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Posts tagged ‘negative reinforcement’

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

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

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

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

Learning through negative reinforcement (R-)

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

Learning through positive reinforcement (R+)

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

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

Downsides of using positive reinforcement

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

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

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

Investigate the motivation of the horse

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

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

Skills

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

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

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

Why are people are still using negative reinforcement?

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

 

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

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

negative reinforcement horse is positive reinforcement rider

Photo: Nelda Bogado

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

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

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

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

_Rplus is Rplus_hippologic

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my *new* online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.

 

 

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‘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.

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

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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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Fact Friday: difference between negative and positive reinforcement

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).

_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 horse and human.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

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

There are so many myths in the horse world it is hard to choose where to start debunking them. Since I have seen several advertisements on Facebook with videos of horses at liberty and instructors talking about ‘freedom’, ‘connection’, ‘positive training’ or ‘friendship’ while carrying a whip directing a horse with a swishing tail and a lot of tension in its body, I will start with the whip (it-is-an-extension-of-my-arm) myth.

‘The Whip is only an Extension of My Arm’

Equestrians say this and often they add ‘… but I don’t use it.’ Or they add ‘… I don’t use it to hit my horse‘ or ‘I only use it to get his attention‘ or ‘It is a useful tool in the right hands‘. We have all heard this and maybe even said it! I know I have said it many times and believed it too.

Motivation

Ní Dhuinn ImageryThat was before I understood the principles of motivation and learning.

There are only 2 ways all living beings are being motivated. 1) we are motivated to avoid pain/discomfort/unpleasant things (these are called ‘aversives’) and 2) we are motivated to get pleasure/wonderful things/things that make us feel good (these are called ‘appetitives’)

Your horses’ point of view

Unfortunately the horse just sees a whip. Or the stick.

Your horse has made an association with this tool based on his experience.

That is his motivation. I think I it is safe to generalize here and say the majority of horses have aversive associations with whips and training sticks. In other words: they have learned that they cause pain and want to avoid it by anticipating their behaviour. That is the real reason horses often do better when there is a whip nearby. They have learned how to avoid it.

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Your point of view

You can call it ‘carrot’ stick, but to the horse who knows perfectly what a carrot looks like, tastes like and smells like, your carrot stick is just a stick. With a string. And it is (or has been!) used to touch the horse, not only in a good, friendly way (to give scratches) but also often in aversive ways. That last part is the part we tend to forget when we say ‘It’s only an extension of my arm.’ That is the part that makes us feel uncomfortable as horse lovers: that we do use aversives to get our way.

Negative reinforcement

That is what negative reinforcement training is: taking away an aversive in order to strengthen a behaviour. The whip or stick is meant to (and used) to apply aversives with.

Aversive: something an animal actively wants to avoid or escape from

 

The Magic of Work at Liberty

Who hasn’t seen wonderful clinicians that work at liberty with one or more horses. Their horses seem to do everything s/he wants. They have that magical bond and offer to teach this to you too! If you look closely you see they are carrying a whip or a some kind of stick. Sometimes it is really thin or white. It is designed to be almost invisible to human eyes. Not to horses! They learned to watch those tools very closely and pay attention to those ‘extensions of arms’. Why? Because in training sessions they are often applied to give aversives with and the horse remembers! If you watch the body language of those horses closely you can see that it is that tool that gives the commands (‘Do this, or else…’) instead of giving cues with (‘Please do this, so you could earn an appetitive’)

Whips are made to use as aversive

Most horses have the experience that a whip is (has been) used (in the past) to apply aversives with. Yes, I mean inflicting pain or discomfort (No, I really mean pain. Whip yourself and you know what I am talking about).

By waving your whip or ‘just carrying’ it, your horse will anticipate this behaviour because of his learning curve, the association with the whip is based on his experience in the past: Whips can hurt. This is why riders can’t and won’t ride without it: they simply don’t get the same results.

