Clicker Training Horses

MYTHS

FAQ's

MYTHS

1. ONCE I TRAIN A BEHAVIOR USING POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT I CAN FADE OUT THE TREATS.

Behavior is strengthened by variable reinforcement ONCE it is learned. 

In order to maintain a behavior, a primary reinforcer is required at least once in awhile. It depends on the horse and what behavior you're maintaining. If you're maintaining the behavior of being groomed, you may not need to reinforce much. If it's a medical procedure, you might need a really high rate of reinforcement.

There is a complete and thorough way to vary your reinforcers if you want to take the time to learn the process. If you are at all new to the process, if you want to train a horse with a positive reinforcement, many advocate continuing with the food reinforcers.

2. USING TREATS AROUND MY HORSE WILL MAKE HIM BITE.

Wrong. 

Forgive me, but I use this analogy. People kill people with guns, it's not the guns who fire themselves.

Food reinforcers are effective. People are using them in a huge variety of circumstances including zoos, marine mammal shows and advanced dog training. Using food for training a horse is a newer technique and I will forever be grateful to the pioneers of this technique. However, people need to learn how to use this tool just like they need to learn ANY tool.

Food is a resource a horse will fight to control. One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to see this; just look at a herd in the paddock and watch. If you add food as a training tool you need to learn how to use it EFFECTIVELY.

The good news is horses can learn safe and easy behaviors to work around food. It DOES take some knowledge to make that happen. If you are new to the process, LEARN from other people and research how to achieve a good working relationship with your horse around food. 

3. I CAN JUST CLICK ANYTHING I LIKE AND THE HORSE WILL DO IT AGAIN

 

Training is a process. Learn how to shape a behavior. Learn how to reward the slightest effort of a behavior the horse CAN give you. Learn how to take that effort and stretch it like taffy, pulled into the behavior you WANT it to become.

 

Learn how to watch what the horse gives you and see if the behavior you want is REPEATING. If it is repeating, THEN you can know you are training. That last  sentence is also worth reading again.

4. RELEASE OF PRESSURE IS A REWARD

So if I put my hand on a stove and realize it's hot, I will jerk back to avoid the heat. Yes, taking my hand away relieved me from the pressure, but I doubt I will seek out the experience again just so I can savor how good it felt when I got away from the heat. (Example courtesy of Dolores Arste).

 

5. TRAINING WITH FEEL IS NOT USING PRESSURE

 

Teaching a horse to move away from a touch is pressure. You CAN train a behavior using positive reinforcement AND shaping, then add a tactile cue, but how you teach the behavior is very different than teaching them to "yield" then adding a click/treat.

6. MY HORSE IS CHOOSING TO RUN INTO THIS SWINGING ROPE 

OK....really? I know that this kind of “ logic” was touted by some proponents of pressure/release training, but animals do not run into things that hurt them unless they have no experience of the pain of that item. If they have never experienced an electric fence, they may touch it the first time. Experience will teach them that it is unpleasant. If they are stressed or the unpleasantness of the shock is not sufficient enough for them to stay away, they will have multiple repetitions of the learning experience. BUT do not kid yourself into thinking that the horse is choosing this experience. It is learning with an aversive at its very basis and the human is responsible for that aversive swinging rope.

 

I am going to reveal a clear bias at this juncture and remark by saying just stating I personally have decided to make as much use of the positive reinforcement quadrant as I possibly can in my training.

 

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