Give the Dog a Big Bone: Magnitude But Not Delivery Method of Food Impacts Preference and Reinforcer Efficacy in Dogs

Scientific Journal Articles

Despite the prevalence of reinforcement-based training practices in animal training, little research has investigated how to enhance the efficacy of delivered consequences; effective reinforcers are critical for maintaining long chains of behavior, such as in working animals, and for competing with environmental reinforcers. Two potentially easy methods to increase efficacy of reinforcers used in animal training are increasing magnitude (e.g., deliver 4 pieces of food instead of 1) or altering delivery (e.g., offer reinforcers 1-by-1 with simultaneous praise or all at once without praise). In Experiment 1, we evaluated dogs’ preference for (a) several treats delivered 1-by-1 with simultaneous praise or all treats delivered at once without praise and (b) large or small food magnitudes. In Experiment 2, we assessed reinforcer efficacy of these delivery methods and magnitudes by measuring dogs’ break points using Basis 2 progressive ratio 1 schedule of reinforcement. We also evaluated whether delivery of praise when delivering treats impacted reinforcer efficacy of the treats. Results showed that magnitude reliably increased reinforcer efficacy, with large magnitude reinforcers producing break points nearly twice those of small magnitude reinforcers. In contrast, delivery method had small, inconsistent effects on reinforcer efficacy. The provision of simultaneous praise had no effect on responding. Generally, preference tests predicted relative reinforcer efficacy. Our results suggest small treats can be used in training for maintaining short behavior chains but larger magnitude treats are likely warranted for longer behavior chains.

Feuerbacher, E. N., Stone, C., & Friedel, J. E. (2022). Give the dog a big bone: Magnitude but not delivery method of food impacts preference and reinforcer efficacy in dogs. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 22(1), 31–49.

Photo: Maya Shustov

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Topic(s): Behavior, Breeder Resource, Dog to People - Skill Building, Social Interactions