CGC handout



Variable Reinforcement:  Casino Anyone?


 If you have ever visiting a casino and heard the bling, bling, bling of the bells and the clatter of coins you have no doubt experienced a bit of Mr. Pavlov’s principle yourself!   

The most powerful feature of the slots for encouraging desired behavior, is the reinforcement function. Payouts, which comprise the primary fortifying element, occur at unpredictable intervals and are of variable sizes. Play is initiated by the "possibility of winning big". Gamblers "are not dreaming about small, relatively frequent reinforcement. The lure is hitting the jackpot." But, once begun, interest is kept up by the variable interval reinforcement of the modest returns. "This 'schedule-induced behavior' is so potent," Professor Tom Creedmore of Syracuse University says, "it is often regarded as an addiction."  

The slot machine is an EXCELLENT example of variable reinforcement in dog training your dog.  


When you are rewarding with a treat marker, especially, you should begin to reward less and for only the BEST sits, downs, stays, etc.  By withholding a treat marker and replacing with a verbal marker, or giving a less desirable treat, and then JACKPOTTING your dog when he does an perfect down, you are using what is a simplified version of variable reinforcement.   

To be fair, you should never quit treat markers “cold turkey” but using Variable Reinforcement (VR) you can wean your dog off of treat markers, rewarding only for the VERY best execution of the command given.

 On a variable reinforcement schedule, your dog will keep working for you because he knows a treat is coming, but he just doesn't know when!


An example of a VR schedule looks something like this:

 Sit – treat, Sit – no treat “good”, Sit – treat, Sit – treat, Sit –no treat “good”, Sit –no treat “ good”, Sit – no treat “good”, Sit – 3 treats JACKPOT!!! Sit – no treat, “good”, Sit – toss ball.

This week, start your dog on a VR for commands such as sit, down, 'watch me', and stay (to increase duration).