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Posted on 04-04-2016

Welcome to another edition of Behavior Modification Monday!

By: Harline Larkey, B.S., M.Ed., APDT

Harline's 4 yo old Dane girl, Kirek

This week's topic is Premack: “The Grandma’s Rule”

Have you ever said to your child “Eat your green beans, then you can go out to play” or to your teen “Get a B in that class and you can go to that concert”?

We can use a similar method to influence and strengthen our dog’s desirable behaviors.  The proper name is the Premack Principal and we apply it to dog training by using access to something in the environment rather than food as a reinforcer.

Here’s how it works: When you take two behaviors, one of which is more likely than the other and pair them differently, the less likely behavior can become the more likely. If you ask your dog to sit and wait for you to open the door before letting him out, you are using Premack. Initially, the more likely behavior is that the dog will dash out the door and the less likely is that he will sit and wait. But when your dog learns that sitting for a few seconds means he can go out (access to the environment) it becomes more likely that he will sit and less likely that he will dash out.

Pretty simple, eh?

As I was writing this, our dog Kirek began barking at something in the meadow below. I  asked her to go to her mat. When she did, I released her and encouraged her to “check it out!” She got up and offered a few more barks, at which point I sent her back to the mat. After 4 or 5 seconds I released her again to “check it out.” This time she took a brief look at the trigger, barked once, then trotted to her mat with no request from me. That’s the power of Premack.

I’d love to help you learn how Premack and other methods can modify your dog’s behavior. Give me a call!

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