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Posts tagged ‘food rewards’

Myth Monday: ‘With Clicker Training the Horse only does it for the Treats (not for you)’

The statement that a horse only works for ‘the treat’ and ‘not for you’ is one that I have heard many times. In fact this is one of the most common arguments used by people who use negative reinforcement to train their horses.

 What motivates the horse: you or the food

I also prefer to think in terms of ‘motivation’ when I talk about horse training and horse behaviour: is the horse motivated to move away from something or avoid something (negative reinforcement, R-) or is he motivated by desire and wants to ‘move towards _carrot_or_stick_hippologicsomething he wants’ (positive reinforcement, R+)?

When people say ‘the horse only does it for the food’ are they afraid  of not being
‘respected by the horse’ for who they are? What is respect anyway? I don’t believe a horse respects a human the way people respect people. Most ‘respectful behaviours’ horses display in the human-horse relationship are either based on fear or simply on learned behaviours, see this post about respect.

If someone states: ‘The horse only does it for the food’, you could say the same thing for negative reinforcement: ‘He only does it to avoid something unpleasant’.

This is still not an explanation that the horse follows commands just ‘for the person’.

‘For the trainer’

I wonder how you could tell for sure that your horse is doing something ‘just for you’ and not for his own benefit (too)? That is  very altruistic. Isn’t that a very cocky assumption that your horse does everything you ask, just for you and not for himself? I agree it is very tempting to tell ourselves our horse loves us so much he would do anything just for us, but it is not realistic.

Here is a video from my horse and how she reacts when I call her [for my lovely email subscribers please click in the email to go to the post to see the video]:

Is it really altruism?

Altruism is if a horse does something only to benefit another being (increasing it’s reproductive succes) and he doesn’t increases his own fitness. Example: You want to take your horse out of the pasture for a ride. If he comes to you and leaves his horsey companions without hesitation. Is it really for you as a person (and nothing else) or is there something else (too) at the root of this behaviour?

Curiosity

Maybe he is just curious and wants to check you out (that could explain the approach, but not the part where he leaves his heard and comes with you, hence the halter).

I think the more important part is the learning process that had taken place. Either the horse was positively or negatively reinforced in the past to come with you.

Positive reinforcement

If R+ is his motivation to come to and with you: he was motivated in the past by the scratches, food, attention or something else that is desirable for him. You paired pleasant experiences with coming to you and following you out of the pasture. The horse doesn’t do it for you (only).

Negative reinforcement

If he was negatively reinforced to come with you he is motivated by the aversive that was taken away to teach him to approach and follow you. For instance chasing the horse around in the pasture until he lets him catch you. After a few times the horse has learned to ‘give up’ running away from you and let you catch him. He paired stopping an unpleasant experience (being chased) with getting haltered. The horse doesn’t do it for you.

The beauty of R+

When you introduce positive reinforcement to a horse, he understands quickly that (in most cases) food is involved. Because we don’t randomly ‘throw’ treats to them, but only provide treats after the marker or bridge signal, the horse quickly learns to pay attention to the click and not to the hand reaching for a treat.

The reinforcer in positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be food, it can be anything pleasant the horse wants to work for.

There is more to clicker training than just the food reward. The marker can also become very reinforcing, training in itself (solving ‘puzzles’ when teaching new behaviours or endorfines released by physical activity or ‘the possibility of hearing a click’) can become reinforcing and also other behaviours can become reinforcers for behaviours.

So the horse doesn’t have to work for us (clicker trainers), because we know that he will pair us with positive things in training. We don’t mind that he wants to work for a decent salary paid in clicks and reinforcers. We understand this.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Myth Monday: Clicker Training doesn’t work for Prey Animals

Only recently I heard about this persistent myth. It is a myth that is frequently shared amongst dog trainers and in the marine mammal world.

The idea behind this myth is that predators are used to ‘working hard’ in order to get food while prey animals (herbivores), like horses, don’t have to work for their food. ‘The most valuable thing for a prey animal is safety and comfort’ and therefor positive reinforcement training with food rewards don’t work. Who else has heard this?

Prey animals

Well, first of all not all prey animals are herbivores. Prey animals are hunted by other animals for food, but that doesn’t mean they are not predators themselves. An animal can be a predator and a prey animal for other species at the same time. According to Shawna Karrash an expert in training marine mammals, all marine mammals, except orcas, are prey animals.

