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!
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?
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