I think that was a title from a class I took recently.
Reinforcement is a big word for a very easy concept. But one that is usually overlooked. Reinforcement in dog training simply means pay your dog.
Dog does something, reinforce it.
If your dog sits during a training session, you would absolutely give him a cookie. But what are you doing the other 167 hours of the week? Has your dog figured out the game? Do they only listen in class, or when you have the bucket of cookies and the clicker in hand?
Dogs do what works for them. Does it work for you? A kibble is a small price to pay for making sure your dog is being rewarded for the things you like.
Follow this example
This is a common one in my house. Dog steals sock. Dog takes off running with sock. Human chases dog all over the house and out the dog door in the rain, to get said sock back. In my house, we reinforced bringing sock to human to trade for a cookie. Now, “can I have that” means spit out sock to get cookie. Maybe one day I will teach her to bring the sock to me. (life goals)
Many many reinforcement strategies in this situation. To Cargo, the sock is a fun toy. It’s stinky, and it flops around when she bites it.
I don’t want holes chewed in my socks, so early on we taught a “trade” for food. Food is a better reinforcement than the sock, so it worked. If I were to chase Cargo around the house to wrestle her for the sock, then sock would become an even better reinforcement because Malinois love to tug, and I would lose a sock everytime. (Not reinforcing for me!) For a reinforcement strategy to work it has to benefit all the parties involved. Because food is the better reinforcer in this situation, I have food in small containers stashed all over my house.
Dogs do what works for them
If I had chased Cargo all over the house to get the sock back, I would be reinforcing the “stealing sock” behavior. Chasing and tug is also a reinforcer, but since I set up her options as drop the sock for food or have her collar held until she drops the sock. Food is the only reinforcing option. She’s going to choose the food. Now, she brings the sock to me to show me she’s found it, I reinforce her bringing it to me, and we do not have (many) eaten socks.
In the kitchen, I only give her food when she is laying on the rug in front of the sink. Now, thats where she lays when I am in the kitchen. She gets a Kong or Peanut butter bone when I ask her to kennel, so she happily runs to her kennel when I ask.
This is especially important for new adult dogs in the house, or brand new puppies who are learning how to live in our world for the first time. Putting some forethought into the behaviors you want to see in the future will help you to prevent the unwanted behaviors later on.
Have any questions on this concept? Chat with us on Facebook. The next post will discuss what happens when this strategy goes wrong!