Category Archives: Dog Training

Motivating Operations & Jambo’s Hierachy of Rewards

What is a Motivating Operation and how do motivating operations impact a dog’s Hierarchy of Rewards?  A Motivating Operation is an event that increases or decreases the reinforcing value of a stimulus change and therefore increases or decreases the likelihood of the discriminative stimulus to evoke the behavior. Motivating Operations affect the ‘value’ of the reinforcer.  Motivating operations are environmental events or stimulus conditions that affect an animal’s behavior by altering the reinforcing or punishing effectiveness of other environmental events and the frequency of occurrence of that behavior relevant to those events as consequences. Motivating Operations is another way of saying motivation.

Food is more reinforcing to an animal when the animal is hungry. The animal is going to be more motivated to work to gain access to food. However, as I previously mentioned, in my article, The Hierarchy of Rewards is Not Static, I always advise against withholding food.  Not only is this unethical it could be dangerous, even leading to hypoglycaemia in small dogs. Free feeding is not a good idea when using food as reinforcement but I would recommend feeding for example half a meal prior to training – that leaves a full half to use in your training session!  Peak performance will occur when the dog is motivated but not if he is so hungry he can’t think clearly!  Free access to all toys all of the time can be counter-productive to using a toy as reinforcement but this can be overcome by keeping a specific toy for training only. This is ‘your’ toy and when not in use can be kept hidden away in a cupboard, thus increasing the ‘value’ of the toy to the learner.  A dog that has just spent the last hour chasing around will find the training game and any reinforcement (other than a bed) of less value than a dog who is rested and ready to exercise. Crating the dog for thirty minutes prior to training can therefore act as an establishing operation improving the effectiveness or ‘value’ of the reinforcer.  Long periods of crating are, however, to be avoided.

Some deprivation, limited access to certain resources, will work but excessive deprivation is not only less effective, it is unethical.  Always ending a training session on a high note will also serve as motivation as the learner is left wanting more.  As previously mentioned, in part two of this three part article, there are also other variables that affect reinforcement such as the animal’s previous learning experiences and competing contingencies, when reinforcers are available for other kinds of behavior.

The main thing to remember is that just because you think something will serve to reinforce a behavior, doesn’t mean that it will do so in all conditions or with all individuals.  Some dogs will do just about anything if you throw a tennis ball for them to chase (unless they have just chased after 20 balls) while others would much rather lie under a tree while you go and retrieve the ball yourself!

Would a tired Jambo want to play with his boomer ball?

The things that Jambo places at the top of his Hierarchy of Rewards will not be the same for other dogs. Some of the dogs in my classes love playing tug, some love fetching balls, some love playing with other dogs, some love jumping in the paddling pool. Others do not! 

Many people insist that their learner should work for praise and that they don’t want to give their dogs food to train them.  My response is two-fold. Firstly, all dogs need to eat to survive so I would like to think we are going to feed them. The first of the Five Freedoms is Freedom from Hunger and Thirst and at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep – those things that we need to survive. All animals are motivated by these needs (A Dog’s Hierarchy of Rewards).  Why not make use of food in our training?  Secondly, I like to give an example which usually goes something like this:  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 it when I praise him enthusiastically and I do think this is important for his self-esteem.  He also loves to share a cuddle with me, as do many of the dogs that come to my classes, but that doesn’t mean that he or any of my student’s dogs would want to ‘work’ for them. One or two repetitions? Yes, my cuddles probably have enough ‘value’ but five down-stays at 20 meters surrounded by other dogs and people?

Tessa and Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards are not alike.

Jambo’s top of the hierarchy reinforcer (most of the time) is his boomer ball – If he were tired or hungry then his bed or a nice stuffed Kong might usurp the boomer ball’s position on his individual Hierarchy of Rewards, at that particular time. If I had been travelling and Jambo had been deprived of my presence, then kisses and cuddles with me might jump to the top of his hierarchy.  Jambo’s ‘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 Tessa, 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 was his ‘tugga’ but, as you will see from the graphic below, it’s of quite low value to Jambo.

