Reinforcing the Alternative Behaviour

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

We all behave for effect. What I mean by that is that we all behave to achieve some environmental outcome. The outcome is the ‘function’ that performing the behaviour serves for the animal.

When looking to change behaviour, we first need to acknowledge that the unwanted behaviour both produces a desired outcome and delivers a function for the animal.

When deciding on the alternative behaviour which we positively reinforce during the behaviour change process, it must also fulfil the same function which the original one did. We can then go ahead and withhold reinforcement for the unwanted behaviour whilst the new, alternative one is positively reinforced instead. It doesn’t generally take very long at all for the unwanted behaviour to simply wither away and disappear completely.

The video below shows the final result of such a behaviour change process. The original unwanted behaviour that this horse used to perform was to lift the leg up to escape any touch or application of medication to the sore skin she had on her white sock. She would also try to kick out.

By withholding reinforcement for ANY movement of the leg and instead positively reinforcing by bridging with a marker signal (‘good’ but could be a clicker instead) timed precisely with when her leg was still and the foot was weighted down on the floor (the new alternative behaviour), the old unwanted behaviours rapidly disappeared!

Instead the new alternative behaviour of leg still and foot weighted down on the floor grew rapidly meaning the duration could then easily but gradually stretched out.

Even though the other 3 legs being still with feet down on the floor was not a part of the specific behaviour criteria which I was focused on marking and reinforcing directly, by default they did receive plenty of positive reinforcement as well, which indirectly shaped a lovely general ‘standing still’ behaviour by accident – not a bad accidental by-product eh!? As you can see – I can walk away from her and she happily offers the ‘4 legs still and feet down on the floor’ behaviour rather than following me.

You get more of what you reinforce! Sometimes, just flipping our thought processes on their head to instead think about what behaviour we CAN reinforce and GROW as an alternative to the unwanted one is a much kinder and simpler way of changing or correcting behaviour.

Give it a try!


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