Immediate vs Long Term Reinforcement

Posted on 08/18/10 32 Comments

Defining moments of decision happen both in the dog and in us.

Do you hit the snooze alarm in the morning or do you decide to get up, giving you a few extra moments to train your dog before you leave for work?

Do you see your dog responding inappropriately, yet decide it is too much work to maintain the critieria you initially defined for the dog so you let it slide? Or do you stop and take the time to reinforce that which you trained?

For any animal it is what happens after a “choice” that defines the future that that specific choice effects. Since reinforcement builds behaviour if immediate reinforcement follows a decision, then a similar choice will be made in the future.

What happens after we “choose” to hit the snooze alarm ? We get the immediate reinforcement of more sleep, making it more likely we will do it again and less likely that we will ever train our dog in the mornings before work.

Favor; a defining moment as a puppy and why today she is one of those more uncommon types Shelties; one that is lightning fast but also has a great start line

What happens when we decide not to maintain the criteria of our dog sitting and waiting for a release at the back door or the start line? We get the immediate reinforcement of getting to move off and do what we had on our mind to do in the first place.

What happens to the dog after he “chooses” to bolt out the door or off the startline in agility– he gets the immediate reinforcement of what he wants — the backyard or agility obstacles.

Reinforcement makes these decisions more likely to occur in the future.

I think that is why these types of decisions, the ones we know we should make but don’t wanna make them, are often called “hard” decisions.

It is only when we can comitt to seeing the value in long term reinforcement over immediate gain that these “hard” decisions become “must-do-it-now” decisions.

It’s like Zig Zigler reminds us if we want to be successful in anything; “Don’t give up what you want most of all for what you want right now!”

Thanks for all of your input, great thoughts on this one.

Today I am grateful for quiet time early in the morning.


  1. dougjenstrak says:
    Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 6:30am

    What a gooooorgeous dog you have there and an equally great post. Dog training is like life training I think. Same rules apply.


  2. denise says:
    Friday, August 20, 2010 at 6:08am

    I’ve noticed people who have problems with there start line stays are sometimes very quick to blame and punish the dog without ever realising that they have inadvertantly TAUGHT their dog to break their stay. It saddens me to see dogs being punished for breaking control positions when I know there has not been a really strong history of reinforcement for maintaining their control position. At training, I rarely see people reward their dogs for holding a start line stay but I often see dogs being corrected 🙁


    • Karen M says:
      Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 5:36am

      So totally agree with you, denise. I think I’ve become almost paranoid about what I allow my dog to be reinforced with. We worked on start line stays as soon as I got my pup at 8 weeks. Trouble is, I should have also concentrated a lot more on the recalls before he grew too tall and strong. But he’s fun and a quick learner. Have started training at a new venue which is a more suitable environment for him. Less distractions so I can relax and enjoy our sessions. He’s calmed down a lot and focussing more on me.


  3. Sandra Moody says:
    Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 2:34pm

    Susan, thanks so much for this very interesting and thought-provoking post. I have been running a dog who sometimes gives me a start line and other times does not. And I can go back and relive the moments when I allowed her to start breaking what was once a beautiful start line stay. I have promised myself that I will not let this happen again and my new dog is my work in progress. Thanks for the reminders of the benefits ahead. Sandy and the GSP gang


  4. veronica says:
    Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 7:38am

    Weather its breaking primaturely from a start line,bolting pass you at the back door or breaking from a sit stay.
    For me its setting the ” criteria” of what I want my dog to do and then training her to do it.
    I have learnt from past experiences that there is considerable risks attached to ” wanting it now” for the sake of immediate gain and not waiting for the behaviour to be fully proofed.
    This not only can set a dog up for failure but it threatens the trust and respect the dog has in you.
    If my dog decides to break and be self rewarded by agility obstacles,birds,chasing cars and anything else it takes a fancy to.Then I have a control problem.
    So its back to the re examining and re establishing of what is of value to my dog.
    Then using this value to reinforce the wanted behaviours…..being attention to me and self control.
    Unless my dog has a resonable level of understanding and confidence to do the tasks at hand I dare not subject her to a trial.
    I think in training important points to consider are
    1.. have a plan
    2.. have a history of reinforcement
    3.. be aware of the points of reinforcement
    4…Is there enough value for the dog to want to work
    5.. Be consistant and patient

    and finally give the dog the time it needs to learn.

