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Variety is the Spice of Reinforcement

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One of the often-overlooked rules of reinforcement is to use a variety of reinforcers. The two key words in that sentence are variety and reinforcers.

We're all creatures of habit, so it’s easy to fall into a routine where the reinforcement is well...routine. I like sushi and reward myself with it at lunch, but offer it to me on the same day for dinner and I don't find that reinforcing at all!

So a key to successful training is to keep it interesting. Vary your reinforcers. You can mix up reinforcers in the same session. You can vary them from session to session.

If you are using food reinforcers primarily, your choices for really excellent training treats have really expanded in the last 12 months. It wasn't always this way. Finding excellent training treats was a struggle. Most of us just made treats ourselves using fresh food like chicken (limited shelf life), or had to take our favorite large treat and break it up (labor and crumb intensive).

What are excellent training treats? Excellent treats can be consumed quickly (so you can move on to the next repetition), won't break apart in your pockets or get your clothes or hands all greasy, and they are low in calories per piece, delicious tasting/smelling to the dog (but not smelly on you!), easy on the digestive system, and made from healthy, natural, and allergy-free ingredients. Economically, the cost per treat needs to be affordable, too. Bonus: Treats should be easy to toss, and it should be fairly simple to predict where they will land on different surfaces.

We've really expanded the treat selections we offer at the clickertraining.com store as more and more quality offerings heat up the marketplace. Have a look at what's new now and keep coming back to check, because variety really is the spice of training! View Recommended Training Treats

Not all reinforcement needs to be food-based. In fact, non-food reinforcement strategy can be a really important part of the training regimen for anyone working at a more professional or competitive level. Some dogs find certain toys or touch highly reinforcing naturally, but you can also work to make access to a toy, or touch, meaningful as reinforcement. Non-food reinforcement is a complicated topic, but it can really boost your training IQ. The topic is dealt with quite extensively at ClickerExpo the courses on Smart Reinforcement with Ken Ramirez. Hope to see you there!

About the author
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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.

2ForBlue's picture

Time for us to shake it up!

Thanks for taking the time to make this blog post! It's really got me thinking of the various food reinforcements that I use, and how important it may be to make up "trail mixes" for my training sessions to help boost their reinforcement value. In big scary new distracting environments I do tend to ramp up the reinforcement - but maybe it's time to add a few special treats into my pocket for "in home" training sessions to keep everyone interested and engaged. 

I've always considered that my chow-hound labrador would never tire of working for his kibble - but your sushi analogy has hit home - I love food, I really do - but It would be really reinforcing to get a piece of chocolate in my trailmix when fully expecting something healthier and more boring... like a roasted soynut :)