PTSD Service Dogs

PTSD Service Dogs: 

An emerging therapeutic tool for our new veterans.



 By Brian Archer

As we approach November 11th, which is a very important day in the calendar for our military personnel, for their friends and families, and for the many dedicated Canadians that have served our nation both at home and abroad over the years, Pet Connection would like to introduce our readers to an exciting new medical therapy tool that involves one of our favorite things, namely dogs.

Citadel-Therapy-Canine-19-Jan-2013-009Many of our newer military veterans and first responders are dealing with a recently described medical condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is also often referred to by its more familiar short form: PTSD.  This potentially serious medical condition is often the result of adverse occupational or extremely stressful theatre conditions that can in some instances result in acute medical challenges for our veterans.  If allowed to remain untreated, PTSD can result in a marked deterioration in the longer-term quality of life for those individuials dealing with the condition. It can also often result in a complete collapse of personal relationships, a loss of occupational options, major substance abuse issues, deterioration in one’s overall personal health, and in extreme cases it can result in suicide.

Those of us that have devoted part or all of our time to dogs have always known that our wonderful canine partners possess unique therapeutic qualities. Dogs are loyal, they are affectionate, they are very sensitive to their partner’s needs, and most importantly, dogs are non-judgmental.  Treat your dog well, and they will reciprocate that treatment tenfold over.

We now find that the medical world has discovered this as well, and specially trained dogs are beginning to be employed in ever increasing numbers as PTSD service dogs. These dogs, when properly trained and then paired with recipients can act in a variety of positive manners as they help their new partners. Most importantly, a PTSD service dog can give its new partner a renewed sense of personal confidence when venturing out into the general public. Many sufferers of PTSD choose to shut themselves out from family and friends, and often are very fearful of going out into public.  Just the normal activity of going for a simple walk can be a huge challenge for a sufferer of PTSD. With a dog as their partner, doors are re-opened, confidence begins to be restored, and the person is able to feel confident enough to get out of the house, and back into circulation.  This benefit alone is a huge plus in the PTSD service dog world, and its impact on an individual veteran or first responder can be enormous.

Of perhaps equal importance in terms of personal therapy, all well trained dogs have a natural desire or perhaps an innate sense to physically intervene when sleep disorders manifest themselves. These conditions can include nightmares, night tremors, and perhaps even a simple lack of confidence when one retires for the night.  With a dog in the bedroom, many of these conditions disappear, or the dog will often readily intervene if a particular situation presents itself. Just getting a good, sound night’s sleep is another huge benefit provided by a well-trained PTSD service dog. Other therapeutic benefits can be taught on a case by case basis, but the bottom line in all of this is that a PTSD service dog, when properly trained, and then paired with a person who is prepared to do his or her part in the process, can result in a vast improvement in the quality of life of the two-legged part of the pairing.

As we noted earlier, this is an emerging medical therapy tool, and here in Canada a small number of providers of PTSD service dogs have begun to appear. These organizations are both commercial (i.e. for profit) and non-profit in nature. One such non-profit organization that got started less than two years ago is Citadel Therapy Canine Society, located in Vancouver, BC. In just a short time span, the Citadel Canine mission has grown to reach many parts of Canada. A core of non-paid volunteers supports a network of highly qualified dog trainers, who in turn provide the basic training for the future service dogs, or provide training support once the dogs are paired with recipients.

As their website ( suggests, the mission at Citadel Canine is….. P006

The mission of Citadel Canine Society is two fold:  it strives to make the lives of our new veterans and first responders better;  and it aims to reduceoccupational stress that might have resulted from their service. In order to help achieve theirmission goals, Citadel Canine often uses dogs rescued from animal shelters, that otherwise might not have a very promising future. They carefully assess and then train these future service dogs, following strict and proven protocols. Once the basic training has been completed, the PTSD service or companion dogs are provided at no charge to new veterans, and to first responders (police, fire, ambulance, and “911” operators). Citadel will also provide PTSD service dogs to civilians in select instances.

Citadel Canine Society is a non-profit Society incorporated in British Columbia, and it is also recognized as a registered charitable organization by Canada Revenue Agency. Consequently it is able to issue tax deduction receipts for all donations.

Their first batch of dogs was delivered to two Canadian Forces veterans and an RCMP officer in January of 2013. Since that first delivery, Citadel Canine now has recipients paired with dogs, dogs in training, or recipients waiting for qualified dogs in: Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Albernie, Greater Vancouver, Kamloops, Creston, Edmonton, Calgary, Okotoks, Saskatoon, Regina, Windsor, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Barrie, Kingston and Ottawa.

