Premack Pearls – by Lynn Martin

May 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm 7 comments

** Here is PART 1 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post.

PREMACK PEARLS – by Lynn Martin

Yes, most dog savvy people are familiar with the Premack Principle.   It asserts that more probable behaviors can be used to reinforce less probable behaviors.

High-probability behaviors are activities which are performed voluntarily and which are enjoyed for itself without human intervention. Sniffing, chasing squirrels, and all kinds of fun stuff are in this category.

Low-probability behaviors, are behaviors which are often the learned or trained.  Think recall here.

The opportunity to engage in those fun high probability behaviors is a reinforcer for those not so fun low probability, learned behaviors.
We all know this.  But, are we using the Premack Principle to it’s full potential?

It’s easy to “Premack” reinforcers as routine part of your training, whether your dog is a companion dog or a performance dog.  Premack in your training arsenal will allow you to turn distractions into prized reinforcers.  What a perfect system!  What was a distraction and determent to training is now your dog’s high value reinforcer.

So when to use Premack?

Many handlers use Premack routinely when their dog wants to go out a door-dog must “wait” while human goes first.  Perhaps a nice sit/stay while food bowls are being placed.  These are great starts to routinely using the Premack Principle in training.  But, that is just the beginning.

We as trainers sometimes become frustrated when our dogs lose interest during a training session.  I am of course talking about those times your dog makes it clear that he would rather chase squirrels or a ball than train.  You have cued your dog but your dog is not even hearing you because there is that DISTRACTION over there!

If you find yourself wondering what to do about a certain distractions -that’s the time to “Premack”.

Let’s try recall.  My Jake doesn’t know that he is a companion cocker spaniel and thinks he is a working ranch dog.  Life begins outside.  It is the jackpot of all rewards to Jake. Recall is a highly reinforced behavior in our house. But, it is still hard to train a dog that wants to stay outside, to come in readily and happily.

So, sometimes, his reinforcement for coming inside is just to be able go outside again. He loves this. It’s a perfect example of the Premack Principle:  using a high probability behavior to reinforce a low probability one.  I can count on Jake wanting to go outside (high probability). So I can use that to reinforce him for coming in. That means that sometimes when Jake comes in when asked, the reward is: “Good job Jake, you get 5 more minutes outside.”

Do you have one of those crazy “ball” dogs?   Does your dog stare at a ball drooling when you want to work on targeting? Yes, that is the time to use the ball as a reward.  Sometimes just offering eye contact will make me throw that ball.  Other times it is a beautiful high jump that will make me throw the ball.  Now that much-loved ball lives in your arsenal of reinforcers.

In this Premack Pearls series, we will walk you thru various ways to use the principle.  Stationary behaviors will get a training boost with its use.  We will even talk about using the Premack Principle in Behavior Modification.  We will show you how to deal with fence fighting using this principle. We will show you many different scenarios, so that using the Premack Principle in your dog training will become routine and rewarding.

Look how great these dogs are at watching other dogs being trained!

Entry filed under: Guest Post by Cyberdog Online, Training.

Hey, Los Angeles dog people! The smallest behaviors, Boogie & Squirrels.

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