Rewarding behavior: carrots work better than sticks

Rewarding behavior: carrots work better than sticks

These days, animal training is all about positive reinforcement. Instead of punishing animals for what they do wrong, it works better to reward them for things they get right. It might even help calm some anxious steeds.

For example, take a horse with a needle phobia. If the veterinarian comes prepared with a treat, she has a reward to offer if the horse stands still when the syringe appears.

But what if the horse tries to bolt instead? If the veterinarian removes the syringe midway, she’s rewarding that behavior. But if she stands her ground and moves with the animal — taking the syringe away only when the horse stands still — that’s rewarding good behavior.

Granted, positive reinforcement involves a lot of back-and-forth before you reach the sweet spot. But it can be worth the time and effort.

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