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Monday, November 5, 2012

Clicker Training Basics - teaching Rose & Heather

Rose and Heather have been here for just over 1 month now, so I have started them both on clicker training.

I remember when I first got Siog - she walked next to me like a well-heeled dog and I remember thinking "gosh, she doesn't need any training!"  But I was wrong - there's was tons she needed to learn and clicker training has served her well - she is so attentive and keen and smart!

Rose and Heather are very responsive too - they walk nicely on leads, stand tied, lift their feet, let me look in their mouths - but I know there is much more we can do together and since clicker training really helps to build relationship and energy, I say, let's do it!

The VERY first step is called "charging the clicker."  This means that we teach the animal (any species) that the "sound" of the "click" is followed by a reward (food.)  Otherwise the click is meaningless!
If I said to you " DRAPER!" it would mean absolutely nothing!  But if every time I said that word, I gave you chocolate, you'd quickly pair the word with the reward.  So that's what's meant by charging the clicker.

Okay, we've done that now and both Rose and Heather understand that the "click" means reward.  Next step - touching a target.  I use a blue ball on the end of a dowel and I have taped a clicker at the other end of the dowel.

The donkey has simply to touch the ball with her nose, I "click" immediately, remove the target stick (behind my back)  and offer her a treat.  It's very important how you present the food - the donkey must never, ever crowd you or mug you, or bite, etc.

So a great way to present the food is to unfold your whole arm back towards the donkey's chest and let her find it in your hand.  She will have to back up a couple of steps to find the reward, so you are building a "back up" into this already!

Also VERY important:  set the environment for success!  Meaning - have everything you need at the ready and have just the animal that you are training with you.  Now with R & H, this is difficult as they are very bonded and since I am still reluctant to add stress (they haven't been here long and they are still a bit worried) I choose not to separate them yet.  So I halter them both and tie one nearby while I work with the other, then switch.  This seems to work well enough for now, but it would be better to have just one donkey with me.  More opportunity to focus, even though I keep the lessons short.

Progress with R & H:

 - Understanding?  She knows that click means reward but doesn't yet understand she has to touch the ball with her nose

- Treat acceptance?  She is very gentle with her mouth but will look everywhere for the reward, mouthing my clothes, my arm, looking behind my back, etc.  She will not step back readily but will eventually find the treat in my hand.

- Understanding? She will touch the target with her nose if it is held in front of her (doesn't follow the target yet)

- Treat acceptance?  She backs readily but is very grabby with her mouth (and teeth) so I have to hold the treat on the top of her nose until she relaxes her mouth, then give it to her.  This delays the treat delivery which is not desirable but I think it's important to teach her how to take the treat gently.

They have each had several short lessons and I think they should "get it" by now but I do remember that it takes each donkey some time and that I haven't been training every dayI should be more consistent!  Once they get it though, a huge light bulb will go on and they'll never look back!


  1. Sounds great, really pleased to hear of the girls progress, what lucky donkeys to have such a stimulating and caring home :-)

  2. Thanks FH! I just LOVE having the 4 donkeys - but I need to be super organized, especially when clicker training, so as not to cause frustration and upset. Rose "got it" today - touched to target with her nose ... YAY!

  3. Can't wait to continue reading about their adventures, sounds like they're both off to a good start!

    great job describing charging the clicker!

  4. Thanks Lacy. I find it so interesting how different each animal is and I love the "problem-solving" aspect of clicker training.