Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Click It!

You don't need expensive equipment for clicker training

One of our readers, Alison Charter-Smith, asked for tips on sheep and goat handling when you haven't got an assistant and must do things yourself (thanks, Alison!). I'm working on it but haven't had a helper when I need to take pictures, so I'm posting this in the meantime. This is because we clicker train our sheep and goats and clicker training makes handling them infinitely easier. If you'd like to try it, this column will help get you started.

This is an updated and somewhat tweaked piece I wrote for the Inside Storey blog on January 1, 2010. I called it as now, Just Click It! I'm posting it to both Goat Tips & Tricks and Sheep Tips & Tricks but my follow-up columns will be species-specific.  

Just Click It! 

While most folks associate clicker training, also known as operant conditioning, with sea mammals, horses, and dogs, it’s the easiest and most rewarding way to train birds and animals of all sorts and sizes. Clicker training pioneers Marian Breland Bailey and her first and second husbands, Keller Breland and Bob Bailey, in fact trained more than 140 species at their educational facility in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Hens, the Brelands learned early on, were the ideal medium for teaching prospective trainers to use operant conditioning. They are fast, predictable, portable, and easily handled. To see how it’s done, check out the Chicken Camp videos at YouTube (start with the chicken agility video; it’s a good one).

We began clicker training in 1999 when Maggie, an abused 7/8 Arabian mare, came to us. Maggie’s experiences with being haltered as a filly resulted in terrible beatings, so when we got her, haltering was out of the question. We ran her into a stock trailer to bring her home, but what to do then? I’d read about clicking but never tried it. Fortunately, Maggie loved food, so I bought a clicker, made a target, and we began. In a few days we could halter Maggie and she happily followed the target on lead.

Martok examines the target

The basis of clicker training is targeting. This short video featuring a Mammoth Jack shows how. And here are some useful, free downloads:

(for dogs but the principles are universal)

(again for dogs but applicable to other species)
Since then we’ve clicker trained our dogs and equines of all sorts but also cattle, llamas, sheep, and goats. I also write about clicker training in my books; I believe that not only is it the best possible way to forge a bond between humans and their animal friends, but it’s fun to do, and it works!

Getting started is the essence of simplicity. All you need is a basic understanding of clicker-training principles, a clicker, food rewards and a place to stow them, and a target. And no matter which species you plan to train, I strongly recommend if you're a first-timer that you buy Peggy Tillman’s Clicking with Your Dog: Step-by-Step in Pictures (Sunshine Books; 2006) before you begin because it’s the clearest introduction to clicking principles I’ve seen. Barring that (and even if you use the book), plan to visit Clicker Solutions' free online archives, where you can access hundreds of articles about training scores of species. No matter what you want to know, it’s there!

Karen Pryor introduced clicker training to the companion animal community in the 1980s, when she wrote Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training (download a free e-version HERE). Her books and website remain a treasure trove of useful information for new-to-the-art clicker trainers. Don’t miss the free videos, blogs, and articles accessible through this site. It’s a great place to order books and supplies as well.

Hundreds of YahooGroups help newcomers and experienced trainers share insights into clicker training, such as Click Ryder for horse trainers, Bird-Click for cage-bird owners, and Cat-Clicker for cat fans.

Still not convinced? Visit YouTube to watch hundreds of clicker training videos. Simply type clicker train and your species (sheep, goat, donkeys, rabbit, cat, dog, etc.) in the search box and enjoy. Here are a few examples. Be sure to view Spotty's Tricks. While a clicker isn’t obvious in this wonderful video, Spotty clearly targets on his young mistress’s hand. If this is the sort of bond you’d love to forge with your animal friends, try clicker training; you won’t be disappointed!

Clicker Training Sheep

Portuguese dog agility trainer Fernando Silva teaches Clarinha to do agility. This is a really cool video (and I love the music). 

What a clever guy!

Don't miss this—absolutely do not miss it!

Clicker Training Goats

This gorgeous video shot in Slovenia is one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos!

This is a whole series of videos—follow Rosemary's training from day 1

I love this goat!

This 10 minute video covers a lot of ground

Even little guys like Milo love clicker training


Also, if you have suggestions for upcoming Sheep Tips & Tricks or Goat Tips & Tricks columns, feel free to contact me at
Additional fun resources:

Three more of my favorite videos and a website:
They have nothing to do with clicker training but they're good!

I could do this… :o)

This is my all-time favorite YouTube video

Punkin, Icelandic Sheep wether and his Portuguese Water Dog friend, Rock, turn the tables on herding in this charming video

The ultimate guide to great names for sheep, goats, and everything else; there's nothing else like this, anywhere!

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