Funding for the Citadel Canine mission is provided by individuals, businesses, and veterans’ support organizations. Working together with the network of dog trainers, many of whom provide their services at greatly reduced rates, Citadel Canine has been able to connect over two dozen recipients with these wonderful dogs. Many more pairings are in the works as this program moves forward. And perhaps most importantly, and as a final comment, Veterans Affairs Canada is now taking a very close look at the entire PTSD service dog topic. This move by Canada’s government department charged with the long term well-being of our veterans bodes well for the future for PTSD service dogs as a proven therapy tool.

Kibble is Kibble is STILL Kibble!

Kibble is Kibble is STILL Kibble!

By Dr Jeannie Thomason

Doggie Dinner Delight


Dog owners are becoming confused over what food is the best for their dogs. There seems to be so much conflicting information out there today. Who do you believe? With all the recalls over the last several years, we worry about safety and quality nutrition.

We have all been lead to believe that since our dogs are after-all, domestic animals, they are best fed processed, commercial “dog food” that supposedly is nutritionally balanced and scientifically formulated to be healthy for our pets.  Don’t our veterinarians carry similar foods and recommend it to us to feed to our dogs as well? Surely schooled veterinarians know what is best for our dogs.  After all, what else do you feed a dog but “dog food”, right?

WRONG, so wrong!

Are you aware that just over the last 25 years dogs (and cats) have been presenting with obesity, kidney disease, diabetes, liver failure, skin disorders, IBD and even cancer by the time they are 5 years old if not younger?  This was rare to un-heard of in our canine companions until this time. Our dogs should live and used to live well into their late teens and early twenties with few to no health problems ever seen. Let’s stop and ponder this for a moment. Why do you think dogs are so much sicker these days then ever before in history? Could it be that we are feeding them foods they were never designed to be able to digest in the first place,  that are processed and cooked down until there is NO nutritive value remaining?

Did you know that pet food manufacturers actually spray on a soup of grease/cooked fats with synthetic vitamins and other additives to their products before sealing the bags and shipping them out? It is the addition of these synthetic additives, flavor enhancers and some vitamins that are necessary to make the kibble come even close to them being able to call it complete and balanced, not the ingredients themselves. Any nutrition in the ingredients the kibble started out with have been destroyed.

Let’s be perfectly clear right here, that processed pet food, (no matter what brand, no matter how much it costs, if the ingredients are organic, or nothing more than road kill and euthanized animals) all ends up the same way – nutritionally DEAD and void of any true nutrition. That’s right, it does not matter what “raw materials” you start out with; whether it is premium, grass fed, organic beef, lamb or what have you, the final product is pretty much the same as the cheapest kibble you can buy at the grocery store.

HOW CAN THIS BE? First of all let’s see what the pet food industry really means when they label their ingredients as “natural” or “organic”.

AAFCO’s official definition is:
NATURAL: A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as may occur unavoidably in good manufacturing processes.


You can render or extrude a pet food into mush, but its still considered “natural” if you haven’t added anything synthetic, unless you had to. AAFCO also says that labeling some thing “natural” must not be misleading; but even AAFCO knows this is impossible.

Pet food companies may in reality NOT add anything synthetic in the main raw materials for the food. However, typically they buy bulk mixtures of vitamins, minerals and other additives to spray on the finished product from factories overseas, where, as we all learned in the 2007 pet food recalls, quality controls are for the most part more nonexistent then they are here.

ORGANIC: Officially, the word organic refers to anything that is now, or ever was, alive. Your dog is. Your lawn is. Your salad is. You are! Yes, this means that without any real quality control over pet food manufacturing that they may say their food is organic if they use once live meat or veggies in the “raw materials” they start out with for their unique formula.

Now, to even begin to understand the pet food industry we need to look at the “raw material” as it is received at the plant. Typically, the slaughterhouse for animal carcasses is one of the main suppliers of material to the rendering industry. To prevent condemned meat from being re-routed and used for human consumption, government regulations require that the meat be “denatured” before being sent to the rendering plants. Nice word, but what does that mean? Basically it means that first it must be contaminated in some way that would make it virtually unusable for human consumption. Some of the materials used to accomplish this task are: carbolic acid, creosote, fuel oil, kerosene, citronella, etc. Once this stuff has literally soaked into the meat, it’s then fit to be sent on to the rendering plant.

