September 07, 2005

Premack Principle

Susan Garrett, in Shaping Success, discusses using the Premack Principle - "In order to do what you want, you first have to do what I want". Expressed like this the principle is often referred to as Grandma's rule, as in "if you eat your veges you can have dessert."

The principle goes like this:
  • You can increase the frequency of any low probability behavior by making it contingent upon a high probability behavior.
So this principle tells us that you can increase the frequency of a behaviour of the dog's that is low probability (such lying still through dinner) by rewarding it with a behaviour that is highly probable (such as licking the plates).

The principle supports rewarding the dog with what they most wanted in the first place; it tells us to use the environment to reward the dog. For example, if your dog loves to swim in the lake, do your obedience exercises near the lake and send the dog for a swim as his reward. Or, if you are working on recalls, send your dog into the lake, call him out again and then send him back in as his reward for coming.

Positive training can too easily descend into stuffing your dog with food. It is good to remember that there are lots of things out there that are equally, or more, rewarding than food. Garrett publishes a list of possible reinforcers and suggests that you mark them in order of your dog's preference.

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