Thursday, January 13, 2011

As I mentioned, I've decided to give clicker training a more thorough try than I have in the past. I ordered a book - Clicker Training: Colt Starting the Natural Horse, by Leslie Pavlich. I already had the clicker and the carrots. :) Today I joined the clickryder group on Yahoo and of course the first post I read was about a horse throwing a fit and biting his owner. My big worry about clicker is that it will cause bad behavior. We'll see...

Scout's day one with the clicker (before I got my book or reviewed clicker info)- I did too many things, I realized a little too late. Probably part of the problem I've had in the past. But I did communicate that the click meant carrot, and I did a lot of click and reward for him backing a step (because as I said, I don't want him turning into a pushy butt-head).

Scout's day two with the clicker - doing less, correctly. I clicked and treated to remind him what it was about, then I held out my "target" which was an empty water bottle. Being the inquisitive guy he is, he nosed it, I clicked and treated. He mugged my pockets, I ignored him. I held up the bottle, which interested him enough to stop the mugging, touched his nose, clicked and treated. The only time I corrected him was if he mugged me in a way that seemed dangerous, I'd flap my elbow, hands in pockets. No hitting. It would be a long process to type all the repetitions, but it didn't take long at all, and he wasn't mugging me, but was following me around, touching the bottle. My only complaint is that he was trying to bite the bottle. I decided not to click and treat for that, but to take the bottle away and present it in a way that would help his nose touch it before his teeth, and reward the nose, not the teeth. I think it was great progress and I'm surprised at how quickly he quit mugging me.

In the past I never tried just ignoring the mugging, I always flapped or pushed or said NO or something to discourage it. Which probably kicked in a play drive. These boys love to play bitey face or "I'm not touching you!" and it can go back and forth forever. Interesting that just standing there ignoring it was WAY more effective. I learned something new today. I love it!

Now I'm going to go out and do it with Tonka or Cisco, whichever volunteers first. Tonka already knows the clicker and is very much wanting to come play when he hears it. Cisco is going to love it, he's so incredibly smart. This is fun!


Anonymous said...

Clicker is very good for teaching no-mugging behavior, or step-back behavior - I think if done correctly clicker can help prevent biting/coming.

Linda said...

You should make a video of it--it sounds interesting. I've heard different people mention clicker training--maybe you were one of them--but I've never really looked into it.

Tina said...

Totally agree with Kate. I've found it helps. I've always used treats and the trick is not to treat if they mug. I don't have rude horses. I have incredibly well-mannered friendly horses. :) Even better once you add clicker and can mark the exact behaviour that earns them the treat.

Remember to keep your arm well out from your body when you actually treat. Preferably you treat right where you want their face to be, so generally that would be right in front of their body. That way they learn to go face forward when they hear the click and wait for the treat to come to them.

I don't think you will have trouble with horses getting tantrumy as long as you keep the learning steps very small so they know what they can do to earn the treat. The usual mistake is to ask too much too soon, then they get frustrated.

Keep in mind that some people on that list are working with horses that are very difficult ones, ones with whom conventional training has already failed and that have some very emotional behaviours already ingrained. It won't be like that for you. I myself have never come across a tantrum and I have played with heaps of horses with clicker.

Sounds like Scout is going to be one of those mouthy horses who is brilliant at learning to fetch things for you. It is much harder with horses who *aren't* mouthy types to start with. :)

Linda, there are heaps of vids on youtube, but some are not correct in their use of the clicker so best to stick to the links I suggested in the last comments to start with.

Clicker is so much fun, and once you see your horse's eyes light up as they begin to really engage with you, you never go back. :)

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

Linda - I'll try to make a video if I can get someone to man the camera. But you'll have to keep in mind I'm a novice!

Tina - Good point about those horses being difficult to begin with, I hadn't thought of that.

Yep, all three of my boys are very oral. (I wonder if it's a boy thing?) After our last ride, I really look forward to teaching them to pick things up off the ground for me. All sorts of fun things to be done!

Mary Hunter said...

Just found your blog--
clicker training works GREAT with horses.

Leslie's book is awesome for basic clicker training and groundwork exercises. Later on, you might be interested in some of Alexandra Kurland's books as well.

What you click is what you get. :)

So, just make sure from beginning that you start with exercises that emphasize manners and polite behavior.

With a horse who might be pushy--I really like to work on a lot of backing as well as teaching the horse to turn his head away from me. Both of these teach the horse that treats only come when he is out of my space.
Here's a short video clip of one of our two year olds learning to turn his head away from me to get a treat:

I'll often make the horses take a step back every time I click. After a while, they start backing up a step when they hear the click, instead of trying to move forward.

Sometimes, it can be really helpful to work the horse with a fence or stall guard between you and the horse until they understand manners and how the clicker game works.

Hope some of these tips help. Clicker training is VERY powerful with horses. I just see a lot of people who get frustrated because they don't realize the importance of teaching manners at the beginning.

Interestingly a recent research study concluded that clicker training and treats don't cause bad behavior and could even be useful for teaching manners. I wrote some about that study here: