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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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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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.
 

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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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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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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
@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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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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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
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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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
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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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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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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Also, of course, it depends on the horse and what they're most responsive to. My mare is completely unresponsive to pressure methods like what I described because she doesn't see it as punishment, she just thinks I'm asking her to do some extra work and she happily obliges. She doesn't try to seek out alternate answers in order to take the pressure off. She is much like your pony where she will work for treats all day long. However, some horses think very hard for ways to get the pressure taken off and that kind of pressure training will work in a single session.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
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?
Yes, I actually thought about something similar after my last post. When I was first trying to teach Pony to pick up his feet on request, I started by repeatedly (and gently) tapping his fetlock with my dressage whip. I thought that eventually he would get annoyed and try to move out of the pressure, hopefully by picking up his foot, and then I would stop the tapping; but he just stood there, doing nothing, with his Thelwell Pony face. (I ended up teaching it a different way).

Maybe it's just that HE learns better from rewards rather than "punishment" (or, we could say, pestering). I haven't worked with enough horses to know if he's unique in that regard.
 

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Positive Reward=Something they like,Treat, scratch, etc
Negative Reward=Removing something they don't like, take away pressure.


Positive Punishment=Doing something they don't like. Hitting.
Negative Punishment=Taking away something they like. Take away a teenagers phone. Ha! Good luck with that.


In both reward and punishment, the negative indicates something is taken away. The positive indicates something was added.


Anything a horse does not like or want that is happening, activates an entirely different part of the brain than when things are happening that the horse likes or wants.


When something is happening that the horse does not like or want, the same part of the brain is activated that activates when under direct threat, although the level is at only a low level threat. But still, learning, contemplation, all that is partially blocked and reduced.


When something is happening that the horse likes, an emotion that is called 'searching' is activated and learning is at it's maximum. This can only be fully activated at or near zero threat or unpleasant things happening.


Edit: Oh yeah, forgot to mention, our brains work the same way. That's how we figured out the horse, well plus MRI machines.
 

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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?
I am going to get flak for this.

Many horses do well with +R, especially when being taught tricks or "difficult" maneuvers. "Easier" is a matter of opinion. Easier for whom: the trainer or the horse?

I tend to primarily use -R and +P when training horses. Although this is how horses generally communicate with each other, I am not doing it because it is "more natural." I do it because that is my personality. Even if I truly am, I cannot outwardly demonstrate pleasure (or displeasure) very well. Many people are better at that than me. They light up, cheerfully exclaim, "GOOD!" and mean it. I just... can't for some reason, no matter how hard I try. I don't know why. I have tried that "fake it 'till you make it" thing, but it just that, fake; my horse senses that, and fakeness does not work with her. With her, I cannot fake my pleasure any more than I can fake my confidence when I am nervous. She sees through it, somehow; or maybe I can't fake as well as I think.... I have used food for my +R, but I just give the treat to her with no verbal praise or outward emotion. I have eliminated treats because my horse is a little heavier than I'd like (but not fat). I have tried giving scratches as a reward, but I get the feeling that my horse does not find that rewarding. When at liberty, she just walks away. That just leaves me with -R.

When I was first teaching my horse to come when called (at liberty), I used treats. When I started to wean her off of them, she would not come. She knew what I was asking but decided to not come when she realized I did not have treats. When she did not come, I would "herd" her. Since I was teaching her in a round-pen or relatively small enclosed area, chasing (+P) her was "easy." I would chase her to send her off at a canter, cut in front of her drive-line, make her do a roll-back, and send her off the other way at a canter again. I would back up as she cantered off to create a draw and called for her to come. She cantered back to me. I did not acknowledge her and just stayed with her as she dropped her head to graze (-R). I never even had to hold a whip to get her to canter off. She could just tell from my body language, which is interesting because I never lunge her.

Is that the best way to teach a horse to come? No. Did it work? There is more than one way to skin a cat. Maybe she is a "special" horse. I know that there are some horses that would probably try to kick my head off if I tried that with them.

I wouldn't consider myself a "trainer", but there are some people who use +P as a form of training.
 

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-P involve an avoidance reaction to some degree.

Negative punishment is the removal of a desired stimulus to discourage unwanted behavior.

