What is Clicker Training?
Clicker training is a method of training animals that uses a marker signal to identify a specific behaviour, the animal is then rewarded for the behaviour with positive reinforcement such as food.
The most commonly used marker signal is a “click” sound which is made by a small hand held device known as a clicker. This is where the term “clicker training” came from.
Clicker training is part of a branch of learning known as Operant Conditioning which was discovered by B.F Skinner in 1937. Operant conditioning states that consequences drive behaviours. If a behaviour is immediately followed by rewarding consequences then the animal will be more likely to repeat the behaviour.
With clicker training we focus on rewarding the horse for good behaviour.
The clicker allow us to mark or highlight a behaviour to let the animal know that this
behaviour has earned a food reward. We can gradually shape and change the horse’s
behaviour by progressively raising the criteria of behaviour required to earn a reward.
This clear form of communication is a gentle yet effective way of teaching a horse to perform any behaviour that it is physically capable of.
Clicker Training helps build a horse’s confidence and trust. It also improves their willingness to perform and encourages the horse to actively participate in the learning process.
Horses are extremely motivated by food, they will do almost anything to get a small treat.
Clicker training allows us to harness this motivation and direct it into the task we want the horse to perform. As a result the horse becomes an enthusiastic, willing and motivated partner in the learning process.
Can you imagine how much more fun and rewarding training will be, with a horse that is eager to perform?
All traditional horse training systems are based on pressure and release which is also known as negative reinforcement. For example a rider applies pressure with the reins until the horse stops. The rein pressure is then immediately released when the horse stops.
With the addition of clicker training we can add another layer of clarity and motivation to training by adding a marker signal and food rewards. So you don’t even have to change the methods you currently use for training your horse but you can add clicker training into your training methods and it will dramatically improve your results. By incorporating clicker training into traditional training methods it enhances the results by improving the horse’s motivation and allowing for clearer communication between human and horse..
Clicker training gives us the ability to mark a precise behaviour that we want to reward, like a flying change or one good stride of an extended trot. Using the clicker as a marker signal allows the horse to identify exactly which behaviour has earned the reward. This takes the stress out of training and makes it so much easier for the horse to figure out what exactly what we are trying to teach them.
Clicker training has so many benefits and and advantages. The more you experiment with clicker training the more ways you will find to use and apply it to different training situations. It is an easy method for training any type of behaviour whether that is teaching the horse an advanced dressage movement like a piaffe or a trick like lying down. Clicker training can even be done from a distance allowing you to easily train your horse at liberty. Understanding the science of training and how to use positive reinforcement will improve your relationship with your horse and will give you the tools to teach your horse almost anything.