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

Posts tagged ‘food reward horse training’

Common Fears About Hand-Feeding Horses

Horse owners (I call them horse trainers) who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how treats or rewards can be effectively used as reinforcers. Some people don’t realize that you can use treats to your benefit: to help you train your horse._Ifahorselovestheirjob_hippologic

Common beliefs

I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

Let’s see how we can prevent these objections from happening.
In this blog I gave solutions for objections 1,2,4,7,9, and 13. In this blog I will debunk objection #3.

‘Using Treats In Training Makes Horses Fat’

This can happen, but it is easily preventable:

  • You can use the horse’s normal dinner feed in training. You already know they love it! Then of course at dinner time you give less if your horse is prone to become _give an appetitive HippoLogicoverweight easily.
  • Most horses like to work for simple hay cubes or timothy/alfalfa cubes
  • You can make your own sugar-free treats which horses really love (at least all horses I trained all love them)
  • You can even use handful of hay (in Winter) or grass (in Summer)

Tips

  1. Avoid high sugar treats like apples, carrots or store bought horse treats. They all contain lots of sugar.
  2. Try out other veggies or low sugar fruits like cucumber or celery
  3. Make sure the amount of reinforcers is in balance with the amount of exercise your horse gets.

If you want to learn more about using food to your benefit in training, sign up today for the next course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. One of the 8 modules will be about how to use food reinforcers best, the difference between ‘high value’ and ‘low value’ reinforcers and when to use which. You also learn how to fade out the reinforcer and keep the behaviour!

Stay tuned for my next blog. I will give solutions to objection #6 They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019 and join us!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

Are you ready to learn how to get the results in clicker training you really, really want?

  • Want to gain more confidence in training your horse and know you are doing it well?
  • Want to learn all 12 Key Lessons and become skilled and experience in training your horse with positive reinforcement?
  • Want to have personal training advice for your horse?

Join this online course and have life times access to our support group and all recordings of our LIVE classes! For as long as you want, you’re welcome back. Click here

Payment plan available for your convenience.

Clicker Training Mastery (advanced course) starts March 6, 2019

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

PS Did you know HippoLogic has also a membership (accountability) program?

__rewards_hippologic

 

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3 Reasons to Use Treats in Training

Treats, or food reinforcers, can be used in training very effectively. Three good reasons to use them are:

  • key lesson Table Manners_hippologic_safe handfeedingTrain wanted behaviour quickly
  • Animals are very motivated to earn their click and rewards. Therefor you can fade out the reinforcer and still get the behaviour. That is called a variable reward schedule. It’s very powerful!
  • It makes training very enjoyable for the horse and he will make positive associations with you and your training. A positive bond with your horse depends on the negative encounters being outweighed by the positive ones. Using positive reinforcement in training will give your bond a great boost.

Use Treats in Training Effectively

Timing is everything in clicker training horsesFeeding treats as a reward won’t necessarily get you the desired outcome. You have to use treats as reinforcer. To strengthen behaviour, not just to reward behaviour.

Be clear

Most important way to turn your reward into a reinforcer is to be clear why the horse got the treat.

You can communicate this effectively with the use of a marker signal, to mark the wanted behaviour. This is the best kept secret in horse training! This is very important: to use a marker signal!

COMMON FEARS ABOUT HAND-FEEDING HORSES

People who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how “treats” or “rewards” can be effectively used as reinforcers. I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

Let’s see how we can prevent these objections from happening.

Objection: Hand-feeding creates mugging, biting, space invading, dangerous horses

I will merge objections 1, 2 , 4, 7, 9 and 13. They all refer to the fear that the good relationship with your horse will end because of giving him treats.

There is a big difference between giving treats randomly and using treats as reinforcer to train behaviour.

Randomly dispensed treats can indeed cause frustration and confusion in the horse because it’s not clear why he got the treat.

When treats are (in the eyes of the horse!) randomly given, he will look for a way to increase the likelihood of getting treats. That is the principle used in positive reinforcement training.

If treats are given when mugging, biting, pushing, nippy, aggressive or space-invading behaviour just happened, that behaviour was reinforced!

Solution:

Be clear to your horse when to expect a treat and when not to expect a treat in training. You can give your horse clarity by using a bridge or marker signal.

