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Fact Friday: difference between negative and positive reinforcement

Let’s start with explaining what positive and negative reinforcement is. Then I will share what was a real eye-opener for me about the difference between positive reinforcement (R+) and negative reinforcement (R-). It is not so much the obvious difference (the carrot or the stick-difference), it’s way cooler!

Definitions

Reinforcement (R): strengthening (a behaviour)

+ (plus): adding

– (minus): removing

Appetitive: something the animal really wants to have and values

Aversive: something the animal really wants to avoid or escape from

Positive reinforcement: use of an appetitive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

Negative reinforcement (R-): taking away an aversive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

reinforcement_hippologic

Positive reinforcement_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologic

 

In R+ trainers use mostly food rewards because food is of high value to the horse. In R+ the use of a marker signal (often a sound, eg a click) is used to communicate to the animal what behaviour the horse was reinforced for, not the moment of offering the appetitive. Clicker training is an example of positive reinforcement training.

 

Negative reinforcement

Traditional riding aids are based on R-

In R- trainers use mostly pressure to communicate. The moment of taking away the aversive is the way to communicate to the horse what behaviour the animal was reinforced for. Traditional training and natural horsemanship are based on negative reinforcement.

The difference between R+ and R-

It is not the food or the use of a marker in positive reinforcement that is the biggest difference. It is the way the horse responds in training that is the real difference.

In negative reinforcement it's the trainer that raises the criteria, 
in positive reinforcement it's the animal that raises the criteria.

 

In other words, in R- the horse will not offer behaviours spontaneously (because there is no reward involved for the animal).

The ‘release of pressure’ is not a reward: the horse will not offer ‘more behaviour’ in the hope of a more severe aversive ‘in order to earn a bigger sense of relieve’.

In R- the horse learns to avoid or prevent the aversive all together by anticipating his owners behaviour, but he will not actively seek ways to improve the behaviour since there is nothing in it for him if he does.

If the trainer wants to create more of a desired behaviour or better quality behaviour he uses an aversive to communicate that he wants something different now (raising criteria).

horse_eye_hippologic_clickertraining.jpg

In R+ the horse keeps actively looking for ways to earn the appetitive reinforcer by offering more of the desired behaviour. The horse learns he can influence the appearance of an appetitive by anticipating the behaviour. He will actively look for ways to earn the reinforcer and therefor will raise the criteria on his own by offering more of the desired behaviour.

The horse as individual

For me this way of approaching the difference between R- and R+ was a real eye-opener!

I suddenly realized that not everyone is looking for a horse that learns to think and comes up with solutions on his own!

Personally I think this is a tremendous asset in training animals. It can sometimes be a challenge to channel this motivation, but if you know how you can achieve spectacular results! It not only helps speed up training but it also benefits the relationship with the horse: he wants to train with you because there is something in it for him!

I also realize that this is exactly the same reason it can be such scary thought: a huge animal that thinks he is entitled to his own ideas (he is!). What if this is turned against the trainer? Then what? What if the horse decides not to cooperate… does that mean he doesn’t like you or your training? What if the horse ‘decides to let you down’?

What if… this is not the case at all? What if the horse mostly doesn’t cooperate because he simply doesn’t understand the question? Or he won’t do it because he is afraid? What if he is allowed (and encouraged) to communicate his concerns or fears? Would that benefit the relationship? I think it does!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe beauty of herd animals is that they are hard-wired to cooperate: the drive to work together in order to keep safe and survive is so strong they can’t ignore it. That’s the same reason we could domesticate them in the first place.

I think it is amazing to see how much horses put up with in order to cooperate. That’s the very same reason you can train them so well with negative reinforcement: their will to stay safe and survive is so strong.

Food for thought

Anyway this fact was food for thought for me. What about you? Are you afraid or delighted to let your horse raise the criteria and have a say in his training?

Remember: 
Negative reinforcement for the horse, is positive reinforcement 
for the trainer (the trainer gets what he wants: desired behaviour).

