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Clicker Training??

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  • Clicker Training??

    I recently started working at a reining horse ranch where they use clicker training. I've seen it work for tricks, but never seen it used for more intense training. I've started a 2 year old with it, and seen it work.

    Anyone use it, or heard of it? What was your experience?

    Stories? Thoughts?

  • #2
    We used it on a spooky gelding we had, taught him to "touch it", and so when out on the trail and he spooked at something (cement sewer top, overturned tree, large rock...) we would say "tooooouch it" and he would sloooowly approach and touch it with his nose. We would cluck and give him a treat. He got to where when anything spooked him he would walk over and touch it, LOL! Soon got to where nothing spooked him.

    I am going to start doing it with my spooky mare. She is a little slower though to catch on to it, and now it's too hot!

    One of the boarders trained a horse to trailer load that way, he wouldn't load for nothing, worked on clicker training him and now he jumps in any trailer, and it only took one 15-20 minutes session!
    I want a signature but I have nothing original to say except: "STHU and RIDE!!!

    Wonderful COTHER's I've met: belleellis, stefffic, snkstacres and janedoe726.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Chardavej View Post
      We used it on a spooky gelding we had, taught him to "touch it", and so when out on the trail and he spooked at something (cement sewer top, overturned tree, large rock...) we would say "tooooouch it" and he would sloooowly approach and touch it with his nose. We would cluck and give him a treat. He got to where when anything spooked him he would walk over and touch it, LOL! Soon got to where nothing spooked him.
      I did/still do this exact same thing!

      I think there are some old threads you can pull up on clicker training as well.

      I love it. I've used it on my horse and my mule with good results. I haven't done it a lot, but it's fun to use and they seem to pick up on it really quickly. I also had a friend who used clicker training to stop her big draftie who used to grab the bit and take off.
      Proud owner of a Slaughter-Bound TB from a feedlot, and her surprise baby...!


      • #4
        OK, i've told this one about three times, but here it goes again. I had used clicker training with Sadie, but havent done any in two or three years. Was riding out with my parellified neighbor (she's relapsed again to near total unriding since this incident, but for a while there you could go out with her and her horse and not be interrupted by an emergency dismount to perform Remedial Games). Anyway, we encountered a very large horse eating trash container recently placed at end of another neighbor's driveway, where we cross the paved road to get to a dirt road. Both horses said, no way, Jose.

        I ASKED Sadie, "Can you touch it?" and told her "If you touch that trash can with your nose I'll give you a peppermint." Whereupon she marched over and bumped it with her nose and begged for her treat, which I promptly gave her. Whereupon Parellified Neighbor sighed rapturously and cooed, "Oh, Sadie! You'd be SO EASY to do Parelli with!"


        • #5
          ---""Oh, Sadie! You'd be SO EASY to do Parelli with!""---

          Our dog club has been giving clicker training classes for a good 20+ years.
          We have also trained some horses to do things for us, but not especially for tricks, but to teach them to learn to work independently.

          A friend taught a reining horse to do spins on his own, out in the pasture, on request.
          She did click a little too low a head and last I heard, she was trying to click for a little less nose on the ground spins.

          Once you understand the principles of operant conditioning, the world is your oyster as a trainer.


          • #6
            My first OTTB is a total nutcase. People have not been kind to this horse. I will tell anyone with ears that clicker training saved both of our lives. He really is happy with the clicker. It not only paints a clear idea of what he's supposed to do, but it is also a tacit contract regarding my behavior as a handler. That horse would follow me off a cliff if I clicked him for it.
            My Arab mare was a different story. She became anxious with the clicker. She would desperately offer behavior after behavior looking for a click. As her repertoire increased, it became very cumbersome. I had to wait through several behaviors before the right one emerged, and teaching new behaviors became very difficult. She would just get so excited about the 'game' that she had difficulty focusing on my cues. When I decided clicker training wasn't moving us forward, and decided to stop, she was not a happy camper. I'm sure there are folks here who could've made it work regardless. Frankly, the whole affair was too cumbersome for me, at least when working with a horse who didn't need it to not kill me.
            My new OTTB has not been clickered, however after a recent trailering fiasco, I will likely introduce it. I have no intention of using it for anything other than trailering. Hopefully he will not start demanding it at every interaction, as my mare did.
            Clicker training is a powerful tool. It works every time, no exceptions. This is why I tell people that it's not for dabbling. You really need to look at the training situation you have and decide if you're the type of person to follow through with the clicker. Half-a$$ing it leads to unhappy horses. It can also create some artifacts you don't want to deal with. All in all, my training style is largely intuitive in its process. The addition of the clicker seemed to make everything so much more time consuming and complicated than I felt it needed to be. That said, there are people who can get all the very best from a horse with the clicker. I'm just not those people.
            "Rock n' roll's not through, yeah, I'm sewing wings on this thing." --Destroyer


            • #7
              I call clicker training letting the genie out of the bottle and you can't put it back in easily.

