Clicker Training Ponies

By Jan Bragoli

Dear WOOF:

Recently I noticed my guardian taking MY clicker and carrots out to the barn.  I also noticed that she was spending a lot of time with our new pony.  What do you suppose she could be doing out there?

Your friend,
Arielle the Leonberger,  BDWW, CGC, TDInc, LTA, SD

Dear Arielle,

If you can get a pair of binoculars, which may be difficult for you to use since you don't have thumbs, you will probably see that your guardian is clicker training your pony.  Clicker training is not just for dogs!  In fact, clicker training is used for many other animals including whales, dolphins, marine animals, and yes, equines: horses, mules and ponies.

The principles are the same.

First you charge the clicker using a food reward that the animal really likes (you probably remember that from puppy class). Ponies LOVE carrots!  Ponies are also very smart!!!  It doesn't take long before they associate the sound of the clicker with the delivery of a delicious snack.

Then you begin to shape the behavior you are teaching. Do you remember when you learned to sit? The principle is the same.  Using food as lure, your guardian is teaching the pony to do a behavior.  I suspect she is not teaching the pony to sit since this is not as easy for ponies as it was for you. She is probably teaching him to 'come.' She is doing this the same way she taught you.  Using food as lure, she moves back a few steps and says `Pony come.' The greedy and clever pony follows her to get the treat.  Your guardian clicks and rewards the pony.

After just a few repetitions, your guardian will remove the food as lure and simply take a few steps back saying the word `come' one time. The pony will offer the behavior of `come' when he hears the word.  Your guardian will click and treat.

The principles are the same… what is different is how long it takes for the student to learn. Ponies are very food motivated and consequently learn quickly.

There is a lot of information available on clicker training. There are also classes for puppies and adult dogs. But, really, ANY animal can be trained using the same positive reinforcement techniques.

Oh, one last thing...don't be surprised if your pony doesn't eventually learn to sit. It is not the easiest thing for ponies to do but this behavior can also be shaped and taught.

Sincerely,

WOOF