The effective use of non-food reinforcers is a critical skill that all trainers will likely use or need at some point in their training career. In this video, Ken Ramirez and his dog Marlin demonstrate the use of clapping as a conditioned reinforcer. Ken begins by teaching Marlin that clapping is associated with yummy food. Once Marlin associates clapping with reinforcement, Ken begins cueing behaviors and then clapping.
If your dog is fluent in more than one behavior, those individual behaviors can be linked together by learned cues to form a sequence! This allows us to teach dogs more complex tasks, such as go to his mat and lie down, without pausing to reward him at every transition. It is also helpful in dog sports which requires a dog to perform a series of behaviors without stopping.
When you give your dog a treat for a job well done, you are using a primary reinforcer, which is something that an animal needs to survive (i.e., food, water, shelter). While food reinforcers can be extremely useful, adding non-food reinforcers, or secondary reinforcers, will help you expand your skill set by giving you alternatives for influencing behavior. This is a particularly useful tool when working with animals from a distance (competition training), managing exotic animals, performing husbandry behaviors, or any situation where it’s not safe or appropriate to use treats.
Think you’re a great dog trainer? Try training a cat, bird, guinea pig, or horse! Training other species is not only fun, but it will ultimately improve your dog-training skills. Working with another species will hone your observations skills and sharpen mechanics such as clicker timing and reward delivery. Working with another species is an important part of the curriculum of Karen Pryor Academy’s Dog Trainer Professional and Dog Trainer Comprehensive courses! In this video, Dog Trainer Professional student Erica Grier, and Rambo the cat, demonstrate just how fun training another species can be!
When you give your dog a treat for a job well done, you are using a primary reinforcer, which is something that an animal needs to survive (i.e., food, water, shelter). While food reinforcers can be extremely useful, adding secondary reinforcers to the repertoire gives you alternatives for influencing behavior and expands the trainer skill set. Secondary reinforcers are reinforcers that the learner associates with primary reinforcers. Eventually, secondary reinforcers elicit similar responses to primary reinforcers through classical conditioning.
One of the biggest objections to positive reinforcement training is the perception that it’s “all about the food.” However, while food may be the primary reinforcer for training new behaviors, using a variety of non-food reinforcers is a powerful tool for maintaining those behaviors. Watch in this video as Ken Ramirez demonstrates the use of conditioned reinforcers, including clapping, petting, and tongue-tickling!