Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Posts tagged ‘treats in training’

One of the perks of Clicker Training Your Horse is…

You Are Allowed to Hand-Feed your darling! No, not allowed, you are ENCOURAGED!

_everybodylikestofeedhorses_hippologic

Isn’t that great news? Isn’t that one of the best things of having animals: to feed them? Don’t we all like that? What is better then to hand-feed them and train them at the same time!

key lesson Table Manners_hippologic_safe handfeedingFinally you found a coach that encourages you to do what is one of the most reinforcing things to do: offering food and letting the horse take it off of your hand!

Don’t let anyone take this away from you. If you are concerned about what would happened if you started using food reinforcers in your training, don’t listen to the general opinion: educate yourself.

Set yourself up for success and learn how you can do it right. Make it fun for you and fun for your horse. Win-win. You get the desired behaviour, your horse gets a wonderful treat (and you get to hand-feed him!)

Read these 2 articles if you want to know how to start safe and use food effectively as reinforcer in training. (You know you can always consult me personally, right? Contact me for a free discovery call.)

Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)
&
Tips to Train your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

handfeeding-horses_hippologic_tablemannersforhorses

Myths about hand-feeding horses

People who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how “treats” or “rewards” can be effectively used as reinforcers. I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

I will debunk these in upcoming blogs. I will give you one now.

Myth #5 “Horses won’t respect you”

The believe “That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!” is a common one. Here is what I believe if someone says:

‘With Clicker Training the Horse only does it for the Treats (not for you)’

Help me and share the believes you are fighting

What comments about hand-feeding or using treats as reinforcers annoy you? Do you need an answer, please leave a comment and I will help you with a science based one.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course and participate for free next time! Click here

Clicker Training Mastery (advanced course) starts March 6, 2019

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin
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6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (4/6)

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 4.

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.

#4 Clicker training becomes soon all about the click and your questions (instead of the food)

While it might look like clicker training or positive reinforcement training is all about food (see part 1), that’s not the case.

People who don’t know the principles of learning and how animals make associations, can only ‘see’ what they know, if they watch positive reinforcement training.

They only see the differences compared to their own training.

Since they can’t ‘make’ anything out of the bridge signal (the click), their brains usually ignore it. They don’t ‘see’ it, because it has no meaning to them.

Instead they they focus on what they can see. What is different compared to what they know? The food! Therefor it is easy to think ‘Clicker training is all about the food’.

Food rewards in training

People try to find associations with ‘treats’ and ‘horses’. Usually that leads they to the association of mugging, pushy horses (kicking doors at feeding time, horses that put their nose into pockets with food), horses that will bite if hand-fed and other negative associations or myths.

The other thing they ‘see’ is what goes wrong in training. Their mind is focused on the mistakes the horse makes. We all know that what you focus on grows. Positive reinforcement training focuses on what goes well, so we create more of the good things we want.

The trainer is not a vending machine

HippoLogic clicker training is about the click

The click in clicker training is the Key to Success

In the beginning stages (introducing the click and teaching the association ‘click means an appetitive is coming’), the horse doesn’t yet understand the bridge signal and he will focus on the food.

That will only take a few short sessions. Soon they will figure out what lead to the appetitive: their own behaviour!

Right from the start I will teach horses that ‘moving away from the food’ leads to food. That improves the safety and it is called the HippoLogic Key Lesson Table Manners. Horses are very much like humans; we too have to be taught how to behave according to the etiquette.

Once the horse understands that, he will focus on the bridge signal, the click that marks the behaviour that lead to the food-reinforcer, and his own behaviour.

In that moment the horse understand that he has to pay attention 
to the click (not the food) in order to get the treat.

That is when the horse shifts his attention from the food to the marker signal. That is also when the food stops to be a distracting factor. That usually all happens in day 1.

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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PS Do you know about the HippoLogic membership?

Safe the date: December 1st, 2018

Register today for our 14 Day Online Equine Clicker Challenge
December theme “Jingle Bells”
Goal: create a wonderful Holiday Video starring Your Horse. It will be fun!hippologicclickerchallenge_Jinglebells
Discover your strengths and boost your confidence in your Clicker Skills in two weeks. I guarantee you that you will walk away with practical tweaks that you can apply to your daily training that will lead to a happy clicker trained horse that loves to work with YOU!

_avatar_60x60_Xmashippologic
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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Safe the date: March 6, 2019

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course and participate for free every time! Click here

Clicker Training Mastery (online course) starts March 6, 2019

Happy Horse training!