With a marker signal (click) you now can easily train the opposite or an incompatible behaviour. It’s already clear he wants the treat, so now you use the treat to get desired and safe behaviour. I call that your Key to Success. This Key Lesson is called Table Manners for Horses. Your horse can’t bite you with a closed and relaxed muzzle, he can’t invade your space if he stands at a distance and he won’t mug you if he know to move his head away from your pocket with treats.

You can even give the horse more clarity by using a start-training-signal and an end-training-signal. Only during training treats can be earned. Be consequent!

 

Timing. Pay attention to when you give your horse treats. You get what you reinforce. So if your horse just sniffed your pocket and you think: ‘Hey lovely horse, you are right. I do have an apple in my pocket. What a smart horse, here you go.’ You just reinforced ‘sniffing your pocket’ and increased the likelihood of your horse mug you/invade your space again. Again: your marker (click) is a valuable tool to communicate.

Other objections of using treats in training

I will discuss the other 7 fears of using treats in another blog, so stay tuned. You can get my blog in your mailbox by signing up in the menu bar on the right.

If you want to use treats in training safe and effectively sign up for my course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this online course you will learn how to use positive reinforcement to train your horse, you will learn to avoid the most common pitfalls in horse training (in R+ as well as in traditional methods), you will learn to avoid and solve frustration of horse and human in training and get the results you’re aiming for.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019 and join us!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

Are you ready to learn how to get the results in clicker training you really, really want?

  • Want to gain more confidence in training your horse and know you are doing it well?
  • Want to learn all 12 Key Lessons and become skilled and experience in training your horse with positive reinforcement?
  • Want to have personal training advice for your horse?

Join this online course and have life times access to our support group and all recordings of our LIVE classes! For as long as you want, you’re welcome back. Click here

Payment plan available for your convenience.

Clicker Training Mastery (advanced course) starts March 6, 2019

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

PS Did you know HippoLogic has a membership (accountability) program?

_apple_carrot_heart_horsetreat_valentine_hippologic

 

6 Things Your Might Not Know About Clicker Training (1/6)

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 1.

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.

#1 The purpose of clicker training is to teach new behaviours or retrain undesired behaviours

People often get the wrong impression about equine clicker training. They think you need to keep clicking and feeding for ever. That’s not true at all!horse-934534_640

I think it is because there are so many videos out there about teaching our horses new behaviours. If you see a lot of those videos you indeed can get the wrong impression and could be mistakenly thinking that we clicker trainers never stop clicking and are always giving treats.

Fact
Once the horse understands the new or more desirable behaviour, the marker (click) and food are faded out.

We still reinforce the behaviour once in a while with an appetitive (treat, praise, scratches or with other reinforcing behaviour), but we don’t keep clicking and feeding treats for the same behaviour over and over.

If we would do that, it would decrease the goal behaviour rather than it would keep it’s quality or increase it.

Part of the power of positive reinforcement is that there is a chance of getting a reward once the behaviour is trained. That chance can also involve to do other behaviour (one that they really like to do). That will make the horse always want to perform his best.

After the first few sessions of clicker training the horse starts to pay attention to the click and his behaviour at the the time of the click.

In clicker training he focus shifts pretty quickly from the food to the click and their own behaviour.

If people make videos about clicker training their horse, they are usually filming behaviour that is in the process of being taught, not behaviours that are already well trained and established. Therefor the horse is clicked and reinforced a lot in those videos.

The clicks and treats are faded out after the goal behaviour is trained.

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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Don’t know what to say? Simply hit the like button so I know you liked this article.

PS Do you know about the HippoLogic membership?

Safe the date: March 6, 2019

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Are you ready to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Do you wish you had more confidence in training your horse with R+?
  • Would you like to have a supportive community to help you implement all 12 Key Lessons to Your Success?

Join this online course and get free life time access to all recorded LIVE webinar classes and our online R+ community! Click here

Clicker Training Mastery ( expert course) starts March 7, 2019

Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get results in training they really, really want. Getting results with ease and lots of fun for both horse and human is important to me. Win-win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Did you know HippoLogic has a membership program to support you in getting results in training?

