Cat Stuffing (Clicker Training)

Positive re-enforcement vs. negative re-enforcement.
Picture this: trying to stuff a barn cat into a pet carrier vs. throwing in a catnip treat and having it run in there.
Now how does this apply to training a horse?
These thoughts came to mind after a demonstration of clicker training. I'd heard of it but hadn't really thought about it. Apparently it is a method of positive re-enforcement that is used in training 145 species of animals. Clicker training has revolutionized the care of zoo animals since it is much easier to get an elephant to perform a task for a miniature marshmallow instead of saying 'no, bad elephant!'
If anyone doubts the power of suggestion to elicit a response, take the Timmie's challenge. "Timmie's." ( Donut. Click.) "Timmie's" (click) Must go seek out a coffee and donut...
See? It's powerful stuff.
I did try it out on our Holly, enough to get the idea of how it works. I decided on something simple I want the horse to do: stand with her feet square, her head up and her ears forward like she's showing halter. She knows that already, but what I want to do is teach her to do it when I say 'stand'. We went through a lot of carrot pieces but when I said stand and got the desired result I would 'cluck' (I don't have an official 'clicker') and offer a carrot.
Now just the 'cluck' gets her attention as she stands in happy anticipation, better than the usual tapping her on the nose with the end of the lead when the judge comes around to get them to look excited about being there. Holly was usually asleep, eyes closed, when the judge got there so I would have to wake her up. Now all I will have to do is say 'stand' and give a little 'cluck' and voila! There's my pretty girl! I don't know if she'll be drooling but I'll deal with that when the time comes. I've slowly weaned her off the carrot so that she doesn't become an obnoxious, demanding mooch and I'm left with the cluck.
As the clinician explained, it's like having a room full of rowdy children and you find yourself saying go sit down and play quietly, but then ignoring them when they do (usually with a sigh of relief that they're finally quiet). Positive re-enforcement is where you poke your head around the corner and tell the quiet children how much you appreciate their efforts. Feel good stuff.
I'm not sure where clicker training will fit in to other tasks but now that I know how it works it becomes another training tool. Exploring the process also made me more aware of using positive re-enforcement instead of the negative re-enforcement wherever I can. Now I will say 'yes', "good girl" or a pat, when I see a horse doing something right, rather than just saying 'no' when I see them doing something wrong. 
If you'd like to share your clicker training experience, please feel free to comment on this post.


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