Showing posts from January, 2009

Premack’s Principle

What is the Premack Principle, Anyway?
If you’re at all interested in behavior modification, you’ve heard of David Premack. He is a psychologist who came up with the relationship between desirable and undesirable behaviors.

Desirable – or high probability – behaviors are those behaviors which the animal wishes to do when given the choice. Undesirable – or low probability – behaviors are those behaviors which, given the choice, the animal seldom, if ever, does.

Premack’s Principle states an animal will perform an undesired behavior in order to engage in a desirable behavior. When a high probability behavior is contingent upon the performance of a low probability behavior, the outcome is the increased frequency of the low probability behavior.

While this might sound hard to enforce, consider the mother who tells her child, “you aren’t allowed to go outside and play until you clean your room.” Cleaning her room is not a preferred behavior for the child, yet since she is extremely motivated t…

Arguments Against “Clicker Training”

Unfortunately, most clicker trainers teach their students to treat their dog each and every time a behavior occurs, or they don’t properly outline how to reinforce intermittently, thus moving away from reinforcing each occurrence. This is the biggest argument against clicker training: people don’t want a dog dependent on receiving treats in order to be obedient. Tied in with that argument is a trainer who doesn’t want to "carry treats around" all the time. They’ll argue, “why does the dog needs a treat every time?”

When trainers use operant conditioning – in which clicker training is based – they not only wean their dogs off of “treats” by using intermittent reinforcement, they also substitute other forms of reinforcers. This means you don’t have to – and actually shouldn’t – carry treats or toys with you wherever you and your dog go.

Another argument against clicker training: the dog’s behavior is dependent on the presence – or absence – of treats. While it’s hard to use much…

Intermittent Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement (a common slang term for operant conditioning) is the basis of clicker training. Unfortunately, not all clicker trainers understand the use of reinforcers, namely, when to give them to the dog and when NOT to give them.

Reinforcement Examples
First of all, the trainer needs to evaluate the dog to find out what most motivates him. While dog treats are the most commonly used reinforcer, not all dogs respond the same way to treats. Often dogs won’t respond as well to commercial dog treats as actual meat, so be sure to try various types of food: roast beef, cooked hamburger, hot dogs, salmon, etc.

Of course, the dog might not be as interested in food as she is in playing – fetch or tug-of-war, for example. Anything the dog will work hard for is a reinforcer, and can be used in training to modify behavior. There are many motivators in a dog's life, and all dogs are different, so it's best to evaluate each dog for a list of reinforcers.

Once you’ve conditioned the…

Positive Reinforcement

Choosing a Positive Reinforcer
When using operant conditioning or clicker training with dogs, the trainer first needs to evaluate the dog to find out what he wants most. Anything a dog will work to achieve can be considered a reinforcer. Two things to keep in mind: reinforcers are different for each dog; what WE as trainers think of as 'rewards' for the dog might not be reinforcers*. What motivates one dog might not be important to another. Some dogs are extremely motivated by food, while others prefer play and toys; some dogs merely want attention from their trainer. There are many different types of reinforcement; you must choose the one which is best for your dog.

Main Types of Reinforcement for Dogs
Food: When you’re working with a food-motivated dog, it’s best to ensure you’re using food which the dog cannot resist. While you can certainly train the dog at feeding time – thus using the dog’s actual meal for reinforcement – this won’t have as strong an effect at any other tim…

Clicker Training Dogs

The past 10 years or so has seen a dramatic increase in a method of dog training called clicker training. "Clicker training" is actually jargon for the lesser-known scientific terminology, operant conditioning. While the concept certainly isn't new - it was developed under B.F. Skinner's tutelage as early as World War II - it seems to have swept the dog training world as a highly effective training method to achieve long-term effects.

Operant Conditioning
In operant conditioning, consequences are used to modify the frequency of behaviors. Generally speaking, animals will continue performing a behavior which results in a “positive” outcome, and discontinue behaviors which result in either no consequence or a “negative” outcome. In this article, "positive" and "negative" refer to the emotional connotation. In clicker training, trainers use positive reinforcement (the addition of a reinforcer) to get the dog to repeat desired behaviors as well as decre…