 

Tips to Measure the Value of Your Reward

I mean reinforcer. Not ‘reward’. It just sounded better. 😉 There is a big difference, let’s take a look at the definitions:

Reward
noun

A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
“the holiday was a reward for 40 years’ service with the company”

Synonyms: Recompenseprizeawardhonordecorationbonuspremiumbountypresentgift,
payment;

Informal – payoffperk;
Formal – perquisite “a reward for its safe return”
Reward
verb
Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.
Synonyms:

Recompensepayremunerate, make something worth someone’s while;

Reinforcer

A stimulus (such as a appetitive or the removal of an aversive) that increases the probability of a desired response in operant conditioning by being applied or effected following the desired response.

The purpose of a reward is a gift (end of story), the purpose of a reinforcer is to stimulate behaviour! Big difference.

Determine a Reinforcer

_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesFirst you need to know that it’s the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer!

Your horse will tell you if something was reinforcing.

There are only 3 possibilities:

  1. You get more behaviour: the appetitive or aversive was indeed reinforcing
  2. You see no difference in desired response:the trainer did not give an appetitive or aversive stimulus but a neutral stimulus
  3. You get less of the desired behaviour, your reinforcer was not a reinforcer but a punishment for the learner. The behaviour decreased.

Low value or high value reinforcers

Low value reinforcers will still increase desired behaviour (they are not neutral) but they don’t over excite or over arouse your horse. Your horse stays interested in your training and keeps paying attention to you.

_treats_in_training_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can help your horse to increase his own criteria of a certain behaviour because the value of the treat excites him.

The downside is that high value reinforcers can cause over excitement and/or overarousal. You want to avoid that because it will distract the animal from the behaviour you want him to offer.

Choosing the Right Value

In general you want to use the lowest value reinforcer possible, that still get you the desired behaviour. It’s still worth it for the horse.

Low value reinforcers will help keep your horse in ‘learning mode‘ and pay attention to the behaviour, not the food.

You can alternate low value reinforcers with higher value reinforcers or you can mix them to up the value and keep it interesting.

_carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can be well used when your horse is nervous, in pain or if something else (a distraction) is also highly reinforcing.

A better ‘pay’ can help him decide to offer the desired behaviour despite of his emotions or other attractive motivators that going on.

It can help your horse to choose to perform better if he knows a high value reinforcer will or might come his way.

Tips to Measure the Value

When your horse grabs the treat off of your hand, bites, moves his head very fast towards the hand that offers the treat or eats the treat very fast, the reinforcer is of high value. Other signs can be over excitement or arousal and concentrating on the food instead of the cues of the trainer.

When your horse sniffs the treat first or slowly eats it, it can be an indicator of a low value reinforcer. If your horse starts to refuse the treat during training it has lost it’s value and you need to stop the training session or switch to a higher value reinforcer.
If the quality of the desired behaviour will not increase (your horse doesn’t try other behaviours/increase criteria) your reinforcers aren’t high enough value.

When your horse stays engaged in your training, keep offering new behaviours and doesn’t show frustration or overarousal/overexcitement the balance of high/low value reinforcers is perfect. That might change over time or when your clicks get too predictable.

Behaviour is not static!

What are some low and high value reinforcers for your horse? How can you tell? Please share your stories in the comments and inspire us!

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the relationship with their horse they really, really want and I teach them how they can get the results in training they dream of in a win-win way for horse and human.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (2/3)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!

I realized that some equestrians maybe still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they can be so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not basic exercises, I consider them tools. Important and powerful training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.

Key Lessons for Horses

The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read part I here.

From exercise to training tool to success strategy

At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

Targeting 

The Key Lesson Targeting is a goal when you have to teach your horse how to target. You teach him to touch an object with his nose.

_trailer_training_hippologicOnce your horse can do this and you’ve put the behaviour on cue you can start using the target to create other behaviour. For instance you keep the target out of reach and ask your horse to ‘touch target’. Instead of marking (=clicking) the behaviour ‘touch’, you click for the behaviour ‘walking’ (towards the target). In this way you use the target as a tool te get other behaviour.

With a target you can get as many behaviours as your creativity lets you.
Start teaching your horse to use a stationary target. With a stationary target you can create a ‘safety blanket’ feeling for your horse. It is also a great place to send your horse to when you enter the stall, paddock or pasture with food.

