Behavioral Science

These are educational posts about the science of behavior and learning

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

Dealing with Fear

Dealing with Fear
Make sure to read the article on Stimulus Stacking as well.

There are four basic ways of helping our horses overcome fear. Our goal is not to remove or teach them to ignore their instinct to defend themselves (through the freeze-flight-fight responses), nor to teach them to tolerate every stimuli in the world, but rather to help them build a sense of self confidence and encourage curiosity. Continue reading →

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

No Punishment?

No Punishment?

“We don’t use Punishment here”.
I say this a great deal at my barn (I often phrase it nicer depending on the circumstances). But it’s one of the first things I tell anyone coming to my farm. The intentional use of punishment isn’t allowed at my farm (stuff happens, sometimes we unintentionally punish or we make a mistake or have a habit reaction) but we aspire to punishment-free. The most common response is “You let them get away with Everything?!” (even if they don’t say that outloud). They think this means you allow your animals to walk all over you, to demand food, to be spoiled or to “dominate” you!! (Buzz word – I know!) But fact of the matter is, when we train well we don’t need punishment. Period. “Positive does not mean Permissive”. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Ethics, Troubleshooting

What is an Aversive?

What is an Aversive?

Negative Reinforcement is the removal of a stimulus that encourages a behavior to increase in frequency. This stimulus that is removed must be aversive to the learner. If the learner finds it neutral the removal will not be reinforcing. If the learner finds the stimuli appetitive and it is removed this would be negatively punishing not reinforcing. “Pressure” became a common word to describe “aversive” as that’s what is commonly used (physically pushing, space invading, tapping, whipping or pinching), these forms of “Pressure” would be aversive to most learners (though I’ve met a few who find it like play and enjoy the rough housing). In R- most people use escalating aversives, through some use of pressure. This doesn’t mean all forms of “pressure” are aversive. A massage, a hug, a gentle touch, a good scratch, a kiss, these may be appetitive or neutral to the learner. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Ethics

Control or Communication

Control or Communication?

Most of us would agree, Clicker Training (or reward based training) is a fantastic, kind and fun way to train your horse new behaviors. As Reward based trainers we opt for training opposites or changing the motivation to get rid of unwanted behaviors. But is that all we do? Add or subtract behaviors we like and don’t like?

Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Ethics

Humane Hierarchy

Humane Hierarchy
We frequently have discussions about when, where and how it’s ethically alright to use other quadrants or techniques in our training and daily handling. Luckily Dr. Susan Friedman put together this amazingly wonderful guide for us to use, the “Humane Heirarchy”.

Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Ethics

What is Clicker Training

What is Clicker Training?

Most of these concepts are written in detail in the other articles, I’ll link them for easy reading. I put this together as a basic overview to get started. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training

The Science of Learning

The Science of Learning

The most basic aspects of learning science is “Conditioning”.
Classical Conditioning is when you connect a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that has meaning. This can be done in all sorts of ways, for example, connecting a sound with no meaning, like a click, with the delivery of food classically conditions the click to predict food is coming. Ever seen a horse become more forward just by the rider carrying a whip? The whip is a connected to the pain inflicted, it’s a classically conditioned aversive (unwanted stimulus). Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training