The Jackpot Myth
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The Jackpot Myth

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In this materialistic world, many of us are addicted to money because now we can buy stuff. Money can buy it all and some of us would even argue that money can even buy happiness. We go to a casino or buy lottery tickets to hope for the jackpot. Of course, it’s great when you win the jackpot we all can agree to that but then what? I want to point out the following… did you ever heard of those people who win the jackpot and how quickly they lose their friends or family and in some cases, they change completely as a person? They don’t really know what to do with all this money and lose everything in the first 6 months, is this because they think they can rule the world with money? I don’t know. Anyway, the point is do you need the jackpot to be happy? Do we think that with money you can buy happiness? To be honest I think less is better. You probably have seen some photos passing by camping in the forest of Sweden, its one of the best things in the world I think, you don’t need a lot to be happy to be honest. I think we set a very high standard for our expectation to the world.

But what does the jackpot mean for the animal?

Within animal training we describe the jackpot as the moment when we reinforce with a big feeding right after you want to stop the session because you reached a very good approximation in your training. We are all doing it. But is the jackpot so effective as we talk about? Yes, I do think it’s very effective. So Peter why do you call this blog the jackpot myth then?

Ok, when I go to a restaurant (especially a buffet or all you can eat) I eat myself so full that it starts to hurt, it’s just so good!! Why am I doing this? I ask myself all the time. I mean you are going there to feel good not to eat yourself into pain. What I want to point out is that the moment you feel overloaded you regret what you did. In this case eating so much.

When giving an animal a jackpot could we actually by accident feed too much to a point where the animal feels so full that the reinforcement became aversive to the behaviour they got a jackpot for? I’ve experienced this once where I reinforced an animal with a big jackpot but afterwards I could see that I might have regression the behaviour instead.

Let me introduce you to 2 animals I’m currently working with where I experienced something completely different. Their names are Säly (Photo Left) and Timjan. 2 south African fur seals. Both of them are 4 years old. Timjan had a bit of a rough start because of her mother passing away in an early stage and she is most of the time the lowest ranked animal in our group of 5. Säly is different, we received Säly in November 2014. We had to teach her to eat and discovered quick enough that she had a strong character. Let me tell you something about fur seals, they are not like sea lions or like seals. They are very stubborn little creatures what makes them very attractive. Now Timjan (Photo Right) is an animal who wants to hang around us most of the time. She will show you what she likes at any moment IF you know her well. This has its challenges. Säly is an animal who loves to learn. She likes her ways and it shouldn’t go to fast or too crazy for her.

Now the situation, last week we came into their exhibit and asked the come to the backstage area where we separated the animals. For our new presentation, we want some high-energy behaviours in there such as fast swims and bows. After we separated all the fur seals and wanted to reinforce Timjan and Säly for their quick responses they showed us that they just didn’t want to eat. Looking at Säly we thought oke you might look pretty wealthy what my aunt would say. Even though both of them showed us clearly that they didn’t want to eat we decided to go “against the nature of training or not” we started a session as normal and trained a high-energy behaviour such as a bow where the animal comes out of the water with her head first and lands head first in the water again. Thinking in the back of our heads how this would go, we decided to give it a shot.

The outcome was as great as it could be. They performed so well that next steps were quickly taken. We did use primary reinforcement but definitely not as in a jackpot. For both of them the change of static behaviours and high energy behaviours gives them a variety in learning and fun that I believe the learning and wanting to know the next steps is more of a reinforcement then the actual jackpot. I mean we still couldn’t feed them well anyway. But why would they keep on going? With making such progression?

I’ve worked more often with animals who love the learning part. A Jackpot for those animals is a complete other thing or even has potentially another meaning. They just prefer let’s learn something new instead of receiving the big bucket. Animals are different and for each individual it works differently.

Another point I want to add is that when we give a jackpot to the animal we work with we stop the session right away to end on a high note. But is it such a great thing if the animal loves to interact with us? Isn’t the biggest reinforcement connected to the jackpot to just keep going building your relationship further instead of gate the animal away? I find this a pretty fair discussion point. For Timjan a jackpot like how we look at it won’t really work.

 

We have to know the animal, your relationship and their history to make the right choices in reinforcement. The animals tell us something all the time we just have to learn to listen.

Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”

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