The effectiveness of reinforcers is essential to training. So, how do we assess how effective a reinforcer is? A common way is assessing preference for an item or an interaction as a reinforcer. We will evaluate recent studies looking at dogs’ preferences for different human interactions--a study from 2016 suggested dogs prefer praise as much as food, but there's ample evidence to the contrary and we will discuss! Additionally, preference doesn’t give us the whole picture; preference for something doesn’t always mean it will be an effective reinforcer. To look at how preference and reinforcer effectiveness interact, we will use behavioral economics, which deals with how much behavior a reinforcer can maintain. We will delve into this field and discuss the effect of unit price, delay, elasticity of commodities (reinforcers), as well as what it means to have substitutable or complementary reinforcers. We will discuss how we can apply these topics to improve our dog training, as well as better understand our own behavior. Throughout, we will look at data from humans, traditional lab animals, and, of course, dogs!
PhD, BCBA, CPDT-KA,
Assistant Professor of Anthrozoology,
Carroll College, Helena, MT.
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