Try to keep an open mind - that's all
CRK I really like your post and I completely get what you’re talking about. Let’s keep an open mind to new and more tactful ways of doing things. I was very sceptical about positive reinforcement training (like many of the posters here). But I have to admit that having recently started working with my 9yr old TB gelding using positive reinforcement training (clicker training) I’m truly amazed at how different his motivation is when compared to the more traditional method of negative reinforcement. He responds very well to negative reinforcement training, but with positive reinforcement his responses and willingness quite literally has to be seen to be believed. I can’t tell you how fun that is. It’s like having 2 different horses.
As an example of the difference in the horse’s motivation, this horse is easy to catch. He makes himself available to be caught (which I expect of all my horses). He doesn’t run away, but always allows me to approach. Thanks to negative reinforcement training he understands very clearly that this is the easiest option for him. However with positive reinforcement training, he now comes to me no matter how far away he is and then takes himself to the roundpen gate to wait for me to arrive. If I’m working with another horse in the roundpen, he waits patiently nearby in the hope he will get a turn too.
It opened my eyes big time and I thought this type of training was below me and indulgent. I’ve since decided to use both negative and positive reinforcement training. Is he pushy around the treats? If I don’t immediately correct it, of course he might give that a go. One correction and no sign of being offered a treat soon fixes that. He’s not stupid: he gets back with the program quick smart. But there are horse’s who try pushing humans around who’s handlers don’t carry treats and never have, yet they still do it.
Personally I’m a little frustrated by those who dismiss positive reinforcement training as unworthy of being a useful (and safe) tool in training such a large animal. It is safe and tactful for both horse and human. And it does get results. Equine positive reinforcement training is used at the highest level of competition. You don’t see riders offering treats in the Olympic arena to their positive reinforcement trained horses. It is a tool that clearly defines the exact desired response while the horse is learning. Once the horse has a solid grasp of what’s expected the tool is phased out and not to be used as a crutch forever more.
One commenter gives an example of how positive reinforcement would be a poor fit in our workplace. But we’re not talking about where we work; we’re talking about training horses. We must remember that context and reality are everything.
A pushy horse trained using positive reinforcement isn’t like that because of the training method, that problem lies solely at the feet of the trainer. And that’s just as common in negative reinforcement training too – possibly more so because it’s the path most trainers go down.
As much as there are those who feel they must disagree with the definition of the standard terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ as applied to positive reinforcement training, the terms are nothing more than mathematical (meaning to add or remove) not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Disagreeing with those terms as they are used in this context would have to be up there with disagreeing that the grass is green.