I try to address Vic’s question regarding positive reinforcement training and training “Whoa”. It is a basic question and it may be very helpful for those that are unfamiliar with how it all fits together.
QUESTION: What does your training do that teaching the command “whoa” does not?
RESPONSE: Hi Vic and thank you for the opportunity to address your question. The training, which is based in proven behavior principles, teaches a horse so much more than “Whoa” that it is hard to even know where to begin. I imagine you are talking about the sound of the clicker vs the entire training. Depending on how it is trained, generally “Whoa” asks them to stop. While the clicker does end a behavior, more importantly, it tells them they have done something correctly and have earned some sort of a reward. It is a “Yes” signal. The click also draws attention to a particular moment in time. They remember what earns them the click. So, if I like a canter depart or a flying lead change I can draw attention to that particular action. I may not be able to deliver a reward at that point in time but I can bookmark that moment in time. Technically speaking, the sound of the clicker is called a “bridge signal”. This is because it bridges the moments between the correct behavior and the and the moment when I can deliver a positive reinforcement. Another example of the clicker at work happened with a women who was teaching her filly to lift her legs. She had the idea to use carrots as a reinforcement when she was good. She did not use a bridge signal (the clicker). Instead she just fed when she was done holding her leg up. The women reported that her horse seemed to be pulling her leg out of her hand and placing it back on the ground. I asked what her horse was doing when she got her carrot. She told me that it was when her leg was back on the ground. The horse had made the association that her foot back on the ground equals reward. We fixed the problem by introducing the clicker into the equation. That way she could click when her foot was in her hand and communicate that this is the behavior that has earned the reward. I think it is important to note that she was still feeding the filly when her foot was on the ground but she now had a way to communicate which part of that equation she was rewarding. She quickly and easily changed the behavior. Better yet, she opened up a new way to communicate with her filly. I hope this answers your question an clears things up a bit. If you have more questions please let me know. This barely scratches the surface. If you would like to learn more about positive reinforcement training there is a lot more information and even some video sessions on this blog. A good place to start might be a clip that Rick Lamb did for his television show. If you are interested you may go to this link: http://shawnakarrasch.com/blog/2011/11/08/the-horse-show-with-rick-lamb-2/ or enter “Rick Lamb” on the blog’s search bar.
I address Marjorie’s question about maintaining her Foxtrotter’s gait. However, this really applies to any horse having trouble with his gait. One of the things I enjoy most about my position is that I have the opportunity to work with horses and riders from all different disciplines and levels of training. While I may not have expertise in that particular discipline, as a behaviorist, I can still make a difference in the horse’s performance. It all boils down to some basics in behavioral principles. I think this might be a good time for a brief review for those of you who are new to the blog and a reminder for you old pros!
The key is to draw attention (via a reward) to the small steps that are taken to create the behavior. These building blocks are called successive approximations. By recreating this progression of steps we are reminding our horses of the training which led to the final product. Furthermore, by adding positive reinforcement (reward) to the equation, we build a new reinforcement history with the correct behavior. Everything our horses do is because of an association they have established with behavior. An important axiom to keep in mind is: If any behavior increases in frequency, then something in the environment is reinforcing the behavior. This means they are either seeking something they want or avoiding something they don’t want. That is the bottom line. Sounds pretty simple when you think of it that way, don’t you think?
