Intrinsic v.s Extrinsic Rewards

2018 update

There has been so much research on humans regarding reward systems I truly apologize to the founder or these theories.  I am two lazy to sight you or maybe it is to difficult to find credible information on the Google these days, thanks business persons 🙂 Anyway, this idea steams from behaviorism and theories of motivation. This is based off of work done at the University of California, Santa Barbara where I did a lot of theoretical research psychology in the 90’s

Dog trainers often do not spend enough time on this topic or they misrepresent and intrinsic reward for a drive. This is not a big deal unless you have a problem. As with so many things in Psychology its cool to know the basics of a theory but, if it all goes FUBAR… Psychology is often not as simple as it seems.

Drive… my dog sees a squirrel, bike, car and/or anything that moves and just bang, goes after it. This is a drive, the dog has a genetic disposition to go after moving objects, Hunt, This is likely self rewarding .  The dog does this without thought. Of course there is nurture…… you know nature vs nurture.

In dog training our goal simplified is to take unwanted behaviors like, chasing, barking and jumping on things (all breed into dogs, yep! we did that) and re-direct these behaviors into something useful for the world of today. Remember that anything that is based in genetics is an unconscious reaction to a stimulus so, it takes more time and patients to shape. Then there are our “obedience” basic skills, sit, down, come, heal and of course leash manners. None of these occur without conscious thought. Our goal is to condition these skills until the become reactions without thought.

so, you ask, what the @#)($*#$N !!! does this have to do with reward and motivation ? I am glad you asked 🙂

An intrinsic reward for a dog is highly theoretical since we know very little about how a dogs brain and cognition really works… we are on it though. Behavior is far better indicator of thought then words will ever be. Take people, they may say they like someone but, never interact with them, are they being honest? Dogs offer similar clues, if your dog is constantly stealing things and ripping them to shreds regardless of what medieval torture you attempt.. the dog is saying that the intrinsic value of your interaction with me out weighs the pain, or venting my anger is more valuable. Grim example, I know .. I know. but, you get the picture. Another example might be, my dog sits and heals on command and is very good at it but, suddenly she is not doing it anymore. What’s up ? So, I ask what their goals are and get the answer that they work diligently 30 mins to one hour every day on these skills and just don’t understand what the problem is..????? Woops.  You are both likely losing motivation and whatever intrinsic and extrinsic reward once existed has diminished to the point that it is not valuable anymore.  Imagine eating a truck load of ice cream (extrinsic reward) you get sick of it but, are still offered ice cream as a reward? Maybe, you feel good about yourself when someone tells you how good looking you are but, what if you had that constantly everyday for an hour…. you would get over it really quickly.

The bottom line is that motivators, intrinsic and extrinsic are subjective and fluid in nature. It is important that you are creative, unpredictable and perhaps most importantly have realistic goals and expectations for your team.  Try to put yourself in your dogs shoes.. I was bred to bark and alert you of things… I am really good at it…why do you want me to stop… I don’t even realize I am doing it at first?  The only time you have paid attention to me all week is when I steal the toilet paper and shred your shoes.. I use to love to heal, until we kept doing it for hours over, and over and over….. let move on to something else…. Well, you get the idea !!!

The bottom line is once again, self reward means nothing useful unless your dog has no behavior problems and is easy to train. When you reward a dog you want the dog to really want the object used for a reward more then anything in the world but, the more important part is that the dog wants that Magic object from YOU!!!

If you have a behavoural concern, you need to figure out, is this an intrinsic reward or extrinsic reward or a drive. Remember, avoidance, pain even abuse can become rewarding to some dogs.. aint psychology weird.  So, “self reward” is up there with “reactive dog” not really useful terms if you have a behavior you need to work on.


Motley and Jeau

Silly me…. forgot to mention …. intrinsic rewards always override extrinsic rewards and Drives beat them all !!! (Motley Dog Dog Training 2017)