Whether teaching Jambo new behaviours or reinforcing ones he already knows, we implement a “hierarchy of rewards”.
There are “lower level” reinforcers that are fine at home without any distractions or when reinforcing a behaviour that he finds very easy to do and there are those reinforcers that are at the “top of the tree”, the real “big guns” that we use to reinforce something very difficult.
Small pieces of food are the main reinforcer/reward we use as I can deliver it to his mouth quickly and therefore maintain a high rate of reinforcement but we also use certain “non-food” items, which include everything from balls to tug toys, access to things he wants and even people!
Jambo’s “hierarchy of rewards” isn’t static. What he finds rewarding one day might be of little interest to him the next. If he were reasonably hungry and in a non distracting environment he would probably find kibble/dry dog food reinforcing for a behaviour. If, however, we were to try and do that same behaviour in a more distracting environment, at a greater distance or perhaps when he had just eaten, then the kibble would be of very little, if any, value. If Jambo was in a playful mood then his tug toy would have a much higher value than if he was ready for bed!
The main thing to remember is that just because because you think something is a “reward”, it doesn’t mean that your dog does! Some dogs will do just about anything if you throw a tennis ball for them to chase, while others would much rather that you go and get it yourself!
How enthusiastically would you work if your boss said that he wasn’t going to pay you anything and that, in future, you would just receive a pat on the back? Perhaps, worse still, that, as his subordinate, you would just have to do as you were told? You might still do the work (especially if you thought you might be punished for not doing it) but would you be happy and would you work with enthusiasm? Jambo loves to share a “cuddle” with me but that doesn’t mean he would want to “work” for them! A cuddle from “Nando” though, who he doesn’t see very frequently…
The things that Jambo places at the top of his hierarchy will not be the same for your dog! His “big sister”, Tessa has no inclination whatsoever to play with a “boomer ball” and it would therefore not even make it onto her “hierarchy of rewards”. For her, kibble (dried dog food) would hold much greater value! One of Tessa’s biggest value reinforcers is going out for a ride in the car! Our last Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s highest value reinforcer/reward was his “tugga” but, as you can see from the following table, it’s actually of quite low value to Jambo. The table does not include all of the food items that we use as reinforcers as there are so many, but I have attempted to include the main ones.
I think you will all be surprised at what is at the top of Jambo’s hierarchy!
Jambo’s highest value reinforcer: “The Nando Boomer” by Jambo® coming to your high street soon!
Jambo’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/StaffyChampion.
Jambo and Tessa’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/dogtricksonline.