BEHAVIOR SHAPING THROUGH POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Behavior Modification, using positive reinforcement, is becoming popular among those looking for an alternative to "The Art of the Cowboy." Usually these techniques involve the use of food rewards, and seem to be especially useful for gentling older Mustangs who have such strong self-preservation instincts that they are too dangerous or resistant to train through "round pen" methods.
Please note the use of the words "positive" and "negative" have somewhat different meanings in the world of Psychology than in normal useage. "Positive" does not necessarily mean "Good" and "Negative" does not necessarily mean "Bad." In terms of these training methods, "Positive" means "adding something" and "Negative" means "taking something away." Positive reinforcement adds a treat or something else that is desireable to the animal, and negative reinforcement takes something away, i.e. pressure is removed. Both methods are used successfully by their various practitioners, and both methods can be either gentle and kind or rough and aggressive, depending on the skill and mind-set of the practitioner.
Clicker Training is a form of "operant conditioning" or "behavior modification" in which a horse learns to perform a set behavior by being rewarded for the correct response. Punishment is never used. The reward is withheld until the horse does the right thing, but doing the wrong thing is simply ignored.
Since there is a small lag between the time the horse responds correctly and the human's ability to produce the food reward, the SOUND of the CLICKER is used to instantly reinforce - via the clicker's unique sound - that this is the exact behavior being rewarded.
Clicker training was first developed for training dolphins and whales. It is now widely used for dogs and horses. Alexandra Kurland and Shawna Karrasch are some of the most well-known proponents of Clicker Training for horses. (See bottom of this page for links to their books) Because Clicker Training involves an immediate reward, many people report positive results using it to work with fearful horses.
Before Clicker Training can be used for anything truly useful, you have to teach your horse, and yourself (it takes more coordination than you might think!) how it works.
This is done by training the horse to touch a target object. It helps at first to work with another person - one person holds the object and the other holds the clicker. Either one can hold the "reward" treats.
Here Michael and another LRTC member work with one of the Olympic Wild Horses