Thursday, October 9, 2008

To treat or not to treat

(this one wins my best named horse product award.)

I got this little Q&A from my parelli newsletter:

My mare and I have come a long, long way with Parelli's help, and I really want to take it as far as possible, eventually to at least instructor level...but I cannot move forward! The problem is that my girl was very, very cinch sour. She would tense up just at the sight of the saddle. Then would yelp, and bite the air. Then would try biting me. I have worked hard and patiently with her. I even changed to a western saddle so that she wouldn't 'recognize' the saddle/girth. I have used all the methods discussed in the DVD's (I have Level 1 & Level 2, Liberty & Horse Behavior and the Success Series) and now she is much better. I can saddle her easily now, but she does have treats while I do so. I worry that I will not pass Level 1 assessment if needing to use treats. Even though these are methods that have been advised by Parelli, will it be taken into account or will I fail? It's a shame because we are continuing through into Level 2 now and I feel a bit like I am underachieving? I want my red string!!

You are doing a great job! Stop worrying about 'rules.' The first thing is your horse's acceptance and by figuring out what to do you are doing better than most people around the world with the same problem...even at world class level! Remember that Level 1 is about safety. If you are doing it safely and you've found out how to resolve this problem, you are more than Level 1. Stop worrying and just do it. Well done!

I used to be a big treater. Now I'm a minimal treater. GNH has written a bit (pun intended, as always) about treating. Some trainers are so anti treating that they seem a bit irrational, as if a treat at the wash rack is going to turn a horse into some sort of Horseible Lector.

(seriously, you can find a picture of anything on the internet)

I've had two different experiences with treating. One horse, a more dominate one, seemed to resent getting a treat, acting as if those of us who gave him one were clearly inferior.

Canyon was won over by treats and since I've reduced them they are positive surprises, but not expected.

Natural horsemen will say "the alpha mare doesn't give out cookies."

Well, she doesn't throw a saddle on either.

We ran into this challenge with our dog, Dyno. Sierra, who is 10, is interested in agility. So we went to a training group that preps for agility. One problem.

All they do is use treats. Sierra hasn't trained her dog using treats, and frankly, she's done a darn good job training him. Instead he's ball obsessed and will do anything for a few tosses. Here's a video of how she's trained him.

So she's taught me that you don't need little bits of hot dog to train your dog. I don't think you need to have treats to train your horse either.

But I still think every animal welcomes a variety of rewards and rewards can bridge to behavior. And Canyon, who now greets only gets a treat now in the wash rack.


GNH said...

Well as you know I think training dogs with treats works because dogs are predators, but horses being prey animals shouldn't be trained with treats. SOME use of treats is good though, for example yesterday I just took Wishes for a little walk and I gave him a few treats, because I was not asking him to work. But a horse deserves a carrot now and then.

GNH said...

Yeah I don't want to come across as being completely anti-treat. I am not. A case in point is this really shy mustang at the horse rescue. She is so shy, I think some treats to help her learn to trust people is OK. But that is just my opinion.

Unknown said...

I hadn't looked at it from the predator relationship. But really, my daughter taught her dog without treat which completely killed any "treat for behavior" argument.

I didn't think of you (GNH) as anti treat. I think I'm more aligned with your approach. Treats as... treats. Not bribes or tied to specific behavior.

But at the begining... maybe bribes?

I was thinking Eric was pretty anti treat. Yes?