Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Everyday clicker training

At the last clicker training clinic, Alex said something that really stuck with me, "sometimes I click to say thank you." I realized that I do that too, I think every clicker trainer does. I feel that anytime I c/t my horses for a well-ingrained behavior I'm doing it to say thank you.

When I arrive at the pasture and go out to see my horses, the first thing I do is touch them and c/t. If they are really involved with grazing they'll wait for me to approach them.
Gwen was faking me out- she galloped over to me as soon as I put the camera down.
But typically they approach me. Either way, my horses are never hard to catch.

 If I need to halter them, I'll c/t after I buckle it on. Then I'll reinforce them for walking nicely next to me up to the barn. I prefer to walk shoulder to shoulder with a loose lead and enough room to raise my elbow between the two (or three) of us. I'll usually c/t every 15-20 steps if they're in the correct position, a little extra reinforcement never hurt anybody and I find it helps keep their attention on me.

I don't c/t while I'm grooming them, I tried it a while back and found that it made them fidget, but I will occasionally c/t them while I'm tacking up. I'll c/t Coriander for letting me put the bridle on and I'll c/t Gwen for bridling and for standing still while I cinch up the saddle. Then I walk them over to the mounting block, where I'll c/t them for standing still while I run the stirrups down and check the girth again.

When mounting I very rarely click them for standing still before I get on, but I do click and treat every time I slide into the saddle. With Coriander I wait until I've got my feet in the stirrups to click, but for Gwen I click as soon as I'm upright on her back. I was having issues with Coriander a while back because I was clicking before I got my feet in the stirrups, he'd eat the food and start walking off before I was ready, so now he has to wait. This has worked very well for me, they both stand like stones now.

I also click and treat every time I dismount. My hope is that when I fall off, because it's going to happen, that my horses will be so used to looking for the treat when I hit the ground that they'll immediately turn to me instead of running off into oblivion. With any luck, I won't have to test out this theory anytime soon.

When I'm putting them back in the pasture for the night, each horse has a different routine. Coriander will walk through the gate, wait for me to ask his hips to move over so I can close the gate, and then stand and wait for me to take his halter off- I click and treat him once for this "loop." Gwen is different, she likes to walk in the gate and directly over to the water to grab a drink, I'll wait for her to finish and then I take her halter off and c/t. I think she does this because she knows I'll hold Rocky off so she can drink her fill without getting harassed, so I haven't gotten picky about this behavior.

Rocky tends to throw a bit of a monkey wrench in my training with her issues, sometimes I have to tie her up so I can get my horses in and out of the pasture. She likes to hover over the gate and snaps at my horses if they get too close to her- so they do their best to avoid her. She's an interesting horse, that Rocky, she bites and kicks at my horses all the time but is still terribly attached to them, especially Gwen. She might be the topic of another post someday.

Anyway, back to my horses, because of our end-of-the-day routine I never have to worry about them bolting away from me or pulling other sorts of nastiness when I turn them loose. That's not to say they never gallop off when I let them go but they always wait until I've given them their treat and walked away before they run off.

I feel that continuing to c/t these behaviors that they know well helps to create mutual respect between us. They know what I expect of them and I know what they expect of me. Obviously I'm not teaching them anything because they already know these behaviors, but I really like having a way to say "thank you" that they understand and appreciate.


  1. That is a great way to put it. Sometimes I wonder if I should be c/t the behaviors Bodhi knows so well but I think that is a great way to say it. I like to c/t those behaviors because it is a time to really strengthen our reinforcement history on things we are both confident in. I think it is good to never take our horses for granted.

  2. I like the idea of saying thank you. I verbally say thank you and good boy to Gem all the time. I have started rewarding him with food now for good behaviour. I have a questions about treating....I believe you are riding bitless now(?), but did you treat when they had a bit in their mouth? If so, what did you use as a treat? I am always worried about gagging or choking. :-)

  3. That's a good way to put it, sort of saying thank you with the clicker. Thanks for some information that I can use while clicker training the horses. It's been a while since I did it and I will have to start all over again. I always seem to not have enough time to focus on the actual training. But you gave me some good ideas how to use the clicker in everyday things that I take for granted.

  4. Golden I think you hit the nail on the head- we shouldn't take our horses' good behavior for granted.

    Wolfie- I do normally ride bitless but my dressage trainer just got me to agree to ride with a bit once a week. I tried it on Sunday and it seemed to work out okay. His mouth was a bit wetter when he took the treat but that was about it. I treat with pellets but I know a bunch of people that treat with hay stretchers.

    GHM- I'm glad I could give you some ideas. I hope it works out well for you and yours. Now that Dusty is laid up it might be fun to try teaching her a few tricks to keep her mind engaged.

  5. Thanks for the video link! You rock!!