Can punishment be used as a teaching method? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 05:44 PM Thread Starter
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Can punishment be used as a teaching method?

OK now that I'm doing more work trick training, I have a question.

You always hear about how animals in the circus are abused and trained with cruel methods, but practically speaking why would that be?*** I understand that you can use punishment to tell an animal "NO", but you can't really use punishment as a teaching method, can you? You can't use punishment to say "YES", right? So what would be the incentive for a trainer to use punishment? Do they just get frustrated and lash out because the animal isn't learning? Or are they actually trying to use it to teach?

I get that some people train animals to perform physical movements by attaching various implements to their bodies, to force these movement. And I'm pretty sure a lot of those are very very cruel. But as far as TEACHING goes, you can't do it with punishment, right?

Don't worry, I'm not going to try to punish Pony into something. Punishment isn't really effective with him, and I wouldn't do it even if it were (aside from flicking his nose when he gets pushy for treats). I'm just curious. I train him by rewarding the correct answer, or something close to the correct answer, and then shaping the response to get what I ultimately want. Rewards (whether food, praise, or scratches) create motivation and reinforcement. How, practically speaking, could a trainer use punishment to train?



*** I would really prefer for this not to turn into another "PETA" / animal activists thread, thanks!

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Last edited by ACinATX; 09-08-2020 at 05:53 PM.
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post #2 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:14 PM
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This is an abbreviated post as I must go to dinner; I may write more later.

For questions like this one, semantics are important.

What does "teaching" mean?
What does "punishment" mean?

For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to use those words by definition of the dictionary.
Teach (verb): Show or explain to (someone) how to do something.
Punishment (noun): The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.

Using those definitions, yes, you can use "punishment" to "teach" a horse. Horses do it to each other and we often do it to horses through the means of positive punishment, which is the addition (infliction) of an unpleasant stimulus.

This is a video of a mare using a kick (positive punishment) to teach her foal to yield when told.

Punishment is any stimulus that the horse finds unpleasant, which varies from horse to horse. Although physical punishment (by means of hitting, slapping, or otherwise striking) is something that everyone is familiar with and that all horses dislike, it does not have to be physical in that nature. For example, there is this one gelding that likes to stick his face in your face. This is not a bad thing but when uninvited, it can be invasive and rude. I simply blow a quick puff of air into his nose and he backs off. That is positive punishment, not abuse.

Last edited by Apyk; 09-08-2020 at 06:20 PM.
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post #3 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:14 PM
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Punishment does not need to be abuse, no. Punishment doesn't need to be hitting, whipping, kicking... Punishment is anything that discourages a behavior. When looking at positive/negative reinforcement/punishment, it can be combined in one of four ways: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, negative punishment. Positive means you add something for training purposes, like when you give a treat. Negative means you take something away, like you take away a pressure they don't like.

Most people, when they think of punishment, only think of positive punishment, which is adding something they don't like. However, there is such thing as negative punishment, which means you take away something that they do like. Just like how you could put a dog in time-out if they bite you. You're taking away the play time to discourage biting.

So, by its definition, punishment is "no" training, never "yes" training. Reinforcement is "yes" training.
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post #4 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
So what would be the incentive for a trainer to use punishment? Do they just get frustrated and lash out because the animal isn't learning? Or are they actually trying to use it to teach?
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Punishment does not have to be "lashing out," it can be very controlled and productive if used correctly. In my opinion, it is very important to say NO in certain situations. What if we never said no to little kids? Like I said in my above post, it does not have to inflict pain. However, with potentially dangerous behavior, I would not be afraid to inflict very momentary pain or else the horse might not ever understand and might progress to unhandleable dangerous behavior.
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post #5 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:20 PM Thread Starter
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@Apyk that is one of my all-time favorite horse videos. Short, sweet, and to the point. As a mother myself I can fully empathize with everything going on there.

However, to me the mare is teaching a "NO" (do not do that to me) rather than a "YES" (here is how I want you to behave). She is teaching the foal to NOT do something rather than to DO something.

