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November 28, 2020: Positively Positive about Positive Reinforcement Training

Sometimes I am very honest about what I write about in these dispatches. Sometimes not. It is easier to be honest knowing that my readership consists, at most, of about four people, this including Pete, who picks out and puts up the photos.

This is one of those dispatches in which I will attempt to get at the heart of the matter rather than to scoot around it. The subject is being positive.

I am now reading a lot on this subject. I know that being positive is a more effective teaching school than being negative. This is because the human brain responds in an affirmative fashion to positive feedback. With animals, the brain responds in an affirmative fashion to

Alys and Shadow in the agility room

primary, or conditioned, reinforcers, mainly food, and secondary, or unconditioned reinforcers, mainly a kind word or gesture. A scratch on the withers works for horses.

Yes, this is what I know in theory. In practice, I find myself falling short at times. The downside: For instance, I often am short with Pete. And I get impatient at times with the animals who never march in lockstep. The upside is that I am catching myself, and as quick as I can, I’m attempting to rectify my behavior by following up on a negative comment, gesture, or action, with one that’s more positive.

More and more, I thank Pete for the millions of little things he does on a daily basis. Like today, he had a lot of work to do, but he still found time to go to agility class with me. And he was there to hand me the leash that I had to toss on the floor prior to sending Shadow over an obstacle.

Working with Shadow was also a bit of a challenge. She’s seven months old and may be going through adolescence. She kept grabbing treats from me, and a few times she got nippy. What to do? I got frustrated. Then I dug down deep and emerged from the hole realizing that, first of all, I was grabbing her when she came off the obstacles, which she did not like. Then secondly, I was not being consistent in the use of my hands when doling out treats. I decided to do two things differently. As I do with the horses, I’m holding out food on the flat of my hand. And I put my clicker on my belt loop, so I have better access to it. Both were very positive actions.

As for the animals – mares are always challenging to work with because they have opinions. Well, so do I. In learning what target they are to stand at (I call the targeted areas their stations) they, and particularly Raudi, began jostling me. I got annoyed about this and jostled back. I got to thinking about it and decided to continue to modify my training plan. Now their feed buckets are under their respective targets. Thus, I am now tossing their treats in a specific area, so they won’t be so insistent about going and looking for pellets at an adjacent area.

Lots here, to think about. For sure, today was a day in progress.

Next: 328. 11/29/20: Anger Management

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