Proofing & Testing Behaviours

Posted in: Academy Online Courses, Clicker Training, Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship

Video Thumbnail Directional CuesOne of the areas within training behaviours positively that some people find hard to grasp, is the concept and purpose of proofing behaviours after the initial learning phase has been completed.

This is something that is covered thoroughly within The Academy for our Members.

All behaviours and their cues first need to be formed positively and then actively taught to the horse.

But as Yvette Van Veen states: “Teaching a dog [/horse] a behaviour is the relatively easy and “fun” part. Proofing it, making it solid takes effort. So much in this world that is meaningful takes effort. Learning music, a sport, math, cooking, a marriage. It’s worth it. So is the path to training your dog [/horse]. It’s not super hard. But it is a skill.” (Awesome Dogs)

That process of proofing the behaviours to make them really solid is called generalisation.

Generalisation & Discrimination

Generalisation can be described as an extension of a behaviour from a familiar situation to a less familiar situation. Discrimination on the other hand is the tendency for a learned behaviour to occur in one situation, but not others.

As humans, we generalise very easily, but discriminate less easily, whereas horses are fabulous discriminators, but not natural generalisers.


When we are teaching discrimination between cues we are not just teaching the horse about the cue, we are also teaching him that things in the environment might be similar but they are actually NOT part of the cue (and therefore won’t lead to any reinforcement).

As such, it will be the LACK of reinforcement from ANY reinforcers when he makes a wrong choice whilst learning that will give him the specific information about the intricate details of the final cue and therefore will help him figure out which element of what we are doing WILL lead to reinforcement.

So discrimination gives us a way to draw the horses focus to highlight significant details, whilst generalisation allows us to fade out the insignificant ones in the environment. And of course all of this adds many more layers to our communications with them.

The Importance of the Generalisation Stage

Once they really understand and have learnt those behaviours and which specific cues prompt them, the next stage that MUST ALWAYS be completed as an integral part of any training of new cues and behaviours is this generalisation stage.

The catch phrase to remember for generalising behaviours is:

“Unless you want your naturally-discriminating horse to conclude that something in the environment is a necessary element of a cue and it’s associated behaviour, you have to make sure that nothing but the true final cues remain consistent during this stage of the training.”

Areas of Consideration During the Generalisation Stage:

  1. The physical location, including the actual positioning within that location
  2. The horse’s positioning relative to you
  3. Your physical positioning relative to the horse
  4. Body language

Here, inside The Academy, through our home study content, we walk our Members through theory principles like these ones, so that you genuinely understand them. Then we teach you how to train these concepts to your horse in practice.

For more information on becoming a Member of The Academy, click here