I have seen trainers using a target on a very long stick to create rearing, you can use it to teach your horse to ‘follow a moving target’ so you can teach him to follow you.

If your horse often leaves you when you are working at liberty you can present the target as a reminder ‘good things happen’ when you pay attention to your trainer. Targeting also can be used to create Key Lessons ‘Head lowering’ and ‘Backing‘.

Mat training

Targeting is very, very versatile. Once your horse knows how to target with his nose you can ask him to target other body parts, like his feet.

_mat_training_hippologic

You start training your horse to step onto a mat or piece of plywood. Once your horse is confident to do this and he knows the cue for it you can transfer the behaviour ‘step on the mat’ to other objects. Like a pedestal, a tarp or a trailer ramp. Of a wooden bridge that you encounter on a trail or the cover of a manhole or a horse scale, like in the picture below.

_428kg

Once your horse knows how to target with his nose and his feet it is not that hard to ask him to target other body parts. Once you realize that now you know this Key Lesson it is easy to see how you can use targeting as a training tool, right?

Ear target, to help clean them, overcome head shyness and is a great aid in teaching your horse to ‘self halter/bridle’.

Mouth and lip target to teach to accept oral medication like worming paste, accept a bit, check his teeth or teach your horse to pick up items and give them to you.

Knee target to teach the Spanish walk, Spanish trot, put his hoof on a hoof jack or to teach your horse ‘jambette’.

Hip target to align your horse at the mounting block, travers, move over and so on.

Eye target to clean eyes, put ointment in, calm him down.

Sternum target to teach classical bow

Chin target to teach positions of the head

Tail target to teach backing

Hoof target to lift hoofs, use a hoof jack, put hoof in boots.

Your creativity is really the limit. If you can think it you can train it. This is why I call HippoLogic’s Key Lessons, your Key to Success.

Read part 3 here.

Check out the webinar I have done about this subject:

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all! Comments are good reinforcers.

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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 online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training that will change your life.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (1/3)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!

I realized that maybe some equestrians still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they are so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not as basic exercises but as tools. Important and powerful training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.

Key Lessons for Horses

The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

From exercise to training tool to success strategy

At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my 8 week online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

1. ‘Table Manners’ for Horses

This exercise starts out to teach your horse what humans see as ‘desired’ behaviour around food and food reinforcers.

HippoLogicThis exercise starts out to teach people to train their horse not to mug them and to be ‘polite’ around food. With ‘polite’ I mean the food always goes to the horse, never the other way around. Treats need to be carefully taken off of the hand with their lips, not the teeth. Only the treat is eaten, not the fingers and so on. Basically you just teach your horse not to forage for food. You train them to suppress their natural exploration behaviour.

Once your horse knows the fastest way to the treat (wait for the marker/click) you can teach your horse more complex behaviours, like going to his target when you arrive with hay or a bucket of grain.

2. ‘Patience’

In the exercise ‘Patience’ you teach your horse to stand next to you, with his head straight and his neck in a comfortable horizontal position. In this way your horse can’t ‘mug’ you (explore/forage).
‘Patience’ changes from a ‘simple exercise’ to a valuable training tool once you make this your horses’ ‘default behaviour’._keylesson_patience_hippologic

Default behaviour

Normally you put a cue to a behaviour once your horse masters an exercise. You will raise the criterion from ‘Well done: click‘ every time he displays the behaviour to ‘You can only earn a click after I gave a cue‘.
In a default behaviour you don’t use this criterion: you will reinforce the behaviour also when it is on the horses initiative.

Once ‘Patience‘ becomes a default behaviour and your horse is a well seasoned clicker trained horse, he will use this exercise in his communication to you.

He will display his default behaviour when he doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t understand your assignment or when he gets frustrated. He does this because he knows this behaviour will never be punished. He also learns it will almost never be ignored. So this becomes his tool to communicate with you.

In the next sequences I will explain the other Key Lessons for Horses. Read part 2 here and here is part 3.

Check out my webinar about this subject:

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all! Comments are good reinforcers.

