Author Archives: Louise Stapleton-Frappell

About Louise Stapleton-Frappell

Louise Stapleton-Frappell B.A.Hons. PCBC-A. PCT-A. CAP3. CTDI. CWRI. DN-FSG1. DN-CPCT2., the owner of The DogSmith of Estepona and a Faculty Member of DogNostics Career Center, is the author and instructor of DogNostics TrickMeister Titles and the DogNostics Training Certificate Program - a comprehensive force-free trainer certification program aimed at increasing the knowledge and training skills of both dog guardians and pet professionals.

You CAN’T Reinforce Fear, But You CAN Help Take It Away.

 Is your dog afraid of thunder and lightning?

Essential oils can aide relaxation

Jambo wears a bandana sprayed with lavender oil

I have heard and seen people advising pet guardians to ignore their dogs when they are frightened.  They are warned that paying attention to the dog will make them worse and lead to the dog being more fearful in future. This is nonsensical.  As long as you yourself are calm and are not frantically engaging with the dog, but instead are calmly soothing and reassuring him, as well as putting strategies in place to help him relax, you are not going to increase the dog’s fears.

Imagine being in a minor car accident – nothing serious, but something that has shaken you a little.  Your friend puts an arm around you and reassuringly tells you that everything is going to be ok. She takes you inside and makes you a cup of tea.  Is this going to make you more fearful of cars?  No, absolutely not. It might, however, help lower your anxiety levels and make you feel better. You cannot reinforce an emotion!

We recently experienced heavy rain and thunder.   Jambo does not like thunder. You can see this just by looking at his body language in the photo of him eating his breakfast. His ears are back, and his tail is low.  He was, however, calm enough to eat and to then take a nap in his much loved ‘puppy’ bed, in his ‘secure place’ under the kitchen breakfast bar – This is where the bed was placed when he was a little puppy so that he could sleep beneath my feet as I work on my laptop.

I have worked hard to help Jambo overcome the fear he has of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises.  Some of the strategies I use are ongoing and some only come into play when the fear-provoking stimulus is present.

Here are some of the strategies that help Jambo cope, which could also help your dog or the pets in your care:

  • Close all exterior doors, windows, shutters, curtains and blinds.
  • Put on the lights – helping to mask lightning that may sneak through any gaps in the curtains. 
  • Play calming classical music.  Soft rock and reggae are also good options!  In fact, the effects of habituation can be reduced by varying the genre of music chosen. (Bowman, Dowell and Evans (2017). 
  • Put the extractor fan on – providing ‘white noise’ to help block out the sound of the thunder. 
  • Spray a bandana with calming lavender oil and tie around the dog’s neck.
  • Spray the dog’s mattress with Pet Remedy Pet Calming Spray or similar.
  • Plug in a Pet Remedy diffuser.  Adaptil is another good option.
  • Make sure the dog’s crate is available for further refuge, located in a favorite place away from exterior windows and doors.
  • Place a yummy stuffed Kong, sealed with peanut butter (or the dog’s favorite food) in the dog crate. 
  • If necessary, give a Calmex for Dogs tablet.  This is a supplement designed to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.  Nutracalm or Zylkene are other options.  *Please consult your veterinarian before administering any supplements or medication.
  • Put a Thundershirt on the dog. Please note this should have been previously conditioned to engender a positive emotional response.
  • Apply body wraps – To learn more about body wraps, please refer to the The Use of Body Wraps and Pressure Garments for Dogs,  a three-part program covering the knowledge and skills required to effectively use sensory techniques such as body wraps.

A relaxed Jambo, free from fear, anxiety and stress

My arms are always open for a reassuring cuddle; my hands rubbed with Bitch Balm (a lavender based balm for dogs and horses) to pet, and my calming voice to soothe. 

All of the above management strategies are put into place once the storm has arrived and the fear is present, but I also implemented a behavioral change program to work on actually changing Jambo’s emotional response (his fear).  Before we began the behavior change program, Jambo would shake uncontrollably and run and hide at the first tremor of thunder.  He would not have eaten his breakfast, nor would he have been able to rest in his puppy bed…

Respondent Conditioning

I use classical conditioning (counterconditioning) and desensitization, to help elicit a positive emotional response to things Jambo is frightened of. The sound of thunder, fireworks, gunshots… have all been paired with his favorite peanut butter and/or roast chicken.

