POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT GLOSSARY

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?


Graphic Credit: @hoofprints.across.the.page on Instagram

Graphic Credit: @hoofprints.across.the.page on Instagram


Definitions & Examples

A GLOSSARY FOR UNDERSTANDING ALL THE FANCY SCIENCE WORDS ASSOCIATED WITH +R TRAINING


Types of Conditioning

Classical (Respondent) Conditioning — learning through the repeated pairing of two stimuli. The response to the second stimulus is now paired solely with first stimulus.

EX: a horse sniffs a wooden board & a rat jumps out. This spooks the horse. Prior to conditioning, the horse did not spook at boards, but now, the horse may become wary of boards as he is expecting the surprise of a rat! So, the response to the rat is transferred to the board.

EX 2: a horse is caught, haltered & he is put to work. If the horse finds the work aversive, he may begin to try to avoid it. Prior to conditioning, the horse did not run at the presence of the halter, but now, when he sees his human carrying it, he runs to avoid work. The association becomes halter = work.

Operant (Instrumental) Conditioning — learning in which the strength of a behavior is increased/decreased by reinforcement/punishment.

EX: a horse is afraid of a wooden board due to a bad experience with a pesky rat. A trainer rewards the horse for each step he takes toward the board until the horse is no longer afraid. The horse learns through positive reinforcement that investigating the board is a behavior that earns rewards. The horse may be more likely to investigate boards now because he was reinforced for that behavior.

EX 2: a horse runs from his owner when she is carrying a halter. The owner rewards the horse when he is caught & does work with him that he finds pleasurable. The horse learns that the halter — & subsequently being caught — means he earns a reward. The horse will be more likely to approach the owner instead of running away.

Behaviorist Learning Theory states that individuals learn through four quadrants, & learn to display certain behaviors in order to either achieve reinforcement (+R or -R) or avoid punishment (+P or -P).

The 4 quadrants of Operant conditioning

(+R) Positive Reinforcement — the addition of a desirable (pleasurable or gratifying) stimulus to increase the chance that a particular behavior will occur again.

EX: a horse receives a carrot for touching a cone. The horse will now be more likely to touch the cone again. Behavior: touching a cone = Consequence: earns a carrot.

(-R) Negative Reinforcement — the removal of an aversive (unpleasant or painful) stimulus to increase the chance that a particular behavior will occur again. The use of -R in horses pressure (an aversive stimulus) is often increased until the desired behavior is achieved. Then the comes the relief or removal of the aversive.

EX: while mounted, a rider applies leg pressure to a horse’s sides. If the horse does not move, the rider applies more pressure. When the horse steps forward, the rider removes the leg pressure. The horse will now be more likely to move forward when less leg pressure is applied in effort to avoid the increase of the aversive (pressure). Behavior: moving forward = Consequence: release of leg pressure.

(+P) Positive Punishment — the addition of an aversive (unpleasant or painful) stimulus to decrease the chance that a particular behavior will occur again.

EX: a horse & his rider approach a jump. The horse slams on the breaks, refusing to jump. The rider hits the horse’s rump with a whip. The horse may be more likely to go over the jump next time to avoid being hit with the whip. Behavior: stopping at the jump = Consequence: whip to the rump.

(-P) Negative Punishment — the removal of a desirable (pleasurable or gratifying) stimulus to decrease the chance that a particular behavior will occur again.

EX: a horse does not touch a cone when it’s presented to him. The trainer does not give him a treat. Behavior: not touching the cone = Consequence: no reward.

Definitions in Terms of +R

Primary Reinforcer — a biological desire such as food, water, or release from pain/discomfort. For humans, this is also food, water & no pain. These do not need to be conditioned as they are instinctive.

Feeding retired racehorse “Make it Work” his reward for touching the buoy target!

Feeding retired racehorse “Make it Work” his reward for touching the buoy target!

Secondary Reinforcer — something that has been strongly associated with a primary reinforcer. The “click” of a clicker in clicker training tells the animal that a primary reinforcer (food) is coming. For humans, an example would be money. Money is strongly associated with food, shelter, clothing & other desirables. They mean that something good might happen. (Secondary Reinforcers also occur in -R, but my focus is +R!)

Marker or Bridge Signal — +R trainers often use clickers or a specific sound to “mark” a behavior. The marker or bridge signal, bridges the gap from the behavior to the reinforcer. The click becomes a secondary reinforcer because the horse knows that his reward is coming. Trainers use bridge signals to make the training more precise and communicate information to the horse that the behavior he was performing at the time of the click earned him the reward.

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The use of a clicker tool or a tongue click (not to be confused with a “cluck” as for most horses that is a move-your-feet cue) is important for more complex behaviors. By using a bridge signal, you don’t have to try to feed the moment the behavior is offered. Doing so would be ineffective & unclear to the horse — especially with behaviors like piaffe, or trotting.

EX: the horse moves his head away from the trainer who is working on her horse not mugging her for treats. As he moves his head, she clicks & gives him his treat. The horse learns very quickly which behaviors are earning him the click through only a few repetitions.

Cue information given to the horse to indicate which behavior will earn him a reward at a given time. Cues can be a word (verbal), a hand movement, body language, etc. It is entirely up to the trainer to choose! (Cues also occur in -R, but my focus is +R!)

EX: a horse is mugging his handler for treats (clearly he’s forgotten his manners today). She turns her body away slightly — a body language cue. The horse moves his head away. The handler clicks and gives the horse his reward. The handler’s body position is the horse’s cue to move his head away.

EX 2: a horse is walking. His trainer says, “Trot” — a verbal cue. The horse trots. The handler clicks, communicating, “That was it! You got it!” and gives the horse his reward. The word “Trot” is the horse’s cue to trot.


For more resources on +R training, head over to my resources page for books, videos, podcasts & article links!