Rendering plants are piled high with “raw product/material” consisting of a mixture of whole bodies and animal parts, plastic bags, styrofoam packages, metal tags, pet collars-anything and everything that is considered to be “waste”- but suitable for recycling.

“Rendering” is the beginning process of cooking the raw animal material (truly organic range free chicken or rendering plant carcasses) to remove the moisture and fat. In the processing of pet food, all the raw materials used to make the pet food are first blended in order to maintain a certain ratio between the contents e.g. animal carcasses and supermarket rejects. Then, the carcasses are loaded into a 10- foot deep stainless-steel pit or hopper with an auger-grinder at the bottom that grinds up the ingredients into small pieces. These pieces are then taken to another auger-grinder for even finer shredding. Once shredded fine enough, the shredded material is then cooked at 280 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes. This part of the processing /cooking causes the meat to melt off of bones to produce a soup or slurry.

The cooked meat and bone slurry, along with any metal, pesticides, etc. that may have been in what was rendered down are then sent to a hammermill press, which squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverizes the product into a gritty powder. Once the batch is finished, all that is left is yellow grease, “meat” and bone meal. Depending on the dominant ingredient of a particular run, the product now becomes: beef, chicken, lamb, meat meal, meat by products, poultry meal, fish meal, fish oil, yellow grease, tallow, beef fat, chicken fat, etc. You will never see on the label any signs of using dog meal, cat meal, skunk meal, rat meal, or any of the other “goodies” but “its in there”. If the raw materials came from a slaughter house then it is mixed in with the everyday batches of “raw material”.

The term “meal” on a pet food label simply means that the materials in the meal have been rendered. The quality and content of the meal may be variable across batches. In the USA, this means that some question the nutritional value of the by-products. James Morris and Quinton Rogers, two professors with the Department of Molecular Biosciences, University of California at Davis Veterinary School of Medicine, felt there was a lack of information on the bioavailability of nutrients of pet food ingredients. The pet food labels give the supposed nutritional adequacy, but think about it, there are no true nutrients left from the processing so all that you can really look at is the vitamin mixture and additives they spray on at the end of processing. Not only this but these “nutrients” are no good if they are in a form indigestible by the pet which is normally the case since these vitamins, etc. are synthetic/man made.

Once the meal is made or sent to the pet food manufacturing plant, they then add their own “enhancers” (i.e. preservatives, food dye, synthetic vitamins, etc.) and put it through an expander or extruder. It is then pressure-cooked (steam, pressure, at very high temperatures again) and becomes a paste which is extruded through pipes which shape the blobs of paste into small biscuits or other uniform shapes. These are then puffed like popcorn and baked or dried again before being sprayed a final time with fat, digests, and the synthetic vitamins and flavor enhancers. In some cases, the cooked meat and bone go directly into a press, which squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverizes the product into a gritty powder. The grit is then sifted to remove the excess hair and large bone chips; although, at times larger bone chips and hair do get past the sifting process as some owners can attest to finding in the resulting kibble. This is then added to cereal fines (processed grains) and any cooked, ground vegetables they will be using; which may then be made into paste, baked and broken into pieces and then sprayed with fat, digests, vitamins and flavor enhancers.


The processing effectively kills off any beneficial enzymes, amino acids, etc. It does NOT kill off or get rid of the Sodium Phenobarbital in the carcasses of any euthanized animals that may have been used.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) are formed when food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized, sterilized or extruded). When the food is eaten, it transfers the AGEs into the body. AGEs build up in the body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

At 110 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 43 degrees Centigrade), two of the 8 essential amino acids, tryptophan and lysine, are destroyed.

According to the textbook Nutritional Value of Food Processing, 3rd Edition, (by Karmas, Harris, published by Van Nostrand Reinhold) which is written for food chemists in the industrial processed food industry: changes that occur during processing either result in nutrient loss or destruction. Heat processing has a detrimental effect on nutrients since thermal degradation of nutrients can and does occur. Reduction in nutrient content depends on the severity of the thermal processing.

So, it is easy to see that no matter what wonderful (or not so wonderful) ingredients the pet food company may start out with, the rendering, cooking, drying, canning and baking (at high temperatures) destroy vitamins, amino acids and enzymes while rendering the proteins a source of toxicity.

The un-healthy effects of consuming overly cooked food into a digestive system never designed to eat cooked food in the first place, is stretching it to even be considered minimal nutrition. The body is forced to raid its dwindling supply of nutrient reserves and enzymes which in turn, causes it to remain hungry for quality nutrients after a typical meal. This leads to further hunger even though the stomach is full. The result can be chronic overeating and the rampant obesity now seen in our dogs as well as ourselves nationwide.

