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Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers
By Alexandra Kurland
Copyright 2014


Introduction: Simple and Easy aren't Always the Same.

One of the things that appealed to me when I first started exploring clicker training was it's simplicity. I always think about the proverbial elevator speech. How do you describe what you do in the time it takes to go up a couple of floors in an elevator? With some of the things I've studied, I'd need to trap the elevator between floors for a couple of hours to even begin to have someone understand what I was talking about. But clicker training is different. Once you've referenced B.F. Skinner and marine mammal training, people are at least in the right ballpark. They may not really know how the game is played, but at least they have some general idea of what you're talking about. Then you add in the simple mantra: if you like it, you click and reinforce it. There, done. You're on the third floor. You can get off now. 

Except that brief description doesn't really tell you very much. Like all good things that are worth studying, simple does not always mean easy. Lets tease apart that opening mantra. If you like it, click and reinforce it. What do you like? What behaviors are you going to train? And what aspect of the behavior are you going to click? It can sound so easy. I want my horse to back so I'll click every time he takes a step back. That should work. The left front foot lifts up slightly - I'll click that. The right front lifts slightly - click again. The left front picks up and then sets down again. Click that. The left front lifts forward to paw just before the horse shifts his weight back. Click. Four clicks for four very different behaviors. Some horses can handle this. Others can't.  

Go play the training game and find out what kind of "horse" you'd be. Would you go with the flow and figure out the answer in spite of your trainer's handling errors? Or would you be the "horse" who becomes frustrated and confused when the criteria are not clear? Is it any wonder some of our horses become confused? It sounded so easy, just click when your horse backs, but your horse's behavior may be telling you need to look a bit deeper into the equation.

So behavior - what does that mean? Are you selecting a single component out of a larger behavior, or are you focused too much on the end goal? And what are your goals? What do you want to teach?  

And click - when, how often, for what? Reinforce - how often, with what?  

Lots of questions pop out of even the simplest of equations. So let's look at some of the things that make simple also easy. I'll do this by looking at the characteristics that good clicker trainers have in common.

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 1
1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

Now note: you can use clicker training as a procedural tool and have a very sterile view of animals. There are trainers who choose to use the techniques of clicker training because they are the most effective and efficient training method they have found. But they view the animals they work with as little more than tools. When I talk about someone being a clicker trainer, this is not what I mean.

You can also love animals deeply and not be a clicker trainer. We don't have a monopoly on that particular claim. There are wonderful horse people out there who have no intention of ever giving clicker training a try, but who deeply love their horses.

Within the clicker community we can have different ideas about how a particular lesson should be trained, but those differences melt away in the face of our common love of horses. That deep caring for our horses and our concern for their welfare brings us head on into a collision with the first puzzle clicker training presents: what do we train?

Clicker training is incredibly powerful. We can easily teach horses behaviors that they would not on their own ever undertake. So the training mantra for this is: just because you can doesn't mean you should.

For example, just because you can use the clicker to teach your horse to jump, doesn't necessarily mean you should. Your horse may have soundness or conformational issues that make jumping problematic. Or he may simply be too young. I bought my young horse, Robin from a man who trained grand prix level jumpers. Robin was only a year old at the time, but the trainer still sent him at liberty over a full jump course. The jumps were high and the turns were tight. No horse Robin's age should have been jumping anything like this course, but that's how this trainer tested all the horses who came into his barn. I could hardly wait to get Robin's young legs out of there.  Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Robin loved jumping. I think he was disappointed that the game didn't continue in his new home. He even showed me how much he enjoyed jumping by springing over the paddock fence to come greet me every time I arrived at the barn! It would have been so easy to let him have his fun, but he had to wait a couple of years before jumping was officially reintroduced.  
So even with some of the most common things people teach we need to be asking the "should we" question. Should we be asking our young horse to jump, our older horse to canter at speed, our arthritic horse to travel in a trailer, etc.? The answer to these questions isn't always easy. What we want and what our horses need don't always match up. Loving a horse can sometimes mean giving up what we thought were our goals. The good news is with clicker training what we can train often ends up being so much more fun than what we originally set out to do.

