J is for Jackpot

JIn 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


12 thoughts on “J is for Jackpot

    • Thank you 🙂 I always love being able to share what I’ve worked on with Mattie. I’m sure that comment did bring a smile to your face. It brings a cheeky smirk to mine 😉

  1. One tip on jackpots that I read somewhere (don’t remember where) is that when giving the jackpot if you hand them a piece one after the other instead of giving them all of it at once that they feel like they are getting a bigger jackpot than they are. I don’t know if that is “scientifically” true (I don’t have a very scientific brain… I do what works, but I don’t always understand all the underlying things that are happening lol), but I know my dog loves it when I jackpot him, praising him as I hand him one piece at a time (really fast, not dragging it out or anything). I’ve done it both ways and he seems to get more enjoyment that way than if I just toss a handful on the ground. Maybe it’s just the interaction… not sure. Just thought I would share in case someone reading your post wants to try it out!

    • I cannot confirm whether or not that theory is correct. I suppose it depends on the individual animal. For me, it depends on what I am working on with an animal. Treat placement can also be the beginning of the next behavior. For example, if I’m working on a “sit” or a “lay down”, throwing the treat away from the animal, makes the animal get up and thus, sets it up for another “sit” or “lay down”. It could very well be that the act of feeding the animal by hand one piece at a time is what is so rewarding and not necessarily that its noticing how many treats are coming its way. Again, just another idea to ponder. Not saying that what you’ve said is false. At the end of the day, we can only make our best guesses when it comes to the animal mind.

      • All of the other rewards I toss on the ground and I also use the reward for resetting between behaviors. So it probably is the interaction during a jackpot that makes it special for him, since the rest of his treats get tossed on the ground. 🙂

  2. Pingback: P is for Primary Reinforcement | Semi-Charmed Life

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