In the animal training world, a jackpot is exactly what it sounds like. When an animal has done exactly what it’s asked, and it’s taken quite the bit of effort to get there, the reward is a jackpot. Let’s say you’ve been working on a particular behavior for days, and one day the animal finally gets it and performs the behavior, you jackpot it in treats. You give it many pieces of treats instead of the standard reward. This helps plant the seed of positivity in the animal and hopefully makes it more likely to perform the behavior again.
A jackpot isn’t only used during the learning process. Sometimes, animals find performing certain behaviors difficult. Perhaps it’s a behavior they don’t particularly care to do, or one that is always a challenge for them to complete. Perhaps the behavior is standing still for a medical procedure. These are also moments that when they complete the behavior, they should receive a jackpot. The jackpot of treats helps make the behavior more positive and worth doing. If you don’t make the behavior worth doing, the animal will slowly try to get away with not doing it.
If you’ve ever been to an aquarium and watched any kind of marine mammal show, chances are you’ve seen a jackpot being used. The most common routine happens a lot with dolphins and orcas. The animal is presented with one fish, and the animal shakes its head “no” and the crowd laughs. The animal is then presented with with 2 fish and once more it shakes its head “no”. Finally, the trainer presents a whole bucket, or handful of fish to the animal and the animal says “Yes”, which results in getting exactly that much fish. In a way, this is a jackpot. The animal had on several occasions, been presented with fish, and had to shake its head “no”, which is a behavior being performed, without actually getting that reward. Until finally, the opportunity to say “yes” is presented and the jackpot of many fish is given. This helps make the routine a positive experience for the animal involved.
My dog has a “yuck” behavior, in which I can put a treat on the floor and wave my hand over it and tell her “yuck”. She will then ignore the treat and not attempt to eat it. Only when I tell her it is ok to have it, will she then eat it, but I also add more treats to create a jackpot for her. In the below video, recorded for the purpose of this post, Mattie did something very good. As I was walking away a bit (to retrieve the jackpot treats off the kitchen counter) she laid down. This resulted in an immediate release from the behavior. For me, a lay down is a positive thing. As an example, when we eat dinner, we don’t want her begging for food. So, she has learned to lay down or sit quietly. That will actually give her more of a chance of receiving a treat while we eat, than begging. You can consider her learning to lay down or sit quietly at the table, an example from yesterday’s post of “incompatible behaviors“. Her laying down under the table is incompatible with begging.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge