Because We Let Them: Addendum

I ran Tour of Chicago: 2011 Race Report Part 2 on Wednesday so I could fit this in today before launching into a 6 part, 3-week mega series that I’m starting next week.  This is a followup to the Because We Let Them series, some thoughts that either occurred to me afterwards or that I just left out because I didn’t plan it out well enough.  It’s sort of a grab bag of topics on the stuff I touched on in that series.


Random Reinforcement is Not Reinforcing Randomly

This is just one of those little pedantic notes both to illustrate a different concept and to make sure that I didn’t give people the wrong idea about what I meant by writing confusingly.  In Because We Let Them Part 1, I talked about how, once a behavior is established, moving to a random reinforcement schedule tends to reinforce it further.  Basically, you end up teaching that it’s worth doing the behavior ‘just in case’ a reward is coming.

And, again, you do this only after reinforcing a behavior (such as ‘sit’ with a dog or whatever you’re trying to get a human to do) consistently enough for it to become a normal behavior (so you reinforce the absolute hell out of it initially).  Then instead of rewarding every time they do it right, you start reinforcing on some random schedule.  But the key is that you’re reinforcing a specific behavior that you want to increase the frequency of on a random schedule; what you’re not doing is reinforcing at random for non-specific behaviors.  And this distinction will make sense below.

So here’s an example, as I mentioned I taught Alfie Red Light to mean ‘sit and stay until I give you the command to move’ (which is green light).  He already knew sit, mind you, so it was easy to change this into red light (I’ll explain at a later date how to get a dog to go from sitting briefly to sitting and staying).  And initially I’d give him a high pitched ‘yes’ and a treat every time he sat on the ‘Red light’ command.  Every time.