More than a reinforcer

by | Jun 22, 2019 | Klog | 1 comment

3 min read

Early days of exploring the process of reinforcement to maintain or strengthen a behaviour were limited to the simplest mechanism to deliver a pellet. The restrictions of research experiments and absence of other forms, or view, of what may constitute reinforcement should have been left behind as soon as we began to train our friends, or dogs, animals that share our lives.

We have a very rich range of rewards available and should make use of them at every opportunity. It saddens me to see the mechanical click-treat-and-be-done protocols heavily promoted as “training with reinforcement”. Perhaps it should be “training with the least amount of effort from the person as possible”.

A common question is “what if the dog doesn’t train for food?” Then I would be seriously question what an earth has happened to stop that process being an event of pleasure for the dog?

Treat training is not just about supplying food or having a hungry dog.

The delivery of that treat can become a highly valued process, eagerly sought by the dog because the delivery involves so much more than “dump-and-swallow”.

It involves engagement from Their Person, who is probably the most valuable resource in that dog’s life – the person that enjoys their company, gives affection, provides security and a sense of belonging. To deliver a treat AND LOOK AWAY, is an insult. Like shaking hands on greeting but talking to another person at the same time. It completely devalues the process, but I see it far too regularly.

Just delivering a treat is not enough.

We can add rewarding activities that the dog enjoys, catching, chasing. We can add anticipation, a choice process, and increase the value of that dry piece of beef.

Magnifying the value of the reinforcement process, increasing the time of enjoyment, builds the power that drives the behaviour.

The cue-seeking effect where the dog needs little prompting.

The behaviour that builds its own energy and pleasure.

A behaviour that contains animation, joy and so much more than a mechanical response.


If we seek to teach, then we need to become masters of the reinforcement process, not masters of behaviour manipulation.

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