Distractions are Reinforcers RedefinedOct 04, 2022
Reinforcers by definition are anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated. Many times we have a very close-minded approach to reinforcers thinking that they are limited to food or maybe even toys but they go far beyond that. Reinforcers can come in the form of experiences, autonomy, access, and more. When we discuss things like access it may be having access to play with another dog or access to visit a person. For some dogs being able to watch something can be very reinforcing (such as looking out the window). Everyday we are influenced by things around us, experiences we have, and how things make us feel that impact if we will do something again; dogs are no different.
Distractions by definition are anything that takes someone's attention away from something else so they are not able to fully focus. Distractions are happening all the time and not just for our dogs but to us as well. Not everything that distracts us would be considered a reinforcer. For example, if a loud noise happened and it startled me. That absolutely is a distraction but does not mean that I enjoyed it and it would be a reinforcer.
However, when dog training I want you to look at most distractions in a little different way. Many times distractions come in the form of food, people, dogs, toys, other animals, or maybe even the ground as your dog wants to sniff. In these cases, those distractors are in most cases reinforcers. If your dog would rather be interacting with something else then it would probably be considered not only a distraction but also a reinforcer.
When training I like to take note of these distractions. I like to use them in my favor as a means to reinforce my dog. For example, I may separate my dog from its buddy (have your friend or family member hold the other dog) and I may wait for my dog to give me focus and when they do I release them to go play as a reinforcer for giving me attention or following a simple cue. By breaking this concept down into little chunks you can really create, what I call, a “mother may I” mentality with your dog. This is when they see a distraction and instead of impulsively running to the distraction they stop, check in with you, and then you send them on their way to interact. This is a great way to utilize distractions to your advantage and also a way you can continue to use positive reinforcement training concepts without having to always have food on you.
This is just one way to use distractors as reinforcers, there are many other creative ways to do so! One of my favorite books to begin working on the concept of reinforcers as distractors is in Denise Fenzi’s book, Beyond the Backyard. In this book she discusses many different training exercises that can help with this concept.
Additionally, at Canine Craze we have a variety of training services that can also help, such as classes, private training, and online learning opportunities. You can learn more by visiting our website, https://caninecraze.com