What is it and why is it important for you to consider in your dog training?
Put simply, reinforcement strategy is having a handle on what our dogs find rewarding. Lots of us automatically think of food, but to really go to the next level with your dog training goals you have got to look at what else your dog finds rewarding. In certain environments, with the presence of distractions, food may not cut the mustard, you may find that you need to look at utilising a different type of reward.
The first thing to do, is establish a list of things your dog finds rewarding
Really go to town with this. Think outside the box! You may find that what your dog finds rewarding are also what you consider to be a distraction. This is gold! Rather than looking at a distraction as a nuisance or a challenge, look at how you can implement it into your reinforcement strategy.
Dogs love to sniff
We’ll give you an example; lots of dogs adore to sniff. If you dog falls into this category, rather than view it as a distraction, put ‘go sniff’ on cue. So you can use what your dog loves to do naturally as a reward.
So, what’s happening here?
How is it possible to get the behaviour we want, by rewarding with what our dogs naturally want? It’s all in the power of what’s known as PREMACK. Premack is where we reward a low probability behaviour with a high probability behaviour. What then happens is there is a transfer of value from the high probability behaviour to the low probability behaviour. This means the dog values performing the low probability behaviour. Low probability behaviours tend to be what we want our dogs to do!
When it comes to thinking about what low probability and high probability behaviours actually are. Simply think of the things your dog naturally does without any intervention or training from you. Still a little lost? Ok, here’s some examples, but this list isn’t exhaustive!
- Low probability behaviours: Any positional cue or trick (sit, down etc), recall, staying on a boundary, waiting at the door, etc.
- High probability behaviours: Sniffing, chasing, eating, urinating (especially entire males!), digging, running, play, etc.
So, homework for you is to come up with list of high probability behaviours for your own dog. Then look for ways you can start to use high probability behaviours by putting them on cue to use in your daily life with your dog to reward what you want.