6 Things That You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (5/6)

hippologic

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 5. I like this one!

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.

#5 Positive reinforcement has many smart training strategies that I haven’t found in other training methods

_clickertraining_secret_hippologicIn the decades that I have been using positive reinforcement training I have discovered so many smart training strategies that I haven’t heard of in other methods.

This is what I learned in the first 20 years in horses

In traditional and natural horsemanship training the aim was to create more of the desired behaviour by taking away something the horse dislikes (an aversive). Therefor, the solution I was offered ,when a horse wouldn’t obey, was to ‘ask again but increase the pressure’ (the aversive): eg more leg! If that didn’t work: a tap with the whip. Increasing the command until my horse would go. The myth I learned was: ‘He (your horse) knows what to do.’

If a horse didn’t cooperated in taking an oral de-wormer, you just tied him up so he couldn’t pull his head away. Which most of the time resulted in a bigger struggle next time. The myth I was told (and I believed) was: ‘He will soon learn that this doesn’t kill him’.

Sounds familiar?

___clickertraining_hippologicIn general the ‘solution’ was often the same (more ‘pressure’) and only aimed to short-term success (the now). Basically the go-to solution was using more coercion, often painful. Rewards must be ‘only sparingly used’ otherwise ‘I would spoil the horse’.

Positive reinforcement expands your horizon

In positive reinforcement the aim is to train the horse by reinforcing the desired behaviour with something the horse wants to receive/have (appetitive). You focus on the good things!

So, when my horse doesn’t offer the desired behaviour I immediately start asking questions. Not the “How can I make the good thing easy and the bad thing difficult?”-question (which often means “How can I -the trainer- get to my goals ASAP?), but many questions. Horse-centered questions:

  • Why does my horse not cooperate?
  • Has my reinforcer (my reward) lost it’s value?
  • Is something else more reinforcing or urgent?
  • Am I clear in what I want my horse to do?
  • How can I make it easier and more fun (!) for my horse?
  • Does my horse understands what I want (Am I lumping? Is there a context shift? Is he distracted? Bored? Anxious or in flight mode?)
  • and so on

Training strategies

Then you have those smart training strategies that really help achieving your goals and goal behaviour, like:

  • positive reinforcement: reinforcing with appetitives (something the horse really wants to have and want to make an effort for to get it)
  • 5 strategies to get your goal behaviour with R+
  • writing a shaping plan (detailed step-by-step approach of training your goal behaviour)
  • the use of a bridge/marker signal to pinpoint exactly what you want to see more of
  • the use of high and low value reinforcers to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, prevent boredom and predictability in training and so on
  • ‘jackpots’
  • chaining behaviour
  • back chaining behaviour

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Except for the use of rewards I never heard of any of the above strategies until I learned more about positive reinforcement. A few of these are really your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training. If you want to learn more join the online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula where you learn all 12 Keys to Success.

It makes life so much easier that I can’t picture training horses or coaching people without these strategies.

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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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!
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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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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!
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“There is nothing wrong with Negative Reinforcement applied properly”

Said someone once to me. I didn’t say anything, but my body screamed: ‘Yes, there is….

Although I couldn’t explain in words why I felt that way, now I do. Since it was hard to catch it in words, it is a long explanation, so please get seated.

When I talk about horse training, I like to use the scientific definitions in order to keep the language as clear as possible and to avoid emotional and subjective projection. Let’s start with some definitions because this statement (“There is nothing wrong with R- applied properly”) is one that causes a lot of commotion among horse people. Continue reading

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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If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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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 my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

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    Key to Success in Horse Training

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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

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‘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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
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Difference between Negative (R-) and Positive Reinforcement (R+)

Let’s start with explaining what positive and negative reinforcement is. Then I will share what was a real eye-opener for me about the difference between positive reinforcement (R+) and negative reinforcement (R-). It is not so much the obvious difference (the carrot or the stick-difference), it’s way cooler!

Definitions

Reinforcement (R): strengthening (a behaviour)

+ (plus): adding

– (minus): removing

Appetitive: something the animal really wants to have and values

Aversive: something the animal really wants to avoid or escape from

Positive reinforcement: use of an appetitive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

Negative reinforcement (R-): taking away an aversive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

reinforcement_hippologic

Positive reinforcement_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologic

In R+ trainers use mostly food rewards because food is of high value to the horse. In R+ the use of a marker signal (often a sound, eg a click) is used to communicate to the animal what behaviour the horse was reinforced for, not the moment of offering the appetitive. Clicker training is an example of positive reinforcement training.