And very often when we tease a lesson apart into the small steps that are part of good clicker training we find ourselves not just back at our original goal, but surpassing it. Small steps shrink big ones into behaviors our horses can safely and easily handle.

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 2

Part 1: Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

Part 2: Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.  

Clicker trainers are non-reactive to behavior they do not want. That doesn't mean that they ignore bad behavior, but they don't add "fuel to the fire" by responding directly to it. When you focus on WHAT YOU WANT, you get more of that good behavior. Let your attention wander so all you can see is what you don't like, and you'll find yourself in a training muddle. You'll also find a horse who is at risk of losing the safety net of a secure home. 

So what do we train? If you love your horse, there's an easy first answer - good manners. We need to feel safe around our horses. Horses who are scary or just plain pushy are not fun to be around. As much as we may love them, unsafe behavior can begin to unravel any horse's safety net. So our love for our horses leads us straight to the beginning steps of clicker training - teaching the good manners a horse needs to get along with his human partners.  

The trick here is not to fall back into the trap of focusing on unwanted behavior. It's all too easy to find yourself saying: "I don't want my horse looking like an evil grump. He's always pinning his ears and crowding into me." Instead I want to define clearly what kinds of behavior I enjoy being around. That's what I'll focus on, and that's what I'll reinforce. Easy!

I'm writing this while my senior horse, Peregrine, is eating his morning hay. I'm sitting within easy reach. We both enjoy the company, and I know he stays eating his hay longer when I am with him. At 28 that's important. The manners I've reinforced over the years make these quiet moments possible. When he was two, I probably wouldn't have sat quite so close to him with my laptop! Together we've evolved a way of being around one another that we're both comfortable with. People often ask the question: when do you get to fade out the clicker. After twenty plus years of living in a clicker-trained world, Peregrine is secure in the answer to that question. The click and treat are woven into all the little, everyday interactions we have together. He knows clicker training isn't going to disappear from his life.

As I sit next to him, I am wearing my vest. My pockets are full of treats, but Peregrine knows he doesn't need to back up, or pose, or offer leg flexions, or perform any of the other behaviors that would be appropriate in a different context. This is a quiet, just-be-together time, and Peregrine knows the difference. This wasn't taught by withholding treats or denying him clicker interactions. In fact, just the opposite. I've used the clicker to show him how we can both be comfortable in each other's company. What that gives me is a complete relationship. He is both my working partner and my good friend. It's easy to get so caught up in the big "fancy" behaviors, that you forget that the quiet little ones are just as important and just as enchanting. In fact, this morning as I share some quiet time with my old friend, I would say that it's the accumulation of little behaviors that create great training.

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 3

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative.  

Clicker trainers know that not every lesson works for every learner. Here the mantra is: There is ALWAYS more than one way to train every behavior. If one shaping method isn't working, change what you're doing. I've heard people say that they tried clicker training and it didn't work with their horse. This always makes me feel sad. I know what a wonderfully good time both the horse and the handler are missing out on. And I also know that they didn't really try clicker training. They may have tried one or two things and then got in a muddle, but that doesn't mean clicker training doesn't work. Normally it means they need to tidy up their basic handling. Maybe the timing of the click was off or their treat delivery was inconsistent. Once people get themselves sorted, horses generally respond really fast.

I'll occasionally get into a muddle with a horse. The lesson that normally works so well with other horses isn't making sense to this particular horse. When that happens, I don't abandon clicker training. Instead I go have the proverbial cup of tea while I think out a better way to explain things to my horse. Sometimes I need to break the lesson down into smaller steps. Sometimes I need to change the environment. Sometimes I need to change my teaching strategy altogether. Maybe I was trying to free shape the exercise but this horse needs more guidance. Okay, I can do that with a target or a lead rope. I can set out some mats or maybe ground poles will help. Whatever the answer, clicker training encourages creativity.  

