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Calling all Clicker Trainers

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  • Calling all Clicker Trainers

    Hey, I just wanted to get an idea of how many of us are out here in COTH land.

    If you use clicker training, tell me your story.

    Do you use CT for everything, just for tricks, just for husbandry behaviors, or?

    How did you get into it?

    What is your background otherwise?

    How many and what kind of animals and horses do you use it with?

    Do you keep your horses at home or do you board?

    Anything else of interest in the CT realm.

    I have three horses at home, one is boarder. My daughter has another, currently with her at school. Her horse in an 18 y.o. Arabian former endurance racer, now dressage horse. We've have him for about four years.

    My personal horse is a 6 y.o. Anglo-Hanoverian that I've had for three years. He was started traditionally and now I'm working him mostly with CT, but I also ride him in the traditional way, working on dressage.

    My other horse is supposedly a TB originally bought at the New Holland auction as a long weanling, no papers. He is now 11 and I've had him for five years.

    My boarder's horse is an OTTB and I rarely handle him but when I do I use CT.

    Right now my TB is at a friend's house and I have her Morga-Flinger in for some schooling prior to selling. I do CT and traditional with him, including round penning right now.

    I got into CT when I got a new puppy 10 years ago. Then I transferred what I knew then (not much) to the horse I had at the time.

    Your turn!
    Laurie Higgins
    "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."

  • #2
    I have never done a lot of clicker training but what I did was a life saver, since it seemed to be the sole reason why Sadie stopped hating me. We did targeting and ears forward and she was a new horse. Havent messed with her with the clicker for nearly three years but she STILL remembers being taught to approach strange objects when prompted, "can you touch it". She will very confidently walk up to just about anything, anytime, and bump it with her nose in expectation of a treat.

    Case in point--out for a ride with parellified neighbor. Both horses boogered at a giant trashcan on wheels at the end of the drive (recently placed there when we got county wide trash pickup). I told Sadie that if she'd touch it with her nose I'd give her a peppermint. She did and I did and the neighbor cooed, O Sadie, you'd be So Easy to Do Parelli With!!! I did manage not to roll my eyes.

    That was roughly a year ago and darned if she didnt booger yesterday at a piece of farm equipment left out in a food plot in a powerline. Then after boogering, marched calmly over to it, touched it with her nose, and gave me a very clear "hey stupid, come across with the horse cookie" look. Which I did. The only drawback is she'll sometimes knock stuff over that I then have to dismount and set to rights. I can live with that. She's been my best bud since she learned ears forward.


    • #3
      Ages ago, when we first started using operant conditioning training dogs in our dog club, with special "clicker" classes and seminars, I started using it with the horses I had then, mostly for management in the pasture, the come here but look away, don't beg, put the head low and in the halter, etc. and for tricks, come and then turn around to the right, then to the left.

      Mostly, the work with the horses was to compliment what we were learning with the dogs, that will work with any other animal just as well.

      Once the new wore off, I have not tried to train other horses that way, the traditional way works fine for what I have been doing.
      Some day, I may try again, just to see where we go with it.

      Our dog club still uses that kind of training, or parts of it, for much basic and some advanced training, but not as an only method or end on itself.


      • Original Poster

        Thanks, you two.

        Now I know there are more of you there. Please sign in.
        Laurie Higgins
        "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


        • #5
          Its how I train my dogs (I do agility, obedience, film work adn more with them). I keep meaning to use it more with the horses. Just want to make sure I use it in such a away that lack of stimulus control isn't a problem.

          My andy/arab mare learnt to lie down, mainly via 'clicker' training (though when I did it I couldnt' find a clicker, so used a squeaky dog toy). She liked to offer down when ever she was confused. It was really annoying for a while. We did get that issue resolved but not in a terribly positive way Now she only downs on cue.

          Her ability to die did get her on film. I do a bit of animal wrangling work, mainly with the dogs, but she was the only horse in Ontario they could find who could die on cue... (here is a pic of her on set, not dying, just chillin http://i221.photobucket.com/albums/d...TV-waiting.jpg)

          I am thinking of doing more with Senn, she isn't as pretty as Velvet (the andy cross) but she is very 'into' people and very relaxed about what humans do around her. Velvet is getting up there.

