mid-day training assignment.  We'll watch the videos people made. 

After a short break we'll have the final presentation of the day.

We'll conclude with a clinic wrap up - what were the highlights  and major "ah ha" discoveries from the weekend? 

Note: Space is very limited at these clinics.  I want everybody to be able to participate fully.  That means there is time for your questions, your video. I am keeping the group size small, so sign up early to be sure you have a spot.

Stay At Home Event Schedule

July 10-12: Constructional Training: What And Why? 

If the name of these clinics is "Learning Together: The Constructional Approach To Training", it makes sense to begin with a clinic that looks more closely at what this means.  Why do we want to be constructional trainers?  We'll begin the weekend with a presentation that answers that question: "Extinction: Friend or Foe". 

Clicker trainers know we want to avoid the intentional use of punishment.  We work hard to find alternatives to force-based solutions.  But we may not be as mindful about avoiding extinction with all of its associated emotional fallout.  This is where a constructional approach to training really helps.  In this presentation we'll look at the "good and bad apples" in the "extinction barrel".  This will be followed by presentations that explore what it means to be a loopy trainer.

To register for this course contact Caeli Collins: caeli.collins@gmail.com


Caeli is the organizer of the Half Moon Bay clinic in CA. This "Stay At Home" clinic is replacing our scheduled July clinic.  The people who registered for the clinic will be given the first option for this event, but not everyone has a computer connection so there may be a few spots available.

Note West Coasters: This event is for you.  The times will be for the Pacific time zone.

July 17-19 Rope Handling

Yes, we are going to have a rope handling clinic, and why not!  It's time to become creative and figure out ways in which we can learn together without being together.  We'll be looking at what it means to shape on a point of contact.  As constructional trainers, how do we develop good rope handling skills?  How do we teach tactile cues and use a lead or reins so they are a positive reinforcement communication tool?

Rebekka Schulze is doing more than organizing this clinic for me.  She will also be sharing three presentations on classical pilates and the benefits that has for riders.  This ties in perfectly with the rope handling.  Good rope handling depends very much on an understanding of our own balance. I'm delighted that Rebekka will be joining me in teaching this course.  To learn more about Rebekka's work visit: https://pilatesandhorses.com

Contact Rebekka Schulze to for more information on this Rope Handling course or to register: rschulze888@gmail.com

July 31 to August 2  Constructional Training: What And Why?

See the description of this event in the July 10-12 Clinic

Organized by Rebekka Schulze: contact rschulze888@gmail.com

East coasters: This one is for you.  The scheduled times will be for the Eastern time zone.

September Date to be Announced: Getting Started with the Clicker: Evolving the Details

organized by Rebekka Schulze: contact rschulze888@gmail.com

Are you new to clicker training?  This is the clinic for you.  We'll start with the basics - beginning with what is clicker training?  Why do we use a marker signal and treats?  We'll look at the beginning steps that will get you off to a great start.  We'll look at details in the handling that will make a huge difference to your horse. 

We'll explore this through video that I have prepared in advance, and we'll also look at your video.  This is the time to build good habits.  Video analysis can help.

What do these good habits give you? That's a question I'll be answering as we explore the basics in a fun way.  Not only will we be looking at the foundation lessons, we'll be looking at how these lessons have changed over time.  What are the details that have been added?  Why are they important?  By comparing then versus now video you'll see more clearly why these details are important.


This event is very much tailored to those who are new to clicker training, but you don't have to be a beginner to enjoy it.  Very often a review of basics helps us to move forward in our training.



For those of you in the UK and Europe, I don't want you to feel left out.  I will be setting up clinics for your time zones, as well.  The corona virus may keep us all from traveling, but it doesn't have to keep us from visiting.



Discuss the mid-day training session and any questions from the morning session.

Presentation of Cues Evolve out of the Shaping Process

3:30 to 3:45 Break

3:45 to 4:30 Wrap up





© Alexandra Kurland - The Clicker Center

Questions? Email kurlanda@crisny.org

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