Behavioral Science

These are educational posts about the science of behavior and learning

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

My beautiful flower, Wispy, has gotten a bit… shall we say, portly? She’s just like me, terrible posture and eats way too many sweets! We’ve decided to take this winter to get ourselves into shape. This being said, I have always really struggled when looking at aspects of equine fitness and exercise. There is so much out there and so much of it is based on unstudied theories, opinions, and misguided training philosophies. I struggle to pull apart what parts are beneficial to the horse’s well being and which parts are for us, for fun, sport, or cosmetic appearances.So much of concepts of physical training is done to help horses become more of what we aspire for them, and not so much for their own health. So much of these concepts are also taken to extremes which push the beneficial aspects of the training to detrimental lengths. Pushing collection to strain the hind end, strength and speed training to strain the joints, everything being pushed to be done to new, higher, faster, more dramatic extremes. My dear friend Janneke helped me puzzle through all of this and break it down step by step for me and Wisp just as she had for her horse DeeJay before he fell ill. So how did we break down what Wisp and I really need? and how do I teach it all with R+?
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Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, EE Horses, Troubleshooting

Pressure Free Behaviors

Pressure Free Behaviors
How do we get behaviors without any physical contact? When someone asks “how do I train…” your answers should fall under one of these. “I use this weight shift”, “Try pressing here”, “wave your stick like this”… and so on, are not appropriate answers in this group. If someone is asking how to train something on this group they’re looking for how to train it with positive reinforcement, not pressure/release (R-).

So what are the options? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Troubleshooting

Operationalizing Whips

Operationalizing Whips
Let’s take the whip discussion and operationalize it. I find a lot of psuedo-science and romanticized opinions are clouding our ability to look at the use of this tool appropriately.

Remember Classical Conditioning? Repeated pairing of any stimuli, the first being conditioned to predict the second. Keep that in mind as you review the next ABC scenarios… Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Choosing the Tack

Choosing the Tack
With R+ we can teach any behavior through targeting, shaping, capturing, and luring – then we can put any behavior we teach on ANY cue. I joke with my kids that we can have “rainbow ponies” who respond to the names of colors as cues. “Blue”=walk on, “Red”=stop, “Purple”=Turn right. It’s just a joke, this wouldn’t be practical or ideal, trying to remember everyone’s code would be a calamity to say the least.  But the truth is with the power of R+ communication we can assign anything we want to be the cue for any behavior. We can assign opening a door to be a cue to back up or we can use any array of sign language to communicate what we like.

Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Ethics

Why Avoid Aversives?

Why Avoid Aversives?
What is the difference between P+ and R-? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Poisoned Cues

Poisoned Cues

The idea of poisoned cues first requires a good understanding of what a cue is and isn’t. A Cue is defined as “a discriminative stimulus (SD) established through positive differential reinforcement” this means the learner knows that cue/antecedent=behavior X=positive reinforcement. Remember our ABCs? Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (loop). A “cue” is one that results in a positive (addition of appetitive) Consequence. A cue eventually becomes a conditioned positive reinforcer, just like a click. Remember Classical Conditioning when X=Y? When a neutral stimulus is paired repeatedly with an appetitive stimulus is becomes a classically conditioned appetitive. So when Cue=Behavior=R+, Cue=R+! As simple as that! We can also test this – the animal will work for the ability to get the cue that results in R+, remember this is how behavior chains work! Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

BAD Horses!

Bad Horses

“Good” and “Bad”, “polite/rude”, “respectful/disrespectful”, “behaving/misbehavior” are all constructs based on human culture. All horses know are “Works” and “doesn’t work”.  Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors

Eliminating Behaviors

As ethical trainers we aim to use positive reinforcement and reduce the use of aversives in our training where we can. This can be difficult when thinking about behaviors we don’t want – particularly ones that can be detrimental to the horse themselves or dangerous to the handler. Some behaviors need to be reduced, for their safety or for ours. Luckily we have options! Karen Pryor’s book is the original source of this information in her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” (which I strongly recommend), but I’ve adapted the information more specifically for horses. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Troubleshooting

Importance of Choice

Importance of Choice

Does positive reinforcement (R+) and negative reinforcement (R-) present the same amount of choice and partnership? We all want a good relationship, we all want partnership and love – no matter which quadrant we’re using.

What is choice? Is there such thing as free choice? If we really want to get into it there is no such thing free choice – every behavior has consequences, consequences influence behavior. No matter whether humans are involved or not. The horse can choose not to run from the predator, but it might not be a smart choice. So honest and complete free choice doesn’t really exist. Add in domestication and choices are further limited, because there are some things that are needed for their own well being. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Stimulus Stacking

Stimulus Stacking

Fear based reactions from horses can be a real danger to humans working closely with them. This is where working with horses differs greatly from working with exotics, as they’re almost entirely trained in “Protective Contact” (training with a physical barrier between trainer and animal). While I am a strong advocate for using protective contact while working with horses, especially those new to CT, horses with strong or frequent fear responses, or impulse control issues with aggressive behaviors. Protective Contact is a valuable tool to use in many situations not just for our safety but to help encourage a horse to open up and feel safe (especially those with poor human history). It also really forces us humans to communicate in a way that is clear and concise with a proper rate of reinforcement, because the horse can easily just walk away if things aren’t just right, I truly believe protective contact work makes us better trainers. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions