Tag Archives: chaining behavior

Reinforcement Gone WRONG


Often a chain of actions grows a behavior. Barking, whining, jumping up, mouthing, excitement at the doors … are very commonly increased by chained events and unfortunately most of the time the person doesn’t realize that they are growing the behavior instead of reducing it.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t particularly like and you don’t know why it’s getting worse. Take a look back. Usually two steps of actions back and you then will spot the behavior/reinforcement cycle.

What then? Put more steps into the cycle or take out a step right before or after the dog’s usual action. Example: in the above cycle the dog barked, woke the person up, then got affection or maybe play time outside. Options: 1. ignore barking (earplugs) and wait until it completely stops before getting out of bed … stay neutral (non-reinforcing) until several preferred¬†things have been offered by the dog, or 2. Schedule wake up time earlier, before dog would usually start to bark or whine, then reinforce quiet behavior immediately, or 3. dog barks, you wake up and go to bathroom and dog follows quietly and lays down (no speaking), you go to other room¬†and dog is asked to do a series of behaviors … sit, down, do trick … then gets rewarded with pets and praise (with this, you may be just growing a longer chain, but usually not).

In our house, Jazzie goes over by the stairs and leans against the wall when she wishes to go outside. Or if I’m using the computer, she puts her head on my thigh and waits. I see her there or feel her chin, get up and go outside with her and play flying disk games. Lately she’s been increasing her requests. Why? Because the reinforcement of the game. Why was I playing the game … because it’s winter and I have to get dressed to go outside and so for efficiency sake potty plus game.

Since I don’t want excessive requests … I let her out, said nothing, waited for her to go potty and turned around and came back inside. She didn’t need to go potty, so it was just a game request.

I like her go outside reminders, because sometimes I can get overly involved in reading or work, but I don’t want to have to let her out too frequently. So we just won’t play her favorite games outside unless I’m the one who initiated the trip outdoors. I expect this will reduce her requests. We’ll see.

Have you discovered unintended behavior chains?