Sorry to burst your bubble

Now you know why… I am so sorry to burst your bubble. When it happened to me I felt really guilty, but when you know better you can do better. I know you can do it, I could too.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

This is exactly why clinicians who work at liberty carry one or two whips in their hands while working at liberty with their horses. It is not magic and it is certainly not positive reinforcement: the horse can tell what is coming next if he does not obey the commands. There is no magic in at liberty work in natural horsemanship! It is science and it is based on negative reinforcement training.

Don’t let your other senses fool you

You are being fooled by the beautiful, emotional music in the videos/performances, your eyes are distracted by what your ears hear.

The music is purposely chosen to trigger wonderful emotions in you and is meant to distract your eyes from what they see: a horse that displays tension in the muscles, swishing its tail, stressed expression in their eyes. or horses that vent their tension on the horse next to them.

Tip

Watch your favorite video without sound and pay attention 
to the horses. What do you see? Does the horse look happy or tense? 
If you mimic his body language how does that make you feel?

 

Then there is often a voice-over or words to read in the video (also meant to distract your eyes from what the horses’ body language is telling). They use beautiful words like ‘connection’ or ‘harmony’, ‘partnership’, ‘friendship’, ‘love’ and so on. Words that play with our emotions and make us long for what we want: be accepted by our horse.

Magical bond

We all want that magical connection with our horses so badly that we want to see ‘the magic’, we want to believe what they are saying. We all want to hear that we too, can achieve this. We believe the ‘leadership’ and ‘friendship’ myths that they are selling us.

Then, after we bought the program, we refuse to see what it really is: negative reinforcement training. No place for the horse to have a say in their training whatsoever. If they do they get more aversives. Really sad actually because if you use positive reinforcement you can get all this and more!

Negative reinforcement for the horse is positive reinforcement for the trainer

We humans are heavily positively reinforced by the Oh’s and Ah’s and admiration from our friends at the barn or our instructor, so we carry on with it. It also gives us a powerful feeling that a horse -an animal 8-10 times our own size- obeys us.

On top of that, who wants to admit that they are forcing their horse to work at ‘liberty’?

This is what I use to say

‘No, no. It is An Extension Of My Arm’, I explained to every one when I changed my whip for a training stick. ‘I am just being a good leader’ and ‘I am mimicking the behaviour of the alpha horse or lead mare’ and so on. I believed it myself!

The more someone asked critical questions the more I repeated the marketing nonsense I bought into myself. That is called cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Listen to your Inner Wisdom

My heart…. my heart couldn’t be fooled by the smart marketing one-liners. It was that little voice in my heart that kept telling me ‘This is not friendship, this looks more like a dictatorship to me. It is not magic when the horse walks without tack, he really knows that if he runs away from you and your whip/stick that you will react with, more pressure, more running around than ever.’

The horse just chooses the smart choice: self-preservation. Being near the human simply means getting rid of the pressure when you work at liberty.

The myth debunked

Sorry, I was distracted and getting carried away, let’s get back to the whip myth.

I am not saying you are using it to apply aversives with, but in our world I don’t know any horse that has seen a whip but never has had an aversive encounter with it. None. Not even my own horse.

This what I am referring to: every horse in this world will encounter a whip as an aversive tool sooner or later in his life. Unless we all turn to 100% positive reinforcement! 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

A whip is simply designed to be used as an aversive tool! It is designed to inflict a lot of pain without causing a visible injury. Every equestrian who ever accidentally (or on purpose) has been whipped by herself or someone else knows what I am talking about: it hurts! Badly!

What equestrian has never been so frustrated that they used their whip to motivate their horse into the desired behaviour? In other words: when you get desperate you use your whip to hit! What equestrian has never used a whip to flick the horse with in case of emergency or to get out of a very dangerous situation? Yes, that is totally understandable. Horses remember those things, even years later! Even when you felt guilty or felt very sorry about it, the horse simply learned a lesson and will remember.

Lose the extension!

When you know better, you do better. Loose the ‘extension’ because it doesn’t benefit your relationship with your horse.

What happens

When you don’t carry a whip around you feel suddenly less powerful and maybe even very vulnerable. I know this is how I felt, when I decided to work without a whip or a training stick. Have you tried it? It makes you think about other ways, more creative and hopefully more friendly ways to ask your requests to your horse, your friend.

