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Reinforcement, Negative and Positive

This is a discussion on Reinforcement, Negative and Positive within the Natural Horsemanship forums, part of the Training Horses category

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    12-21-2012, 03:43 PM
The only thing I can think of, off the top of my head, for horses for negative punishment would be leaving the area. For example, if your horse is a bully over treats and keeps getting in your space, then you leave the area (negative) until the horse settles down (punishment), and then you return. Repeat until the horse learns "If I'm a jerk, s/he takes the treats away." It would be a very slow process compared to other methods, but it does pair nicely with positive reinforcement when the horse does learn to mind their space.
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    12-21-2012, 05:48 PM
Thanks for the responses Christopher and BadWolf. They have helped my understanding, but then that is what a good thread is for.
More stuff on learning theory please BadWolf. It is something I am becoming fascinated by !
Particularly as I can put it into action day to day and find that it tends to work as advertised and I can be even more gentle with Filly than I ever supposed and get the task done quicker and with greater repeatability.
What are your experiences of using your academic learning for real with horses ?
    12-21-2012, 06:08 PM
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I'm thinking also of negative punishments as something you do when you punish the horse for not doing something that you have actually failed to teach the horse correctly or given clear instruction or not enough time for a slow learner to grasp. Therefore you are punishing the horse for your failure
Theres also the right time to release pressure because if you do it at the wrong point in a disagreement the horse can see this as a win on his part
    12-21-2012, 07:53 PM
As far as my real life experience goes, I'd have to say the theories are valid. I should also say as a disclaimer that my filly, Nova, is the first horse I'm training myself from start to finish. Regardless, the psychology is sound, regardless of species. It's easy to use behaviorism with kids and dogs especially.

There are two key factors that come into play more than any others with behavioral theory - consistency and timing.

Consistency is pretty self explanatory - It may be cute when a newborn foal nibbles your fingers, but it's not so cute when those big teeth come in, so don't permit nibbling in the first place and you'll never have to fix the problem.

Timing, in this context, means that rewards/punishments need to be given immediately, in relation to the behavior. To use the nibbling example, as soon as the horse makes to nibble, tap his muzzle to get him/her to back off. If you wait until they've been chewing your shirt for 5 minutes and then tap because you're annoyed, then the message isn't as clear.

Timing rewards is equally as important, even more so when the horse is learning something new. As soon as the horse takes the desired action praise them right away, don't save it up for the end of the training session or they'll think they're being praised for walking nicely back to the stable.

I would say the third most important factor is motivation, meaning what motivates your horse. With Nova, I'm still learning her preferences, so I'll use my dogs as an example:
Jack is completely and utterly driven by food. He will do anything for a cookie.
Sammie, on the other hand, wants her toy more than anything in the world.
If I want to teach Jack a new trick, I'll use food rewards because that's what motivates him the most. If Sammie's been misbehaving, I'll take away the toy for a while.

I guess it would be like a horse that will not cross water under any circumstances... kick, whip, push, pull, yell... until someone's standing on the other side with a peppermint. If that's the case, then you know what reward motivates that horse.

Eventually, you get into the realm of conditioned responses (Pavlov's dogs). The theory is a little different, but there's a lot of overlap. For those not familiar with Pavlov, here's how it worked:

Pavlov rang a bell, fed the dogs a bit of meat, then measured their saliva production.
After a while, Pavlov could ring the bell and the dogs would slobber in anticipation of the meat to come afterward, regardless of if they actually got anything to eat or not.
The dogs were conditioned to expect meat at the sound of the bell, even though the bell itself originally had no association with food at all.

Horses exhibit conditioned responses as well because it becomes a part of their routine.
I'll let you all give the examples for this :)
    12-21-2012, 07:58 PM
Originally Posted by BadWolf    
for negative punishment would be leaving the area.
some horses might see that as a positive reinforcement

