Rate of Reinforcement is one of the Four Principles of Positive Dog Training. Below we track Cookies Per Minute (CPM) through some training and disc dog jam sessions and relate Rate of Reinforcement to the teaching, handling, and performance of dogs.
We try to maintain a Rate of Reinforcement of about 15-30 CPM (cookies per minute) in early learning and significant distractions. The proper Rate of Reinforcement is whatever is required to maintain the behavior. You can always back off once the behavior is happening and has enough value.
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the proper Rate of Reinforcement or Cookies Per Minute is whatever is required to ensure performance of the behavior.
0:33 – Thresholds as Traffic Control
2:20 – Juggle as Easy as 1…2…3
3:58 – Show Intro
6:21 – Bitework with Hops
8:57 – Body Rolls are Easy
10:41 – Backing Up with Juicy
13:57 – Show Backer Shout Out
15:30 – Jam Session with Hops
17:45 – Perch with Loot
20:49 – FitPaws with Lois Lane (ad)
21:45 – Backing Up with Juicy
24:17 – Multitasking the RCV
26:55 – Back Body Roll
28:30 – Show Close
The Attention, Targeting, and Threshold concepts can easily be leveraged to provide ample opportunities to build and maintain a proper rate of reinforcement. Do that when you need to.
Rate of reinforcement can be leveraged as well. For instance, a dog can’t bark if they are eating. The dog won’t be in your lap if there’s a cookie happening at your feet every 3 seconds. Watch Juicy in this week’s episode and you’ll see this in action.
Rate of reinforcement also creates value and desire. The more cookies happen there or while your dog is doing that, the more likely your dog will be to do it. “I like doing that!” A high rate of reinforcement creates a desire and a reason to perform behaviors.
And don’t forget that Cookies Per Minute can and should be scaled up dramatically for “Hazardous Duty Pay” in challenging environments and fearful situations and should probably be reduced for hum drum activities.
Contrast is Key
One of the awesome things about using a high rate of reinforcement is that you create an expectation of interaction and opportunity through the handler, and turning that on and off has great power. Dismissing your dog while in the middle of a hot and heavy trick training session adds a ton of value to the handler and the act of working. It makes work with the handler an opportunity.
Time spent where your dog is not performing the behavior is not necessarily terrible. There is no need to rush things and pressure yourself or the dog to do the behavior. Your rate of reinforcement will speak for itself. There is stark contrast between 1 minute of 0 cookies per minute while screwing around and 1 minute of good work where 22 cookies were earned. It’s a no brainer.
Do Or Do Not, a Cue is Not a Command
We work with cues, not commands.
A cue is a request, the dog either takes it or not, it’s their choice. A command is the law, if a command is given it must be obeyed, preferably without question and with haste. Nothing could be more damaging to having a cool dog than thinking of communication as giving commands.
So, ask the dog to take the cue, not follow the command. Offer the dog a choice:
You can take my cue and get cookies…
You can ignore my cue and get squat. It’s your choice.
That’s it, it’s as simple as that.
The contrast between the high rate of reinforcement while performing behaviors and the low or zero rate while not performing is the lesson. Looking at communication as a cue is absolutely key to getting the kind of offered behaviors we are looking for and for having the patience to shape and capture behavior. It also provides experience with the contrast of not following our cue. We can prove that the grass is greener with the handler.
That’s a Lot of Cookies…
First off, dogs that carry extra weight don’t live as long, as active, or as pain free as dogs who are lean. Our dogs eat TONS of cookies – probably 25% of their food is taken in via cookies.
So if cookies go into your dog, you need to take a like amount out of their daily food. Just make sure your dog gets a couple clinks in the bowl at feeding time regardless of how many cookies they ate. Especially if you have multiple dogs…
Also, we’re just using kibble – their regular food – primarily on the show, you may or may not be able to use kibble with your dog – I would recommend higher value cookies that can easily be torn apart into tiny pieces.
We only use large cookies when throwing them around, for the most part, and do so to make sure the dog can efficiently locate them for the flow of our session. Otherwise we use tiny, sliver-lets of food – barely morsels – as reinforcement. I can break a quartered and diced piece of hotdog into 15 or 20 cookies. We’re talking about TINY, tiny cookies, for the most part.
Discussion in Comments Below
I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions on the show, the Threshold concept, Attention/Dismissal or Targeting in the comments below. Don’t be shy, the only silly questions are the ones not asked.