What is a training plan? Is it really necessary to write it down? Isn’t that time consuming? These are the things people ask when I talk about training plans and shaping plans.
You don’t have to make a training plan, but it will help you become a better clicker trainer faster. Why? Because it forces you to think about your training goal, your approach and all the steps you need to take to get to your goal.
If you are at the barn and you don’t know what to do, a plan can help you move in the right direction.
Difference between a training plan and a shaping plan
Your training plan contains all the behaviours you want to teach your horse, in your shaping plan you write down the step-by-step approach of each behaviour.
First thing you have to think about and write down is your goal. What it is it and how would you recognize it when you achieve it? That is a hard question to begin with. That is one of the reasons people would like to skip this step. If you avoid it, it doesn’t exists, right? Wrong!
How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for? How can you enjoy a satisfied feeling of accomplishing something if your goal is so vague you can’t even write it down? I know it is hard, but when you practise it this will become easier and easier over time.
It’s OK to start ‘big’ and write down a vague goal, the next steps will help you through the process of making it more clear.
Once you have determined a goal it is easy to divide it into little training steps, the building blocks of your end behaviour. This is how you shape a behaviour.
Ask questions like: what does my horse need to do in order to achieve the goal? What skills must I train first? And think about the training tools that can help in this process.
Try to visualize and write down how many times your horse must do a certain behaviour before you raise the criterion. It doesn’t have to be accurate right away, but thinking about it helps when you are at the barn training your horse.
If you have set the criterion ‘Horse touches target when it’s near the ground’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you hold the target in another place where the horse has to reach for it: maybe more to the left and then more to the right.
It is also very important to write down which reward and how much of that reward you will be using. Some rewards will wear down their value over time in some horses. Some horses are more motivated if they get a variation of rewards.
Experiment and write down what you’ve learned about your horse. It is fun and very educational to read it back one day.
Personalize your plan
Another very important part of your training plan is to put in specific information about the target animal and things for the trainer to remember. If you read your training plan before you start training it can help you remind you of certain things like: I have to click first and take the reward out my pocket (instead of taking the treat before I click). Or remember that this horse has separation anxiety and training him works best if there are other horses in sight.
Write down your results in order to start the next training at the point where you stopped or so you can take one step back to refresh the horses memory and raise the first criterion after one time instead of three times to improve and get to the next steps.
Starting a training journal can be very simple and it doesn’t have to take much time. Sometimes a few simple keywords or just circling the training step where you have stopped is enough to help you remember.
Have a creative clicker training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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