For many of us, we grew up with this idea of getting dessert only after you finished your dinner. As a mom of three, I still follow this with my kids but what does this have to do with training animals? Believe it or not this “philosophy” is actually a method of teaching called the “Premack principle”. Of course with animals we may not use “eating dinner” as the desired behavior (since most of our learners eat readily) but we use the method in different ways.
- If you sit, I will throw your ball.
- After you do three of your tricks, you can have dinner.
- If you get the newspaper, I will give you a treat.
These are ways that we use the Premack Principle to teach animals. If you are consistent, eventually these desired behaviors become automatic, even when the “reward” is not present. Using this principle can also make training more fun. I worked with a dog in agility that was accurate with the weave poles but was very slow. A ball was the most desired object in the world for this dog. I started to throw the ball for the dog when he successfully completed the weave poles. He was so excited to get the ball, his weave speed improved. Once he was increasing his speed, he did not get the ball if he was slow. The principle for him was, “If you are fast and accurate with the weave poles, you can chase the ball”.
Can you think of a situation where you can use the Premack principle with your animal?