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

What Words Conceal

The language across all kinds of media paints a picture of dogs and our relationships with them.

Location is Their Cue

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome – the dog can place feet on the object or settle down. But at the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where this is happening in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

Cue Seeking is Connection

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are.

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

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