Another great day. This morning I worked with a yearling filly who was absolutely adamant that she wasn't going to go in a trailer. She wasn't impressed by clicker treats or the promise of her best pink bucket in the front of the trailer. It's so important not to use too much pressure on her head, especially as she has previously shown an inclination to rear, so instead we relied on panels to just encourage her forward. Once she had her front feet on the ramp she realised that she was quite safe and toddled in and out of the trailer quite lightly.
This afternoon I worked with a lovely cob who is still wary of people even though he is 9. His owner can get his headcollar on intermittently and he has never had his back feet handled or picked up. He was very enthusiastic about food and caught onto clicker training in about 2 seconds flat. By the end of our one and a half hour session, he had had his headcollar on and off a number of times and all of his legs and feet handled. He will have his first visit from the barefoot trimmer very shortly.
There really is no great mystery about clicker training. Yes, it can be used to shape behaviour and to teach absolute specifics but in these sort of cases, I am just using it to ask the horse to pause, to give humans the benefit of the doubt and to make it worth sticking around. The discipline of the click means that horses don't become pushy or nibbly in the long term although initially they can become very enthusiastic. It also helps them to become imaginative. Most of all though, it helps to provide a pleasant association with or a distraction from procedures they have always worried about before. I rarely use anything more exciting than single cheap pony nuts and always reduce overall food rations in proportion to the amount I have used in training. I know that there will be clicker training purists out there who will sigh when they hear that I use clicker training to influence demeanour and am pretty liberal with giving the treats and that I use negative reinforcement (pressure and release) in my training too; oh, and I don't use a clicker device either - just a Tlock with my tongue. On the other hand, I am pretty strict with it - I don't give treats for free; the horse always has to earn his treat by trying and I am careful not to reward behaviour that I don't want. Accordingly I may have to come up with my own name for it: Positive Association Training? Brings a whole new meaning to PATting - which incidentally I don't do.
Reviews added 24.11.08:
The clicker training has been going well. Both horses are responding well to it.
Yesterday I went back in the pen with him. He knew exactly what the game was. He stepped straight up to me and was happy about to have his head collar put on several times.
Today, he started by standing the other side of the pen and quietly refusing to come to me. T stuck her head over and I chatted to her, rubbed her neck and gave her some pony nuts. I let Z come to me in his own time. He held out for 3-4 minutes before deciding to come over. Then he was happy to have his headcollar put on several times. When I took the rails down to release him, he left slowly, wandered into the field then came back to me. I was then able to put his headcollar on a few times in the field. Great result! Thank you so much for teaching us clicker training. It's been really good. I have a lot more hope for Zee now. CD 31.10.08
Z is doing well and is a happy boy. I can feel his confidence growing daily. Today he stood alongside the gate and had no problem with me leaning over and touching all along his body and tail. That's pretty unusual for him. He is a lot more cuddly and confident about being touched when I am in the field with him too. Looks like you found the right trigger for him! It seems to have affected his entire confidence level.