Do It Till You Love It

Do it until it you love it.

This is a concept I frequently overlook. I’m the type of person to go down a checklist. I teach a behavior, I check it off the list, I move on to the next step. This makes for smooth forward progress. BUT for some horses, we can’t always keep pushing for next thing, next thing, next thing. Sometimes we need to spend time working on a skill until it’s not just understood, but actually enjoyed.

Oro has been reminding me of this alot lately. Remember, classical conditioning is always happening in the background of your operant conditioning. While we’re training with R+ we’re not just creating and motivating the behaviors we want, we are also capturing in the emotions. If we train the behavior to the point of “ok, I get it”, some horses might be thrilled “Yay, I got the right answer, I love this behavior!”, in which case I’d happily keep moving forward. But for some horses when they learn something new it’s more like “ok, I think I know what to do, but I’m not sure, do I still get my treat? Wait was that not right?” it’s riddled with insecurity, conflict, or anxiety. For these situations, while they’re behaving perfectly correctly, I want to keep spending time on this behavior until they are confidently responding with “yes, I know the answer, I know my reinforcer is coming”. We want them to feel confident and comfortable in their behavioral response.

Sometimes this means repeating the same thing several times in a row. But it doesn’t mean to hammer a point, don’t piss them off with it. If there is conflict or stress with a behavior, we want to break it into slightly smaller tries and reinforcing more heavily throughout the process. This will help confirm every piece of the skill as correct and input those good feeling of reassurance throughout. Sometimes we’ll do just one or two reps of this insecure behavior and then massive jackpot. Sometimes we’ll mix it into an easier session, do some easy stuff, a rep or two of the hard one with a high reinforcement, then back to the easy stuff. Soon they become fluent in this new skill, not just complying but enjoying it.

Don’t skip the time it takes to get this.

For example, here we decided to break down the pattern of the 4 ground poles and repeat it a few times until he relaxed into it. He felt more comfortable and confident handling this obstacle.

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