More than a reinforcer

by | Jun 22, 2019 | Klog | 1 comment

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.

Join us in person, or online and find the power of your reinforcers.

Key Reading

The Spaces Between

At the heart of learner-centred education, the teacher acts as a guide whose role is to elicit rather than to impart, and learners quickly become empowered and equipped to transfer their knowledge and skills to new scenarios.

In praise of naughty dogs

.. a desire for solutions to problems that weren’t problems until someone else outside of the relationship suggested they were.

50 years a student of sheepdogs

In recognition of my half-century of being a student of collies I want to celebrate their skills as masters of my learning.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

No room for mechanics

If your ambition is to have good mechanics in communication to animals then you may find yourself blocked into a tight corner

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

Chasm opening up?

The more I see “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics the more I am moving further away from the general view of living with dogs.

Normal is always changing

What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

News on courses, articles and stuff you don't want to miss.