What makes a good reinforcer?

Here’s how I’m putting theory from the classroom into my training sessions!

Several weeks ago in my intro behavior analysis class we talked about good reinforcers using an acronym called DISC. This is what DISC stands for:





The best reinforcers are something the animal hasn’t had in awhile (principle of deprivation), something that occurs right after the behavior (principle of immediacy), something large enough or appealing enough that the animal recognizes it as a sufficient reward (principle of size) and something that is given if and only if the behavior occurs (principle of contingency).

Giving an ice cream sandwich as a reinforcer for a behavior to a kid who ate half a pizza and a sundae 15 minutes ago violates the principle of deprivation. Giving the reinforcer too long after the behavior occurs makes it hard for the animal to associate the behavior with the reward and violates the principle of immediacy. Giving the next door neighbor’s kid a dime for mowing your yard violates the principle of size, she probably won’t be reinforced enough to want to do your yard work next week. Giving your kid his allowance whether or not he does his chores violates the principle of contengency; he realizes he doesn’t have to perform the behavior to get the reward.

Well, how does this apply to life?

Ginger and I had our 3rd dog training class a little over a week ago. She was pretty distracted while we were working on behaviors that involved moving around, which she always is. She still does not pay attention very well or check back in, and distractions become even more interesting when we’re moving around and she can sniff everything.

Our instructor thought that the yummy dog treats I was feeding might not be a sufficent reward (and therefore, I was violating the principle of size of the reinforcer). She said to ditch the dog treats and  find something even more yummy for the next class.

So, last night, I showed up with an assortment of human food cut up into tiny little bites. And ginger did beautifully! Well, that’s a lie. She still got distracted a bit, especially since we weren’t on the normal field. However, she did a ton better than she has been doing and spent a larger percentage of the time focusing on me than she normally does.

So, what makes a good reinforcer?

string cheese and cheap hot dogs!

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