Now you are going to find out how old I really am! In the good old days (I am talking about last century) you learned the ropes from an old horseman. Here are some rules I learned and still follow. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Best Basics’ Category
In another post I explained the power of a variable reward schedule and how to use it into your advantage. A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule because it takes the longest for a behaviour to become extinct. How can you use this information in re-training undesired behaviour?
‘Extinction’ of behaviour
Extinction means that the behaviour will never be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward, so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.
This is what we want to accomplish when a horse displays undesired behaviour, like kicking the stall door. We want to ignore the behaviour in order to make clear that this will not get him anywhere.
Why does it often seem not to work at all (ignoring undesired behaviour)?. It is because of a natural occurrence in learning that is called ‘extinction burst’.
Once the owner decides to ignore this undesired behaviour in order to let it become extinct (0% chance of a reward so therefor displaying the behaviour has no value for the horse anymore) the behaviour will first show an ‘extinction burst’.
During the extinction burst the horse will show an increased amount effort in the hope for a reward. If one decides to ‘reward’ (read: react) to this undesired behaviour in any way, even if it is with shouting at the horse in an attempt to punish this undesired behaviour, chances are that the horse regards this as his reward. After all, it is the receiver (horse) who determines if something is a reward.
How to handle it
If the horse kicks a door in order to get your attention and he gets what he wants, it is a reward. Every time an extinction burst is rewarded it takes longer for the behaviour to become extinct.
So if you expect the horse wants your attention, make sure he doesn’t get it. Every time he kicks his stall door walk out of sight or turn your back. In this way you make sure you don’t give him attention for kicking the door.
If you want to let a behaviour go extinct the extinction burst is the most important moment not to reinforce.
This is also the moment most people are tempted to react. The person interprets the increased undesired behaviour as ‘the horse hasn’t learnt anything’ and because the bad behaviour increased (instead of decreased) they feel the need to interfere in the hope punishment will solve this.
A second, smaller extinction bursts can occur over time, which are called spontaneous recovery of behaviour. In the case of our horse kicking the barn door, he might show the behaviour again but less extreme. When the extinction burst(s) don’t get reinforced the behaviour will go extinct.
In dealing with undesired behaviour we always want to know what caused the behaviour, so we can work on that too.
Sometimes it is really hard to determine what reinforces a certain undesired behaviour. If the behaviour is ‘self rewarding’ just ignoring the behaviour won’t work. The horse will get his reward regardless what you are doing. Then you have to figure out how you can reinforce the opposite behaviour more than the undesired behaviour or find a way to prevent it.
Rewarding the opposite behaviour
In the case of door kicking you can ignore the noise and start rewarding the horse for ‘four hooves on the ground’. In this way you communicate what it is you do want from the horse: standing still. Use the reward he wants for the undesired behaviour: your attention or during feeding time the food.
This approach works really well, but it takes a lot of effort from the trainer. You must be paying attention when the horse is standing still and is quiet. That can be a bigger challenge than just ignoring the door kicking.
Make sure everybody is on the same page if you want to re-train behaviour like door kicking. Ask everyone to follow the simple rules: go to horses that stand still and look for attention, ignore the door kickers.
Every time an extinction burst is rewarded, the behaviour becomes stronger. Something you want in training desired behaviours, not in re-training undesired behaviours.
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!
Horses learn in a certain context. Each change in the context of training your horse should be considered as a new criterion. Use this to set yourself and your horse up for success.
What is a ‘context shift’?
If you want to teach your horse something new, like targeting, practise this in the beginning always in the same place, the same context. Maybe you start this exercise in the round pen or in his stall where you can train with protective contact (a barrier).
After a few session in which your horse made progress you might decide that you want to train without the barrier. Now you’ve changed the context. Expect a change in performance and lower your criteria in the beginning so you can give your horse confidence. If you always trained indoors and you ask the same exercise outdoors, your context (indoor/outdoor) has changed.
Not only the horse experiences ‘context changes’
If your horse masters the exercise and you want to show it to your friend or film it: the context changes for you. Have you noticed that it is suddenly much harder to perform at the same level when some one is watching?
