5 Instances Clicker Training has Been Invaluable for Leo's Training (so far!)
I've now owned Leo for 22 days. We've had our fair share of discussions, progress, and I've definitely shed a few frustrated tears. I decided to try clicker training with him after reading Clicker Training: Challenge Accepted
and doing some of my own research online. We started in the standard way, with basic targeting (we used a dustpan) and standing politely with his head away from the treat container. We've now progressed to the point where he'll target any item in my hand if I say "Target!", including my hand itself if I hold it out like I want a high-five and give him the vocal cue. He will also target his blue dustpan if I point at it, and it's within his nose's reach. I've found, though, that clicker training has been invaluable in so many other, everyday ways. I thought I'd list five instances where basic clicker training has made a WORLD of difference for us.
- 1) Catching him in the pasture.
The first time I went to try Leo and had to catch him, I knew I had something interesting in store. His owner of the time tried and gave up within 5 minutes, so I offered to take over and give it a shot. It took less than ten minutes in his small paddock but he wasn't really
ready to cooperate; he was just tired of the chasing game and mildly annoyed.
Bringing him home to a 150+ acre boarding facility divided into 20-acre (ish) pastures was going to pose a giant problem. If he didn't want to get caught, there was no way it was going to happen. For his first week of boarding, he was in a smaller paddock - and lucky for me, because I got a chance to teach him targeting before he was out in the main pasture.
The first day he was out with the herd, it took me 15 minutes to catch him, only because I managed to separate him into one corner of the field and bribe him with treats. I decided to bring my clicker with me the next day to see if it would make a difference. My plan was to click every time he stopped running away, and that's just what I did. So, for the past 10 or so sessions, I've let him run away but clicked every time he stopped and looked at me. He has rapidly improved to the point where he now waits for me at the gate when I call for him, and patiently waits for me to clip on his halter! WIN! Once his halter is on, he always
gets a click and a treat, even on the days he wasn't so easy to catch. While I'm sure he and I would have come to this point eventually, clicker training has accelerated the results beyond anything I expected. I've never had a horse wait for me pleasantly at the gate, let alone after owning him for less than a month!
- 2. Sprays
. When I bought Leo, he wasn't just hard to catch. The bugs were really bad the second time I tried him out, and his previous owner apologized and said that he wouldn't let her spray him with the bug repellant. I'd brought out grooming tools and detangler, so I figured I'd try working with him and spraying his mane. After half an hour of a basic pressure/release session, he was doing okay but not as well as I'd hoped. At first I'd just raise the bottle at his mane and back up with him until he'd stop, then remove the spray bottle thus releasing the pressure. It took a while just to get him to stand there with the bottle near him, let alone spraying. Then I repeated the process except I'd spray the bottle away from him until he stopped freaking out at the noise, then removed the pressure by stopping the spray sound. Then, naturally, I combined the two. By the end, he would stand but he was clearly very tense and uncomfortable, leaning away from the spray but keeping his feet planted so I'd remove the pressure.
Once he was home, I used a similar idea as catching him - when he wasn't moving, he'd get a click and treat. Except I upped the ante; even when he had stood still and was getting his treat, I kept the bottle near his body. Within 1 quick session, he was great with the detangler. And a week later we went through the same process with the fly spray, which was also a different smell, bottle and sound, and he went from backing around the paddock in panicked circles and giving my hands rope burn multiple times, to standing with a leg rested in twenty minutes of a click and treat every time he stood to be sprayed. While I do agree that clicker training sessions should always be short, I think it pertains more to when the horse is learning a new trick versus correction of bad behaviour. This is because I also agree with finishing what you've started, and if my goal is to have the horse standing calmly for whatever stage I'm at then I'm going to keep clicking and treating every time he stops, until his feet are planted and he's relaxed at that stage. The magical thing about clicker training is that it helps you reach desired results potentially so much faster.
And what he learns really sticks, because he knows exactly what he SHOULD do, and that it's beneficial to him too - it's not just a session of him being very aware of what he's trying avoid and doing what he can to get rid of whatever that may be.
We're at the point where I can walk up to him while he's eating hay and spray him, and the most he'll do is turn and look at me, then keep eating. I honestly thought this would take so much longer, but more than anything I'm so proud of this horse who so naturally so nervous about everything.
- 3. Flymask.
Naturally, he threw a fit about wearing a flymask the first time too, so I quickly incorporated the clicker. Same deal. Started by holding it at his head's level but far away, and backed up or countered any of his forward movement until he stopped. Lower mask, click, treat. By now he has figured out that when he's uncomfortable and REALLY wants to move away, standing nicely = click and treats, and is therefore his best option in such situations. It took maybe 15 minutes to have him wearing a full flymask that covered his ears and happily eating his hay.
- 4. Farrier.
The BO of this place is also a farrier, but does all his horses in this contraption, the name of which I've forgotten: farrier box.jpg
Anyways, as you can imagine, he felt incredibly claustrophobic and lost it a couple times in there, scraping up his legs and making him stressed as hell in general. Before we decided to pull him out and wait to call a farrier who'd trim him outside of the box, I thought I'd try standing by his nose and just getting him to target my hand for treats. Magic. While he was clearly still nervous about the procedure, he seemed to really appreciate the easy, rewarding distraction. I always heard that animals don't eat if they're truly afraid, but he is definitely
a nervous eater.
You can tell how relaxed (or not) he is by how feverishly he takes the food from my hand.
He's never been rude or pushy, but he gets about 30x faster taking it from my hand and chewing it at lightspeed while looking around all worry-eyed. Anyways, the BO trimmed his last two hooves with ease and we were golden. Leo had been panicking so badly before that I expected we'd have to take him out of there and call it a day.
- 5. Hosing Down.
Well, if you've read his reactions in the previous four instances, you can make a pretty safe prediction about his reaction to a horse spraying water in his vicinity, let alone near
him, or - god forbid - ON HIM.
Hosing him down was definitely our biggest challenge of yet, and it still took just one (albeit long) session for him to stand still while being sprayed with the hose. I recruited my boyfriend to hold his lead rope, and we used the same process as the fly spray - clickedntreated every time he stood. This was 3 days ago. Yesterday the boyf held him again, and it took no time (maybe 30 seconds) for him to not step away from the water. Today, I had the leadrope looped twice around the fence, and sprayed him down while he rested a foot and took a snooze with complete slack in the rope. SAYWHAT?!
Okay. Maybe my horse is just extra willing to learn or behave; I can't tell you that for sure. But what I do know is that he's naturally very nervous in every new situation he has encountered. Every time I've incorporated clicker training into a session, it has accelerated our progress way beyond anything I could ask for. I'm also lucky to have a horse who has, from day one, been incredibly respectful about food and hasn't been pushy for it even once - despite the fact that he must be pretty hungry by looking at those ribs. Here he is, waiting politely for dinner outside the barn while I mix it up right in front of him:
I don't know many horses who would be quite so respectful when I'm mixing soaked alfalfa cubes & beet pulp with rice bran, flax seeds, Cool Calories, veggie oil and paprika right in front of him.
Have I mentioned that I LOVE my horse?
I'll post more pics later this evening, and maybe even a video if I get the time to sit on Windows Move Maker for a couple hours. Hope everyone enjoyed their day!