It Works For ALL Horses
I recently came across a statement... That not every horse likes R+ (positive reinforcement) training and that it doesn't work for every horse. Is this true? Does clicker training and positive reinforcement just NOT work for some animals? Do some horses just NOT like R+? To begin with.. If your horse doesn't "like" R+, you aren't using R+. By definition R+ is the application of something appetitive (desirable/enjoyable/"liked") by learner, following a behavior, to encourage that behavior to happen again. This means the horse HAS to be liking what you're doing for the training to be R+. If the horse doesn't like it, it's not R+, it's legitimately THAT simple. Now things CAN get more complicated... Maybe the horse appears grumpy all the time, or starts showing aggressive behaviors... Does this mean R+ just doesn't *work* for this horse? That's absolutely a legitimate question! Since we typically begin R+ training in effort to make training more enjoyable for the horse ... becoming more angry during training than they used to be is concerning. What does it mean? Grumpiness during R+ training is typically a reflection of "operator error". Meaning, the training works, but your application of the training is lacking in some way or form. Help from a professional and more experience is needed. It could also be a reflection of the horse communicating they are in pain and what you are asking them to do is causing more pain... But again, this is not a reflection of how effective R+ is, as this pain would exist regardless of training approach, but it's instead the horse communicating a bigger problem.
Food anxiety/frustration is another REAL issue for many horses too, due to the artificial diets and lifestyles we subject our horses to, and it can cause undesirable behaviors to show up when we start working with food rewards. This can make people question whether R+ "works" for their horse. But again... this is NOT a reflection on whether R+ "works" for your horse, it's a sign of a much bigger issue that needs to be addressed regardless of training approach.
R+ with food rewards DOES work, for pretty much every horse, your horse may just need a lifestyle or diet change, or maybe you need to work with different food, or maybe scratches instead of food for awhile until we resolve the cause of the food anxiety. Another common reason to question whether R+ works for a particular horse... is when the horse appears completely disinterested in the training or in food, but this ALSO isn't a reflection on the ability to use R+ with that particular horse. This is usually a fear response and/or a result of previous learning history.
Traditionally horse training has been based on the idea that a horse shouldn't offer behaviors and should only do what they are told 100% of the time; the horse should stand still where left, shouldn't complain, and certainly shouldn't act on their own ideas. R+ on the other hand is is almost entirely based on the process of the animal having their own ideas, offering behaviors, and NOT being robotic. So this transition can be a struggle for some horses if they fear the consequences of offering behaviors. Breaking a horse out of this "shell" can require creativity and patience, and it absolutely requires the removal of negative consequences from the training.
R+ works for everyone and everything. From fish to human, dog to whale, horse to mouse... We are all exposed to some amount of R+ throughout our daily lives; just like we are exposed to and learn from R-, P+, and P-. It all "works", we are all constantly learning through one form or another of operant and classical conditioning. Clicker trainers/positive reinforcement trainers have just made the decision to focus on training with just one or two forms of operant conditioning for a variety of reasons... One of which is because it actually does WORK. It's not a fad or a method, it's not like we are inventing something new that only works for some horses and in some cases or for some trainers. R+ is JUST as effective, real, and functional as anything else., and your horse CAN learn through R+ .. you just have to be prepared to learn how to teach with R+, as it's VERY different from anything else you've ever experienced. I can promise you that.
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