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In part I of this series I discussed the pros and cons of luring and moulding. In this part I will talk about shaping, targeting and capturing.
In shaping the goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced). A criterion is only raised if the previous tiny step is confirmed. In this way you can build a behaviour from scratch (free shaping). One can also shape existing behaviours. This is when elements like distractions or duration are gradually added.
Pros of shaping
It is a safe and sure way to train any behaviour.
It is a good way of setting the horse up for success: each step of the process is easy to understand and easy to perform. The bridge signal ‘guides’ the horse through the process, so he gets lots of information about what is expected.
It can be used to train very difficult and complex behaviours.
The horse is not restrained in any way. This makes it easier to notice mental changes (emotions) or physical changes like fatigue in your horse.
Cons of shaping
It can be hard for a trainer to split the behaviour into small enough steps. If the trainer is ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big, raising the criteria too fast) shaping can cause frustration in trainer and horse.
Depending on the behaviour, the process can take a while since every step of it has to be trained separately.
The rewards must be reinforcing enough and the tasks must be challenging enough to keep the horse engaged. That can be a challenge.
Trainer must have a keen eye and perfect timing to observe and click the tiniest steps towards the goal behaviour.
Targeting is touching a specified surface (eg a target stick) with a particular body part. Example: teaching your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. The target is not a lure because it is not a primary reinforcer. Targeting is taught through shaping.
Pros of targeting
Targeting has a lot of practical uses and you can train almost any behaviour with it.
It is a safe training method. There is no need for physical contact, so you can train even your horse from behind a barrier if necessary or desirably.
The target is not distracting the horse like a lure would.
A target on a stick can enlarge your reach. You can send your horse away from you and your pocket full of treats.
The horse is free (not restrained) during training and it is easier to notice emotions in training like fear, curiosity, frustration and so on. It is also easier to notice if your assignment is physically (im)possible to perform for your horse or to notice fatigue.
Cons of targeting
You have to fade out the target. That can be a bit of a challenge. The best way to do this is to put a cue on the behaviour first.
It is an extra tool in your hands.
Targeting is taught through shaping, see cons of shaping.
Capturing is ‘catching’ the end behaviour as it happens with your bridge signal and reinforcing it. Example: the classical bow looks very much like the natural behaviour of a stretch after a nap. Click and reward your horse while he is stretching. Capture the behaviour several times. Then add a cue. See also Introducing and using cues.
Pros of capturing
The most obvious pro is that it is a really fast way to get a new behaviour, since the horse is already displaying the ‘goal behaviour’.
It is a safe method to train the behaviour.
Novice trainers can use it. Timing doesn’t have to be very accurate.
Cons of capturing
The training is totally dependant on the horses willingness to perform the behaviour and the chances of the trainer being present at the time. The trainer must have a bridge signal and reward present.
It can be hard to communicate a (new) cue to your horse. While training you may have accidentally introduced one already. You might not know what it is as a horse is very perceptive of your unconscious movements. This might be difficult to change afterwards.
My favourite training methods
These three are my favourite ways of getting a behaviour. I use targeting and shaping on a daily basis.
I used capturing to teach Sholto the classical bow (see picture below) and flehmen on command. Kyra’s lying down and nickering to me are also taught through capturing.
Kyra’s flemen and her classical bow (see picture below) are taught with shaping and targeting.
What is your most used method to teach your horse behaviours?
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.