Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘high value’

How to change emotions in your horse during training

 

Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?

 

Change the setup

Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

Find the cause of the undesired emotion

If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.

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Change one variable at a time

At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

The mare got so excited by the very  yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target (ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.

_treats_in_training_hippologic

I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

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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Pitfalls of Positive Reinforcement

Clicker training or positive reinforcement is based on a simple concept: adding something the learner wants (an ‘appetitive’) in order to strengthen a behaviour. What can possibly go wrong with a simpel concept of noticing (a tiny step towards) the desired behaviour – mark the behaviour (‘click’) and  reinforce (strengthen) it by giving the learner something pleasurable?

Theory versus Practice

Like every training method there is the theory which assumes the trainer, the target animal (learner) and the environment are perfect and then there is reality…_clicker_hippologic_symbol

History of the Horse

Not all horses are blank slates. It is very rare to come across a horse that hasn’t been handled by humans  before he’s trained by an experienced positive reinforcement trainer.

In other words, almost every horse already has a history with humans and he has already made lots of associations with situations, humans, things et cetera. Both good and bad.

Solution

If the horse has negative associations with certain cues, tack or situations the trainer has to counter condition (make them ‘neutral’ or ‘positive’) them first.

Frustration

In positive reinforcement an appetitive is added to strengthen a behaviour. When the horse doesn’t understand what he has to do in order to earn the treat or if the horse is too excited by the high value treat, he can become frustrated.Emotions_in_training_hippologic2015

If the trainer is not noticing little signs of frustration in the horse and doesn’t respond adequately the learned behaviour can regress or the horses loses interest in the exercise. If the frustration builds up the horse can even become aggressive.

Solutions

Make sure your horse understands when he can and when he can’t expect food rewards. Implement a ‘start session’-signal and an ‘end of session’-signal.

Lumping criteria (making your steps too big) or raising criteria too quickly can cause frustration. Split the goal behaviour into enough steps that you can reward.

If the treats are too distracting and causing frustration, use low(er) value treats and make sure the horse is not hungry during training. Provide a full hay net during training.

Over-aroused

Some horses are very excited once they discover that (high value) treats or other very desirable rewards can be earned in training. Due to their excitement they can get aroused or even over-aroused. If not properly addressed the physical signs (like dropping the penis or erection) can be reinforced (unconsciously) in training.

Solutions

Prevention works best but in order to prevent this you have to have a keen eye for body language and behaviour. (Over)arousal can be caused by frustration, see above.

In order to counter condition and/or prevent reinforcing physical signs of arousal, start marking and reinforcing before the arousal happens. In other words: split the behaviour, increase the rate of reinforcement and counter condition the behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningPreventing pitfalls

Like in any other training method there are many mistakes a trainer can make. I think that is inherent to learning a skill.

Find an experienced teacher to guide you around the pitfalls. There are enough things to learn without falling into them.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

 

 

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

I was asked: What kind of treats do you use for clicker training?

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. Here are some other things 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.

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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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New uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training , part II

When I started clicker training I had no clue that there was a whole science behind the use of rewards. I only knew about one primary reward: treats.

I didn’t know anything about ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ rewards, how to use high and low value rewards to my advantage. Neither did I know about ‘chaining’ behaviours, I learned all these things in the following years.

High and low value rewards
When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that a horse can consider some rewards as ‘high value’ rewards, and other as ‘low value’ rewards. I never thought that I could use this knowledge to my advantage and to help the horse perform better or make training less stressful.

I didn’t realize some rewards can lose their value and how to use this knowledge in my training. Of course I noticed when my pony became less eager to work for his treats after some training. Then I just stopped the training session and gave him a break. I was not consious enough about this fact to use it in my training approach. Now I am aware, I use high value rewards or low value rewards depending on the circumstances.

Variable rewards_key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic
I also vary my treats depending on the difficulty level of the behaviour I am training, or depending on the context. In situations where there is more distraction I might use very high value treats (for Kyra that is apple) rather than lower value rewards (non-food) in order to keep my horses attention focused on me.

If Kyra is in a more relaxed state, she values the ear scratches (see picture) more than grain. I experiment with the different value treats during one training session. You can use different treats with different values to build in a certain unpredictability for the horse, in order to stimulate his efforts.

With horses who get overly excited by certain treats I start with lower value treats, horses who have to overcome something really scary or aversive, get really high value treats or rewards. Sometimes I give bigger rewards, sometimes I give smaller amounts. I know how I can really ‘stretch’ the reward moment by throwing in lots of verbal praise and feeding multiple hands full of treats (jackpotting).

Secondary rewards
I now also know know that I can use secondary rewards, like standing on a mat or verbal praise. A secondary reward is something the horse has ‘learned to like’ because there is an appetite association attached to it.

