Clicker training is a positive behavioral training technique that is used with many animals, including horses. It is a way of providing instantaneous, positive reinforcement and fine tuning training once your horse has learned the basics.
There are several ways to use horse clicker training, and there are pros and cons connected with each approach.
In this article, we introduce some of the different ways you can use clicker training with your horse and evaluate the positives and negatives of these approaches. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
What Is The Theory Of Clicker Training?
Clicker training works by positive reinforcement. This means that it is a method of training that encourages a desired behavior in exchange for a pleasant reward.
The clicker is a symbol of the reward. In other words the horse learns that when he or she performs a desired task, the clicker will indicate success. When this happens, a tangible reward such as petting or food is soon to follow. Food is the most commonly used reward.
Why Not Just Give A Treat?
The use of the clicker allows you to immediately respond to the successful completion of the desired behavior. This helps the horse clearly identify the goal you have in mind.
There is no delay between the time that the horse successfully completes the task and the actual receipt of the reward. The moment the desired task is completed, the horse hears the click and knows that he has been successful. Then you can fumble around in your pocket for a treat and hand it to him!
The clicker gives you a quick, easy, consistent way to immediately signal your horse that he has done exactly what you want him to. This is very valuable when you are training while riding, training from the end of the lunge line or otherwise not able to immediately deliver a food reward.
Why Does Clicker Training Work?
The clicking sound is what is known in behavioral science as a “bridging stimulus“. It is a bridge between the animal’s performance of the desired behavior and actual receipt of the reward.
In addition to signaling that a reward is coming, this bridging stimulus also acts as encouragement and guidance. Complex tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks with each of these small tasks rewarded with the click. When used in this way, the clicker is considered an “intermediate bridge stimulus”.
This allows you to work through more complex tasks without having to stop frequently to reward. Hearing the crisp, quick click assures your horse that he is on the right track and is doing what is expected of him.
Sometimes the clicker is used as a “terminal bridge”. This means that the click is used when the task is entirely complete. This signals the horse that he is finished doing what is expected of him and can now expect a treat.
Clicker Training For Horses
Horse Clicker Training Pros And Cons
- If used consistently, clicker training is easy for horses to understand and seems to be quite motivating.
- Clicker training can be used by riders and trainers who have challenges in terms of providing verbal encouragement (e.g. deaf or non-verbal riders).
- Clicker training allows you to provide your horse with an intangible reward while riding or working at a distance.
- It can be difficult to carry a clicker in your hand while you’re riding.
- It can be a very bad idea to get your horse dependent on food treats as a reward.
- The use of the clicker can turn your horse into a “trick pony” and may actually stand between you and your horse rather than deepening your bond.
Should You Use Clicker Training?
Whether or not you use clicker training is really an individual choice. If you feel as if this method of training will work for you, and you want to give it a try, it may very well be worthwhile. Many equestrians have had a great deal of success with it and speak highly of it.
It is well worth noting that whenever you get in the habit of giving your horse a food reward (which is typically done after the clicker signal) you run the risk of spoiling your horse and creating a nipping monster.
Consistent use of an audible command (such as a click) is always a good way to work with your horse, but there’s no evidence that using a clicker to make a sound is any better than clicking with your tongue or use of consistent voice prompts and encouragement.
In the final analysis, and in this writer’s opinion, you are better off simply choosing a vocabulary of consistent commands which you always use with your horse throughout your relationship, both on the ground and in the saddle.
Rewarding your horse with your tone of voice and positive touch helps build your bond, improves communication and completely sidesteps the literal danger of getting your horse accustomed to being handed an endless stream of treats for simply doing his job.