Let’s talk about slow learners

Darley is an older Arabian. He was skin and bones when my friend first rescued him. But, he’s a happy horse now!

I’ve been doing some clicker training with Darley, and he enjoys our training sessions. 

However, at first, Darley wasn’t really catching on. Sometimes, he would do several behaviors in a row. Then, he would get distracted and stop responding.

Darley is the type of horse a lot of people would call a “slow” learner. They would say, “He’s sweet, but he’s not that smart.”

OR, is that the whole story? 

As I reviewed our recent training sessions, I realized that I was sometimes asking for too much. 

It also seemed like Darley was having trouble chewing the treats at times. Finally, I suspected that turning his head in certain ways to touch the target may have been physically difficult for his old body. 

So, I made several changes.

And guess what?

On my last visit, Darley was a quick learner!

The problem with labels

Using labels, such as calling your animal a “slow” learner, can be really problematic. We’re placing the blame on the horse. 

Instead, can you figure out what’s preventing your horse from doing the behaviors you desire? What’s slowing them down?

Have you made the training too hard, too fast?

Is your learner missing certain prerequisites?

Does your learner understand the cues you’re using?

Does your learner have the physical skills to do these behaviors? 

With the right analysis and adjustments, our “slow” learners can become fast learners. 

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