Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Posts tagged ‘behaviour becomes stronger’

Is This The Reason that You don’t Clicker Train Your Horse?

A common objective about clicker training horses is that ‘you have to carry a clicker and treats around all the time‘.

Is that what’s really holding you back or is it something else? Something fear based? Maybe you’re afraid your horse turns into a monster or becomes treat crazy and you don’t know how you would handle that.

‘You have to have treats on you all the time’

carrying treats in clicker training_hippologic_debunking myths_clickertrainingThat carrying treats and a clicker is a burden, is just a matter of perspective. Horse people are carrying tools around all the time. Most of them way heavier and bigger than a box clicker (which you can replace by a verbal marker or a tongue click) and a pocket full of treats. Think of whips (riding crops or lunge whips), training sticks or heavy lead ropes to name a few.

I have treats on me most of the time. I don’t always use the treats I carry, sometimes they just go stale… Yes, that can be yucky. Everyone who found a piece of forgotten fruit or carrot in their pockets a few weeks later can confirm that. That is a disadvantage of having treats on you…

Training Results from Positive Reinforcement are long lasting

Decades ago -when I was still carrying a whip and or “carrot” stick around- my results in training could deteriorate pretty quickly when I didn’t bring my tools (to threaten my horse into coercion). We all tried to ride without a crop, only to discover just carrying one helps, right?

_carrot_or_stick_hippologicOne huge advantage of positive reinforcement is that you teach the horse to choose to follow your cues. You make positive associations in training all the time.

Following cues turn into pleasant habits for the horse. After you trained the desired behaviour you fade out click and treats. Well trained clicker horses are used not to get treats all the time!

Once a behaviour is established and on cue you only reinforce the behaviour once in a while and that doesn’t even have to be with food. There are many ways you can reinforce a clicker savvy horse without a food reward. I find it very important to teach students the principles of learning and motivation and teach them to rely on their training skills and and not on a treat or a tool.

Afraid to loose control without training tools

I think one of the fear is that we think we loose control without treats in our pocket, but people who haven’t tried R+ or haven’t used it properly don’t realize the training is IN THE HORSE. Therefor you don’t need the treats and act like a dispenser. You don’t lose control without treats. You can fade out the clicks and treats. (Actually that is what you have to do in order to be successful in positive reinforcement training.)

Although it’s true you do have to reinforce once in a while after the behaviour is trained, but that goes for R- too. Traditional well trained horses still get whipped or kicked in their flanks once in while. Think of the many well trained horses that are ridden with spurs.

There always need to be a certain level of Reinforcement in order not to let the behaviour extinct. light-bulb-1926533_640

 

Carrying treats or a clicker is no different from carrying other reinforcing tools. They are different tools with the same goal: not to let the behaviour get extinct.

So don’t let a small box clicker or a pocket full of treats withhold you from a wonderful relationship with your horse and excellent results in training.

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I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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Tips to re-train undesired behaviour in horses

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’.

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’.

Extinction_Graph

Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

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.

Extinct behaviour

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.

Spontaneous recovery

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.

Undesired behaviour

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This kind of self rewarding behaviour is hard to re-train

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.

Remember this

Every time an extinction burst is rewarded, the behaviour becomes stronger. Something you want in training desired behaviours, not in re-training undesired behaviours.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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