Negative reinforcement

Traditional riding aids are based on R-

In R- trainers use mostly pressure to communicate. The moment of taking away the aversive is the way to communicate to the horse what behaviour the animal was reinforced for. Traditional training and natural horsemanship are based on negative reinforcement.

The difference between R+ and R-

It is not the food or the use of a marker in positive reinforcement that is the biggest difference. It is the way the horse responds in training that is the real difference.

In negative reinforcement it's the trainer that raises the criteria, 
in positive reinforcement it's the animal that raises the criteria.

In other words, in R- the horse will not offer behaviours spontaneously (because there is no reward involved for the animal).

The ‘release of pressure’ is not a reward: the horse will not offer ‘more behaviour’ in the hope of a more severe aversive ‘in order to earn a bigger sense of relieve’.

In R- the horse learns to avoid or prevent the aversive all together by anticipating his owners behaviour, but he will not actively seek ways to improve the behaviour since there is nothing in it for him if he does.

If the trainer wants to create more of a desired behaviour or better quality behaviour he uses an aversive to communicate that he wants something different now (raising criteria).

horse_eye_hippologic_clickertraining.jpg

In R+ the horse keeps actively looking for ways to earn the appetitive reinforcer by offering more of the desired behaviour. The horse learns he can influence the appearance of an appetitive by anticipating the behaviour. He will actively look for ways to earn the reinforcer and therefor will raise the criteria on his own by offering more of the desired behaviour.

The horse as individual

For me this way of approaching the difference between R- and R+ was a real eye-opener!

I suddenly realized that not everyone is looking for a horse that learns to think and comes up with solutions on his own!

Personally I think this is a tremendous asset in training animals. It can sometimes be a challenge to channel this motivation, but if you know how you can achieve spectacular results! It not only helps speed up training but it also benefits the relationship with the horse: he wants to train with you because there is something in it for him!

I also realize that this is exactly the same reason it can be such scary thought: a huge animal that thinks he is entitled to his own ideas (he is!). What if this is turned against the trainer? Then what? What if the horse decides not to cooperate… does that mean he doesn’t like you or your training? What if the horse ‘decides to let you down’?

What if… this is not the case at all? What if the horse mostly doesn’t cooperate because he simply doesn’t understand the question? Or he won’t do it because he is afraid? What if he is allowed (and encouraged) to communicate his concerns or fears? Would that benefit the relationship? I think it does!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe beauty of herd animals is that they are hard-wired to cooperate: the drive to work together in order to keep safe and survive is so strong they can’t ignore it. That’s the same reason we could domesticate them in the first place.

I think it is amazing to see how much horses put up with in order to cooperate. That’s the very same reason you can train them so well with negative reinforcement: their will to stay safe and survive is so strong.

Food for thought

Anyway this fact was food for thought for me. What about you? Are you afraid or delighted to let your horse raise the criteria and have a say in his training?

Remember: 
Negative reinforcement for the horse, is positive reinforcement 
for the trainer (the trainer gets what he wants: desired behaviour).

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
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  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

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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 my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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Debunking Myths: ‘The Whip is only an Extension of my Arm’

The Whip is Only an Extension Of My Arm

Click the link to go to the blog and read what I have to say about the myth ‘The Whip is only an extension of my arm’.

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Teaching horse people to make training a win-win and bond with their horse so they can enjoy their time together.

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Clicker Training: How to start with a horse that is traditionally trained?

How do you start positive reinforcement training with a horse that is already trained with negative reinforcement (traditional or natural horsemanship training)?

Start with a ‘clean slate’

I would suggest start with some exercises that are totally new to the horse. Choose exercises (and cues) the horse doesn’t know yet.

You should make sure it is a new exercise so the horse doesn’t have any negative or aversive association with it. Start introducing the marker (‘click’) or bridge signal and pair it with an appetitive (something the horse really appreciates, like a nice treat).

A good place to start are the key lessons. Most likely traditional and natural horsemanship schooled horses havenever done any targeting or mat training.

Work on these new exercises until your horse understands positive reinforcement and he feels safe enough to try out new behaviours or go explore new objects.

How to re-train a horse with positive reinforcement?

___clickertraining_hippologicOnce your horse understands he has a choice to cooperate or not, you can run into the problem that he says ‘no’ to your training ideas. That is not uncommon. They regain the power over their own body and training. They just love to say ‘no’ without being afraid of reprimands.