If you do not know what respondent conditioning is, please refer to The DogNostics Lexicon  – A Lexicon of practical terms for pet trainers and behaviour consultants  available from DogNostics Career Center.  Click here to purchase.

Putting all of the above measures in place, and giving Jambo my love and attention, helps ease his anxiety.

Please check out this post from Eileenanddogs.  It has some resources for getting your dog through events with loud noises and some general tips about dealing with fear.

 

*Please note: The information in this article, is not designed to replace a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or accredited force-free behavior consultant.  If a dog is showing signs of fear, anxiety or stress, an appointment should be made with a certified behaviorist who will put an individualized behavioral change program in place. The dog’s veterinarian should also be consulted, who in conjunction with the behaviorist, may deem that anti-anxiety medication is necessary.

 

 

Reference:

Reitzes, D. C., & Mutran, E. J. (2004). Bowman, A., Scottish SPCA, Dowell, F.J., & Evans N.P. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs. Physiology & Behavior Volume 171, 15 March 2017, Pages 207-215. 

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Well Done Bailey – How Not to Poison Your “Come” Request!

Bailey sits and ‘smiles’ for the camera

Today I enjoyed a fun ‘training’ session with Bailey at the kennels where he is staying. Bailey has the habit of running away when called, which leads to frustrated carers but could also lead to less freedom in the future, so today we worked on a joyful response to a recall cue.

Bailey’s recalls were reinforced with a mixture of high value treats (dehydrated beef heart); very enthusiastic, heart-felt praise and the opportunity to go play again. Bailey happily responded to the cue.

We also practised taking hold of Bailey’s collar (included in the video clip below) and attaching his leash to his harness (sorry no footage as I could not hold the camera and attach the leash at the same time!).

Bailey has learned that responding to his name or a recall cue means that play has come to an end. “We are now going home”; “You are now coming inside”; “You are now going in your kennel”… My goal with today’s session was to teach Bailey that coming back to me; taking hold of his collar; attaching his leash… did not mean that fun was about to end. Quite the contrary! Not only did he receive a tasty treat and lots of enthusiastic praise, the play continued!

I interspersed some of the recalls with a set of leash walking – Five steps on a continuous rate of reinforcement (one step = one treat). Walking nicely on leash is another behavior Bailey has struggled with. He has a tendency to pull and unfortunately, this has quite a strong history of reinforcement as people have hung on to the leash behind him as he has dragged them along. Bailey is young and boisterous. He is already a large dog, presently weighing approximately 40 kilos – 88 pounds – but at only eight months old, he still has some growing to do.  He is thought to be a Light Spanish Mastiff (Mastín Español Ligero) cross.  Walking nicely is a necessity for all dogs but especially for large and giant breeds, as, not only could either the dog or the human be injured as the dog surges forwards, not walking nicely could result in not being walked.

By including small amounts of leash work in with the recalls, I was able to do achieve a few objectives:
– Practise coming when called
– Practise walking nicely
– Make some large ‘payments’ into Bailey’s ‘bank account’ of positive reinforcement
– Teach Bailey that coming when called does not always lead to the end of play but neither does it always lead to going straight back to play.  As I previously stated, as well as using high-value treats and praise, I was also using the opportunity to ‘go play’ as a reinforcer for coming back to me. However, I do not want Bailey to learn to come back to me and already be anticipating running off to play again. This could lead to a dog running in and running away again, before anyone has time to attach a leash.

At the end of our session when it was time to put Bailey back in his kennel, I did not use the recall cue. I popped on his leash and we walked back to the kennel where a big yummy chew and a large clean bowl of drinking water were waiting for him. As he happily walked into his kennel, more treats rained down from the sky. Wow – going into the kennel is also a good thing!

Here is a short video showing some of Bailey’s ‘play’ session: https://youtu.be/rBWNvqpsolM Please note: We are working in an environment full of competing reinforcers. Every sniff of the dirt; bark of another dog; person passing by; scent of the nearby horses drifting in the air; objects to investigate; avocados scattered around that have fallen from the trees that provide the cooling shade… This was only Bailey’s second session. There is some latency in a couple of his responses but when this occurred, I simply worked out what had caused the delay e.g. still eating food – My fault as I should have realised and waited until he finished.  My response to his return was always delivered with maximum enthusiasm that was truly heartfelt!  Well done Bailey!