The reason that a horse responds to a whip ‘as extension of your arm’ is because it has been used as an aversive in the past. And it is still carrying this value. If it hasn’t, your horse wouldn’t respond as well to it.

The riders who claim to ‘only hold it-but don’t use it’ why are you carrying it?

Why is nobody using a peacock or ostrich feather as 
'extension of their arm' in training or riding?

People who claim they ‘don’t use the whip’ are still signalling a threat to the horse ‘behave or else…’ Why else would they carry such a useless device? Isn’t that distracting and interfering with the hand-rein-connection?

_whip-as-extension-of-arm-myth_hippologic

Does it make sense to you? Does it make sense to the horse?

Secret

If you need a tool to act only as an extension of your arm why not use something that is not designed to dispense aversives? Something that makes it even impossible to inflict pain, something long and soft like a peacock or ostrich feather? I tell you why: the feather does not have the same power as a whip or stick. As soon as your horse finds out that it is useless to dispense aversives with it will lose ‘its purpose as an extension of your arm’.

It is the same with some dressage horses who will quickly learn that their rider won’t use their whip as soon as they are riding within the small white dressage ring fences. They become instantly dull to the leg aids because they know there will not be a ‘follow up’ with the whip. The rider is negatively punished by the use of the whip because it can cost points. The horse has learned that he is ‘safe from the whip’ in the dressage ring. Until that one day the rider gets so frustrated and decides to use the whip ‘really good’ to show the horse who’s boss in the ring….

Most people complain if they have to start carrying a whip or training stick during riding or training. Why not get rid of it if you don’t use it…

Or, admit the advantage of your whip. Not to me, to yourself. And to your horse (although your horse already knows why you really carry it). Be honest!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra 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.

Visit Ní Dhuinn Imagery on Facebook, she made the beautiful drawing of the ridden horse above.

Related post:

[Riding lessons] Why do kids start with a whip?

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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Change to Positive Reinforcement

It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew.  I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…

How I started clicker training

I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and _classical bow_buiging_hippologica Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.

What I learned using R+

When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:

  • I learned to ‘listen to my horse‘ by studying his body language
  • I learned a lot about learning theory.
  • I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the ___clickertraining_hippologictraining/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
  • I learned to think out of the box and became more creative in training. I now have so many different ways to elicit behaviour and put it on cue.
  • Shaping. I learned the power of shaping, a wonderful tool in training.
  • Timing.
  • The power of using a marker to mark (a step towards) the desired behaviour.
  • Planning and the power of keeping a journal.

I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!

How about you?

What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?

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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Fact Friday: Negative vs Positive Reinforcement Training for Rehabilitated Horses

Recently I started training the rescue horses at the BC SPCA. I was asked to help (re)train the horses with positive reinforcement, since that is my specialty.

Would my training benefit the rehabilitated horses in terms of welfare? Is negative reinforcement training better in terms of welfare or is a horse better off with positive reinforcement training? I found a possible answer in a study done at the University of Wales, UK.

Negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement

The aim of their study was to compare these training strategies (negative versus positive reinforcement) on equine behaviour and physiology as the first step in establishing an optimal rehabilitation approach (from a welfare perspective) for equids that have been subjected to chronic stress in the form of long-term neglect/cruelty.

They trained 16 ponies with basic tasks like trailer loading, lead by hand, traverse an obstacle course, etc. During training the  heart rate was monitored and ethograms were compiled. In addition each week an arena test was done. The training lasted for 7 weeks.

Significant difference

After all data was compiled there was a significant difference between the two methods. They found that ‘animals trained under a positive reinforcement schedule were morekyra06062009 004 motivated to participate in the training sessions and exhibited more exploratory or ‘trial and error’ type behaviours in novel situations/environments.’ (in comparison with the horses trained with negative reinforcement).

These results support my own experience with positive and negative reinforcement. The end result of the training may be similar but the experience for the horse is significantly different between positive and negative reinforcement.

To read the full paper go to: Negative versus positive reinforcement:  An evaluation of training strategies for rehabilitated horses, 2007, Lesly Innes, Sebastian McBride

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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