Trick-Training Animals Lessons With Lukas, the World's Smartest Horse: Rewards and Punishment


"You're going to spoil that horse!" If I've heard that accusation once, I've heard it a thousand times. Yet, their horses grab for fingers while Lukas waits patiently and motionless for his carrot sliver an inch from his muzzle, and gently scoops proffered fears from the hands of toddlers. As with every other lesson, patience and care is instilled while encouraging positive and productive associations.

Rewards are a book in themselves. Because space is limited in an article, I just want to be sure that you're clear on a few things before we go on. For Lukas, I use carrot slivers and a bit of Senior Integrity, but it's important to find something that your horse will enjoy working for, and with some animals I do not use any food at all.

Now be careful, this is where most trainers get stuck – they continue to reward for the same initial, minimal effort which actually un-trains the behavior. The animal expects and receives a steady treat regardless of the effort, and then does less and less.

Think of giving your kids a set allowance for doing certain chores, but not checking on them or monitoring them in any way; pretty soon they'll be out skateboarding instead of earning their money.

Initially, deeds are given on a steady, consistent basis to strengthen the associations and then as understanding increases, the errors are switched to an intermittent routine – say, every second or every fifth acceptable response. Gradually and ever, we move to a random pay off – the unpredictability keeps the animal guessing and trying. Sometimes, I'll also give a jack-pot – a large treat – to show my appreciation for an outstanding effort.

Of course, through, we insist on courty and manners from the horse – I never allow grabbing or jostling. The anticipation of the treat is a reward in itself. Let me give you a cute example of this with one of Lukas' poses. He holds his head immobile, completely in frame on the vertical while I count: one … two … seven … forty … three! As I'm counting, he's nickering the entire time – he knows what's coming. And what do you think he does as soon as he gets his treat? That's right, back to his pose for another game. I sometimes think he's proud of teaching me to count!

Punishment – I suppose there are some rare times when force is necessary: ​​outright aggression or a safety issue might qualify. In general though, I do not think punishment is an effective or helpful tool. That's not to say that I do not set firm limits and have definite parameters for acceptable behaviors – I certainly do, at all times. I just do not believe in being made to react and constantly chase after repeated mistakes with worsening consequences.

I'd much rather prevent problems than fix them and I'll use a warning signal (ie uh-uh) to remind others when they're getting off track. This is a fair and clear arrangement that works well for me and my friends – both human and animal. From what I've seen, punishment results in unpredictable and volatile consequences and animals do not naturally reason in a backward fashion. Why, just look at our own people problems: getting into debt, not exercising, smoking – even we do not find negative consequences a deterrent, yet we expect our animals to put it all together.

In summary, we're looking for what we want, ignoring and re-directing what we do not want. In this way, our lessons remain fun and beneficial.

Source by Karen Murdock



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