 

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A Conversation with a Beagle

 

DogSmith guests, Iines and Minni relax in the sun

I have just had the pleasure of two gorgeous girls enjoying a mini DogSmith Vacation with me.  The following is a conversation I had with the eldest girl on their last day of stay, after a short training session:

DogSmith: “All finished.
Beagle: “What do you mean all finished? I think you have some treats left in your pocket. Let me check.”

DogSmith: “There are no treats in my pocket.”
Beagle:  “What about this pocket?”  Sniffs my other pocket.

DogSmith: “Nope. All finished. There aren’t any treats in that pocket either.
Beagle: Jumps up to sniff. “What about in your top pocket?

DogSmith: “I don’t have a top pocket.”

Beagle: “Can’t you get some more?  You must have some more somewhere.”  Continues to sniff every inch of me.

Me: “You’ve had enough.”
Beagle: “I’m a beagle. I’ve never had enough. I’m starving!

Me: “You don’t look like you’re starving. You’ve had loads to eat.
Beagle: “No, I haven’t, you forgot to feed me.

Iines enjoys a refreshing homemade doggy ice-cream cube served in a Zogoflex West Paw Tux

DogSmith: “I didn’t forget to feed you!”
Beagle: “I’m on holiday. You’re meant to eat more when you’re on holiday.”

DogSmith: “You have eaten more. You’ve had a special treat every day!”
Beagle: “No, I haven’t. I’m starving. I’ve had much less than normal.”

DogSmith: “No, you haven’t. You’ve had your normal food and on day one you also had some homemade doggy ice-cream; on day two you had some mackerel; on day three you had some hake and on day four you had another doggy ice-cream! That’s not to mention, your training treats.
Beagle:  “Lady, you must think I’m stupid. I know you take the training treats out of my daily allowance – They are not extra!”

DogSmith: “Okay, you’ve got me there, but the doggy ice-cream cubes and fish were extra. Anyway, that’s it. There’s nothing left.”
Beagle: “Listen lady, I am absolutely starving, let’s go and check the fridge. I bet my dinner is in there.”

DogSmith : “You already ate your dinner.”

Minni enjoys her doggy ice-cream, made from banana, yogurt and a dash of peanut butter

Beagle: “Pretty please.” (Sad eyed look)

DogSmith: “Okay, I give in. Let’s go get you a treat.”

Beagle eats treat.

Beagle: Sniffing pockets again. “I think you forgot to feed me.  I’m starving!  I’m sure you have some treats left in your pocket. Let me check…”

Later that night while undressing a treat falls out of my pocket.  I should have known that a beagle’s nose never lies!

Thank you for a fun-filled, nose sniffing, four days, Iines and Minni! – The DogSmith of Estepona.

#DogSmith Vacations and Slumber Parties

You can watch a few highlights from Iines and Minni’s DogSmith Vacation below.

 https://youtu.be/EVFbQxmv8pk

DogSmith Slumber Parties

Enroll Your Dog in a DogSmith Slumber Party – The Perfect Doggy Vacay!

The DogSmith Slumber Party program offers your pet the opportunity to stay in the home of a certified DogSmith Dog Trainer and/or DogSmith Slumber Party Expert who is a certified Pet Care Technician. Your pet will enjoy the comfort and safety of a private home in the company of an animal-loving family. The DogSmith Slumber Party provides your furry family member with a home away from home. Click here to open our pet care comparison matrix

Canine Slumber Party 1

Beauty Sleep!

Is this your pet?

If so then you know how difficult it can be to accommodate and care for them when you have to be away from home. To relieve you from this stressful dilemma and to provide you and your pet with the safest, most comfortable and enriching environment, we developed our DogSmith Slumber Party Service.

We believe that you should always expect and accept nothing less when you entrust your family pet to the care of a pet care professional. All DogSmith Pet Care Technicians are certified in animal communication, animal handling and pet first aid.

Yes we spoil pets!

Yes we spoil pets!

We assure a safe, secure and stress-free environment for your pet. Because we are pet care and animal behavior professionals, we are especially aware of your pet’s individual physical, mental and nutritional needs so we customize our services to suit your pet. Even the most nervous dog will feel comfortable in the home of a DogSmith and all the activities will be tailored to your pet’s individual needs.

What Else Can Your Dog Enjoy?

  • A Fetch Session
  • A Fun Dog Romp
  • Learning New Skills
  • A Daily Kong

If you need it, just ask. Your DogSmith is happy to add on any service that will help your pet enjoy its holiday. At The DogSmith, our trustworthy and highly experienced pet care technicians believe in a holistic approach to caring for all pets. You will always be confident that your four-legged best friend gets all of the attention and special loving care needed.

