February 25, 2014

Clicker Training - Part I - How and Why I Started Clicker Training

As some of you may know, I use the clicker training method with Ypke.  This post will include an overview of why I use clicker training, how I came to find out about it, and a general overview of the versatility of this method.   If there is interest in this series, I will be sure to go more in depth about how I integrated it into our daily routine.

Ypke is a dominant mare, although I am assuming that you have guessed that by reading my sorry tales.   She hated standing while tied, dragged me around when I was leading her, refused to pick up her hooves, was a racehorse VERY fast trotter, and the list goes on.  In short, she didn't respect me at all and would take advantage of me a lot.

A controlled trot, a bit of rounding, and a relaxed horse.  There is no speedy trot, giraffe neck, or frustration.

I had searched and searched for a method that would work for us.  I was getting increasingly discouraged and she was getting worse.  There was one thing I knew for sure about the Enigma- she loved food.  There was one problem... everywhere I read it said you should never use treats during training.  I had a "the heck with it!" moment.  I didn't care.  In my mind she could only get worse, so what other choice did I have?


I discovered the clicker training method shortly thereafter.  I have always associated clicker training with dogs, but much to my surprise Sea World marine animals, cats, rodents, livestock, etc. use the clicker training method as well.   If it works with those animals and people have had success using the method with horses, what was there to lose?  The heck with the "never feed treats" rule.

Clicker training a horse
Look, a dominant mare taking a treat politely!  
Shortly after discovering clicker training it finally struck me that horses were similar to people.  Some learn quickly, other learn slowly.  Some methods work for certain horses, yet other horses need a different method.   If you keep on comparing your horse to someone else's horse, you will get nowhere fast.

Throughout using clicker training, I have also found how versatile the method is.  If your horse is extremely spooky, clicker training can help him gain confidence and literally forget his fear (I've tested this out on three different spooky horses, and it has never failed me yet).  If your horse is dominant or has a sour attitude, you can tailor it to fit their needs.  You can also use clicker training to overcome obstacles like picking up hooves, trailer loading, etc.


Horse crossing a bridge
In under 10 minutes, Ypke was confident to cross the bridge (Note: She is naturally bold)

I personally use clicker training for everything- groundwork, desensitizing, riding, etc.   Ypke's attitude has improved dramatically since I began using this method.  It may not seem like by the way I describe her, but she really is ten times better.

Clicker training target
Throwback to when I first taught Ypke how to target.

Special shout out to Alexandra Kurland, author of The Click That Teaches, a step-by-step guide in pictures.


Have you ever used the clicker training method?  If so, I would like to hear about your results with it!

18 comments:

  1. I have never used clicker training but I'm glad it is working so well for you. Great job sticking with Ypke and figuring out a way to get through to her.

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  2. I have used it with Shy. We mostly use it for tricks and ground work. Not sure I am coordinated enough to do it while riding! I haven't done it in a while, but Shy still does her tricks, picks up her feet on command, targets, and whatever else I taught her without the clicker.

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    1. Cool! It is nice when they don't need the clicker constantly anymore.

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  3. Like you, I use it for everything. I trained Cole Train for the saddle, and used it from the beginning with him--and it made so many things so much easier. He can be "a lot" of horse, and it helped him focus on me--particularly on the trail. He adores clicker training and is constantly trying to figure out what he can do to get a click. He has invented some tricks, but I mostly do it just for riding. I have a lot of stories about clicker training on my blog. My sister also uses it for her horses.

    trailhorseadventures-judi.blogspot.com

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    1. It really does make things a lot easier! I am looking forward to reading some clicker training stories on your blog!

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  4. I've always thought it was for dogs too.

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    1. I was surprised when I learned just how many animals have had success with clicker training.

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    1. It really is an interesting topic to read about. I was a skeptical about starting clicker training at first, but I definitely am not anymore!

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  6. i've clicker trained my cat!! and it works. i read karen pryor's book called "reaching the animal mind" and her book goes through her life of clicker training, how it works with respect to the mind and how it can be applied to animals (including humans). i wrote a review about the book: http://tuxedomeatloaf.blogspot.ca/2014/02/a-review-reaching-animal-mind.html if you're interested :). and as soon as the weather warms up, in southern ontario, i've asked to train the horse i ride! awesome to see someone else who's been able to do this successfully :)

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    1. i also bought that book you got! i haven't had the chance to read it yet but i'm really excited :)

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    2. That is neat that it worked for your cat! I've only used it on a few horses, I have never really tried with other animals. I read the review and it sounds like a great book, I might just have to get it.

      You won't be disappointed with the book! :) I have read different clicker training books, but this is by far the best one. Everything is informative and explained in a manner that is easy to understand.

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    3. my mom swears that i've made the cat smarter! based on the book, this type of training isn't a traditionally dominant vs submissive relationship (sorry, i didn't mean it like that! :P). the whole point is to get your animal thinking about things! it's incredibly fascinating :) i grabbed a copy from the library if you're not too keen on buying it just yet... karen pryor and alex kurland are colleagues.

      i'm excited to read that book just based on the quick skim i gave!

      i look forward to hearing more about your adventures with clicker training!

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  7. I am so excited to have found your blog! Clicker training and positive reward training has help me leaps and bounds with my horses. I am currently riding bridleless with my older mare, have a 3 yr old that I am just starting under saddle, and a rescue mare that I am working with her on confidence issues on the ground. None of this would be possible for me with out positive training methods. Clicker training hasn't ever failed me!

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    1. I am glad to meet a fellow clicker trainer! Until starting this blog, I had never really heard of other people clicker training their horses. It surprises me (in a good way) just how many people really use this method!
      Clicker training has been a blessing for my mare and I. My mother uses it with her gelding, who has always been spooky and reactive, and has also gotten great results. He now crosses bridges, tarps, etc. without any fear. Positive reinforcement works wonders!

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  8. Yes ! Clicker training is a great method for encouraging the good behaviours ..eventually the bads ones just seem to melt away. Awesome tool for training tricks as well. Fjords will do anything for that click (and treat) ;)

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    1. Exactly! It is definitely versatile - I've used it for ground work, riding, and training my donkey tricks such as Frisbee and soccer.

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