In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 6. This one is really an eye-opener! This is a phenomenon you only see in R+ training!
Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.
The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.
#6 Horses increase the criteria
Your horse will do more and more for one click, if you know how. He will raise the criteria of the behaviour on his own in order to ‘train you to click’.
That is very unconventional in horse training! And scary too: “What if you are being trained by your horse instead of the other way around?! That is outrageous! You will loose your leadership!”
To tell you the truth: horses are training us. From day 1. Now you realize this, you can use this knowledge and turn it into a mutual benefit! Since we- clicker trainers- are encouraging and reinforcing the animal’s initiative he will be very likely to show you what else he can do.
At first you click and reinforce every step towards the goal behaviour. Once a behaviour is consistent, you can change to a variable reward schedule. This is where the fun part start: the experimenting! I love this part! Once the behaviour will be on a more unpredictable reinforcement schedule your horse will figure out that the more effort he will put into the exercise the more likely it is to receive an appetitive.
Video of a horse increasing her own criteria
In this video you can see how this works: First Kyra gets clicks and reinforcers for ‘walking around each cone’. Soon she figures out that she can influence the click and getting it sooner by getting to the cone faster! Now my more-whoa-than-go-horse offers a trot! By herself!
I reinforce this with clicks and treats. Now the criterion is raised. By Kyra! I click less often (variable reward schedule) and I got a canter! Bingo! Kyra raised her criteria again! This is how you can work together with your horse in training.
The behaviours trot and canter are put on cue. Then I click only for cued behaviour. Final step in training is to fade out the clicks (but not completely appetitive reinforcers). How you can use this is in your own training is what I teach in the 8 week online Ultimate Horse Training Formula course.
Influencing the clicks and reinforcers will keep your horse very much engaged and enthusiast in training. He will offer better quality behaviour or longer duration by himself. As trainer you can easily capture this with a click and reinforcer. Tadaa, now the criterion has been raised. By the horse!
Something I have never seen in negative reinforcement (traditional/NH) training methods. Yes, I have seen horses run faster because the threat of the aversive increased (e.g. giving a second leg aid and then a ‘tap’ with the whip), but that only lasted for a short period of time. It wasn’t the lasting change that we see in R+ training.
Soon the horse will figure out how to offer a minimum of behaviour: just enough to avoid the aversive.
Think back or look around you: How often did you have to give a leg aid twice or three times because you thought your horse ‘didn’t pay attention’? How many horses do you know that get ‘deaf’ for light leg aids and even spurs? Maybe horses know us better than we know ourselves…
Read the other articles in this series:
Sandra Poppema, BSc
Founder of HippoLogic
Enhancing Horse-Human connections through clicker training
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