Pets trained in a click
08:00 28 December 2012
Archant © 2012
By using a clicker many people teach their dogs and horses to behave in a certain way.
Combining the clicks with rewards enables the animals to quickly learn what desired behaviour is and what is not.
And one Bungay woman has taken this technique and started to use it with rabbits and even a leopard gecko by the name of Boris.
Kate Jackson, who takes her MiniMonsters Creepy Crawly Roadshow to schools and parties across the region, has been using clicker training to teach horses certain behvaiour, but when she discovered a course in training chickens, she decided to take on the challenge and then expand it.
“I thought I’d see what animals it would work with, as it would be quite good fun to see what happened,” she said.
The animals are trained using a clicker and food as a reward, enabling the trainer to encourage them to behave in a certain way.
Miss Jackson, 34, said: “Chickens may not be quite as large as horses, but I quickly learnt that they are very quick and not as forgiving of human error. The average chicken is faster than the average dog.
“Within no time, the chickens were reliably pecking at a small red disk to receive a pellet of food. Further coloured disks were added, but there was no reward for pecking these. The chickens quickly learnt to peck only the red disks and ignore all attempts to distract them.”
Miss Jackson, who is well known across Norfolk and Suffolk as “the bug lady” from her roadshow, said she has always been fascinated in all aspects of animal behaviour since her degree in psychology and zoology, and now she is trying to use the skills for a wide variety of her animals.
So far she has trained rabbits and has managed to train her leopard gecko Boris, despite the difficulty of training with live food.
“It has made him so much more brave and he tolerates being handled. He was always fearful and would shoot off, but he enjoys it now,” she said.
Miss Jackson, of Kings Road, said the children who she teaches have now asked if she can train one of her snakes.
“This will be a challenge as it won’t work with food as they only eat once a fortnight, so I will try to use heat,” she said.
She added that the technique, which is normally associated with horses and dogs, has been used on animals in zoos across the world, and can even be used with people, for example in gymnastics training to show something is being done correctly.
Kate’s training tips:
•Positive reinforcement works because the behaviour is rewarded with something the animal likes, for example food, and so the animal learns to enjoy learning.
•Focus on what you want! Avoid being a nagger.
•Good training should be boring to watch. Break new skills into the smallest steps you can imagine.