There are all sorts of discussions out there about are you using positive or negative reinforcement. The real question should be: how do I teach? How can I stop behaviour I don’t like or train a behaviour want? The training goal should be a positive learning experience for both of you. If you can stay focused on the behaviour you want, use small steps to train it so it is positive and successful (be a splitter not a lumper) you are on the right path.
So far we have been using technique called free shaping to teach grown-ups, but we won’t be doing it this way after a while. We start with it because I want my horse to discover that certain behaviours that he chooses to do will have a predictable and positive outcome. Waiting for behaviour to happen is hard for us; we like to make things happen so this is also a good lesson that free shaping teaches us (along with increasing our power of observation).
We will free shape grown-ups until we have ‘activated our lead rope as a clicker compatible tool.’ Once our lead rope is a clicker tool then we can slide down our lead and use the lead to reposition his head and remind him where it should be, away from our pockets. After his head is where I want it I will release the lead. If his head comes back I’ll slide again and repeat this until I get a slight hesitation in the grown-up position after I release the lead and will click and treat, reminding him where he needs to be. All these resets back to position are done softly and without emotion. Remember we are not punishing!
So why should we change from free shaping? Mugging after the initial episode is often a result of lack of consistency due to the handler, being new at this too, has been accidentally reinforcing the muggy because of poor timing. This has built up resistance to extinction of this behaviour. The horse will mug, mug, mug because he is sure that is what the handler wants! Both horse and handler now become frustrated and often results in punishment. It is better to slide down the lead and clarify just where he will be reinforced. The ability to use different teaching strategies that best fits the circumstances is the power of clicker training.
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