Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of people talking about giving clicker training a try, and I’m so excited!! But I’ve also noticed a lot of “I’m not sure if I like it because.... (insert problem here)" So I wanted to write out a little post with some helpful suggestions, reminders, and tips!
1. Clicker training and the use of positive reinforcement training is NO DIFFERENT than let’s say... the process of learning to ride a new discipline or learning how to train using natural horsemanship.. or any other “method”. It takes time, coaching, and some trial and error. You WILL make mistakes, your horse WILL need you to be patient while it learns this new form of communication, and you DO need help! So don’t be afraid to reach out to a qualified positive reinforcement trainer for assistance, and take the process of educating yourself in this new style of training seriously!
One thing I did before getting started clicker training myself was to read a lot of material on the “why” and “how” before ever even reaching for that clicker and treat pouch! Don’t just try and “wing it”, be prepared! Your success will depend on the effort you put into making it work. If you halfheartedly just “give it a try”, you’ll get half results and/or poor results. That’s not to say you have to be entirely convinced this is how you will train from this point forward... but if you want to give it a try, then jump into it with a good support team and some quality preparation! You can always change your mind later.
2. Scratches are a reward too! You don’t have to start with food, and you can switch between using food and scratches during a single session frequently. Food is an extremely powerful motivator, and will encourage a lot of focus and eagerness in the horse, but using scratches as the reward that follows the click is rewarding too. (For most horses). So please do use less food in the beginning if your horse is very excited or if you are uncertain and a beginner at this, and even once you guys get the hang of clicker training you can and SHOULD continue to break up using food with scratches. 3. When introducing working with food to a very food motivated horse it’s going to take some time to establish calm relaxed behaviors around food. Start off with a protective barrier between you and your horse (like a fence or a stall door) and work with a simple behavior like targeting for a time before moving on to introducing “head away” and “manners”. This will only be for a time and it’s not a sign of weakness or insecurity on your part. Using a barrier will eliminate any need for combining corrections (to move the horse out of your space) and reinforcement in the same training session, reducing frustration during the beginning of training for the horse and you. Especially when the handler isn’t experienced and handler errors will be high. Using a barrier can be the difference between success and failure!