Often this is just a phase and the best thing you can do is listen to your horse and acknowledge his say. Use your creativity and find other ways to enjoy his company or find other exercises he does like.

Don’t mix -R and +R in one exercise

In order to keep it clear what your horse can expect from you, you should not mix negative (-R) and positive reinforcement (+R) in one and the same exercise.

If you use accumulating pressure to reinforce certain behaviour and than add an appetitive (treat) you can ‘poison’ your cue. The horse can’t be sure what to expect: more pressure or a treat. The appetitive is not really the reinforcer, taking away the aversive is (that came first). You want to avoid that your horse refuses treats after a while.

Once you decide  you want to change a part of your training to positive reinforcement you will realize that you have to countercondition the exercise.

Counterconditioning

There are many things you might want to re-train with positive reinforcement. For instance if your horse doesn’t want to trailer load (anymore) you might need to do some ‘counterconditioning’.

Definition:  Counterconditioning is a type of therapy based on the principles of classical conditioning that attempts to replace bad or unpleasant emotional responses to a stimulus with more pleasant, adaptive responses.

It can be a challenge, depending on the horses feelings about the exercise, to countercondition a behaviour. It depends on the horses (general) trust in humans, his history and the expertise of the trainer. It can be done. It is like’therapy’ for horses: they have to learn to overcome their fears and anxieties and learn to trust something positive is going to happen if they see a trailer.

Ethics

I think you can almost countercondition everything. The pitfall however is that the horse is sometimes not only expressing his fear. If you countercondition a horses agressive behaviour when he is cinched: are you working on counterconditioning a learned response to the girth or are you (unconsciously) shutting his voice when he is expressing pain? Something to take into account when you retrain horses.

What is or was your biggest challenge in re-training a horse with clicker training?

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

 

Myth Monday: ‘Clicker Trainers don’t use Pressure’

There is a huge misunderstanding about the word ‘pressure‘ in the horse world. I hear people who want to start positive reinforcement training but they hesitate: ‘How can I start clicker training my horse and don’t use any pressure? Isn’t that impossible?’ Yes, training a horse without pressure is impossible, but let me explain the difference between using pressure as cue and using pressure as reinforcer.

Definitions

Let’s discuss some definitions before I debunk the myth that +R trainers don’t use pressure.

What is ‘pressure’ according to the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary:

Pressure (force): the force produced by pressing against something: air/blood/water pressure. Pressure is also the force that is put on a surface with reference to the area of the surface.

Pressure is per definition not ‘bad’.

Pressure can be 3 things for the horse:

  1. pressure is  ‘unpleasant’
  2. pressure is ‘neutral’ or
  3. pressure is ‘pleasant’.

It can also happen that the association with pressure changes due to the horses training.

_reinforcingscratch2Pleasant pressure

Examples of pressure that feel good are mutual grooming, rubbing against a fence or horses that are playfully pushing each other.

Unpleasant pressure

Pressure that is aversive can be a kick or a bite or being chased away from the herd.

Neutral pressure

Pressure can also be neutral in the beginning: it doesn’t give the horse a good or a bad feeling or it doesn’t have a good or bad association yet.

I have trained horses with NH and traditional methods in the past. These methods use pressure as an aversive. Some horses don’t experience pressure as an aversive that they naturally want to avoid. Some horses (especially Fjorden horses, Halfingers and Friesians I worked with) need really strong pressure in order to learn to yield. The light pressure in the beginning is ‘neutral’ and in order to teach them to yield I had to make it unpleasant so they learn to anticipate on only association (‘light, gentle touch will turn into aversive if I don’t yield’).

Negative reinforcement (R-): A behaviour is strengthened by removing an unpleasant or painful (=aversive) stimulus.

Natural horsemanship & traditional training

In natural horsemanship and traditional methods it is this ‘pressure’ that makes the horse yield.

In traditional and natural horsemanship methods pressure is used in an accumulating way until it is aversive enough for the horse to yield. Then the pressure is released in order to make the wanted behaviour stronger.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFor instance when a horse doesn’t respond to a light pressure of the riders legs (calf) to go forward, the rider builds up the pressure by squeezing harder or using his spurs. If that doesn’t work the leg aid is followed by a tap with the whip (which can be painful, try it on your own skin).

