You might think that finding your animal’s drive is a no-brainer; to a dolphin- a fish, to a dog- some kibble. But depending on your subject, you might be able to find another drive in your very first session that’s NOT a primary reinforcer, or primary drive.
Think about it- we all have things that we as humans find reinforcing besides pizza and tacos, right? We thrive on certain “love languages,” kind words, physical touch, gifts, receiving someone’s time, or acts of service. Guess what?! Our animals are all the same!
Now, we know these by the term secondary reinforcers in the training world. But the question is, how do you find it?
Let’s say you’re working a dog for the first time. The owner brings in a Border Collie whose pulling on their leash, barking, sniffing.. basically doing anything they can to find a “job.” First off, you should know the dog’s breed well enough to say that this is a working dog, and a working dog without a job is a dog that will start their own business (likely, one that you don’t want them to.) So get them working! Reinforce with your primary and build the relationship. Then quickly give them their job. I would suspect that throwing a ball or frisbee for that dog would be more reinforcing than their treats. Get them working, then practice that structured play time- this will reinforce your relationship, satisfy that INSTINCTUAL DRIVE they have, and get them tired in the process…for at least 5 minutes or so.
I once was interning with an Atlantic Bottlenose, the most handsome Fiji who is pictured below. With Fiji, you could go through his whole session simply with physical touch as his reinforcer. He is so driven by that touch and affection, that you could just hang with him for 20 minutes and no fish! Now a man’s gotta eat, I know, but those sessions are such strong relationship builders because they can count on you to relax that drive tension that’s going on in them.
Need more? Here’s a lengthy definition of what I mean:
“Drive refers to increased arousal and internal motivation to reach a particular goal. Psychologists differentiate between primary and secondary drives. Primary drives are directly related to survival and include the need for food, water, and oxygen. Secondary or acquired drives are those that are culturally determined or learned, such as the drive to obtain money, intimacy, or social approval. Drive theory holds that these drives motivate people to reduce desires by choosing responses that will most effectively do so. For instance, when a person feels hunger, he or she is motivated to reduce that drive by eating; when there is a task at hand, the person is motivated to complete it.”
More in that article, here.
We have to remember guys that these animals, whether they be our pets, working animals, or those in zoos and aquariums- they all count on us for everything! They crave that biological fulfillment, sometimes even more than just their food, or a measly pat on the head. Finding your animal’s drive will strengthen your future training sessions and give them a more healthy state of mind.
As aforementioned, handsome Fiji enjoying his snuggle time…