Also, yes, I should have been clear. What I mean is positive punishment.
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Last edited by ACinATX; 09-08-2020 at 06:27 PM.
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post #6 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
However, to me the mare is teaching a "NO" (do not do that to me) rather than a "YES" (here is how I want you to behave). She is teaching the foal to not do something rather than to do something.
That is semantics.

You are always training a horse, whether you know it or not, and whether you mean to or not. You are always teaching a horse that it is either okay to do something or not okay to do something.

If you are looking for a "yes, do this" way of teaching, then positive (the addition of a desired stimulus) or negative (the removal of an undesired stimulus) reinforcement is better; using only positive punishment can confuse and sour a horse. A combination of +R, -R, and +P are best (-P can sometimes be confusing for horses). Direction is always better than correction, but correction is not abuse when done correctly.
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post #7 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:30 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Aprilswissmiss View Post
Punishment does not have to be "lashing out," it can be very controlled and productive if used correctly. In my opinion, it is very important to say NO in certain situations. What if we never said no to little kids? Like I said in my above post, it does not have to inflict pain. However, with potentially dangerous behavior, I would not be afraid to inflict very momentary pain or else the horse might not ever understand and might progress to unhandleable dangerous behavior.
Right. I totally agree. But, before this conversation gets away from me, what I am asking about is where someone is trying to train an animal to DO something. Like, let's say I wanted to train Pony to get up on a pedestal. Could I whip him, or annoy him, until he figured out what I wanted and did it? Maybe. But it doesn't seem like a very productive use of my time. Wouldn't it be easier to show him step-by-step, rewarding what I wanted and ignoring what I didn't?

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post #8 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 06:33 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Apyk View Post
Direction is always better than correction, but correction is not abuse when done correctly.
OK I guess I wasn't clear about what I'm asking. I'm not saying that one should never say no to a horse. I'm not saying that there isn't a place for positive punishment in training a horse -- of course there is. A horse could easily kill a person without even wanting to, so it is imperative that they learn how to behave, and sometimes this needs to be taught, just like in the video, with a quick reprimand. I'm not saying that correction, when done correctly, is abuse.

What I'm asking is, and I think you did answer this, to train an animal to DO something, is it not easier to reward it rather than punish it? Are there trainers who try to punish an animal as a form of teaching it to do something? And if so, why? Or does no one do this, and all of the rumors of animal abuse that come out of circuses just wrong?

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post #9 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 07:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
Right. I totally agree. But, before this conversation gets away from me, what I am asking about is where someone is trying to train an animal to DO something. Like, let's say I wanted to train Pony to get up on a pedestal. Could I whip him, or annoy him, until he figured out what I wanted and did it? Maybe. But it doesn't seem like a very productive use of my time. Wouldn't it be easier to show him step-by-step, rewarding what I wanted and ignoring what I didn't?
Oh, I see now!

Short answer: it depends on the trainer and what they like to do. Both are feasible, actually. However, there comes a fine line when it's hard to discern but it comes down to semantics.

For example: if you pester a horse continuously until he does what you want and then you stop, would you say that is positive punishment because you pestered him, or would you say that is negative reinforcement because you stop pestering him when he does the right thing? And if you have a hard time imagining this, I'll say an example is when you ask a horse to trot while he's pacing the fence and then let him walk when he moves off the fence and starts moving around the arena on his own. Is making him trot a punishment for pacing or is letting him walk a reinforcement for using the arena? Is it a little bit of both?

If you look at Warwick Schiller, he uses a lot of those pressure methods similar to those I described above. Some could say he is using positive punishment... Some would say he is using negative reinforcement. Either way, it does work. So if you call that kind of training punishment, sure, punishment could absolutely work as an effective training method. I don't think anyone would say he is an ineffective trainer.
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post #10 of 57 Old 09-08-2020, 07:09 PM
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Aren't the "dancing horses" of various cultures trained to "dance" by tapping their legs with a whip. Is that what you mean? I'm sure there are other examples, but this immediately came to my mind. There are lots of "dancing" horses on You-tube.

The first time I watched one of the videos I kept waiting to see the "dance" and then I realized the frenzied trotting in place was what they called dancing! It doesn't look like dancing to me, but I guess to some people it must. Or maybe "frenzied trotting in place" doesn't have the same ring to it.
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