Tips to Measure the Value of Your Reward

I mean reinforcer. Not ‘reward’. It just sounded better. 😉 There is a big difference, let’s take a look at the definitions:

Reward
noun

A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
“the holiday was a reward for 40 years’ service with the company”

Synonyms: Recompenseprizeawardhonordecorationbonuspremiumbountypresentgift,
payment;

Informal – payoffperk;
Formal – perquisite “a reward for its safe return”
Reward
verb
Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.
Synonyms:

Recompensepayremunerate, make something worth someone’s while;

Reinforcer

A stimulus (such as a appetitive or the removal of an aversive) that increases the probability of a desired response in operant conditioning by being applied or effected following the desired response.

The purpose of a reward is a gift (end of story), the purpose of a reinforcer is to stimulate behaviour! Big difference.

Determine a Reinforcer

_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesFirst you need to know that it’s the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer!

Your horse will tell you if something was reinforcing.

There are only 3 possibilities:

  1. You get more behaviour: the appetitive or aversive was indeed reinforcing
  2. You see no difference in desired response:the trainer did not give an appetitive or aversive stimulus but a neutral stimulus
  3. You get less of the desired behaviour, your reinforcer was not a reinforcer but a punishment for the learner. The behaviour decreased.

Low value or high value reinforcers

Low value reinforcers will still increase desired behaviour (they are not neutral) but they don’t over excite or over arouse your horse. Your horse stays interested in your training and keeps paying attention to you.

_treats_in_training_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can help your horse to increase his own criteria of a certain behaviour because the value of the treat excites him.

The downside is that high value reinforcers can cause over excitement and/or overarousal. You want to avoid that because it will distract the animal from the behaviour you want him to offer.

Choosing the Right Value

In general you want to use the lowest value reinforcer possible, that still get you the desired behaviour. It’s still worth it for the horse.

Low value reinforcers will help keep your horse in ‘learning mode‘ and pay attention to the behaviour, not the food.

You can alternate low value reinforcers with higher value reinforcers or you can mix them to up the value and keep it interesting.

_carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can be well used when your horse is nervous, in pain or if something else (a distraction) is also highly reinforcing.

A better ‘pay’ can help him decide to offer the desired behaviour despite of his emotions or other attractive motivators that going on.

It can help your horse to choose to perform better if he knows a high value reinforcer will or might come his way.

Tips to Measure the Value

When your horse grabs the treat off of your hand, bites, moves his head very fast towards the hand that offers the treat or eats the treat very fast, the reinforcer is of high value. Other signs can be over excitement or arousal and concentrating on the food instead of the cues of the trainer.

When your horse sniffs the treat first or slowly eats it, it can be an indicator of a low value reinforcer. If your horse starts to refuse the treat during training it has lost it’s value and you need to stop the training session or switch to a higher value reinforcer.
If the quality of the desired behaviour will not increase (your horse doesn’t try other behaviours/increase criteria) your reinforcers aren’t high enough value.

When your horse stays engaged in your training, keep offering new behaviours and doesn’t show frustration or overarousal/overexcitement the balance of high/low value reinforcers is perfect. That might change over time or when your clicks get too predictable.

Behaviour is not static!

What are some low and high value reinforcers for your horse? How can you tell? Please share your stories in the comments and inspire us!

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the relationship with their horse they really, really want and I teach them how they can get the results in training they dream of in a win-win way for horse and human.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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Tips to Train your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

The expression “Training with treats” is often immediate cause for a lively discussion between people who do and people who don’t use food reinforcers. Want to watch the video? Scroll to the bottom of this blog!

Reasons to Train with Treats

There are many reasons to train with treats. I only will state 3 here.

  1. Food is an amazing reinforcer! Horses want to work for it and sometimes they don’t even want to stop working (which can be listed with the cons).
  2. Keeps your hands free. You don’t need to hold the treat until you need it, like you do with a whip.
  3. Horses will raise the criteria for a behaviour by themselves in order to earn a treat.

Reasons NOT to Train with Treats

_mugging_hippologicHere are the 3 reasons I heard the most.

I will debunk them in the next paragraph.

  1. Horses get pushy or will start to bite you.
  2. Horses will start mugging you when you carry treats around.
  3. He will only work for the treat, not for you.

Debunking the myths

1. & 2. True, horses can turn into biters or will behave like you’re a vending machine if treats are ‘randomly’ (from the horse’s perspective!) offered during training.

