Types of Reinforcers
Author: Kay Laurence
If behaviour is constantly shifting then the reinforcers and their values are shifting as well. The reinforcer is entirely defined by the effect it has on the behaviour. If the dog is tired, another chase after a ball could be one chase too many, if the dog is full another piece of food make be taken by habit, but make the dog feel more uncomfortable. And at that moment, being allowed to rest becomes the effective reinforcer.
We have many, many different types of reinforcers available and success in using them depends on our skill of being able to apply them appropriately and effectively. This means choosing the right reinforcer that maintains or strengthens the behaviour at that time, in the right quantity.
natural reinforcers (primary reinforcers): that need no previous experience to be reinforcing; such as food, security, using instinctive behaviours, and
learned or associated reinforcers (secondary reinforcers); such as a clicker, a “good boy”, retrieving a ball.
(Chasing the ball is a primary reinforcer, using an instinctive or innate behaviour, but retrieving the ball to a person to elicit another throw would be learned from experience).
We term this reinforcer as functional – it serves to compliment the behaviour that we are wanting to reinforce, not contradict it.
Chasing a lump of chicken is a strong reinforcer for a Gordon Setter.
Stalking a bird is a strong reinforcer for a Gordon Setter.
It is up to the dog to decide which is their reinforcer choice in each situation, we cannot force them to choose what we would wish, or is more convenient to us.