FE200: The Art and Science of Reinforcement Training

Instructor: Deborah Jones

Course Details

Welcome!  This course is designed to help you truly understand how to use reinforcement in successful and effective training.  We will address both the science and useful applications.  This is a great class for "behavior geeks" as well as for those who want to work through their own training challenges using positive reinforcement.  

Training with positive reinforcement is about so much more than throwing cookies at a dog!  It can be used in subtle and sophisticated ways that will improve your training effectiveness enormously. 

The first few weeks of this course will lay a foundation.  We will focus, first and foremost, on a true understanding of what reinforcement actually is and how we can best use it to our advantage in our training.  Many trainers have a general understanding of reinforcement, but not a true and complete knowledge of this concept.  

We will focus on some very basic behaviors that your dog may already have in his repetoire.  We will experiment with and manipulate reinforcement in order to change the topography, latency, rate, and duration of behaviors to achieve fluency and stimulus control.  This will require an understanding of reinforcement value, timing, jackpots, and placement.  We will also discuss and use secondary reinforcers and markers and look at their effect on training.  

The remainder of the course will be dedicated to coaching each Gold team through their chosen behaviors and skills.  We can work on anything from agility to rally to obedience to whatever.  Bring us your training challenges! 

We will help you analyze your specific training needs, help you develop an effective plan of action, and coach you through the application of your plan. 

Our goal is for you to leave this class with an increased understanding of and a new appreciation for the power and value of positive reinforcement training.  


There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.

For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.


The Art & Science of Reinforcement Training

*This syllabus is a work in progress

The Art & Science of Reinforcement


Pre-class lecture:  Classical & operant conditioning

Pre-class assignment:  Reinforcer value & variety


What does your dog need?

What does your dog want?

What do you have available to use as reinforcers?

Rank order





Lecture 1:  Primary & secondary reinforcers

Assignment 1:  Sorting out primaries & secondaries


Lecture 2:  Reinforcement placement

Assignment 2:  Where placement matters to you


Exercise 1:  Markers:  stationary, active, release





Lecture 3:  Schedules of reinforcement (fixed & variable / ratio, interval, time, duration)

Assignment 3:  When to use which schedule


Exercise 2:  Developing natural & novel secondary reinforcers 


Toys & favored activities

Audible (clapping, snapping, tongue click)

Tactile (touch, stroke, pat)


Behaviors (favored behaviors, tricks)





Lecture 4:  Reinforcement, emotions, and arousal levels.  Using the right reinforcer for the emotional state desired

Assignment 4:  Building emotional responses with reinforcement


Using reinforcement to build enthusiasm

Using reinforcement to build precision


Lecture 5:  Technical terms:  Topography /  Stimulus control / Latency / Fluency

Assignment 5:  Technical applications 


Exercise 3:  Behaviors chains & reinforcement


Behavior, marker, primary

Behavior, secondary, primary

Secondary, primary, behavior, marker, primary

Behavior, secondary, behavior, marker, primary

Secondary, marker, primary

Behavior, behavior, marker, primary



Week 4:  THE ART


Project Part 1:  Personal Project Development


Target Behavior

Baseline Video

Training Plan


Your personal project can be any behavior (or lack of behavior) that you want to change.  What’s that nagging issue that you haven’t found a way to solve?  Where have you been tempted to use corrections because cookies just don’t seem to be doing the trick?  


For the duration of this class we will be working on analyzing your issue, developing possible reinforcement-based solutions, implementing those solutions, and analyzing the outcomes.  We will approach this project in a systematic step by step fashion.  


If you find you solve your issue quickly then you can feel free to develop another project during the course of this session.  


Sample project ideas:


Slow drop on the drop on recall

Lying down on the sit stay

Taking a jump on the way to the go-out point

Jumping up on guests

Pulling on leash



Week 5:  THE ART


Project Part 2:  Personal Project Implementation, Record Keeping & Troubleshooting



Week 6:  THE ART


Project Part 3:  Personal Project Completion  



Prerequisites and Equipment

We will assume that students in this class have a basic and general understanding of learning theory and dog training.  

The textbook 'Learning and Behavior' by Paul Chance (7th edition from Wadsworth Cengage Learning) is a good overall resource for basic information.  It is NOT a requirement, but can be very helpful if you struggle with understanding the terminology or scientific concepts. 

You will need a training subject from any non-human species (dog of course, cat, rat, horse, bird, ferret...).  You will also need a variety of valuable reinforcers that you can control.