The Book – Thoughts on Chapter One: What is Clicker Training?

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Clicker training changed my life. Usually, when I say that to people, they are surprised. They can understand how clicker training might have changed the way I train horses, but my life? That seems a little dramatic. But, it’s true.

Once I started to understand why behavior happens and how I can influence it, my whole view of the world changed. Not only did I start to see connections and associations that I might previously have missed, but I became aware of the importance of every little interaction, and how all those little interactions accumulate to create the relationships I have with my animals, friends, family, and the world.

When I started to put material together for the book, I felt it was important to include some articles about how clicker training changes the people who use it. Clicker training is not just another training method. It’s a different way of thinking about and responding to behavior, and it changes the trainer as much as it changes the individual being trained. In my case, I found it was both exciting and fascinating to be able to see more clearly what was happening and to think about ways to change behavior using reinforcement.

With this in mind, the first chapter contains introductory material that describes both the how and the why of clicker training. Not the scientific “why,” but the reason people choose and stick with clicker training. The following quote is from the article “Why Do I Clicker Train?” and was originally published in 2014, but it’s still true today.

I’ve had a few conversations recently with non-clicker trainers who want to know why I clicker train. Over the years, I have had different answers to this. I can give them the “based on science” answer or explain learning theory and the differences between positive-reinforcement based training and other training methods. I can also talk about how clicker training builds relationships and allows me to communicate with my horse.

But thinking about it today, I realized that while these are all good reasons (and they are part of why I do it), the real reason I clicker train is that I find it reinforcing to have horses that want to engage with me. There are things about the process of clicker training and training behaviors that make me want to continue doing it from a practical point of view, but if my horses didn’t enjoy the process and choose to interact with me, I doubt I would still be doing it.

This reminds me a bit of something Kathy Sdao said at my first ClickerExpo. She pointed out that many people were taking notes and asked what was reinforcing the note taking. She got the usual answers of wanting to remember information, learning better when you write it down, etc. Her answer was that note taking was reinforced by the ink in the pen. If your pen stopped working because it was out of ink, what would happen to the note taking behavior? It would stop.

So, in a way, all the little daily interactions I have with my horses are like the ink in the pen. They provide a constant stream of little reinforcers. I love that my horses are actively paying attention to me and looking for information that will tell them what behavior I might like. I like that they are choosing to interact with me instead of avoiding me or being indifferent. I don’t want to spend time with horses that are shut down or don’t expect life to be fun and full of good things.

A non-clicker trainer will argue that it’s all about the food, but I just see the food as part of a bigger picture. Anyone who has tried to build a relationship knows that you have to start by creating some positive associations. So, we start with food, but then it becomes more about wanting to interact with each other, and I believe that the horses get as much reinforcement out of having me pay attention to them as I get out of having them pay attention to me.

If you want to share why you clicker train, I always love to hear how people got started and what keeps them motivated. You can post a comment or email me (katie@equineclickertraining.com) directly.

Want to learn more about the book? You can find it on Amazon at: Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement

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