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Debunking Myths about Clicker Training

By Stephanie Kwok

There is always more than one way to train your horse a new skill. If you’re like me, you tend to try more traditional methods first, but are flexible and open to different ideas when your horse’s feedback indicates the need for another approach.

I

have found many applications for which clicker training is particularly well suited, and enjoy introducing this approach to other horse owners. But as I talk with people, I’ve noticed that there are still some myths about clicker training circulating out there, and I offer some clarity for those who are curious to learn more about it.

Myth: Clicker training is new-age feel-good nonsense

The fundamental principle of clicker training is the use of positive reinforcement, a solidly researched subject in the analysis of human and animal behaviour for more than 70 years. Starting in the 1960s, animal trainers began using positive reinforcement in real world situations, with great success, and there was a surge of activity in the 1980s as this method started being applied to dog training. With the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s, word spread and clicker training gained popularity among horse trainers as well. The basic idea

of positive reinforcement is to provide the horse with precise feedback about what he is doing correctly, instead of what he is doing wrong. He is given a “Yes!” signal at the exact moment he is performing a desired behaviour, and receives a reward as reinforcement shortly after the signal is given. Decades of scientific research has established that a behaviour which is marked and rewarded in this way will increase in frequency.

Targeting

Myth: Your horse won’t listen to you if you don’t have your clicker

The clicker is simply a tool to help achieve clarity in communication. It is not a remote control. You don’t get the behaviour with a clicker, you mark the behaviour with Station on mat a clicker. In fact, you don’t even need to use a clicker at all. You can be effective with just your voice or a tongue-click, so long as your signal is consistent, distinct and well timed. Once a particular behaviour is being performed consistently, can be cued multiple ways and is strong in a variety of environments (on the trail, in the ring, with/

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