"Lining up the "How," "What," and "Why" of Training

What do prices, your weight, and temperature all have in common?

They all go up and down. Why? Why shouldn’t weight go in and out like your waistband? What has hotter got to do with going up? Why is quantity linked with verticality? Why is your brain surprised by these questions? And what does all this have to do with clicker training? As it turns out, quite a lot.

The link between quantity and verticality is an example of a primary metaphor—a connection that is made between two seemingly unrelated experiences. Our brains are designed to create these connections. They happen so early in life that they become automatic and largely unconscious. The connections influence both what we think and what we cannot think. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff would say that these “primary metaphors create realities in our mind and we don’t even notice.”

Lakoff’s exploration of metaphors helps us understand so much about training, beginning with why we are attracted to clicker training in the first place. It explains the naysayers who are trying to convince us that we’ll “ruin our animal with all those treats.” Whether it’s with your dog in the local dog park, or your horse in the boarding barn, have you wondered why so many people want to tell you how wrong you are to clicker train? Bring out your treat bag, and the sharks attack! Why? And what do you do about it? Can you reframe the conversation so that you create a more productive outcome? How can you change the dynamic so you no longer have to wait until everyone else has left before you bring out your clicker and treats? How can you have an internet conversation about your training choices without feeling as though the sharks are circling?

That’s just the beginning. When you first explored clicker training, did it feel like a homecoming? Did the how, what, and why of training all match up? Or, did you feel as though you were being pulled in two different directions? You wanted to click and treat, but when your dog jumped up on you, or your horse crowded into your space, you still felt the urge to correct. What is the source of this ambivalence? Understanding the primary metaphors that influence your behavior means that you can be more aware, more deliberate in your training choices.

And why shouldn’t you correct that unwanted behavior? In clicker training we are urged to focus on what we want our learner TO DO, not the unwanted behavior. The cognitive linguists would tell us this is wise advice. Every time you focus on the unwanted behavior you strengthen it. You may be clicking your dog for four on the floor, or your horse for backing out of your space, but if your focus is still on stopping a behavior you don’t want, you may not see the changes you hoped for. The impact may be very subtle. It can feel as though you are a positive trainer, but those unconscious influencers may be strengthening inadvertently the very behavior you DON'T want.

Change begins with awareness of the metaphors that influence your behavior. What are the primary metaphors that form your core values? Those questions are what we’ll be exploring in this Session. Welcome to a fascinating exploration of language and the connections to training.

Is this Session for you? Are you curious about why people behave the way they do? Do you have conversations with other people and wish that they could go better? Do you want to be an even better trainer? Yes, yes, and yes! Then this program is definitely for you.

Alexandra Kurland

Alexandra Kurland began her instructional career as a dressage rider and teacher and as an accredited TTouch Practitioner. In 1998 she launched the rapidly growing field of clicker training for horses with the publication of her first book, Clicker Training for Your Horse. Alexandra 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. She travels widely, giving clicker training seminars in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. Several years ago, Alexandra trained a miniature horse, Panda, to serve as the guide animal for a blind owner.

A graduate of Cornell University, 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 is presently at work on new books and videos.