          I recently used the clicker to help Aven understand jumping. He was very wiggly when he started jumping, and not keeping a constant rhythm. So after the first not so great session the next one I brought the clicker and some krunch out. I clicked when he was in mid air. 3 clicks and he got it. That was a couple of weeks ago. No he jumps everything he is pointed at, will even self straighten if the rider isn't totally on the ball lol. Took him out hacking in the Ganaraska, it was his first time off property.. he had no issues what so ever jumping things out there... (sorry blurry.. http://i221.photobucket.com/albums/d...10/ganny13.jpg)


          • #6
            I don't use an actual clicker but use "goood girl" instead.
            The only horse I've ever used the method with is my appy mare. She came as a barely halter broken terrified of everything three year old filly with no apparent desire to learn anything from me or to have anything to do with me but did have a great greedyness for food.

            I taught her the key word "booger" which meant it wasn't a harmful thing and that if she was brave she would get a cookie. We went from there to touch the booger, let the booger touch you. This worked for EVERYTHING! Even to the blacksmith.

            Best thing I ever did. It's really funny now that very little scares her but if she sees something that she thinks would probably look scarey enough to warrant a cookie she will go touch it on her own and then look at me, "does that get a cookie?"

            I doubt that at seventy years old I will ever take on another horse to train but if I did this sure would be the way I would go.

            We did have one kink in the training after we started riding the trails. She tried the "I'm scared of that tree and that rock but I'll touch it and you'll give me a cookie." When she found that I wasn't falling for that she good naturedly gave it up.
            You know why cowboys don't like Appaloosas?" - Answer: Because to train a horse, you have to be smarter than it is.


            • #7
              I am a clicker trainer who is in the process of buying my first horse. I have three Border Collies and use clicker training for pretty much everything in civilian life*. I have also clicker trained two-day-old piglets (and they learned faster than any dog I have ever trained, of any age, including my Border Collies) and am currently clicker training the horse I am leasing, albeit only to do really simple things like target a plastic flyswatter and to come when called, because I don't want him offering strange behaviors to his owner that she doesn't understand.

              [*Civilian life = not stockwork; my dogs also work sheep, and although I personally believe it is difficult to impossible to use clicker training per se in a stockwork situation, the underlying principles are the same except that the reward is access to (meaning ability to influence the behavior of) sheep, the reward is much harder to control, and there is much more use of negative reinforcement.]

              One of my dogs is extremely anxious and I've used combinations of classical and operant conditioning to desensitize and countercondition him to the things that worry him (he is a big thinker; he worries a lot!). I imagine this will carry over especially well to handling horses, who as ungulates comes with the "I might die imminently" instinct installed.

              I CANNOT WAIT to be able to use clicker training on my own horse. Some of the first projects I plan on are targeting, coming when called (if said horse does not come with a recall installed; plan to use the same "that'll do, here" that the dogs recall to), head down/long and low, and free lunging. I anticipate a major learning curve for ME because with dogs, clicker training is so easy. Dogs act like us, their expressions are like ours, and their motivators are easy to understand. Horses are sort of like a combination of sheep and dogs, to use animals I'm familiar with -- more people-oriented than sheep, but with similar reactions to novel stimuli.

              I recently used the clicker to help Aven understand jumping.
              This is really interesting. Did you do this from the saddle or from the ground and then transfer it to the saddle? I am sure there is much discussion about this, but personally I have always used the click to end the behavior (have never used it as a "keep going" cue) so I have had difficulty figuring out how to click while mounted. With jumping you sort of have a built-in fail safe since the horse can't very well stop midair, but let's say you have a horse who needs to be more forward. The way I use the clicker, the horse would stop dead in his tracks every time I marked the forward. I am sure a search of the Interwebs would answer this question, but I haven't looked it up yet.
              MelanieC * Canis soloensis


              • #8
                I stood on the ground and clicked. Yes the click ends the behaviour, but the animal doesn't always choose to. Ie with training weaves. After the click the dog can stop and get the reward, or keep going.. their choice. So if you were say training shoulder in, and you clicked for a single step and the horse stopped, no problem. If they keep going no problem.

                Its like teaching stay with a clicker. You just wait for longer and longer durations of the behaviour before you click. So say click for a single good step a few times, then wait for a couple of steps etc. Once the animal 'gets' it then you just ask for it and don't worry about the marker (click) as they already understand.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks to you two.

                  I personally use a tongue click and do that with my dogs as well. Although I had to switch a "yes!" with my second dog because the first dog thought he was getting clicked.

                  There are a couple of BBs about clicker training horses: The Click That Teaches on Yahoo Groups. To be in that one you have have bought Alex Kurland's book by the same name (TCTT Riding with the Clicker). Her website is: www.theclickercenter.com.

