Positive Reinforcement?
Don Blazer
copyright©2007


         Excuse me for being such a "nit-picker", but I've just about had all I can stand to hear and read from the "all-positive reinforcement" trainers and animal behaviorists.

           I'm willing to bet there isn't a single one of them who has trained any horse to do any thing using nothing but all-positive reinforcement.

           Oh, excuse me again; I take that back. I'm "positive" they've trained some horses to bite, kick, refuse to get in a trailer, buck, run off, refuse to be caught, and generally be obnoxious. What I should have said is they haven't trained a single horse to be cooperative, obedient and compliant using nothing but all-positive reinforcement.

          And excuse me, again. I really hate to point this out, but the "all positive training" movement doesn't seem to understand that "all-positive" means "all-positive." They apparently think it means "all-positive" except when you need to use "some-negative" reinforcement.

         Sue McDonnell, Phd, certified AAB, writing in The Horse magazine explains that "all-positive reinforcement would include all those methods of training horses, or kids, or dogs or even interacting with colleagues and family, using primarily positive reinforcement, with minimal negative reinforcement and, certainly no punishment.

        We'll get to the use of "punishment" in a moment, but before we do we need to explain to Sue that the word, "all" means, the whole extent or quantity of, the entire number, every one of..." "All" doesn't have the appendage "mostly/primarily", or come with an "except for a minimal amount." All, means all!

       I say you can gather all the all-positive trainers and all the horses they claim they've trained with all-positive reinforcement and you won't find a single horse in the bunch that you can ride forward at a lope, change a lead on, and then stop.

        I'm far from the best horse trainer around... and I don't have any AAs, BBs, CCs, or DDs after my name, but I can tell you two things about horse training of which I am positive.

               1. Learning does not occur unless there is "confrontation." Confrontation means "to face or oppose boldly."

         You can ask a horse walk and if he does you can reward him with positive reinforcement and think you've trained him... but you haven't... the horse doesn't know why he has been rewarded. Was he rewarded because he swished his tail, wiggled his ears or got bored and decided to move?

         If you ask a horse to walk and then squeeze with your legs, you've "confronted" his "motionlessness" and opposed it boldly. When the horse responds, correctly, he is rewarded with a positive reinforcement, the removal of your leg pressure.

         Ask the horse to stop and you can forget "positive reinforcement training" until after there's been some negative reinforcement... you tug on the lead line, or set a bit barrier to further movement. Because the horse feels the pressure on the halter nose-band, or the pressure in his mouth, he attempts to find a way to rid himself of the "confrontation." He stops, and all the pressure is released - a positive reinforcement.

              2. There is a price for everything.  And the horse has to pay a price for failing to give the correct response when he knows the correct response. We are not talking about abuse... but we are talking about punishment. If you ask a horse to stop (and he knows the cues for a stop) and he fails to stop, the punishment may be that he is asked to back the length of the arena... or he is asked to bend and flex to the left, and then to the right.

         Those horses (kids, dogs, colleagues and family) which never have to pay the price (punishment) for willful disobedience eventually injury people, become their own worst enemies and ultimately suffer the worst kinds of abuse. If you don't believe it, take a look around. Constant continual positive reinforcement results in a complete breakdown of respect for or toward everyone and everything.

          Do you want to train a horse to be responsive and obedient?

           It's just a matter of a little behavior modification... make the things you want him to do easy and the things you don't want him to do hard.

            It's not all positive, but it's not all negative either.


       

     



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