Assess your reinforcement delivery

This past weekend, I gave a mini PORTL workshop at All Fur Fun, a dog training facility in Addison, Texas. (What is PORTL?) We spent part of the workshop talking about reinforcement delivery. 

Reinforcement delivery is a really important, but often overlooked, piece of training. Small changes in how, when, and where you deliver a reinforcer can make it much easier (or much harder) for your animal to learn. Poor reinforcement delivery can create unwanted behaviors and even make your reinforcer less reinforcing. 

I gave the workshop participants the following homework assignment. I encourage you to try this activity and let me know what you find out.

Conduct a reinforcement delivery assessment 

Video a training session (1-2 minutes) in which you practice a behavior that you and your animal have been working on recently. 

As you watch your video, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Do you click/mark when the behavior occurs and not at other times?
  2. Do you click/mark, THEN reach for the reinforcer?
  3. After delivering the reinforcer, do you return your hands to a neutral position away from the reinforcers?
  4. Are your reinforcers easy for you to access and deliver?
  5. Are your reinforcers easy for your learner to obtain and consume (no searching or extra behaviors)? 
  6. Does the delivery of the reinforcer leave you and your animal well positioned to begin the next repetition of the behavior? 

This is an activity that you can and should return to periodically. 

I tried this assessment this week with my horse, Apollo. Notably, I realized that, during a particular exercise, I thought I was feeding him with his head straight. However, I was actually feeding the treat so that his head was turned slightly to the side. I was not aware that I was feeding the treat this way.

Videoing and assessing your training sessions are great habits and will help you and your animals make faster progress during training. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how small details during reinforcement delivery can make your training more effective, I encourage you to check out the virtual Reinforcement Systems class that I teach through Behavior Explorer.

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