A common objective about clicker training horses is that ‘you have to carry a clicker and treats around all the time‘.
Is that what’s really holding you back or is it something else? Something fear based? Maybe you’re afraid your horse turns into a monster or becomes treat crazy and you don’t know how you would handle that.
‘You have to have treats on you all the time’
That carrying treats and a clicker is a burden, is just a matter of perspective. Horse people are carrying tools around all the time. Most of them way heavier and bigger than a box clicker (which you can replace by a verbal marker or a tongue click) and a pocket full of treats. Think of whips (riding crops or lunge whips), training sticks or heavy lead ropes to name a few.
I have treats on me most of the time. I don’t always use the treats I carry, sometimes they just go stale… Yes, that can be yucky. Everyone who found a piece of forgotten fruit or carrot in their pockets a few weeks later can confirm that. That is a disadvantage of having treats on you…
Training Results from Positive Reinforcement are long lasting
Decades ago -when I was still carrying a whip and or “carrot” stick around- my results in training could deteriorate pretty quickly when I didn’t bring my tools (to threaten my horse into coercion). We all tried to ride without a crop, only to discover just carrying one helps, right?
One huge advantage of positive reinforcement is that you teach the horse to choose to follow your cues. You make positive associations in training all the time.
Following cues turn into pleasant habits for the horse. After you trained the desired behaviour you fade out click and treats. Well trained clicker horses are used not to get treats all the time!
Once a behaviour is established and on cue you only reinforce the behaviour once in a while and that doesn’t even have to be with food. There are many ways you can reinforce a clicker savvy horse without a food reward. I find it very important to teach students the principles of learning and motivation and teach them to rely on their training skills and and not on a treat or a tool.
Afraid to loose control without training tools
I think one of the fear is that we think we loose control without treats in our pocket, but people who haven’t tried R+ or haven’t used it properly don’t realize the training is IN THE HORSE. Therefor you don’t need the treats and act like a dispenser. You don’t lose control without treats. You can fade out the clicks and treats. (Actually that is what you have to do in order to be successful in positive reinforcement training.)
Although it’s true you do have to reinforce once in a while after the behaviour is trained, but that goes for R- too. Traditional well trained horses still get whipped or kicked in their flanks once in while. Think of the many well trained horses that are ridden with spurs.
There always need to be a certain level of Reinforcement in order not to let the behaviour extinct.
Carrying treats or a clicker is no different from carrying other reinforcing tools. They are different tools with the same goal: not to let the behaviour get extinct.
So don’t let a small box clicker or a pocket full of treats withhold you from a wonderful relationship with your horse and excellent results in training.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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