equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

ASAT 2020: Ken Ramirez – Adduction: Combining cues conceptually

This is the sixth in a series of posts based on my notes from the 2020 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference that was held in Hurst, Texas on February 22-23, 2020.   To learn more about the conference, you can visit the conference website. Please note that this article is based on the speakers slides and my notes. If you choose to quote from it and want to know if it is a direct quote or not, please contact me.

While I try to take accurate notes, it is possible that there are errors or that some detail is lacking.  If you post a comment or email me, I can try to clarify or provide some additional information. I’ve added some pictures since I don’t have Ken’s videos. Many thanks to the speakers and organizers who allow me to share.

Ken Ramirez: Adduction – combining cues conceptually


Certain types of adduction are common in training. While the basics for all types of concept training are similar, not all types are conceptual. Ken started by describing what adduction is and what all types of adduction have in common. Then he went on to describe three specific types of adduction.

Ken has been intrigued by concept training for years and explored it with numerour animals. He started teaching concept training online years ago and found it was challenging to teach without being there in person, but he has had some very successful students. If you are interested in online learning, Ken has courses on concept training available through the Karen Pryor Academy.

Concept Training: A step beyond the normal

Ken spent some time talking about why concept training is different than “standard” training where an animal learns to do a specific behavior in response to a unique cue. In concept training, the animal learns to apply a set of rules that tell it how to respond in novel situations. Teaching these rules requires the trainer to set clear criteria, just as clear as if teaching a specific behavior. When we teach adduction, we are teaching the animal a set of rules to use when cues are presented at the same time or all presented before the animal starts the sequence.

Not all animals are open to, or ready for, concept training. Creative games make concept training easier. Some possibilities are:

  • free shaping
  • 101 things to do with a box
  • The book, Learning Games, by Kay Laurence

How do I begin?

Important preliminary training should be done before you consider concept training. This includes:

  • Establish solid basics
    • clicker
    • understanding of clear criteria
    • cue savvy
    • targeting
    • stationing
  • Desensitize to new things constantly
  • Practice generalization – He had a video that showed him giving a sea lion taking cues on facetime.
  • Allow creativity within a framework – thinking beyond the ….
  • Learner must be well trained before you start. It’s really important to have solid cues and fluent behaviors before you start trying to combine them.

Types of adduction

Adduction is the name Ken uses for the process of combining behaviors in respond to a type of compound cue. It can come in many forms. Today we will focus on just three. They are:

  • Additive adduction: cue one behavior, while animal performs that behavior, cue a second behavior so that the animal continues with the first behavior and now adds the second behavior, performing both simultaneously.
  • Conceptual adduction: animal learns the idea of doing two or more behaviors together and understands the concept so thoroughly that the trainer may cue 2 (or more) behaviors that have never been put together previously.
    • “AND” – This version requires the animal to perform all behaviors cued simultaneously
    • “THEN” – this variation requires the animal to perform all behaviors in order, one after the other, in the sequence presented when cued.

Additive adduction

Most trainers have done this at some time when they want an animal to do two (or more) behaviors at once. You will note that there are similarities between additive adduction and chaining, but there are also differences especially if the two behaviors combine to create a “new” behavior. Ken divides additive adduction up into three different types:

  • Passive – Go to mat, then lay down (while on mat)
  • Active basic – Run with me, now jump over hurdle (while running with me)
  • Active complex – laydown now come to me (while still laying down – creating a crawl)
Can you sit and hold your sign at the same time?


  • Ken had an online student who had taught her dog two behaviors: hop the front end off the ground and lift a paw. She cued both and the dog picked up one front leg and then hopped with his front end.
  • Virginia Dare trained her dog to come and to lift a paw. She used adduction to combine the two behaviors to create the new behavior ” come to me while holding up your paw.”

More complex combinations require more work on the animal’s part. The animal has to learn that he needs to do both behaviors and how to combine them. This may take a certain amount of coordination, which can be developed with practice.

