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Some idioms ("chase the carrot" / "carrot and stick") and a popular image (as shown below) suggest that you can make a mule move forward (and pull a cart), by placing a carrot or some other food hanging from a stick, in front of its face.

For example, a dictionary of urban idioms explains:

"chase the carrot": attempting to reach the unreachable, in the old days a carrot was tied to a stick in front of a wagon's mule or stubborn horse to make them step forward and walk ahead... they were never able to reach the carrot.

Is this known to really happen so? Have this (or some variation) been used as a practical locomotive trick? (things like the rabbit at dog races don't count; the key is that the animal itself moves the object it's seeking).

carrot without the stick

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    carrot and stick method usually means punishment and reward, aka hitting with the stick and tempting with the carrot – ratchet freak Oct 4 '13 at 13:01
  • Do you need the carrot at all? – Gordon Oct 4 '13 at 13:37
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    I think it is very clear what is being asked. – Kenshin Oct 7 '13 at 10:10
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    @Chris I think you can can get a mule to pull a cart merely by harnessing it to a cart: neither the carrot nor the stick is always necessary. – ChrisW Oct 7 '13 at 22:29
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    @ChrisW, but does the carrot motivate the mule to walk? Can you change the mule's direction by moving the carrot and so on? – Kenshin Oct 8 '13 at 3:10
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Yes it works to coax the animal to move, but probably not as means for consistent forward locomotion. Some evidence:

  • My basic knowledge of animal conditioning tells me it wouldn't work for too long. There must be a reward at least some of the time for any positive conditioning to work. But once conditioned, it might work. There's that old study were a guy conditioned pigeons to peck at a plate until exhaustion. – fredsbend Feb 13 '17 at 21:05

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