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Factors Affecting Positive Reinforcement

First, it's important to realize that you're not using positive reinforcement alone. You're using positive reinforcement and extinction. Never, ever forget about extinction. Lack of reinforcement *is* a consequence to behavior. You can get something (+), lose something (-), or have nothing happen (neutral). Neutral (extinction) counts, because the animal changes its behavior in order to get what it wants.

To train a behavior, I would say the vast majority are trained with mostly positive reinforcement and extinction. I use a small amount of negative punishment, even when teaching new behaviors. I don't generally introduce it early in the learning phase -- though I might with some behaviors. (Loose leash walking jumps to mind.) I prefer to use positive reinforcement and extinction, but it's a never-say-never situation.

Factors that affect a positive reinforcer...

  • timing
  • rate of reinforcement
  • trainer's ability to set criteria
  • trainer's ability to increase criteria
  • dog's emotional state
  • dog's health
  • dog's propensity for trainability or for performing the behavior being trained
  • dog’s temperament
  • stress in the environment
  • trainer's attitude
  • significant events that occur during / become associated with the reinforcer or behavior
  • physical comfort or discomfort associated with the behavior being trained
  • "Fun factor"
  • association of the reinforcer with the correct behavior
  • strength of the reinforcer, especially against competing reinforcers and punishers
  • opportunity for the dog to change his behavior to keep getting the reinforcer

The neat thing is that if you manage to make positive as many of these factors as possible, over time the behavior you're trying to train *might* become self-reinforcing. Ultra-major payoff!! Just remember that's not a guarantee. You could give me a million dollars every time I did the laundry, and laundry would never become *self-reinforcing* for me. Without the payoff, laundry just sucks. <grin>

Melissa Alexander
mca @
copyright 2002 Melissa Alexander


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