Have you ever played the game where everyone in the group takes a turn naming a breed of horse? You keep going around the circle until one by one people can't come up with an answer, and they have to drop out. How many rounds would you last before you'd exhaust your list? Now think about the same game but this time think of all the different ways you can come up with to teach a horse to lower his head, or pick up his feet, or - most interesting of all - go in a trailer. Do you run out of ideas in just the first round, or would you still be coming up with ideas after everyone else has dropped out. Give yourself that mental challenge. It was the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" who gets the credit for saying she likes to think about six impossible things before breakfast. Instead of six impossible things, can you come up with six new ways to train an old behavior. The more you exercise this skill, the better you'll become at.

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 4

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 


If WHAT we choose to click matters, then just as important is WHO we click. Clicker trainers know that they need to structure their training to meet the learning needs of each individual horse. It helps to pick a horse who is a match with your own training style. If you enjoy easy, pick easy. Easy horses give you time to think. They are forgiving and will fill in for you if you make a handling error. If you want a challenge, consider well what you are getting yourself into. Are you up for the emotional roller coaster ride this horse will take you on?  

At a recent clinic one of the participants had several mustangs. Her oldest is a 13 year old stallion who was "gathered" when he was five. When he was captured, there was a miscommunication between the company who caught him and the company who were supposed to transport him. His herd was left behind in the holding pens for two weeks with little food or water. Many of the horses died. He was one of the few survivors. He was passed around from one horse rescue to another before my client finally adopted him as an essentially untouched and rightfully fearful ten year old. To say that he was complicated would be the understatement of the year. He is a deeply troubled, emotionally damaged horse. You can't start with him at the same point where most other horses begin. He forces you to be creative, patient and above all persistent.  

His new person is more than up for the challenge. She's an experienced clicker trainer with a broad understanding of learning theory. She's both creative and persistent. And she has other horses which gives her a better understanding of this horse's unique learning challenges. Difficult horses take you on a journey of discovery. If you find yourself with one of these horses already living in your barn, you are in for quite an adventure. They are the best teacher you will ever have! If you're still looking for the perfect equine partner, consider well what sort of emotional journey you want to go on.

One of the best ways to get a quick insight into the type of horse you're taking on is to do a round or two of basic targeting. If this is a horse who has not yet encountered clicker training, you'll learn a lot. Is he curious? Does he catch on fast? Is he more interested in the game and the social attention, or is it the food he's fixated on? Is he the timid one who sees the target and plasters himself in the back corner of his paddock? Or is he the pushy one who touches the target and then demands more, NOW, FASTER!! Does he grab the treat and then instantly bump the target, or does he chew his carrot slice with slow deliberation while he thinks over the situation?

Which horse would open your heart? Which one would drive you crazy, or overwhelm your skills? Simple targeting can give you great insights into the kind of training project you're about to take on. And if this is a horse who has already taken up residence both in your barn and in your heart, it will tell you how many proverbial cups of tea you're likely to be drinking while you figure out the best way into his heart!

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 5

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

When I am working with horses like the mustang I described in the previous section, or a stallion who has become angry because of aggressive handling, one of the mantras that I keep repeating is "it's not your fault." When I slide up the lead to ask a troubled stallion to take a step back out of my space, I want to take all the make-it-happen force out of my body. He should feel only a quiet asking, not a command. Reminding myself that there are reasons for a horse's anger and mistrust helps me to be non-reactive. When you are working with emotionally complex horses, you need to pay incredible attention to detail.

The expression, "It's not your fault", comes from the book "A Long Way Gone" by Ismael Beah. Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He didn't just witness the atrocities of war. He committed them. When he was pulled out of the army and sent to a rehab center, he and the other child soldiers at the facility would lash out at their caregivers. The adults never retaliated by punishing the behavior. Instead they would remain non-reactive and repeat over and over to the boys: "It's not your fault. It's not your fault." At first this enraged Ismael even more. How could it not be his fault - he had done terrible things. But gradually their kindness broke through to him, and he was able to move on from his nightmare years as a child soldier.  