By stepping into any training situation and ramping up the amount of positive reinforcement associated with a task or performance you can modify behavior. A lot of people believe they are using positive reinforcement but true positive reinforcement is something that the horse holds in high regard. Us humans tend to use something we hold in high regard. Primary reinforcers are the most effective. Particularly the things that are required for survival. These primary reinforcers are: food, air, water, sleep and procreation. The first 4 refer to the things needed for the horse to survive as an individual while the 5th, procreation, refers to survival of the species. Since our horses are hard-wired for these things, their power as a motivator is unrivaled by anything else we currently use in our training programs. Food is clearly the easiest to implement and hugely effective. Of course, as I have explained before, there are boundaries to establish and maintain when we utilize food as training tool. Alright, I think that is enough for now. I can go on and on. Heck, I have taught a week long college course so I can talk behavior for a week straight! Understanding these principles is the first step to becoming a better trainer. Let’s watch the video…
I have tended to steer clear of teaching people how to teach their horse to do “tricks”. There are so many practical uses for positive reinforcement that I stay busy teaching people how to address their everyday horse issues. Also, I must admit that I dislike the word “tricks” when referring to training. Tricks are slights of hand and things that fool the observer. These are just behaviors like everything else we teach them to do. These are “just for fun” behaviors. Let’s face it, the horse doesn’t see the difference between a bow and a half pass. One doesn’t make any more sense to them than the other, yet from our perspective there seems to be a world of difference. The relationship we build with our horses is not based on things that horses naturally do in their world. When is the last time you saw a horse saddling up and riding another horse or a horse picking out another horses feet? We establish a rapport with our horses that is unique to us humans. I have found that teaching anything from the ground really enhances our relationship with our horses. Teaching “tricks” through positive reinforcement not only strengthens our bond it stimulates our horses mentally and teaches them how to learn. The last part of that statement may seem like an odd thing to say but horses who have not been exposed to positive reinforcement training have not previously been given the opportunity to make real choices in regards to training. “Trick” training helps to build their confidence and it actually tells you a lot about how your horse processes information. I have taught “tricks” for the sake of demonstrations. I have found that when I ask Mint to back up and the observer watches him back up for 50 yards, or until I ask him to come back to me, it makes a impact. If I were riding him it wouldn’t be as clear as to how much was the use of my aids and how much was really coming from his free choice. His Back-up is not any different than asking for a nice forward canter with a slight bend and having him maintain it without having to remind him, until I ask him to do something else. Having him perform it at liberty, without goading, intimidation or repercussions, demonstrates the horse’s willingness and desire to perform. And finally, let’s face it…it is just plain fun to watch your horse ham it up!
If you would like to see some video of the leg cross or other fun behaviors go to (search) this post on my blog: The Horse Show with Rick Lamb
Okay, this is a little off topic but I thought you would get a kick out of this video. My dog, Haley, loves to watch TV. I thought it was a passing fancy but it has been years now. Everyone who sees her do this has said I should get it on video. So here it is, Haley watching TV. She is watching “It’s Me or the Dog”. She tries to interact with the dog on TV. She is very interactive when she watches television. She gets more animated when she sees any animal, whether real or cartoon, also if there is a lot of activity or if she sees someone with facial hair. I hope you enjoy it!
In this video I address Vicky’s question about her horse who has been bucking when transitioning from trot to canter. I posted this to You Tube back in November. Then the holidays and moving took over my life. So, now I am getting this posted here on my Blog. Often times I film these short clips and realize I have not addressed some important points. I then pair the video up with the written part of the post which will address some of these issue. But I think this one pretty much covers it. However, I did get a question posted on FB the other day that is addressing bucking with the flying lead change. They are slightly different scenarios but the underlying issues are the same, bucking during a transition. I am going to post the question and response so you can get another case scenario. After all, the more information you have the better equipped you will be to think on your feet when an issue arises.
Something to keep in mind…Bucking can also be a way your horse communicates that he is in pain or having discomfort so be sure to eliminate any possible physical causes for this behavior before you address it through training. Once he has a clean bill of health you are ready to proceed. However, let’s say your horse had a physical cause for his bucking. Maybe he had an injury or an ill fitting saddle. So, you do what it takes to remedy the situation. Just because the pain has gone away doesn’t necessarily mean the bucking will go away. He may still remember the pain and associate it with a particular activity and continue to avoid that activity. You will probably still have to address it from a behavioral stand point. That being said, let’s get to Shari and Vicky’s questions.
QUESTION: How do you respond when your horse does something really good, you click, but before you reward him he does something really bad? For example: teaching a flying lead change. He does it perfect for the first time, you click, then he starts bucking. Would you still reward? Would you ignore it all together and try again? Or something else?
ANSWER: Hi Shari, That is a really good question. I would not recommend rewarding him for the behavior. Granted you clicked, which is drawing attention to the target behavior but you don’t want him to inadvertently associate the unwanted behavior with the reward. It could turn into what is called a “superstitious behavior” which means he may think it is part of the whole chain.
I would try to make a mental note of when the unwanted behavior happens. I would look for an opportunity to draw attention to that behavior in another circumstance. For example: go back to the simple change and click when he settles after the change to the new lead. I know he probably doesn’t have a problem with this behavior during the simple change, but it will help to build a reinforcement history with this part of the behavior. We want to teach him that relaxation is an important part of the criteria for reinforcement. This will help him to relax and settle as soon as the change is done since this is when the click/reinforcement happens.
Now, let’s say that he keeps being too excited after the flying change. In that case I would suggest not drawing attention to the actual change itself but instead once he settles after the change.
I hope this helps clear things up a bit. If you have more questions please don’t hesitate. I have some other tools to use under saddle that I will address in the next tele-seminar. It is just too much writing to discuss here! Please keep me posted on your progress.