equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

Chapter 3

This page lists additional resources for the book “Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement.” I will be adding to this page as I have time. 

Chapter 3: A Little Bit of Science


A few examples of types of reinforcers:


The Premack Principle: When thinking about reinforcement, we tend to focus on food or objects. But David Premack showed that reinforcement is really about activities. Food is reinforcing because we like eating food. Being given access to a toy is reinforcing because we enjoy the activities we can do with a toy.

Once we start thinking of reinforcers as opportunities to engage in a specific activity, it’s easy to see how to apply the Premack Principle – which states that we can reinforce low probablity behaviors by following them with high probability behaviors. If my horse likes to touch a target (a high probability behavior), I can use targeting to reinforce standing still (a low probability behavior for a nervous horse).

If you want to read more about the Premack Principle, I have two blog posts on the subject. They are both based on presentations at the Art and Science of Animal Training Conference. The first one is Dr. Peter Killeen’s lecture. The second one is a combination of several other presentations.


Recommended reading/viewing:

Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching by Julie Vargas: This book’s focus is on teaching human students but much of the content applies to teaching any species. If you are teaching other people to train, then you have to learn how to teach both types of students (human and horse) and this book contains some good information.

B. F. Skinner Foundation: The foundation was created to preserve and provide accurate information about B. F. Skinner’s work. The website contains quotes and articles from B. F. Skinner, additional resources and has a quarterly newsletter.

Drive by Daniel Pink. What motivates people? Do rewards work? Dan Pink looks at the effects of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. I found the book to be thought provoking reading. If you want the short version, you can watch his TEDtalk on youtube.

The Science of Consequences by Susan Schneider. This book takes a look at how consequences shape behavior in all aspects of our (and our animal’s lives). I found it informative, entertaining and thought provoking.

Emotions: Dr. Joe Layng gave a talk on emotions at the Art and Science of Animal Training Conference in 2017. In it he talks about the connection between observable behavior and emotions.

Eileen Anderson’s blog on 1:1 Pairing Eileen Anderson’s blog “Eileen and Dogs” is a great resource for accurate, relevant information about the science behind behavior and how dogs learn. In this blog she explains why she follows the 1 click = 1 reinforcer rule.

Eileen Anderson’s blog on operant learning:  In this blog, Eileen explains the basics of operant learninng.

Hannah Branigan’s podcast #17: Hannah has a good explanation of how to use classical conditioning in dog training.

Memory in Horses: This article (in Practical Horseman) has a good explanation of how horses store and retrieve information.