Saturday, April 26, 2014

V is for Variable Schedule of Reinforcement


<As an aside I really wanted to use the word vanquishing today because I think it's a beautiful word but I couldn't make it fit with my topic LOL. :) Ok, carry on.>

Reinforcement rates and schedules, when done incorrectly probably make up 90% of the reason that dog owners end up without good results or are unable to achieve higher levels of training. But what is a reinforcement rate or schedule? It's a fancy term for how many times we deliver a reward (treat or toy) to our dog (rate quantifies per minute, schedule quantifies per behavior asked). In dog training we generally use a high-reinforcement rate, this allows us to keep their attention and keep them motivated, and a variable schedule of reinforcement, this allows to strengthen and improve behaviors.

There are many different reinforcement schedules, however there are generally two that I employ:

  • Continuous Reinforcement
  • Variable Reinforcement

Continuous Reinforcement

This is what we generally start with when we are teaching new behaviors. The continuous reinforcement schedule simply means that we reward every repetition. It gets us quick results and dogs love it! :). However, if you keep this reinforcement schedule for too long, it will start to work against you. Your dog will only perform if you have the reward. I don't know about you, but I don't generally walk around with treats in my pocket 24/7.

Variable Reinforcement

This is when rewards are given at random intervals or are of variable value and this schedule tends to produce the most consistent performance. The whole key here is for our dogs to not be able to predict what repetition will bring the reward. Think about casino slot machines - it's the same concept. If something works sometimes, both people and dogs are wired to do it more to make it work again. So you'll need to vary both the timing and the quality of the rewards, just like a casino. But you must be careful to reward your dog at least often enough to stave off frustration and giving up.

There are many different ways you can vary your timing of rewards depending on what your criteria is for each behavior - the length of time your dog stays in a position, the number of times they have performed a cue, and the difficulty of distractions in the environment. When I vary the quality or value of rewards, I do so on the quality of the performance. So in a training session, I will only reward my dog for above-average responses and of those I will give the best rewards for the best responses (based on a criteria I have set).

What kind of Reinforcement Schedule do you use?


  1. I just kept reading this with the word "children" in place of dogs. I'm encouraged. We've been working on variabel reinforcement with the youngest, and sometimes it works, sometimes not. He's a tricky one.

    True Heroes from A to Z

    1. It's very true - dog training is really training for ANY species ;). Good luck, the tricky ones are always the most fun!

  2. Glad I found you as the #Challenge comes to an end. You are giving your readers great information, well worth the time it take to read. good for you. It works. Congratulations.

    1. Thank you! And thank for stopping by :)