When food is cooked above 117 degrees F for only three minutes or longer, the following deleterious changes begin and progressively cause increased nutritional damage as higher temperatures are applied over prolonged periods of time: 

  • proteins coagulate 
  • now denatured protein molecular structure is altered, leading to deficiencies of essential amino acids 
  • carbohydrates caramelize  
  • fats generate numerous carcinogens including acrolein, nitrosamines, hydrocarbons, and benzopyrene (one of the most potent cancer-causing agents known) 
  • cellulose is completely changed from its natural condition: it loses its ability to sweep the alimentary canal clean 
  • up to 50% and more of vitamins and minerals are destroyed 
  • 100% of enzymes are damaged

Time Heals All Wounds?


By Joanna Woronchak
Until We Meet Again Pet Memorial Center

Have you ever wondered about or looked into some of the “old” words or phrases we use?  This to shall pass, A stitch in time saves nine and As right as rain. Odd little phrases.  Instead of, “wow”, I have been known on occasion to use the term, “holy-liftin”.  Recently, it occurred to me, I had no idea what, holy-liftin’ actually meant, so I did what any modern woman would do, I Googled it.

holy-liftin’ \‘ho-lee-‘lif-ten\ interj – An exclamation of surprise, fascination, or frustration; “Holy-liftin’! These mittens cost $20!” Origin unknown, but etymology suggests a reference to the resurrection of Christ (“Holy-liftin’ Lordy” is a common derivative). This is consistent with the regional practice of cussing through iconoclastic reference: similar terms are used in local French dialects. The theological associations of such terms, however, have been largely forgotten in English-speaking communities. Holy-liftin’ is quite versatile, and may be truncated (“liftin'”) conflated (“holy-ol’-liftin'”) or pluralized (“liftin’s”) at the speaker’s whim.

Thank you for enlightening me.

Well, I must say I was shocked and a little dismayed.  As the mother of three boys I have always been very strict about the use of curse words in our home.  To find out that for the past 30+ years I have been swearing up a blue streak was a bit of a shock.

Time heals all wounds was recently put to the test in our home.  Our youngest had a nasty scooter accident; leaving a rather large cut in his leg.  Left strictly to time, I am confident that our son would have lost his leg.  Time alone would not have healed his wound.  In the month that followed, his wound needed: the care of a physician, stitches, antibiotic ointment, bandages, cleaning, oral antibiotics, more bandages and lots of love and encouragement.

Like a physical wound, the emotional wound that comes when we experience a loss also needs more than time.  When grieving a loss we may have feelings such as anger, anxiety, denial or guilt.  Physical changes, such as, fatigue and/or changes in sleeping or eating habits are also commonly experienced.  All these symptoms are as real as swelling, redness and fever and likewise are best cared for and not left for time to heal.

As pet parents we can find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Not all of society understands or accepts the grief we feel when our pet companion dies.  This disenfranchised grief will cause some pet parents to avoid mourning their pet altogether. Staying in their grief. Waiting for time to heal all wounds.  Unfortunately, this is not how grief works.  Grief is a journey not a destination.  It is the moving forward in the grief cycle; one step at a time that counts.  This involves doing the mental, emotional, physical, and for some, spiritual work that will bring healing.

Give yourself permission to grieve and mourn. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family.  Take care of yourself; making healthy food choices, getting adequate sleep and exercise (consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime.)  If you are not coping, or you need extra support, consider seeing your family physician or a counsellor specializing in grief.

BC Interior Horse Rescue Society


B.C. Interior Horse Rescue Society (BCIHRS) 

By Amanda Batchelar

Down a winding road, around a crystal reservoir is a long, sandy laneway that leads to an old, wooden barn with a picture of a horse on the side. As I walk towards the barn, I am greeted by the nicker of a black, Arabian horse; his low, rumbling purr lets me know that he is pleased to see me. I reach over the wooden gate and scratch under his forelock. He nuzzles my hand and I caress his large, grey and white, speckled cheek, remembering a month ago when he arrived how his thin frame and chiseled, protruding bones were his only armour against the world, and how his frailty made me nervous. He was guarded then, reserved and cautious; daunted by change, tense and uncertain.

Today he is relaxed, almost tranquil, his body softened with a layer of fat and confidence, his complexion luminous in the rays of the Okanagan sunshine. While he’s a seasoned horse, his age is cleverly concealed by the mischievous sparkle in his eye and the vigor in his step. His name is Dancer, and he has been given a second chance at life.

