Thursday, July 17, 2014

Primary and Secondary Reinforcers

A primary reinforcer is something that dogs, cats, humans, bugs etc.. don't have to learn to like: food, play, attention, etc..


A secondary reinforcer is something that let's us know a primary reinforcer is on the way. A clicker, a verbal reward marker, a thumbs up can all signal a dog that food (or some other great thing) is on the way.

The dog decides what is enjoyable to him or her.  Some dogs are crazy for a favorite toy or the chance to play with other dogs.  Other dogs are crazy about food. Some dogs like a lot of attention and petting, some do not.    We will get the most enthusiasm out of our training program if we find out what our dogs enjoy and use those things as rewards.

More on primary and secondary reinforcers

  •  from Family Friendly Dog Training: A Six Week Program for You and Your Dog: 1 by Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D., Aimee M Moore  
  • two different kinds of reinforcement. Things like food and chase games are called "primary reinforcers," because they inherently make your dog feel good. Pavlov didn't have to condition dogs to drool when he brought meat into the laboratory, and you don't have to teach your dog to be happy when you give him a piece of chicken. Other things we do for our dogs are called "secondary reinforcers," because they have to be linked to something else to be effective. Praise is a perfect example of a secondary reinforcer, because many of our dogs have to learn to feel good when we say nice things to them....  
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  • reinforcer,” meaning something animals don’t need to learn to like. A rule of clicker training is that the click should always be followed by a primary reinforcer. Besides food, some of the other primary reinforcers are water, air, and sex, but you can see how using these might present logistical and ethical problems.* Food is Number 1 on most dogs’ hit parade, and because you can give a food reward quickly and your dog can eat it even more quickly, it lends itself to training with multiple repetitions. But even food can be used more or less effectively, so you might as well use it effectively.  
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  • A primary reinforcer is one that is necessary for survival, such as food, water, warmth, shelter, sex, air, and interaction (to some extent). This makes it a powerful motivator. But most of these are either too difficult to use or unethical to use. Withholding any of these things might be considered abusive, and providing more of some of them is impossible (for example, air). Obviously, food is the easiest of these to use. It also allows us to do many repetitions, which results in faster skill achievement.  
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  • Food is a primary reinforcer, or R F, something the dog inherently values and desires, and will work to get or keep. Other primary RFs are water, freedom, play, sleep, and touch, though they will vary from dog to dog. Some dogs are chow hounds and others are toy nuts. The only thing that really matters is whether your dog will work for what you are offering. The clicker is a secondary reinforcer, also known as a conditioned RF or a bridge or marker. It gains value by being associated with a primary  
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  • A primary reinforcer is something the dog intrinsically likes, such as food, water, play, cuddling from mom, going for a walk in the park, etc. There are also secondary or conditioned reinforcers; these are things that initially the dog has no interest in but because of their association with a primary reinforcer, come to be important to him.  
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  • What he called a primary reinforcer is any good stuff that the learner wants. The secondary reinforcer is the message that the good stuff is on its way. The cues or signals that indicate which behavior will pay off and when to do it are a third level of conditioned reinforcer, even further removed from the primary reinforcer, which some trainers call a tertiary reinforcer

More to come on how to use this information in dog training.  
How do you reward your dogs? Tell us in the comments section below.


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