This part of his story reminded me so of some of the horses I encounter. They have so much rage inside them, so much to say about how they have been treated. I don't want to suppress that rage through the use of punishment. Instead I remind myself that it is not their fault. I am not ignoring their terrible behavior. Instead I remain as non-reactive to it as I can. In clicker training we begin by managing the environment well, so we do not have to manage behavior through force and intimidation. That means we have to become very good with the details of training.

When I first started teaching clicker training, the instructions I gave to people were pretty simple. Horse by horse I learned that more was needed. One of the participant in my new on-line course recently wrote: "Its subtleties like this that I had no ideas about before this course and when watching the video on finding your balance point I thought, 'yeah, but what does it have to do with training?! I very soon found out! It definitely makes a big difference to my sensitive horse."

With a straight-forward, easy-going horse you can get by with simple. But the emotionally complex horses tell us that details matter. If you take on one of these horses, be prepared for a steep learning curve. They will stretch the boundaries of what you think you know about training. They are incredible teachers, and they can wind themselves into your heart like no other horse. If you stay the course, you will end up with a relationship that has no measure. You will also gain a deep understanding of, and appreciation for the details of training.

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 6

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 

In Part 5 I talked about the challenges that emotionally complex horses pose for their handlers. For these horses attention to details becomes essential. Not all horses confront us with such puzzles. Some, like Panda, the mini I trained to be a guide for the blind, are straight forward, and super easy to get along with.

I often say with horses like Panda you can skip the first two thirds of every training book - the parts that deal with emotional issues - and go straight to the fun stuff. If Panda had simply been a family pet, her training would have been very easy indeed. But Panda isn't a family pet. She's a working guide for her blind owner. Her training was complex because she is doing a complex job.  

Having said that, training Panda to be a guide was not hard. All the tasks she performs can be broken down into simple steps. The key to her training was consistency. I knew there would never be a time when her blind handler would be able to see a curb or a partially open door. If Panda was going to be consistent in her job, I had to be consistent in her training. That meant that each and every time we came to a curb crossing or an open doorway we stopped. If I was running late and needed to dash into the post office before it closed, that didn't matter. Being consistent meant we couldn't cut across the parking lot. We had to track the edge just as a blind handler would. It might take longer, but I had to take the same route a blind handler would use.

Consistency is such a huge keys-to-the-kingdom part of training. Often when training issues arise it is because the handler has been inconsistent. So keeping things successful is in large part a function of being consistent. Panda stayed easy because her training didn't confuse her. She was learning some very complex concepts, such as: go forward at a curb crossing when your handler asks you to - unless there is a car in motion that will cut across your path. In that case block your handler from going forward. Moving cars trump go forward cues. She learned these concepts within a framework that made sense. We ALWAYS stopped at curb crossings, at the top of stairs, at the entrance to buildings, etc. No exceptions. The click ALWAYS meant a reinforcer was coming. No exceptions. I have often said that if we trained our big horses with the same consistency and attention to details that I maintained with Panda, we'd all have superstar horses!

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 7

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 

7.) Clicker trainers take the time to fill in all the training pieces.

Good trainers are splitters not lumpers. That's true whether they use clicker training or other more conventional methods. Good trainers break lessons down into many small steps and they take the time to fill in all the pieces. Lumpers lump. They ask for too much, too fast. That can be hard on a learner, especially when being wrong means you're in trouble. In clicker training we make sure that the learner feels safe. It's okay to experiment and make mistakes. And if a lesson begins to be too hard, we break it down into smaller, more manageable units. The result are clicker superstars.

One of our clicker superstars was an appaloosa named Crackers. Crackers belonged to one of my long term clients, Bob Viviano. They were two of our very early clicker pioneers. I began working with Bob originally because Crackers used to rush over fences. We began with foundation work. That included basic targeting which grew into fetching which grew into so much more. Bob taught Crackers a huge repertoire of target-related tricks. And then he began sharing Crackers with others. Crackers was a regular visitor to the Hole in the Wall Camp for children with cancer. He visited nursing homes and at Christmas he rang the bell for the Salvation Army. 

