The Consequent Game

The definition of an operant animal is an animal that understands that behavior affects consequence.

The Consequent Game is a structure of communication for learning through play. Performance of target behaviors is tied to the energy level of the game. Good performance is reinforced with more or heightened play, and the consequence for poor performance is a slowing down or a decrease in the intensity of the game.


Training and working with dogs is about more than the object of the dog’s drive. It should be about more than the cookie, more than the toy, more than the visitors at the house. Training dogs is about interaction with the handler and the opportunity that comes along with it.

[icon type=”lightbulb-o”] All good things come through the handler.

Work, or in our case, play, should be viewed as an opportunity by the dog. At Pawsitive Vybe, a dog doesn’t earn a cookie, she earns an opportunity to get a cookie. She learn that her behaviors create a bite opportunity or makes the opportunity to bite go away. A missed opportunity is a powerful motivator.

If working with the handler is an opportunity for exciting play, the dog will offer behaviors in order to make that exciting play happen. This desire to play allows the handler to capture some arbitrary good behavior like eye contact and reinforce that desired behavior with play. Many repetitions of eye contact creating the opportunity for play will teach a dog that the eye contact behavior makes exciting play happen — behavior affects consequence. It will also teach the dog that play is valuable and she will have to do something to make it happen.

Of course she will also learn that the reverse is true. Poor performance will make the game slow down or get boring. A blown off cue will kill the game momentarily. As soon as the dog complies with the cue, the behavior is marked and reinforced by a ratcheting up of the energy level of the game. Behavior affects consequence. By having the opportunity to play removed, the dog also learns that the opportunity to play is valuable and she will have to work for it.

Shaping in Drive

When we have a dog that is aware of the idea that her behavior affects her consequence during an action packed game and values the act of working, we have Operant Drive. Consequent fluctuations of the intensity of the game are really all that’s needed to shape behavior while engaged in high drive play. Do it well and we rock out. Do it poorly and it’s going to be lame.

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  1. Laura McKinney

    Hi Ron,

    Here’s Rubi at her worst:

    A little background: this park is right near our house, and Rubi is very familiar with it. We’re out there doing something about 3-5x per week. She’ll take any treat I offer there, plus play ball with me there (with ball = cookie, not just drive building stuff), but so far this is about it for tug. When we got to the park, she got about a minute to check things out and then a minute to “go do dog stuff” while we worked out the camera and geared up. After I gave up on bite work, we switched to treats and had a pretty successful training session with a decoy dog. They she went away for a while. After about 15 minutes, I took her out again and we did some more work with the decoy. Then I pulled out the tugs again with her still on the 6 foot leash (because I thought maybe I gave her too much room the first time around?), but still more of the same. It’s interesting, almost like the tugs coming out are a dismissal cue for her. they come out and her brain goes right into the clouds. These are her high value tugs, too.

    1. Ron Watson Post author


      I’d say that’s displacement, Laura, and I’m not sure whether or not it was related to the presentation of the tug.

      One thing I would mention though is that “Go Do Dog Stuff…” doesn’t really work as a premack concept if you are busy with setting up the camera and such. Try taking the field and then dismissing her to avoid looking desperate at the beginning of play.

      Some handler movement and a bit of rough housing might have worked in this instance…

      1:17-1:28 – Yes!!! Go Do Dog Stuff…

      Excellent! I would have dismissed immediately upon her winning that second tug. Also the removal from the hand would make for a far more exciting and understandable criteria. You will probably want to engage in more actual tugging out here in this situation and the removal of the toy from your hand by Rubi would provide a clear and exciting criteria.


      Wait and capture that reorientation… you interrupted her – capture that reorientation so Rubi’s in charge of the pace of the game. @2:01 you interrupted her very quietly, again, wait for that reorientation. @2:13 there was a natural reorientation that was not captured… Mark that and give her the


      to bite.

      Wrapping Up

      This is not working because you are interrupting and trying to cajole her into orienting to you. Did you notice that she didn’t really orient to you on her own very much – you pretty much don’t exist out on that field. This is because you are interrupting her to tell her to come work. That’s fine when you have something she really wants (cookies) but won’t work if you don’t have the goods she’s looking for.

      I’m not sure if you do this with cookies or not, or if you really need to, but more dismissal and capturing of behaviors would go a long way to prove that you, and whatever game you have going on, is an opportunity.

  2. Laura McKinney

    I think I’m confused by the “removal from hand criteria.” I let her take the tug from my hand, isn’t that what you mean? Am I suppose to be rewarding her for getting the toy?

  3. Kirby @ Dog.Nerd.101

    Love this post, this idea of opportunity and operant drive is really resonating with me. Can’t wait to see/learn more.

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