Extinction of behavior takes time to work. Today I’ll share some thoughts on speeding up the process through behavior replacement.
First, a quick review: With operant conditioning, “bad” behavior can be modified through punishment (creating an unpleasant consequence) or extinction (eliminating the reinforcement). Punishment is a perfectly good tool in the hands of a confident and experienced trainer, but many horse owners make matters worse through half-hearted or poorly timed responses to their horse’s naughtiness. Extinction may work better for them if they can figure out how the horse is getting rewarded and eliminate that.
Still, it takes a while for unrewarded behavior to die out completely. To speed the process up, get your horse working on something good, or as John Lyons might say, replace the bad behavior with good behavior.
For example, suppose your horse fidgets and paws the ground when he’s tied. Here are some possible responses from you:
This last option is a way of supercharging the extinction principle by replacing bad behavior with good. Thanks to John Lyons for teaching me this, and for teaching me to always have a positive job ready for my horse to do, just in case I need it.
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