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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 online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training’ that will change your life.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

‘When can I stop using food?’ in Clicker Training

This is a question equine clicker trainers get asked often and is a really fascinating question for me as positive reinforcement horse trainer.

I get that it’s a concern for people who are interested in clicker training and those who are exploring the pros and cons. It seems like a hassle, right?

Why is this such an intriguing question?

If you know the principles of training you’ll understand. Let me explain. Basically there are only two ways you can motivate a horse in training.

  1. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by taking away an aversive. An aversive is something the horse wants to avoid or get away from.
  2. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by giving an appetitive. An appetitive is something the horse wants to receive, something he likes.

So if someone ask me ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ it sounds like the person wants to know ‘When can I stop reinforcing behaviour?’ or ‘When can I stop offering appetitives in training?’

I have never heard someone ask a riding instructor ‘When can I stop using my whip?’ or an employer that wants to know when he can stop paying his newly hired employees.

reinforcement_hippologic

It is a legit question

However, I do understand where this question is coming from. It comes from a fear of never, ever doing something with your horse without having a treat in your pocket. I get that, but a reinforcer isn’t a bribe that you have to use every time and also have to keep increasing.

Here is what happens if you start using positive reinforcement:

  • Your horse will learn that he can influence the training by his own actions (the right behaviour leads to a click, which leads to an appetitive)
  • Your horse will gain the confidence to try out new behaviours because that increases his chances of getting what he likes (food). He is having fun discovering what leads to a treat and what doesn’t.
  • He will like the engagement with his person, because there is a ‘puzzle’ involved and there is no punishment for ‘wrong answers’. All answers are ‘Good’ or, worst case scenario, ‘Not Reinforced’.
  • In the beginning it will be about the food, yes, but if the trainer uses a marker (the click) to mark the desired behaviour in a consistent way, the horse will shift his attention from the reinforcer, the food, to the click (the marker) and therefor will be focused more on this behaviour instead of the food.
  • As soon as the marker signal (the click) becomes a reliable predictor of the appetitive, the click becomes as valuable as the food. Now the click has become secondary reinforcer. Something the horse has learned to value. First it meant nothing, now it means ‘an appetitive is coming’.

Reinforcement never stops

In positive reinforcement as well as in negative reinforcement training (traditional training and natural horsemanship methods) reinforcement never stops.

If the reinforcement stops the behaviour will go extinct (die out), unless it is ‘self _carrot_or_stick_hippologicrewarding behaviour’, behaviour that reinforces itself without external interference. 

All behaviour must be reinforced 
in order to stay in the horses 
'repertoire'.

Riders will never stop using leg aids (pressure-release) and if the horse fades out his response, he will get a reminder (the rider will use reinforcement) to ‘hurry up and respond quicker’ by the use of a stronger leg aid, the tap of the whip or the use of spurs.

Does a (well trained) horse need to be in pain every time you ride him? No, he will learn to anticipate on a light cue, that now is a reliable predictor of an aversive. It’s this principle that ‘keeps the horse in line’. The horse had learned how to avoid it.

What about positive reinforcement training? Do I have to keep using food forever?

Yes and No.

Please explain!

_cutting_carrot_hippologicYes, you will have to reinforce a learned (trained) behaviour once in a while after it is established. This will prevent extinction. This means you will have to remind your horse that there is ‘still a chance of getting something good’ (food) once in a while for good performance.

No, it doesn’t have to be food!

Once you get more experience as trainer you can use other reinforcers too that aren’t food. You can even reward behaviour with behaviour.

Yes, you will carry food almost every training, but it is not what you think. Once you have discovered how much fun it is (for you and your horse) to clicker train him and how easy you get new behaviours you can’t stop teaching him more and more.

Food is a powerful primary reinforcer and comes in handy when teaching new behaviours. That is why clicker trainers almost always carry food: they are busy training new behaviours!

No, you don’t have to reinforce well known behaviour every time with food.

HippoLogic mei '09

It can take a long time before positively reinforced behaviour goes extinct. Your horse will learn that you equal fun and he is willing to do so much more for you even when you don’t carry  food. Once your marker becomes valuable, you can replace food with other reinforcers, like scratches or other behaviours.

What about you?

What is your answer to the question ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ Please share it in the comments.

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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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