Target-based tricks are easy to teach. Getting Crackers to open a mailbox, pull out a newspaper and hand it over to us was the work of an afternoon. That part was easy. The complex part of the training was filling in all the basic handling steps that would let Bob "take the show on the road". Crackers had to be just as comfortable handing a small child in a wheel chair the newspaper as he was for any of us. And he had to do it in the parking lot of a busy shopping mall at Christmas time, or at the county fair with kites and hot air balloons flying over his head. Because Bob took the time to fill in all the training steps, he was able to share Crackers with thousands of people.


I've been at this work for such a long time now, we are losing our early pioneers. In September of 2012 at the age of 30 Bob lost his good friend. Crackers brightened so many lives. Bob led the way in showing how clicker training could be used to teach tricks. He had the fun of teaching Crackers, and then he shared the magic. One of the many stories Bob shared with me was of a little girl who decorated her hospital room with pictures of Crackers.  

It was always Bob and Crackers. They were a team. If you knew Bob, you knew Crackers. And Crackers was always up for anything. From tricks to line dancing, he would perform for hours. As long as there were people who wanted to see him, Crackers was always willing. Bob not only made Crackers' life better through clicker training, together they enriched the lives of the thousands of people they came in contact with. He is a great example of what can be achieved when you pay attention to the little things. It's a wonderful legacy, and I know Crackers will be remembered with great love.  

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 8

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 

7.) Clicker trainers take the time to fill in all the training pieces.

8.) Clicker trainers are thin slicers.  

Clicker trainers break their training down into many small steps. This isn't something I learned from books or from other people. My horses taught it to me. I learned early on that no matter how small a step may seem, there is ALWAYS a smaller step that a lesson can be broken down into. Clicker training is about finding those tiny "yes answers." What CAN you ask your horse to do so you can get a consistent yes answer? With the fearful mustang stallion I wrote about in Part 4 his owner had to begin at a distance looking for even the smallest hint that he could relax in her presence. That means that clicker trainers are also good observers. They have learned to look for small details in behavior.  


In my world all roads lead to balance. If I am looking at small detail, I will be looking at very subtle shifts of balance. This is the raw material I use to shape great behavior.

These days everyone talks about harmony, relationship, balance. They are such commonly used terms, they can easily lose their meaning. For me when I think of horses and balance, I also think of ballet. And here again is a word that can easily trigger the wrong images and negative emotional responses. If you were marched off to ballet class at an early age when what you really wanted to do was ride your pony, you may have anything but a positive reaction to that word. Thankfully, I was spared that. Instead I got to watch some of the world's best dancers.

I was also able to learn from some great teachers. Years ago I was very privileged to be able to study with Linda Tellington Jones, the founder of TTEAM. Linda was showing me some details in the body work she does for horses. She let me feel one way of doing the work, and then another. The first felt as though her hand melted into my back releasing all tension. The other felt intrusive. What was the difference? In the first example she told me she was "breathing up from her feet." Now what in the world did that mean? I had no connection at all to those words. They meant nothing to me. In fact they sounded like nonsense. You breath with your lungs - not your feet. I had hay fever when I was little and was constantly congested. My breath felt as though it got stuck somewhere well before it ever got to my lungs. Breathing from my feet was a completely alien notion. It was not something I had any connection with. But I knew it meant something to Linda so I went in search of what it means to breath from your feet. It took many years of study and input from many diverse sources, but I now know not only what it feels like to breathe up from my feet, but also what it means to breathe up from the ground. What's more, I know the very positive effect it has on horses when I do so.

If I had dismissed Linda's words as just meaningless whimsy, I would have missed these valuable lessons. All too often we dismiss words because they do not resonate with us. When I say that working a horse in hand is like ballet, for many people this is an absolute turnoff. They had all too many ballet classes forced on them when they were little. So for them ballet does not have a positive resonance. I want to suggest that they put aside their bias and see the word from a fresh perspective. 