Another example of -punishment would be if you're riding home and your horses starts rushing to get home. Because the horse is willing to rush home you can assume that not only being home, but the act of going home, is desirable. If you were to then turn around and go directly away from home you've simultaneously negatively reinforced going away from home (by removing the pressure used to turn and go away from home) and positively punished going home (by originally adding that pressure) and negatively punished going home (by ceasing the desirable act of going home).
    12-21-2012, 09:22 PM
That's an excellent example!
    12-22-2012, 06:54 AM
Good examples folks.
Timing I am particularly interested in and I feel it is something a lot of people get wrong.
When we cue our horse to do something we want the response to occur at the onset of the cue, not after 20 seconds of cue. The cue should actually be thought of as the onset of the pressure, not the pressure itself.
For example, in Parelli land, you see many people wriggling ropes at their horses to make them backup. The pressure is applied in phases of a finger wiggle, a wrist wiggle, an elbow wiggle and then a shoulder wiggle. Now to start with I agree that each phase should be taken fairly slowly to teach the cue and get a response, but folks stay in the slowly does it routine for too long, which is level 1 of the program.
So what are you then teaching ? Move back after 15 seconds of wiggling ? I want my horse to move at the onset of the finger wiggle. To get the onset of the wiggle to be associated with an increase in pressure, and therefore "I had better respond now", the timing of each phase before the next one happens needs to become shorter and shorter. It starts being phase 1....................phase2.................phase3 ..............phase4 but as soon as the cue is learned needs to become phase1........phase2..phase3..phase4.
Looking at around 5 minutes 50 seconds into the following video Catalyst: Equitana - ABC TV Science suggests that horses retain object permanence for less than 10 seconds.
I wonder if the same is true for cues. Thus if we want our horse to realise that the increase in a phase due to non-compliance to a cue is related to the ONSET of that cue not being obeyed then the increase in phase should take place within this 10 seconds window. Longer than that and they have forgotten all about the onset of the cue.
Any comments from others on this ?
    12-22-2012, 07:54 AM
That's why I don't work with 4 static phases. I much prefer 2 phases that change and get more subtle as a horse becomes more sensitive to those phases. Phase 1 is what I want to work and phase 2 is what I know does work. Eventually phase 1 will be enough to cause the horse to respond, at which point phase 1 becomes the new phase 2, the original phase 2 is no longer necessary and I come up with a more subtle phase 1. I.e. As little as possible but as much as necessary.

And how quickly the pressure is applied or released depends on how quickly you want the horse to respond and how quickly the horse does respond.
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    12-22-2012, 08:48 AM
Originally Posted by christopher    
that's why I don't work with 4 static phases. I much prefer 2 phases that change and get more subtle as a horse becomes more sensitive to those phases. Phase 1 is what I want to work and phase 2 is what I know does work. Eventually phase 1 will be enough to cause the horse to respond, at which point phase 1 becomes the new phase 2, the original phase 2 is no longer necessary and I come up with a more subtle phase 1. I.e. As little as possible but as much as necessary.

And how quickly the pressure is applied or released depends on how quickly you want the horse to respond and how quickly the horse does respond.
Totally agree Christopher. But I guess the various training programs have to start with the concept of increasing phases for new trainees until they have gained the feel required to know how much pressure, and in what increments, is going to be effective.
It's a bit like teaching folks to fly, which I have done in the past.
You give the student enough information to stay safe and reasonably effective whilst they go and learn the artistry of the activity for themselves. At this point they can start to understand the more subtle parts of your teaching. Interestingly in my case this was teaching students the basics of sports psychology so they could race gliders better. Guess that is the root of my fascination about behaviour and psychology, I have used it extensively on myself in the past !
    12-22-2012, 10:55 AM
Originally Posted by Pegasus1    
suggests that horses retain object permanence for less than 10 seconds.
From the psychology side, we usually look at object permanence in babies. Object permanence is the idea that just because something isn't immediately observed, doesn't mean it no longer exists.

To an infant younger than about 8-12 months old (average), if you cover their favorite toy with a blanket, they don't understand that it's just covered - that toy is gone. Therefore they don't try to find it and may cry at its disappearance. It's easy to tell if a child has developed object permanence because they will understand that the toy is under the blanket and will seek it out.

In the experiment from the video, the oats disappeared into the bucket (no longer observed), and the horse couldn't seek it out with any greater accuracy than chance.

That being said, I don't think that anyone should be literally counting to 10 to know if they can still cue their horse or if they've forgotten what the cue is for; however it is an important lesson in the need for immediacy in timing. It's also a great reminder that horses don't learn the same way people do.

I think the driving force here may be the conditioned responses brought up earlier - horses may not have the same cognitive abilities as dogs or people (like they said in the video clip), but they can be conditioned to respond to a smaller and smaller stimulus, just like Pavlov's dogs when they responded to the bell long after the meat was removed from the experiment.

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