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Jessi continues sharing how training can improve the lives of animals and their human caretakers. Using Differential Reinforcement is a great way to eliminate using punishment altogether.

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Have you ever had an animal that did something really annoying or possibly harmful, like a dog who jumps on visitors or a parrot who bites when they step onto your finger or a cat who completely stresses out in a crate?  These behaviors can be overwhelming for most people to handle, but there is something you can do.  The first step in stopping or modifying problem behaviors is learning more about why the behaviors happen.  So let's do that.


Behaviors happen when an animal does something, anything.  Once the animal does a behavior, they immediately encounter the effects of that behavior.  The effects could be reinforcing, punishing, or neutral.  To learn more about how this works, check out our video on the law of affect, very simply put, an animal keeps doing something if it makes them feel good. 

For over 100 years, behaviorists have been studying how controlling the effects encounters after a behavior can change or modify that animal's behavior.  If you'd like to know how you can modify an animal's behavior, also known as teaching or training, check out our video on operant conditioning.  

Today, we're going to talk about how you can change a behavior that's already well established, a behavior that's not desirable.  We're gonna use something called differential reinforcement.  This is when you reinforce a specific kind of behavior while withholding reinforcement for other kinds of behavior.  This allows you to avoid using punishment, which is great, because punishment isn't a fun way to learn and reinforcement is stronger than punishment anyway.

Differential reinforcement can be used in four different ways.  One, DRI, or differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior.  Two, DRA, or differential reinforcement of alternative behavior.  Three, DRO, or differential reinforcement of other behavior, and four, DRL, or differential reinforcement of low rates.  

Here are some examples of how these work in real life.  DRI, where we reinforce an incompatible behavior.  The dog jumps on visitors.  Instead of punishing the dog, find a behavior that's incompatible with jumping, like sitting.  The dog can't sit and jump at the same time, so it's incompatible behaviors.  All you need to do is reinforce the sitting heavily so it feels better to sit than it does to jump.  Remember that the animal is doing the undesired behavior because it feels good in some way, so you're going to attempt to make a different behavior feel just as good or better so they do that instead.  

Alright, let's try DRA, where we'll reinforce alternative behavior.  A dog is barking at the mailman, so you reinforce them for whining at the mailman instead.  Whining isn't incompatible with barking 'cause they can still bark, but whining is more acceptable than barking, so you'd reinforce whining or give them a treat for it and withhold reinforcement for barking.

Alright, on to DRO, where we'll reinforce other behavior.  A cat is stressed out when they're in a crate, so you're going to reinforce when they're showing calm behaviors and withhold reinforcement when they're showing stress behaviors.  You can use a DRO for helping animals control their own emotions.  By reinforcing when they exhibit calm behaviors, even for a few seconds, you're increasing the likelihood that they'll be calm for a longer period of time.

And the last kind of differential reinforcement is DRL, where we're aiming to decrease the frequency of a behavior but not eliminate it altogether.  This can be difficult for many animals to understand since the criteria are predetermined by the trainer and unknown to the animal.  Here's an example of how this could be applied.  A parrot asks to be groomed constantly, so you'll reinforce them only when they ask to be groomed a few times during a session and withhold reinforcement if they ask for it constantly.  Since asking to be groomed is an acceptable behavior, you just want to reduce the frequency of it but not eliminate it altogether.

Now that we've covered all four kinds of differential reinforcement, I hope you'll be able to brainstorm creative ways to decrease unwanted behaviors and increase desired behaviors using only reinforcements.

Thanks for watching.  If you've enjoyed learning about animal behavior, make sure to check out the rest of the videos in our training playlist, link is below, and if you'd like to go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel AnimalWondersMontana.  Thanks and see you next week.


We took him into the vet clinic to see how we could best help him become as healthy as possible.  The first thing that our vet said was that she thought he was much older than four years old, because of the condition of the skin on his ears.