Free Cookies? Non-Contingent Reinforcement for Frustration

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Demand 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, that when ignored, often just get louder. Common fixes such as “ignore what you don’t like/reinforce what you do,” frequently backfire, resulting in even more resilient versions of the problem behaviors than you started with.

When applied systematically, non-contingent reinforcement provides a simple, yet powerful starting point for addressing many of these types of issues. By meeting the underlying needs of a learner upfront in such a way that “attention-seeking” or demand behaviors become unnecessary, new, healthier communication patterns have a chance to emerge. For trainers looking beyond NILIF, status reduction, and “Learn to Earn” type protocols, non-contingent reinforcement invites us to explore new possibilities of increased understanding and co-operation with the animals we share our lives with.

Please note: This Session was recorded in 2018; content presented in 2019 may vary slightly.

Sarah Owings

Sarah Owings is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She specializes in the practical application of behavioral principles to help transform the lives of fearful, shut down, and over-the-top dogs. As an international speaker and regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching. Sarah has written for Clean Run magazine on topics such as stimulus control, release cues, and toy-related cues. She is a member of the ClickerExpo faculty, an instructor for Cyber Scent Online, and an advisor to the Glendale Humane Society in Los Angeles.

Sarah is also an avid nose work competitor, currently competing at both the Elite and Iron Dog levels with her Labrador retriever, Tucker. Tucker was the recipient of the Harry Award in 2015 and has the distinction of titling at each level of NACSW without a single miss. In Sniffing Dog Sports, he has won High in Trial in both Advanced and Excellent divisions and has earned a HIT at Iron Dog. Tucker's trained final response for nose work, a hover-freeze at source, was taught with a marker signal, following clicker training principles.