Humane Heirarchy

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".

So interestingly, something I think we all know but don't always think about - when we are presented with either an unwanted behavior or wanting to get a desired behavior. Before we even begin training we want to assess our learners, health, nutrition, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Is there a reason for the unwanted behavior or why the desired behavior isn't happening or may be difficult? We want to make sure all these needs are met before thinking about modifying behavior, potentially stifling any communication attempts.

Next we want to arrange the antecedents - so set the scene. If there is an unwanted behavior happening how can we arrange the environment so it doesn't happen. For example if your horse kicks the door, can you leave the door open? If they're kicking for food can we ensure their food is in a slow net and they don't run out?
If we want to trigger a behavior to happen, how can we best set the scene to encourage it to appear? Shawna Corrin Karrasch mentioned a funny story about a horse who disliked going over white ground poles, so they started by burying the ground pole, gradually uncovering it with time. This set the scene to make it easier for the horse to do the desired end goal. Using ground poles, fences, targets, previously learned behaviors, and anything else in the environment we can help our horses sort out what we want from them and make it achievable.

At this point we can begin using Positive Reinforcement to actively train our horses. If there's a behavior we want to see happening or put on cue, this is where we step in with R+ to do so. We can also at this point train an incompatible behavior to reduce the likelihood of an unwanted behavior appearing.

At this point in any planned, prepared or timely training programs we should be able to do everything we need or want with our horses. Given the time and flexibility we should be able to stop here. But emergencies do happen, life sometimes goes faster than training and we are presented with emergency situations in which we need to slide down this scale faster than we would ever hope.

We really need to take a step back here and decide WHY we need this behavior started or stopped and why it's in such a rush. Is this for the welfare, emotional or physical wellbeing of our horse? Or is this for our own gain?

If we must, for our horse, slide past this, make sure you've exhausted all your options - you've consulted professionals (or other professionals if you are one), you've tried means of distraction and you really did rule all the previous out. At which point we can begin negative reinforcement or negative punishment to increase or reduce a behavior.

Ideally we should never get to Positive Punishment - we know the pitfalls, we know it doesn't work, we know why we should never use it, and we know the damage it does to our relationship. But if you find yourself in an unsafe situation you haven't prepared for and NEED to use positive punishment to keep you or your horse safe, do so. Don't feel bad, don't beat your self up. Ideally if you've stuck to this heirarchy these situations will be far outweighed by your appetitive reinforcement history. Don't stop here though. If you've had to resort to this, LEARN from this situation. What could you have done to have prevented it. Now that you're out of you emergency, fix the problem that caused it starting back at the top of the list.

This can be difficult for some people to wrap their mind around. It helps to have this well in our head, so everytime we approach our horse we start at the top and slide appropriately. If you get stuck, make sure you use the resources available to you. There are many ways to get help, don't be shy asking for it.

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