Using differential reinforcement to improve equine welfare: shaping appropriate truck loading and feet handling

Behav Processes. 2011 Mar;86(3):329-39. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2011.02.001. Epub 2011 Feb 15.


Inappropriate behavior during common handling procedures with horses is often subject to aversive treatment. The present study replicated and extended previous findings using differential reinforcement to shape appropriate equine handling behavior. In Study 1, a multiple baseline across subjects design was used with four horses to determine first the effects of shaping target-touch responses and then successive approximations of full truck loading under continuous and intermittent schedules of reinforcement. Full loading responses were shaped and maintained in all four horses and occurrences of inappropriate behaviors reduced to zero. Generalization of the loading response was also observed to both a novel trainer and trailer. In Study 2, a changing criterion design was used to increase the duration of feet handling with one horse. The horse's responding reached the terminal duration criterion of 1min and showed consistent generalization and one-week maintenance. Overall, the results of both studies support the use of applied equine training systems based on positive reinforcement for increasing appropriate behavior during common handling procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Association Learning
  • Behavior Control / methods*
  • Behavior Control / psychology*
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Handling, Psychological*
  • Horses / psychology*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Reinforcement Schedule*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology