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Congratulations On Becoming Employee of the Month!

We have been so impressed with your work ethic and commitment to your job, we could not have done all of this without you! To show our gratitude to you we're going to give you a nice, big plaque every month commemorating your excellent service to remind everyone how great you are.

Oh also we're going to stop paying you, hope that's not a problem. You obviously love working for our company, so you don't really need the paycheck anymore right? I feel like at this point you can just do it because of our relationship and your commitment to the job, yeah?

I want you to imagine yourself as the employee in the above scenario. You have worked your tail off at your job, consistently giving it your all and doing your best. And you start to get the recognition you deserve when your boss surprises you by telling you that you're now expected to do the job just because, and that you'll no longer be getting paid.

How long would you continue working at this company? A month? A few weeks until you start to really see the impact not getting a paycheck is having on your bank statement and your mortgage is due? Would you laugh in your boss's face on the spot and walk out that day? Really, how long would you stay? Would you stay for the plaques, or do you need that paycheck to keep going back?

Now I want you to consider this: this is what we're basically saying when we say "once your dog is trained you can stop reinforcing the behavior".

I hear it all the time from different trainers, regardless of training style or methodology: "No, you won't have to reinforce your dog forever, just during the learning phase!" or "eventually you can phase out the rewards". And I'm here to say: No. Nope. This is simply not true.

Are there some behaviors you won't need to continue using food or toys to reinforce for your dog's entire life? Yes. Sit at the back door before gaining access to the yard? The reinforcing consequence will be getting to go out in the yard so food can be faded out. Sit to greet some of your dog's favorite people? Yes, the reinforcing consequence here is getting to say hello to their people, no food required! Typically situations where there aren't a ton of competing motivators (i.e. other things the dog wants) are the situations where you can quickly move to other reinforcers or eliminate food reinforcers entirely.

But recalling your dog off of critters? You will always need to use high value reinforcers if you want this behavior to continue. For predatory dogs chasing critters will never lose it's reinforcing nature, so we HAVE to show up and compete with that.

Ignoring other dogs on walks if your dog is super dog social? You will need to continue reinforcing your dog for ignoring the other dogs, likely until they mature enough that they care less about the other dogs (and even then you may still need to reinforce!)

When you stop paying a behavioral response you are putting that behavior onto an extinction schedule. We use extinction schedules to do one thing: eliminate a behavior, causing it to go extinct! If you stop reinforcing behaviors that you like you will start to see less of them, your training will break down, and your hard work will disappear! And nobody wants that, so: keep paying your dog!

P.S. Notice that the plaques didn't keep the hypothetical employee coming back? I like to say that praise is like a plaque, it's nice and something most dogs like (especially if you're like me and sound like you're on something when you're happy talking), but it's not the most motivating factor int he reinforcement equation, so use it! But don't use it in LIEU of food or other highly motivating reinforcers!


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