Building a bank of reinforcers
Conditioning a large variety of reinforcers will create variety in training sessions. You want as much variety in training sessions as possible to prevent boredom and to give you an edge when faced with high level distractions.
Toys- Tugs, squeakies, balls, Frisbees, balloons, water squirts, food inside a thrown toy… Can you think of more?
Activities- getting to skateboard, getting to chase you, getting to go in the car to go for a ride, agility, and tricks.
Real Life rewards- getting to chase bunnies/birds, getting to play with a dog, going outside, sniffing bushes on walks, and being given the opportunity to run free.
Food- switch your food rewards CONSTANTLY! Reinforcement EQUALS behavior! If your dog is acting bored and slow, its YOUR FAULT! You are not giving the dog the reinforcement required for offering the behavior. Be unpredictable with your reinforcement choice! Hide food toys under your clothes and in your pockets. Have an unpredictable reinforcement hidden somewhere, to surprise your dog with. EVERY behavior your dog does has the possibility of a jackpot! He never knows when it will happen.
Conditioned Secondary Reinforcers/Markers- Clapping, Touching your dog, Jumping, A vocalization- “yay!”, “good girl”, “yipee” and waving your arms can be conditioned as secondary reinforcers. For competition where you are not allowed to talk, you could use a quick loud breath of air to tell your dog that they are doing “so far so good!”. These conditioned reinforcers can be used to mark behavior that is on a variable schedule instead of using a clicker. This is called a keep going signal and lets your dog know that he is on the right track, to keep going, and the reinforcement is coming.
How to use behaviors reinforcing in themselves- Using a behavior that is a conditioned reinforcer to reinforce a behavior chain. Example- teach dog jump into arms as a reward at the end of a routine, or to fetch the leash. Mix behaviors your dog likes to do naturally with the behavior you want your dog to do.
Building a toy as a reward – creating new conditioned reinforcers
- If you have a dog that really likes food as their reinforcement and you would like them to play with a toy instead, here is what you can do.
- Get the toy that you want the dog to play with. Let’s use a tug toy as the example.
- Build the dogs interest in the toy by starting off easy, dog looks at the toy, click and give the food reward.
- Now start asking for more interaction with the toy before the click and treat. So, perhaps the dog will touch it with his nose. Click and treat.
- Then click for the dog taking the toy in his mouth.
- Click for the dog holding it as you pull on the toy.
- Play a small game of tug with it, click and treat.
- You will be building value in the toy by using classical conditioning with the food reward. Soon, the dog will want to play with the toy. However, being that I have done this with my dog Isabelle, she still prefers the food over the toy, but her play drive has improved. The same holds true to Bandit my border collie as I did the opposite with a toy. I have been working on building his food drive by using the same method. But the process is switched, so I give him food, he eats it and I click and reward with the ball, tug or Frisbee.
Pamela Johnson, CPDT-KA