In this way the trainer teaches the horse to anticipate on the riders light leg aids. If the light leg aid isn’t aversive in the first place it is followed by more pressure until the horse moves forward. The light pressure of the leg becomes an aversive in itself: the horse has learned to associate the leg aid with an aversive to which he wants to anticipate with yielding. Which isn’t the case at all in positive reinforcement training.

Positive reinforcement (R+)A behaviour is strengthened by adding a pleasant (=appetitive) stimulus.

Positive reinforcement (clicker) training

In positive reinforcement training the desired behaviour is trained first. Only if the behaviour is established, a cue is added. The cue can be anything.

So in positive reinforcement training the trainer will teach the horse to move forward first and will use appetitives to reinforce the forward movement. The trainer can induce the forward movement in different ways, according to the situation (capturing, targeting, shaping or luring or moulding*). There is no use of pressure yet.

1_treatAfter the behaviour is established you add the cue. The behaviour already has a strong positive reinforcement history (going forward is strongly associated with pleasurable rewards). If the cue ‘light pressure of the calf’ is added to the forward movement, the rider is using pressure.

The pressure cue is only chosen if it is not aversive. If the leg pressure is considered aversive the trainer will either choose a different cue or can choose to counter condition the pressure cue first and make it neutral or change it to a pleasurable sensation before using it.

This cue will always has the same amount of pressure. If the horse isn’t responding to it, the pressure will not be accumulated. Why not? Because this changes the cue and therefor will not be understood by the horse (stronger leg pressure or a tap with the whip is not associated with going forward).

Differences in using pressure in R- and R+

In R- the pressure is used to teach a horse behaviours. The pressure is released to make the behaviour stronger. Therefore the pressure is associated with an aversive stimulus. If the cue wasn’t aversive, the horse wouldn’t have learned to yield/anticipate to it.

_cue_pressure_hippologicIn R+ the pressure cue is added only after the behaviour is established with pleasurable stimuli. The pressure is therefor not associated with an aversive. The pressure cue that is chosen is not aversive in itself and it is trained with appetitives.

Behaviours that are trained with pressure and release and then rewarded with a treat or scratch at the end, are not considered positive reinforcement.

Conclusion

Pressure can be aversive, neutral or appetitive.

It is the trainers responsibility to turn a neutral pressure or aversive pressure cue in a way that it is useful for communication and becomes appetitive (associated with something pleasurable). That can only be achieved with positive reinforcement, not with traditional or natural horsemanship methods.

My goal is not to avoid pressure, my goal is to understand what association the horse has with pressure and make it a pleasurable way to communicate.

*) Attention! With moulding behaviour pressure is used, but it is never aversive. If the pressure in moulding turns aversive it is not moulding anymore, but ‘forcing a behaviour’.

SAFE THE DATE: MARCH 6, 2019

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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.
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Peer pressure at the barn

One of the most underestimated challenges of positive reinforcement training can be… people in your environment.

It is a journey
The journey to switch from negative reinforcement (most traditional and natural horsemanship methods) to positive reinforcement training (clicker training, on target training) is instructive and beautiful.

peer pressure barn_hippologic_clickertrainingIt is not always a straight, fast or smooth road. It is often a winding, bumpy road with lots of ups and downs, but the views are astonishing. You will see many positive changes in your horse and your relationship.

On your journey you will learn how to think outside of the box, it will teach you to become more creative. It will teach you how to think in solutions instead of problems and it will alter the relationship with your horse in an extraordinarily beautiful way.

good relationship horse

Slowly you start using more and more rewards to reinforce your horse to do things for you. Then you might slowly stop using the tools that your horse experiences as aversive, like a whip, rope halter, training stick or spurs. So far so good, until… you encounter a hiccup.

Believe me when I tell you: this day will happen. Your horse doesn’t do what you ask him to do. You can’t figure out why or you can’t figure out a way to ask him differently so he will understand. You don’t have enough tools yet, so you don’t have an answer right away. That’s OK. It is OK to not know everything right away. What to do?

Back to default
It is perfectly normal to fall back to your old tools or habits of using pressure, force or even to inflict pain. Don’t blame yourself for it. Becoming aware is the first step in changing! Hooray!

peer pressure at barn_hippologic clickertrainingIf you are prepared for this day, and it will happen, you can just simply say to yourself. “Hey, you know what? I don’t know what to do. Let’s figure it out first. Let’s find help and try again another time.” Really, it is OK not to know what to do! And it is also OK to stop your training until you do know how to solve your training problem in a way that is acceptable for you and your horse”.

