Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It Really Clicked

I went to the barn today before reading K's post, so I had no idea what had transpired yesterday with the clicker. I was lucky to get a beautiful day with no wind, so it was a great opportunity to get in a long walk with Little Love. All the horses were out in the paddocks, so there was no anxiety about anyone being gone. I had an easy time getting Little Love out of the paddock (except for the ridiculous amount of mud at the gate - sometimes I really get frustrated with Finnish fall :-) ). 

I did a bit of grooming, put her boots on, and headed out. She didn't hesitate leaving the yard, and we got to the first grazing area without incident. As we started to move past, Little Love raised her head high in the air and, without provocation from the other horses, called out quite loudly. Someone immediately called back, and I thought "OK, here we go. Is she going to to try to turn back? Am I going to have to give in and go back or can I entice her to stay with me?" A second later, Little Love called back again to the horses...and that was that. She simply brought her head back down and walked on with me as if nothing had happened.

We did a nice long walk, taking in a few forest trails which is a new experience for the two of us together. And while I'm sure you are all tired of reading it :-) I continue to be amazed at the combination of calmness and alertness in this horse. She is a perfect walking partner. About an hour later, we returned to the same grazing spot on our way back to the barn. At this point, Little Love raised her head and called again. Again, someone answered her call, and Little Love responded. Again, she brought her head back down and walked on calmly with me back to the barn.

At the barn, I let Little Love graze while I called K to ask some advice about one cut on the horse's leg. In passing, one of us mentioned our experiences with the calling out. I'm not sure who mentioned it first, but I was amazed to hear that one quick and simple clicker session had had such an obvious and positive effect on the horse! 

I remembered reading something about the clicker bypassing some certain functions in the brain, enabling animals to quickly and permanently make behavioral changes, so I came home and googled it again. Turns out, what I was remembering was that the click seems to bypass the cerebral cortex or "thinking part" of the brain and goes straight to the more basic and instinctive amygdala. This could explain why clicker training has such an impact so quickly, because the behavior quickly becomes an instinctive habit for the animal. 

-- Melissa


  1. Yes, that's exactly it. I think that also a reason why researchers recommend using a clicker and not a marker word like "yes," the word marker almost never sounds exactly the same each time you use it so it affects the animal differently.