Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors

The wording appears to be very long and somewhat incomprehensible, but at a closer look, it is easier done than said. If you are an owner ofa dog exhibiting some behavioral problems you should be more than happy to learn how differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior may benefit you and your dog. Let’s closely break down and take a look at the words that compose this training method.

If your dog is sitting nicely he cannot be chasing, jumping, lunging, stealing, counter surfing, etc.!
  1. Reinforcement…

In the world of training dogs, when a behavior is “reinforced,” it means that it will tend to repeat more in the future — in other words it is strengthened. For example, giving a dog a cookie every time he sits reinforces the behavior of sitting, since dogs want to sit more and more to get those tasty cookies! But what is reinforcing to a dog is subjective. A dog may find jumping on people reinforcing if he craves attention and is given attention when he does so. The act of jumping up will thus repeat over time if people continue giving attention and fueling the

On the other hand, a dog may not find jumping up reinforcing if he is a bit aloof and dislikes having people too close to his face. He may, therefore, jump up once and then shy away and stop jumping, because he is not really too comfortable in interacting with people this way. In this case, the jumping up is not reinforcing and will not repeat over time. The act of jumping up may actually extinguish in this case, because the dog found the results of jumping up unpleasant.

  • Incompatible Behaviors…

Incompatible behaviors are behaviors that clash against other behaviors. For instance, you cannot have a dog jump up and sit at the same time, you cannot have a dog heel and lunge towards other dogs at the same time, you cannot have a dog bite and lick out the content of a KONG at the same time, and you cannot have a dog greet and jump up at guests and go to his nlace and lie down at the same time. These behaviors are incompatible, since if one happens, the other cannot happen simultaneously.

The purpose of using °diPerential reinforcement of incompatible behavior” is to reduce a frequent, unwanted behavior without actually punishing it. Indeed, with this method you are actually reinforcing an incompatible response while reducin9 the likelihood of the undesirable one happening. This makes this training method humane and very effective. If this still sounds confusing, it will become clearer as you read on. Now let’s take a closer 1ook on how to use this training method to our advantage.

How to Apply Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior

In order to implement differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior you must abide by the following rules:

You reward the dog when he successfully performs the alternate, incompatible behavior you ask him to do (for example when he sits instead of jumping up}.

  In Jazz Up and Settle Down (from the Brain Training for Dogs œurse), sitting is “incompatible” with acting hyper. In other words, if a dog is sitting still, he œnnot be bouncing around acting hyper at the same time.  

The desirable behavior selected must be incompatible with the unwanted behavior (sitting is incompatible with jumping, going to a designated place such as a rug is incompatible with rowdy greetings of guests, lying down on a mat is incompatible with begging at the table, and so on).

The unwanted behavior must be prevented as much as possible from being rehearsed and reinforced. Remember, the more a behavior is rehearsed and reinforced, the more it repeats. It’s important that your guests do not reward your dog with attention when he jumps up at them, otherwise the behavior of jumping will be reinforced — we only want to reinforce and reward the alternate, desired behavior, such as sitting nicely.

The reinforcer must be salient enough to encourage the dog to engage in the incompatible behavior more and more (in other words, use high-value treats or other things your dog loves to reward the alternate behaviors, especially during the initial stages of learning).

How to Start Using Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors

So how do you apply this training technique? It is very easy, and best of all, it can be used for basically any problem behavior. Let’s say your dog gets too excited when guests come over and he jumps up at them. In this case, you may want to train your dog to sit when guests arrive, which is incompatible with jumping. A dog with four feet on the floor cannot be on two feet at the same time! So, how do you proceed? Here is a step-by-step guide that can be applied to many other behaviors.

  1. Polish the incompatible Behavior

Practice the sit command (or any incompatible behavior, but in this example we will look at sitting) and make sure you polish this very well. Start asking your dog to perfom this behavior in a quiet room. then move to areas with more distractions and practice there. Ask for the sit in the back yard and then on walks, and so forth. Make sure you reward (he sit a lot initially. Make it a habit to say “good boy” or “good girl” when delivering a treat. When you start fading treats (as taugth_hgr ), your dog will rely on verbal rewards to know he has done a good job. Once your dog sits reliably on request, you can move on to step 2.

  • Make the Incompatible Behavior Salient

Equip yourself with high-value treats. While your dog knows the sit command well, you are going to add distractions, and this may cause a setback in training. The use of high-value treats will make your dog more eager to sit despite having guests over. In this case, the promise of treats should override the need to jump and greet guests. The incompatible behavior will be more salient than the guests if your dog is food motivated. The dog is making a choice: “Should I go and greet the guests and lose the chance of getting yummy treats, or should I stick to my owner and receive a yummy treat for sitting nicely?”

  • Set Your Dog Up For Success

Have your dog initially leashed. The less a behavior is rehearsed and rewarded, the more likely it will eventually extinguish. In this case, you need to do your best to prevent the jumping, and when on leash, many dogs tend to act a little bit more under control. With the leash on, you can always move your dog away if things start getting a bit out of hand.

  • Work Undei Thieshold

If your dog appears to be too distracted by the guest and ignores your request for a sit regardless of the high-value treats, chances are you are too close to the guest and the guest is more salient. To reduce saliency, keep the criteria low initially. In other words, try to practice with the guest at a distance from your dog. Have a guest practice knocking and coming in while your dog is leached and held at distance; in this case he may be more likely to respond to your sit command than if he was only a a few feet from the guest. Keep the rate of reinforcement high at this stage by rewarding often with high-value treats. As your dog gets good at this, gradually move closer to the person. Tell the person to totally ignore the dog as you do so.

In this example we are focusing on dogs jumping up at people, where people are the trigger. But in other circumstances the trigger could be anything: Other dogs, skateboarders, the mailman, etc.

  • Reward Incompatible Behaviors, Ignore Unwanted Behaviors

Move closer to the guest and finally include the guest in your training, tell your guest to ask your dog for a sit and have the guest reward the sit by giving the dog attention. Attention is a life reward, the dog )ikes it without having been trained to like it; it is innate if your dog loves guests. If your dog jumps, tell your guest to turn their back to the dog or even leave. With time and lots of practice, your dog will learn that the incompatible behavior (sitting) now yields the wanted attention, while the unwanted behavior (jumping) yields nothing, and even sends the guest away!

It takes some time for this to seep in, especially, if the dog has been practicing the jumping behavior for a very long time. The dog must basically learn the equation: Sitting = attention, jumping = no attention. As opportunistic beings, dogs quickly learn which behaviors are advantageous and which are not.

Expect some extinction bursts at first; basically the behavior temporarily getting worse before it stops happening. Why does this happen? Basically, if your dog was used to getting attention when he was jumping, he may be wondering why his jumping is not yielding attention anymore. The dog therefore thinks: “This is odd, usually I get attention when I jump, maybe I have to try harder!” If you keep up the training, having your guests ignore the jumping, once past the extinction burst you should see a significant reduction in the unwanted behavior.

As seen, reinforcement of incompatible behavior is something you should add to your dog’s repertoire of training. It is gentle, effective, force- free training that, best of all, allows your dog to make good choices and help him be set up for success.

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