R is for Reinforce!

R is for Reinforce!

All beings strive. Towards something, or from something. That’s basic behavior knowledge. A behavior that is reinforced gets stronger. Easy.

As a dog trainer – and sometimes teacher for humans – I use this knowledge to my advantage. I make sure that the behaviors I want to see more of are reinforced, and that the ones I don’t like get as little reinforcement as possible. There are two key elements to this (according to me):

  1. Identify the behavior. Way too often we tend to try to reward results, instead of the behaviors that will LEAD TO the results. It’s often easier that way, because we don’t have to think about the “how”. In my example below, I have put an R (Reward) every time I lose two kilos. Problem is – it doesn’t tell me how to get there. I need to complete this plan with a plan that reinforces the correct behaviors: exercise and healthy food choices.


2. Identify the reinforcers. A good reinforcer is something that the individual is willing to work for: most often something the individual likes to do. Eat, play and socialize are common reinforcers for dogs. I work for money (well, for what the money represents: things I can buy). I also work for praise, attention, appreciation, and the possibility to do things I like to do. Like coloring, writing, or checking boxes. See my spread below: I find it reinforcing to make them, look at them, and fill them in. It feels good.

My training plan (above) and my meal plan (below) identify the behaviors I need to get in better shape (walk a certain amount of steps every day, exercise, run, think about what I eat, and make healthy choices). They work with small reinforcers, enough to keep me on track.


And when all these small behaviors add up – I lose the weight I want to lose. And I get my bigger reward, from the first spread, as a bonus 🙂

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