Video on Demand by Karen Pryor Clicker Training |

Extinction – Friend or Foe?

What do you do when your computer freezes up, or your normally reliable car fails to start? What kind of learning history have you had? Are you resilient and resourceful, or do you become frustrated and angry? What has your experience with extinction been?

When you think about how frustrating events like those described above can make you feel, it’s easy to understand why you want to avoid extinction in training. Extinction in a training context means you are no longer reinforcing something that was previously being reinforced. Confusion, frustration, and anger are often part of emotional fallout—and sound like things we would want to avoid. So why is extinction often part of training? And is it always something to avoid?

We’ll look at extinction by dividing it into three categories that will help us evaluate and determine whether to work with extinction:

  1. Macro-extinction
  2. Inadvertent extinction
  3. Micro-extinction

In sum, you want to avoid the first two categories and learn to use the third. We’ll explore what these terms mean, and other related questions. When do they occur? What are some of the alternatives that can let handlers avoid the negative emotional fallout that accompanies the use of macro-extinction?

Used well, micro-extinction can help you train animals that are eager puzzle-solvers. When it’s not immediately obvious what is needed to get a click, instead of quitting, these learners keep working at the puzzle. They are confident, clever puzzle-solvers because the trainer has learned to be a resourceful, clever puzzle creator. We’ll be looking at strategies that build both successful puzzle-solvers and creators.

Alexandra Kurland

Alexandra Kurland is a graduate of Cornell University where she specialized in animal behavior. She began teaching in the early 1980s. Her area of particular interest is the development of a horse’s balance: physical and emotional. Helping horses stay sound throughout a long lifetime is the goal. The result are beautiful horses that feel like heaven to ride.

In 1998, Alexandra launched the rapidly growing field of clicker training for horses with the publication of her first book, Clicker Training for Your Horse. She teaches clicker training geared to any horse need or sport—including developing a gentle and companionable riding horse, halter-training foals, training advanced performance horses, and reforming difficult and unmanageable horses. Alexandra travels widely, presenting clicker training seminars in the US, the UK, and Europe.

Alexandra has written The Click That Teaches: A Step–By–Step Guide in Pictures and has also produced The Click That Teaches DVD lesson series and an online course. People outside the horse community may know her best through her weekly Equiosity podcast.