Behaviour is something we can’t extinguish it is always there. We have an effect on behaviour all the time. Through associations and consequences in different environments our behaviour keeps on changing accordingly. Science explains that reinforcement will increase behaviour while punishment decreases behaviour.

At Zoospensefull we are pro reinforcement techniques and will focus on the motivation of the behaviour occuring. Whenever we start our training sessions with well planned agendas for our sessions we actually should focus more on the reinforcement. With proper placement of reinforcement we have more control over the behaviour of our animals. 

Reinforcing More Than One Behaviour Simultaneously

Whenever we think we reinforce one specific behaviour we actually reinforce many different muscle movements. With a lie down behaviour the animal might twitch his ears or move his tail, looks to the left or to the right. Whenever we think we reinforce the lie down we actually also reinforced anything else which is happening during that time. 

If this happens too often we changed criteria from lying down to lie down and wiggle your tail, move your ears or look to the left. This similar situation happens when we can’t reinforce animals from our hands. We now have to throw the reinforcer to the animal but in this period of time of the trainer having to throw and the animal having to receive the reinforcer many different behaviours can occur. Whenever you think you reinforce a specific behaviour you might actually reinforce something else. 

When we understand that behaviour is built up of many different small behaviours, we will discover why an animal does a specific behaviour the way they do. This means that we can’t reinforce just one behaviour at a time. As trainers we try to decrease as many small extra behaviours by focussing on the exact behaviour we would like to see. This way we do not run into challenges like having to retrain the behaviour due to all the extra “unwanted” behaviours we accidentally trained.

The placement of the reinforcer is important. If we are able to reinforce the animal straight in front of us, it is more likely we will be able to reinforce the desired behaviour. Whenever we can make the moment between a well done behaviour and the reinforcer as small as possible we have less chance other behaviours occur we accidentally will reinforce. The less behaviours we reinforce the more focussed criteria will be established and therefore communication will get better. 

The Position of Reinforcement

The placement of a reinforcer helps the position of the animals. Within the marine mammal world we see many behaviours in the perimeter of the exhibit. 9 our of 10 times this is conditioned through backwards shaping. What happens with backwards shaping is that you start at the end and you work your way to the beginning of the behaviour. On the way, you will place the reinforcement, so that the animal will most likely keep on going around the perimeter. In this case the perimeter is the outside line of the exhibit/pool. You teach the animals like in the video underneath to follow the perimeter of the exhibit by either jumping or swimming. 

To maintain this behaviour we would have to reinforce the positioning once in a while. What the animal will do, is go as fast as possible to a specific position where the reinforcer is predicted to come and that’s why the animal would cut corners in a behaviour using the perimeter. 

Another example is when we train animals who are afraid of us to come to us. What we want is that they take a small step towards us. We throw the reinforcement just in front of them. When this happens it is more likely that the animal then takes another step forward due to the placement of reinforcement.

You might remember the Alpine Ibex project we were involved in. Read about it here. To get the males to separate from the group, we used boxes we made ourselves. We then conditioned the animals to get in there by the placement of the reinforcer. The thought behind this was that it would be more likely when the animal wants to be reinforced again that he would move forwards.

The Ibex comes forward and reinforcement is placed a little bit ahead of the animal. This allows the trainer to reach the next step a lot quicker.

If you place the reinforcement properly behaviour will be maintained better and you have a lot more control over the behaviour the animal elicits. 

Make sure you join us for part one of our Emergency Recall webinar around motivation strategies tomorrow 30 June 2020 at 8pm CET. Don’t miss out! Get your tickets here. If you have any questions about the topics in this article or about training in general? Send us an email or join our Facebook group. Zoospensefull is an international animal training and behaviour consultancy, for more information or to book Zoospensefull, please contact us at or visit our website 

Categories: Trainer Talk


Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!


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