                  Then there's the ClickRyder group on Yahoo.

                  And Peggy Hogan has some discussions going on Facebook under "Clicker Training Horses." I'm sure she also has interesting stuff on her website: www.thebestwhisperisaclick.com.

                  There are many other people with websites devoted to clicker training horses. There have been many discussions regarding Keep Going Signals and how to get around the dead stop at speed issue.

                  Last edited by Twiliath; Sep. 6, 2010, 09:00 PM. Reason: left out a word
                  Laurie Higgins
                  "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                  • #10
                    I use c/t for everything. I taught husbandry behaviors and especially dangerous things. My mare had an absolute meltdown because of fright the first time we tried to put shoes on her. Turned into a huge huge fight. Two days later, because of c/t it was much much better and the next time we did it...she was fine. I used it to teach her to load. I've used it on horses, dogs, cats and budgies. The cats were both the hardest and the easiest. They have a different kind of response and a more deliberate way of thinking.

                    I board our horses, and it has been a bit difficult as the previous barn owner neither understood nor wanted to learn how to use OC. As a result, my mare would sometimes do things when handled by her, that she would never do when handled by me.

                    I got into c/t when my heart dog refused to work for an ear pinch and I could not have her frightened of me. We simply quit with that work, until I could find a better way...which has led me to clicker training. I have never looked back.

                    My background is pet horses and dogs. I do not have an interest in showing either the horses or the dogs, but I train as if I do. The behaviors you need for a ring are the same ones that make every day living easier. Moving up or down in a gait as requested without drama, being able to tie, load in a trailer, do a down stay when requested, come when called. All of those things simply make a pet easier to live with. I use c/t for all of it and I fade the clicker and treats as quickly as I can for all of it.


                    • Original Poster

                      Threedogpack - that's awesome. I do the same, but now I have my horses at home. One of heart dogs (who died last Thanksgiving) was difficult as soon as I got him. A choke chain was worthless with him. He also wouldn't tolerate a Gentle Leader or a harness, even when using CT with a walk to come after.

                      Operant Conditioning is great.

                      Thanks for posting.
                      Laurie Higgins
                      "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                      • #12
                        One more thing that was mentioned above is KGS. I do use a keep going signal for my mare when I want her to know she has done it right, but don't stop. I use a wither scratch. I also use a "good girl" to mark a correct response but keep going.


                        • #13
                          I use operant conditioning for everything I train. I started my mare myself, and everything she knows how to do as a riding horse was clicker trained. I also use c/t for my cats, my dog, and I'm hoping to get a fish to train. I have to wait until I have room for a tank.

                          I use Alexandra Kurlands materials, plus all the info from other great operant conditioning trainers like Ken Ramirez, Dr. Rosalez-Ruiz (sp?), the Baileys and Karen Pryor. Shawna Karrasch seems to be getting more of an internet presence, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she has to say.


                          • Original Poster

                            Shawna uses treatless clicks. Apparently her animals adjust, but some research (Rosales-Ruiz?) showed that you lose when you do that. Dogs, at least, don't really want to play anymore when they're clicked but not rewarded.

                            Shawna worked at SeaWorld and then transitioned to horses.
                            Laurie Higgins
                            "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                            • #15
                              If you need more info about clicker training or to have discussions with other horse owners / trainers about clicker training, check the ClickRyder list:



                              • #16
                                I started using clicker training selectively about 8 years ago. I've not used it for any work under saddle, and I don't do tricks. However, it has been a nifty tool to assist turning negatives into positives for horses that are scared/defensive with regard to routine activies (e.g., transforming a girthy horse into one that learns to associate saddling with something pleasant).
                                "I did know once, only I've sort of forgotten." - Winnie the Pooh


                                • #17
                                  I started using it with my dog just for tricks. Tried with my first horse that I raised from a weanling and just did little things: targeting, ears forward, etc. More of a boredom breaker than anything since he didn't really have a hard time picking stuff up traditionally. I used it quite heavily for awhile with my mare though. She came knowing that if she threw herself on the ground anytime you picked a hoof up you'd quit trying so that's what we started with after targeting. Then she'd be really goosey at the mounting block, so I used a <gasp!> carrot stick and taught her to move her haunches away from a tap on the same side, and then towards me when tapping on the opposite side, then each time she'd move her haunches away at the mounting block I could move them back and reward. Worked very nifty for this. Haven't used it at all yet with the new gelding, perhaps we'll play this winter when it's dreary. I think of it as an aid for ME when I can't figure out how to convey what I'm trying to ask in a way the horse will understand. It saves a lot of time and makes it a very positive experience for the horse. Can I get the job done without it? Sure. It's gonna take longer usually, and there might be a come-to-Jesus moment involved. It really depends on what the issue is and how urgent whether I'll "cheat" with the clicker. I find it really valuable though.
                                  It's a small world -- unless you gotta walk home.