The graphic below does not include all the food items that we use as reinforcers as there are so many, but I have attempted to include the main ones. At the lowest level of Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards are tug toys, tennis balls and kibble.  My neighbor’s dog, Joey, would without doubt, place tennis balls right at the top of his Hierarchy of Rewards! Playtime with his ‘big sister’, ham, cheese and banana all beat the previous level and they are followed by home-made sweet potato crisps, hotdogs with gooey cheese inside and dehydrated beef heart.  Playtime with my nephews would compete with all three of these levels in Jambo’s personal hierarchy. Squeezy cheese, meatballs, roast chicken, sardines and peanut butter come into play to reinforce behaviors that call for a very high value reinforcer – I make good use of them all when training operant behaviors such as recalls and during respondent counter-conditioning sessions.

If depicting Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards as a pyramid, his boomer ball would be at the peak.  However, as reinforcers are variable, steak and even bed time will occasionally be more appealing than a boomer ball. As previously mentioned, I too occasionally make it to the top of Jambo’s Hierachy of Rewards, especially if deprivation comes into play.  When, for example, I return after a period of absence, access to me would hold the highest value to him.  Although he would struggle to contain his enthusiasm to rush outside and greet me, good use could be made of the Premack Principle in which a more desired behavior serves to reinforce a lesser desired one and Jambo would sit at the door, spin, twist, get the washing out or jump right over his boomer ball in order to gain access to me.  However, better still, what if I were to greet him with his boomer ball? Steak served on a boomer ball? A boomer ball at bed-time? At some point, even Jambo would become satiated and the boomer ball would begin to lose some of its magical power!

Could that lower value kibble ever beat the ham and cheese or even the roast chicken?  Yes, absolutely. If I were to deliver the former with unbounded enthusiasm, praise and pride and were to use a powerful reinforcement strategy such as the Run and Get It game, I could add a lot of ‘value’ to the kibble.  If I were to deliver the latter (the cheese, ham or chicken) thoughtlessly, with little interaction, in an off-hand, detached manner, I could take away some of its ‘value’.  It is not just the stimulus we use, nor the circumstances in which we use it that dictate the ‘value’. The way that stimulus is delivered is very powerful.

My students often ask me why their learners respond more enthusiastically to me and seem willing to work much harder for me than for them even when I am using the same reinforcer.  The answer is multi-faceted.  Motivating Operations come into play and I become part of the reinforcement consequence. It is no longer just a piece of chicken. It is a piece of chicken delivered by one of their favorite people; a piece of chicken delivered by someone they have limited access to – their dogs have access to them most of the time but only have access to me once or twice a week – deprivation increases my ‘value’.  It is a piece of chicken soaked in smiles, happiness and pride in their achievement. It is a piece of chicken than engenders a positive emotional response. I always interact with my learners in a playful way whereas ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ are sometimes slightly less enthusiastic.  I endeavor to celebrate even the smallest of achievements whereas the guardians sometimes find it hard to see beyond what they believe their pets should really being doing and often deliver the same reinforcer while despondently saying things like ‘Why won’t he do it like that for me?’  The lack of enthusiasm deducts ‘value’, often so quickly and effectively that the student simply stops working.

It is also appropriate to note that if I wanted to teach a precision behavior, using a ‘top of the hierarchy’ reinforcer or simply an ‘inappropriate’ reinforcer could work against me. Yes, a boomer ball might add more speed and animation to a behavior but it might also interfere with the learning process, making it difficult for my learner to concentrate on the task at hand. I can get a lot of repetitions with small pieces of food, it would be impossible to do so if my reinforcer were for example, going for a ride in a car or chasing after a tennis ball. These might serve to ‘reward’ my learner but I might not succeed in reinforcing the precise behavior I want.