I live just south of Saratoga Springs. In the horse world Saratoga is best known for it's thoroughbred racing. It is home to one of the premier race tracks in the United States. But that's not all that Saratoga is famous for. Every July since the mid 1960s Saratoga has been the summer home of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine's company. Growing up I was able to watch some of the greatest dancers in the world. Susanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Peter Martins - if you know ballet, you will know these names. You will also know Mikhail Baryshnikov. He joined the company soon after he defected from the Soviet Union. He has rightly been called one of the greatest dancers in the history of ballet, and I had the very great privilege of being able to watch him in the era when George Balanchine was still alive.  

I was often joined on those evenings at the ballet by a friend who had brittle bone disease. Those dancers freed her from the confines of her wheel chair. She couldn't walk, but through her imagination she could dance. We would sit together spellbound watching the impossible beauty of Suzanne Farrell and Mikhail Baryshnikov performing together in a Balanchine ballet. When I talk about balance in horses, it is their artistry that has helped inform my eye.

The search for beauty in balance is addicting. It is also good for horses. Good balance - emotional and physical - is central to maintaining a horse's long term soundness. For me when I think of clicker training, I think always of beautifully balanced horses. 

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 9

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 

7.) Clicker trainers take the time to fill in all the training pieces.

8.) Clicker trainers are thin slicers.  

9.) Clicker trainers are playful and flexible.  

All too often we let our own biases be the only source for our feelings about a subject. I often use the word "play" when I talk about training. I'll tell someone to go "play" with an exercise. I remember years ago one of my clients telling me that when I told her to go "play" with an idea, that was a shut down for her. As a toddler learning to draw, she wanted to colour all over the page. But her mother made her stay within the lines when she was given a coloring book. Play was a poisoned word. But play is such a commonly used word. For most of us it has happy associations. When your response to something is a little off, you need to recognize this and instead search for the meaning others have found in an expression. Sometimes you will find you were right to go your own way. Other times seeing the world through a different lens opens doors you didn't even know existed.

Looking at the world through a new lens sometimes results in reshaping our ideas about training procedures. Early on in my clicker training experience I went to a conference sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. This was almost twenty years ago now and things have changed dramatically in the dog world. But even at that time I was impressed by how much positive dog training I was seeing. There were, however, two very distinct types of training going on.  

There were people using food as a lure with no marker signal, and others who were using marker signals followed by a food reward. There was a definite difference in the dogs. The lured dogs were focused entirely on the food. They may have been moving but they were completely unaware of what their feet were doing. In contrast the clicker trained dogs were very aware of what they were doing. Seeing the contrast I joined the growing group of "clicker purists" who considered luring as the lesser cousin. This bias persisted for many years until I watched Kay Laurence training dogs. Kay makes elegant use of food lures. As she would say, don't discard a training technique just because you have seen it badly applied.  

The use of lead ropes fits into that category. If you have been around horses for any length of time, you will have seen horses being roughly handled with a lead. The lead can be a tool that enforces through pain, or it can be used to create incredibly nuanced communication. Used well its role is to help the horse figure out how to get to his reinforcement faster. 

A stick can be used to beat a horse, or it can be used as a target. HOW we use the tools, not simply what they are, determines whether or not they are clicker compatible.  

When you turn a stick into a target, you open up many new possibilities for your training. The more creative you are, the more playful you can be with your horse. Play is a wonderful element to bring into your relationship. Play moves you far far away from the mind set of "do it or else" training.

Play lets you turn a lesson upside down and inside out. It lets you pull it apart so you can find all the components hidden inside. Now think of all the different ways you could teach those components. How are you going to break down every segment of that lesson so your horse doesn't simply understand what is wanted, he's eager to play?

Be creative. When you have a training challenge, instead of tackling it head on with your normal "horse training" solutions, think about how you might add in some props to help you. If your horse has trouble moving out of your space, how could you use mats to help with this? Maybe you have large cones or temporary fence posts that can be used like gates on a slalom course. How could you use them to explain leading to your horse?  

