Clicker Training – It’s Not About The Food !

It’s Not About the Food !!

….and there is scientific evidence to prove it.

It was just recently that I was sent a link to a talk by a very interesting man indeed.  That talk that he gave for TED even prompted me to buy one of his books, which I am part way through and it is just a wonderful read.  It’s about stress in humans however, in almost every page I am compelled to make notes on how that also applies to our horses.  But I digress.

I get asked (or in some cases told !) so many times, ‘clicker training is just bribery ?’.   And it is a really hard point to discuss as it depends on your take on bribery.  I even looked up the definitions of bribery and reinforcer in the dictionary and it didn’t shed much more light on the topic and added no weight to any side of the argument.

Then recently I heard the statement, ‘I can teach everything that you do only without the treats’.  And I cannot disagree (to a degree…I’ll explain why in a second*).  You can teach most of the behaviours I teach without treats, however the behaviour alone is not, in my opinion, what this is about.  I want the behaviour but more importantly I want the horse to perform the behaviour because they want to, because they think it is fun, I want them to WANT to be with me, I want them to have fun with problem solving and get a kick out of it, be enthusiastic and willing partners in the training.  Can the same be achieved without the use of positive reinforcement (as that is all clicker training is) ?

Much of the point I am making is highlighted in my post on ‘Clicker Training – Bribery or Reinforcer’, if you have not read it it might be worth a quick look.

To add to this, a client emailed me just the other day with a statement that fits in just perfectly with this topic and I wanted to share that as it just highlights even more that clicker training is not about food to the horses.  This is an effect we see start to kick in at differing stages of the training with pretty much all clicker trained horses….

“I was at stable door to the side so he could enter freely and I had loaded his feed tubs earlier. I cued him to step back a couple of steps which he did beautifully c/t then gave him a cue to enter the stable to eat his feed, he started to enter the stable, I clicked (as his feed would be his treat).  However, the moment he heard the click he then stopped in his tracks, thought a moment and then backed out in a perfectly straight line to halt next to me.  All of this was at liberty……the temptation of the feed did not override his willingness to train; AMAZING!”

So is it bribery ?  I say no, and here is why: 

The horses attitude is different.  With clicker training/positive reinforcement the horse wants to participate, they come back for more, they don’t want to go back to the field and they engage us in the game, they practice what we teach them even when we are not there, they have a positive attitude.   It’s not about the food….and finally there is some scientific data that backs up everything that clicker trainers have been seeing for years.  I hope you enjoy this little snippet from the talk given at TED.

It’s not about the food !!

 * Pilates – have you ever seen Alexandra Kurlands DVD on microshaping ?  Out of this DVD came something we called equine Pilates.  It’s so much fun.  However, I have had behaviourists, vets, natural horsemanship trainers etc watch my horse perform Pilates and it never fails to render them speechless.  How can you teach a horse which muscle it is that you want them to contract without touching them in any way, without giving them any cue whatsoever !?  A few people have even admitted openly that they cannot see anyway to teach this other than with clicker training.  And thus, the answer….you can only train it with positive reinforcement.  So I have to then ask….why you want to train with anything less powerful and with less scope than clicker training.






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2 Responses to Clicker Training – It’s Not About The Food !

  1. Megan says:

    I think that everything you have mentioned on this page has given me alot more knowledge than I had before I read this. I understand and realise why you would use clicker training and how it is so benifitial. It amazes me how intelligent all animals are and how people underestimate them for their knowledge of things and understanding. I truly believe that we can communicate with all animals in ways which we don’t even realise. Clicker training is one way but think of all the daily things you do with your horse and you don’t even realise that you are communicating with them. When you are riding you are working as a team to move forward, when you are catching the horse, the horse is working with you by coming to you, when you lead your horse, the horse walkes by your side. I guess until now I never completly understood how it was possible for a horse and rider to work as a team in everything they do, but being able to see and appreciate your horse for it now is something that you are being rewarded every day. Knowing that your horse may be cheeky at times but 99% of the things your horse does are in teamwork and from turning from wild horses to an animal that is paired up as a team with a person is truly unbelievable and shows the real trust and respect the horse has for it’s rider even though some may not see it, they do a lot more for us than we give them credit for.
    I think smaart horses has helped me improve my knowledge of things a massive amount, and I don’t think I would have realised all of this if I hadn’t visited your page today.
    I thank you so much for reminding me of the true bond me and my horse really have, even though she may not do special tricks and spooks now and then and can be strong and cheeky. The majority of the time she listens to me and works with me on things and it makes me so emotional at the true team that we are and I will go up to her and thank her tomorrow when I see her because that is the least she deserves for her co operation with me and her love and respectfulness.

  2. Pingback: How to Clicker Train Your Horse – When Do I stop Using Treats ? « SMAART Horse Training

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