Rate of reinforcement is a number of rewards per amount of time.
Traditional positive training says that you should shoot for 15-30 rewards per minute for learning and tough challenges. That’s a cookie every 2-4 seconds. A high rate of reinforcement of success creates a snowball effect. It becomes easier and easier to succeed. Successful performance of a behavior becomes habit.
Rate of Reinforcement is a tool that you can use to:
- contrast performance with non-performance
- contrast quality performance vs poor performance
- contrast excellent performance with quality
- add value
- extinguish behaviors
- control energy level of training session
It’s OK if your dog is not doing the behavior for a few moments (or even a minute or two) if you contrast that non-performance and lack of reinforcement with awesome stuff when the behavior is happening. The contrast between a high rate of reinforcement for good stuff and no reinforcement for not so good stuff is unmistakeable communication.
Using rate of reinforcement strategically to your advantage is a key for creating behaviors, upping the ante, and fading cookies and will help you and your dog overcome challenges.
Adjusting Value and Extinguishing Behavior
A high rate of reinforcement will add value to behaviors and situations. You can make your dog really like to do a behavior (operant) or really like to be in a situation (classical) with free-flowing cookies. A low rate of reinforcement can reduce value to behaviors and situations especially when distractions are present. Zero reinforcement should extinguish behavior. It certainly will if you add value to an alternate or incompatible behavior.
Low or zero reinforcement can punish behavior.
Controlling Energy Levels
Rate of reinforcement has a close relationship to the energy level of the session. A high rate of reinforcement often means high energy. A low rate of reinforcement often means low energy. Manipulating the rate of reinforcement can and will manipulate the energy levels of your training session as well as the performance of behaviors.
The pace you and your dog work can become a habit. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work a down with a dog who is working feverishly. It is fairly easy to condition your dog to need a high rate of reinforcement.