Home » Clicker Training Community Blog » Training

Licking/Chewing=Learning? - TheHorse.com

Filed in - Press - Training - Horses

More studies showing the "aha" moment that comes with operant conditioning, this time when clicker training horses: Years ago we studied punishment in horse training. In that context, when subjects "figured out" how to avoid the punishment, they usually showed the lowered head, lip licking, chewing, and sighing. They then responded correctly and avoided punishment, so they had learned. But they usually showed signs of anxiety and mild depression. The end of a training trial seemed like relief, "Thank goodness that's over," and they became reluctant to do the trials. In contrast, more recently we've been doing some cognition studies using all positive reinforcement. This involves basic operant conditioning trials designed to test the ability of horses to understand a concept in relation to discriminating between various olfactory, auditory, or visual stimuli, presented two at a time. When at first the horse accidentally made the correct response, it got a food reward. If the choice was incorrect, no treat, no punishment, we just went on to the next presentation. Each horse reached an "Ah ha!" point where they seemed to "get it," after which they made nearly 100% correct choices. They seemed more eager in their anticipation of the next presentation and more enthusiastic in their response as if they could play the game all day. And their enthusiasm for learning seemed to stay with them. Some individuals do go through a stage of apparent frustration when early--or by chance--they have a series of incorrect choices. They might paw and turn their head back away from the stimulus presentation board as if they want to leave. When those animals finally "get it," they might show some lip licking, jaw movements, and deep exhalation, but those signs are not as strong as the situations involving fear, pain, or punishment learning paradigms. Learn more about clicker training horses, or read the full story Licking/Chewing=Learning? - TheHorse.com.