    I hope this is helpful.It made a huge difference for me.( several dogs later in life)


    • Karen M says:
      Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 5:42am

      I’m with you, veronica. I don’t want to trial my dog until I’m confident in us working together as a team. I’ve found that if I’m not calm, confident and relaxed, it all falls to pieces so quickly. I want to showcase my dog’s true potential when we start trialling.


  5. Lynda Orton-Hill says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 11:22pm

    by the time Ive taught it and left a note on the crate both my husband and pet sitter are game for reinforcing good manners in our dogs.

    hand on door = sit = open door / dog stays still = BREAK

    applies to crate and outside potty door doesn’t take anymore effort on my husband’s part or Thomas the pet sitter.

    When Im first teaching them (John and Thomas 🙂 I have a sign on the top of the crate with a picture of the puppy complying… that says exactly that…hand on door = sit = open door / dog stays still = BREAK – Ive given a 2 minute lesson of how / and for non compliance – they don’t have to teach anything… just looking for manners compliance 🙂 just follow that one training mantra. Never much of a resistance because its just like manners with children.

    kids = please and thank you.
    dogs = sit and release

    Lynda Orton-Hill
    SY Instructor, Alberton, ON


  6. Kari says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 10:54pm

    I am guilty of this, but mostly when I am in class. I often feel like I am holding everyone else up. However, as we moved to a new level in our training, we have a new instructor. In our last class, when my dog blew me off to obsess over the other dogs in class, she stopped us from running the course and made me spend the entire class just getting him to focus on me. It was really hard, but the best thing she could have done and made for one of the most valuable lessons I could have learned. She gave me a homework assignment to take him to places with lots of distractions and work on his focus. It is already paying off. Tonight we did an agility demonstration at the state fair with lots of dogs, lots of people, lots of noise and in an arena that just had a cattle show in it before us. My dog stayed completely focused on me all night. If she hadn’t stopped me in class, I would have kept running my dog without his attention on me and sorely regretted it later. So I am grateful to have an instructor that shares your philosophy.


  7. Helen Verte says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:25pm

    What a beautiful, thought-provoking post.


  8. Cindy says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 6:58pm

    This is so much deeper than just the start-line or anywhere else stays. This is about all decisions in life, even outside of training. Maintain criteria in all things. Thank you for the reminder.


  9. Leota Kleewein says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 6:26pm

    Exciting day for me an my puppy. I am going back to some beginning days. Could never get my little guy to tug or even play much…..
    I went to game 5 with the push back and Jam! Just in two trys he was chasing me as fast as we both could run. Also, if I did get him to chase a ball, he wouldn’t bring it back for more throws. but when I wanted to quit, the PBJ,breathless…….and started into the house. he brought the toy in and wanted to play in the house…..Maybe he is smarter than I am… you think? LOL


  10. Leota Kleewein says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 6:20pm

    A question for Lisa. Are you saying that if your dog does a sloppy stay/sit… will pick him up and take him to his crate or back to the place he messed up?
    Isn’t this a wonderful place to exchange training ideas?


  11. Angela says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 3:28pm

    Thanks for the reminder Susan.
    I would guess Lisa’s concern is very common, families not being consistent.
    I have been able to shape my husband to be more consistent. He too needs a click and treat. Works wonders!


  12. Emma says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 2:58pm

    A heartbreaking story evrybody should know about, Listen to the link below.

    Alex Jones Police State Report: Rosamaria: Justice for Dunkin’ Dog!!!


  13. Deb Bogart says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 1:23pm

    I’m there with you Lisa. My boyfriend sets no boundaries and our guys get away with anything around him. Fortunately, it has only minimally crossed over to my relationship with them. Sometimes I find it comical that when he lets them out in the back yard and wants them to come back inside he can be out on the deck for minutes begging and pleading with them. I go out and just say “Inside” or “Jake, Storm” and they immediately come driving up the deck stairs.


  14. Andrea says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:32pm

    Lisa I’m sorry you are finding it frustrating to have family with different criteria than you – I dog share one of the dogs here and at her other house she gets away with murder. Here at home my hubby enjoys the dogs too much to make them work. All of my guys are very good about getting that me in working mode is different to anything else.
    Perhaps you could devise some sort of signal to let the dogs know you are in working mode?


  15. Alfhild Winder says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:28pm

    Great timing with this post, Susan! I’ve been struggling with my pup’s high arousal when I use the tug as a reinforcer. I’m the one who was snoozing — of course, she was getting tons of reinforcement for the jumping/yipping. This morning, no tuggy, just the ball, No. 4 on her distraction/reinforcer list. Result –high attention, great compliance and just enough arousal. think I’ll save the tug for outdoor work. The moving hand target is also fabulous. I was a doubter, but it works like a charm.
    Jackpot to Jason for fixing my password problem.


  16. Shawna Buckley says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 11:14am

    Oh My. How did you see me hit the snooze three times this morning? Even with a cocker spaniel standing on my chest I was able to drift back to sleep twice! I planned to train for a few minutes but of course couldn’t and was even late to work. I let my New-to-CrateGames pups get away with blasting out of their crates.

    OK – now I know. I’m being watched. Better shape up!


  17. Michelle says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 10:59am

    Don’t give up what you want most of all for what you want right now!”

    You had this quote up on a white board at one of your foundation camps I attended in Florida and I have never forgotten it. It is something I repeat to myself on a regular basis when I am facing one of those hard decisions. I think it’s what makes a good trainer become a brilliant trainer and will let their dogs reach their full potential.


  18. Lisa says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 10:55am

    The problem I have with reinforcement is my family not making my dogs do ANYTHING. I am good about no furniture, sitting before we go outside, waiting to get out of the car/crate, and those sorts of things. My family – not so much. So now my dogs have learned they only have to listen to certain people (me) and they test me (about some things) on a semi-regular basis just to make sure I’m paying attention. It causes a problem for sure 🙁


  19. seamstjr says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 9:39am

    What a great article. I was just noticing how many places around the house I have been letting my dogs just go willy nilly with out me giving them the OK; racing down the stairs for dinner, in and out of the house, in and out of cars. The list goes on and on. No wonder they have trouble with this. This will take some retraining on my part and my husbands as these are habits we have formed without even being aware of them. I think consistency will be our key to success.


  20. Jenny Yasi says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 8:03am

    My reactive waterdog, Tigerlily (5.5 yrs) was so reactive/shy/fearful that I spent a lot of time classically conditioning her just to get her to relax in new environments. Sometimes she’d shut down (around other dogs) and other times she’d be quivering/shaking/screaming with a powerful desire to hunt squirrels. So my criteria was often so small. Just to get her to look at me was a huge criteria. I’d keep moving further and further and further away!

    So now, though, she sometimes shuts down when she just wants me to move her further away! Or if she wants me to pick a different game. And for a long time, if she blasted off after a distraction, I’d call her, she’d come back, I’d feel very obliged to renforce her for coming back. So she got into a habit of “blast off!” after the distraction, then come back!

    I haven’t been reinforcing that behavior chain for a while, but I get uncertain about what to do. On the beach the other day, playing water retrieves and fun stuff, she suddenly blasted off for a refreshing run down the beach underneath a seagull. When she came back I just packed her up and took her home. I hate to be a party pooper, but I think I have to be more like her. I want to get her thinking that if she doesn’t pay constant attention to me, I might just shut down, or blast off.


    • Sharon says:
      Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 3:44am

      Something I learned from John Rogerson in the UK was to keep a long string on my predatory flyball/obedience/agility JRT. At the park, we’d practice fetch, then “calls away from a flying fetch object.” If the dog came during the recall times, we kept playing. If the dog took off after the object after receiving a command to “leave it” and “come,” I grabbed the string, tied him to a tree/fence within seconds, then a friend and I would run off playing with the object ourselves. That worked very well.

      Another thing that worked great was one time I took this JRT to a huge county park with nobody else there. It was set back at least 1/2 mile from even a dirt road. My dog didn’t like to come back when he knew it was time to leave the park, though had a generally good recall (#2 JRT in the USA at that time for obedience).

      One time, when it was time to go, I called him… he blew me off and started to make another lap of the park… I turned my back on him, ran to the car and drove very slowly away. Once he caught on to what was happening, he gave chase. I eventually stopped–still on the long driveway back to the road–and opened the back to let him into his crate. I didn’t give a word of greeting or praise. This is also the Rogerson “cold shoulder” method in action. After that, he never once blew me off when it was time to leave a park.

      Before and after using this method, I had always done a lot of “recalls, snap on the leash, give treat, then release again for another lap of the park.” But until the abandonment day, these practices alone did not cure the problem 100%.


  21. MicheleA says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 7:52am

    I am very guilty of not maintaining my start line stays, I had good stays at home and once we went to the shows I did not ask Pha to stay at all, so now its just off with the leash and run like a madwomen to catch up with her BUT once I am finished with the Recallers course I know I will have nice stays on Pha and my 2 youngsters., so there is light at the end of the tunnel.


    • Blaze says:
      Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 8:04am

      This happened to me — ahem — I did this to myself and my dog — with regard to contact obstacle criteria. Contacts were great on his first weekend, and deteriorated thereafter. I learned a good lesson there, and I’m still working on fixing my previous… lack of consistency.


  22. Trudie says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 6:44am

    Some beautiful dog, Favor!

    The decision is the easiest at the back door, but oh so much harder when we get out in other places and distractions!


  23. shirley holmes says:
    Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 6:41am

    My Border collie Skye has started doing this over the last couple of months. I find that I am playing catch up on a course and because she is very fast I cannot keep up with her, this is when I get unsure of myself. She does work really well at a distance from me. I was talking to a friend just last night and I have decided that I am now going to crate her for a time out every time that she breaks her start.


    • Blaze says:
      Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 8:01am

      That’s a great idea and I just know it will pay off for you. If it’s a possibility to simulate this situation in training, you might even increase her chances of making the correct choice on an actual course.


    • Lisa says:
      Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 1:26pm

      I am by no means an expert on start line stays or what to do if your dogs leaves before their release word but before you “punish” you dog for breaking their start line (especially in a trial) I would like to suggest an end of run routine be developed.

      I have a Sheltie who hold his start line 99% of the time, but there are those rare occasions he breaks his start. I have always had an “End of Run” routine I follow after every trial agility run we complete (no matter how bad). I put his leash back on him praising him and then we go to our spot for that trial and party with tugs and treats, cool down, and water and food in his crate.

      Every time he breaks his start line, I excuse myself from the run and silently put his leash on, walk back to our area in silence, and put him in his crate. Sometimes I bring out one of our other dogs and play tug in front of his crate.

      No matter how mad I am, I try not to show it to my dog (that is why the silence). The next run he becomes a statue until released. Also my husband gives me 5 minutes to complain about it so I feel better and we move on after that. Trust me, I pulled when his broke his start line with him being the last dog in USDAA Master Snooker classes where I new we could win the class but if I didn’t do this I would have bigger problems in the future.

      Good luck on your project and stick to your criteria.



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