Why horse and rider perform much better at home
The same thing happens (for rider and horse) if you train for a competition and you as team perform great at home. Once you are in the dressage ring in a new place, with white fences your horse never saw before and you know there is a two person judge watching you, the context in which you have practised has changed. A lot. No wonder is doesn’t go as smoothly as it always goes at home, with your own instructor who you trust. Again, start lowering your criteria and set yourself up for success: consider the first competitions in a strange environment as training. Boost your horse’s confidence by communicating what you want. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to communicate what you want and see more of.
How to handle context shifts
You will soon notice that you only have to lower your criteria (and your expectations) just a little bit and for a little while. If you don’t do this, the chances of getting dissapointed and/or frustrated are much bigger. Also for your horse it is much easier to learn to generalize certain aspects of the surroundings that have nothing to do with the cue for the behaviour.
You can use the context in teaching new exercises to your advantage, then if you want to teach your horse to generalize certain things in the setting you can change the context of your training. In this way the horse learns to generalize and he will soon learn is important to pay attention to (your cues) and what is best to ignore in order to get a click and reward (for instance certain things in surrounding, that are not part of your cue).
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult!
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in horse training is that they don’t set their horse (or themselves) up for success. Once you know some basics about horse training, setting it up for succes becomes easier. A common mistake is not visualizing what the goal is and planning how to communicate it to your horse.
If you have a goal in mind to teach your horse, the first step to set yourself up for success is making a shaping plan. In your shaping plan you describe your goal, your starting point and how you are going to divide the goal into baby steps in order to built this new behaviour.
Split your goal behaviour into enough baby steps and train every step separately until it is mastered before you raise a criterion. In this way you train (shape) your goal behaviour in a systematic way. Each baby step is in fact a building block of the desired behaviour. So far the theory.
Splitting behaviour is not easy and this is a continues aspect to work on. Even me, after more than 16 years of experience with positive reinforcement training, I catch myself lumping behaviour. Why? Because every horse, every behaviour and every situation is different.
You can’t possibly know beforehand what your horse is capable off, physically or mentally. You only know that until you reach a boundary. Also the training circumstances have a great influence on the learning capability of humans and horses. Teaching your horse something new in stormy weather is probably not setting yourself up for success.
The most common mistake is that the steps trainers make are too big for the horse. This is called lumping. The horse doesn’t understand what is expected from him. When you lump, you simply have raised (too many) criteria, too soon.
How to recognize lumping
It is quit easy to recognize if you know what to look for. You know it is time to adjust your criteria or tweak the setting of your training if your horse shows signs of:
- shutting down
Your horse can get disinterested in you and your training because he thinks he will never earn a treat and simply gives up. Or he can get frustrated: ‘Why don’t I get that treat now, when I did this just a minute ago I got it.’
This also goes for the trainer. If you feel frustrated, anxious, despair, anger or other undesired emotions, just stop for a moment. Take a break and take few deep breaths. Get yourself into thinking mode again. Then figure out a way to split the training into more steps and start over.
Lowering your criteria is not the same as ‘failing’, on the contrary: lowering your criteria in order to follow your horses (or your own) learning curve is setting your horse up for success. A side effect is that you will succeed quicker, too
I don’t think it is realistic to expect we’ll never lump behaviour anymore. It is part of the learning experience: split behaviour enough until you notice a bump in the road. This is when you know you’re lumping. Then you split the ‘lump’ and go on until you encounter the next bump. That is ‘learning’ and it is fun.
Every time you notice that you’re lumping it is a sign that you have experience. Why? Otherwise you wouldn’t notice it and might try to solve the problem with a bit more tack, a whip or other ways to make the horse do what you desire. That is what most people do, I see this happening in the most experienced clinicians too.
Here is a video in which you can see what splitting and lumping can look like:
[Readers who get my blog via their email won’t see the video embedded. Sorry about this. If you want to see it, follow this link to my blog https://hippologic.wordpress.com]
Science of learning
I am grateful I have learned a bit about horse behaviour/body language, learning theory, learning processes and how to motivate a learner (human and horse). I don’t need to force my goals onto my horse anymore now that I have these tool of knowledge and experience.
If my training is not getting me the results I wanted or expected I take a break and regroup. Sometimes my break lasts for a few day or even a week. It doesn’t matter. My horse doesn’t win, if I stop training just because I don’t know what to do at that moment. I am always aiming for a win-win.
