Posted by: ivyschex | January 4, 2010

What is Positive Reinforcement?

“A reinforcer is anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.”

 “A positive reinforcer is something the subject wants, such as food, petting, or praise.”

         ~Karen Pryor~ Don’t Shoot the Dog!

A positive reinforcement is one of the training methods at our disposal. We can use this method to shape any kind of behavior in any animal. It works very well with horses, especially with trick training. Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior it is linked to, to continue.

 With trick training, we use the positive reinforcer to let the horse know when he did the right thing. This encourages him to try that same thing again, which also gets rewarded. The horse then starts to think that he has us trained. If he does this one thing, he can get us to reward him. This ends up being great fun for the trainer and the trainee.

 Often, when we train horses, we use food as the positive reinforcement. Most horses love food and it is a good reward for them. However, some horses might love a good scratch as their positive reinforcer. Once horses get the idea, they often enthusiastically offer their reinforced behaviors, hoping to receive their treat.

 A reinforcer is used as close to the action as is possible. However, it is not always possible to do this effectively. So, we bring into use another tool called a bridge signal. A bridge signal is any specific sound that allows the horse to understand the connection between the action we want and the reinforcement that comes later. One example is using a clicker as the bridge signal.

I will write more about clicker training, positive reinforcement, and bridge signals later on.


  1. excellent post!

    I’m glad you mentioned that the reinforcer doesn’t have to be food. I find people often get hung up on this— “My horse won’t take treats!”

    With one of our yearlings, I did just a bit of basic work using scratches as a reward, before he had figured out how to eat treats.



    • Mary,

      Thank you for your very kind replies!

      God bless,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: