Dog Training as an Incentive Program

On a recent morning news program, we heard about an incentive program used by some employers to encourage their employees to engage in healthy habits.  For example, a worker might be paid to take his blood pressure medication regularly, stop smoking, lose weight, or go to the gym three times a week.  The news anchors were discussing whether these “bribes” were worth it, and why people should be paid to do things that were in their own best interests anyway.  And would the good habits stop if employers stopped the cash rewards.

As we listened to this speculation, we thought perhaps these folks could take a lesson from the world of animal training.  First, a “bribe” can also be described as a lure or prompt – the enticement of something good in return for the correct behavior.  Used effectively, prompts are faded and the behavior is performed solely for the reinforcement given later.

That brings up the second concern in the news story – would employees return to their previous bad habits if the cash stopped.  The answer is – it depends.  If the employee feels better, is able to do more of the things he wants to do as a result of staying on his meds, then the reinforcement becomes internalized, and less dependent on the external payment.  However, why even ask the question?  The employer has already determined it’s cheaper for the company to provide the incentive than it is to absorb the costs of poor employee health – lost work time, higher insurance premiums, etc. 

In addition, as we learned from Ms. Kathy Sdao’s, M.A., ACAAB highly informative course “Chains Are Good for Dogs”, taking one’s medication can be the first link in a chain of good habits.  Taking the meds is the first behavior reinforced, but once that’s become a habit, the employee must also walk a mile everyday for the payments to continue.  While technically this may not be a behavior chain, still, you get the idea.

It would be nice if dog training could be popularized as an incentive program rather than being promoted as one of being a “pack leader”.  Do we not want to reward dogs for good behavior until those behaviors become habits?  Isn’t the cost to us – in investment of time and money – to train our dogs less than the cost of living with annoying or even dangerous behaviors?  Most dogs do not receive enough feedback in the form of reinforcement for good behavior, and too much feedback, in the form of punishment for what they aren’t supposed to do.

That’s likely one reason why people are not more inclined to engage in healthy habits – there isn’t much immediate reward for doing so.  The feedback is delayed and comes later in the form of diseases and bad health later in life.  Animal trainers can reassure employers that giving immediate feedback with their cash incentives is well supported by learning theory. 

Want to expand your knowledge of learning theory and be inspired by discovering how to create useful chains of behavior that will result in a better behaved dog? Take our On Demand Courses “How Fido Learns Best” (AKA Fundamentals of Animal Learning) and “Behavior Chains are Good for Dogs

Or even better join BEN –, receive a 20% discount on ALL our courses, and unlimited access to them as long as you remain a BEN member.  There – we’ve created an incentive program!

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