Back to School at
Home > Mom's Life > Family Relationships > Pets > Pet Care > Reinforcement Schedules and Variable Reinforcement for Dogs

Reinforcement Schedules and Variable Reinforcement for Dogs

In This Article:

Page 1

Canine Caveats

Stick to a fixed-interval schedule and you'll get what's called scalloping. Say you're having the dog heel and you give her a treat every five seconds (because we humans are creatures of habit). The dog may, after taking the treat, go off and sniff, and then run back after three or four seconds to get her next “fix.”

Doggie Data

Kathy fed her dogs exactly at 5 p.m., and they would whine and bark a few minutes before that time. To try to stop this obnoxious behavior, she went on a random schedule of feeding, changing the time each day. Unfortunately for Kathy, the dogs started to whine and bark all day because they never knew when they'd be fed.

This is a perfect example of how changing the time between reinforcers can increase the behaviors. I never said the behaviors would always be good ones! What actually happened was that Kathy was inadvertently reinforcing the whining and barking by continuing to feed the dogs in spite of the unwanted behavior, thus reinforcing the very thing she wanted to extinguish.

B.F. Skinner was the first to discover how variable reinforcement schedules can increase or decrease specific behaviors. Skinner came upon this marvel of observable fact when he was running out of rat pellets during experiments and the rats still performed behaviors, at a stable rate, for less food. Wahoo!

He called it “schedules of reinforcement,” and it opened up a whole new area of study for him and others in behavioral psychology. The study of it spread to marine mammal trainers and then to dog trainers (and sometimes even to human trainers).

There are three different types of reinforcement schedules that can be used for training: continuous, fixed, and variable. Some are more effective than others in maintaining or advancing behaviors. Some actually kill behaviors.

Continuous Reinforcement

Continuous reinforcement was the original method that Skinner practiced, meaning that for every correct behavior, a treat was delivered. This schedule is great for teaching new behaviors.

You can see continuous schedules of reinforcement in your daily life. When you first learned to use a vending machine, it was very reinforcing to put your money in and get a prize. This encouraged you to do it again when you wanted something to eat or drink.

Next: Page 2 >>

More on: Pets


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training é 2005 by Pamela Dennison. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

August 30, 2014

Keep it hot (or cold)! No one likes cold soup or warm, wilted salad. Use a thermos or ice pack in your child's lunch box to help keep his lunch fresh until it's time to eat.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

get ready for school!

We’ve got your
shopping list,
lunch menu,
and more.



Join BIC on our mission to save handwriting and Fight For Your Write! Writing helps kids become better readers, boosts their confidence and sparks their creativity. Visit to sign our petition to save handwriting!

11 Coolest Lunch Boxes for Kids
Send your child's lunch to school in style! Check out our picks for the 11 best lunch boxes with great features from BPA-free accessories to spill-resistant fabric.

7 Important Back-to-School Safety Tips
Follow these back-to-school safety tips to make sure your child stays safe on the way to school, in the classroom, and while on the playground.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!