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Has Little Bo Beep Lost Her Sheep? Not in this Clicker Training Tale!

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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."Lamb in a herd

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!

NayNay's picture

Chinchilla training

I have heard from many sources that chinchillas were untrainable. They simply don't have the 'intelligence' for it. Many online websites say it can't be done. Most of them just focus on 'taming'. I have two chinchillas and they are now clicker trained to do a variety of behaviors: follow my hand, stay, go into your crate, spin, and go through a tunnel. I am working on more behaviors as well. It took a little longer for them to actually understand what was happening, compared to a dog, but once the light bulb went on they started to pick up things very quickly.

My whole thought process was; If a fish can be trained, so can my chinchillas!


Irith Bloom's picture

Good for you!


Good for you ignoring the discouraging things you heard about Chinchilla training. I hope you can take -- and post -- some video of your Chinchillas in action.

Irith (Eereet)

NayNay's picture


Here is just one of the videos that is up on youtube. This one I am shaping Mr. Bingley to go through a tunnel. Watching it, it isn't the perfect clicker training video ever, I am late a lot, and should have ended one of the sessions a little earlier then I did. But thats why it is good to video tape sessions, to see mistakes, right?





What food or other reinforcement was used with the lamb? How did Stephanie figure out what would work best?

Irith Bloom's picture

I'm so thrilled to see this story here!

I heard this story from Stephanie directly, and am thrilled to see it is now getting wider notice.  Thank you for publishing this!

Irith Bloom, fellow KPA CTP