Premack Principle

How to get more speed without relying on natural drive

My belief and a sentence I can often be heard saying is …..
The motivation for speed needs to come from the desire to get the reward.

How can the Premack principle help you in agility?

Some people are lucky enough to have a naturally high drive agility dog that no matter what the reward they will tear around the course like their life depends on it offering behaviours at the drop of a hat. Some people may be clever enough and patient enough to have worked on it and put the drive/motivation into the dog. There are many at their wits end trying anything to give the dog the drive and energy, everything from running every inch with the dog, squeaky voices, every toy and every treat or nice food possible and yet still the dog isn’t remotely interested.
Some may be despairing how to motivate or get their dog to enjoy agility.
This is the area where the Premack principle can help.
Firstly what is it?
David Premack was a psychology professor (born in 1925 in the USA)
Professor Premack did behavioural experiments on chimpanzees and Cebus monkeys (among others) and came up with the “Premack Principle”. (as well as lots of other brilliant behavioural works)

In behavioral terms Premack’s principle states that any high-frequency activity (high-probability behaviour) can be used as a reinforcer for any lower-frequency activity. (low-probability behaviour)
The best example that is widely used to explain Premack’s principle is “You have to finish your vegetables (less enjoyable) before you can have your pudding/dessert/ice cream”. (yummy, more enjoyable) Personally I don’t like to use this line too often as people usually just agree and say oh yeah I understand. When in reality if we use it cleverly and develop strategies it has so many more advantages and uses.
Premack principle obviously applies to most species including humans, this isn’t just canines or monkeys. Just the same as most of learning theory is relevant to most species on the planet.
Here it is in layman’s terms.
If two behaviours occur, the first we will call (A) and is closely followed by behaviour (B), and B is more desirable (enjoyable) than (A), (A) will likely increase in frequency, desire and improved performance.
If behaviour (A) is enjoyable and is closely followed by (B) but (B) is not very desirable this can lead to (A) becoming less enjoyable and potentially the performance standard will drop, a decrease in frequency may occur to perform that behaviour.
Some basic examples
If the dog walks nicely on lead (and doesn’t like that behaviour) and gets let off in the park to go crazy (and the dog loves going crazy) then walking nicely on lead will likely become more frequent and probable and maybe even more enjoyable.
The dog has to wait nicely and not barge its way out of the vehicle and gets freedom, the behaviour of waiting patiently to be invited out will become more frequent.

So what does your dog love doing?

How can you use that? That depends how dedicated you are!!

So what are my dog’s favourite things to do? There are many things my dogs love doing but each has their favourite. Shy’s favourite is chasing squirrels until they run up a tree and then loves barking at them. Bold’s fav thing is swimming. Coys is probably racing the other dogs when out on a walk. (not always a great thing to allow)
How can I utilise their desire to do this behaviour into our training sessions?

Ok let me discuss how I could’ve and maybe have used my dog’s favourite behaviours to improve our agility. My previous agility field had a wooded area full of trees right next to it with lots of pheasants, rabbits and squirrels in it. Let’s say I had a slower than I’d like behaviour on the dogwalk from Shy. I could’ve set the dogwalk up heading towards the woods , got Shy to do a dogwalk then raced her over to chase a squirrel which would’ve been lurking nearby. This would’ve increased the liking for the dogwalk and encouraged her to put more effort, speed into the dogwalk. If Bold had a weave issue I could’ve taken stick in the ground weave poles down to a river or lake, set them up, popped him through them and then threw a ball in the lake, he would’ve been in heaven. (he actually loves weaves almost as much as swimming)

Bold loves weaves so much we can even use the Premack principle by linking two obstacles together, so if we did dogwalk then weaves,….. then dogwalk weaves etc., eventually his dogwalk is likely to improve as it starts to get associated with the weaves.
This is one of the things I noticed with my puppy Coy a couple of months ago, I’d get her out the van, warm her up, do a couple of minutes of something agility at my field which she was mad for and loving. I generally only train my dogs for five minutes or so. The session would go brilliant and she was really fired up and so excited and up for it and then I’d…… put her back in the van. Obviously this is a fast way to teach her that being excited and fast and up for it in agility gets you…. Put in the boring van. So I was actually in danger of making exciting agility a negative association.
My answer to this was to let the other dogs out of the van for her to play with rather than put her back in the van, so she does agility and gets excited and then gets to play with the other dogs, doesn’t get better than that for her.
I did actually use Premack principle to get more drive to the dead toy, Coy would have to run fast to a dead toy then straight after she could run with the other dogs like a looney. (be careful allowing maniac dogs to run together)

Getting the dog to play with toys or tugging are really useful for many physical and psychological reasons and also very handy to then use as a reward in agility but, what if your dog isn’t naturally into a toy? This can be encouraged using Premack. A very quick game or even just a nose touch on the toy and then fly into doing their favourite thing may then build up the value in the toy play.
Be creative, there is always something your dog is naturally in to, think what this is and then think how you can use this to link it with agility or their general dog training in some way. It may be chasing a squirrel, watching golf on tv, digging at a rabbit hole, sex (seems to work for humans) howling at the moon, being groomed, (unlikely).
Dogs (and humans) are constantly linking two (or more) things together so use this in a positive way to enhance/improve your training and your dog’s happiness.

Just for the record I do not promote or condone our dogs chasing little animals and no little animals were harmed in the making of this article. Also be very careful allowing your dogs to race the other ones when out on a walk.

Lee Windeatt