Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clicker Training and Yoga: Ahimsa

"First, do no harm."

That's one way to interpret the word ahimsa, one of the yamas, which are guidelines for our relationships with ourselves and others as laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is ancient book of the code of yoga, a manual that lays it all out in a spare poetry that might just take lifetimes to master.

It's true confession time: Crossover trainer here.

What that means is that in my ignoble past I have used choke collars, prong collars, electronic bark collars, citronella bark collars, alpha rollovers, screaming mimi-fits, rolled-up newspapers...ugh. It hurts to even think about it.

And 'hurt' goes against ahimsa. So, if I am to follow this first of principles, then I need ways to work and play with animals that, first, do no harm. Enter clicker-training.

I learned to clicker train when I moved to the city from the country with our Gilly, an Akbash Dog, a livestock guardian breed who was dog aggressive. I took her to the general public classes offered by Handi-Dogs, an organization that instructed people how to train their own service dog through clicker training. I showed up with 115 pound Gilly in a pinch collar and was promptly shown how to fit a Gentle Leader and given a clicker. From there I went to volunteering and eventually taking on a role as a clicker training instructor.

I wasn't a yoga teacher then, but was in the midst of my career transition from scientist/statistician. My work with the dogs and their people lead me back to horses (I once nearly completed a PhD in equine exercise physiology) and horses lead me back to yoga, and the spiral of learning continues.

Clicker training is positive, concrete, and specific (first learned from one of my teachers, Robert Birnberg). The critters love it, the consequences of the actions of clicker training are beneficial to the relationship, everybody learns, and no one gets hurt. Ahimsa.


1 comment:

  1. Dear Jenny - I found your post via a google search on "clicker for yoga". After finishing Karen Pryor's book "Reaching the Animal Mind" and watching the amazing videos on the book's website (eg,, I had the idea that clicker training could be an ideal technology for teaching the fundamentals of yoga asanas. Any thoughts? -Avery