Tuesday, December 8, 2009

so how does operand conditioning positive reinforcement training work

All animals learn the same. This is a fact whether dog, chimpanzee, cockroach, rat or human!

In the past and most evident in dog training a method of punitive discipline was  (and in some places still is) the preferred teaching methodology
If we look in the dictionary we find the following definitions 
punitive is relating to, involving, or with the intention of inflicting punishment.   
discipline Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.

I think the best examples of seeing this in action is watching a dog wearing a choke/check chain being reefed around untill the owner can place it in the preferred position. The general mesasge being sent to the student or dog in this case is "do this or else". This is not to say that at times that these repercussions are necessarily inappropriate but, rather, that this method of education seems to frequently mean living up to the expectations set by the trainer/educator rather than working with that subject.

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904  August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, author, inventor, advocate for social reform. He is one of the great reformers of pedagogical theory. 
His early paper on Radical behaviourism led to his founding theories on reinforcement processes. His theory hypothesizes that positive reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the application of some event (e.g., praise after some behavior is performed), negative reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the removal or avoidance of some event (e.g., opening and raising an umbrella over your head on a rainy day is reinforced by the cessation of rain falling on you). Both types of reinforcement strengthen behavior, or increase the probability of a behavior reoccurring, the difference is in whether the reinforcing event is something applied (positive reinforcement) or something removed or avoided (negative reinforcement). Punishment and extinction have the effect of weakening behavior, or decreasing the probability of a behavior reoccurring, by the application of an aversive event (punishment) or the removal of a rewarding event (extinction).

So in carrying this theory further he also found these roadblocks to animal education.

  • a fear of failure.
  • The task is not broken down into small enough steps.
  • There is a lack of directions.
  • There is also a lack of clarity in the directions.
  • Positive reinforcement is lacking.

Skinner suggests that any age-appropriate skill can be taught using five principles to remedy the above problems

  • Give the learner immediate feedback.
  • Break down the task into small steps.
  • Repeat the directions as many times as possible.
  • Work from the most simple to the most complex tasks.
  • Give positive reinforcement. 

Part of Skinner's analysis of behavior involved not only the power of a single instance of reinforcement, but the effects of particular schedules of reinforcement over time.

Skinner's types of schedules of reinforcement involved:
 interval (fixed or variable) and ratio (fixed or variable).Continuous reinforcement - constant delivery of reinforcement for an action; every time a specific action was performed the subject instantly and always received a reinforcement. This method is prone to extinction and is very hard to enforce.

Interval (fixed/variable) reinforcement (Fixed) reinforcement is set for certain times. (Variable) - times between reinforcement are not set, and often differ.
Ratio (fixed or variable) reinforcement (Fixed) - deals with a set amount of work needed to be completed before there is reinforcement. (Variable)amount of work needed for the reinforcement differs from the last.

Pigeons are superstitious
Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon "at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior." He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions.

This comes into play when thinking about the timing and placement of a reward. For example if your dog goes over a jump and then you go to reward the dog for going over the jump it comes to you and sits patiently waiting for you to get the reward, the dog will think that it was rewarded for sitting not going over the jump. I will go further into this in my next entry.


  1. skinner was a genius. and so obvious when you think about it.

  2. there is so much more to dog training than I ever imagined!