At The DogSmith we have been saying no to kennels, unprofessional pet care and stressed holidays since 2007!

Doggie Snoozin Slumbr Party

Relaxing Snooze!

 How Do Our Slumber Parties Work? 

You will enjoy absolute peace of mind knowing that your dog is receiving the best care possible with your DogSmith. You deserve the very best for your dog and the DogSmith is your best solution for your pet care need.

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A Dog’s Hierarchy of Rewards

In 2014, I published a blog post entitled Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards in which I discussed the different reinforcers I use when training and the ‘value’ they have for my learner.  In my article entitled Rewards and Positive Reinforcement Consequences, I discussed the meaning of rewards versus reinforcement. In this article I would like to take a look at “hierarchies”.

When needs are not being met, animals will be motivated to try and fulfil those needs.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us. The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:

  1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep. The things that we need to survive. All animals are motivated by these needs. If we are hungry we will want to eat, if we are thirsty, we will want to drink.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. Not having these needs met can lead to stress and anxiety and even to aggressive responses in an effort to protect ourselves
  3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work). The need for us to communicate with others and interact with others. If this need isn’t met we can become depressed and anxious. The same is true of animals.
  4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g. status, prestige).
  5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b) as follows:

  1. Biological and physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Love and belongingness needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. The need to understand and a desire to know things.
  6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
  7. Self-actualization needs
  8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self. e.g. mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, a religious faith etc. (McLeod, 2017)

Why is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory important?  It has made a big impact on how we teach and manage our students in school. We know that behavior is a response to the environment but Maslow’s hierarchy also looks at the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs and how they impact learning. The hierarchy also clearly shows us that before an individual’s cognitive needs can be met, we must fulfil the basic physiological needs. I often tell my clients that although we want to use food as reinforcement that does not mean that I want anyone to not feed their dog.  A hungry learner will find it very difficult to focus on learning!  I also believe we should show our learners, both human and canine, that they are valued and respected and ensure we work with them in a safe and supportive environment.  We need to meet the esteem needs of all our students so that they can quickly progress with their learning!

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Pet Professional Guild member, Linda Michaels, is a hierarchical model of wellness and behavior modification in which first we meet our dogs’ biological, emotional and social needs and, once these foundational needs have been met, we use management, antecedent modification, positive and differential reinforcement, counter-conditioning and desensitization to modify behavior.

Although not a hierarchy, before I get back to my Hierarchy of Rewards, I would like to mention Brambell’s Five Freedoms, which put responsibility on the animal care taker to make sure they provide animals with a good welfare environment.  I learned about the Five Freedoms and other animal welfare frameworks as part of my Animal Behaviour and Welfare course, University of Edinburgh.

In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation, led by Professor Roger Brambell, into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. The Brambell Report stated that:  “An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom Itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs”. This short recommendation became known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms. Because of the report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created to monitor the livestock production sector. In July 1979, this was replaced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and by the end of that year, the five freedoms had been codified into the recognizable list format. Although developed for farm animals, Brambell’s Five Freedoms can be adapted to pets. The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
    By ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort
    By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
    By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Display Natural Behavior
    By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress
    By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

In addition to Brambell’s Five Freedoms other animal welfare frameworks such as the Duty of Care Concept need to be foremost in our minds when caring for and working with any animal. The Duty of Care Concept focuses on providing animals with a safe happy environment which they can enjoy and encourages legal responsibility for those animals.

Now back to Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards (Stapleton-Frappell, 2013)  If you have read everything above, you will understand that before beginning any training, the trainer should make sure that the learner’s basic needs are met. The trainer can then make use of both primary and secondary reinforcers but must bear in mind that the ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider as, although I use the name Hierarchy of Rewards, I am referring to a hierarchy of positive reinforcement consequences.

The ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider

Whether teaching Jambo or any other learner a new behavior, or reinforcing behaviors that have previously been taught, I use that learner’s own personal ‘hierarchy of rewards’.  Each individual’s hierarchy includes lower ‘value’ reinforcers which are consequence stimuli that will serve to reinforce simple known behaviors in that individual’s home environment or other non-distracting environments; medium ‘value’ reinforcers which will serve to reinforce slightly more difficult behaviors or behaviors in slightly more demanding environments, and finally, high ‘value’ reinforcers – those reinforcers that are at the ‘top of the tree’, the real ‘top guns’  that we use to reinforce more demanding behaviors and behaviors in environments where there are a lot of competing stimuli.

