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Luring, moulding, shaping, targeting and capturing are five different ways of teaching a horse new behaviour with positive reinforcement. What are the pros and cons of each technique?
This is part I: the pros and cons of luring and moulding. Luring and moulding are techniques I use the least in training.
In luring you use a primary reinforcer to lure the horse into the desired behaviour. For instance holding a carrot between the horses’ front legs to entice him to bow. The horse gets the lure as soon as he is performing the goal behaviour. Luring differs from targeting because the lure is the reinforcer (treat).
Pros of luring
It can be a good aid to communicate what you want the horse to do.
It is a fast way of getting (the goal) behaviour.
Cons of luring
The lure (bait) can be so distracting that the horse doesn’t pay attention to the trainer and his cues in order to get to the lure as quickly as possible.
The lure can also prevent the horse from focusing on the behaviour he is suppose to learn.
It can cause serious safety issues if you lure a horse into behaviour with food and you can’t see your hand and/or the horses mouth while you are feeding him. Using a lure can promote biting behaviour because the horse is only focused on getting the lure.
Luring can cause confusion regarding their expectations and change their behaviour around food. This confusion can come from the lure marking the behaviour and not the bridge signal. This in turn can encourage undesirable behaviours like mugging or biting.
Because the lure is so attractive it can cause frustration in the animal as long as he doesn’t get (to) the lure and /or doesn’t understands the assignment.
The horse already knows what his reward is going to be. This predictability can cause the behaviour going extinct instead of getting (more) behaviour. We all know horses that can be caught with a bucket of food in hand, but we also all know horses that see the bucket (lure) and run the opposite way. Same goes with luring a horse into a trailer. It might work once or twice. But if the animals needs are not met (take away his fears), luring will not work and your bond of trust can be damaged.
It can be hard to fade out the lure: your horse might not even want to try to bow if he doesn’t see a carrot.
Luring seems quicker than teaching your horse targeting first, but I find the cons outweigh the pros here. I wouldn’t recommend luring in training.
Moulding also sometimes referred to as ‘molding’ or ‘manipulation’ is physically guiding or otherwise coercing a horse (or one body part) into the behaviour you want to teach (goal behaviour). Then bridge and reinforce the behaviour. Example: with a lead rope between your horses front legs gently guiding your horse into a bow.
Pros of moulding
Like luring it can help to communicate more clearly what you want your horse to do. In that way it can prevent frustration.
It is easy to understand and to carry out for humans.
It can be used to teach complex behaviours in ‘one go’, for instance a bow or kneeling.
Cons of moulding
The horse is not enticed to use his brain in this method, his body is set up in the desired position. Therefor it can be hard to fade out the training aid you used, in this example the halter and lead rope.
Warning: sometimes there is only a fine line between moulding and forcing. Forcing a horse, or any animal for that matter, into behaviour is not ethical and should not be acceptable as a training method. Be careful with moulding especially if you start getting frustrated.
In the next blog I will discuss the pros and cons of shaping, targeting and capturing. Techniques I use a lot in horse training.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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