More on this site

Dominance and the training paradigm

Stepping Outside of the Oppositional Dualism

Clicker Training as a State of Mind and The Jeweled Web of Indra: October 2008 clinic report

May 2008 clinic report

From pace to trot the clicker way

Holistic therapies and clicker training: a 4-way win situation!

"Pose" In Motion

 

 

horse carrying a step stoolClicker Training Primer
To start clicking with your horse 

horse saying: Take a seat and let's talk about clicker training

horse on a Welcome mat

Clicker training basics

  • What is Clicker Training?
  • What can you teach with clicker training?
  • What is Operant conditioning?
  • Horses and clicker training
  • Obtaining behaviors with clicker training
  • Food manners 101
  • Clicker-compatible mechanics, part1: Food delivery

  • Frequently asked questions

    • How do I get started?

      Familiarize yourself with the principles of clicker training. How does it work? How does it apply to training horses? Alexandra Kurland's two books, A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures and Riding With the Clicker, are my personal favorites that helped me get started and are still my primary references. They have detailed outlines of lessons and answer a lot of questions you might have. I find myself revisiting them over and over again, and finding new layers of information.

      If you feel prepared, go on to the next step: give it a try.
         Practice with a buddy first, if you can. The mechanics of treat delivery and the timing are important. Besides, it is educational and a lot of fun to experience both the "trainer" and the "horse" roles. You will learn a lot this way and will be able to better understand the horse's side of the story.
         Get your equipment: clicker, treat pouch, target, treats. Clicker training does not require expensive equipment, and the only specialty item you might need to acquire is the clicker.
         Plan your lesson. It is best to have a plan to make your session smooth. Keep it short in the beginning, give yourself and your horse breaks to process.
         Find a safe, quiet place free of distractions. Stall, paddock, round pen, wherever your horse is comfortable and you will not be disturbed or distracted.
         Have fun with it!

      If you are not quite sure if you can do it all by yourself, see if you can attend a clicker training clinic or take a private lesson. Look at Alexandra Kurland's clinic schedule on her website. Visit other equine clicker trainers' websites (in the Links section) to look for clinics and workshops near you. Clinics are a great way to get a feel for equine clicker training and to meet others who are already clicker training their horses. Find a clicker trainer near you on Katie Bartlett's directory.

    • How do I know clicker training is for me?

      Clicker training looks and is so different from what you have seen before that you naturally wonder if this training method is for you. You may be concerned that you will invest your time and money into something that might be useless or cause problems down the road.

      There is no reason to jump into anything, even if someone highly recommends it. You will make your own informed decision. Fortunately, with the help of the Internet, it is easy and fun to do a thorough research on almost any topic.

      The best (and free) way to go about starting to answer this question for yourself is to use the web resources. On the Links section of this website, I list my favorite equine clicker training sites that to me exemplify what equine clicker training is about. You may join the ClickRyder forum on http://www.clickryder.com/ and follow the discussion just to get a feel for the world of equine clicker training.

      On this page, I have a list of my favorite books on clicker training. If you are new to clicker training altogether, Karen Pryor’s books are a great and highly readable introduction, and should be available through your local library system. If you know about clicker training with other animals but not with horses, then Alexandra Kurland’s books, especially Riding With The Clicker (which has foundation work and ground work covered as well) is a book that I would highly recommend.  

      There is nothing that gives you a better feel for something you have not seen before as seeing it in action. There are many videos posted online by people who clicker train their horses. Their quality varies greatly. To see some of the examples that I personally consider equine clicker training par excellence please visit the Video sections of Debra Olson Daniels’ and Sola Wolff’s websites.  Do you like what you see? Does what you see excite you? Do you see yourself doing it with your horse? Of course, going to a clicker clinic without your horse is an excellent opportunity to see clicker training in action and may very well be worth the money regardless of your subsequent decision to click or not to click.

      Consider some of the key changes you will see in your horse and in the dynamics of your relationship. Are you comfortable with extra enthusiasm and creativity from your horse? Would you be willing to learn some new ways of handling and interacting with your horse? Last but not least, clicker training is a relative newcomer in the horse world. Some of your riding buddies might not quite understand what you are doing. Are you OK with that?

      If you’ve done a thorough research and decided you want to give it a try, it is time to go and ask you horse about it. A few introductory sessions of targeting will give you a very good feel of what clicker training is like and how fast horses learn with it.

      Regardless of what you decide, I hope you enjoy the process of discovery!


    • If I feed my horse treats, will it make him mouthy, pushy, and rude?

      No. As in any training method, with clicker training, safety is of paramount importance and always comes first. You will use your horse’s food motivation to teach him impeccable manners, and you will do it without ever punishing or reprimanding him for his enthusiasm. Click this link to read about the teaching process in detail. Importantly, the food you give your horse during clicker training sessions is not exactly treats, but reinforcement, meaning that it is only given following the click. There are no gratuitous treats. Once your horse understands the rules of the game, instead of searching through your pockets, he will search through his repertoire of learned behaviors for the one that will earn him a click. If through your training process you have taught him safe, pleasant, polite behaviors, this is what he will offer.

    • If I ignore bad behavior, does it mean that I let my horse do whatever he wants?

      Rather than saying that unwanted behaviors are ignored in clicker training, I think it would be more accurate to say that they are not reinforced. While we are not reinforcing what we don’t like, we still have a strategy to extinguish the unwanted behavior.

