Bill and Juanita, owners of Allenspark Lodge B&B, are living their dream...

running a successful business and riding as often as possible.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Clicker Training - Again

Today Bill and I got to have a sort of 'play date' - very unusual for this time of year.  All that means is 'we got to go to town' together; something we love to do.  We tackled the lodge chores quickly and the guests wished us well as we saw them off to their various hiking adventures, letting them know they would probably beat us back to the lodge.

We figured that if we got our town chores done in a timely fashion, we could play with GunDiva's horse, Skeeter, a bit.  She had mentioned wanting to teach Skeeter her name, having been appalled to discover her horse didn't have the slightest clue as to her name.  Now in the horse's defense, she was the only horse on the property for three months and was always happy to meet any person willing to come by her corral and chat with her.  She didn't need a name.  Since I had used a considerable amount of 'clicker fun' with Jesse (many years ago), GunDiva suggested Bill and I could start teaching Skeeter to come when called.

We stopped by GunDiva's and picked up the clickers.  We were so excited to work with Skeeter when we got to her corral that we got the box of carrot chunks that were waiting for us, snatched our cameras and a couple clickers and headed out to see the horses.  I told Bill we needed to teach her targeting before we could start on the name game.  Skeeter was all excited to learn something new, perfectly willing to watch Bill and try to figure out what he wanted when he said 'touch'.  We decided to use the lid to the carrot container as the 'target'.
Bill held it out; Skeeter focused on the yellow band on the clicker; Bill clicked and ...

"Oh, I get a carrot!"  Skeeter thought she could do this!

When I tried it with her, she focused on the lid ... and got her treat.
She was very gracious in taking her carrot tidbits, which surprised me because GunDiva said she could be a bit 'muggy' about food.  She snuffled my carrot hand once, got a good bop and left it alone from then on.  We did notice, however, that she didn't seem to focus on the 'click'; she just expected a treat for touching the target.  We let it go and started playing a name game.

We decided to stand a few feet apart and take turns calling her to us, giving her a treat whenever she changed direction and focused on the one calling her name.  It took quite awhile before she would focus on our voices; she was just interested in the closest one to her.  She would stare at you for awhile, until she realized you were not going to give her anything, then turn back to the other.  Soon she was going back and forth - but we realized she was coming to the sound of the click, not her name.  When I explained this to GunDiva, she asked if we had 'charged the clicker'.  Duh.

In hindsight, I should have taken a glance at the clicker book also.  I seem to have forgotten a lot about the beginnings of clicker training.  I had totally forgotten that step.  No wonder poor Skeeter didn't quite 'see the light' for us.  She tried her best - and was getting it - just much slower than if we had done it correctly.

Sorry, GunDiva, hope we haven't set you back too far.  She's a smart girl; I already had her following the target to the ground and touching it when I would give it a short toss.  We might have another frisbee partner one day.

Bill, of course, had to play some other 'games' with her, trying to teach her to 'mane lead' like he does Ranger - by putting his arm under her neck, grabbing a piece of mane on the opposite side, and walking.  She was doing well with it until she figured out he was going to pick on her by leading her to the tub.  She's pretty sure he's a goof.

We took time to give Copper some good scratches through the fence panels so he wouldn't feel left out.  He definitely wanted in on some action, too.  Soon, Copper.

It made for a fun day.
Bionic Cowgirl


  1. She's got the "follow the target" thing down pat. I worked with her last night on it, too, before I realized she didn't associate the click with a treat. But she was perfectly willing to "touch" the target no matter where I put it: left, right, up, down, on her chest, on the ground.

    Tomorrow (because I have to work past bedtime tonight), we'll "charge the clicker" and see how she does.

    What an awful horse parent I am for not realizing she didn't know her name.

  2. I don't know what you mean by charging the clicker. I used the click when they did the desired task, such as touch the target after the command touch. Hmmmm?

  3. I knew you would ask this; I was hoping GunDiva would hop in and explain - since SHE has the clicker book. Maybe she will still do so. I believe it entails just clicking the 'clicker' and giving lots of treats until the horse (or whatever animal) realizes that is what initiates the 'treat'. The clicker can be anything that makes a consistent sound; Bill clicks with his tongue; I prefer a true, noticeable 'click'. The 'treat' can be anything the animal in question considers a treat; some just use a handful of grass; some use a special food such as carrots or apple slices or horse treats - broken into very small pieces. For less food enticed animals, just a scratch on the withers is good. You want to be able to adjust the 'amount of treat' to the amount of effort put forth by the animal. The first movements get bigger treats, to let them know they are doing well by trying. Once you get advanced movements, you can use less treats because the horse knows a treat is coming if the outcome is correct. You need to understand, though, that using clicker training is also training the animal 'to think for themselves', because they are learning to try different things to get what they want. Jesse is such a pro at this; I created a monster with her as she can get out of or through anything! Have fun.
    Bionic Cowgirl

  4. Bionic Cowgirl explained "charging the clicker" as I understand it. However, in talking to people who use clicker training, it's becoming obvious that it might not be as important a step as the training book made it out to be.

    Skeeter "targets" pretty well, so maybe I'll just continue with that for a bit before moving on.


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