Here are some examples of Primary Reinforcers (food) that can be used to positively reinforce desired behaviors (there are many more of course): Apple. Bacon. Banana. Beef wieners/hotdog sausages. Beef Jerky. Bread crust. Canned cat food. Carrots. Cat treats. Cheerios/cereal. Cheese. Chicken. Chicken wieners. Croutons. Crackers. Dog biscuits. Dried liver. Eating dinner. Fortune cookie. Freeze dried liver. Ground beef. Ham. Hamburger. Hard boiled eggs. Hotdogs (with cheese). Ice cream. Ice cubes. Kibble (dry dog food). Lamb roll. Licorice. Liver cookies. Meatballs. Oinker Roll/Sausage Roll. Peanut butter. Pizza crust. Popcorn. Pureed liver. Sausages. Sardines. Squeezy cheese. Steak. String cheese. Sweet potato crisps. Water to drink.

Here are some examples of Secondary Reinforcers – things dogs may enjoy because they have been conditioned with a primary reinforcer.

TOYS ACTIVITIES SPORTS & TRICKS

*Ball on a rope *Bicycle tires *Boomer ball *Bungee toy *Fleece pieces *Jolly Ball *Kongs *Nylabone *Safestix and many more including:

*Sock with ball *Squeaky toy *Stuffed Animal *Tug Toy *Target stick *Tennis ball

*Back scratch *Barking session *Belly rub *Car Ride *Chase game *Clapping & cheering *Cuddling *Flirt pole *Fly ball and many more including:

*Football/Soccer (chasing balls) *Playtime with you *Playtime with a friend *Swimming *Trip to training class *Tracking *Tugging *Walk

Agility: *A-Frame *Dog Walk *Jumps *Seesaw *Tunnel

Tricks: *Bow *Go back *Hand touch *High Five *Jumping in arms *Leg weaves *Peekaboo  *Rolling over *Shake-a-paw *Spin-around *Twist

For a comprehensive list of tricks to teach, please see DogNostics TrickMeister Titles

There are many other toys and objects that your dog will love! A puppy might place a leaf blowing in the wind at the top of his Hierarchy of Rewards! Please remember that just because I have listed the above activities it does not mean that your dog will place them on his Hierarchy of Rewards. Some dogs love to swim, some don’t! There are many other sports. Try out different activities and you are sure to find something your dog loves. I successfully use some of the tricks I have taught Jambo to reinforce other behaviors.

To conclude, I would advise everyone to draw up a Hierarchy of Rewards for their pet and spend time thinking about all the different food, objects and life events that can be used as reinforcement consequences both in training sessions and in daily interactions.  Spend time learning what your student enjoys as no two individuals’ Hierarchies of Rewards will be the same. Please remember that once drawn up, the Hierarchy of Rewards is not static – Every individual’s Hierarchy is variable.  Although I can safely say that Jambo’s ‘top gun’ reinforcer is his boomer ball, that does not mean it is always appropriate for the specific behavior I wish to reinforce or for the specific environment in which I wish to reinforce that behavior.

This is the third and final part of a series of three posts from my article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.

This article has also been published as a DogSmith blog and through DogNostics Career Center

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The Hierarchy of Rewards is Not Static

In 2014, I published a blog post entitled Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards in which I discussed the different reinforcers I use when training and the ‘value’ they have for my learner.  In my article entitled Rewards and Positive Reinforcement – Are they the same?  I discussed the meaning of rewards versus reinforcement. In this article I would like to take a look at “hierarchies”.

