Thursday, March 12, 2009

Starting Clicker Training

Ok, I promised that I'd write a little about my recent "clicker training" experiences with my horses. I'm currently reading the newest Temple Grandin book called, Animals Make Us Human, and it recommends clicker training for both horses and cats. Click here to view a short video clip by the author about the book.

Most of you are probably familiar with clicker training dogs, but just in case, here is a photo of the kind of "clicker" that I'm referring to:
You know, the cheap little noise makers that you can get from the party store. Well, it turns out that they make a really distinctive noise that is easy for a horse to recognize and associate with a reward. Some folks can use their mouths to make a similar noise, which would free your hands up for other things..

Temple Grandin recommends the book,
Clicker Training for Your Horse by Alexandra Kurland.

Click here to watch a short tutorial on clicker training by Alexandra Kurland.

OMG, I just found a great video clip on YouTube of a Rocky Mtn. Horse learning to retrieve. Click here to view. Click here for another cute video of a girl teaching her horse to nod and roll a ball (and her dog offers to act as a "rival" modeling the behavior, which adds extra incentive for the horse)! Click here to watch the same girl (I think) riding a green pony bareback. I'm going to use these ideas when I start mounting Guinness!

Well, I started clicker training for the first time the other day with all three horses. It was very interesting and highly successful! Cody volunteered to play first, so I brought him into my little paddock alone with a small traffic cone as a target. It took him a little bit to figure things out but as he was exploring, he was SO intent and happy about it. (OK, this sounds weird, but he was so happy that he had an erection - something that he only does when returning home after being hauled somewhere, or when he is standing in the morning sun after a cold night!!)

Next, I played with Smokey, while Cody stared at us over the fence. Smokey is normally pretty slow to respond (he is an introvert), but when he did the behaviors that he knew how to do and got a click and then a reward, he was thrilled and started making his relaxed snuffling noises and responding very eagerly.

Finally, I brought Guinness in, while both Cody & Smokey watched us intently from across the fence. He immediately walked to the cone and started to explore it, even before I was ready to click. ;-) He caught on so quickly that I advanced to giving several clicks for more complex behaviours, followed by a reward. I could even get him to back a specific leg at a time, and also to yield his hindquarters by crossing his back legs. Wow.

The best things that I've discovered about clicker training so far are:
- I give out much fewer treats!
- I can keep them performing the behaviour while I tell them "yes, that is correct" with the clicker, instead of stopping everything to dispense a treat.
- I can click on a tiny, specific behaviour and they totally understand what I mean and can replicate it.
- I'm not using negative pressure to "force" the horse to perform. (Negative pressure tends to shut Smokey down.)
- The horses *obviously* enjoy it - so much so that they ran to meet me at the gate the following morning!!

I plan to keep using the clicker training along with the usual Parelli signals and I'll keep you posted in how it goes. :-)


Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Hi Clare--

I hope that clicker training works out for you--it sounds like you are having fun.

Here is that link I told you about.


Mary H. said...

Hi, recently found your blog.

So glad that you've found clicker training! I started doing with my horses last fall after doing parelli for about a year, and absolutely love it. I've found that clicker training makes happy horses.

Have you read Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog? You'd probably really enjoy it.

I absolutely love Alexandra Kurland's books and DVDs.

Here's a list of some of my favorite clicker training books and websites. You might find some of them interesting.

In addition, if you have any questions, or just want a friendly group of clicker trainers to chat with, you should join the clickryder yahoo group, which is full of people clicker training with their horses.