How Animals Learn Course Review – Rosie Watson

What is the course about?

The How Animals Learn Course focuses on learning theory, so classical and operant conditioning, and habituation. All animals learn in this way including humans, and so anyone who works with any different type of animal can learn something from taking part in this course. Max specialises in horse behaviour and training, but can apply the science of behaviour change to any animal. There is a mix of practical and theory sessions, in the practical sessions, depending on where the course takes place and the weather, involves training Max’s own horses or horses at the facility or if the weather is bad then Max brings out some glove puppets and trains those instead.

What did I learn:

I learnt about how to change an unwanted behaviour without the use of force. Learning this was extremely valuable as it means the unwanted behaviour stops but the animal doesn’t associate you with anything bad happening and still the animal wants to try new things; the animal doesn’t lose the sparkle in its eye when it sees you. I also learnt that positive reinforcement can be used in all aspects of horse owning and management which not very many people think is viable but with this 2-day course it will become apparent. Motivation is also a key aspect in animal training which is covered extensively in this course, learning about how to motivate an animal into wanting to perform a behaviour using positive reinforcement is the most fun for both human and animal, and learning how to do it correctly is invaluable. The course also covered extensively the four quadrants of operant learning and examined all of them in everyday events, this made me realise how much is going on in our environment that causes a change in our behaviour even if it is a little green flashing sign that says thank you for driving slowly!


What I liked about it:

I really liked how interactive it was and how Max made sure we all understood all aspects of the slide before moving on to the next. The four quadrants of operant learning were explained using real life applications, which made it easy to retain for everyone. Max answered all questions with ease and explained it very clearly showing what an expert she really is in the subject. She is very aware that people have different ways of understanding information and caters to all. Having breaks in the middle of theory sessions to go and train some animals either real or toy broke the information up and made it enjoyable as well and let you talk about what you have just learnt with other people. I also really liked how Max gave people confidence to ask questions and input into the conversations and made everyone feel involved, but without any pressure to join in. As well as having a presentation on the screen Max also drew lots of pictures and graphs and annotated them so it was easier for us to visualise what is happening.

What I will do differently because of the course:

The major thing that I will do differently having been on this course is that if an animal of any species does a behaviour that I do not want, I will be able to change it into a behaviour I do want without the use of aversives and at the same time make sure that the animal still wants to be with me and likes spending time with me, which if you do with aversives the animal will most likely not want to be with you afterwards, as you have forcefully made them perform a behaviour they haven’t wanted to perform. Because of this course I will constantly be looking at why an animal is behaving in a certain way and to look at what could possibly be reinforcing or punishing certain behaviours to make it behave in the way it does, including looking at my own behaviour and see what is reinforcing me to behave in that way.

I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn how to improve their training and the welfare of their animals. Even if you don’t have any animals to train this course also works for humans!! : – )

Max is a great teacher who wants to educate students and in doing so doesn’t make you feel stupid for asking simple questions. She encourages you to ask if you are unsure of any part and wants you to learn.