Using Positive Training To Overcome Fear

This post is from June 2014 – We were just starting to learn how advanced clicker training is!

We have been busy learning more and more about clicker training. It’s actually quite an advanced form of training. At first it seemed simple…”see a behavior you like, click, then give a reward such as food.” But the more we learned, the more we saw all the nuances and potentials.

One example is how much the click can give feedback to an animal. Once the horse (or another animal) learns that the “click” happens when they did what the trainer was asking, the trainer can start clicking the movements toward the behavior. This actually helps the animal with feedback and understanding. Now, the students get “encouragement” as they move towards the goal. This to be incredibly helpful for horses who are nervous or worried.

10372973_762919890405684_6977894116762372178_o-850x478-850x478
Kinna and Lyra – Photo courtesy Gerda’s Animal Aid

In the beginning, one of our best teachers was a very nervous pony named Lyra (her original name was Blondie). Lyra lived at a local horse rescue – Gerda’s Animal Aid – in West Townsend, Vermont. Despite tons of great food, wonderful living conditions, and plenty of company, she’s remained almost untouchable by most people for the past year (+) of living there.

We visited there once a week to work with our foster horse Carson as well as anyone else who needed it. We were assigned Lyra as she desperately needed her feet trimmed. Gerda thought clicker training could help her through the nervousness.

I (Kinna) mostly worked with Lyra the first day. I started by just clicking anytime Lyra looked at me. I’d then stretch out her arm as far as it could go to give Lyra a treat – sometimes, I’d even just place it in a dish close to her and walk away. Lyra would take the treat, run off, then we’d start all over again. By the end of the first day, Lyra was starting to walk towards me but with no consistency.

10371306_762922113738795_3054668132885490300_o-850x478-850x478
Putting on a halter! Photo courtesy Gerda’s Animal Aid

But after a few visits, we managed to get through a barrier. On Lyra’s 5th day of clicker training, she approached us and let us touch her. Instead of going into details, you’ll see her progress in the following video as well as photos that Gerda took above.

We still have lots of work in front of them, but we’re well on the way. We’re also well on the way to promoting this positive-only approach to working with and training animals – Lyra is showing the world that it works!