Monday, January 4, 2016

Dog training word 'o the day: Premack.

This post is ever so slightly verbose, so here's a nerd photo of Cohen to compensate. 
Dog training word 'o the day: Premack.
From Wikipedia: "Premack's principle suggests that if a person wants to perform a given activity, the person will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity; that is, activities may themselves be reinforcers. An individual will be more motivated to perform a particular activity if they know that they will be able to partake of a more desirable activity as a consequence. Stated objectively, if high-probability behaviors (more desirable behaviors) are made contingent upon lower-probability behaviors (less desirable behaviors), then the lower-probability behaviors are more likely to occur. More desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend more time doing if permitted; less desirable behaviors are those that individuals spend less time doing when free to act."
In dog training terms: It's no secret that performing certain actions can be rewarding to dogs. Chasing squirrels, jumping up, sniffing a tree can all be intrinsically rewarding for certain dogs. If you ask your dog to perform an "unfun" behaviour prior to being released to perform a fun behaviour, the unfun behaviour can be reinforced by what follows. Often the environment has a stronger ability to reward our dogs than we ever could hope to offer with the cookies or toys we may have in our pockets. So use it to your advantage! Ask for eye contact and a bit of self control before releasing your dog to (safely) run amok!
The beauty of Premack is that it also benefits from classical conditioning, conditioned emotional reactions and the transfer of value. For instance, eye contact can be reinforced by being released to chase squirrels. If the eye contact is routinely rewarded by extremely valuable reinforcers, offered eye contact becomes considerably stronger and, at times, innately reinforcing itself due to it now being associated with huge rewards and excitement. The "unfun" behaviour is now fun. Nice!
Like all classical conditioning, there is a degree of regular maintenance that is required to keep associations strong between action and reward. But once you learn to use it to your advantage, maintenance becomes second nature.
Sorry for the possibly obtuse, overly-sciencey sounding post today. Hopefully this nerdy photo of Cohen will make up for it. Premack has been on my mind a lot these days. I use it a great deal to build off-leash reliability and control, which to me is the pinnacle of dog ownership.

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