My go-to reinforcer when teaching a new behavior or when I need lots of repetitions is always food – small pieces of tasty, easy to chew and easy to swallow food – as I can deliver it quickly and maintain a high rate of reinforcement. It is also more effective to use smaller reinforcements more frequently rather than large reinforcements less often. However, I also make good use of ‘non-food’ items, which include everything from balls to tug toys to life rewards –  access to things my learner wants, such as going outside, sniffing a patch of grass, greeting someone…  Whether using food or non-food reinforcers, primary or secondary reinforcers, one thing is certain – reinforcers are not all equal and the ‘value’ of an individual reinforcer is not static. The ‘value’ to the learner will change depending on such factors as:

  • The behavior itself – The behaviors, as determined by the animal’s ability to do them and its biological pre-disposition to behave in certain ways, are easier or more difficult to reinforce. Behavior that depends on smooth muscles and glands is harder to reinforce than is behavior that depends on skeletal muscles. (Chance, Learning and Behavior, 2013)
  • The individual’s preferences
  • Previous learning history
  • The Setting Events and Motivating Operations

There are variables affecting reinforcement and affecting the value of each reinforcer at any given time, in different environments and with different individuals.  We also need to bear in mind that If we use the higher ‘value’ reinforcers too frequently for easy behaviors in non-distracting environments, we could find that not only will our learner no longer be motivated to ‘work’ for lower value reinforcers, but also that we dilute the value of those reinforcers that were previously at the top of the Hierarchy, making them less effective in more demanding situations or with more demanding behaviors.  We should make sure that we have a variety of reinforcers on all levels of our learner’s Hierarchy so that we have something to call upon of appropriate value in all situations. Varying the reinforcement consequence that is offered, will also help to overcome satiation – at some point, we have all eaten enough of that delicious cake but that doesn’t mean that we would say no to an ice-cold bottle of beer!

Although each individual will have their own Hierarchy of Rewards, neither Jambo nor any other learner’s Hierarchy of Rewards is static.  What works as a reinforcer one day may be of little interest to the same learner the next day. 

The Hierarchy of Rewards

If Jambo were reasonably hungry and we were working in a non-distracting environment, he would probably find kibble (dry dog food) to be of sufficient ‘value’ and it would serve as an adequate reinforcement consequence.  If, however, we were to try and do that same behavior in a more distracting environment, at a greater distance or perhaps when Jambo had just eaten, then the kibble would have very little, if any ‘value’ and would not serve to positively reinforce a behavior.  If Jambo were in a playful mood then his tug toy would have a much higher value than if he were tired and ready for bed. An opportunity to sniff a nice patch of grass might serve to reinforce the behavior of coming close to me on a nice summer’s evening but on a dark and wet winter’s night, the opposite would be true –  If I wanted Jambo to leave my side and go to the grass, then it might be returning to my side and the protection of my umbrella that would serve as a reinforcer but maybe even that would not be of high enough ‘value’ and he would simply decide not to carry out the behavior. Perhaps performing ‘send-aways’ in the rain, calls for roast chicken?

This is the second in a series of three posts from my article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine. Part one can be found here:  Rewards and Positive Reinforcement Consequences.   In part three we will take a closer look at motivating operations; Jambo’s personal Hierarchy of Rewards, and some of the primary and secondary reinforcers we can all make use of in our training.

To contact Louise Stapleton-Frappell, please click here.

The DogSmith training programs enhance and improve the relationship you share with your family pet.  To contact a Professional DogSmith, please click on the image below. 

 

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Rewards and Positive Reinforcement Consequences

The language we use when discussing our training methods can sometimes be slightly misleading.  Much discussion is given to the use of terms such as force-free, rewards based and positive reinforcement.  Sometimes there will be shared-meaning and at other times, these terms will be used and attributed to diametrically opposed training methods.  The words ‘reward’ and ‘positive reinforcement’ are often used to describe the same process but are they really the same?

