Horse Clicker Training; Click AND Treat

Clicker Training; Click AND Treat


A question I am asked a lot is…”do I have to give a treat (reinforcer) every time I click?“.  The simple answer is; yes.  The treat is a primary reinforcer.  It is the motivator for the animal.  So in theory you can train without the clicker, IF (and this is a big caveat) you can get the treat to the animal in time so that it marks the exact behaviour you wanted.As such, the reason we add the clicker (conditioned reinforcer) to the training is that it helps us get so much more exact with what it is we are saying ‘yes’ to.  The click marks the moment, and it acts as a cue that a treat is on the way.  As you can see, the click acts in 2 directions; it reinforces the behaviour that just happens, and it tells the horse what is coming next.

Clicker; conditioned reinforcer

Clicker; a conditioned reinforcer

The click is like a promise to the horse.  It promises that each time they hear it, they will get a treat.  Break that promise and you start to break the significance of the clicker to the animal.  That can then lead to anxiety….will I get paid, will I not get paid ?!  That is an anxious state to be in. Think about it in terms of your own pay cheque.  You have a great job, you love getting to work in the morning, your boss is really great at paying you on time, and then one day you get to pay day and nothing appears in your bank account.  What happened;  did he forget, was there a problem with the transfer, is the business going bankrupt, is he not happy with your work etc ?  Then at next pay day you start to get anxious about whether you will get paid or not.  What you also find is that that stress will stay there for a long time each pay day, there will always be that question in the back of your mind….will pay day bring good things or bad things.  Pay day no longer has a predictable outcome. Now think about how you feel about your job; are you still happy with that job, are focused on your work and doing a good job, or are you scanning the papers for a new job ?Check out the poisoned cues DVD for more information on unpredictable outcomes and their effects.

Food is a Primary Reinforcer

Food is a Primary Reinforcer

It’s pretty clear that treatless clicks are broken promises and that they dilute the message that the clicker brings to the animal.  Check out what Melissa Alexander (dog trainer and ClickerExpo faculty member) has to say on the topic….“To the dog, however, the power of the click is as a signal that he gets something he wants. If he can get something he wants by listening to the click and then repeating that behavior you want, then we’ve found a wonderful win-win tool. But when you take away his motivation for listening, then the clicker is nothing but a tin noisemaker.” 

Read the whole article.

But how do I advance the behaviour if I have to treat every time I click ?

That is a whole other topic.  Many people call this ‘fading the click’.  I think that has quite a negative ring to it so instead I say ‘you ask for more behaviour from the animal for them to earn the click’.  So you advance the behaviour, you ask for a little more, or an improvement on a criterion.As a result, you are not going to make your horse fat with clicker training…as long as you advance the behaviours.


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