What is Clicker Training?

Hello! I’m glad you decided to check out my blog and find out what clicker training is all about.

So, what is clicker training?

Here is a great definition, by Karen Pryor, author of Reaching the Animal Mind (a great book to read for anyone, clicker trainer or not):

“Clicker training is an animal training method based on behavioural psychology that relies on marking a desirable behavior and rewarding it. Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a ‘clicker,’ a mechanical device that makes a short distinct ‘click’ sound, which tells the animal exactly when they are doing the right thing. This clear form of communication combined with positive reinforcement is an effective, safe and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.”

For those of you who are visual learners here is a fabulous fun video:

Clicker training was originally developed by marine mammal trainers partly because of the inability of the trainers to control the animals, which resulted in a different approach to training – a positive food reward. Food has been used in many training scenarios but what made this approach unique was the addition of a bridge (a signal that tells the animal when it has performed the correct behavior) in the form of a whistle. The whistle told the dolphins that they had done the right behavior and also told them that food was coming.

The trainers took the principle of shaping a behaviour (rewarding successive approximations of the end behaviour) combined this with the bridge and food reward and were able to teach very complex behaviours to animals that they could not physically control. (If you want to read more about fascinating training using clicker then Google Bob Bailey and read some amazing training tales.) So, if w e can train these wild animals without force or fear why can’t we train our horses (or dogs) this way? Well, we can and very successfully at that.

I am not going to delve into the dominance theories out there except to say research is now proving them wrong.

So, the click (called a bridge or marker signal) tells the horse the precise instant he has done what we want and the treat makes him want to perform that behaviour again. They soon figure out that they can do things that will earn them food! They can make the vending machine (you) feed them.

Now comes the ‘you can’t hand feed horses’ argument or they will get muggy, rude and pushy and even start to bite! I bet you think I will disagree with that statement. Well, I agree that inadvertent feeding of treats can lead to these problems. There have to be rules around feeding or they will try and ‘mug the vending machine’.

The clicker provides those rules. It tells the horse when he has earned a goodie from the vending machine. Without the rules that the clicker imposes on the horse’s behaviour they can get out of control around food. The foundation lessons, including food delivery mechanics and the practic