In the teaching process, the animal often stops doing the first behavior to do second behavior. The trainer may have to use some prompting to get the animal to do both together. However, the more often additive adduction is used, the more capable (and quick) the animal becomes at grasping new combinations. Additive adduction is a good first step toward the “AND” version of conceptual adduction.

Conceptual Adduction

Adduction becomes conceptual based on several criteria:

  • Animal can receive multiple cues before carrying out instructions
  • Animal can combine behaviors that have never been previously combined or trained together.
  • Without both, it has not reached the level of a true “concept”

Ken made a point of saying that conceptual adduction is not better than additive adduction, but perhaps useful for certain unique situations

Teaching Conceptual Adduction

Can you swim on your back and spin at the same time?

The same basics that he listed for additive adduction are important for conceptual adduction. Start by having a series of well established behaviors that keep animal close to you so that you can coach them through the process. Some examples of possible behaviors are:

  • bark
  • bow
  • beg
  • roll over
  • spin
  • back up
  • paw lift
  • come
  • mat

In addition, conceptual adduction often requires a mechanism to let the animal know when the trainer has completed the series of cues. Possible mechanisms are:

  • Release signal
    • target removal
    • “hold – go,” “wait – ok”
    • location specific to adduction
  • multiple modal cueing (verbal cue combined with visual cue presented simultaneously or back to back)
    • When presenting two cues, you want to be careful that one cue doesn’t overshadow the other.

Steps to teach “AND” with multiple modal cueing

Holding up a paw can be combined with other behaviors

Note that steps 1 – 6 are about reviewing additive adduction. It’s at step 7 that you are ready to try and see if the animal has learned the concept of adduction.

  1. Begin by practicing/teaching additive adduction
  2. Use a combination that has been successful with additive adduction
  3. Make sure the two behaviors you plan to combine are reliable when cued individually.
  4. Try cueing them simultaneously. This is where multiple modal cueing comes in because it allows you to present both cues at once. In most of the examples he showed, the trainer had one behavior on a verbal cue and other behavior on some kind of visual cue.
  5. Prompt animal by re-cueing if animal only offers one of the behaviors (similar to what was done during additive phase)
  6. Progress to individual behaviors if animal is not having success
  7. When reliably combining behaviors that were trained the additive way, ask for novel combinations (coach them through it if needed)


  • Virginia Dare cued a paw lift and bow at the same time to create a new type of bow.
  • Cueing a dolphin to swim on its back and spin at the same time.
  • Cueing a whale to spit and do another behavior (I can’t remember it) at the same time.

Steps to teach “AND” with a release cue

1. Begin by practicing/teaching additive adduction. Again, this is to review that the animal can combine two behaviors. He added a few additional comments – I think these apply to more types of adduction that this one, but he didn’t specify.

  • Animal proficient at several combinations (the more the better)
  • Make sure the animal still responds to individual cues correctly and does not assume combinations are the new behavior
  • Animals will quickly learn new combinations (tend to find this happens when they have learned at least 4 combos)

2. Separately teach a release cue or mechanism.

  • Practice with easy behaviors
  • Increase time between cue and release until able to wait a full 5 seconds or more
  • Gradually use for more active behaviors, increasing time as described above.

3. Once steps 2 and 3 are solidly learned, you can

  • Ask for a simple combination using release – start with reliable combo that was already trained using additive adduction – prompt animal to add second behavior if they only offer the first one.
  • Once this is accomplished, try with other previously used combinations
  • Continue with previous combinations until animal is offering correct response on first try
  • attempt a novel combination

4. If you want to get really creative, you can

  • Try combinations of three behaviors (he said dolphins have been trained to do up to 6 behaviors after being released)
  • Increase time between cues and release
  • You can try combinations that seem illogical – be prepared to reinforce for honest effort
  • These last steps are really pushing it but may be fun for the advanced animal and trainer

Example: He showed a video clip where two dolphins were cued to jump, vocalize, and touch rostrums all at the same time.

Steps to teach “THEN” with a release cue

Bandit offered to sit for a photo that shows the mat being used as a station – one way to teach the animal to wait for a release cue.

