I am slowly sharing notes on my blog from a clicker training clinic with Alexandra Kurland that I attended in November 2014 in Arkansas. This post is a continuation of those notes. For the rest of my notes, please visit my clinic notes page.
Alexandra opened the weekend by showing us a lovely video clip of a clicker trained horse trotting around a circle. The horse had absolutely wonderful balance and movement, all of which had been developed through clicker training. Everyone watching was taken away by the horse’s beauty and grace.
This led to a fun discussion about all of the many wonderful behaviors that can be taught using clicker training. Whatever behaviors you really want, you can train using clicker training. This is because clicker training and positive reinforcement give you a communication system and a set of tools so that you can train just about any behavior, from teaching a horse to touch a target or drop its head to have a halter put on, to top level Grand Prix competition behaviors.
In the horse world, Grand Prix refers to top level international equestrian competitions in show jumping and dressage. To compete at this level, horses and riders must display an incredible amount of skill and concentration. Very few horses and riders are able to reach this level of performance.
However, during our discussion, Alexandra offered up another perspective on “Grand Prix” that was not limited to top level competitions. Instead, think of Grand Prix level as any behavior that is developed to the point of utmost excellence. From this perspective, you could still have a Grand Prix level jumping horse, but you could also have a horse that has reached the Grand Prix level at trail riding, standing at the mounting block, or even fetch. (We actually did have one horse at the clinic that had perfected his retrieving skills to a Grand Prix level. You can see more pictures here.)
I’ve been thinking about these ideas over the past couple of weeks and I’ve been thinking about what behaviors I would really like to develop to the Grand Prix level with my own animals. That is, which behaviors do I really want to develop to the point of excellence?
The great thing is that with clicker training and positive reinforcement, you can train almost any behavior to the Grand Prix level. This process starts with focusing on the behaviors you want and deciding what excellence would look like for that behavior. Sometimes, I think trainers get stuck because they focus on the behaviors they don’t want, rather than what they do want, or because they spend too much time comparing themselves to other trainers. Getting to excellence even for a single, seemingly simple behavior can take time and practice, but clicker training gives you the tools to develop exceptional behaviors.
Most importantly, to reach a Grand Prix level, the training process should be enjoyable for both the human and the animal, every step along the way. If you’re not having fun or the animal is not having fun, then why keep doing something? If you watch top level performers (both humans and non-humans) who really shine at what they do, you’ll probably notice a bit of a spark in their eye and be able to see that they just love what they do.
I’ve been having a lot of fun this weekend thinking of animals I’ve known personally that have reached the Grand Prix level. Blossom, a young paint mare that I trained several years ago, was definitely Grand Prix level at targeting and, as I mentioned earlier, we had a horse at the clinic that was a Grand Prix retriever. My little rat Amy certainly had a Grand Prix recall from across my apartment.
And I know that if I started naming animals that I have met at clinics and online, that the list would go on and on. Clicker training opens up the door to an amazing level of communication with our animals and, even more importantly, makes the training process an enjoyable journey for both animal and trainer. Because of this, it’s amazing the types of behaviors we can teach and the level of performance that can be achieved.
Have you met any Grand Prix level clicker trained animals lately?
This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop.