Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor: Summary

Chapter 1: Reinforcement

  • A reinforcer is anything that, occuring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.
  • There are two kinds of reinforcers: positive and negative.
  • Reinforcers are relative, not absolute – in order to be reinforcing, it must be something the subject wants or doesn’t want.
  • A major point in training with reinforcement is that you can’t reinforce behavior that is not occuring.
  • Punishment is what happens when a behavior results in a loss of something desirable or when the behavior results in the undesirable.
  • Each instance of negative reinforcement contains a punisher.
  • Punishment results in unpredictable outcomes.
  • A conditioned reinforcer is some signal combined with the delivery of a reinforcer.
  • Reinforcers can also be segmented to communicate: good, keep going, and stop.
  • It is useful to have a variety of reinforcers for any training situation.
  • Reinforcement lagging behind behavior is the beginning trainers biggest problem.
  • The size of the reinforcer should be as small as you can get away with.
  • Eighty reinforcers seems to be the maximum for any subject’s interest during any one day.
  • Use jackpots – reinforcers 10x normal size for special occasions or randomly.
  • Variable reinforcement should be used once a behavior has been learned – except when solving a puzzle or test is involved (1to1).
  • Long-duration behaviors can be reinforced with a fixed schedule of reinforcement.
  • Reinforce yourself, reinforce everyone.

Chapter 2: Shaping

  • Shaping consists of taking a very small tendency in the right direction and shifting it, one small step at a time, toward a goal.
  • Shaping is possible because the behavior of living beings is variable.
  • Shaping shortcuts include: targeting, mimicry and modeling (helping subject do motion).

Ten Laws of Shaping

  1. Raise criteria in increments small enough that the subject always has a realistic chance for reinforcement.
  2. Train one aspect of any particular behavior at a time, don’t try to shape for two criteria simultaneously.
  3. During the shaping, put the current level of response into a variable schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising criteria.
  4. When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of a behavioral skill, temporarily relax the old ones.
  5. Stay ahead of your subject: Plan the shaping program completely so that if the subject makes sudden progress, you are aware of what to reinforce next.
  6. Don’t change trainers midstream; you can have several trainers per trainee, but stick to one shaper per behavior.
  7. If one shaping procedure is not eliciting progress, find another; there are as many ways to get behavior as there are trainers to think them up.
  8. Don’t interrupt a training session gratuitiously, that constitutes punishment.
  9. If a behavior deterioriates, “go back to kindergarden”; quickly review the whole shaping process with a series of easily earned reinforcers.
  10. End each session on a high note, if possible, but in any case quit while you’re ahead.

Chapter 3: Stimulus Control

  • Anything that causes some kind of behavioral response is called a stimulus.
  • Teaching an animal to touch the end of a stick with its nose is an excellent beginning exercise for the new reinforcement trainer.
  • Train the behavior first, then provide the cue.
  • Cues can be anything that the subject can perceive.

The Rules of Stimulus Control

  • The behavior always occurs immediately upon presentation of the conditioned stimulus (the dog sits when told to)
  • The behavior never occurs in the absense of the stimulus (during a training or work session the dog never sits spontaneously).
  • The behavior never occurs in response to some other stimulus (if you say, “Lie down,” the dog does not offer to sit instead).
  • No other behavior occurs in response to the stimulus (when you say “Sit,” the dog does not respond by lying down or by licking)

Chapter 4: Untraining

Eight methods in order, least to most effective.

  1. Shoot the animal.
  2. Punishment.
  3. Negative reinforcement.
  4. Extinction, goes away by itself.
  5. Train an incompatible behavior.
  6. Put the behavior on cue.
  7. “Shape the absence”, reenforce everything but the behavior.
  8. Change the motivation.

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