If forward is an issue, teach him to retrieve and then toss a cone out in front of his path.  

If stopping is the problem, set out lots of mats. Give him a positive reason to stop. That’s a lot better than the "horse training" solutions of harsher bits or running horses into walls.

Kay Laurence likes to quote the wonderful line from Proust:

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

The more you play with ideas and the more you play with your horse, the more you will discover the new landscapes that have always been right in front of you.  

Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers: Part 10

1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.  

2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior. 

3.) Clicker trainers are creative. 

4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual. 

5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.

6.) Clicker Trainers are consistent. 

7.) Clicker trainers take the time to fill in all the training pieces.

8.) Clicker trainers are thin slicers.  

9.) Clicker trainers are flexible. 

10.) Clicker trainers are pioneers. 

It's fun to share clicker training with others. It's always wonderful to come together with other positively-focused people for an exchange of ideas. Clicker trainers are interesting people. We are both rule breakers and rule followers. We broke with the rule of you must never feed treats to horses. But we follow the "rules" of good learning theory. Those rules are easy to find. Our horses show them to us with every interaction. Clicker training has given our horses a voice that can be heard. So here's one last unifying characteristic of clicker trainers - we are good listeners.

Have fun!

Alexandra Kurland
written 2014  
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

Copyright 2014 

email me
Turning the Ordinary 
into the Extraordinary!
Here's what people are saying about the New On-line Course:
 I am doing the online. Just want to tell everyone, I am loving it, all of it. Just want to say to anyone who is using clicker training and follows Alex's teaching believe me, IT IS WELL WORTH EVERY PENNY!!! 

 Lots of new material, presented in different ways and gets you thinking about things in different ways. Anything that gives me more tools and resources in my tool box to more efficient and effective working with my animals and continue to build that wonderful relationship, is exactly what I am looking more.

  So for the cost of the course, the content of the course and all the materials, and also a one-on-one coaching session, it is a fantastic opportunity and money very well spent. I guarantee, your horse will thank you for it.

Happy Clicking,

Shirley and Lily
I've just begin the course and I'm having a lovely time! Even just the into. has given me new ideas. Because I work on my own and know no other CTers nearby, the course is going to help me structure things better, answer questions, give guidance and ideas, terrific! 

As with all of Alex's other material it is clear, well thought out and demonstrates all the years she has put into Clicker Training.  With winter lurking around the corner and considerably less riding for me (oh, for an arena...) the course is going to be really helpful to keep things going during the next few months. I'm looking forward to meeting the other course members in the discussion group.

Abigail 
I am writing to let you know that I have really enjoyed the first part of your online course. From the internet there are so many theories to contemplate and fiddle with and to ask my horses about. But you know what I have learned? I love what you teach the best. It's logical, sequential, so balanced in every way. It's a great fit for both me and my horses. The sound mechanics, the solid foundation and then a road map to go wherever we want. No one else offers that. You have done an amazing job gathering 20 years of experience and presenting it in a way that anyone can use. When it comes to training my horses and building my relationship with them, It's your program I want as my base. So in short, I am writing to say kudos and thanks for creating it!

Hope you and your horses are well,

Katharine
We recently took in three young foster horses (almost went to slaughter). As a result, we are SOOO grateful for your course!! Your care and attention to details gives us a steady, supportive guide to clicker training all these different horse energies. It's beautiful -- just moving the three newcomers into target training is helping not only us get to know our newcomers, but the newcomers beginning to feel confident about being here and seeing that humans aren't all bad. 

It's also a wonderful way to establish guidelines and boundaries for the new horses (ie: we don't punish, but instead encourage nice and safe behavior) 

I know this no news to you, but I can't imagine you'll ever tire of hearing yet another story of a horse who starts realizing how fun humans can be through clicker training!

Kinna
Come join us on the course.  
Click here for more information.
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Setting the Standard for Horse-Friendly Training
Announcing 
Our New 
On Line Course