              You do get a very motivated partner, but it can also become a very demanding partner.

              We have learned to train for static exercises as much as doing things, so the subject learns to relax also, not be so over the top motivated as to that performing anxiety to become it's own problem.


              • #8
                I highly recommend reading Karen Pryor's current "Reaching the Animal Mind" and her original "Lads Before the Wind". Great books about animal training and about clicker training as a method of communication, and fun reads too.
                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bluey View Post
                  I call clicker training letting the genie out of the bottle and you can't put it back in easily.

                  You do get a very motivated partner, but it can also become a very demanding partner.

                  We have learned to train for static exercises as much as doing things, so the subject learns to relax also, not be so over the top motivated as to that performing anxiety to become it's own problem.
                  Funny you should mention it. The exercise that I will NEVER be able to erase from her mind is the "Put your head in the corner bucket and leave it there". To this day, when I walk in her stall she thrusts her head in and out of the bucket waiting for a click. It's really eerie because she's watching me the whole time. Head down was even worse for awhile, but she seems to have left it to rest for now. As I understand it, there are some "approach/retreat" techniques that may take the edge off of her, but they take a lot of time and patience. I have some time and patience, but it's all strictly budgeted. (That's another topic I'd love to see discussed-- maybe I'll start a thread.)
                  "Rock n' roll's not through, yeah, I'm sewing wings on this thing." --Destroyer


                  • #10
                    OK, I never took this seriously before, but I have a few yearlings to work with and this sounds like it could be fun and useful for them to learn while they grow. Can anyone direct me to site I can learn more about how to from?
                    Shop online at


                    • #11
                      A lot of mustang handlers use clickers. It is very effective when gentling them.

                      I use clickers with dogs - not in lieu of other training methods, but to reinforce desired behaviors.

                      I'd love to observe it being used with reining horses.


                      • #12
                        I recently encountered a book called "The Art and Science of Clicker Training for Horses" which really helped explain some of the problems I have had using the clicker. Highly recommend it.


                        • #13
                          Practical Horseman did a two part article in November and December of last year. If you can find those issues, it is very helpful.


                          • #14
                            I'm a hybrid trainer.

                            I use the clicker when I'm teaching something new but wean off it quickly and add in a physical marker in place of the clicker with no food reward. This helps to reduce the frantic behavior quickly.

                            When teaching my mare a behavior I don't want to interrupt....I do NOT use the clicker. I use the physical marker in place of the clicker.

                            I use a quick scritch on the withers. It's distinctive, it's clear and it's not something I use in any other context. I can do it while moving, I can do it when still....and not stop the behavior.

                            However, you have to have a somewhat advanced student (horse) to make the connection


                            • #15
                              VBunny - Alexandra Kurland and Peggy Hogan are both well known for clicker training horses.

                              Alex's site is: www.theclickercenter.

                              Peggy's site is: www.thebestwhisperisaclick.com.

                              Then there's Shawna Corrin Karrasch at www.on-target-training.com.

                              All three are on FaceBook.
                              Laurie Higgins
                              "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                              • #16
                                Did my dissertation research for my doctorate on clicker training in horses. Have peer-reviewed journal articles out there somewhere about it.

                                In my study, we taught horses to touch their nose to a cone when given the command 'touch'. Some were rewarded with a treat. Others were clicker trained. Horses in both categories learned at the same rate and gave up performing the behavior after no longer getting rewarded at the same rate. I found the clicker annoying to use...

                                BUT for some trainers, it is very useful. Not all training techniques work for everyone. When done correctly, it really forces you to focus on your horse and pay attention to him/her and reward the behavior immediately.
                                Visit us at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society - www.bluebonnetequine.org

                                Want to get involved in rescue or start your own? Check out How to Start a Horse Rescue - www.howtostartarescue.com


                                • Original Poster

                                  I have been taught how to teach a horse about the clicker, touch the cone, click treat. Horse gets it.

                                  Like mentioned above, the horses look for something to trigger the click, which can be good. But also my QH gelding started doing EVERYTHING to get the treat. Things that would be annoying and he would become obsessed with it, so I stopped using the clicker with him.

                                  But how can I teach a horse to spin as fast as possible, with a click? Or slide to a stop from a gallop with a click? These things baffle me, and I havent seen them done. I'm trying to see if anyone has moved past the basics with the clicker. The most I've seen is while riding the 2 year old, I can say "tuck" and she'll lower her head and flex at the poll. But thats as far as I've seen.


                                  • #18
                                    I LOVE it. If done right, it's just as powerful (in some ways more so) than the other methods.

