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

Posts tagged ‘variable reinforcement schedule’

Is This The Reason that You don’t Clicker Train Your Horse?

A common objective about clicker training horses is that ‘you have to carry a clicker and treats around all the time‘.

Is that what’s really holding you back or is it something else? Something fear based? Maybe you’re afraid your horse turns into a monster or becomes treat crazy and you don’t know how you would handle that.

‘You have to have treats on you all the time’

carrying treats in clicker training_hippologic_debunking myths_clickertrainingThat carrying treats and a clicker is a burden, is just a matter of perspective. Horse people are carrying tools around all the time. Most of them way heavier and bigger than a box clicker (which you can replace by a verbal marker or a tongue click) and a pocket full of treats. Think of whips (riding crops or lunge whips), training sticks or heavy lead ropes to name a few.

I have treats on me most of the time. I don’t always use the treats I carry, sometimes they just go stale… Yes, that can be yucky. Everyone who found a piece of forgotten fruit or carrot in their pockets a few weeks later can confirm that. That is a disadvantage of having treats on you…

Training Results from Positive Reinforcement are long lasting

Decades ago -when I was still carrying a whip and or “carrot” stick around- my results in training could deteriorate pretty quickly when I didn’t bring my tools (to threaten my horse into coercion). We all tried to ride without a crop, only to discover just carrying one helps, right?

_carrot_or_stick_hippologicOne huge advantage of positive reinforcement is that you teach the horse to choose to follow your cues. You make positive associations in training all the time.

Following cues turn into pleasant habits for the horse. After you trained the desired behaviour you fade out click and treats. Well trained clicker horses are used not to get treats all the time!

Once a behaviour is established and on cue you only reinforce the behaviour once in a while and that doesn’t even have to be with food. There are many ways you can reinforce a clicker savvy horse without a food reward. I find it very important to teach students the principles of learning and motivation and teach them to rely on their training skills and and not on a treat or a tool.

Afraid to loose control without training tools

I think one of the fear is that we think we loose control without treats in our pocket, but people who haven’t tried R+ or haven’t used it properly don’t realize the training is IN THE HORSE. Therefor you don’t need the treats and act like a dispenser. You don’t lose control without treats. You can fade out the clicks and treats. (Actually that is what you have to do in order to be successful in positive reinforcement training.)

Although it’s true you do have to reinforce once in a while after the behaviour is trained, but that goes for R- too. Traditional well trained horses still get whipped or kicked in their flanks once in while. Think of the many well trained horses that are ridden with spurs.

There always need to be a certain level of Reinforcement in order not to let the behaviour extinct. light-bulb-1926533_640

 

Carrying treats or a clicker is no different from carrying other reinforcing tools. They are different tools with the same goal: not to let the behaviour get extinct.

So don’t let a small box clicker or a pocket full of treats withhold you from a wonderful relationship with your horse and excellent results in training.

If you want to know what your first step would be to implement positive reinforcement in your training book a free 30 minute call with me. Click here to pick any time that is convenient for you. You are also very welcome to book a free discovery call with me if you are already using R+.

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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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Most powerful reward schedule: Variable ratio

In a  variable ratio schedule a desired behaviour (once it is established and put on cue) will be reinforced randomly. There is no way the horse can predict when he can expect a reward, so this will keep him motivated to perform well.

Benefits of a variable reinforcement schedule

With a variable ratio schedule it will take a very long time before a behaviour will become extinct. Extinction means that the behaviour will no longer be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule. Your horse figures ‘This could be the time my behaviour gets rewarded, so let’s try this again’. No reward? ‘Maybe this time I will get a reward… Let’s give it a bit more effort… Yes! It worked’.__rewards_hippologic

A variable reward schedule is also the reason why most horses keep displaying undesired behaviours. I explain this further in this post.

Extinction burst

If a behaviour is never rewarded (intrinsically or extrinsically) it will go extinct. Just before a behaviour goes extinct there is usually an ‘extinction burst’.

Often when an in the past rewarded behaviour doesn’t result in a reward the animal shows a sudden and temporary increase in the behaviour followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behaviour targeted for elimination. Novel behaviour, or emotional responses or aggressive behaviour, may also occur (Miltenberger, R. (2012). Behaviour modification, principles and procedures. (5th ed., pp. 87-99). Wadsworth Publishing Company.)

Extinction_Graph

Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

The same principle occurs in a consciously applied variable reward schedule. Just before the horse loses interest in displaying the behaviour he will show a little ‘extinction burst’ as a last attempt to influence the reinforcement (reward). This is the improved behaviour a trainer is looking for and wants to mark and reward.

Withhold the click

If the horse already has a strong positive reinforcement history with a certain behaviour or with positive reinforcement training in general, it can react differently to a withdrawn click than when he is in the beginning of the learning stage of an exercise.

A well used withdrawal of the click will induce an improvement of behaviour (extinction burst). It also can help the horse figure out quicker which behaviour is rewarded and which isn’t. In this way you can give more information about what you want.

Instead of the trainer acting like a ‘vending machine’: put money (behaviour) in and expect a reward (treat comes out), the trainer now behaves more like a ‘gambling machine’ with a fair chance to win.

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The horse may become ‘superstitious’ and tries to figure out if there was a difference with the behaviour that was similar and didn’t get rewarded and the one that did. Just like superstitious people who are suddenly paying attention to the colour of their socks in order to influence their chances of winning, the animal will also pay more attention to the details of the behaviour in order to influences the chances of a click and reward.

Pitfalls of withholding a click too long

Withholding a click can also trigger impatience, frustration or confusion in the horse. So  use this technique with caution. You don’t want to discourage your horse. A little bit of frustration is no big deal, as long as the horse stays in learning mode.

Sometimes a bit of frustration can actually benefit the learning process. It is the trainers responsibility to walk this line. If the horse gets frustrated or shuts down, turn back to a continuous reward schedule for a while and make your training steps smaller and lower your criteria.

When you start teaching a new behaviour it is really important to click every improvement and use a continuous reward schedule. The next step in training should be only rewarding the behaviour when you have cued it. Once the cue is established, switch to a variable reward schedule.

Fading out the rewards

So once your horse has learned a specific behaviour you can reward less and less and still get the behaviour. This is called fading out the click.

Continuous reward schedules are very easy to use (reward 100%) because you don’t have to think about it. What about a variable reward schedule, are you using this in your training?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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