The definition of an operant animal is an animal that understands that behavior affects consequence.
The Consequent Game is a structure of communication for learning through play. Performance of target behaviors is tied to the energy level of the game. Good performance is reinforced with more or heightened play, and the consequence for poor performance is a slowing down or a decrease in the intensity of the game.
Training and working with dogs is about more than the object of the dog’s drive. It should be about more than the cookie, more than the toy, more than the visitors at the house. Training dogs is about interaction with the handler and the opportunity that comes along with it.
All good things come through the handler.
Work, or in our case, play, should be viewed as an opportunity by the dog. At Pawsitive Vybe, a dog doesn’t earn a cookie, she earns an opportunity to get a cookie. She learn that her behaviors create a bite opportunity or makes the opportunity to bite go away. A missed opportunity is a powerful motivator.
If working with the handler is an opportunity for exciting play, the dog will offer behaviors in order to make that exciting play happen. This desire to play allows the handler to capture some arbitrary good behavior like eye contact and reinforce that desired behavior with play. Many repetitions of eye contact creating the opportunity for play will teach a dog that the eye contact behavior makes exciting play happen — behavior affects consequence. It will also teach the dog that play is valuable and she will have to do something to make it happen.
Of course she will also learn that the reverse is true. Poor performance will make the game slow down or get boring. A blown off cue will kill the game momentarily. As soon as the dog complies with the cue, the behavior is marked and reinforced by a ratcheting up of the energy level of the game. Behavior affects consequence. By having the opportunity to play removed, the dog also learns that the opportunity to play is valuable and she will have to work for it.
Shaping in Drive
When we have a dog that is aware of the idea that her behavior affects her consequence during an action packed game and values the act of working, we have Operant Drive. Consequent fluctuations of the intensity of the game are really all that’s needed to shape behavior while engaged in high drive play. Do it well and we rock out. Do it poorly and it’s going to be lame.