Do yourself a favor and never cue an animal for behavior that the animal is not going to do! It only teaches the animal that it’s okay to ignore the cue. “Whoa” is the most valuable cue you have in your repertoire and is most likely to save your life. It’s a sacred word!! In the video, alas, there is a fair bit of cringe-worthy “whoa-ing” that I would encourage you not to emulate. But let’s talk about why I leave it on display for the world.
One of my main goals is to get people to put these protocols to use with their animals. This isn’t about high-performance technically-perfected training that requires tons of experience, this is about stuff so fundamental that you can do it all wrong and it still comes out right. You can be a non-horse person and still end up with a nice horse if you just put in the effort to try. I want you to be willing to make mistakes knowing they can get cleaned up. You are going to become a better trainer, just as John is becoming a better trainer. I believe in the power of the try, you can do it.
Here is the thing about getting animals to respond correctly to cues (also known as being “on stimulus-control”). Get the animal to do the behavior first without the cue and then, when you know the animal will certainly perform the behavior, precede the behavior with the cue and generously reinforce a correct response. No longer reinforce un-cued incidences of the behavior, even if it is a little frustrating for the animal. Cue when the animal is relaxed and looking for information, trying to keep the rate of reinforcement high.
We will be returning to this topic again and again as it is one of the most fundamental training principles.
Patterns to Develop:
- Low latency response to “whoa” cue
- Complete stops until asked to walk on again
Patterns to Avoid:
- Stopping but then reorienting to face trainer
- Incomplete stops
- Moving to a preferred location before stopping
- Leaving the whoa before cue to walk on
The stopping behavior needs the going behavior to precede it. We have worked hard in developing the ability to send our animals walking. It’s unnatural for the animal to walk away from his trainer and treat bag. Stopping is much easier, but it has to be done in a way that we don’t destroy the leaving. Think about it as you train and try to keep things balanced. Avoid giving a whoa command in the same place 3 times in a row.
You can really see how difficult it is to get any distance from the horse in the Success video. The horses are very obedient, but they are clearly responding to the body language or the hand signals from the trainer. That is okay, because we are getting ready to put some of that whoa to use.