Saturday, October 30, 2010

23. How to Get your Horse Off Food Rewards?

So your horse has learned a behavior or two that he can do on cue reliably in several different environments. It’s time to get him off the food rewards and start using them in real life. How do you do this?

Step 1: If you haven’t already, replace the clicker with a marker word or mouth cluck.

Step 2: Look back again at the prioritized list of rewards that you created in post number 3. Which of the non-food rewards would be a suitable reward for the behavior he now knows? Try to match the reward with the amount of effort he has to give to do the behavior. If he has put in a lot of effort, make sure that the duration of the rub tells him this. If the behavior is simple, a short neck scratch might be all that is necessary.

Also match the energy level of the reward with the behavior. Releasing him to run in a field is a great reward for an effort that required extended concentration or self control. A massage would be a great reward for a behavior that requires him to be high energy (and would help to calm him faster).

None of your ideas seem to fit?
Look at other things that might be rewarding to him that you have not yet considered. These might be things you allow him to do every day but he doesn’t have to work for.
*Does he enjoy extensive sniffing or mouthing of certain objects?
*Does he get his bucket of food for free?
*Does he get to walk through a gate to go somewhere desirable (to him)?
*Does he enjoy leaving his stall each morning?
*Does he follow you like a lost dog?

What other behaviors does he enjoy doing just for the sake of doing them? Watch your horse in his everyday activities for a week and note what things he enjoys doing. Add these to your prioritized list in post 3 and integrate these as rewards for training.

Here’s an example: If you turned your horse out into a field, what would be the first thing he would do?
-go graze
-run and kick up his heels
-go greet his buddies
-roll in the dirt
-stand under a tree in the shade
-go visit with a stranger over the fence

You can use all of these as rewards. They are called ‘real life rewards’.

Here’s how: Stop him at the gate and ask him to lift each of his feet for 30 seconds, then mark with the mouth cluck and open the gate and let him go visit his buddies. Ask him to do a behavior before allowing him out of his stall. He’ll get more practice with the behavior and learn that he can be rewarded with things other than food.

An even better way to use these rewards is to put them on cue, or capture each behavior. Then you have a way to clearly communicate to him what reward you are offering. The cue can then be used as rewards after a cued behavior.
As you send him to go to his buddies, tell him “Go see”. Teach him a ‘play’ cue that means he is free to explore a novel object you have provided to him.

Step 3:
Start phasing out the use of food with other rewards. Maybe 2 food rewards, paired with one other reward. Then one food, one other reward. Then one food reward and two other rewards. Then just other reward.

There area actually several other ways to get your horse off food rewards (see future posts). You can use them alone or together. Just remember that you can’t go cold turkey off the treats. That would be like your employer telling you that while he would like to come into work tomorrow, he can’t pay you. How long would you continue coming to work?

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