Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Treats / Rewards

I admit it!  I use treats when communicating with my horses and my dogs.  I have also found that most dogs and horses will accept food treats.

Sometimes it seems like the word only has 4 letters.  I think it gets a bad rep for several reasons.  Many clinicians discourage it, there are myths about the bad effects of using them and there is a lot of misunderstanding

I use treats as a reward for a correct response to a cue.  Rewards are a tool just like anything else used in learning to communicate with horses.  It is a strong signal that you can give, that the horse has responded correctly.  It should not be a substitute for normal feeding.  It should not be a bribe.  It should not be given as a ransom.

So what is the difference between a reward, a bribe and a ransom.  A REWARD is something given AFTER the horse has responded correctly.  A BRIBE is given to coax a horse to respond correctly.  A RANSOM is a treat given to distract a horse from bad behaviour, like pushing you around.  Horses already know the difference and if you don`t use this tool correctly the horse will use them against you.  Because people are so eager to want their horse to like them they misuse treats and it gets them in trouble.

There are just a few simple guidelines to follow:

·       Give treats as a reward when the horse gives a correct response to a cue you have given.

·       Use treats sparingly as a special reward.  There are other ways to reward the horse e.g. stop pressure, let them rest etc.

·       Treats are a small food treat, a slice of carrot, not a whole carrot, a slice of apple, a small horse cookie.  It is a treat not a meal.

When I go in the paddock and my horse comes to me I will cue him to stop and back up several steps.  When he has done this I will go to him extend my right hand for him to touch and when he does this I will reward him.  The horse learns very quickly that it is okay to approach but that they are only rewarded when they have moved away.  Horses learn very quickly and this is true for both good behaviour and bad behaviour.  Be very aware not to reward bad behaviour.

Like any other tool used in communicating with horses, treats must be used correctly to achieve positive productive results.

This is a picture of some of the treats/rewards that my horses like.  Carrot and apple pieces, some commercial treats, a homemade treat, and their favourite, scotch mints(the round white almost invisible ones).

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