Recently I started training the rescue horses at the BC SPCA. I was asked to help (re)train the horses with positive reinforcement, since that is my specialty.
Would my training benefit the rehabilitated horses in terms of welfare? Is negative reinforcement training better in terms of welfare or is a horse better off with positive reinforcement training? I found a possible answer in a study done at the University of Wales, UK.
Negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement
The aim of their study was to compare these training strategies (negative versus positive reinforcement) on equine behaviour and physiology as the first step in establishing an optimal rehabilitation approach (from a welfare perspective) for equids that have been subjected to chronic stress in the form of long-term neglect/cruelty.
They trained 16 ponies with basic tasks like trailer loading, lead by hand, traverse an obstacle course, etc. During training the heart rate was monitored and ethograms were compiled. In addition each week an arena test was done. The training lasted for 7 weeks.
After all data was compiled there was a significant difference between the two methods. They found that ‘animals trained under a positive reinforcement schedule were more motivated to participate in the training sessions and exhibited more exploratory or ‘trial and error’ type behaviours in novel situations/environments.’ (in comparison with the horses trained with negative reinforcement).
These results support my own experience with positive and negative reinforcement. The end result of the training may be similar but the experience for the horse is significantly different between positive and negative reinforcement.
To read the full paper go to: Negative versus positive reinforcement: An evaluation of training strategies for rehabilitated horses, 2007, Lesly Innes, Sebastian McBride