As you learned in Lesson 1, behaviors that are reinforced will maintain or increase in frequency. Therefore, when the animal performs the correct behavior we must reinforce it so that it will happen again in the future. There are a variety of things we can use to reinforce behavior that we want the animal to continue doing. The only way to measure if something is reinforcing to the animal is to measure what happens to the behavior if we reinforce it.
- Food – an obvious choice. Food is a primary reinforcer which means that the animal innately finds it reinforcing and it does not need to be conditioned. Food values vary from food item to food item and between individuals. You may need higher value reinforcers for some things and lower value for others. Example: dog sits and gets a treat.
- Access – allowing a dog access to a place, person, object or doing something he or she desires can be a very valuable reinforcer. Example: dog sits and waits at the door and then gets to go out the door on a walk.
- Toys – allowing access to a toy can be reinforcing to some dogs. Example: dog stands owner throws toy.
- Play – playing with dogs, whether with a toy or without can be highly reinforcing and is something I strongly recommend people practice with their dogs. Play can be physical play, tugging, fetch. Example: dog sits and stays and then is released to run to owner and tug.
- Interaction – touching, petting, rubbing ears or chest is highly reinforcing to many dogs. Example: dog lies down and then gets a belly rub.