In what scenario would -P be the "best" form (out of +R, -R, +P, and -P) for a teaching moment? All the (impractical) scenarios I can think of are either complicated or confusing, to both human and horse.
 

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I don't even know how you would use negative punishment on a horse. With kids, you can take something that they like away from them and tell them why it's being taken away. How would a horse understand why something that they like is being taken away for punishment.
 

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Negative punishment (take something away that brings them comfort or pleasure.. a toy, food etc)

Positive punishment (adding something unpleasant such as whipping in your example)

Positive punishment and negative reinforcement is "pressure and release". Think about that.

It can be argued that "pressure" doesnt = abuse... right? 😛 I bet your idea of pressure isnt the same as your idea of punishment. But at the end of the day teaching an animal takes them out of their comfort zone. Its unpleasant. Stressful. You are ADDING stimulus regardless if it's to stop or encourage a behaviour.

But what you are asking as I understand it is can you train an animal JUST with positive punishment and ZERO positive reinforcement?

Well yes but you will inadvertently also use negative reinforcement as I'm assuming you would stop applying "pressure/punishment" when they get it right/stop unwanted behaviour? Cant have one without the other. When teaching a horse to load you are punishing it. When you rub a tarp over it for the first time. When we saddle and ride it for thr first time. Punishment is a strong word but remember it just means unpleasant pressure basically.

It depends on each individual of course and always easier with a clean slate. It is also important to also look at the goal - to stop or encourage a behaviour?

Positive punishment can be crating an unruly dog that didn't pay attention as it stomped over a baby - this is ALSO negative punishment as well. Not so black and white in some cases.... It can be slapping a hand against a horses chest as it tries to barge past the gate with no regard for you. It can be tapping their rump with a soft string when they dont go forward on the lunge when asked. It can be shouting to startle it when it is trying to sneak into the feed room to overdose on loose salt. It is screaming hysterically and spanking the rump of a toddler about to tip a pan of boiling water over itself. Sometimes a little fear is important for safety of handler and animal. My bird room for example.. no dogs allowed. I don't have time to treat them (positive reinforcement) everytime all 3 dont enter the room. I have a baby gate a curtain and a door. But if I'm walking in the room and one of them tries to barge I will "punish" them by stomping a foot pointing and shouting no. It is clear and deliberate. Also it is far safer for the birds than to "let" the dogs enter the room and wait to click/treat when they exit. Even if I'm just herding them by clapping my hands I'm applying an unpleasant stimulus. Punishment for unwanted behaviour.

Where handlers make a mistake is not giving proper negative reinforcement in a timely manner (release) and/or not balancing it out with positive reinforcement.

I can safely say I have trained animals where positive reinforcement is practically punishment in their opinion and work better with release Pay attention here: I could click and treat a dog with a lemon slice. That slice of lemon is unpleasant for the dog to eat. If a dog is fearful of squeaky toys and you try use it as a reward the dog will instead consider it a punishment... you see where im going? Now rarely are people so stupid as to try use something their pet dislikes as positive reinforcment... but I have seen over clingy owners reward a pet that clearly is panicked or just wants space as a reward. So the owners think they are sharing love but actually are creating an aversion. If a dog hates being picked up and the owner picks it up to reward it with a treat... (and to make it clear this dog hated the way the owner held it and no treat made it acceptable but owner was too caught up in man handling her small dog than its comfort).

The various reinforcements and punishments are all relative to the individual being trained. Katie considered face kisses punishment at first. Through excessive positive punishment (kissing) and BOTH negative reinforcment (stop kissing when she didn't move away) and positive reinforcement (juicey treat) I have converted her ^.^

It's a really great topic to think about and it gets more complex the deeper you dive. I'm on mobile by the way and fractured my ribs a few hours ago coming off my bike and semi impaling (not enough to break skin) my left side lol so apologies for errors. But the gist of it is there. And I'm ok been cleared by hospital and just have to rest. I can walk but not lift! Good thing I did a lot of positive punishment (wiggling rope to get attention) and negative reinforcement (stop wiggling when she slowed and looked at me) with a heavy dose of positive reinforcment (treat!!!!!) and negative punishment (not letting her graze if she yanked me) in teaching Katie how to walk nicely when led <3
 

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I don't use negative punishment with my horse. Not sure how I'd approach that if I were to try. I tend to agree it would be confusing.


