As human beings we like to discriminate animals due to their states in our lives. We like to say because the dog is in my house he should understand who is the boss. We like to show everybody how much we love our animals without knowing if they actually like or love us if we can make this statement. We consider a horse a noble animal, ok pretty fair because a horse has done a lot for us in the history of mankind. I would say in 90% of historical stories horses play a vital role. There are plenty of cultures we have where we play a dominant role in the animals life and well-being. There are believes out there that we should be the Alpha in the group. There are believes out there that the animal should know the line. I can keep going like this but it’s not what we do I want to talk about. The reason I mention all those points is because I want to talk about outcomes through consequences of behavior and the potential feelings “what we are guessing at all times”.
Working on my training for the upcoming triathlon season we had a dinner all together at one of my training friends. She has a beautiful Viszla, she is a great hunting dog and just adorable. Talking about feelings in animals, some say animals do not have feelings what seems like giving them the right to force and animal to do things. Ok to get back to this viszla, her name is chilli, after a great dinner I started to give the dog some attention by lightly petting the dog. On purposely I stopped and the dogs reaction was right away pushing her body into my hands, I guess she just wanted me to keep going. I did this a couple more times to get a confirmation of my thinking. PHOTO: Chilli the Viszla
Why can’t it be different?
Many people have horse riding as their hobby. Horses are beautifull I have to admit this. I have my favourite “brands” myself. I love those big working horses. You know these Belgian farm horses. I have a soft spot for them. People do amazing things with their horses. They reach Olympic medal goals due to working together with their horse. People travel from A-B, we use them for farming, hunting and so on. It seems like we can’t live without horses. But this makes me wonder… if we love those animals that much why would we use the forcing techniques on them to push them in positions where they need to do a particular task. Look what I mean is to make a horse go left or right we pull a rope attached to a metal piece the animal has in its mouth. Ok fair enough this is done for decades but maybe we are to a point where we should change the culture of this well respected recreation. Im very busy with consequences in my career as animal trainer. I like to look into the ABC’s and discover the consequences and the patterns. This gives me an idea how motivation could work for animals. With horses there is a lot of forcing involved. Get them to go faster, going left and right, walking on a leash etc. Forcing is a negative experience for the animal and makes them participate right away to not feel the uncomfortable pressure that potentially comes afterwards. Im sure that many horse back riders don’t have the intention to hurt the animals but because it has been done for so long the same way we fall into the “this is how you do it” idea what goes from generation to generation. It might even be that in the horse world they don’t talk to much about the positive outcome for the animal. What if we do, what if we start to think about the positive outcomes instead of the forcing and potentially negative outcomes?
This made me think a bit more… There must be people out there that are pushing this to a next level with their animals. I found some!!!
Jonas Sjöström – Horse Instructor in Sweden. I had the privilege to meet Jonas quite a long time ago when I was visiting Borås Zoo on the west coast of Sweden. We stayed in contact since. I find his work incredible, inspirational and very creative what he does with his horses.
Regardless of the animal that has been used in training, we should look more in the consequences of behavior and their outcomes. The pros and cons of the decisions we make for the well-being of the animal on the short and the long run. Horse traditions uses a lot of positive punishment and negative reinforcement connected to it. Not only here but there are still plenty of dog owners who use the same techniques.
There are 4 type of consequences we can give the animal according to B.F. Skinners theory. This is how they work:
Positive punishment: You add something that is punishing to the animal.
Negative reinforcement: You take something away what reinforces the animal.
Negative punishment: You take something away what punishes the animal.
Looking at this culture from a behavioral stand point can make us see things very differently. If we would use the choice and control for the animal with positive reinforcement what falls into the Operant Conditioning technique we might get a stronger relationship coming back from the animal to the trainer. We have seen this in many different cases, with many different animals.
“When we think about positive outcomes for the horse, we need to look further to their natural behavior and primary needs. What’s really “in” for them? Of course, horses like to feel comfortable like we do. But is it fair to make them feel uncomfortable and add unpleasant consequences to make them behave and further reward them by giving back what we previously took away? Yes, between horses there are discomfort and unpleasant consequences, but do they like it? How often will that naturally happen? And should this be the foundation of behavior and even of our relationship to them? I think, No! So, if we want to create positive outcomes, we have to add something they can voluntary work for like food, scratches, praise, everything the horse will works for – yes, they will make decisions on that, so we have to look, what is reinforcing for them. But if we are good enough, we can give them suggestive kind of control without making them behave to avoid unpleasant things, which creates a deep level of trust and participation. This is what I will call respect and real partnership with the horse.” – Sylvia Czarnecki
Looking at the consequence of behaviour teaches us more about the animals physiology. We believe that behaviour is shaped by its consequences. Instead of focussing on the outcomes we should be thinking about how its been done. Many cultures exist because its always done a particular way but what about “Why can’t it be different?” What about stepping away from the normal? Isn’t that how we discover potentially better and new ways?
An open mind is key to the creativity of the trainer!
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“Thinking Outside the Zoo”