                                  • #18
                                    I love clicker training

                                    My mare had a lower leg injury requiring major surgery and after that experience, she decided that anyone getting anywhere near her legs or hooves was a VERY BAD THING that was sure to lead to something painful and scary. She'd be OK with just a quick pick out, but the kind of manipulation a farrier does, she would get scared, then mad. Made hoof trimming (she's barefoot) a major hassle, especially because she's one of those horses that responds to a fight with more fight. My old farrier got to the point where he refused to work on her anymore.

                                    It took me less than month, working with her about 3 days/week, to teach her to let me pick up her feet, hold them, pull them out to the side. I started with just touching her legs, and clicking for standing still, followed immediately by a small piece of carrot. I would buy cheap bags of the baby carrots and cut them into little dime size pieces. At first Pixie was very wary about what I was doing, but pretty soon her reaction was that if that's all it took to get her carrot piece, it was no big deal. From there I started asking her to shift her weight and clicking as soon as the hoof left the ground. By this point Pixie was more or less handing me her hoof, all while salivating (really!) at the thought of another miniscule carrot slice. A month after I started, a new farrier trimmed her feet with no drama whatsoever.

                                    I'm currently using the same approach to introduce clippers. I don't show and normally I just trim a bridle path using scissors (I know, I know, what would George Morris say?). Recently I started thinking that it would be nice to know I could trim my horse with clippers if I ever wanted to. We're still working on this one. Pixie is fine with the clippers being turned on and rubbed against her head, neck and face, but we're still working on the actual clipping. I think she doesn't like the sensation of the blades going through her hair, but I am confident that with clicking/carrots we'll get there eventually.

                                    I think the greatest thing about clicker training is that it can take the fight out of the equation, because the horse is trying to figure what to do to make the "human treat dispenser" work. For certain personalities, making it so the horse thinks what you want is "their idea" really helps.
                                    Proudly owned by 2 chestnut mares
                                    Crayola Posse: sea green
                                    Mighty Rehabbers Clique


                                    • #19
                                      I have seen/heard that Shawna uses treatless clicks. I'll keep on a 1:1 schedule myself until or unless I see proof that treatless clicks are better. (Not saying it doesn't work, but it seems needlessly complicated, especially for a beginner horse or handler, and I think it may not be as effective. I think it would be very easy for someone to screw it up doing it this way.)

                                      Love ClickRyder, by the way! I highly recommend it if someone is curious and wants to learn more about operant conditioning with horses.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Twiliath View Post
                                        Do you use CT for everything, just for tricks, just for husbandry behaviors, or?
                                        Right now I just use clicker training for behaviors when I'm on the ground. Mostly husbandry behaviors, but I find it becomes helpful to teach a horse to be comfortable with their first rids while using the clicker method as well. To be able to associate treats and clicks with putting weight on a fearful horse helps open up the communication. Later, however, I'd love to try to see if I could incorporate clicker training with things like flying changes and see if I can train them quicker than with my traditional methods.

                                        Originally posted by Twiliath View Post
                                        How did you get into it?
                                        I have an extensive background training all kinds of animals. I've used the bridge method (what the clicker is.. a bridge between the correct behavior and when they get a treat) with exotics such as elephants, monkeys, lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). I've also worked extensively with marine mammals such as dolphins, walrus, sea lions, and seals. I've also worked with dangerous dogs to get them to be less dangerous and with horses, of course.

                                        Originally posted by Twiliath View Post
                                        What is your background otherwise?
                                        I have a degree in psychology and animal science and am also a certified trainer... but have, as stated, trained a mired of animals with this method.

                                        Originally posted by Twiliath View Post
                                        How many and what kind of animals and horses do you use it with?
                                        Horse wise... I've worked with warmbloods... traks and Andalusians with the method... and one scared donkey.

                                        Originally posted by Twiliath View Post
                                        Do you keep your horses at home or do you board?
                                        board at a beautiful barn about 25 mins away from my house where the BO is on site. Wonderful place.
                                        "The ability to write a check for attire should not be confused with expertise. Proficiency doesn't arrive shrink-wrapped from UPS and placed on your doorstep."