Timing is equally important when training with negative reinforcers. The horse learns to turn left when the left rein is pulled, but only if the pulling stops when it does turn. The cessation is the reinforcer. You get on a horse, kick it in the sides, and it moves forward; you should then stop kicking (unless you want it to move faster). Beginning riders often thump away constantly, as if the kicking were some kind of gasoline necessary to keep the horse moving. The kicking does not stop, so it contains no information for the horse. Thus are developed the iron-sided horses in riding academies that move at a snail’s pace no matter how often they are kicked.

The same applies to people getting nagged and scolded by parents, bosses, or teachers. If the negative reinforcer doesn’t cease the instant the desired result is achieved, it is neither reinforcing nor information. It becomes, both literally and in terms of information theory, “noise.”

Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor


Found this video on what I thought was a good youtube channel, on ‘starting a dog on a prong collar with conversational leash work’.

He talks about the prong collar as a tool of conversation, not of force, and explains that this dog is stubborn and used to ignoring it.

When he starts the dog walking, dog is happy to go with him, and then the moment he feels that prong (1:49) he stops, tucks his tail, and licks his lips. He then begins to pant and slowly sinks to the ground. The trainer refers to this as ‘stubbornness that he’s used to’.

'What important here is not to force the dog on. I'm a bigger animal than him, he knows that. That's not the idea. I'm gonna put pressure on the collar, I'm gonna keep my energy going in the direction that I wanna go. And the moment that he gives in, just a little bit, I'm gonna give in a lot.'

And when the dog does move, yep, he drops the lead. A second later the dog is on the ground, licking his lips.

'He needs to learn that his choices affect collar on the pressure, or not.'

'What you are seeing is a dog who is very accustomed to getting his own way.'

The trainer goes on to acknowledge the dog’s body language, saying ‘Yes, he’s stressed. That’s inevitable. Things in life are going to occur where a dog is stressed. There’s sort of a fad these days that you want to shelter dogs from any kind of stress that could ever happen. That’s not only incredibly unrealistic but is incredibly foolish. Animals, humans - we all need to learn how to cope with stressors and learn that we can’t always get things our way. If you never address this resistance in the dog, it’s going to rear its ugly head somewhere.’

I didn’t watch the rest of the video, because it’s depressing as hell, but what’s really interesting to me is the similarities between this trainer’s approach and how everyone in the horse world trains.

They both refer to aversive pressure as ‘communication’. They both disregard stress in the animal, justifying their own stress based training by pointing out that stressors are naturally occurring and that the animal has to ‘get over it’. They both claim that the stressed animals are ‘stubborn’ and ‘only trying to get their way’. And they both place responsibility in the hands of the animal for its training (‘He needs to learn that his choices affect pressure’), smoothing over the fact that they are the ones applying pressure, they are the ones with the lead in their hand, and they are the ones purposefully subjecting the animal to stress and discomfort.

And what irritates me the most is the claim that positive trainers don’t address naturally occurring stress and fear. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the most useful uses of food in training is counter conditioning your animal. This not only removes undesirable behavior (kicking, barking, biting) as a reaction to stressors, but removes the stress altogether, by creating new positive associations. When my horse kicked out because I put a strange object on his back, I didn’t force him to ‘get over it’. I counter conditioned him until he realized that there was nothing to be frightened about. I didn’t have to escalate my horse’s stress or risk even more dangerous behavior.

The stress this man is subjecting this dog to is completely unnecessary, and his justification for it (and the horse world’s justification for their training) is completely ridiculous.

Modern behavior analysts identify punishment as any event that stops behavior. A baby starts to put a hairpin into the electric socket. His mother grabs him and/or slaps his hand away from the socket: this life-threatening behavior has to be interrupted now. The behavior stops. Lots of other things may start—the baby cries, the mother feels bad, and so on—but the hairpin-in-electric-outlet behavior ceases, at least for that moment. That’s what punishment does.

B. F. Skinner was more precise. He defined punishment as what happens when a behavior results in the loss of something desirable—the pleasure of investigating if this object can fit into that hole, a popular pastime with babies—or when the behavior results in the delivery of something undesirable. However, in both cases, while the ongoing behavior stops, there is no predictable outcome in the future. We know that reinforcers strengthen behavior in the future, but a punisher will not result in predictable changes.

