Foaly undergoing systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning to a plastic bag using scratching as the counter condition. As you can see he is in an open space and at liberty to move away should he wish. I could have used a clicker to teach this, since it is one of the many tools in my training tool box, but, since he was enjoying the scratches so much, I chose to use them instead.

I’ve never felt particularly comfortable with the term ‘clicker training‘. In the past, I’ve used it, simply because it’s a term that people seemed to understand / recognise. But a number of years ago I discovered that what was going on ‘out there’ was clicker training, but not as I knew it! So I made a deliberate point of talking about ‘training with the clicker ‘, ‘using a clicker’, ‘training including, but not limited to, the use of a clicker’.

Why did I feel the need to make this discrimination? My blog post ‘Don’t get stuck in a box’ probably goes a long way towards explaining this. Basically, it’s because I’m not a fan of ‘methods’ of horsemanship. I think they are very limiting and restrictive. The second you begin to call yourself a ‘clicker trainer‘, you are putting yourself in a box. The clicker is simply a tool in the tool box. To call yourself a ‘clicker trainer ‘ is akin to calling someone who rides with a bit or spurs a ‘bit trainer‘ or ‘spur trainer‘. It is a rather limiting term and certainly isn’t descriptive of all that they are likely to do.

Good trainers understand ALL the potential motivators that they can manipulate in order to help achieve the results they are looking for. Perhaps more importantly, the best trainers understand the impact that these motivators have on the emotional state of the horse.

I prefer to focus on helping people to understand the bigger picture of learning theory- the importance of emotions, the ability to read and understand how the horse is feeling, to be able to analyse a situation and recognise what behaviour is being reinforced (increasing in frequency or duration) or punished (decreasing in frequency or duration), what associations might be being formed between stimuli or events and how they make the horse feel. I also teach about behaviour modification techniques, equine ethology, welfare and ethics, management and feeding practices, individual differences (personality), stress and anxiety and, perhaps most importantly, the influence that we, the trainers, and how we are feeling, may have on the horses we are working with.

Although I feel that that ALL ‘clicker trainers’ should be doing all of that,  I also feel that ALL trainers should be doing all of that! So to my mind, it renders the term ‘clicker training‘ redundant. Instead, all we need is ‘ good training‘, and, perhaps more importantly, good education for trainers!