• Oliver Ringrose

What Is reinforcement?

Welcome to Dog Smart's first Blog post, I wanted to get something out to you as a thank you for all your amazing support.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit nervous, little bit apprehensive, lets see what comes out of it and if I feel reinforced enough to dare write another!

Now I’m going to use some terms you may or may not understand and I will explain in other blogs.

You may have heard or read about using positive reinforcement to get behaviour, you may have heard the word reinforcer, been told something is reinforcing your dog’s behaviour or may think you have been reinforcing a behaviour when you haven’t.

So, what is it then?

Well… In behaviour modification there’s another term that sits above reinforcement, this term is called operant conditioning, it is a learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment.

In short this is a type of learning that all of us use in puppy classes and with our children and husbands, friends and work colleagues and probably many more!

It’s a subject we can delve into more in another blog

Operant Conditioning what now?

Operant conditioning is divided into 4 quadrants of operant learning, in this model the words positive and negative should be mathematical terms, to add or to subtract.

· Positive Reinforcement (R+)

· Negative Reinforcement (R-)

· Positive Punishment (P+)

· Negative Punishment (P-)

Then what is reinforcement?

Reinforcement is defined as a strengthening of behaviour. Lili Chin Doggie Drawings

Again… Reinforcement is a strengthening of behaviour (that’s very important that bit) to us it usually translates to increasing or decreasing the rate of behaviour.

The important part of this and the bit I’m trying to draw your attention to is what you use as a reinforcer has to be improving or at the very least maintaining the level of the taught behaviour.

This is where I think an issue can arise. Treats, rewards, toys, praise, food, you name it, are not automatically reinforcing.

They are only seen as a reinforcer if they fulfil the criteria of a reinforcer.

One of my teachers and friend, Brad Waggoner of Cold Nose College, once explained a great way of looking at this and also how to determine what quadrant of operant conditioning you are training in, after all if something is not increasing the rate of behaviour, it may actually be decreasing then it’s possible what your using the dog is actually a punisher (through the dogs eyes).

Reinforcement or punishment is the outcome of increasing or decreasing a behaviour

Ask yourself, did the behaviour increase, if the answer is yes then what you're doing is reinforcing the behaviour.

Now… did you add something or take it away?

If you added something then you positively reinforced it R+ , if you took something away then you negatively reinforced it R-.

How does this translate then and why would a behaviour increase if we take something away? How’s that even possible? I should give some examples.

Here`s an example of the recall cue using positive reinforcement

Example No.1

· You’re at home training indoors, you ask your dog to “come” and he does so you give him a piece of kibble