Magic Mustang Tamer

The Tactile Cue for Backing up: Task 35

Remember that concept “Stimulus Control” from Task 34? Let’s dive a little deeper into that by carefully examining stimuli. A stimulus is anything that changes in the environment. It might or might not cause anything else to change, but it’s a rather boring stimulus that has no consequence or meaning. The sun came up this morning. It was a stimulus for the rooster to crow. There is an advertisement for a gadget in an unopened envelope on my desk. This was mailed to me by people hoping it would stimulate me to buy the gadget, but, sadly for them, I just toss it in the garbage unopened, an ineffective stimulus.

Stimulus control…. well, when the behavior is performed when the stimulus is presented and only then, the behavior is under stimulus control. It sounds so tidy, but it never is as behaviors tend to sneak in randomly and find their own reinforcement. We will witness some of that in the videos below.

Today’s task is backing up in response to rein pressure. Not randomly backing up, but in response to a backward pull on the lead rope. The stimulus we want to control this is the lead rope tension. The cue needs to be a pull on the rope. I know that I am repeating myself, but it seems easy for people to forget the point of the exercise. Just watch…

Bravo is very smart and eager to please, so he offers behaviors spontaneously all the time. When John tried to use a light signal and barely lift the rein, or, worse, rewarded an un-requested back-up, he got a lot of random backing. Sigh… but it’s instructive.

What should he have done about Bravo being too willing to back up? Never rewarding it and always waiting until he stopped would probably be enough. When a behavior is put on stimulus control, you must expect to see some behavior offered and you must wait it out, letting the animal stop doing it before giving the cue for the behavior again.

Using both the verbal “back” cue and the rope-pull cue at the same time, does not help the horse learn the rope-pull after the first few times. The verbal cue needs to fade away so that the horse can focus on the pull.

Maurin is a more precise trainer. Watch how she solves the problems of this task in a very different way.

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