Force is never the (right) answer in my opinion. I treasure the bond with my horse too much for that.
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website. I offer online video consults.
I was asked: What kind of treats do you use for clicker training?
The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. Here are some other things to consider when you choose treats for training.
When you introduce the click or another bridge signal to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.
If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.
The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less refills. This can be handy on a long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).
A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.
If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.
There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.
Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.
Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.
High value treats also make excellent jackpots.
If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.
For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.
Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.
Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.
Practical things matter
Not all trainers like to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.
My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.
Some treats, like sour apples, can increase the amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can cause foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.
If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!
I think what makes certain horse trainers more successful than others is ‘communication’. To me the result of training is not the most important part. The most important component of horse training is the way the trainer got that result with the horse. In other words: the training method and the way it is communicated weighs more than the actual result, the behaviour.
#1 Listening to the horse
The more I learn about body language and natural behaviour of horses, the more clearly I see if the horse is stressed, anxious, troubled, in pain or skeptical about the things the rider or trainer asks him to do. That takes the joy out of watching horses perform without willingness and eagerness to work with their handler. That is the reason I avoid the main acts on horse events. I would rather talk to passionate horse owners who think the horse matters too or are looking for ways to find out if what they do is as enjoyable for the horse as it is for them.
#2 Bridge signal
When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that I had a powerful communication tool in my hand. The more positive reinforcement training I do, the more I realize that my bridge signal (the marker) functions as a very precise tool, like a scalpel. I can change the tiniest details in a behaviour to my desire. It communicates so clearly what it is I want from my horse, it is amazing that more people are not use it.
The bridge signal is the most important communication tool in working with rewards. The bridge signal marks exactly the behaviour the horse earned the reward for. Click: this is what I want. How more clear can you get?
The third very important pillar of training is the category of reinforcers a trainer uses.
If it is negative reinforcement, the horse learns basically through avoidance. The wanted behaviour is reinforced by avoiding an unpleasant stimulus. Negative reinforcement (-R) is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning. For example yielding for pressure. Even when the unpleasant stimulus changed to a very light cue or just a body movement of the trainer, the brain will still associate the cue with the way the behaviour was triggered, the aversive. This is the reason negative reinforcement works so well: one can fade out the aversive but it still works because of the association in the brain.
If the learning happens because the horse is getting something he wants, something pleasant that is added to reinforce the behaviour (positive reinforcement), he will try to earn another reward.
The association the trainer builds in the horse’s brain is a pleasant one. The horse will actively seek out behaviours that got him rewarded in the past. The trainer stimulates the intelligence and the creativity of the horse with rewards. These horses are offering new behaviours all the time. Something you will not see in seasoned -R trained horses.
This is the eagerness and the joy one can spot in a +R trained horse.
Spread the word
I see so many talented and knowledgeable clinicians, horse trainers and riding instructors out there, who could be even more successful if they would only use bridge signals in their training and lessons. The bridge signal marks the wanted behaviour in the horse, but it also clearly shows to the rider/handler what the instructor means.
I wish more people understood the importance of a bridge signal paired with a pleasant stimulus (reward). Of course it’s intertwined with understanding what the horse communicates back to you and the reinforcers that make it worthwhile for the horse.
I think the bridge signal is the best kept secret in horse training and I think it is time to reveal this powerful tool to every horse lover, rider, trainer and instructor.
Share this message if you agree.
For tailored advise, please visit my website to book a video consult
Luring (lokken), moulding (manipuleren), shaping (stap-voor-stap vormen), targeting (volgen van een ‘target’/doel) en capturing (‘vangen’ van gedrag) zijn vijf manieren om gedrag te trainen met positive reinforcement. Wat zijn de voor- en nadelen van elke techniek?
In dit eerste deel: de voor- en nadelen van luring en moulding. Luring en moulding zijn de technieken die ik zelden tot nooit gebruik in mijn paardentraining.
We spreken van luring wanneer de trainer een primaire versterker (bv voedsel) gebruik om het paard in de gewenste houding te lokken. Voorbeeld: de trainer houdt een wortel tussen de voorbenen van het paard om het paard te verleiden tot een buiging. Het paard krijgt het lokaas zodra hij het doelgedrag vertoont.
