Are You Just Lucky When Your Dog Listens To You?


Do you ever feel like your dog listens to you better than your spouse? Do you wonder if you’re just lucky or maybe the dog “likes you better”? Sure, your dog might be more attached to one person over the other, but maybe instead of luck, it’s the matching law!

What is the matching law? Wikipedia describes it as “a quantitative relationship that holds between the relative rates of response and the relative rates of reinforcement in concurrent schedules of reinforcement”, first identified by R.J. Herrnstein in studies with pigeons. What does that mean and how does this apply to dogs? Let me explain!

The matching law is something professional trainers keep tucked away in the back our brains, knowing that animals will start to match behavior we’re asking for to the frequency and value/quality of the reinforcement. Basically, dogs will figure out who reliably gives them better, more frequent and higher amounts of food when training and what behaviors pay off the most. And they can start to match their performance – how well they respond – in those situations.

It’s why I pay recall/coming when called EVERY.SINGLE.TIME with a jackpot payout (30 seconds of super high value food like meatballs) EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I want my dog’s recall to be super strong, because it’s a potentially life saving behavior. Want to see my dog’s recall in action? Here is it when we were hiking off leash in the woods:

Here’s one example of the matching law at play: If a dog gets twice the amount of food for laying down as he does for sitting, the dog will become more likely to lie down more because the greatest payoff happens.

Similarly, if mom rewards twice as much as dad, who do you think the dog is going to work for more? And who can blame the dog? We all deserve to be paid for work and it’s normal to want to be paid more. If you are a landscaper and you have two neighbors with identical lot sizes you are asked to mow for both of them and one offers you $50 and the other offers you $100, which house are you more likely to work for? I think you’re getting my point.

This reinforcement history can (and will) affect how well your dog performs. So I’ll venture to say, you’re not getting “lucky” if your dog does listen but that your dog’s performance is based, at least in part, due to the reinforcement history they’ve learned.

If you need help, be sure to grab your one on one session with me here! 

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Happy training!

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