Simply put, positive reinforcement means;
Adding something the animal will work for to strengthen (increase the frequency of) a behaviour.
It looks fairly straight forward, what’s the big deal?
Every being has a motivational system, so why would you not tap into that and make life easy for yourself? You can make training difficult if you like, but why would you, when there is a much more effective and easily understood way. The natural motivations for food, comfort, play and affection are already in place in the animals, you don’t need to teach them. I know that my dog will come to me if I have a bit of sausage in my hand. I know my horse will follow me if I have a carrot in my hand. This is easy. It uses built-in behaviours and emotional drives to great effect. And crucially? It is all positive reinforcement. Which means the dog or horse is very likely to want to do it again.
When you think about the various training methods and what to use, think of these sayings;
Don’t fix something if it isn’t broken.
Why reinvent the wheel?
Keeping things simple, straightforward and making the most of things that are already in place can be more effective than trying to invent it all yourself, and makes life easier.
It doesn’t make any sense to use aversion and force, as you have to teach these things. Yes, I know animals also have motivational systems for avoidance, but not as humans apply it. That is learned the hard way by the horse, through repetitive means until the horse complies. To make matters worse, it is not clear to the horse what the correct response should be, until he happens to stumble onto it. It is all very ambiguous, inefficient, and ethically wrong.
Give your horse an enjoyable motivation to do what is being taught and he will learn quickly. Not only that, what he has learnt will be reliable, and transferable to many other situations. This is very different to getting him to do something by giving him the motivation to avoid something else. This is also transferable to different situations, but who wants a horse that is conditioned to avoidance? Horses are quite good at this without any additional reinforcement from us! If this is his default strategy, this is what he will do in any new situation that he finds he doesn’t want to be in, and that makes it very hard for you to achieve a different response and outcome.
So what will motivate a horse to do something, rather than avoid something?
What will motivate a dog to do something, rather than avoid something?
Every horse or dog may have different likes and dislikes, so what have you found that works? Please leave a comment, I’ll discuss this in the next post.