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

Posts tagged ‘reward’

Clicker training 101: Rewards and Jackpots

_keylessonpatience3

In the key lesson ‘Patience’ the horse learns that sniffing pockets will not be rewarded, looking away will!

Many people think that clicker training means you have to reward with food. And that rewarding with food equals a ‘mugging horses’ or that food rewards will turn their horse into a biting disaster.

To prevent mugging and biting behaviour we must teach the horse some rules. As I pointed out in my previous post [->CLICK HERE<-] the horse must understand that there is only a reward coming after the bridge signal (click) and clicks can only be earned during ‘class hours’. A class starts after a specific start signal and ends with a specific end-of-session-signal.

A lot of people think that clicker training is not their cup of tea ‘because their horse doesn’t like treats’ or they are not willing to use food as a training tool.

Rewards

My favourite topic! Reward-based training is NOT all about the food! It is about the REWARD.

The Most important rule is …

The receiver determines the reward.

If you want to use _Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesreward-based training effectively you must remember that it’s not the trainer who determines what the horse ‘must’ like or ‘must’ accept as a reward, it is the horse. I haven’t met one horse in my life that wouldn’t work for something they value. It is the challenge for the trainer to find the right reward that makes ‘the magic’ work.

I like money but Kyra, my horse, doesn’t care about it at all. I like food, but I wouldn’t work or even try to learn a new skill for a handful of grass.

Primary reinforcers

A primary reinforcer is a stimulus that does not require pairing to function as a reinforcer (reward). It is something they need for survival as a species. A horse doesn’t have to ‘learn’ that eating is necessary.

Examples of primary reinforcers are food, air, water, sleep, sex and social behaviours for herd animals. Food and scratches are the most practical in training.

Secondary reinforcers

A secondary reinforcer is a ‘learned reward’. For example once you have taught your horse that he will always be rewarded for standing on a mat, “standing on a mat” will become a reward in itself. The mat is associated to the message “good things happen here” in your horse’s brain.

So, food can be a reward, but a reward doesn’t have to be food.

In my career as horse trainer/clicker training instructor I have seen horses that didn’t valued food highly as a reward. Or they didn’t like the kind of treats that I had to offer. I bloopered once with chunks of apple in a demo. The horse spat it out in front of everybody to make his point. Luckily the owner of the horse helped me out by telling me what was rewarding to the horse (vitamin pellets).

Jackpot

A jackpot is a very special “bonus reward” and will only be given to the horse if he performed extremely well or showed a new behaviour on it’s own that you really want to capture. Like the first time Kyra nickered at me or the first time she laid down in my presence.

A jackpot can be a highly valued treat, maybe mints instead of pellets or carrots instead of grain.

If you don’t have a higher valued reward to offer, you can also increase the amount. If you normally reward with a little chunk of carrot, you can give a big handful as a jackpot or feed multiple chunks quickly after one another. Or if you are riding, you can dismount and unsaddle your horse immediately and take him to a nice patch of grass.

In order to let your horse know he has hit the jackpot you must give it while he is still doing the behaviour. Sometimes that’s not possible. What I do instead is I will extend my bridge signal with a lot of verbal praise when a jackpot is coming to let my horse know she’s doing an extremely good job. Like winning a jackpot from a slot machine: there will be bells and lights to let everybody know you’ve hit the jackpot.

So jackpots are not normal rewards and don’t have normal bridge signals. Jackpots are RARE!

After a jackpot you can best end the training of that day so the horse can let the newly learned knowledge sink in.

To be continued…

Read here the next article: Clicker training 101: Using and Introducing cues

Sandra Poppema
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Positive Reinforcement training is …

Awesome! I use reward-based training to teach horses what I want them to do. I must say it works like a charm and I don’t need whips, carrot sticks, spurs, swinging or wiggling lead ropes or shouting “Hey!” in my horses face anymore! What a relief that is! And Kyra works more willingly than ever. Today I’ll summarize a few of the basics of reward-based training.

Rewards as training tool
_treat_hippologic_clickertrainingIn order to get more of the behaviour you want, you have to reward the horse during or within 3 seconds of the behaviour you want to reinforce. In that way the horse can associate the behaviour with the reward. The animal learns quickly that a specific behaviour leads to a reward and offers more of that behaviour in order to get more rewards.

Bridge signal
It is not always (read: “rarely”) possible to offer a reward to your horse within 3 seconds or even at the time the wanted behaviour occurs. Therefor I use a bridge signal to tell the horse “Yes, THIS was right, your reward is on its way”, while I am reaching for a treat out of my pocket or offering something else that is really _clickerrewarding to my horse. The bridge works as a marker signal to mark the wanted behaviour. I use a click from my clicker as marker.

So, a reward is always preceded by the bridge signal. No click = no reward. Clicker training has nothing to do with bribing your horse into behaviour. The horse has to perform first, then a click will follow. Or not, depending on the stage of learning and if the trainers’  criteria are met.

A click has two meanings
A click tells my horse that she is ‘going to receive a reward’, therefor the click also marks the end of the behaviour. Receiving the reward will end the wanted behaviour anyway. After giving the horse the reward, the trainer can ask again for the same behaviour. The marker signal is not a ‘you are doing OK, but keep going’-signal. You can introduce a ‘keep going’-signal if you want to train duration of a certain behaviour.

Teaching a ‘Keep going’-signal

In order to train duration you can use or introduce a ‘keep going’-signal. That means that the horse is performing well, KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAbut not long enough to earn a click, yet. Example: you want your horse to stand still and you want to encourage ‘4 legs on the ground and a relaxed expression’ you can build duration once your horse can stand still for a few seconds. Then you can start using a ‘keep going’-signal to let the horse know that you want to extend a certain behaviour. In the beginning the ‘keep going’-signal is always immediately followed by the click & reward. After a few sessions your horse will know that the ‘keep going’-signal is followed by a click & reward and you can extend the click a second longer. In this way you teach the horse that he has to keep performing and that a click soon will come.

‘Starting’ and ‘End of Session’-signals
For safety reasons I recommend using an ‘end of session’-signal. That is very important. In that way the horse will learn that he can offer as much behaviour as he wants, but there will be no more click & rewards until another session starts. It gives the horse clarity that all his tries will  now be ‘useless’ until class starts again. Trying harder or doing more will not result in rewards. As an ‘end of session’-signal I hold up my two empty hands and give the verbal cue “All gone”. A starting signal for a session can be as simple as clapping your hands or getting your fanny pack. Make it clear to your horse when class starts and ends. Outside class hours no click & treats. _reinforcingscratch2

If you have any questions, please let me know. I’ll be happy to answer them.

Friday I will explain more basics:  rewards, jackpots and using and introducing cues. Stay tuned.

Sandra Poppema

 

 

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