Remember what is most important
Choosing to make your horse your priority can be extremely hard to do. Especially when other people are watching you work. Imagine that the farrier has come to trim your horses’ feet. Your horse is afraid of the farrier or there is something else that causes your horse not to cooperate the way he normally does. It can be hard to listen to your horse and figure out the ‘why’. Your horse probably has a very good reason.

In most cases it is OK to say: “Sorry, my horse is not prepared enough yet. Let’s do this another time.” Do what you need to do in order to protect your relationship and the trust you have build with positive reinforcement. In Dutch we have a saying:
Trust arrives walking and departs riding. Which means that trust is hard to build and easy to loose.

Do you really want to risk your relationship with your horse so the farrier can do his/her job right now? It can be dangerous for everyone if the farrier is more a traditional person. Or would you rather choose to make sure the farrier and your horse are safe next time?

Would you like to know how to deal with peer pressure at your barn? It is all covered in the Ultimate Horse Training Formula, HippoLogic’s online complete home study course.

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

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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.
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Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

What I really liked about the Natural Horsemanship method I followed in the late nineties, was the step-by-step program I bought. It was very practical because it described the horse behaviour in advance: I could expect this, this and this. Fan-tas-tic! I just had to follow the steps and boom! “Friendship” and “Partnership” where delivered.

Step-by-step program
When things didn’t work out the way the book described you could look up “pitfalls” and read where you skipped a step and what you had to work on. Great. It worked. Best thing of all, I didn’t have to think for myself anymore. It was all in the levels. If it really didn’t work out “I was just not ready for the next level”.

A new way
The biggest struggle when I started clicker training in the late nineties was that there was no “method”, no step-by-step program to follow and few people to turn to for advice. There were only a few rules to follow: pinpoint the wanted behaviour with a bridge signal and let the bridge always be followed by a reward. The receiver determines the reward.

Not many experts available
The only source of knowledge that I had in the late nineties was an Yahoo email group. It was in English and this is not my first language, so that was a huge threshold to turn to for questions and advice. I was lucky to learn from someone who had followed a course about training sea mammals with positive reinforcement and that I had studied Learning theory during my bachelors in Animal Management. This made it much easier for me to understand the whole science behind positive reinforcement.

Outside the box
Not only did my clicker training journey come without a map and a clear road to follow, I had to learn to think outside the box. It was so completely different from all the things I had learned about _HippoLogic_thinkingOutOfTheBox_clickertraininghorses in the previous 25 years and at the same time it made so much sense emotionally: looking forward to earning a reward versus avoiding an aversive.

Times changed
I am glad to see that there is so much information available for passionate horse owners and riders who like to start training their horses with rewards. There are books, clinics and also a lot of instructors and horse trainers who are available all over the world. It is still a minority but who knows what happens in a few more years. Internet is one of the blessings in spreading information these days.

Sandra Poppema

What a relief: training horses without ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’

Positive reinforcement training or clicker training. This was not just “another method” to me. To me it was a completely different approach to training horses. I Secret of succes is ...was told, and I believed, that I had to “dominate” the horse otherwise he would dominate me, I had to be the “leader” to my horse and that horses “had to respect me” and I never could “let the horse win”, whatever that meant.

A step-by-step program
Then a  Natural Horsemanship method came along in my world. I was thrilled: finally a step-by-step- program that taught me “games” I could play with my horse, that sounded like fun. Yeey!

The voice in my heart
I wasn’t too happy with building up the “phases” and building more and more pressure on my pony until he moved away like it was described in the pocket books. I think I confused Sholto by starting with this NH method and clicker training tricks at the same time. Sholto tried to tell me in many ways that he didn’t agree with this “natural” training method, but the books said: “Don’t let him win“. So I kept going. I heard a little voice in my heart that said: “I don’t like this accumulating pressure thing“. I ignored that voice.

I practised my new Natural Horsemanship method with a many horses. I didn’t have a real passionate connection with these horses because I hardly knew them. I found it a lot easier to apply accumulating pressure on them, but this voice in my heart kept telling me that this wasn’t really “partnership” nor “friendship” and I didn’t create “harmony“.

Clicker training changed my pony’s attitude completely
Since my pony was about 20 years old, I decided to let the NH method go and take a lot more effort in researching information about the clicker training/positive reinforcement training. After all: he was already ‘old’ and he was not suppose to learn new tricks anyway. He surprised me by learning new things so much quicker as I added a marker signal wit reinforcements of his choice__collect_moments_hippologic instead of pressure. Wow, my old pony got really engaged in my training.He started to greet me with loud whinny’s and started cantering towards me in the pasture! What a difference!

