Saturday, June 27, 2009


For anyone not familiar with +P, it stands for Positive Punishment. It's one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning (the others being +R, -R, -P). In my quest to be a Good Clicker Trainer, I try to use +R (positive reinforcement) as much as possible. I try to ignore the bad behavior and just reinforce the good. But this is sort of a confessional blog post in which I have to admit to using +P and I'm not totally sure how I could have avoided it.

The subject is Ande- 3 yrs old and quite a good egg all in all. He's sensible, well-behaved, and cute. As with all the CT horses, he loves attention. The past many months I have seen one naughty behavior creep into his repertoire and looking back, I can see I have been allowing him to reinforce this behavior (+R) for a long time when I thought I was simply ignoring the behavior. Tricky stuff, this.

I have been told by several people that QH's will sometimes just bolt off. It is fascinating to watch Ande play compared to the others. When he's feeling rowdy, he will go from a standstill to a tearing gallop in a straight line as far and fast as he can, and then slam on the brakes to do a sliding stop. He'll sometimes throw in a buck but he seems to love to go fast and straight and stop. Anybody want a cool little Gymkhana pony? Games? So I shouldn't be surprised that he has occasionally gotten it in his head while being led and feeling good, that he'd decide to just leave town. When he did that as a yearling or 2 yr old, I usually just let him go- oops. Usually I had another horse in the other hand (like the younger Rumer who I was focusing on) and we were just going out to pasture so it was easier to just let him go on his own than get in a big battle. I thought I was "ignoring the bad" behavior. Instead, the fun of tearing off and the grass were reinforcers for his behavior. I did do a LOT of +R work with him in hand. He definitely knows the correct way to walk quietly at my side, slack in the lead, yielding his shoulders if asked, giving to pressure on the lead for a flexion, etc.
This spring he bolted from me twice and I tried to stop him by holding the lead- hoping all the in-hand work and hip gives would swing him around me to stop. But no. But I guess when he is feeling three-ish, the gallop is a stronger reinforcer than the attention and the CT.

A week or so ago, I started taking him out to the arena to get him used to working out there, as opposed to just the round pen. The arena is a bit of a walk from the barn, through a scary barnyard (one never knows what sort of farm equipment will be lurking there) and completely out of sight of the horse barns, paddocks and other horses. He has been out there before- last summer I used to turn him out there with Rumer to help eat down the grass. Now, however, there is sand in that arena and I was taking him out ALONE. He had come to the barnyard and driveway in the winter and been great. But I sensed this day that he was feeling a little like whoopee! So rather than ask him to do any work out there, I simply let him go so he could play. He put on a very impressive gallop from a standstill, fly down to the far end, almost sit down as his slid in the sand to a stop, whirl and do it again. When he did stop, he would raise his head toward the horse barn and hear Rumer calling him (silly filly isn't even turned out with him any more- why did she need to do that??). I let him burn off steam until he was heaving and then took him back. The next day I did it again and this time, he did it for less time and then stopped to graze a bit along the edge where he could reach good grass under the fence. But he would still listen and look for the others. But the part that had me concerned was that I could tell I did not have his attention on the way to the arena and back. I was concerned about a bolting incident while I was leading him and did not want him to be reinforced for this any more.

So I did something probably most clicker trainers would have me shot for and I put a chain over his nose the next time I took him out. I jiggled it a couple times on the way out just so he knew it was there but he did not try anything. Once in the arena, I swapped the lead for a longe line- but left the chain on. Sure enough, when I let him out on the line, he took off in a straight line away from me, so I braced myself and let him hit the chain. He was quite astonished and for the first time, actually stopped from a bolt. But he had been reinforced many times when he got away from me, so he had to try it many more times. Each time I was careful not to instigate it. I was simply asking him to longe as we have been doing in the round pen- I C/T'd when he did nice transitions or was moving well, but I would occasionally see his attention waver and I'd prepare myself just in time for him to take off so I could "be a tree" and let him hit the end of the line on his own. I think it was a legitimate +P. It was immediate, it was harsh enough to make an impression and it was over quickly- I did not follow up with yanking or yelling or chasing. I just asked him to move off again and went back to CT.

The next day I confess my right arm was a bit sore from almost being yanked out of the socket so I longed him in the round pen- hopefully a reminder to him that it could all be quiet and nice. Then the day after that we went back to the arena. He tried bolting a couple times but nothing like before- seemed to be testing to see if the rules were the same, but I also tried to mentallly be very friendly to encourage him to work with me. I wanted him to really find that it was far more enjoyable to work with me but when he "left", that nasty chain (totally apart from me) was going to get his poor little nose.

My next trial I think will be finding some really yummy treats, and find a game- maybe a new one, that he really likes to do in the arena. I want him to look forward to going out there with me and anticipate fun. I want to be careful that these couple lessons don't make him dread the arena. So I guess the best way to have avoided using this rather drastic +P would have been to deal with the undesired behavior at an earlier stage. Neither of the other two babies shows any inclination towards bolting...maybe it's a QH or QP thing, maybe I have done a better job at +R them...I certainly began their CT at a much younger age than Ande (he was a yearling before I introduced the clicker because at that point, I was afraid of using treats with a baby.)

I think I have put a link to Katie Bartlett's site here before, but just in case- she has a fantastic, if long and complex, article on the Four Quadrants which I highly recommend.

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