This approach is similar to training “AND” with a release cue, but instead of teaching the animal to combine the behaviors, you want the animal to do each behavior in the order the cues were presented.

He shared some video of his dog doing “then” adduction. She had learned that when she was sitting on a specific mat, she had to wait until the release cue before she started. The behavior was to put a specific toy in a basket. He showed some successful efforts and some where he clearly asked for too much (she did really well anyway!). The lesson being that animals can learn to do this, but be reasonable about what you ask for.

Other examples:

  • cue go to place and sit – > release and dog goes to the mat and sits
  • cue go around and fetch -> release and dog goes around a tripod and picks up a toy on the way back to the trainer.

Training “AND” vs. “THEN”

Normally he would never train both “AND” and “THEN” adduction to the same animal. Here are some suggestions for which to choose and how to differentiate if you choose to do both.

  • Start with the one that is most useful to you
  • May be the only type of adduction you use
  • If you need to train both, wait until one concept is well learned
  • Find a key to differentiate them to the animal, maybe…
    • multiple modal cueing for one and a release cue for the other
    • different release signals for each
    • contextual difference (location or other differentiator)


  • Most behaviors that we train are a combination of smaller behaviors, thus additive adduction is commonly used.
  • Conceptual adduction -the ability to combine two behaviors the first time you ask (creating a novel behavior) is probably not as useful. However, it can speed up learning new behaviors.
  • The creative trainer and animal will find many uses for adduction.

Differences between types of adduction

  • There is no clear definition re: what is “AND” and what is “THEN”. You define it based on your needs
  • Conceptual adduction only indicates that the animal has learned the idea (rules) of combining behaviors and can do new combinations the first time asked
  • Additive adduction is not a sub-standard version of adduction. You may not need conceptual adduction.

Closing Thoughts

  • Adduction is a useful tool, whether learned as a true concept or not
  • Conceptual adduction stretches the skill of the trainer and animal
  • Don’t stretch your animal beyond its comfort level
  • Train in small approximations and build to your desired goal
  • I have shared various training plans. These plans represent ONE way, not THE way.

Katie’s notes:

This talk was of particular interest to me because I’ve been playing around with adduction recently by doing some more challenging combinations. I also think it has a lot of practical applications, even if you never get to the “concept” level. As Ken pointed out, most trainers are already using some forms of adduction whenever they build a more complex behavior out of separate component parts. Understanding how adduction works can make it easier to identify the separate components and come up with a successful plan for combining them.

I do want to mention that Ken had a lot of different terms for the types of adduction and while I love terminology, I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. The main differences are whether the animal does all the behaviors at once or in sequence, if you are creating a “new” behavior, how you give the cues, and whether you need a release cue. I did have to do some thinking about the relationship between chaining and adduction because some of his examples of additive adduction look at lot like chaining to me. I think the difference is in the teaching process and when you cue the second behavior. In adduction, the cues are presented before the animal starts, although there can be some coaching (cueing again after the first behavior has started) as part of the teaching process.

With horses, I use adduction all the time, although I don’t always think of it that way. Sometimes I think of it as adding new criteria to an existing behavior, but if the new criteria describe a previously trained behavior, then I think it counts as adduction. A common example is teaching a horse to move with a lowered head. I typically teach the horse to lower his head at a halt. I also teach the horse to go forward. I combine them by cuing head down and then asking for forward. In many cases, the horse will offer only one of the behaviors so I re-cue the other one. I will continue to click for responses to each cue, but what I am really looking for is the moment of overlap when the horse starts doing the second behavior while still doing the first one. Eventually the horse learns to start doing both behaviors at the same time.

Thinking about complex behaviors as composed of separate building blocks was another theme at the conference. Ken talked about them in terms of adduction. Mary Hunter and Hannah Branigan both talking about identifying and teaching separate components as part of good shaping plans. In addition to being a good way to plan your training, I’ve also had some cool things happen when my horse decided to do some adduction on her own, either because I wasn’t clear or because I was unaware that she was paying attention to existing environmental cues. Realizing what was happening allowed me to take advantage of what she offered.

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