Creating Behavior

The first step to training your horse is deciding what behavior you want them to learn and finding a way to inspire them to perform the behavior. Once the behavior is happening we can motivate it to continue with our marker and reward system discussed in Reinforcing.

 1) Capturing: Reinforcing a behavior that happens on it's own. Such as reinforcing when a horse happens to lie down on their own.

Advantages: This is really easy - if you know your animal and their schedule you can get some really neat behaviors

Disadvantages: It's not very consistent and if you aren't prepared to "catch" the behavior while it's happening it can be easy to miss. 

2) Shaping: Clicking for approximations toward the end behavior. For example turning left - you can click when they look left, shift their weight left, lean left, step left, turn left, eventually circling left. Gradually asking for a bit more each time. Setting up the environment to encourage the behavior will help too (such as putting the horse's right side to the wall so they can only go left).

Advantages: You can teach anything the animal is capable of this way, pretty fast too. Can really get your creative juices flowing!

Disadvantages: It may be difficult for people first learning CT to get the hang of how frequently to reinforce to keep the behaviors flowing. With this method you want to be reinforcing frequently enough to keep the horse trying without getting frustrated if they go the wrong way - which means being sure the learner is set up for success and the behavior is broken into tiny enough pieces.

3) Luring: Using food to create the behavior. Like using a carrot to bring a horse's nose down between their legs, to create a "bow".

Advantages: This is fast and easy and the reward is in the game, so it will be given timely. Disadvantages: Often the animal may get caught up in the food they aren't focused on the behavior that got the reward. They may only learn to reach for the food, which may encourage mugging behavior in the future, rather than learning the behavior.


 4) Targeting: Having the animal touch a target with a body part you can lure out a behavior - without the food distraction. The horse can target with his knees to learn to pick up feet or target with their feet to learn to stand still on a mat. You can use a nose-target to lure out any moving behavior, like leading related behaviors.

Advantages: The animal can target any body part to any target, so you can play with each part of their body individually. You can get really creative with this and teach pretty much anything!

Disadvantages: This can cause some similar trouble as luring, where the learner gets too focused on the target they aren't thinking about the behavior - but I've found this to be to a much lesser degree. They seem to put things together much faster.


5) Molding: Physically manipulating the learner into the behavior, then reinforcing the end result. Such as picking up a foot then clicking and treating.

Advantages: This can work well for getting large chunks of behavior fast.

Disadvantages: The learner needs to be comfortable having you manipulate their body - using too much force can ruin the experience and poison the behavior.
Things to consider for each method: We want to ensure the environment is set up for success. You want it to be really easy for them to "stumble" into the right answer. Keep your rate of reinforcement (how often you click) high enough to keep confusion to a minimum, which reduces frustration and anxiety. Remember each click is a piece of the puzzle, the more clicks the clearer the picture becomes.

<- Back to Training Articles

Skip to toolbar