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Positive Reinforcement in dog training part 1:

By Thomas Magee
11.29.22
WKD march-65

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝘀𝗰𝗼𝗼𝗽 𝗼𝗻 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝗶𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗰𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁

On an almost daily basis we take criticism and often very rude messages and comments from people who assume, because we are balanced trainers, that we don’t understand positive reinforcement.

So, I thought it was time I showed just how much knowledge we have of this very useful training concept.

As always, I’m going to give you both sides of the story. The good and the bad. So much to cover here it may be split over a few days.

Here’s instalment number one, I imagine it’s going to give you more understanding than any force free, +R positive only trainer has ever given you.

It should also make more sense.

Right then, so positive reinforcement, what is it?

Here’s the online definition of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning.

“In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favourable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened”

In English, that means if your dog does something, and something good/pleasant happens, it will be more likely to do it again.

This occurs with both desirable and undesirable behaviour.

Example;

Your dog sits, you give it a treat, it’s more likely to sit again.

Conversely, if your dog barks and lunges at another dog, the other dog goes away, as a result, your dog feels happier and is more likely to bark and lunge again.

When looking at dog behaviour, it’s important to increase the level of positive reinforcement received for behaviours you do want and not allow your dog to get positive reinforcement of behaviours you don’t like.

There is so much to write about and I’m not sure where to start so we are going to begin with how you can use certain ‘schedules of reinforcement’ to increase behaviours you like and create reliability.
A schedule of reinforcement relates to when you deliver the reinforcement and different schedules achieve different goals.

Here are the main schedules of reinforcement you should know about.

A continuous schedule of reinforcement – the reinforcement is given for every single correct attempt at the behaviour.

Basically, if your dog sits, you give it a treat each and every time you ask it to sit and it complies – Continuous schedules are best used in the learning phase. They keep engagement high and continually confirm the given response was the one the trainer was looking for.

Variable schedule of reinforcement – the reinforcement is given on a variable schedule meaning, sometimes the reward is given and sometimes it isn’t. The delivery of rewards is random, therefore, variable. You may reward on a schedule of 5. This would mean, for every Five repetitions, your dog would get one reward variably.

Variable schedules are best used to increase speed and reliability. A fruit machine pays the player on a variable schedule. If you never know when you will win, you keep on playing. Using the sit exercise as an example, if your dog got a reward for each and every sit, it becomes a bit boring. They know when they will win. Every time! By going variable, your dog will play the game with more gusto so long as you don’t place the rewards so far apart that your dog stops trying because it isn’t worth the effort (more on that tomorrow)

Fixed duration Schedules of reinforcement – the reinforcement is given after a predetermined amount of time has passed and the dog is still engaged in the exercise.

Fixed duration Schedules are best used for behaviours that you want to occur over a period of time such as stays or eye contact in heelwork. For example, you ask your dog to stay and you reward it after 5 seconds have passed so long as the dog is still ‘staying’. In this example, you are rewarding your dog on a ‘fixed, 5 second schedule’.
Gradually you can increase the durations for longer and longer efforts.

Variable duration Schedules of reinforcement – the reinforcement is given after a variable duration of the given behaviour. This creates a similar effect as the variable schedule but with duration based exercises.

You ask your dog to stay and give the reinforcement after a certain amount of time has passed but each repetition of the exercise is rewarded after a different amount of time has passed.

Fixed ratio Schedules of reinforcement – The reinforcement is given after the exercise is repeated a certain number of times.
Fixed ratio schedules are best used to train longer durations of behaviour or chains of behaviour such as completing a particular chain of behaviours. The easiest example here would be if you wanted to teach your dog to jump five jumps in a row.

You would first teach your dog to jump one jump then two together then three, four and five. Once you had the behaviour taught, you could begin giving the reinforcer only one the dog had jumped all five jumps in a row thus creating a chain of behaviour. The dog must jump all five to get the reward.

Interestingly, when you do this, you would notice that the dog only did just enough to clear the first four jumps and then would put lots of effort in on the fifth because that is the jump it associates with the reinforcer.

I hope that’s all made sense, tomorrow we are going to look at how you can use what you’ve learnt to change your dogs current behaviour so drop me some examples of what you’d like to change or any questions in the comments below.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this, give it a like, share and drop me a comment with your feedback.

Have a great evening Everybody

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