The B.C. Interior Horse Rescue Society (BCIHRS) is a non-profit organization and a sanctuary for horses in need. Since 2009, our mission has remained clear and unwavering: To improve the lives of horses in BC through rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming programs and through a curriculum of horse husbandry education. True to our direction, the BCIHRS has helped over fifty horses find homes to suit their very exceptional needs and requirements. The BCIHRS is dependent on donations, volunteers, members and sponsors to continue this important work each and every day.

The central location that the horses call home is affectionately and aptly named “The Hub.” If one has never visited The Hub, it can be difficult to explain its benevolent climate and unwittingly cultivated atmosphere of acceptance, unity and peace. It’s a visceral, impassioned place that cannot truly be defined or labeled in just a few words. It is as much a site of transition and evolution as it is a steadfast and permanent home.

Upon the arrival of each and every new horse who graces the paddocks of The Hub, the primary challenge is to address their physical needs. The horses are often plagued with aggressive thrush in the hooves, joint problems, lameness, hunger and sometimes open wounds and infections. In order to provide the horses with the care that they need, we look to our community for financial and practical support.

Each horse is given an initial assessment, a care plan is then developed and carried out over the coming weeks and sometimes months or even years.

Aside from the physical concerns, our horses often carry extensive and profound emotional baggage. In order for rehabilitation to be truly successful, it is essential that those needs are also addressed. Quality time is spent getting to know each horse. Our volunteers make, at the very least, a six-month, one day per week commitment, so that the horses have a sense of stability and a consistency of care. New volunteers are always welcome at The Hub.

Much like human beings who have undergone tragedy, hardship, or change, horses carry their memories like road maps, each with highly scrutinized opinions of themselves and established perceptions of the world around them. If a horse has been abused, for example, he might have little self-confidence and expect further abuse. Sometimes a friend is all that is required for the healing process to begin. A kind word throughout the day, a walk up the laneway, a kiss on the muzzle.

Other times, emotional scars, much like physical, can form tough calluses that require patience, time, and understanding to heal. The horse left alone and neglected in a pasture, painfully overridden by neighbourhood children, learns how to accept love and finally find peace. The ex-racing horse whose career has ended due to lameness, struggles to find his new purpose in life. The pampered horse, accustomed to rigorous training and constant one-on-one time, whose owner sadly can no longer afford him, must learn how to be part of a herd and exist in a more natural environment. Our sponsorship program aims to assist those horses that need extra tender, loving care to succeed. Drawing a new road map takes time.

The Arabian named Dancer is currently in need of a home. Dancer is a gelding in his late twenties or early thirties, and was surrendered in the spring of 2014. He was quite underweight when he arrived but is steadily improving. Recent dental work has revealed that Dancer is missing quite a few teeth and cannot properly chew and digest hay. Therefore, he requires soaked concentrates and supplements twice daily.



Dancer is otherwise a very sound and happy fellow (if not a bit cheeky), and would be a perfect companion or light riding horse. Inquiries can be directed to

At the BCIHRS, we are not commissioned by anything other than a love for horses and a passion to help those in need. We do not receive payment for the work that we do in the form of money, but we are abundantly awarded with gratitude. We are reliant on the community of Kelowna and surrounding areas as its venerable trees whose roots extend deeply into the earth. We are always humbly accepting assistance in the form of members, volunteers, monetary donations, used tack donations and sponsorship. The caring people of our community are our root system. We do what we do, always, for the love of horses.

For more information on the society, please visit our website –

August 2014 Pet of the Month Winner


Congratulations to Cola, winner of the August Pet of the Month contest on The contest was a huge success and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Cola had almost 98 votes and the photo that came in second “Zoe” had 94 and there were heavy voting taking place with the other 47 entries! Cola will now be eligible for a calendar spot and entered into a vote to be placed on the cover of Pet Connection Magazine.

The September contest is now accepting submissions and voting is open! You can enter here and vote here! PLEASE check the contest Rules for acceptable photo sizes, photos that are to small (pixel size) will not be accepted, only high resolution photos will be accepted. We want to thank everyone who participated in the Augusts contest and wish you the best of luck if you choose to enter again in August. Enter early and share often for the best chances of winning!

Making it click with your horse

Making it click with your horse


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By Sandra Poppema,

Clicker training is a perfect way to teach your horse new things or retrain unwanted behaviours. Your horse will love it! Why? Clicker training is a positive reinforcement training method. That means that you are adding rewards in order to tell your horse that he has done something right. In scientific terms it is also referred to as ‘R+ training’.

