BE SURE TO RE­WARD THE RIGHT BE­HAV­IOR

EQUUS - - Eq Medical Front -

Your first in­stinct when

your horse im­pa­tiently paws

in the cross ties may be to

yell “Quit it!” but re­searchers

at St. Lawrence Univer­sity

in Can­ton, New York,

rec­om­mend a more pos­i­tive

ap­proach---specif­i­cally, a

tech­nique called dif­fer­en­tial

re­in­force­ment of other

be­hav­ior (DRO).

Of­ten used in the in-

struc­tion of de­vel­op­men­tally

dis­abled peo­ple, DRO calls

for re­ward­ing an in­di­vid-

ual for re­frain­ing from a

par­tic­u­lar be­hav­ior for a des-

ig­nated pe­riod of time.

To test whether this tech-

nique can be used to change

equine be­hav­ior, the St.

Lawrence re­searchers se-

lected three pri­vately owned

horses kept at sta­bles near

the univer­sity cam­pus. The

horses shared one par­ticu-

lar be­hav­ior, says Adam Fox,

PhD: “All three pawed on the

cross ties enough that the

own­ers ex­pressed a de­sire

for the be­hav­ior to de­crease.”

The study was de­signed Re­searchers re­port that a form of pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment com­monly used to teach de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled peo­ple proved ef­fec­tive in train­ing horses.

to work around each horse’s

reg­u­lar sched­ule, in­cor­po­rat-

ing one to three train­ing ses-

sions per day, ap­prox­i­mately

three days a week. Be­fore

the train­ing be­gan, a base-

line mea­sure­ment of how

long each horse would stand

qui­etly with­out paw­ing was

recorded. “Ini­tially, there

Ref­er­ence:

Jour­nal of Ap­plied Be­hav­ior Anal­y­sis,

was quite a bit of vari­abil-

ity [in paw­ing fre­quency]

among the horses,” says

Fox. “One horse pawed a

lot---hun­dreds of times in a

20-minute ses­sion. An­other

pawed less---20 to 40 times

in a 20-minute ses­sion.”

Once train­ing be­gan, the

re­searchers gave the horses

food re­wards when­ever they

did not paw for the du­ra­tion

of their base­line in­ter­vals.

As the tri­als pro­gressed, the

re­searchers cus­tom­ized their

ap­proaches to each of the

horses, al­ter­ing the in­ter­val

of time re­quired to earn a

treat. “For one horse, that in-

ter­val was grad­u­ally ex­tend-

ed, so he had to go longer

and longer to be re­warded,”

says Fox. “For an­other horse

we main­tained the in­ter­val

we started with, and it was

ef­fec­tive [at re­duc­ing the be-

hav­ior]. For the third horse

we ac­tu­ally de­creased the

in­ter­val to in­crease the

ef­fec­tive­ness of the in­ter­ven-

tion. So there were some id-

iosyn­crasies be­tween horses

in terms of ini­tial sen­si­tiv-

ity to the in­ter­ven­tion, but

we were able to mod­ify the

in­ter­ven­tion to each horse’s

be­hav­ior in or­der to maxi-

mize ef­fec­tive­ness.”

At the end of the study

pe­riod---ap­prox­i­mately 30

train­ing ses­sions---each of

the three horses was paw-

ing sig­nif­i­cantly less. In the

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