Behaviour chains
If you chain a series of behaviours, certain behaviours can become a reward, too. You can also use ‘back chaining’. Then you start teaching the last behaviour in the chain first: behaviour #3. Next step is to teach behaviour #2 and then you chain them together: #2, #3. Behaviour #3 is clicked and rewarded in the chain.

Then you teach another behaviour( #1) and back chain it, so you have chained #1, #2, #3. The horse has already a solid reward history built with behaviour #3 and he will anticipate on what is coming after #1 and #2. By asking the chain, the reward for the horse will lie in performing behaviour #3, which you may or may not reward with a click and reward once the horse knows the chain.

Looking back
So when I started clicker training I thought it was a simple concept: click and treat for the desired behaviours. I understood that really complex behaviours would be better taught in small steps. That was basically what I thought was clicker training.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningThe more I learned about reward-based horse training, the more I realize there is so much more to learn. After 15 plus years of experimenting and reading and learning I still enjoy the puzzles my horse gives me that I really want to solve with positive reinforcement only. I just love it!

What are the things you have learned over the years that really stunned you?

Read here part I of New Uses for ‘Old Tools’ in Clicker Training

Read here part III.

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

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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (IV)

What is so powerful about clicker training? What tools are used and how can they change your training approach?

_targetstick_hippologic

In this series I am talking about 10 of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training. You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here, Training tool # 4 here and Tool #5 here.

# 6 Target stick
A target stick is an enormously versatile tool to communicate with a horse. Targeting means that you teach your horse to touch an object (the target) with a body part (nose) on command.

When I started targeting I didn’t have a clue regarding the possibilities I could use the target stick for. I just thought it was a fun game with my horse. I started teaching my first pony to touch a bright pink skippy ball. Then I taught him to nose the  ball. I think that was about it.

Now I consider the target stick a very valuable tool. Read more about how to use targeting in your training in this post Best Basics: take targeting to the next level.

If your horse can target different kinds of targets with his nose you can teach him to target other body parts. I always thought that would be very difficult: you can ask a horse to move towards you, instead of away from you. Pushing a prey animal away is not so hippologic key lesson targetinghard, if he doesn’t go apply more pressure. But how to react if he doesn’t want to come toward you? You can’t ‘make’ him, or can you? Yes, you can with clicker training!

Once a horse is clicker savvy he will always be very eager to find out what you want from him. In order to let the horse come towards the target you have to set him up for success. Sometimes it simply means that you will hold the target only half a centimetre from his body so the chance that he will bump into it accidentally is huge.

# 7 Treats
Treats are not ‘just’ treats to the horse. Treats have a certain ‘value’ to the horse and also to the trainer. In clicker training trainers often speak of ‘high value’ food rewards and ‘low value’ food rewards. There are also certain advantages about the size of the treats you are using in training. How can you use this knowledge to your advantage and turn ‘treats’ into ‘tools’?

High value treats
High value treats can be treats that the horse doesn’t get often but he really likes, for instance sugar cubes. If you use high value treats sparsely the value doesn’t wear of. High value treats don’t have to be healthy because you won’t use them often.

Most people really like birthday cakes, I do. I thought I could eat them every day. Until I worked in a bakery which sold all kinds of super tasty cakes and pies. Since I could have free cake every Saturday my taste for cake changed and I don’t value them as much as I did before.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentine

Super yummie treats can be used to teach your horse difficult tasks, for instance where the horse has to overcome a big fear. Trailer loading can be very scary for some horses and if the reward is something the horse really values he will try harder to overcome his fear and conquer the first step towards the trailer. If you ask a difficult task and the horse gets a treat he doesn’t really like, he might decide that it is not worth it.

Low value treats
In other cases you want to use low valued treats on purpose. When a horse is learning food manners it can be a good idea to start with low valued treats. You don’t want to get him too excited. Especially when he has to learn to take the treat carefully with only his lips off of your hand. With high valued treats the horse might become anxious to loose the treat and he might behave too enthusiastically so he would grab the treat instead of staying calm and taking it gently.

Examples of low value treats can be his diner grain or pellets.

Large treats
It can be safer to start off with larger sized treats on purpose, for instance to teach a horse food manners. A big treat is easier to see and_cutting_carrot_hippologic to take off of your hand gently. The chances of getting bitten while feeding a large treat, like a whole carrot with greens is much smaller.

Small treats
Small treats can be handy for the trainer but they can also be very useful if you want to increase your rate of reinforcement (RoR). Smaller treats are eaten and swallowed faster so the training is not  interrupted by chewing and eating the reward.

If a horse mugs you but he can take treats very politely off of your hands you can increase the rate of reinforcement by clicking and feeding treats faster. You can click the horse for ‘not mugging’-behaviours like: looking away, keeping his nose away from your pocket, keeping his head and neck straight forward if the trainer is standing next to his head. Clicking for the right behaviour while the horse is still eating will prevent the ‘mugging’ behaviour which often will be displayed after he is finished eating.

To be continued….

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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