As an equine clicker trainer you say ‘Yes!’ to your horse by clicking wanted behaviour and a reward will follow promptly. Most traditional and natural horsemanship methods say ‘No!’ to the horse by increasing pressure or even inflict pain when the horse is showing unwanted behaviour, in order to teach the horse that he is not getting it right.

You have to reward a horse within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour in order to let the horse know what the reward was about. Most of the time it is not possible to present a reward that quickly, so you need a signal to bridge the time between the wanted behaviour and the reward.

ClickersIn clicker training we use a little box that makes a clicking sound when you press it. Your horse will soon learn that every time he hears the click his reward follows. He will connect the dots quickly: a click means he did something right. What happens? Your horse is going to repeat whatever he was doing in order to make you click again. Now he thinks he is ‘training’ you. Which horse wouldn’t want to be in control of his human (environment)? To prevent that your horse will see you as a living vending machine, one of the first things we teach our horses is that mugging will not be rewarded. Instead we will reward the opposite behaviour, like looking away from the treats.

When I first heard of clicker training I had no idea how it would change my life for the better as horse owner, horse trainer, rider and also as dressage coach. I didn’t know anything about it when I started experimenting with my 21 year old pony, a clicker and some treats. Well, a lot of treats to be honest.

It was 1999 and I just got my bachelors degree in Animal Management. There were no internet pages about horse training or clicker training in general, let alone about equine clicker training. I was lucky to have a co-worker who had followed an Animal training course at the University of California about positive reinforcement training. She told me about R+ training and she taught me the basics of equine clicker training. She also introduced me to an Yahoo email discussion list ‘The Click Ryder’ where I learned so much about this fascinating force free training method. The more I use it, the more I like it.

I started, like a lot of others, with trick training. I was amazed how quickly my senior pony learned the Spanish walk, how to push a skippy ball around with his nose and how to perform a perfect classical bow. On top of that, he showed me that he really liked my new training approach and the new challenges I gave him. How? He lived in a three acre pasture with other horses. He never ran away when I called him, but most of the time I still had to walk all the way over to him in order to halter him. Within a few weeks after I started clicker training he came cantering towards the gate. How can a horse tell you more clearly that he is eager to work with you? Work becomes fun if you motivate your horse with rewards.

The secrets of clicker training are simple. Formulate your training goal into a positive sentence and be very specific. Do not say what you don’t want, like ‘I want my horse to stop walking away while I mount him.’ Say what you do want: ‘I want my horse to have 4 feet on the ground when I mount him.’ It is easy to divide a goal into smaller training steps if it is very specific. Start training 4 feet on the ground for 1 second and build duration in the next sessions. These mini-goals are easy to understand for your horse and you can reward often.

Set your horse up for success. Always make the right ‘answer’ (behaviour) easy and all the other answers harder. Let your horse face the entrance while mounting and make sure there are no distractions, like grass, nearby. In order to state your goals positively and set it up for success you will become more and more creative over time.

Of course your timing has to be good, too. You get what you reinforce (click). If your click is too soon or too late, you might reinforce behaviour you don’t want: lifting a foot or taking a whole step while mounting.

Last, but not least: make sure your rewards are reinforcing to your horse. Sounds simple, but sometimes it is not. Some horses will do anything for little chunks of carrot, others might prefer pellets. Some horses need bigger treats or more often to stay motivated and some horses are not very food oriented at all. Experiment with different rewards to see what motivates him best.

If your horse performs extremely well give him a ‘jackpot’. A jackpot is an extra super tasty treat or a bigger amount. Always end your training session after a jackpot. Your horse earns a break now. Your horse will soon comprehend this fun game of clicking and getting rewarded.

This training method is a very clear way to communicate with horses. And they learn very fast: they will pay attention, now there is something valuable in it for them! In the beginning they will not yet know the rules about polite behaviour around food, but that is something you teach them right away. Only food after a click, only a click after you have asked (cued) a specific behaviour. After all, we all want a safe and polite behaving horse to work with.

It can be quite a change for you as horse owner or rider to think into positives and define specific goals what you do want, instead of what you don’t want and be satisfied with your accomplishments.

Clicker training has taught me how to think in positives and how to chunk down complicated tasks. That makes my life much more pleasurable. Not only as horse trainer and instructor, but also in my daily life. I focus on the positive little steps happening in my life and I reward myself often. And for my horse? She is always happy to see me and willing to work with me.