Originally Posted by Curly_Horse_CMT
I just don't feel that giving a horse a treat after loading is a good reward......they shouldn't learn that they get a treat after they get in the trailer and oh, we are done now. A pat is just as good as a treat, even better. Some people say that they feed their horses in the trailers to show them that there is nothing to fear. Well, consistancy of loading in the trailer will overcome fear only if it is done the right way and little baby steps at a time. No offense to anyone I hope. :)
No offense taken
I just disagree
After studying behavioural psychology & having lots of experience training all sorts of animals, not just horses & dogs, I really think that food treats are one of the most powerful positive reinforcements *generally*. They are also practical & handy.
Of course there is nothing that every animal is motivated by all the time - if you've just devoured a 3 course dinner, then a food treat probably won't entice you... If you're really frightened of something, food is also not high on your list of most desireables at that time....
They are also not the only good positive reinforcement by a long shot. If the animal truely
loves a good scratch or 'pat' or anything else desireable *enough to motivate it to work for that*, you can use that instead or as well. But while some animals - particularly dogs - will work for this, horses often don't give a toss, or actively dislike it, especially if it's just lightly smacking the horse like many people like to 'pat'. In that case, a treat is almost definitely a more powerful reinforcement.
I can't think why you believe horses shouldn't get a treat for going in the trailer(or whatever other 'right' behaviour they give you). I am guessing it's just the commonly held aversion to using food treats as reinforcement generally, not just about the trailer? The horse *should* work for you just because you're it's owner? Or negative reinforcement(removal of something undesirable) is enough of a 'reward'? Each to their own, but I believe it's important to really examine beliefs such as this to see how & why they came about & whether they're up to date so to speak.
I think people often mistakenly think of a pat as a positive reinforcement(something desireable) but they can't read the horse well enough to understand how little they care.(Never say never - some like it). My horse loves
a scratch on the belly button area & will happily work for that, but he doesn't really care for any other grooming. It's a bit difficult to give a well timed reinforcement in this manner if I'm riding, or if he's in the trailer & I'm either out behind him or in front of him, for eg.
I agree that food treats used to sort of bribe the horse out of it's fears is not effective or desirable. Horses, being prey animals, are primarily concerned with safety and if they perceive something as dangerous, then food is the last thing on their mind. In this manner, I don't think it's the best reinforcement. I think you need to work with approach & retreat to get to a point that there is no - or very little - fear present before breaking out the +R. That way you're also reinforcing his blase attitude about it, not just the surface behaviour.