Fast and high rate
3 min read
I wonder if we are not using our language or descriptions clearly enough, and equally just assuming what “fast” means.
One of the crept-in-when-we-weren’t-looking jargon to litter up the system is “high rate of reinforcement”. I no longer think the original context or purpose of that phrase is used and it has become to mean something else.
As instruction passes blog-to-blog (a blog that needs a visit to a transmitted disease clinic?) it changes understanding and easily gets truncated.
“Dogs greet each other by sniffing genitals”. This is true, but it has morphed through the blog-to-blog disease with truncation of the second part of the sentence: “when offered”. If those genitals are not being waved around for access, THEN THEY SHOULD NOT BE SNIFFED. Neither mine, or any dog that keeps their genitals secured should have them sniffed.
A rate of reinforcement, or a rate of anything can only be measured when we know what it is measured against.
A “high rate of reinforcement” absolutely does not mean fast. It means a rate relative to the number of behaviours occurring. This is not measured in numbers per minute. A tortoise can have a high rate of reinforcement with one behaviour, one delivery per minute. If a leg moves (12 seconds) and it is marked, and a piece of lettuce delivered, that animal may take 40 seconds to eat that reinforcer.
This term “high rate of reinforcement” was born as an antidote to the life-sucking process of waiting for the animal to offer the desired behaviour. This means that animal could “offer” (try without success) 18 behaviours before hitting the choice desired by the trainer. For any learner this is an appalling way to learn with absolutely zero guidance. For the sensitive learner is means school is a living nightmare. The aim for a high rate of reinforcement is to encourage a high rate of success by changing the criteria or expectation, adding guidance so that the learner experienced success. Only success, not life-sucking failure.
“Clicks per minute” are again only comparative to what was happening in the previous minutes. But without knowing how long a reinforcement process takes, measuring by clicks per minute is irrelevant. The behaviour may stay the same or improve, but if we have changed the pattern of reinforcement delivery and the dog needs to travel further to receive the treat, then the number of clicks per minute is going to reduce. We should be examining how the behaviour is carried out and measuring progress in quality, flow, and confidence. NOT speed within a time frame.
The “fast” and “high rate”, need to be used in relation to a measurable scale.
A runner can be going fast, their legs are moving fast, but they may not be covering the ground “fast”, ie at a speed considered fast for that person measured by the distance covered in a specific time – miles per hour. What may be fast for a 22 year old athlete, is not for a 55 year old non-athlete. It is a comparative term.
The reinforcement process should begin promptly, that does not imply “fast”. The marker allows you to specify the process is about to begin, but the process may be thoughtful, not fast, but effective. Or it can be exciting, arousing and short. Research showed us that without a prompt start to the reinforcement process the learner was unable to relate the reinforcer to the behaviour.
The reinforcement process is greater than consumption. This is where anticipation is under-used.
Fast feeding as a diversion
When we need a feeding process as a diversion, I would plan to make that quite a lengthy, slow, engaging activity. I have seen too often that it is used when the trainer is on the edge of panic and the process becomes frenetic and transmit that state to the dog.
We should be super careful in our descriptions and double check what we understand it to mean. So often the original intention is lost, or the term is misused or truncated. Progress is then built on misinformation. A learner is a class of many may not stand out as one of the future influencers of training protocols. All learners should be treated with the same potential and given accurate information, not that quick pass along that is poorly explained.
“What do I understand that to mean?”
This should be a common question to ask of ourselves and of our learners, and ask it frequently.
Check, check and double check