Therefor you need to establish some rules. They are really simple to understand and every horse I worked with learned them within a few minutes:

Rule #1 All treats are announced by a marker signal (usually the click sound from a box clicker). No click, no treat.

Rule #2 The fastest way to treats is to move away from them. Simply teach the horse an incompatible behaviour with the undesired behaviour.

Biting and mugging are not possible if the horse is not in range. Teach him to move his head away from your body and/or the food source (your pocket). This sounds so easy, but pay attention to what most people do: they give the horse attention for the undesired behaviour and therefor reinforcing it. It is the receiver (horse) that determines if something is a reward or a punishment. If the behaviour gets stronger, it was reinforced.

___clickertraining_hippologic

Rule #3 Treats must be taken with lips only. Teeth are not allowed to take (or grab) the treat.

Reason #3 ‘He will only work for the treat, not for you’. Weird enough people are not saying this when you work with aversives: “If you work with a whip he will only do it because you carry a whip or wearing spurs.”

By implementing rule #1 the horse learns to pay attention to the marker, the click and not the food. The food is not a lure, it is a reinforcer.

When you start to train a horse that is not used to paying attention to a marker signal he will pay a lot of attention to the food. True, in the very beginning (only the first few sessions) it is about the food. Once the 3 basic rules are implemented, the attention shifts from the food to the click, the challenge and or the interaction with the trainer.

Yes, the food reinforcer will still play an important rule in future training. Only not in the same exercise all the time. You will fade out the click & reinforcer.

Clicks and reinforcers will still be used to train new behaviours. We always want to improve and develop, don’t we? That is why food will always be a part of (positive reinforcement) training.

Even when we don’t carry food around the horse still wants to perform eagerly the tasks we cue him for. We made a positive association in the brain using food in the learning process.

Have you ever heard someone asking ‘When can I fade out the whip, the bit or my spurs?’

Tips to Teach Your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

  • Teach your horse the food always moves to the horse, never the other way around
  • The quickest way for your horse to earn a treat is to move away from it
  • Teach your horse to wait patiently until the food is delivered to his mouth, by offering the food (especially in the beginning) ASAP after the click
  • No click, no treat
  • Only lips are allowed to take the treat. Use (temporarily) bigger size treats if your horse uses his teeth to grab the treat and click&treat faster.

 

_give an appetitive HippoLogic

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. I’ also would love to read your comments, I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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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 gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses that will change your life.

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (1/3)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!

I realized that maybe some equestrians still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they are so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not as basic exercises but as tools. Important and powerful training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.

Key Lessons for Horses

The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

From exercise to training tool to success strategy

At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my 8 week online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

1. ‘Table Manners’ for Horses

This exercise starts out to teach your horse what humans see as ‘desired’ behaviour around food and food reinforcers.

HippoLogicThis exercise starts out to teach people to train their horse not to mug them and to be ‘polite’ around food. With ‘polite’ I mean the food always goes to the horse, never the other way around. Treats need to be carefully taken off of the hand with their lips, not the teeth. Only the treat is eaten, not the fingers and so on. Basically you just teach your horse not to forage for food. You train them to suppress their natural exploration behaviour.

Once your horse knows the fastest way to the treat (wait for the marker/click) you can teach your horse more complex behaviours, like going to his target when you arrive with hay or a bucket of grain.

2. ‘Patience’

In the exercise ‘Patience’ you teach your horse to stand next to you, with his head straight and his neck in a comfortable horizontal position. In this way your horse can’t ‘mug’ you (explore/forage).
‘Patience’ changes from a ‘simple exercise’ to a valuable training tool once you make this your horses’ ‘default behaviour’._keylesson_patience_hippologic

Default behaviour

Normally you put a cue to a behaviour once your horse masters an exercise. You will raise the criterion from ‘Well done: click‘ every time he displays the behaviour to ‘You can only earn a click after I gave a cue‘.
In a default behaviour you don’t use this criterion: you will reinforce the behaviour also when it is on the horses initiative.

Once ‘Patience‘ becomes a default behaviour and your horse is a well seasoned clicker trained horse, he will use this exercise in his communication to you.

He will display his default behaviour when he doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t understand your assignment or when he gets frustrated. He does this because he knows this behaviour will never be punished. He also learns it will almost never be ignored. So this becomes his tool to communicate with you.

In the next sequences I will explain the other Key Lessons for Horses. Read part 2 here and here is part 3.

Check out my webinar about this subject:

Please share

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

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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 online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training’ that will change your life.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

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

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

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.

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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.
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