3 Schedules to Motivate Your Animal
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3 Schedules to Motivate Your Animal

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3 schedules to motivate your animal…

Do you know that us people work on a fixed ratio schedule? Or that we have a fixed interval schedule on a daily basis? That a lot of us in between what we do have a variable interval schedule? You might wonder what does he mean?  Im going to explain how those 3 schedules work. Before I get there I want to talk about where the schedules of reinforcement come from.

The psychologist who invented Operant Conditioning, what was based on the theories of Thorndikes “Law of Effect”, Yes, I’m talking about B.F. Skinner. He made a discovery about how animals can learn in a faster rate by focusing on the consequence of the behavior presented. One of his famous quotes what I use on a daily base is:

“The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important then the amount” B.F. Skinner (1952)

It’s a very interesting thought process and definitely not new these days in animal training. The skill within animal training I personally try to develop is to see what else will motivate an animal by focussing on the consequence of the behaviour that’s asked for. Schedules of reinforcement is the overall explanation of the consequences we give our animals. But reinforcement goes way further then just a piece of meat, a piece of fish or some tasteful fruit. Reinforcement can be as well the excitement, energy and enthusiasm the trainer brings with him. Remember the blog about the 3 E’s? Read it right here. I’m very passionate about finding out what else is reinforcing for the animals and how far I can go without using primary reinforcement, for what we consider primary reinforcement.

B.F. Skinner talks about the use of schedules of reinforcement in a video where he explains Operant Conditioning:


In another blog, I wrote about the VRRV schedules. Variable Ratio of Reinforcement Variety. This schedule is in my believe the best we can give the animal because everything fits in there and it’s the most variable reinforcement we can give. Unpredictability leads often to a high rate of motivation from the animals we work with if done correctly. When trainers know their animal well and they know how they can grasp their attention to become unpredictable in the consequences after a given behaviour, the response of the animal will be that he or she will be more likely to preform the behaviour again if the reinforcement is placed, timed and chosen well for the particular individual. But there are a couple more schedules of reinforcement.

Variable Interval Schedule:

Another schedule of reinforcement often used is a Variable Interval Schedule where the animal gets reinforced after an x amount of time preforming the behaviour asked for. Interval refers to the time. For example we ask a grey seal to go in a ventral. We can now reinforce the animal after an x amount of time preforming the behaviour. After 2 sec, 10 seconds even after a minute if the duration is trained well. This basically gives the animal the variation to not know when the behaviour ends and there for it stays longer in the behaviour asked for. The time (Interval) the animal is in the behaviour changes all the time (Variable). Here and example with a macaw and a dolphin.

Fixed Interval Schedule:

If we would take the variable away and add fixed in there the meaning wil be a bit different, this time we always reinforce after an X amount of time (Interval) preformed behaviour. Instead of making this time variable we have a fixed time schedule. This is called a fixed interval schedule of reinforcement. For example every month we get our paycheck. This is a fixed interval schedule of a month. This schedule is helpful in medical training to give the animal more black and white information. When you see FI 3 sec it means Fixed Interval of 3 seconds. So the reinforcement will come after 3 seconds.

Fixed Ratio Schedule:

At last and most commonly used is the Fixed Ratio schedule. This schedule reinforces every behaviour with a recourse beside the bridge itself. It’s the most easy way of reinforcing. You ask a behaviour and reinforce with a primary reinforcer. From out my own experience this schedule of reinforcement is not the one I would go for. The reason is that I like to make the animal think and with helping the animal to go the right way I can play with the consequence in various ways to make the animal think more on their own. With the balance of reinforcement and timing when you give the animal the reinforcement you planned for you become a team with the individual. This does not mean that a Fixed Ratio schedule doesn’t do the trick. You can vary in this schedule as well by saying this time I will go for a FR3 schedule what means a Fixed Ratio of 3 behaviours. After every 3 behaviours preformed the animal will get reinforced. Here is an example of an FR1 Schedule.


Mind you with interval schedule, fixed or variable, only the first demonstration of a target behavior after the pre-dermined, amount of time has passed is reinforced.

Can you imagine if you change the amount of behaviours with what the animal receives as reinforcement with not knowing when they will get it and the amount of reinforcement they will receive… but it will be a positive outcome… how excited would you be?

Motivation is gained on a higher level when the trainer knows the animal very well but also the opposite. I want to tell everybody that if you don’t know each other well enough what you think is reinforcing might be aversive for the animal. A well placed, timed and chosen reinforcement for the scenario and situation you are in is essential for the animal to be able to learn why it received such a great reinforcement.


Have fun and Enjoy your training time. Its over before you know it!


Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”

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