For today, I shall talk about secondary reinforcement. We’ve already discussed what a primary reinforcer is. Unlike a primary reinforcer, an animal sometimes has to learn that a secondary reinforcer is just as reinforcing. A secondary reinforcer is anything that is not a food item.
I’ll use an example with people who work with dolphins for a living. If you’ve ever been to a dolphin show, you may have seen many of these secondary reinforcers being used.
- petting or scratching the dolphin’s skin
- rubbing the dolphin’s tongue
- spraying a hose into its mouth or on its body
- feeding it ice cubes
- offering it the chance to do a very simple behavior in order to get additional rewards
There are many secondary reinforcers out there. Including giving an animal a toy to play with.
Why are secondary reinforcers important? Because animals will get bored with the same reinforcement over and over again and also, sometimes you just won’t have food with you, so it is very handy to be able to reinforce your animal without food. As an example, when out with your dog, if your dog can consider praise and pets from you, a great substitute when treats aren’t handy, you can reinforce a behavior just as well. Sometimes, an animal has to be taught that a secondary reinforcement is a great reinforcer. You can do this by pairing a primary reinforcer (food) with a secondary reinforcer (petting). Eventually, the animal will associate petting as being a very good thing.
Behaviors can also be a secondary reinforcer. As an example, when your animal learns a routine, with several steps to accomplish in order to complete the full behavior, each step is a reinforcer to the next one. Completing step one, becomes a reinforcer, because it allows the animal to move on to step two and so on and so forth. Until the final jackpot reward is presented for the entire behavior.
You are not limited to secondary reinforcers. They can be anything you can come up with that your animal will find reinforcing. If they don’t find something particularly reinforcing, you can make it such by pairing it with a primary reinforcer. Let’s say your dog loves getting in the water. Well, that can be a secondary reinforcer. You can have a brief training session with your dog near water and when you feel its time for your dog to play, release it to go jump into the water. The dog will be just as happy and you didn’t need to reward it with a piece of food.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge