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Behaviour and Emotions revisited

Fear Conditioning?

I watched an interesting video of a TED talk and the neuroscientist said that we make our own emotions. This sits well with the James-Lang theory.

Emotions aren’t inbuilt, but the physiological states that makes us feel these sensation are often hard wired but backed up by our previous experiences.

So might this explain why counter conditioning works with fearful horses? We need to look at why they are fearful and remove the fear stimulus and/or change that stimulus to something appetitive. Sometimes it takes only one exposure to a fear provoking event for the problem to arise. An example might be a horse who experiences the adrenaline surge when a pigeon flies out of a hedge as we ride round the arena. The physiological response of flight or fight becomes associated with the hedge, very often, not just the pigeon. So the horse might spook more at that particular spot every time we ride past.
 Think how you feel when driving your car and someone pulls out in front of you and you have to take evasive action. We can be rational about this and most people are not too scared to continue driving, but it might make us more vigilant in future at that particular junction.

This is where we can use counter conditioning. We change the physiological response of the adrenaline surge to one of anticipation of an appetitive event e.g food. We can rewired the horses neural circuits to make the hedge a good thing and the physiological response will change.

With humans we can use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to change how people perceive the feelings that physiological responses cause. So butterflies in the stomach can give us a feeling of anxiety or it can prepare us for a challenge in a good way.

So the James-Lnag theory is:-
Event – Arousal – Interpretation – Emotion

It therefore depends on our and our horses previous experiences as to how we/they interpret events.

Fascinating stuff and I need to read more around this subject, but these are my thoughts at this moment in time. As always my interpretations not a full analysis of the scientific facts. However you might like to watch the video and read more – just follow these links.

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion

https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/videos/you-arent-at-the-mercy-of-your-emotions-your-brain-creates-them-298661

Animal Training

I have just finished Karolina Westlund Friman’s Advanced Animal Training course.  https://illis.se/en/

Much to digest and organise into usable training strategies, I need to be more disciplined in writing shaping plans and setting up the sessions.

Now I am going to do Stage 2 of the Natural Animal Centre Equine Behaviour Qualification. In preparation I am reading “Physiology of Behaviour” by N. Carlson (2013) which I managed to get as a PDF some time ago. That along with Paul Chances book on “Learning and Behaviour” ought to keep me busy for a while.

 

 

Punishment Callus

How to avoid problems with negative reinforcement.

If we use R- there are certain things we can do to negate possible negative side effects.

1. Use very low level aversive stimulus to form a behaviour. DO NOT trigger a flight response or use escalating aversive stimuli. Horses can habituate to the stimuli and then more is needed for the required reaction.

2. Remove the aversive stimulus as soon as the animal starts the behaviour, DO NOT wait until the behaviour is finished.

3. Use shaping – so reinforce small approximations of the final behaviour

4. Put the behaviour on a command so the animal can avoid the aversive stimulus when they respond. Either verbal or visual, be consistent and predictable.

5. Don’t use the same command for different behaviours.

6. Use a combination of R- and R+ e.g form the behaviour using an aversive stimulus and remove the stimulus and give a appetitive reinforcer at the same time -.e.g food or scratches.
This may counter-condition the aversive stimulus rather than cause poisoned cues.

An interesting phenomenon is Punishment Callus

“Animals habituate to aversives – this is referred to as the punishment callus. So, escalation is typically not the best solution.” Karolina Westlund Friman

Punishment Callus

When the animal habituates to an aversive stimulus and stops responding. So people escalate the aversive stimulus but the animal may habituate to that too. What have you got left for an emergency situation?
We don’t want animals to habituate – aversives need to be kept for emergency (life and death situations) use only.

If we use mild negative reinforcement e.g a light touch until the animal moves and there is no emotional reaction to the stimulus, it is still aversive but not enough to cause flight or avoidance reactions. Just enough for the animal to want it to stop, it then may do no harm and used in combination with a positive reinforcer may counter condition rather than poison the  cue or result in punishment callous. The aversive stimulus must be extremely low level and not escalate.

This is why the LIMA principles and the Humane Hierarchy make more sense than starting with mild aversives and escalating as the animal habituates. It is like the old riding school ponies who had been kicked so much they habituated and switched off.

PS I still prefer to use positive reinforcement but it is good to know that the odd time we use negative reinforcement like this we do very little harm to our relationship.

Don’t Be Callous: How Punishment Can Go Wrong

http://stalecheerios.com/horse-training/clicker-training-clinic-notes-happy-horses/

https://m.iaabc.org/about/position-statements/lima/

7 ways to get behaviour

More on poisoned cues – see previous post too



http://www.equineclickertraining.com/articles/negative_reinforcement_new.html#poisoned%20cues

http://stalecheerios.com/training-concepts/thoughts-poisoned-cues/

http://shoutout.wix.com/so/90c220b7-7aff-4676-b909-493f2ba082f6#/main

Poisoned cues

This is a really important topic for any animal training, whether you use positive or negative reinforcement but especially if you mix the 2.

Mixing can just be using a mild aversive to form a behaviour then clicking and positively reinforcing the behaviour, this can counter condition the aversive stimulus. This has to be done very carefully to avoid poisoned cues and punishment callus.

“Praise the horse or dog when he gets it right. Correct him when he gets it wrong. That describes many styles of standard animal training. It also describes the perfect set-up for poisoned cues. When you link corrections with motivation, you get problems—that’s what the basic research tells us. The bottom line is this: corrections do not work.” Karen Pryor

Back up is an example – do you use pressure and then say back? So eventually “back” is the command.
Or do you use a target stick and allow the horse to follow that back, reward and say “back” for the cue?
The verbal cue would be the same but the emotions of the horse different. If we mix them and use both aversives and appetitives for the same command/cue you can see how the horse may experience conflicting emotions.

We need one cue for one behaviour, but if we mix quadrants the horse can feel unsure what the consequences of the behaviour will be. We need a separate cue for a positively reinforced behaviour – do not use the command you used if the behaviour was previously taught with negative reinforcement. It is the command/cue not the behaviour that becomes poisoned.

There are some links to articles and an excellent podcast at the end of this post.

https://www.clickertraining.com/node/164

http://www.equineclickertraining.com/articles/negative_reinforcement_new.html#poisoned%20cues

http://stalecheerios.com/training-concepts/thoughts-poisoned-cues/

http://shoutout.wix.com/so/90c220b7-7aff-4676-b909-493f2ba082f6#/main

Next post will be about how to avoid some of the pitfalls of negative reinforcement and punishment callus.

Competitions

Just wondering why people compete their horses. I am not competitive but many people like to pop out and do the odd competition for fun. There are also those who earn a living from competing and breeding competition horses.
Is it to show off our horses, to show our skill, to show we are better than someone else? Or is it just a bit of fun and gives us a goal to work towards, so we have an idea of how far we have progressed?
I can understand that riding across country might be exciting and even jumping for some – gives them an adrenaline kick.
Do we consider what the horse likes doing or (as is so often the case) hates the least?
Can we ever know whether a horse is running and jumping due to pleasurable stress (eustress) or just running due to not having a choice and experiencing anxiety (distress) and not enjoying the experience. We all need a bit of adrenaline to motivate but too much is bad for us and bad for our horses. Put me on a roller coast and i would be terrified but someone else may enjoy the thrill. We are all different and I suspect so are the horses.
However I see many people saying their horses love to run and jump but the body language and facial expressions of the horses tell a different story.
Horses have a unique ability to put up and shut up and accept what we do with and to them. Do we take advantage of this to the detriment of the horse?

Research methods matter.

A recent study in to the benefits of bitless versus bitted bridles has caused a lot of controversy.
Why?
Mainly due to the methodology of the study, it seems to be the result of people filling in questionnaires about their horses behaviour before and after switching to a bitless bridle.

This is the article – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eve.12916

Anecdotal experiences are often useful in sociological research but are they useful in this type of research?

The replies to the questionnaires were implying a correlation between bits and the behavioural problems – it is not proof that the bit was the cause.
Other factors are that we don’t know how the horses transitioned to going bitless, were they ridden differently, did the training method change e.g from using negative reinforcement to using positive reinforcement?
Did some horses have some other underlying problems unrelated to being ridden in a bitted bridle that changed coincidentally at the same time they were transitioned to bitless?

It says 53 had fear of the bit – so the rest did not, was there a difference in the fearful horses reactions to bitless to that of the fear free horses?

There is research about the damage caused by harsh bit use so I am not suggesting bits are needed or that they don’t cause some problems with incorrect use, but neither am I suggesting that bitless bridles are the answers to behavioural problems.

Also problematic is the use of only one type of bitless bridle. I know from personal experience that my pony didn’t like this particular bridle type – but that is not saying it is detrimental to all horses as my cob loved his.

Another thought is that correlation is not the same as causation.

http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/a3121120.nsf/home/statistical+language+-+correlation+and+causation

5 reasons why anecdotes are totally worthless

https://www.livescience.com/21456-empirical-evidence-a-definition.html

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10888705.2015.1004407

Trainability

“horses have a unique ability to just accept their situation.” This is a quote from Bob Bailey. This being the reason they are so trainable. However we have a duty of care towards them to make sure we never abuse this trainability. I saw a video recently of a very shut down horse being described as an introvert – this apparently was why the horse was so quiet. To me the horse just looked depressed and was putting up with the things done to her. Please ditch the labels and learn to look at the whole horse, posture, facial expressions etc not just whether they are quiet and accepting. Many horses put up with what we do due to being punished for incorrect behaviour – they then become too worried about doing the wrong behaviour so they do nothing. Correction is a word often used as a euphemism for punishment.

This article has good images of depressed/shut down horses compared to alert and resting posture.

https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2012/09/10/researchers-probe-nature-of-horse-depression/

Reflections

Take a few minutes to think about how you train and keep your horse.
Does your horse obey to gain something appetitive or to avoid something aversive?

Do you abide by the LIMA principles?
Do you know what the humane hierarchy looks like?
Do you understand the 5 Domains of animal welfare?
How can you tell whether your horse is “happy”?

I don’t have all the answers but they are worth thinking about next time you are with your horse. Negative reinforcement is what most people use but it must be understood and used appropriately until you learn how to train without aversive stimuli. There are other components of how we all learn and they are worth exploring. Of course punishment is a last resort and only to be used if we are in a dangerous situation with an insufficiently trained horse.
Not every one will want to change and if you consider your horse happy with what you ask then you may not even understand the reason to change or even to learn more.
The more tools we have in our tool box the better trainers we will be.
There may be some cognitive dissonance too as we learn new ways of doing things, we try to rationalise why we do what we do.

The key is to learn about equine body language and the signs of appeasement and calming behaviours. Once seen they can’t be unseen and pop up all the time – watch videos and analyse the horses reactions. Know the signs of a distressed horse, learn what eye wrinkles mean and tight lips and chins. We all need a little adrenaline rush to get us going but too much and a horse way over his/her emotional threshold is not a good sign. Nor is it healthy for the horse, horses are very good at disguising how they feel.

Reference
LIMA principles
https://m.iaabc.org/about/position-statements/lima/

Language Signs and Calming Signals in Horses
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Language-Signs-Calming-Signals-Horses/dp/1138070157

The 5 Domains of Welfare
http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/7/8/60/htm

https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/01/the-five-domains-model-aims-to-help.html

Research into how horses may hide stress
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322797438_Poker_Face_Discrepancies_in_behaviour_and_affective_states_in_horses_during_stressful_handling_procedures

Know your animal.

I am doing a course with Karolina Westlund Friman on animal training, a generic course for all animal trainers.  https://illis.se/en/

In one module we learned how important it is to know the species you work with. This brought me to revisit a blog I did a while ago about Fixed Action Patterns and share one by Mary Hunter on how this can be used in training.

From my Positive Horsemanship blog – first published in 2014.

Kondrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for their work in developing an interpretive framework that crystallised the data they collected on animal behaviour in the field (ethology) and in the laboratory (neuroethology).
They observed what animals do and how and where the individual animals spent their time. They recognised that the behaviour of animals seemed to be constructed of elementary motor and sensory units. (Reference Animal Physiology – Eckert 4th edition 1997).

Motors units were called Fixed Actions Patterns – now called Modal Action Patterns as they aren’t as fixed as first thought.

The six properties of fixed/modal action patterns:
1. they are complex motor acts, each consisting of a specific temporal sequence of components – they are not simple reflexes.

2. they are typically elicited by specific key stimuli rather than general stimuli.

3. fixed action patterns are normally elicited by an environmental stimulus: but if the experimenter removes the stimulus after the behaviour has begun, the behaviour will usually continue to completion. This all or none property distinguishes them from simple reflexes.

4. the stimulus threshold for fixed action patterns varies with the state of the animal, and the variation can be quite large.

5. when they are presented with the appropriate stimulus, all members of the species (perhaps that are the same age, sex or both) will perform a given fixed action pattern nearly identical.

6. fixed action patterns are typically performed in a recognisable form even by animals that have had no prior experience with the key stimulus. That is these patterns are inherited genetically, although in many species the patterns can change with experience.

The last property has provoked the debate about nature versus nurture and recently epigenetic studies.

Useful blog about using this knowledge in training.
http://stalecheerios.com/other-species/modal-action-patterns-influence-behavior/

The 5 Domains and Behaviour

If you have a “problem” horse then analyse the problem.
Is the horse fearful or not understanding what you are asking, is the horse insufficiently trained for what YOU want to do?
Is the horse in pain – that is the first thing to eliminate.
Does the horse have the freedom to express normal behaviours in the company of other equines?

Look at the 5 Domains

1. Good nutrition
2. Environment
3 Good health
4. Appropriate behaviour
5. Positive mental experiences

All of these need to be species appropriate.|

 

If once all avenues have been considered the horse is still behaving abnormally and all vet checks have been done, then contact a qualified equine behaviourist. By this I mean one who is registered with either the IAABC or other recognised body – not an instructor or coach, or self-styled behaviourist. Be very wary of any who NEED to use pressure halters to “cure” unwanted behaviour.

Why a behaviourist?

A behaviourist will look at the whole horse, management and horse-human interactions.
Most behaviourists will not train your horse but write a behaviour modification program and suggest management changes.
Some trainers are good at spotting behavioural problems but may not have the knowledge to know how to help. They may be able to overshadow the FEAR response with training – often all that happens is the horse stops fighting and becomes resigned to his/her fate. However the danger is that of spontaneous recovery of the undesirable behaviour, if there is a certain trigger in the environment.
Horses are exceptional in their ability to shut up and put up with what we do to them. It is often the ones who don’t give in that are labelled dangerous but are they?
If we give them time and use classical conditioning and positive reinforcement in a structure behaviour modification program then they can often learn to trust humans again.

These links have more information and some useful graphics.

https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/01/the-five-domains-model-aims-to-help.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575572/