Proper Rewards

I am a clicker trainer.

Some people think that is all rainbows and marshmallows. That everything is all happy and hunky dory all the time. Actually, most of the time it is 😉

I have been given a hard time about being too soft and cuddly with my horses. I’ve been mocked about everyone getting a participation reward just for showing up. Isn’t that what we do?

That is where I draw the line, where I start to take offense. I reward generously and enthusiastically When My Horse Meets A Certain Criteria. Yes, we are all happy, and lovey dovey, and rewarding the slightest try, but there does have to be a try and the TRY is rewarded.We recently went to a school event that really drove the difference home to me. Before this I wondered if maybe I was one who gave participation rewards. Now it is very clear to me that I do NOT.

Some kids had worked really hard on their projects. Some kids had not. It was months of effort. The drive to the competition was long, but we did it. These kids had worked hard, they deserved to show what they had done. We were willing to put in the effort so their work could be rewarded.

We sat through the showing of their projects. We waited while the judges figured out their placings. We sat as every single kid got a token reward. The ones who had worked hard got a pat on the head. The ones who spent the time wrestling around and playing instead got the exact same pat on the head.

I train horses not children but I know what would happen if I tried to train my horses this way.

Say my horse Rusty is standing next to me in default mode, head straight ahead, four feet on the ground, working really hard at looking straight ahead, this is the hardest thing I could ask of him. I click and reward him. He turns his head towards me, nuzzling and searching for food, I click and reward him anyway. He got a treat either way! What is he going to do next? Will he work hard or will he keep searching for treats? Was anything at all accomplished?

I know there are reasons people want to reward all the children, all the behaviors. Some of these kids are small. They don’t really know they didn’t win something. Their token reward made them happy. That’s nice.

I have no problem with giving every horse in the pasture a cookie for free. It’s a good way to load the clicker. If you are wanting a certain behavior though, if you want them to happily work hard towards a goal, that isn’t the way to accomplish it.

I know I have been trained not to put the same effort in next year. Why not let the kids mess around and have fun instead of pushing them to concentrate, buckle down, work hard? When everyone wins the same amount of nothing they have trained nothing. I do like that everyone got a memento for their efforts, don’t get me wrong. Great, load the clicker. Offer a high rate of reward for those just starting out. There should be a jackpot though. An actual reward, for the ones that actually did good. A goal to strive for next time if they didn’t win it this time around.

Horses, children, any other animal out there, training is the same. Without reward we have no goal.

5 thoughts on “Proper Rewards

    1. Neversummer Post author

      I think it does work wonders! It’s well worth looking into, even if you don’t convert it can be a helpful addition to your regular training routine.

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