Do you want to get fit? Or train your dog?

In this article I found published on Ninemsn today, Kerri Sackville says she went through an extraordinary transformation by tricking herself into getting fit.

In the article the technique she used is described as ‘temptation bundling’ a term coined by Katherine Milkman in 2014. ‘Temptation bundling’ is the linking of a “should” (something necessary, but unappealing) with a “want” (something unnecessary but enjoyable).

But what I’m reading is that Sackville reinforced a low probability behaviour with a high probability behaviour.

Commonly you might know this as, “you have to eat all of your vegetables (low frequency) before you can eat dessert (high frequency)”

Sackville says “I’d become hopelessly addicted to various programs (podcasts), and couldn’t wait every day to get my fix. I couldn’t listen to them when I was working, or with the kids, and so I began taking walks [low probability behaviour] so I’d have an excuse to have some alone time with my podcasts [high probability behaviour].”

David Premack first published a new theory of reinforcement in 1959 – which became known as the Premack Principle.
Premack’s principle suggests that if a person wants to perform a given activity, the person will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity; that is, activities may themselves be reinforcers. An individual will be more motivated to perform a particular activity if he knows that he will partake in a more desirable activity as a consequence.

What might this fitness story have to do with dog training?

What does fitness training have to do with dog training

You can use this very principle to train your dog!

Examples include:
Sitting still to put a leash on to go for a walk.
Sitting quietly at a door so that she can be let outside/inside.
Walking beside you on leash so that she can go sniff on walks.
Dog gives up a ball so that another ball can be thrown for fetch.
Letting go of a tug toy so that another game of tug can resume.

Sometimes trainers refer to these types of reinforcers as ‘life rewards’ and it’s a great way to help maintain a behaviour you have taught your dog.

One of the myths of positive reinforcement training is that you will always have to use food and that the behaviours you teach your dog are contingent on having food.

Not true! Training with food as a reinforcement for correct behaviour is fast and effective. And once the behaviour you trained is reliable, e.g. walking on leash by your side, then you can start to thin out the use of food rewards, and use the Premack Principle instead. E.g. walk on a leash by your side (the low probability behaviour) and as a reward for doing so, you can now start to add another cue “go sniff” (the high probability behaviour) i.e. the behaviour of walking by your side is maintained because you reinforce it by allowing your dog to sniff out those wonderful smells on walks.


Well I just ate all of my veggies so now I’m going to eat some dessert! How are you going to use the Premack Principle?


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