When needs are not being met, animals will be motivated to try and fulfil those needs.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us. The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:

  1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep. The things that we need to survive. All animals are motivated by these needs. If we are hungry we will want to eat, if we are thirsty, we will want to drink.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. Not having these needs met can lead to stress and anxiety and even to aggressive responses in an effort to protect ourselves
  3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work). The need for us to communicate with others and interact with others. If this need isn’t met we can become depressed and anxious. The same is true of animals.
  4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g. status, prestige).
  5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b) as follows:

  1. Biological and physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Love and belongingness needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. The need to understand and a desire to know things.
  6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
  7. Self-actualization needs
  8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self. e.g. mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, a religious faith etc. (McLeod, 2017)

Why is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory important?  It has made a big impact on how we teach and manage our students in school. We know that behavior is a response to the environment but Maslow’s hierarchy also looks at the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs and how they impact learning. The hierarchy also clearly shows us that before an individual’s cognitive needs can be met, we must fulfil the basic physiological needs. I often tell my clients that although we want to use food as reinforcement that does not mean that I want anyone to not feed their dog.  A hungry learner will find it very difficult to focus on learning!  I also believe we should show our learners, both human and canine, that they are valued and respected and ensure we work with them in a safe and supportive environment.  We need to meet the esteem needs of all our students so that they can quickly progress with their learning!

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Pet Professional Guild member, Linda Michaels, is a hierarchical model of wellness and behavior modification in which first we meet our dogs’ biological, emotional and social needs and, once these foundational needs have been met, we use management, antecedent modification, positive and differential reinforcement, counter-conditioning and desensitization to modify behavior.

Although not a hierarchy, before I get back to my Hierarchy of Rewards, I would like to mention Brambell’s Five Freedoms, which put responsibility on the animal care taker to make sure they provide animals with a good welfare environment.  I learned about the Five Freedoms and other animal welfare frameworks as part of my Animal Behaviour and Welfare course, University of Edinburgh.

In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation, led by Professor Roger Brambell, into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. The Brambell Report stated that:  “An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom Itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs”. This short recommendation became known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms. Because of the report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created to monitor the livestock production sector. In July 1979, this was replaced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and by the end of that year, the five freedoms had been codified into the recognizable list format. Although developed for farm animals, Brambell’s Five Freedoms can be adapted to pets. The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
    By ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort
    By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
    By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Display Natural Behavior
    By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress
    By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

In addition to Brambell’s Five Freedoms other animal welfare frameworks such as the Duty of Care Concept need to be foremost in our minds when caring for and working with any animal. The Duty of Care Concept focuses on providing animals with a safe happy environment which they can enjoy and encourages legal responsibility for those animals.

Now back to Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards (Stapleton-Frappell, 2013)  If you have read everything above, you will understand that before beginning any training, the trainer should make sure that the learner’s basic needs are met. The trainer can then make use of both primary and secondary reinforcers but must bear in mind that the ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider as, although I use the name Hierarchy of Rewards, I am referring to a hierarchy of positive reinforcement consequences.

The ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider

Whether teaching Jambo or any other learner a new behavior, or reinforcing behaviors that have previously been taught, I use that learner’s own personal ‘hierarchy of rewards’.  Each individual’s hierarchy includes lower ‘value’ reinforcers which are consequence stimuli that will serve to reinforce simple known behaviors in that individual’s home environment or other non-distracting environments; medium ‘value’ reinforcers which will serve to reinforce slightly more difficult behaviors or behaviors in slightly more demanding environments, and finally, high ‘value’ reinforcers – those reinforcers that are at the ‘top of the tree’, the real ‘top guns’  that we use to reinforce more demanding behaviors and behaviors in environments where there are a lot of competing stimuli.

My go-to reinforcer when teaching a new behavior or when I need lots of repetitions is always food – small pieces of tasty, easy to chew and easy to swallow food – as I can deliver it quickly and maintain a high rate of reinforcement. It is also more effective to use smaller reinforcements more frequently rather than large reinforcements less often. However, I also make good use of ‘non-food’ items, which include everything from balls to tug toys to life rewards –  access to things my learner wants, such as going outside, sniffing a patch of grass, greeting someone…  Whether using food or non-food reinforcers, primary or secondary reinforcers, one thing is certain – reinforcers are not all equal and the ‘value’ of an individual reinforcer is not static. The ‘value’ to the learner will change depending on such factors as:

