Tag Archives: Rewards

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. 

 


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.