Dopamine, oxytocin and clicker training?
Clicker training uses the reward circuitry in the horse’s brain. This causes an increase in the levels of dopamine and oxytocin in the horse’s system. These are neurochemicals that are responsible for making a horse feel good. As a side effect of training with positive reinforcement we actually end up increasing the neurochemicals that make a horse feel good.
Geldings have been known to get so relaxed that they will hang their penis out during clicker training. This is nothing to worry about and it is a clear sign that the horse is relaxed and is enjoying the neurochemical storm of good feelings associated with clicker training. It usually occurs in geldings that are fairly new to clicker training. Mares have a similar reaction and become very relaxed and happy although it is not quite as obvious. Once a gelding has done more clicker training they don’t tend to display themselves quite so frequently. Writing about this does make me giggle but it is a question that frequently gets asked when people start clicker training with a gelding. It is evidence that using positive reinforcement training causes the horse to feel good, this also causes the horse to associate both the trainer and the training with the good feelings.