As you likely know if you’ve followed me for any amount of time, I’m a big fan of the value of using food rewards as positive reinforcement in our training.
I was listening to an animal training podcast the other day, and they were discussing using positive reinforcement with dogs, and how if your dog is hungry, and you’re training with food rewards, then the dog doesn’t feel like they have a choice to participate or not, as they need the food, which makes it much harder for them to engage in the training and learn.
Really got me thinking – I know I have, often, talked about how it’s important to time your training so that you’re not working with your horse when they have an empty stomach, because, after all, no one can learn when they’re feeling “hangry”!
But I’m not sure I’ve ever addressed it specifically with regards to positive reinforcement, and to be honest, hadn’t really considered the implications either. I don’t believe it’s been an issue for me – my horses are generally on pasture or otherwise have food as much of their day as possible – but it’s definitely something I will keep in mind from now on! If it means having “free” food available in the training area, or being more careful to time training right after a meal so they’re sure to have a full tummy, I want to be sure that my horse is willing to play with me because they want to, and they’re excited to earn a food reward, not because they’re hungry and feel they have no choice.
Choice is so important in our relationships with our horses, and this small consideration from our point of view could make a huge difference in your horse’s enjoyment of their training.
Some food for thought. 😉