Foundations Through To Advanced Training Concepts with The Academy

Posted in: Academy Online Courses, Classical Equitation, Clicker Training, Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship

My personal training journey has been expanding into more advanced areas over the last while as my young horse’s education has been developing.

One of these areas is what Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice-President and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, calls ‘Concept Training’. One of these concepts is called ‘Adduction’.


Adduction takes us into the realms of more advanced training concepts where the animal learns about concepts rather than just performing specific behaviours in response to specific cues. When an animal has truly learnt the concept of adduction, they are able to combine two or more behaviours together to form a completely new behaviour with ease.

Basic adduction is not necessarily conceptual. Many behaviors we train combine multiple behaviors together to form a new behavior, but that does not mean the animal has learned the concept of adduction. However, when an animal learns to combine two or more behaviors, perhaps even behaviors that have never been combined previously, that accomplishment is a true example of concept training. – Ken Ramirez

As Ken explains in his blog on Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level this kind of training takes us right into the realms of advanced training concepts and as such is really only and area accessible to trainers and animals who have a very strong and solid foundation in training using a bridge (marker) signal and positive reinforcement.

The Affective States of Operant ConditioningI have shared his list of foundational skills from that blog below. In essence the animal absolutely must understand the marker signal, understand about stimulus control, the process of moving from the training phase of a behaviour, through to putting the behaviour on cue, proofing and testing it, discriminating between that cue and other cues and also be experienced in those behaviours being moved onto being maintained variably with a variety of reinforcers.

I would also probably add to his excellent list (below) that the animal needs to be able to learn calmly without frustration, anger or over arousal of any kind from the lack of bridge signal ie. Negative Punishment isn’t perceived as aversive to the animal, it is simply information to them that means they haven’t got the right answer and they need to try something else – a no reward marker.

Is any dog capable of learning different concepts? What needs to be in place before a dog is ready to learn?

Ken Ramirez – In my opinion, yes, every dog is capable of learning concepts! However, you do have to wait for the right time in a dog’s learning. Just as you would not ask a 3-year-old child to learn algebra (a child that age does not have the foundational math skills to learn something so complex), you would not teach young dogs concepts until they have the foundational skills to understand them.

If I had to the basic or necessary foundational skills, they would be:

  1. Well-versed at clicker training (understand a marker signal)
    If you keep training fun, and make each step easy to achieve, then you can build your dog up to concept training.
  2. Possess a solid behavioral repertoire that mixes basic obedience with exercise behaviors
  3. Understand the idea of free shaping
  4. Introduced to creative games that teach thinking and problem-solving
  5. Understand and appreciate non-food reinforcers
  6. Introduced to and able to perform behavior chains

Even then, the secrets to the success of any training plan are appropriate approximations and responding to your animal’s needs. If you keep training fun, and make each step easy to achieve, then you can build your dog up to concept training.

Building truly solid foundations are absolutely crucial in order to grow!


And that is why The Academy of Positive Horsemanship is structured as it is. The courses and tutorial bundles, lessons, behaviours, cues, some are pre-requisites to others and they ABSOLUTELY MUST have been worked through, be solid and really under stimulus control before the next step can be embarked upon.

This might seem a little elusive and frustrating initially, but I absolutely assure my students that it will all become clear later down the line as to why! … those foundations are 100% absolutely necessary in order for things to be able to get more complex later.

As Ken says in this article (paraphrased), you wouldn’t teach algebra to a 3 year old, and so neither can we teach advanced concepts (and therefore behaviours) to horses without those foundations strongly in place.

These advanced training concepts are where my Straight & Supple course goes as it progresses. We can only set our horses up for success by ensuring we have strong, sturdy foundations; in this case, a horse who is able to learn with a marker signal and positive reinforcement, truly able to problem solve, think calmly and clearly through puzzles without getting frustrated, angry or even disengaging from the process as we train behaviours, attach cues, and move behaviours onto being maintained by varying types of reinforcer.

“The keys to concept training are building the right foundation and gradually adding to that foundation.” – Ken Ramirez

Are you ready to embrace a whole new world within horse training? Do it right from the start – begin to find out just how incredible our horses really are!