I’ve been having a lot of fun recently working through Alexandra Kurland’s new “Getting Started with Clicker Training” virtual clinic. The name of this class is a bit deceptive, as it is designed for both beginner clicker trainers and those with more experience.
One of my favorite sayings from Alexandra Kurland is that “advanced training is just the basics done very, very well.” We can make drastic improvements to our training by returning to foundational exercises, reviewing our own behavior, and making adjustments.
Several weeks ago, Apollo and I spent some time reviewing head lowering, which then led us to an exercise that Alexandra calls “backing in a square.” I realized that there were certainly some details that we could clean up!
Often times, when a behavior is not quite right, it’s tempting to keep working on that particular exercise. However, this approach usually leads to slow progress. Instead, you’ll make faster improvements by isolating and practicing the components that need adjusting.
So, rather than working on backing in a square, Apollo and I practiced backing in a straight line. However, as we practiced walking backwards, I realized that there were still more details that needed some refinements. I wanted to make some modifications related to how I was holding my hands and the lead rope, what was actually cueing the behavior, and where I was delivering the treat. However, it would not have made sense to try to work on all of these things at once.
As a result, I spent time practicing treat delivery with a friend giving me feedback on my position. I also spent some time practicing sliding my hand down a lead rope both with a halter hanging over a closet door in my house and with Apollo.
One important advanced training skill is being able to identify when you are missing components and then being able to isolate and teach components.
If I had tried to make adjustments during the backing-in-a-square exercise, there would have been way too many things to think about. Returning to some of these component exercises added more steps, but it also helped simplify things. The simpler exercises made it easier to see other pieces that also needed to be adjusted and actually made the training progress faster.
If you’re a horse trainer (or even if you’re not), I encourage you to check out Alexandra Kurland’s virtual stay-at-home clinics for lots of learning and a supportive community.