Part 1 – First Impressions of Clicker Training!

This series is in a new category titled ‘What Does It Mean To Be A Clicker Trainer?’ It’s something I’ve been thinking about and have mentioned in various posts. It deserves its own category. I’m starting with my very first impression of clicker training.

When I visited Equitana in Brisbane in 2002 – yes – 18 years ago – I saw some people running a stand advertising clicker training. They had a table full of clickers. I remember looking at them and shaking my head – how on earth could a gadget be so magical as to train a horse!

The focus of their promotion was on the tool – the clicker. As I walked past I thought to myself – oh another gimmick – if it was that good everyone would be using one! I had no idea and I didn’t want to know about it. Instead I wanted to watch Guy McLean recite poetry while he rode his horses around. I wanted to meet Pat and Linda Parelli at the Parelli stand. I wanted to go to Monty Roberts’ demonstration. Did those clicker people really think they were going to get anywhere selling clickers?

Now – fast forward 18 years and I know so much more than I knew then. I think that the focus of those clicker training promoters back in 2002 was on the wrong element of clicker training – it was on the tool. It made it look gimmicky. And it made it look clinical.

How would I market clicker training? Well…. that’s a good question! How would I indeed? Let’s start by thinking about what it is.

So, what is it? In simple terms, we can teach a horse to do something we ask by marking the behaviour. Let’s say we want the horse to walk to our outstretched hand. We ‘click’ or mark the moment the horse touches our hand to show that was the behaviour we were looking for, and the horse gets reinforced- usually with food. This encourages the behaviour to be repeated when asked again.

It’s all very nice, both horse and human gain positives from the process. There is no whipping, waving of rope – or pulling – effortless and stress free for both. Of course we do have to go through a teaching process to teach the horse to touch our hand. This is where terms like ‘shaping’, ‘approximations’, ‘thin slicing’, ‘rate of reinforcement’, ‘criteria’, may be used. It all sounds very clinical doesn’t it!

If, for the very first time I’d heard those people at that clicker training stand discussing those terms, I would have thought “Wow they are such wankers! They think they are so good and intelligent. I want to talk to people who are more human!” … yes something like that would have been playing in my head… and yes the term ‘wankers’ would make an appearance! Of course there are many uses for that word – it is slang – and in my Australian meaning found here https://www.yourdictionary.com/wanker – I am referring to the last meaning – someone who shows off too much, or is full of themselves etc.

Wow! Where is this post going? So far I have described my first impressions of clicker trainers as poor marketers and wankers??? Who knows, I may delete all this before I post it. I’m recovering from eye surgery again – maybe I’m not in the right frame of mind to be writing…… or maybe I’m in the perfect frame of mind!!!

So, let’s get back to the picture of me seeing that stand at Equitana. Yes – I only saw a table full of clickers, they weren’t referring to any of those terms mentioned above, but I did hear those terms before I understood them – and it scared me that I wouldn’t be smart enough to understand the theory that goes with clicker training. While it’s important to have terms and an understanding of learning theory, it can be a great turn off to a newcomer!

So let’s go back to the original topic – ‘First Impressions’. As I walked past the clicker table, it looked boring – just another device to be used on the horse. There was no charismatic person attached to the display. Say I had been at a music expo, it would have been like rushing past the local school choir in order to go and meet The Beatles. I had celebrities to meet! I loved the slick advertising, the personalities. Pat Parelli was charming to meet – his, and Monty Robert’s performance was mind blowing and Guy McLean’s demonstration and poetry recital was so touching.

Like millions of people I was drawn to how the various training methods were marketed, I was drawn to the excitement, charm, charisma, boxed sets of training tools with glossy images. In fact I was drawn to the humans promoting it! And that’s why they get famous people to market a product – it’s the hook that gets the consumer in.

I haven’t answered my own question yet of how I would market clicker training, but I have examined why I was drawn to other training methods. I will build to that throughout the series while I explore what it means to me.

Stay tuned for the next episode!

IF YOU ARE NEW TO THIS STORY, PLEASE START AT THE BEGINNING HERE – Part 1 – An Introduction

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2 thoughts on “Part 1 – First Impressions of Clicker Training!

  1. Hi Heather, I am chuckling to myself for many reasons. I have to say right up front that my first impression of “Natural Horseman”people was that they were the wankers, sorry to be so blunt. Driving horses away from you seemed like the opposite of what I wanted. The confused and sometimes frightened looks on those horses also didn’t appeal to me. And of course there was the tapping that would have driven me mad if I was a horse. When I found out that Clicker training was operant conditioning I know I rolled my eyes. First year psychology was the worst mark on my transcript at university and I could never get operant and classical conditioning sorted out but I am glad that I figured it out, it is what works for me and I am so grateful it was there when I so needed it to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha ha! Yes I can see your view – and I agree! At the time I was so caught up in the Parelli style of things I couldn’t see any further. But I’m also very grateful that I worked it out!

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