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Posts tagged ‘equine clicker training’

Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)

When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. (more…)

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Why are NH and traditional horse training methods still popular? This is why

You would think that if one knows better, they will do better. Right? I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Here is why.

Natural horsemanship (NH) and traditional horse training are based on negative reinforcement. Negatieve reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by taking away an aversive (= something unpleasant). Pressure-release is an example of negative reinforcement. The pressure (aversive) is taken away to increase or strengthen a behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningClicker training is based on positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive (=something the horse wants). After the marker signal (the click) the horse receives a treat.

Learning through negative reinforcement (R-)

If you sit on a pin what makes you stand up? The pain? Or the release of pain? Would you sit down on a pin next time if you see one lying on a chair? Or would you have learned to avoid it and check your chair before you sit down? This is how an aversive works: you learn to avoid or escape.

Learning through positive reinforcement (R+)

_moneyIf you find money on the street, you will be checking the streets or wherever you found the money the first time more often for money, until it wears out.

Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive, something pleasurable. In animal training we make use of a bridge signal, to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the appetitive. This is also called a marker signal, to ‘mark’ (click) the desired behaviour.

Downsides of using positive reinforcement

The difficulty with the use of positive reinforcement in training is that you have to let go of all traditional ways you’ve learned to train horses in the past. If the horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour, more pressure is applied or even coercion until the horse does what he has to do.

When a trainer uses positive reinforcement, he has to stop and think when a horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour. He can’t simply ‘click louder’ or ‘give a bigger reward’ before the desired behaviour has happened. R+ is not bribing. Bribing doesn’t give long lasting results.

A trainer has to investigate why the horse doesn’t do the exercise he was cued for: Is it physical? Can the horse perform the exercise? Is it a psychological reason? Is he fearful, does he have a negative association, is another behaviour more reinforcing, is he performing self reinforcing behaviour and so on.

Investigate the motivation of the horse

In other words; a positive reinforcement trainer is always investigating the horse’s motivation. Is it internal (eg hunger) or external (something outside the horse). He wants to understand the reason the horse isn’t cooperating, so he can solve it.

This takes takes skills: you have to have knowledge of the natural behaviour of the horse, his natural needs (how his body works) and recognize his physiological state (interpret body language). On top of that you have to have patience and know how you can motivate a horse with appetitives (things a horse wants to have and is prepared to work for).

Skills

Training a horse with positive reinforcement takes more skills than training a horse with negative reinforcement. If a horse doesn’t respond with the desired behaviour, the first reaction of the trainer is to apply more pressure, make the signal aversive in order to motivate the horse to move.

If you have been told over and over again to apply ‘more leg’ or ‘a light tap of the whip’ you have not learned to think about the reason the horse is not motivated. You just do as you’re told and that is what you keep doing.

Only if you run into real problems with the horse you are ‘forced’ to think about another solution.

Why are people are still using negative reinforcement?

1. The most obvious reason is that riders in general still are not taught about positive reinforcement. The horse world is still very set and traditional.

 

2. Another reason is that negative reinforcement used on the horse, is positive reinforcement for the handler/trainer.

Let me explain. Every time a rider applies an aversive leg aid (one that is trained traditionally with pressure-release until the horse reacts in the desired way) and the horse responds with the desired behaviour, the rider is reinforced positively.

negative reinforcement horse is positive reinforcement rider

Photo: Nelda Bogado

The word ‘desired’ behaviour already tells you. It is the outcome the trainer/rider/handler wants. So every time a trainer applies pressure-release and the horse responds positively it is the trainer that feels rewarded and reinforced by the outcome of his action.

It is only when the trainer has to apply so much pressure that it becomes uncomfortable for him/herself that people start to question negative reinforcement. That is the moment training is not positively reinforced by what the horse does, that is the moment people start to search for ‘other ways’.

Hopefully they find positive reinforcement and discover that developing a relationship with a horse and training him can go hand in hand. Training can be a win-win situation!

Positive reinforcement for the horse is also positive reinforcement for the trainer: the trainer gets the desired behaviour from the horse and (s)he gets to feed the horse. Feeding an animal from our hand is something we all love to do!

_Rplus is Rplus_hippologic

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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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my *new* online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.

 

 

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How to … Keep-going

What is a keep-going signal (KGS), why do you need it and how can you teach it?

What is it?
_keep going signal_hippologicA keep-going signal is used to tell your horse that he is doing the right thing and that he should keep doing it in order to earn a click and reward.

Purpose
A keep-going signal can be very useful in building duration of an behaviour. Not all horses ‘need’ a KGS. Sometimes withholding a click will work, too. Just experiment with it.

A KGS can also be used as encouragement and signal that the horse has to keep doing what he is doing.

A KGS can help prevent frustration. Some horses will get frustrated if they don’t get a click soon enough and will give up. If they hear a keep-going signal, they will know that the click will follow.

A keep-going signal also helps you get more behaviour per click. So basically you click & reward less often. Which can make the clicks even more desirable for the horse, since he doesn’t get them as often anymore.

Working on stamina in trotHow do you train it
Horses are smart and they quickly learn to anticipate cues. They will learn that after a keep-going signal, that has no meaning yet, the click & reward follows.

Choose a word that you would otherwise not use in either training or speaking to your horse. Choose a word that can be extended easily.

Introduce the keep-going signal in a behaviour that already has a duration of a few seconds, so you have time enough to introduce it. Slowly you extend the time between the keep-going signal and the click:

Cue behaviour + keep-going + click & reward (repeat several times)
Cue behaviour + keep-going + 1 second + click & reward (repeat several times)

Cue behaviour + 1 second + keep-going+ 2 seconds + click & reward (repeat several times)

And so on. Make sure your horse doesn’t get too frustrated by the removal of the click. Later on you can also extend the time before using the keep-going signal.

Cue behaviour + 1 second + keep-going+ 1 second + click & reward (repeat several times)

With a keep-going signal you can help prevent the horse from getting frustrated, since you can indicate what he has to do to earn his reward.

Related post: Reward-based training is…

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicWould you like to hear more about a keep-going signal or do you have a question about clicker training your horse? Click here to connect and I will be more than happy to help another horse-human relationship blossom.

 
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