In the marine mammal world positive reinforcement training is used successfully for decades to train prey animals (dolphins, seals etc) to perform.

‘Prey animals don’t understand rewards’

Myth: rewarding in training works with predators because that’s how their world functions : they work hard (chase the rabbit) and then are rewarded for their efforts (eat the rabbit). But the most valuable thing for a prey animal is comfort, so you can’t base your training on rewards because they wouldn’t understand, it’s not how they view the world.

In the video below you can see some of Kyra’s behaviours that I trained with 100% positive reinforcement.

Herbivores

Horses are herbivores and don’t need to hunt for their food. The argument that ‘therefor herbivores cannot be trained well with positive reinforcement’ is a sophism. Positive reinforcement (adding appetitives in order to reinforce behaviour) works just as well for herbivores as it does for predators.

All animals, including prey animals, herbivores and even roundworms can learn and respond to stimuli from their environment. They all learn to avoid aversives (unpleasant stimuli) and learn what to do in order to receive appetitives (pleasant stimuli). It is simply a survival mechanism.

Besides that, even herbivores do have to do something in order to eat: they have to walk to a stream or lake in order to find water, a herd has to move if they eat all the grass in the area and they have to search for special medicinal herbs or salt in order to self medicate.

Food rewards

While positive reinforcement or clicker training is usually associated with training with food rewards it doesn’t have to be food to motivate the animal in training. A trainer can use everything as appetitive as long as the horse wants to receive it.

It is the receiver (the horse) who determines if something is worthwhile to receive and he wants more of. It is the trainers job to find out what it is and to observe if the behaviour is really getting stronger by the reward he is offering.

What myths or arguments have you heard that clicker training won’t work for horses? Let me know in the comments.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

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. After all it is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer: want the behaviour, my horse wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.

Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances. Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.

Size matters

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.

_treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologic

 

Value matters

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.

Calories matter

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.

_considering_treats_training_hippologic

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.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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Three Best Kept Secrets in Horse Training

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

_hippologic_orenThe 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 _clickertraining_secret_hippologicmy 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?

#3 Reinforcers

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.

_Reward_reinforcer_hippologic

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.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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tip to stay motivated

 

Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with or to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer and don’t have clear rules around when your horse can expect food and when not to expect it. And how he can earn it (wait for the cue and answer the question right). The key to success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding.

Some ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat.

First of all the horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward and he has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the food. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food), sometimes he gets punished for it and other times ignored.

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging, to make your training safer: moving his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your fanny pack with goodies.

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him: standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming, back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on. Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With polite behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait politely until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments are the most reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
The trainer must present the food in a safe way to the horse and he must prove to the horse that he is trustworthy. People who are  easily scared by a horse that moves towards them and the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present food.

The trainer must always check that he has a reinforcer at hand before he uses his marker signal. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence wanted behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a very desired treat, with a high value for the horse it can increase frustration if it is not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
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What to do if your horse is mugging you

In clicker training we use often treats as rewards. Why? Food is a primary reinforcer and therefor it motivates most horses. Giving treats as reward or as ‘pay’ for a well done job is highly motivating for the horse. Treats are easy to dispense, it’s a quick delivery and small enough to fit sufficient rewards for one session in your pocket.__safety_hippologic

One of my key lessons is to teach a horse how to behave around food and treats. What to do if your horse isn’t behaving very safe around food? Well, you can decide to find another reinforcer or better yet you can work on your horses behaviour. The first step is to make sure you are working safely. Getting mugged is no fun and losing a finger in the process is even worse.

Work with a barrier between you and your horse until your horse is behaving safely around food. Polite behaviour around food is one of the Key Lessons in clicker training.

Grabbing the treat
Some horses turn to mugging because they have lost treats in the past. This may have been because the handler dropped the food or pulled their hands back as the horse was reaching for it. They have adopted a get it while they can attitude. Sometimes its a phase and they just need to be taught proper table manners again.

Possible solutions
Make sure your horse knows the rule: first a click then a treat.

