Give Them Love: An Experimental Demonstration of Petting As a Reinforcer For Shelter Dogs

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Common reinforcers used while training dogs include food, toys, and access to favorite activities. Gentle stroking and petting is a less recognized, but equally effective reinforcer. The present study is an experimental demonstration of the use of touch as a reinforcer to teach acceptable behaviors to dogs. Five shelter dogs that jumped up on people were chosen as subjects. Five conditions were used to determine which environmental antecedents resulted in the dog jumping. These conditions included entering the dog’s kennel with a rope toy, bowl of food, or a leash, entering the kennel while talking to the dog and petting the dog, and entering the kennel but doing nothing. Using a systematic petting procedure known as Give Them Love, touch was used as a reinforcer to teach alternative behaviors in all conditions where jumping had occurred. The study used a multiple baseline design across conditions and across dogs. The intervention resulted in an immediate reduction in jumping and an increase in sitting and lying for all dogs. For dogs that required training in multiple conditions, training time decreased for each subsequent condition.