                                    I feel in love with it when I had a big Belgian who arrived not lifting his hooves for care for *anything*. I read every conventional and NH training book, and nothing worked for him. I had a farrier fire me over him. I had friends try to get him to do it. Then in my travels I came across clicker training. I had progress in a single session. I was amazed. I went to clinics and talked to people. It changed *me*. Now when the horse doesn't do what I ask, I don't blame him or whack him. I realize either he's unable to do what I ask or I didn't explain well enough what I wanted. And once I removed all the blaming and domination from my training sessions, getting horses to do things became alot less stressful... and alot more fun!

                                    I am not a 100% clicker trainer. But the more I explore it, I keep discovering cool powerful things it can be used for. It's made such a difference for me that my one must-do vacation a year is an annual road trip to ClickerExpo, where trainers & researchers working with all species get together and share their experiences relating to operant & classical conditioning, the focus being on the positive-reward corner of Operant conditioning.

                                    I love that it's based on reproducible science. It's not done because it's some guy's guess of what he thinks horse A might say to Horse B if he was a horse. It's not done because "that's just how everyone does it traditionally". Maybe I'm just a science geek? It's neat because each year trainers are teaching animals new things we didn't even think is possible. The dog world is embracing a more reward-based training, and it seems to be the choice for Agility, Obedience, and even working dogs such as Guide. You need an animal who *wants* to work and who can do "intelligent disobedience" (knowing when to ignore the walk-forward request if a car is heading for the crosswalk). Horses can also benefit from these training principles. I can talk for hours about training theory and some cool new ways horses can be trained under reward-based methods.

                                    It's not "for tricks". Unless by "tricks" you mean ground-tie, stand perfectly at mounting block, soften more to aids, collect, or give a flawless whoa.

                                    You can use it when riding. You don't necessarily have to use food, as long as the reward is something the horse wants. You're not dependent on it, either; once the behavior is learned well, just fade out the reward (the same way other trainers fade out the whack of a crop, for example).

                                    Here is something interesting : You don't have to stop what you're doing to give the reward. You can give a "keep going signal" which means horse got the right answer but don't stop doing whatever-it-is. Or you can use the click to end the behavior distinctly, such as making for a really accurate halt.

                                    There are some great trainers' named already mentioned on this thread. I wanted to add some other resources:

                                    For dealing with less-handled ranch horses, Kicking Back Ranch has some great results.

                                    cowgirljenn: Check out the research from U of NorthTexas on Behavioral Analysis. They've got some amazing stuff (all of it I've seen seems to say the clickertraining approach gets good results without fear or 'emotional fallout'). One of my favorite studies was teaching an animal to come using two ways: one is asking then rewarding. The other is to use another word to command, then yank (Punishment) until the animal was closer. They did many trials and video taped the whole thing. As time went on the positive reinforced behavior resulted in the animal coming with enthusiasm. The "come here" command taught with punishment also worked: yes, the animal eventually came. But he came cowering and trying hard to avoid doing more work. (Google "poisoned cue" research by "Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz" for more on this study)

                                    threedogpack: When you say the wither scratch doesn't stop the behavior, do you do it with a marker signal or without?
                                    Veterinarians for Equine Welfare


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Yes, I have seen it work for some awesome things. I guess since I've only been around it for a month, I really havent seen it put to use for more than tricks and manners. Not implying manners arent important, they are!

                                      You seem to have a lot of information about clicker training, with great success with it.

                                      So how can I train a clicker savvy horse to spin? I've though about doing a slow turn and when one front hoof crosses the other, c/t. Until the horse understands.

                                      Am I grasping the concept or do I have it wrong? Ha. I'm not sure. I do have Alex's clicker training book that I have recently started reading.


                                      • #20
                                        Yes, that would be the way to start teaching the spin. Break it down into the tiniest pieces possible and click for the smallest try.

                                        You don't have to use a mechanical clicker. Lots of use a tongue cluck instead. You can also use a "yes!" or a kiss, but be consistent.

                                        When you have the rudiments of the spin and your horse is consistent or shows that he understands what you want when you cue for it, then start cuing and delaying the click or marker signal so that he tries harder. Don't make the new criterion too hard though. Build from there.

                                        Secondary reinforcers - a scratch, a "good boy/girl" have to be taught. Just as you charge the clicker to begin with, you have to charge the secondary reinforcer (SR).

                                        To charge the SR, use it and feed treats. So for a scratch on the shoulder, scratch on the shoulder and reward. Scratch - reward. Scratch - reward.

                                        Then start asking for easy behaviors already taught using the usual marker signal (clicker, tongue cluck, kiss...) and click, scratch, reward. Eventually drop out the click and just scratch - reward.

                                        Does that make sense?
                                        Laurie Higgins
                                        "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."