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Dog Training: Understanding Reinforcement

Dog Training: Understanding Reinforcement

dog relations new york dog training

My dog is stubborn! He doesn’t listen!

Wait….really?

Maybe the “stubborn” behavior is the result of your own behavior. Maybe you have inadvertently sent out messages that reinforce the dog to be “deaf”.

Don’t underestimate the power of intermittent reinforcement! If you reinforce a dog’s behavior in some way, he will try that behavior again.

DEFINING A REINFORCER

Any stimulus that increases the frequency of a behavior it follows is by definition, a reinforcer. This is true even if the stimulus does not seem like it should be a reinforcer.

This is where we can get into the area of inadvertent and intermittent reinforcement. For example, let’s say your dog likes to bark to get your attention. You are trying to ignore the barking but secretly you think it is funny or cute and you comment under your breath. THAT is enough to reinforce the behavior if your dog gets any feedback at all. So even if you don’t “feed” the behavior with food you are feeding the behavior with attention. If that is all the dog can get: he will work for it. Especially hard if you only lose your resolve every once in a while. Like a gambler who wins every once in a while your dog realizes that at some point this behavior has worked for him and dammit: it’s going to HAVE to work again.

Another example would be: Your dog jumps up and your hand automatically goes to his head to pat him on the head while he is ripping your favorite dress, albeit just in an enthusiastic expression of excitement and joy. And then you throw in the occasional,: “STOP IT ALREADY!. “THAT’S ENOUGH!” This is a classic example of intermittent reinforcement. No wonder your dog “stubbornly” continues to jump up! You are reinforcing the behavior without noticing what you are doing.

Another scenario would be that your dog might appear to be stubborn when he has learned that a certain action, stimulus or cue acts as a predictor of something unfavorable. For example, you have taught your dog to come to you when called, but in practice the dog has learned that after you call him, and he comes, something unpleasant happens. Such as, we go home from the park or we have to go into the bathtub. The dog has learned that your calling him to come means: oh no! Whatever fun I am having now, it ends here.

So your dog isn’t stubborn, your dog has merely figured out that coming to you doesn’t pay off in a good way. Our dogs are very quick learners and every interaction is a learning experience.

At Dog Relations, we’re committed to using common sense and affirmative training methods to educate dogs. We offer the most thoughtful, individualized and effective dog training and counceling services in New York.

If you have questions about reinforcement or would like to learn more about training your dog in an enjoyable and life-enriching environment, contact us at Dog Relations


Elisabeth Weiss is a highly certified, experienced dog trainer in Manhattan, NYC. To learn more about dog training services, contact us by phone at (917) 783-1473 or our contact form.

  1. How adorable! Such manners for Nono and Sia. Very creative on the adults end.

    Comment by karen on June 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm
  2. That is totally hilarious! Great job and really fun to watch!

    Comment by Fran on June 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm
  3. Actually my friend and website designer Kendra Dixson was the person who sent me the video. So 99% of the credit goes to her!

    Comment by Elisabeth on June 11, 2011 at 7:55 am
  4. Hee hee, well a good friend of mine forwarded it to me so the list goes on. I think it is so cute and I’m amazed at how well the dogs are behaved, although you do see a little help from the human hands so they don’t dive their noses into their dish. lol

    Comment by Kendra Dixson on June 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm
  5. yes the dogs are great! I also liked HOW they helped the dogs by pretending it was a human “putting your chin in your hands” gesture. It is most entertaining.

    Comment by Elisabeth Weiss on June 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm