The first two blogs on this subject covered…
1. Raising Criteria (successive approximation)
2. Breaking Down the Behavior
So now lets think about rule number ‘3’.
3. Vary the Reinforcement: Use different levels of reward so the reward each time is either variable or differential (Random or better reward for better responses). Also use different types rewards; Praise, Petting, Food, Freedom, anything reinforcing to your dog! http://www.dancingdogs.co.nz/2010/07/things-my-dog-likes/
Why is it important to vary your reinforcement? Lets think about the way a mind is stimulated to continue doing a behaviour. Gambling is the best analogy. People become addicted to gambling, video games, and drugs for all the same reasons. It feels good. It feels good because of the SEEKING circuit in our brains. This pathway is a very adaptive part of the brain that enjoys searching, hunting, and achieving. When the brain is actively involved in these activities, it releases endorphins. Endorphins feel good! Gambling is a particularly good analogy because the brain is receiving endorphins from the SEEKING aspect of the slot machine/game, as well as the sense of achievement when you win! Slot machines are particularly addictive because they are set up on a “Variable Reinforcement Schedule”. This means that the reinforcement is random. You never know if you are about to win a little, lose completely, or get a Jackpot!These makes the game exciting and addictive.
If you were to use a slot machine that gave out a 20 cents for every 10 cents you put in, you would be making money… but how much fun would you be having? The very first distraction that came along and you would get up and leave that machine.
It is very important when training our dogs that we understand the use of reinforcement schedules and pick the right one to use. The Variable (random) schedule is best to use when the dog is very fluent in the behaviour you are looking for. That way they have a lot of confidence that they are doing the behaviour correctly, and the become persistent with demonstrating the behaviour. In fact they try harder when they don’t know whether they will be getting one treat no treats or 5 treats because each behaviour MIGHT mean a jackpot!
It is also very important to know that you shouldn’t use the same reinforcement all the time. Particularly because if the dog knows what is coming it makes it less exciting to win! So mix up those food rewards, use cheese, chicken, dog kibble, dog roll, and green peas if your dog likes them! But Also use petting, praise, and life rewards like being able to go sniff a favoured bush.
Varying your reinforcement will addict your dog to training. It will keep him wanting to continue to train as well as working hard for those rewards. But be warned, it doesn’t matter how many different types of rewards you use, if you are also using punishment to correct, as you will ruin the confidence and trust you are attempting to build. So remember if you get frustrated don’t blame the dog or the treats, instead go back to the basics and follow guidelines 1 and 2. Break down your behaviour further and increase the difficulty in small increments.