Don’t Shoot the Dog – Jackpots Revised

Many of you have read Karen Pryer’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog  It is an educational book for parents as well as dog owners.  After 20 years, Karen explains how the use of jackpots can work when used effectively.  The below insert is straight from Karen’s Blog and is worth reading:

A non-contingent reward “just because.”

Remember, though, that no one is always right. We all keep learning things all the time, revising and adding to what we knew before. That’s one of the joys of science and a valuable phenomenon in the clicker training world.
Looking back at the jackpot section in Don’t Shoot the Dog, now, twenty years after it was written and six years after the revision supervised by Murray Newman, I think that I failed to differentiate between jackpots as I see them, and another tool altogether: the non-contingent reward.
A non-contingent reward is also something you get by surprise, but it is not associated with any particular behavior. One example in the book was the two free fish we gave to a discouraged dolphin, which perked her up and set her to trying to earn reinforcement again. Another example in the book was the ticket for ten free riding lessons that my parents bought me when, at sixteen, I was behaving poorly for weeks on end. It instantly corrected my bad mood. I included these as jackpots, but they were not; they were both examples of a non-contingent reward. The most powerful use of a non-contingent reward is to counteract the effects of an extinction curve; I know the dolphin in question was undergoing extinction of a bunch of operant behaviors; probably this sulky teenager was, too. Getting the news that good things are still available revived the efforts to seek reinforcement again.
Like the jackpot, a non-contingent reward is a tool to use rarely. And, like a jackpot, if it is going to work, you only need to do it once.