Teaching yourself and your horse how to deal with foodrewards
When you want to start working with foodrewards, you can do the following exercises to prepare him on what the foodreward is for, when he can expect one and when not, that he shouldn't mug you and that he should use the rewardsignal as guide towards the right behavior.
It teaches you to be consequent when handling treats, and also teaches you to reward your horse with the right timing - by giving him the rewardsignal exactly when he's doing something great, and not after it.Rewardsignal
The first thing you need to do is: think about what rewardsignal you are going to use: it has to be a sound that from now on always will be followed by a (food)reward, so your neighbour shouldn't be able to say it over an over again without treating ('good boy' probably isn't wise because of that reason). So choose a specific signal that others won't use around your horse, and choose a signal that's short so that you can use it with very precise timing.
Examples: the click of a clicker, a tongue-cluck (not the same as you use for riding!), a kissing sound, a whistle, a word like 'Perfect!' 'Exact!', 'Good!'.Set-up
You start teaching your horse this signal behind a fence, so that untill he has learned that he only gets a treat after the click (or whatever other signal you use) and never without, he won't be able to physically mug you for treats. You prevent him from making the most obvious mistake, so that you don't have to correct him for that either. It makes the entire learning session both much faster and also more postive for him.
Another great thing about working from one side of the fence while your horse is free on the other side, is that your horse can walk away from you whenever he wants to. And he will probably walk away after 5 to 10 minutes in order to process all the new ideas he is getting and the new principles he's learning. So let him walk away from you!
Walk away from the fence yourself and take a break untill your pupil positions himself next to you again. That will probably be within five minutes. Then you can start to practice again - first by doing something very easy in order to remind him of what you both have done (just click + treat for a few times for example, then touch an easy target) and then continue where you left.
Another break your horse can take, is a mental break: your horse won't walk away, but suddenly ignore your exercise, or give wrong responses to an exercise that he did perfectly only a minute ago. It means that he's internally processing his thoughts, without physically leaving you. Give him the same break. Take a little distance in order not to bother him with more signals, and let him process everything untill he turns to you again and seems interested to learn more.
When introducing a horse to clickertraining during a clinic, I usually work for 30 to 45 minutes with the horse (and trainer of course!) in which the horse is totally at liberty and can walk away whenever he wants to. Whenever he takes a break, we take one too. Generally, during such a training session, the horse takes about 3 breaks, which each take about 2 to 5 minutes - to give you a general idea.
You can start teaching him three important things in that first session:
1. That your signal is a reward signal (I'll write click from now on, shorter
2. That he should earn that rewardsignal plus the treat by doing things: targetting for example
3. That mugging never
will be rewarded with a click+treat, and that he will only earn a click+treat if he stays away from the food.So in practice:1. Teaching the rewardsignal
Stand on the other side of the fence where your horse is standing, click (give your rewardsignal) and immediately push a treat against his mouth. He should have the treat within half a second after your click in order to be able to associate the signal with the food.
Just repeat that in quick succession over a few minutes, untill you start to see that your horse responds to the click by apprehending the reward (turning his head/ear/nose to you). If he starts to react to the click, you know that he's realising that this is a rewardsignal. You can already start to click only when he turns his head away from you or lowers it to the ground: you only click when the nose moves away from you, and not when it's pointing at you/your foodbag. This already teaches him a valuable lesson about being polite around food.
Continue clicking + rewarding for a couple of times, and then you can move to the second idea: work for food. 2. Targetting
The idea behind targetting is very simple: choose an object, hold that in front of your horses' nose and as soon as he touches it, you click+reward. By doing this you teach him that you from now on will reward (spontaneous) movements from him, and that he can do things in order to earn the click+treat. If he understands (usually within 5 clicks) that touching the target is a good idea, you can slowly
make it more difficult for him by moving the target a centimeter further to the right/left/up/down and then let him touch it. Yuo can also start to introduce a cue that you will later use to ask him to touch the target.
