Antecedent Imagination

“To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination” – Jean-luc Picard

He’s my hero, and he’s absolutely right. In regards to animal training, I often hear people say “oh but you can’t train X with positive reinforcement”. To which I say “this is a failure of imagination”. Every behavior, every one, that the animal CAN do can be taught with R+. R+ isn’t just a training technique – it’s a learning quadrant. R+ isn’t targeting, or luring, or capturing, those are just methods used to give you something to reinforce. If a behavior can be done by the learner’s will, all you need to do is find out how to engage it, then reinforce it.

Most often we utilize tools like targets, this is easy to control and encourages large chunks of behavior to happen at once. We can use targets in a number of ways, like a lure, they can follow targets with their nose (teaching them to go places, over, into, or around obstacles, etc…) We can use body targets to encourage movement of different parts of their body, moving their hips, shoulder, knee, hoof, etc… Wherever we place the target. We can send our horse away from us to a target or series of targets, into, onto, over, or around obstacles as well. Last of all we can use targets to teach a horse to station still on the target, whether a mat or nose, chin, cheek target for various stationary skills (like standing for veterinary procedures).

Aside from targeting we can also capture behaviors as they happen freely. Being prepared with reinforcement while your horse is going about their day we can catch certain behaviors in the act. We can help this along by knowing our individual well. Do they always drink after eating? Do they often roll when they are wet? Do they like to run when they are first turned out? Knowing their habits and patterns can help us be prepared to capture anything our horses do. With this we can capture a complete behavior and get it on cue with minimal training effort.

With arranging the environment, knowing our learner, and getting creative we can train any behavior they are capable of performing and put it on cue. A skilled trainer can even train a horse while sitting in a chair on the other side of a fence, simply by marking and reinforcing the approaches toward the goal behavior. With the help of antecedent arrangement and positive reinforcement, the reaches of your training is only limited by your imagination.

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