Clicker Training for Veterinary Procedures

We’ve been talking a lot on facebook about using clicker training to teach your horse (or any other animal) to willingly participate in veterinary care. Many vet procedures, such as shots, wound care and even general examinations can be pretty frightening for a horse. Often the horse is not familiar with the vet and there are strange objects, sounds and smells.

The more we practice and prepare our animals for basic vet tasks, the calmer they will be when the actual time comes. Clicker training is an awesome way to teach your horse to be a willing, calm participant for veterinary work. With clicker training, we can make training tasks into a game, so that the horse gets to choose to participate. We want the horse to think that he’s training us!

Case Study: Eye Care

Here is a great video from Peggy Hogan that demonstrates using good clicker training skills to teach several horses to enjoy having their eyes cleaned and treated. You’ll see how she breaks the task down into small parts and gradually builds toward her final goal. She wants the horse to be successful every step of the way! You can use the clicker training principles in this video for other training tasks as well.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s important to work on teaching you horse to accept veterinary procedures BEFORE you actually need them. It’s a lot easier to take a handful of clicker training sessions and teach your horse some of these tasks in a slow, relaxed manner, than to try and get a stressed or injured horse to cooperate with a procedure that’s completely new to him.

Some training facilities take this idea of practice makes perfect to the extreme. When I lived in Chicago, I saw the dolphin show at the Shedd aquarium several times. The trainers regularly practice basic vet tasks, such as shots, sonograms and examining teeth, with their dolphins. In fact, for many of these tasks, they run through a simulation of the task every single day.

Need some good winter projects?

Wondering what to work on with your horse when the weather turns cold, snowy or too muddy to ride? We can work on training many veterinary procedures is a relatively small space. So, these are perfect tasks to work on in a stall, barn aisle or run-in shed.

Not sure what to work on? Here’s a short list of some tasks that were suggested on facebook. All of them would be great projects to work on with clicker training!

1. Intranasal vaccines
2. Clippers
3. Injections: intramuscular, intravenous
4. Eye meds
5. Handling ears
6. Handling the lips & tongue, giving oral meds
7. Handling the sheath or udder
8. Taking the temperature
9. Handling the feet
10. Just standing still

As well, I think it’s really important to make sure your horse is use to being handled by a variety of people. Train the task yourself, but then let the horse practice it with at least one other person, hopefully more.

If you want to join in the discussion, head on over to the discussion section of the facebook group Clicker Training Horses. If you’ve worked on any of these or any related tasks with your horse, I’d love to hear how it went, as well as any tips or suggestions you might have!

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