Internal and external reinforcements

Publicado el 19 de marzo de 2015

There are two ways of individual reinforcement for dogs:

  1. Internal, which makes the dog satisfied to be doing what he is doing, the behavior is its own reinforcement.
  2. External, which drives the behavior based on the expectation of getting something of interest (food, toy, etc).

The most interesting thing is that we now know that it is possible to make behaviors obtained by one type of individual reinforcement gradually become reinforced by the other.

This allows great advantages:

  1. For training where we can get a new behavior, learned with external reinforcements, it skips to become self-reinforcing with the benefits of greater efficiency in terms of reinforcements and pro-activity involved. Here I would give an example, but I think the Pere Saavedra video series «surrounded» by border collies is exemplary. The truth is that much of the new book I have «in the pipeline» focuses on how to achieve this and I will tell you in different entries.
  2. For behavioral correction, which is what I will focus on today, where the behavior that a dog does for fun (internal reinforcement) can be strengthened externally until it ceases to have any value of its own and is extinguished when leaving the external reinforcement program.

Here I will give you one very enlightening example that Pablo Roy, Head of sea lions at Madrid Zoo once told me: They had an orca who amused itself by ripping the silicone from the windows of the pool, which was a problem as it could break the enclosure. It was obvious that the orca was bored and they tried several measures to enrich its environment, but what it really thought was cool, was to rip silicone.

Working with orcas is very educational because you don’t get tempted to get angry with them or to punish them before considering alternatives (why is that?). What they did was use a continuous external reinforcement program: each time he took the silicone, he got a fish.

Were they crazy to reward it for bad behavior? Not far off, they were making a behavior which was self satisfactory and thus self-sustained, depend on external reinforcements. In addition to using continuous reinforcement we know that extinction while strengthening is faster: in a couple of months of work, the orca pulled out the silicone and came to ask for its reward, when they stopped giving it fish, the orca stopped ripping the silicone.

An alternative and different use of rewards to eliminate misconduct, we have tried many times with dogs and, if continuous reinforcement is achieved, it has ALWAYS came off. The owners flip and give you a wave.

The truth is to avoid being a «card» positive, I give positive work ideas. 😉


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