Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP) Stephanie Tagtow has trained a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, and goats; she even experiments with training fish. Last week, a friend told her that he and his daughter, a student at the National FFA Organization, wanted to show the family’s lamb at a county fair. The problem was that no one would help them learn how to care for or train their animal.
“Too bad you don’t train lambs,” her friend said. Knowing first-hand that clicker training transcends all species, Stephanie replied as any clicker trainer would, "I can train it. Never have trained a lamb before, but I'm sure I can."
When Stephanie arrived at the agricultural center to meet her new woolly client, a sweet lamb named Bentley, she was surprised to learn that lambs are not shown with halters and leads. Instead, they are dragged about with one hand under the chin and another hand behind the ears. Her friend’s daughter dragged Bentley to the show pen, the poor little lamb protesting the entire way. Stephanie quickly worked up a plan to get rid of the punishment (dragging him around by his head, kicking at him when he put his head down to eat hay). Within 30 minutes, the lamb was doing a chin target to the girl’s hand and was able to walk, stop, turn, and change speeds to keep up with the student.
After one session, Bentley looked like a well-trained show lamb but with a difference—his ears were up and he was actively participating in the game. Bentley could have wandered anywhere he wanted, as there were plenty of other distractions, including mounds of scrumptious hay. But because the daughter had made the targeting game so reinforcing, the lamb always opted to work with her and ignore the temptations in his environment.
The girl’s father was amazed to witness the remarkable change. He confessed to Stephanie that he had had no faith the training would work. One of the agricultural teachers was equally astonished, and puzzled, as if she had witnessed a magic trick. But would the magic stick?
Now, Bentley the lamb runs to his girl every time she enters the barn. He targets her hand happily and sticks by her side when they are walking through crowds. The girl no longer uses punishment to control her little lamb; consequently, her lamb no longer has the need to fight her.
Is clicker training magic? No, it’s proven science. But anyone who has experienced its power would agree that it is magical.
Have you used clicker training to train an animal thought to be un-trainable? We’d love to hear your magical story!