Let’s begin with a definition of reinforcement and a few other terms you are likely to come across when reading about rewards based, science based, force-free training. The term to reinforce means to strengthen and it is used in behavioral psychology to refer to a stimulus which strengthens or increases the probability of a specific response.  Behavior is the function of its consequences and reinforcement strengthens the likelihood of a behavior.  To qualify as reinforcement an experience must have three characteristics:  First, the behavior must have a consequence.  Second, the behavior must increase in strength (e.g. occur more often).  Third, the increase in strength must be a result of the consequence (Chance, 2013 )

When comparing rewards to reinforcement, I am referring to one of the quadrants of operant conditioning:  positive reinforcement. Positive means that a stimulus is added. With positive reinforcement, a behavior is followed by a stimulus (which the subject seeks out/will work to receive) which reinforces the behavior that precedes it, resulting in an increase in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of that behavior. To clarify, a reinforcer is a stimulus that, when it occurs in conjunction with a behavior and is contingent on that behavior, it makes that behavior occur more often. But what if the behavior doesn’t increase in frequency, strength or duration? What if the behavior continues to occur with the same frequency or occurs less often?  In this case, we can reliably say that the consequence stimulus would not qualify as reinforcement.

Is a reward the same as a reinforcer?  The simple answer is no, it is not.  Although, when simplifying our language, it is often useful to advise our clients to mark and reward (click and treat/mark and pay), a reward and a reinforcer/reinforcement consequence are not the same. Let’s look at the definition of a reward:

  • A thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement
  • A sum offered for information leading to the solving of a crime, the detection of a criminal, etc. (Oxford University Press, 2017)

The key here is in the definition. I may be given something in recognition of my hard work but that does not necessarily mean that I will work harder in the future.  If my reward for all the extra hours I worked were a simple thank you – would that act as reinforcement?  What about if my reward for all the hours I worked were a big cash bonus – would that serve as a reinforcement consequence?

A Reward – A thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.

A reward may or may not positively reinforce a behavior. There are a few reasons why, one being that the giver of the reward is who decides what to give and denotes it as a reward.  The recipient might not be quite so enthusiastic about the perceived reward.  Jambo (my Staffordshire Bull Terrier) and I were once rewarded with a ‘beautiful’ trophy for taking first place in an event at a local competition.  The trophy went on to take pride of place hidden away in a cupboard!  Did the trophy act as a reinforcer?  As a result of that consequence (being rewarded with a trophy), did Jambo and I enter more competitions/try to win more competitions?  No. The reward was only ‘beautiful’ in the eye of the giver. The recipient of the reward thought otherwise, hence its ubication – hiding out in the back of a cupboard!

Rewards often come with some sort of judgement on the person or animal they are directed at whereas reinforcers are linked to the behavior not the giver nor the recipient.  Just like rewards, reinforcers can be delivered by people but they can also be delivered by the environment. Suppose for example that one morning your dog manages to slip out of the door and chase the neighbor’s cat. The dog has a wonderful time and the next morning flies out of the door as soon as it is opened.  That one act of joyfully chasing the neighbor’s cat has effectively reinforced rushing out of the door as soon as it is opened! If the neighbor’s cat never ventures into your yard again, the behavior may undergo extinction but this is unlikely as the act of running at full speed out of the door and across the yard is undoubtedly self-reinforcing – offering intrinsic reinforcement and serving as wonderful motivation!  What if the behavior is put on a variable schedule of reinforcement i.e. the cat is occasionally available to be chased?  You can probably guess the answer. The behavior of rushing out of the door will go from strength to strength as it is being extrinsically reinforced in the same way as playing on a slot-machine is – you know that if you keep playing, you are sure to win again at some point!

Now, just because I have clarified that rewards and positive reinforcement consequences are not the same, that does not mean I am never going to tell people to reward their dog.  I also tell people to pay their dog.  That doesn’t mean I want my clients to throw a wad of cash at their dogs and my clients know that!  My clients are intelligent people and some may wish to delve deeper into the world of behavioral science but many are happy to stick with the world of click and treat or mark and reward. Naming the reinforcement ‘pyramid’ the Hierarchy of Rewards serves a good purpose in that it makes it more easily understandable for everyone, whether pet industry professional or pet dog guardian.  However, as pet industry professionals, I do believe that we should have a clear understanding of terms such as ‘positive reinforcement’ and recognize that just because we have ‘rewarded’ a dog with a throw of a ball or a tasty treat, that does not necessarily mean we have positively reinforced the behavior.  Only the future will tell us that!

This is the first of a series of three posts from my article:  “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.

 

To contact Louise Stapleton-Frappell, please click here.

The DogSmith training programs enhance and improve the relationship you share with your family pet.  To contact a Professional DogSmith, please click on the image below. 

 

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