Once the horse gets the idea that doing something for food is great, then you can also teach him to target your hand on cue. It's very simple: you stretch your hand towards your horse, snap your fingers Once (repetition of cues only works against you!) and then stretch your fingers and hand flat in that same spot so that they become a sort of card for your horse to touch with his nose. As soon as he touches it, you click+reward.
The great thing about this hand-targetting, is that your handtarget is empty: your horse already learns that he's not supposed to follow food or things like that, but instead use his brains and target empty, foodless things in order to get a rewardsignal and then to get a treat out of your hand. It teaches him that your hands most of the time are empty, so that mugging just has no use.
If your horse really understands that he can earn clicks+treats with his movements, and that the timing of the click really tells him which behavior is right, then you can teach him a new thing: don't eat food untill you're clicked. 3. Don't eat
Yuo're still behind the fence, and now you put a little food in your hand, then make a fist of that hand and stretch your arm, placing your hand in front of the horses'nose with your knuckles up.
As soon as he moves towards it in order to grab it, you say 'No'. If he halts his movement for only a millisecond, you immediately click+give him the reward immediately
!!! Because this
is exactly the behavior you want to see.
If your horse is at your hand already or ignores the 'no' and starts getting physically interested in your hand, you say 'no' again and if he still mugs your hand, you can give him a small but clear snap against the lip/nose (whatever is getting fysical with your hand
) by flicking your wrist upwards. If he ignores that, then just continue with these taps untill he moves away from your hand only a millimeter. Reward immediately!! Because this is exactly what you wanted with this correction: to tell him to move away from the food.
The result you're looking for is that when you offer your horse food without click, he will stay away from it, hangs with his nose calmly over it without eating, or turns his head away from it - for longer and longer stretches of time.
The important thing with this positive correction is that you should NOT hit your horse, not go after him and hit him when he's already retreating, not get angry, aggressive or physical with him!!!
. If it's too hard and he's all over you, just take a step backwards (so that it's harder for him to reach your hand) and try again. You only tap him (soft to sharp, depending on how aggressive he moves to you) from your wrist and not with your entire arm swinging up towards him, because when your arm/wrist stays in place, it will be very clear to your horse where he's not allowed to come: near that hand. Another thing is that if you only flick your wrist, you won't be able to touch him when he's already moving away - so you won't be able to correct him for the good behavior!
If you just fling your entire arm at him, it is very unclear for your horse where he's not allowed to come (as your arm is all over the place), and your physical correction gets a very bad timing and will scare/hit the horse even when he's already retreating.
Instead of giving him a small fysical correction, you can also correct him for going for the food by drawing your hand out of his reach when he gets too close. The good thing about this is that your horse doesn't get a positive (physical correction), but horses do have a tendency to actually follow things that are moving away from you, so it might be a bit harder for him to understand in the beginning. Whatever you do, make sure you connect a vocal correctionsignal to your correction (for example 'No' before your correct him/turn away from him). That enables him to anticipate on your upcoming correction even better, and your aim is not to correct your horse, but to stimulate him to avoid those corrections and show the right behavior!
If you repeat this and reward immediately as soon as he moves his head away, he will very soon understand that in order to earn the food, he has to move his head away from it. The funny thing is that horses realise this after 10 to 15 no's already and then immediately love doing this exercise - that is, if you are very honest in your correction, keep it to the minimum and reward as soon as he responds correctly to that.
Once your horse understands that he shouldn't go to the food, but stay away from it in order to earn it, he'll be safe to work with within the fence. Just repeat the exercise every now and then (also because he will love it
in order to remind him of this basic law.
Now your horse knows:
- treats only come after a specific signal
- the signal is given precisely when the horse does something good (and you won't click for mugging)
- the horse shouldn't focus on the food and how to steal that from you, but instead focus on what he can do in order to earn the treats.
Then you can safely enter the paddock and play with him, giving him his foodrewards with great timing and without any confusion about what he can/can't do in order to get treats.