Free Cookies? Non-Contingent Reinforcement for Frustration

Demand-related and frustration-related behaviors are often hard to live with, and can damage the human-animal bond. Barking, pawing, jumping up, vocalizing, destructiveness—even aggression—are loud expressions of need. When ignored, the behaviors often just get louder. Common fixes, such as “ignore what you don’t like/reinforce what you do,” can backfire, resulting in even more resilient versions of the original problem behaviors.

When applied systematically, non-contingent reinforcement provides a powerful answer to many of these issues. By meeting the underlying needs of the learner or family member up front and in such a way that “attention-seeking” or demand behaviors become unnecessary, new and healthier communication patterns have a chance to emerge. For trainers looking beyond NILIF, status-reduction, and “Learn to Earn” protocols, non-contingent reinforcement is an eye-opening approach that invites increased understanding between humans and animals.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings, KPA CTP, is passionate about reaching challenging learners. She specializes in using behavioral science to help transform the lives of fearful, shut-down, and over-the-top dogs. As the owner of Bridges Dog Training, and a regular contributor to online training forums, Sarah is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and for her compassionate and insightful teaching. She serves as a faculty member at ClickerExpo, an instructor for Karen Pryor Academy, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles. Sarah is a regular contributor to Clean Run Magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is also an avid Nose Work competitor, and, with Helix Fairweather, co-teacher of Cyber Scent, an online foundation-skills course for scent detection taught with clicker training.