  • The behavior itself – The behaviors, as determined by the animal’s ability to do them and its biological pre-disposition to behave in certain ways, are easier or more difficult to reinforce. Behavior that depends on smooth muscles and glands is harder to reinforce than is behavior that depends on skeletal muscles. (Chance, Learning and Behavior, 2013)
  • The individual’s preferences
  • Previous learning history
  • The Setting Events and Motivating Operations

There are variables affecting reinforcement and affecting the value of each reinforcer at any given time, in different environments and with different individuals.  We also need to bear in mind that If we use the higher ‘value’ reinforcers too frequently for easy behaviors in non-distracting environments, we could find that not only will our learner no longer be motivated to ‘work’ for lower value reinforcers, but also that we dilute the value of those reinforcers that were previously at the top of the Hierarchy, making them less effective in more demanding situations or with more demanding behaviors.  We should make sure that we have a variety of reinforcers on all levels of our learner’s Hierarchy so that we have something to call upon of appropriate value in all situations. Varying the reinforcement consequence that is offered, will also help to overcome satiation – at some point, we have all eaten enough of that delicious cake but that doesn’t mean that we would say no to an ice-cold bottle of beer!

Although each individual will have their own Hierarchy of Rewards, neither Jambo nor any other learner’s Hierarchy of Rewards is static.  What works as a reinforcer one day may be of little interest to the same learner the next day.

The Hierarchy of Rewards

If Jambo were reasonably hungry and we were working in a non-distracting environment, he would probably find kibble (dry dog food) to be of sufficient ‘value’ and it would serve as an adequate reinforcement consequence.  If, however, we were to try and do that same behavior in a more distracting environment, at a greater distance or perhaps when Jambo had just eaten, then the kibble would have very little, if any ‘value’ and would not serve to positively reinforce a behavior.  If Jambo were in a playful mood then his tug toy would have a much higher value than if he were tired and ready for bed. An opportunity to sniff a nice patch of grass might serve to reinforce the behavior of coming close to me on a nice summer’s evening but on a dark and wet winter’s night, the opposite would be true –  If I wanted Jambo to leave my side and go to the grass, then it might be returning to my side and the protection of my umbrella that would serve as a reinforcer but maybe even that would not be of high enough ‘value’ and he would simply decide not to carry out the behavior. Perhaps performing ‘send-aways’ in the rain, calls for roast chicken?

This is the second in a series of three posts from my article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.  Part one can be found here:  Rewards and Positive Reinforcement – Are they the same?  In part three we will take a closer look at motivating operations; Jambo’s personal Hierarchy of Rewards, and some of the primary and secondary reinforcers we can all make use of in our training

This article has also been published as a DogSmith blog and through DogNostics Career Center with the title: A Dog’s Hierarchy of Rewards

Rewards and Reinforcement – Are they the same?

The language we use when discussing our training methods can sometimes be slightly misleading.  Much discussion is given to the use of terms such as force-free, rewards based and positive reinforcement.  Sometimes there will be shared-meaning and at other times, these terms will be used and attributed to diametrically opposed training methods.  The words ‘reward’ and ‘positive reinforcement’ are often used to describe the same process but are they really the same?

Let’s begin with a definition of reinforcement and a few other terms you are likely to come across when reading about rewards based, science based, force-free training. The term to reinforce means to strengthen and it is used in behavioral psychology to refer to a stimulus which strengthens or increases the probability of a specific response.  Behavior is the function of its consequences and reinforcement strengthens the likelihood of a behavior.  To qualify as reinforcement an experience must have three characteristics:  First, the behavior must have a consequence.  Second, the behavior must increase in strength (e.g. occur more often).  Third, the increase in strength must be a result of the consequence (Chance, 2013 )

When comparing rewards to reinforcement, I am referring to one of the quadrants of operant conditioning:  positive reinforcement. Positive means that a stimulus is added. With positive reinforcement, a behavior is followed by a stimulus (which the subject seeks out/will work to receive) which reinforces the behavior that precedes it, resulting in an increase in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of that behavior. To clarify, a reinforcer is a stimulus that, when it occurs in conjunction with a behavior and is contingent on that behavior, it makes that behavior occur more often. But what if the behavior doesn’t increase in frequency, strength or duration? What if the behavior continues to occur with the same frequency or occurs less often?  In this case, we can reliably say that the consequence stimulus would not qualify as reinforcement.

Is a reward the same as a reinforcer?  The simple answer is no, it is not.  Although, when simplifying our language, it is often useful to advise our clients to mark and reward (click and treat/mark and pay), a reward and a reinforcer/reinforcement consequence are not the same. Let’s look at the definition of a reward:

  • A thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement
  • A sum offered for information leading to the solving of a crime, the detection of a criminal, etc. (Oxford University Press, 2017)

The key here is in the definition. I may be given something in recognition of my hard work but that does not necessarily mean that I will work harder in the future.  If my reward for all the extra hours I worked were a simple thank you – would that act as reinforcement?  What about if my reward for all the hours I worked were a big cash bonus – would that serve as a reinforcement consequence?

A Reward – A thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.

A reward may or may not positively reinforce a behavior. There are a few reasons why, one being that the giver of the reward is who decides what to give and denotes it as a reward.  The recipient might not be quite so enthusiastic about the perceived reward.  Jambo (my Staffordshire Bull Terrier) and I were once rewarded with a ‘beautiful’ trophy for taking first place in an event at a local competition.  The trophy went on to take pride of place hidden away in a cupboard!  Did the trophy act as a reinforcer?  As a result of that consequence (being rewarded with a trophy), did Jambo and I enter more competitions/try to win more competitions?  No. The reward was only ‘beautiful’ in the eye of the giver. The recipient of the reward thought otherwise, hence its ubication – hiding out in the back of a cupboard!

Rewards often come with some sort of judgement on the person or animal they are directed at whereas reinforcers are linked to the behavior not the giver nor the recipient.  Just like rewards, reinforcers can be delivered by people but they can also be delivered by the environment. Suppose for example that one morning your dog manages to slip out of the door and chase the neighbor’s cat. The dog has a wonderful time and the next morning flies out of the door as soon as it is opened.  That one act of joyfully chasing the neighbor’s cat has effectively reinforced rushing out of the door as soon as it is opened! If the neighbor’s cat never ventures into your yard again, the behavior may undergo extinction but this is unlikely as the act of running at full speed out of the door and across the yard is undoubtedly self-reinforcing – offering intrinsic reinforcement and serving as wonderful motivation!  What if the behavior is put on a variable schedule of reinforcement i.e. the cat is occasionally available to be chased?  You can probably guess the answer. The behavior of rushing out of the door will go from strength to strength as it is being extrinsically reinforced in the same way as playing on a slot-machine is – you know that if you keep playing, you are sure to win again at some point!

Now, just because I have clarified that rewards and positive reinforcement consequences are not the same, that does not mean I am never going to tell people to reward their dog.  I also tell people to pay their dog.  That doesn’t mean I want my clients to throw a wad of cash at their dogs and my clients know that!  My clients are intelligent people and some may wish to delve deeper into the world of behavioral science but many are happy to stick with the world of click and treat or mark and reward. Naming the reinforcement ‘pyramid’ the Hierarchy of Rewards serves a good purpose in that it makes it more easily understandable for everyone, whether pet industry professional or pet dog guardian.  However, as pet industry professionals, I do believe that we should have a clear understanding of terms such as ‘positive reinforcement’ and recognize that just because we have ‘rewarded’ a dog with a throw of a ball or a tasty treat, that does not necessarily mean we have positively reinforced the behavior.  Only the future will tell us that!

This is the first of a series of three posts from my article:  “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.

This article has also been published as a DogSmith blog and through DogNostics Career Center