Het grote verschil tussen luring en targeting is dat bij luring het lokaas tegelijk ook de versterker (de beloning) is.
Voordelen van luring
Lokken kan de opdracht voor het paard op een gemakkelijke manier verduidelijken.
Het is een snelle manier om tot het eind gedrag (doelgedrag) te komen.
Nadelen van luring
Als het paard zo snel mogelijk het lokaas wil bemachtigen kan het zijn dat hij daardoor niet meer op de trainer en zijn aanwijzingen let.
Het lokaas kan het paard dusdanig afleiden dat hij niet meer op het gedrag is gefocust dat hij moet leren.
Het lokken met met lokaas kan de veiligheid van de trainer in gevaar brengen als hij bijvoorbeeld niet meer zijn eigen hand en/of de mond van het paard kan zien terwijl hij het het voert.
Werken met lokaas kan bedel- en bijtgedrag in de hand werken.
Luring kan de verwachtingen en de regels met betrekking to veilig uit de hand voeren negatief beïnvloeden. Er kan verwarring ontstaan omdat het lokaas nu het gedrag markeert in plaats van een brugsignaal.
Als het aas zeer aantrekkelijk is, kan luring frustratie veroorzaken als het paard (nog) niet bij het lokkertje kan komen en/of de opdracht niet snapt waardoor hij de beloning niet krijgt.
Het paard weet al wat de beloning zal zijn. Voorspelbaarheid over het soort beloning en/of wanneer de beloning komt, kan het gedrag ‘uitdoven’ in plaats van dat we meer van dit gedrag krijgen. Bekend voorbeeld is met een emmer voer je paard uit het weiland halen. Meestal werkt dit slechts een paar keer voor het paard de andere kant op rent als hij emmer en halster ziet.
Hetzelfde geldt voor een paard met voer de trailer (waar hij bang voor is) in lokken. Het zal een, of twee keer werken, maar zolang niet aan het paard zijn behoefte wordt voldaan (het wegnemen van angst/aan vertrouwen bouwen), zal lokken slecht kort werken. Het kan zelfs de vertrouwensband beschadigen.
Het kan lastig zijn om het lokaas af te bouwen en het gedrag te behouden. Door met lokaas te werken heeft de trainer een bepaald verwachtingspatroon bij het paard geschept. Je paard wil misschien niet eens buigen de eerste keer dat hij geen wortel ziet.
Luring lijkt op het eerste gezicht veel sneller te werken dan je paard eerst het targeten aan te leren, toch wegen de nadelen niet op tegen de voordelen. Ik adviseer luring niet aan.
Moulding wordt soms ook wel aangeduid als molding of manipulation. Moulding is het fysiek begeleiden van het paard (of een lichaamsdeel) in, de gewenste houding of het eindgedrag. Dan voor het gewenste gedrag clicken en belonen. Voorbeeld: het paardenhoofd aan het halster voorzichtig naar beneden leiden -tussen de voorbenen- om het paard naar een buiging te begeleiden.
Voordelen van moulding
Net als luring, kan moulding helpen de opdracht voor het dier duidelijk te maken. In die zin kan het frustratie voorkomen.
Het is voor de trainer gemakkelijk te snappen en toe te passen.
Het is een snelle manier om complexe gedragingen in een keer aan te leren, zoals knielen of buigen.
Nadelen van moulding
Het paard wordt met moulding niet aangemoedigd ‘zelf na te denken’ over het gedrag: zijn lichaam wordt in de gewenste positie gezet waarna geclickt en beloond wordt. Dat kan het lastig maken het hulpmiddel af te bouwen. In dit voorbeeld: het halster met halstertouw weg te laten.
Waarschuwing: er is een soms maar een dunne scheidslijn tussen moulding en afdwingen van gedrag. Een paard of ander dier, tot een gedrag te dwingen ethisch niet verantwoord en is onacceptabel als trainingsmethode. Wees dus voorzichtig met het toepassen van moulding, vooral als je als trainer frustratie voelt opkomen.
In het volgende artikel zal ik de voor-en nadelen van shaping, targeting en capturing bespreken. Technieken die ik juist veel gebruik in mijn training.