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training.
I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both horse and human.
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Fact Friday: ‘Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences’

In a study done in Norway researchers taught 23 horses to communicate to their trainers if they wanted blankets (rugs) ‘put on’, ‘taken off’ or ‘unchanged’. The horses were taught 3 different symbols to express their choice. If they chose ‘unchanged’ they kept their blankets on if they wore one and didn’t get one on if they were already without blanket.

Let the horse speak for himself

I like the idea of asking a horse their opinion in training, which is why I like to use positive reinforcement. I think it is brilliant to conduct a study in which the horse is taught to communicate their opinion about blankets.

Set-up

All the horses were solely trained with positive reinforcement. They had to learn the meaning of three symbols and their consequences. Touching a white painted board with a black horizontal stripe meant ‘put blanket on’, a blank white board meant ‘no change’ and a white board with a black vertical bar on it meant ‘take blanket off’.

They were trained for two or three sessions per day, 5–7 days a week. Each session lasted about 5 minutes. The horses varied in age between 3 and 16 years. Some horses were cold-bloods, other were warm-blood horses. The speed of learning varied between the horses however all 23 horses learned to distinguished the symbols within 14 days of training.

Conclusion of the study

Horses chose to stay without a blanket in nice weather, and they chose to have a blanket on when the weather was wet, windy and cold. This indicates that horses both had an understanding of the consequence of their choice on own thermal comfort, and that they successfully had learned to communicate their preference by using the symbols. The method represents a novel tool for studying preferences in horses.

Find the study here.

_winter_hippologic.jpg

To blanket or not to blanket is a question you can teach your horse to answer himself.

I think it is really interesting to see what happens if we give our horses a choice and a clear way to communicate their choice to us. It prevents us from making an anthropomorphic choice for them, like ‘It is a cold, sunny  day, so I put this nice warm blanket on my horse’ or making guesses about their wishes.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Fact Friday: Negative vs Positive Reinforcement Training for Rehabilitated Horses

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.

Significant difference

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 morekyra06062009 004 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

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Facts Friday: horses are grazers

I think I can state that all equestrians and non-equestrians know that horses eat grass. They are ‘grazers’. Perfect. Why do people tend to forget this as soon as they keep a horse in captivity? What are the consequences for the horse if we forget that they are grazers?

Physiology of grazers

Grazing animals are built to spend the majority of the day eating. Some grazers have multiple stomachs in order to help digest the food better. Horses only have one stomach.

Horses eat most of their day, up to 16 – 20 hours. They feed themselves with low quality feed with high amounts of fibre (fourage).

Stomach

The size of a stomach of a horse is small and the capacity is approximately 8 liters, the size of a rugby ball. Horses stomachs produce hydrochloric acid continuously unlike humans, who only produce acid when they see or smell food.

So, if we feed our horses only a few small meals a day and they are spending much less than the natural amount of hours eating, they have an empty stomach in between meals.

Keep their stomachs filled

_lentegras_hippologicWhen there are relatively long periods when the horse has an empty stomach, problems can start.Horses require the saliva and the chewed fibre to protect their stomach lining against ulcers. Normally horses produce about 20-80 liters of saliva per day to protect against the almost 60 liters of hydrochloric acid they can produce. The acid gets produced whether they are eating or not, the saliva and fibre is only there when they are eating.

Feed more fibres than grains

In order to keep horses healthy, they must eat a diet with enough fibres (hay). This is not only important for their stomachs but also for the rest of their digestive track.

In short: a lack of fourage can cause health implications like gastric ulceration (stomach ulcers), hind‐gut acidosisazoturia (tying-up), laminitis and colic (abdominal pain).

Recommendation

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAInform yourself about the horses digestive system. I participated in an online course about equine nutrition. It was a course provided by the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. It was very informative with lots of video and scientific resources. It is a 5 week course and it is totally free!

Click here for the link to the free online Equine Nutrition course from Coursera.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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