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Training Methods

The training methods Donna uses are exceptionally kind, scientifically proven and highly successful. Donna is an avid clicker trainer and uses these principles as a first line of approach with both her own and clients’ animals, whilst retaining the option to use alternative yet strictly reward based methods where more appropriate. Donna’s services have always been designed to help clients achieve results in the ‘real world’. She believes that with most animals it is a case of getting them to understand what you want, and for them to see a reason to do it – after that it’s easy. Just like people, animals learn best by getting them motivated to do what you want, not because they have to, but because they want to. She’s sure you can all understand this; think about when you’ve been nagged or forced into doing something as opposed to something you’ve enjoyed learning because you WANTED to.

We need to care about how we achieve our goals and understand the emotion that lies behind it. Have you ever stopped to think “Why is it still an acceptable practise to hit a horse with a whip?” or “Why do we still see dogs with choke chains being yanked on a lead?” Both are far too common a sight sadly and ones we wouldn’t accept handed out to other pets.

Luckily there is a better way – a method of training that will take you into another dimension from using choke chains, pressure halters, whips, carrot sticks and shouting at your pet.

Animal training has changed a great deal in recent years and it has moved away from using harsh methods. Sadly this is more the case with canines than equines. Training equines using ‘Positive Reinforcement’ (the trainer adds stimuli the horse desires/something pleasant is presented) is far too long overdue. However there is very little available on clicker training in the equestrian world; not because it is a new method (it is used extensively with marine animals, wildlife parks and enlightened dog trainers) but because equine trainers are slow to take it seriously, perhaps because it challenges all that they know and use in their present training methods.

Clicker Training is one of the most modern, effective and enjoyable methods available. Based on sound scientific principles it is an efficient method of training; whatever the species, the principles are the same! It is about communicating effectively with the animal about what we want them to do, rather than the focus of so much training which is all about stopping or preventing the animal doing something we don’t want them to do. It is a way of saying to the animal “What you are doing NOW is exactly what I want”. This is what makes it so powerful. It helps us to speak a language the animal can understand – the “Oh that’s what you mean” syndrome.

Rather than concentrating and giving attention to inappropriate behaviours, you are encouraged to look for behaviours you like and to reinforce those. Rather than the use of ‘Positive Punishment’ (the trainer adds stimuli the animal dislikes/unpleasant), ‘Negative Punishment’ (the trainer removes stimuli the animal desires/something pleasant is removed) is implemented if necessary in the form of ignoring the unwanted behaviour, teaching an incompatible behaviour or with holding a reward. Traditional methods based on ‘Positive Punishment’ and ‘Negative Reinforcement’ (the trainer removes stimuli the animal dislikes/something unpleasant is avoided) are not particularly efficient training tools, as they do not specifically tell the animal what they should be doing. It often causes aversion to the handler and makes a fearful or aggressive animal worse.

We can use clicker training to teach animals just about anything they are physically capable of doing. And the point is you can take clicker training as far as you like – whether it be just to have a great relationship with your pet, have the trust to tackle novel situations together, become skilled at something like agility or show jumping or whether it be to overcome problems and just have those ‘good manners’. No animal is too young or too old, they are learning all their lives; what they learn is down to you. In addition animals become confident, calm and natural problem solvers – a smart pet. Clicker trained pets are really pleased to see their owners and come running at the prospect of doing something with them.

The clicker is not a magic fix. It is another tool and training technique that will work with most animals if you use it correctly. It should be used as a tool for building behaviour. You will understand more, the more you use clicker training, and the more you read about the theory behind it. Remember to take what you want from anything you read and consider the advice and instruction offered before acting on it.

Training this way relies on a consistent approach from all of those who come into contact with the animal. It is helpful if those concerned are aware of the reward based training programme being implementing, as combining with traditional methods will often work in opposition and can lead to confusion and real resentment to the pressure and punishment if applied. 

 You can see the results that can be achieved using Donna's methods in the videos here.