Huisman, I., Van Iwaarden, S., Hughes, E. et al. 2019. Clicker training in horses; the importance of the time between click and reward. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 29, 148. (13th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference Abstract)
Timing of reward is very important when training horses. Incorrect timing can lead to confusion and deleterious behaviors and learning will be impaired. Clicker training can be used as an important tool in training. However, the optimal timing between the secondary and primary reinforcer remains unclear in the scientific literature. Fifteen horses were divided into three treatment groups; all were trained to touch a target through clicker training. Group 1 (n=5) was immediately rewarded after the click, group 2 (n=5) was rewarded 10 seconds after the click and group 3 (n=5) was rewarded 20 seconds after the click. All horses received a maximum of 20 training trials, with a maximum duration of 60 seconds per trial. When the horse touched the target 10 consecutive times with its nose, achieving the training criterion, training trials were stopped. A Kruskal-Wallis pairwise test showed a significant difference in learning a simple behavioral task between groups 1 and 2 (H2=-31.955, P<0.05) and between groups 1 and 3 (H2=-44.819, P<.05). There was no difference found between group 2 and 3. Most horses from group 1 (n=4, 80%) reached the training criterion, two from the five (40%) in group 2 reached criterion and only one from group 3 (20%). The results of this small study suggest that immediate delivery of primary reinforcement is most effective and that as the time increases between the secondary and primary reinforcers, learning efficiency declines. These results confirm that timing is important for the efficacy of secondary reinforcement.