Positive reinforcement training is undoubtedly the most motivating way for animals to be trained and learn new skills when used correctly by their trainer. It has been extensively used by trainers for many generations, successfully training animals to cope willingly with care and husbandry procedures such as for giraffes having feet trimmed, lions or tigers being wormed and having injections and walruses having their tusks cleaned! It has also been commonplace for a long time for dog trainers use it to train dogs for specialist roles such as firearms and bomb detection, drug searching and also more recreational activities such as dog agility, trick training and retrieving etc.
Using positive reinforcement training requires the trainer to have a basic working knowledge of learning theory science (operant and classical conditioning). Well timed ‘markers’ are used to tell the animal that the behaviour he or she performed was the correct one and a ‘positive reinforcer’ follows from the trainer. Food is a very powerful (primary) reinforcer but other motivating ‘rewards’ can also be used such as play, scratches, vocal praise etc.– the key is that the reinforcer needs to be rewarding or motivating enough for the animal to want to repeat that behaviour again with enthusiasm.
The primary training technique used in training and riding horses is a method that utilises pressure and release also known as ‘negative reinforcement’ It relies on the horse wanting to avoid the pressure and find ‘relief’ in the pressure being released. Excellent timing is still crucial for the horse to understand when he or she performed the correct behaviour.