As a force-free instructor it becomes my responsibility to intertwine the needs of the rider to the needs of the animal. I can teach a rider how aversive stimuli can lead to adaptation and habituation, which can decrease the immediacy and general responsiveness to cues. I can show a rider that building confidence with enrichment and positive associations can lead to a calmer and more predictable horse. We can differentially reinforce incompatible behaviors, to get the same response with different “cues”. For example, rather than using aversive pressure from the bit, quickly training a default haltbehavior to achieve a stop in which the cue is a release of pressure. Through creative teaching I can demonstrate how letting go of compulsion can increase control. I can illustrate to the rider how reinforcement fuels intrinsic motivation, leading to more engagement and a higher level of performance. Once we enter the rider’s schema, we open the door to a more conscious form of riding.
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Bits are quickly becoming obsolete in the equestrian world, as more humane equipment is developed for communicating with the horse, and knowledge of learning theory expands among horse-people. To create effective alternatives to using a bit, we must first understand why the bit is used and what it does. Bits have long been considered essential to successful communication with the horse, but with advancements in force-free training, behavior is no longer contingent upon equipment.
Intelligent Disobedience is a phenomenon wherein an animal makes a choice to act directly against the instructions from the handler/owner/trainer/rider in order to make a decision that is ultimately better. Intelligent Disobedience has most often been associated with guide animals who make decisions to keep their handlers safe. Such as when a guide dog for the vision impaired ignores a cue to cross the street during a time in which a car is coming. However, this phenomenon is not only present in the horse world, it can help to increase safety in a perilous sport...
It's time to let go of the reins and create reliable behavior that is not contingent upon the presence and use of equipment. We need to teach the horse internal control of their behavior through cooperation, in an effort to lessen or eliminate the amount of external control that is necessary to create the performance that we have come to expect. Here is one way that we can get started...
Why train a horse to steer of a verbal cue? There are many benefits, the first of which being that it creates another mode of communication between rider and the horse. Where the traditional pressure cuing system vaguely translates to "more pressure = more response", a verbal cue allows us to precisely communicate what it is that we are looking for. For this process I used a technique known as shaping, which involves rewarding successive approximations (or small steps) towards the finished behavior.
Enrichment has numerous benefits for small pets including better health, decreased boredom, and increased activity throughout the day. One way to enrich the lives of the small animals we live with is to provide food puzzles. This particular puzzle is great for providing both mental and physical activity, while making meal time FUN!
Tricks play an important role in behavior modification because tricks add options to your pet's behavioral repertoire. Matching Law states that given two options of possible behaviors, the animal will choose the one with a stronger history of reinforcement. Adding behaviors that we like to reinforce gives your pet more options, with a higher probability that he/she will choose these behaviors over undesirable behaviors...
The "fight or flight" response is a defensive survival mechanism that comes pre-programmed in all living organisms. When we feel threatened we make an unconscious decision to run away, or to fight. When we restrain an animal and force them into a situation in which they may feel threatened, we remove half of their choice. We take away the peaceful option of running away, and leave only "fight!".
The technical term for a clicker is an event marker. If you have ever been to a dolphin or marine mammal show you have probably already seen an event marker in action. The clicker helps to mark the moment in time that an animal behaves correctly, making communication more precise!
Dogs pull on leash to get where they want to go, when it works it reinforces the pulling behavior.
Rather than saying "No!" when you dog is doing something that you don't like, try redirecting his actions by offering a cue he does know. For example, if your dog is jumping on a guest, try saying "Sit". This provides the dog with information about what is acceptable and gives him an alternative to redirect his energy to.
When training, we want to give the animal a taste of something good as a reward, and keep them wanting more so that we can practice over and over. We always want to use the smallest amount possible to reinforce behaviors.
To train our animals effectively, it is important that we first understand how animals learn. The science that follows in this post is a brief summary of learning theory. By understanding how it is that all living beings learn, we can then establish the most effective methods of training.