Only take a treat in your hand after the click. Never the other way around: take a treat, wait for the behaviour you want to reinforce and then click and treat. Always click first, then take and present the treat. This accomplishes three very important things which is why I repeat it so often:

  1. Your horse isn’t distracted by your filled hand and neither are you.
  2. Your horse has no reason to be nibbling or biting at you.
  3. With improper timing your hand reaching for the treat becomes the bridge instead of your click. Horses are incredibly perceptive and will pick up your behaviour before you realize it.

Always bring the treat to your horse, don’t invite the horse to come and get it. Use a stretched arm and deliver the treat near his mouth quickly and calmly after the click.

Deliver the treat directly at the lips of your horse, so he doesn’t have to be afraid he can’t reach it or he has to search for it.

Exercises
Speed up your RoR (Rate of Reinforcement). Click and treat as soon as your horse is keeping his lips still and is not displaying the grabbing behaviour. If he is not using his teeth to get the treat, you can present the treat in a closed first. Wiggle your fist if he nibbles your hand, click and open your hand immediately if he stops moving his lips/mouth for a second or if he looks away.

Encourage (click) all the behaviour that you want: looking away when you put your hand in your pocket, keeping his mouth closed and lips still when you present a treat in a closed fist.

Safety
If your horse is using his teeth you can present the treats in a shallow food bowl or lightweight frying pan to prevent injury.

_safe_horses_handfeeding_hippologic

Some horses are better at taking large treats, eg big chunks of apple or whole (small) carrots to help reassure him that he gets the treat easily. Some horses will be encouraged to use their lips instead of their teeth if you give them smaller treats (grain). Try out different food sizes to find the one that works best for you and your horse.

Try a context shift for example you can feed your horse from above. Hold a large treat high so your horse has to keep his head up. He’s probably not used to taking a treat from above, so he has to use his lips and thus preventing him from using his teeth.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Have fun clicker training your horse and let me know how it goes.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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Dangers of working with food (warning about Clicker Training)

I always warn people that keeping a horse can be a hazardous business. I remember the day my best friend bought a beautiful young Frisian stallion and I warned her:”Be careful. Keeping horses and taking care of them can be dangerous.”

Daily dangers

The first day her finger got stuck between the stall door. And a few days later her other finger got caught in the lead rope while she was tying her horse. Well, it was her first horse, what can I say… Horses and or being around them can be dangerous.

Clicker Challenge
Yesterday I wanted to do some clicker training sessions with Kyra. I am participating in a Clicker Challenge on Facebook. The end goal is to position the horse 1 meter in front of a pedestal made of 2 little blocks of wood or stepping stones, give your horse a cue to mount the stones, let him stand for 20 seconds, reward and then dismount backing up.

_cutting_carrot_hippologicAnyway, Kyra’s best motivator is food, so that’s the reward I use the most.

Dangers of working with food as reinforcers
I think everyone has heard about the dangers working with food as a training tool. Yesterday I got hurt for the first time!

Myths
I am not talking about the myths about using food as training tool, like ‘your horse will become pushy and will mug you‘ or ‘your horse will try to bite you in order to get the food’. We all know that this is key lesson #1 in clicker training: teaching your horse to behave around food. Here I am talking about something else. Let me explain.

Pay attention
I was preparing the treats. I wasn’t paying attention, which was my mistake, and I cut my thumb! Ouch! It was a really deep cut and I can tell you it hurt. Badly. It was bleeding and bleeding and wouldn’t stop at first. Arggg, I just had my camera set-up and was planning to video my training.

Although the pain was bad, worst of all: it is my favourite clicker thumb, my left one.  Now what? Pressing a clicker with the top of your thumb hanging loose wasn’t an option. And although it wasn’t a very nice experience, I had to laugh a little at myself. I am always telling people that there is no danger in working with food as training tool… Now I am injured. Worst of all: by myself. Please don’t laugh.

Warning
Any way, I just want to warn you all: PAY ATTENTION while cutting your apples and carrots. Or be safe and choose grain, pellets or treats you don’t have to cut. Just saying… horse training can be a hazardous business. 🙂

_danger_clicker training_hippologic

PS I did train and used my right hand to click and feed. A bit ungainly but the show training must go on. Kyra didn’t care about my injury. I think she was just thrilled that I trained her anyway. Left or right hand, a click sounds like a click.

Sandra Poppema
Are you inspired and got interested in personal coaching with me or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website

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