Shine a Light: Reinforce a Range of Behavior

I helped a trainer write a plan for a turn behavior.  We wrote down each approximation and then discussed how they would proceed through the approximations.

I was describing how when you’re animal is performing your desired approximation at a rate of about 90%, it’s time to raise your criteria.  As I watched the behavior progress I realized how literally they took “raise your criteria” and in turn here’s what they were saying to the animal.

Trainer: “Let’s play a game where I will reinforce you for looking to your left.”
Animal: “Yay this is easy!”  Look left, treat, look left, treat.
Trainer: “Great you’re offering that 90% of the time. Now it’s time for the next approximation.”
Animal: Look left….. Huh, she must have missed it.  Look left….. Okay, she definitely saw that.
Trainer: “Come on you just have a take a step to the left now…you can do it.”
Animal: Look left….. Huh, this has always worked before. Look left….listen here beep beep beep bleepity beep BEEEEEP!!! You changed the rules of the game!  I quit!

It’s sort of like going on a night time hike with a laser pointer instead of a flashlight.  The laser pointer isn’t going to illuminate enough of the path in front of you for you to be able to proceed safely.  You need a flashlight.  A flashlight won’t show you the end of the trail, it illuminates just enough in front of you to be able to confidently proceed.  As you move forward on the path, your flashlight won’t be illuminating what’s behind you since you proceeded through that part of the path already.  It will only shine a light on what you need to see.

Think of the area lit up by your flashlight as the range of criteria that you’ll be reinforcing for.  As you increase your criteria, or move forward on the trail, you might still reinforce lower criteria right in front of your feet but you’ll heavily reinforce for criteria at the furthest point ahead of you on the trail that’s lit up.  This will keep your animal moving forward on your hike without getting frustrated, lost, or falling on the side of a mountain.

Let’s look back at that turn behavior we were working on earlier.  This time the trainer will reinforce for a range of behavior.

Trainer: “Let’s play a game where I will reinforce you for looking to your left.”
Animal: “Yay this is easy!”  Look left, treat, look left, treat.
Trainer: “Great you’re offering that 90% of the time. Now it’s time for the next approximation.”
Animal: Look left, treat.  Look left, treat.
Trainer: “Come on you just have to take a step to the left now…you can do it.”
Animal: Look left, treat.  Look and step left, big treat.  Look left, treat.  Look and step left,  big treat. “This is fun!”
Trainer: “Come on you just have to take two steps to the left now…you can do it.”
Animal: Look left, treat. Look and step left, treat. Look and step left, treat. Look and step left with both feet, JACKPOT!”

Both trainer and animal feel positive throughout the session and avoid frustration.  This trainer will likely start at the lower part of the range when he restarts the next session but will hopefully be able to progress quickly to two steps and further on his range.

Try it out yourself using our Shine a light Training Plan, just click the link below to download!

 

Shine a light (37 downloads)

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