      From the beginning of our training, we set it up in a way that the chances of bad behavior are minimized. In these safe and controlled settings, we systematically teach the horse the good behaviors we want to see. If left to do “whatever he wants”, he will now be most likely to offer the good behaviors that he had learned.

      Of the ways used to extinguish unwanted behaviors, the one I find myself using the most with horses is simply teaching an incompatible behavior. Head lowering is very versatile in this respect, being incompatible with a lot of undesirable things, like biting, pulling, or rearing.

      Sometimes behavioral problems are not behavioral but medical, environmental, management, or (oops!) trainer/handler problems. As an encouragement for dealing with the latter, I will confess that eating humble pie and learning from mistakes has done wonders for me as a trainer and as a person!

      You will find lots of detailed information on dealing with unwanted behavior in Chapter 10 of Alexandra Kurland’s Step-By-Step-Guide in Pictures and Chapter 13 of Riding With The Clicker.


    • Will I always have to click and treat?

      There are different opinions on this subject. There are trainers who use the clicker to teach new behaviors, and once the behavior is established, they phase clicking and food out. Some trainers don’t treat after every click.

      I subscribe to treating after each click, and I am not planning to drop clicking out of my training practice. This still does not mean that I click and treat non-stop every time I am with the horse. There are many ways of extending your per click mileage. The main idea is that you will gradually and incrementally raise your criteria for clickable behavior. You will click for better versions, longer durations, and for bigger chunks of behavior. You will chain several behaviors together and click at the end of the chain. You will reinforce some, but not all, instances of behavior, adding an element of unpredictability. If all of this is done gradually, your horse will stay highly motivated and enthusiastic, even though your rate of reinforcement is not nearly as high as it was in the beginning. However, when you teach a new behavior, you always start with a high rate of reinforcement.

      There will be certain situations, like casually riding along the trail, where clicking will not be needed, and other situations, such as a dentist visit, where clicking will not be acceptable. Horses learn that sometimes you click and sometimes not, but it doesn’t mean that the clicking contract is over!


    • Why clicker? Can’t I use my voice?

      Eventually equine clicker trainers switch to a tongue click: you want to have your hands free, especially when you are riding! In the beginning, however, or when teaching new behaviors, using a clicker gives you the full benefits of clicker training:

      • Timing. It takes less time to press a clicker that to make a sound with your mouth.
      • Consistency: the clicker sound is the same every time, unlike your voice.
      • The way the clicker sound is processed by the brain. Sharp sounds, like that of the clicker, are processed through the amygdala, the repository of emotional memory, bypassing the slower neocortex. The implications are fast learning, long retention, and yes, memory of pleasurable emotional excitement associated with the learning.

      A Wikipedia article on amygdala:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala

      Karen Pryor gives a fascinating presentation of the latest discoveries in neuroscience that shed light on why animals and people love clicker training so much in Chapter 10 of Reaching the Animal Mind.

Resources

Books

Kurland, Alexandra, A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures. An indispensable manual for an equine clicker trainer with step-by-step instructions for each lesson.  

Kurland, Alexandra, Riding With the Clicker. Another must-have, this book is a comprehensive guide providing step-by-step instructions of training the clicker way, from foundations to mounted work.

Kurland, Alexandra, Clicker Training For Your Horse. An introduction to equine clicker training, with theory, lessons, and stories of horses whose lives were changed by clicker training.

Pryor, Karen, Reaching The Animal Mind. This delightful book seamlessly combines a discussion of cutting-edge discoveries about animal mind with fascinating stories about human-animal interactions. A great read for trainer and non-trainer alike.  

Pryor, Karen, Don’t Shoot the Dog. A classic, this book treats the theory, practice, and humanitarian value of clicker training in a lively and accessible way.

Pryor, Karen, Lads Before the Wind. One of my personal childhood favorites that I must have read a hundred times, this book, in my opinion, has a timeless appeal. Science, adventure, and the mystery of human-animal communication make it a moving and inspiring read.

Ramirez, Ken, Animal Training: Successful Animal Management Through Positive Reinforcement. A great resource for a serious animal trainer. Training concepts, strategies, protocols and solutions from some of the top positive reinforcement trainers. Although it is mostly dedicated to wild animals in captivity, there is a lot of food for thought for an equine clicker trainer.  

Videos

The Click That Teaches DVD series by Alexandra Kurland. Detailed lessons covering various aspects of training. Next best thing to attending Alexandra's clinics. Click the link to learn more and order: http://www.theclickercenter.com/clickerstoreDVDindex.html

Videos on the Internet: beautiful videos documenting clicker work by two equine clicker trainers: Debra Olson Daniels http://www.equineclickermagic.com/videos.html and Sola Wolff http://www.equinerevelation.com/videos.html.

Internet articles

text decoration A great collection of training articles by Katie Bartlett: http://www.equineclickertraining.com/training/training.html

text decoration Introductory lessons by Alexandra Kurland: http://www.theclickercenter.com/Step-By-StepTrainingGuide.html

text decoration What can you teach with clicker training by Alexandra Kurland: http://www.theclickercenter.com/about.html

text decoration Frequently asked questions by Katie Bartlett: http://www.equineclickertraining.com/faq/faq.html

text decoration Suggested reading by Katie Bartlett: http://www.equineclickertraining.com/suggested_reading/suggested_reading.html

text decoration Clicker training and food for thought by Katie Bartlett: http://www.equineclickertraining.com/food_for_thought/foodforthought.html

text decoration Horses and clicker training by Katie Bartlett: http://www.equineclickertraining.com/clicker_basics/howhorses.html

 

 

 back to top of page