Variable Reinforcement

Candy Machine – Fixed Schedule

When you start with marker training, the reinforcement schedule, or reward schedule is a fixed ratio of 1:1 – 1 Behavior : 1 Reward. This is a like a candy machine. Think about a candy machine for a moment…

What happens after the candy comes out? Do we hang out or do we leave?

What if no candy comes out or the machine gives the wrong candy? Do you put more money in? “Heck no! That candy machine stole my money!” If nobody’s around it might catch a beat down.

Candy machines that don’t pay out or give you the wrong kind of candy violate the rules of a 1:1 reinforcement schedule. It’s not playing fair, so you get frustrated and avoid losing more money by avoiding that machine.

Slot Machine – Variable Schedule

As your dog gets better at learning or when the skill you’re working gets stronger you need to move to a variable reinforcement schedule. 2 behaviors for 1 cookie. 2:1… 3:1… 20:1 depending on where you’re at in the development of this skill.

This is a slot machine. What happens when you put money into a slot machine and it doesn’t pay out? You put more in. In fact, the longer you sit there, without winning, the more sure you are that the jackpot is coming. The slot machine strings you along with almost, but not quite, and break even payouts and you keep playing because you’re sure it’s going to pay off.

By using variable reinforcement, the handler becomes a slot machine. You can create a little gambling addict – a dog that keeps playing the game because they believe that the reward will come if they play long enough. The dog will work harder for less reinforcement.

Pay them less for more work

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