If Your Surgeon was Clicker Trained, Why Not Your Horse?

An orthopedic surgeon is using clicker training to teach medical students surgical techniques. Learn more about clicker training and how it can help your horse learn, too.
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If Your Surgeon was Clicker-Trained, Why Not Your Horse?
In horses, clickers can help train performance skills in-hand and under saddle, as well as develop polite ground manners and self-control. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
A clicker is a small, inexpensive, colorful, plastic sound maker, which looks for all the world like a child’s party favor. This tool was introduced into dog and marine mammal training four decades ago with sweeping success. In contrast, horse owners and trainers have been slow to adopt clickers into mainstream training practices.

Clickers have been used to help people become better dancers, golfers, and even surgeons. Earlier this month National Public Radio science correspondent Shankar Vedantam interviewed I. Martin Levy, MD, a physician who has incorporated the clicker into surgical skills training. Levy serves as Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program director at Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, New York.

Editor’s note: Listen to Vedantam’s short interview with Levi from NPR’s Morning Edition (6 minutes), or his full NPR’s Hidden Brain segment “When Everything Clicks: The Power of Judgment-Free Learning” (51 minutes).

At one point during the interview, Levy demonstrated the use of a clicker to teach a medical resident how to tie a surgical slider knot

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Written by:

Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, IAABC-Certified Horse Behavior Consultant, is a research professor at the University of Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington. She holds a doctorate in animal behavior and has taught courses in animal learning and behavior for more than 20 years. Her research looks at temperament, stress, and burn-out as they relate to the selection, retention, and welfare of therapy horses. She also provides private behavior consultations and training services in the Seattle area.

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