With kids, it's used all the time. Taking away things they like if they commit certain 'sins'. Hence they avoid being caught doing those things.


Withholding food from a horse until he stands quietly is sort of like that but not really.


Without the higher level of communication and reasoning that we have with kids, I agree it would be difficult with a horse. I need to sleep n that.
 

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Negative punishment (take something away that brings them comfort or pleasure.. a toy, food etc)

Positive punishment (adding something unpleasant such as whipping in your example)

Positive punishment and negative reinforcement is "pressure and release". Think about that.

It can be argued that "pressure" doesnt = abuse... right? 😛 I bet your idea of pressure isnt the same as your idea of punishment. But at the end of the day teaching an animal takes them out of their comfort zone. Its unpleasant. Stressful. You are ADDING stimulus regardless if it's to stop or encourage a behaviour.

But what you are asking as I understand it is can you train an animal JUST with positive punishment and ZERO positive reinforcement?

Well yes but you will inadvertently also use negative reinforcement as I'm assuming you would stop applying "pressure/punishment" when they get it right/stop unwanted behaviour? Cant have one without the other. When teaching a horse to load you are punishing it. When you rub a tarp over it for the first time. When we saddle and ride it for thr first time. Punishment is a strong word but remember it just means unpleasant pressure basically.

It depends on each individual of course and always easier with a clean slate. It is also important to also look at the goal - to stop or encourage a behaviour?

Positive punishment can be crating an unruly dog that didn't pay attention as it stomped over a baby - this is ALSO negative punishment as well. Not so black and white in some cases.... It can be slapping a hand against a horses chest as it tries to barge past the gate with no regard for you. It can be tapping their rump with a soft string when they dont go forward on the lunge when asked. It can be shouting to startle it when it is trying to sneak into the feed room to overdose on loose salt. It is screaming hysterically and spanking the rump of a toddler about to tip a pan of boiling water over itself. Sometimes a little fear is important for safety of handler and animal. My bird room for example.. no dogs allowed. I don't have time to treat them (positive reinforcement) everytime all 3 dont enter the room. I have a baby gate a curtain and a door. But if I'm walking in the room and one of them tries to barge I will "punish" them by stomping a foot pointing and shouting no. It is clear and deliberate. Also it is far safer for the birds than to "let" the dogs enter the room and wait to click/treat when they exit. Even if I'm just herding them by clapping my hands I'm applying an unpleasant stimulus. Punishment for unwanted behaviour.

Where handlers make a mistake is not giving proper negative reinforcement in a timely manner (release) and/or not balancing it out with positive reinforcement.

I can safely say I have trained animals where positive reinforcement is practically punishment in their opinion and work better with release Pay attention here: I could click and treat a dog with a lemon slice. That slice of lemon is unpleasant for the dog to eat. If a dog is fearful of squeaky toys and you try use it as a reward the dog will instead consider it a punishment... you see where im going? Now rarely are people so stupid as to try use something their pet dislikes as positive reinforcment... but I have seen over clingy owners reward a pet that clearly is panicked or just wants space as a reward. So the owners think they are sharing love but actually are creating an aversion. If a dog hates being picked up and the owner picks it up to reward it with a treat...

The various reinforcements and punishments are all relative to the individual being trained. Katie considered face kisses punishment at first. Through excessive positive punishment (kissing) and BOTH negative reinforcment (stop kissing when she didn't move away) and positive reinforcement (juicey treat) I have converted her ^.^

It's a really great topic to think about and it gets more complex the deeper you dive. I'm on mobile by the way and fractured my ribs a few hours ago coming off my bike and semi impaling (not enough to break skin) my left side lol so apologies for errors. But the gist of it is there. And I'm ok been cleared by hospital and just have to rest. I can walk but not lift! Good thing I did a lot of positive punishment (wiggling rope to get attention) and negative reinforcement (stop wiggling when she slowed and looked at me) with a heavy dose of positive reinforcment (treat!!!!!) and negative punishment (not letting her graze if she yanked me) in teaching Katie how to walk nicely when led <3
Not to get far off topic but Geeze, are you ok?
 
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