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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Clicker Training a Horse

Today was a beautiful sunny Fall day.

We started with our extra hour of sleep (hope you set your clocks back an hour), then met Dan's parents to breakfast (Happy Birthday Dad!), ran all of our errands and then went to go clicker train a friend's horse.

Jack is my newest hoofed friend. He has a wonderful disposition and is food motivated - all the makings for a positive horse training experience.

Heidi (his owner & my friend), came prepared with carrots, a clicker, some base knowledge on clicker training (she'd been doing some reading and watched me work with a dog the night prior) and a goal to be able to touch the inside of Jack's ears for grooming purposes.

We started with the clicker and pairing the click with a piece of carrot. Once I had Jack's full interest and he was responding to the click, I quickly switched to a marker word (I use the word 'yes') since a clicker isn't always available, I wanted to work around his ears (without clicking IN his ear) and I needed both hands free!

Disclaimer - I'm going to move quickly through the description of what I did, so you detailed folks may find some minor holes in my written description. Please remember, the purpose of this post is to give an overview of what I did and not a step by step instruction guide - I just don't want to get bogged down in clicker details, I just want to write about my experience : )

The Head Bow - Jack is far taller than I am, so my first step toward the ear work was to shape him to bow his head so I could actually reach his ears (see picture No. 1). This was easy since I made sure that each treat came from around the height of my waist, forcing him to tip his head to retrieve his beloved carrot.

Next, I began rapid reinforcement when his head was bowed to keep it in that position. Eventually I placed my hand on top of his head as he'd bow his head for the treat and within a few minutes he quickly understood my hand was the non-verbal cue for him to bow his head and get a treat. I was able to eventually move my hand around his ear and soon in his ear and then I was moving my fingers in his ear - all while his head was bowed, the marker word used and the treat given at waist height.

It was exciting to see Jack bobbing his head at one point when we had stopped to talk and I wasn't handing over the treats to his satisfaction. It was fun for everyone to see him offer up those actions and to think through what he needed to do to get the treat.

Heidi's Turn - Now that Jack has a base to draw from, it was time to hand over the reigns to Heidi since she's his main trainer. After a momentary pause, Jack quickly figured out the head-bow game would work with her as well and so the head dipped easily. Since Jack was working so nicely (yes, he is a very smart horse!) we were sure to move our position (right, left, front, etc.), place a hand on top of his head and soon Heidi was easily putting her fingers in his ear as well (see picture No. 2).

Homework - Heidi's homework is to continue at this phase and eventually bring the unplugged ear clippers out (not near his head or ear, just a visual) and pair the clippers to a head bow and a carrot. Again, a very simplified explanation.

Next Visit - I'm hoping to go out and check on Jack & Heidi's progress next weekend. I have to admit, Jack is really fun to train and he's such a nice boy! He's had some down time with a scrapped/sprained knee injury/kind of thing, but Heidi has invited me to ride him when he's back in the saddle again (I couldn't resist the pun) and I know I'm going to love it!

On the Doggy Front - All of the dogs spent hours outside playing the last two days while Dan and I were outside doing yard work. Tonight, they were all so tired they could barely walk. I'm hoping they'll need the rest of the week to recoop so I can get a lot of work done.

Have a great week everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. Know lots about clicker training Canines, but nothing about Equines. Great read.