Reinforcers are not Rewards

Updated: Feb 3

Am I being pedantic? I could be, and am completely open to that, however, when we dive into the world of force free training we need to choose our words wisely. My point being, if we go into the space of using words like reward, what do we inadvertently cue to our handlers? In the absence of reward, or the opposite of reward, are we then conditioning our clients to use punishment?


I really hope not, but I have begun to shift my language to use the term 'reinforcement' so that I can then focus on how behaviour is built. This is a subtle shift but a valid one where we are concentrating on building up behaviour as opposed to simply rewarding it.


In using this shift in language, we then can share this further with working with people and their dogs. I find when people can focus on what is reinforcing or even distracting for their dogs, they can become creative in ways they may not have expected. I also relate to trainers who feel they don't want to overwhelm their clients too, however, if we use terms like 'reinforcing or rewarding' and explain why reinforcing is more fitting, then we slowly can extinguish the term rewarding.


If, over time, we work on the idea that we are building a dialogue with our handlers and their dogs, they begin to look for what the reinforcers are, they can list them, and harness them. If we can do this, I believe we are skilling people to be better observers and in turn, better trainers, and they will have a better relationship with their dog.


Our dogs tell them what is reinforcing for them. As opposed to us giving them rewards that we find appropriate. This can be as diverse as the dogs themselves are, and what a fun journey we can go on if we actively see these out. We have had dogs here who just love a spray of water, others who love to play with a particular toy, or maybe a play with another dog friend. Even going to look at the sheep or alpacas. Most is us use toys or food. but what about a toy thrown that has food in it? The list is endless. It is our jobs to find their reinforcers.



"Change your language and you change your thoughts."

Karl Albrecht

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