Instead of “dominating” my pony and what just felt to me as forcing him into new behaviours with accumulating pressure I had to outsmart him with clicker training. Set it up for success, was very useful advice from the NH method. I still use that one, but now I set us up for success, both of us. Notonly me.

Learning another jargon
It was really difficult to “Set Sholto up for Success” because I hardly knew what I wanted and I didn’t have a training plan to follow. So I struggled along for a few years and gained lots of knowledge during this process. I didn’t know at that time that I could let go of terms regarding “dominance”, which apparently doesn’t even exist, inter species wise speaking. New studies have proven that horses make a lot of herd decisions in a democratic way. Which makes total sense.

I don’t want other people to struggle as much as I did, so I developed a step by step  training program over the past 15 years. I call it the Key Lessons, your key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training. Click on “Key Lessons” at the top of this page or put them into the search engine in the right to find out more about the Key Lessons.

I am so relieved that I now can be my horses teacher instead of his “herd leader”, be his friend instead of being “the dominant one” and just be his “human” instead of being his “alpha mare/stallion”.

Positive reinforcement training has been truly a wonderful journey. It is not “just another training method” it became a “life style”. It is truly the journey that counts, not the destination.

Read more: 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training

Read more: Clicker Training 101: How to introduce Your Horse to the Click

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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!
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What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)

I get that question a lot lately. A horse has to to what the riders asks, is a motto most riders have. Otherwise he is ‘testing you’, ‘disobedient’ , ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘he will become the leader’ and what not. Not my horse!

The other day at the barn someone said to me: “You do Natural Horsemanship, right. So if your horse doesn’t listen to you, you don’t have much you can do…”. That was an interesting remark.

First of all, I try to not be associated with Natural Horsemanship anymore. The way I KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAmotivate and train horses is the opposite: I add rewards. All the NH methods I know use negative reinforcement (adding a reversive first and taking the aversive away as soon as the animal responds in the proper way). This method is also known as Escape Learning or Avoidance Learning. I did that, been there, not doing it again… Why?

I discovered a method even more powerful and more reliable to train my horse and bond with her: positive reinforcement. Adding a reward if the horse shows the wanted behaviour.

Secondly, if my horse doesn’t ‘do as I ask’ That means I have a job to do: find out why.

Since I shifted to 100% clicker training I never use ‘increasing pressure’ anymore. What a relief! I never liked using my whip or ‘phase 4 with my carrot stick’. http://meetville.com/quotes/author/b-f-skinner/page2

I don’t feel that she is ‘testing me’ in a negative way, ‘disrespecting me’, ‘trying to become the leader’, ‘disobedient’ and what not. Why? Simply because I removed those expressions out of my equestrian vocabulary, because I don’t believe these myths anymore.

Since I emerged myself into the way animals learn and what motivates them (learning theory of B.F. Skinner), there is no need for me to use reversives like accumulating pressure, pain or the threat of accumulating pressure.

I also don’t use punishment anymore to ‘teach a horse’, because now I know punishment is meant to stop a behaviour/undesired behaviour, not teach a better behaviour.

When I was making the video of Kyra and me cantering with a flag, she didn’t want to canter at first. That is so unlike her. I take this sign seriously, because I want a two-way communication with my horse. So yes, that means that she is allowed to an opinion. Even if it can be inconvenient sometimes.

When she doesn’t do what I ask her to do, I ask myself: ‘Did I asked the wrong question or did I asked the question wrong?” If she is still learning, I will check if I set the situation up for success and ask myself what I can do to improve. Note here that I am not focusing on “who is wrong”, I am focusing on what can be improved. That what you focus on, becomes bigger.

10257887_10152623850498526_3537015314743681404_n

This poster is made by http://www.doggiedrawings.net/

Anyway, I found a friendly way to ask Kyra to canter for me. She did it and I gave her a big jackpot. That is the biggest reward you have. In this case: dismount her, get rid of her saddle and allow her to take a nice roll.

I found out that she is changing teeth (molars) and she might have had a headache or felt not well altogether. I always find out later what was going on if my horses didn’t want to work for me. Horses always have a good reason.  Mostly pain-related or they spot (real) danger. That’s my experience.

Have you ever experienced something similar? That a horse didn’t want to do something and that you found out later what their reason was? Please share your story below.

Sandra Poppema