For example, will grabbing the baby or smacking his hand, even if his mother’s timing is perfect, guarantee that the baby won’t try sticking things into outlets again? I doubt it. Ask any parent. What really happens is that we pick up small objects, we put covers over the wall outlets, or we move furniture in front of them, and eventually the baby outgrows this particular urge.

Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor

Anonymous said: Nah black beauty got sick bc he was driven really hard and then stable boy McDumbass left him in a cold stable all night with no blanket

I found the text online, and here’s the relevant section:

I was glad to get home; my legs shook under me, and I could only stand and pant. I had not a dry hair on my body, the water ran down my legs, and I steamed all over, Joe used to say, like a pot on the fire. Poor Joe! he was young and small, and as yet he knew very little, and his father, who would have helped him, had been sent to the next village; but I am sure he did the very best he knew. He rubbed my legs and my chest, but he did not put my warm cloth on me; he thought I was so hot I should not like it. Then he gave me a pailful of water to drink; it was cold and very good, and I drank it all; then he gave me some hay and some corn, and thinking he had done right, he went away. Soon I began to shake and tremble, and turned deadly cold; my legs ached, my loins ached, and my chest ached, and I felt sore all over. Oh! how I wished for my warm, thick cloth, as I stood and trembled. I wished for John, but he had eight miles to walk, so I lay down in my straw and tried to go to sleep. After a long while I heard John at the door; I gave a low moan, for I was in great pain. He was at my side in a moment, stooping down by me. I could not tell him how I felt, but he seemed to know it all; he covered me up with two or three warm cloths, and then ran to the house for some hot water; he made me some warm gruel, which I drank, and then I think I went to sleep.

By the way, if anyone wants to read the whole thing for free, here it is online.

r+/clicker trainer pointing out the excessive use of aversive tools and methods in horse training, the endless justification of using pain and fear to control horses, and the disturbing trend of people laughing off or admiring imagery that involves severely unhappy horses.

I provide resources on how to use clicker training with your horse, and how to understand training on a scientific level.

(Note: I do not run the unhappyhorses instagram and have no connection to the person who does.)

I am not
-anti tack
-anti riding
-anti sport
-anti pressure
but I believe that tack should be gentle, responses to riding cues should be taught using positive reinforcement, horse sports should involve minimal tack (and avoid aversive aids; whips, spurs, etc) and put horse welfare before winning, and that horses should be taught to respond to pressure as a cue instead of avoiding pressure because it is aversive.

my tags
-tagged/video = videos, often with commentary
-tagged/i+like+this = some kind of training or riding that I approve of
-tagged/ask - for previously answered questions
-tagged/gadgets - for tack which is excessive or inhumane or both
-tagged/unhappy+horse - pictures or videos of horses showing signs of stress and/or physical pain

my posts
-On the four quadrants
-On bits
-On finding a good riding instructor
-On luring, capturing, and shaping with the clicker
-Shaping masterpost
-Luring/Targeting masterpost
-Types of training in the horse world
-What to do instead of hitting your horse
-On disrespect
-On how to ride without using aversive stimuli, and why leg and rein pressure don't have to be aversive
-On join up
-On ethical tack
-Explaining reinforcement and punishment in a training context
-On 'freedom' as anthropomorphism and unhelpful to animal welfare
-8 ways to change behavior
-My suggestions for starting out with clicker training
-Halter training with the clicker

external links
-Shawna Karrasch - Sea World trainer bringing +r based techniques to the horse world - official website, contains active blog.
-Shawna Karrasch - official youtube channel.
-Georgia Bruce - Australian equine clicker trainer and bronze medalist paralympic equestrian - official website.
-Georgia Bruce - official youtube channel.
-Mary Hunter - Texas-based positive reinforcement based trainer who works with horses - youtube channel.
-Mary Hunter - blog (updates regularly).
-Painting Horse - inactive equine clicker training blog with plenty of valuable older posts.
-Alexandra Kurland - New York-based equine clicker trainer - official website.
-SimplyPsychology - a basic explanation of operant conditioning.
-Mustang poker (fun link).
-Karen Pryor clicker training - equine clicker training articles.
-Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog, free to read online in its entirety.
-Katie Bartlett - Pennsylvania-based equine clicker trainer - information and how-to articles.
-Kikopup - Emily Larlham - California-based clicker trainer whose videos are fantastic resources - youtube channel.
-Peggy Hogan - California-based equine clicker trainer - youtube channel.

rescue organizations - donate to these guys
-Prince Fluffy Kareem

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