Matching Law

Many of the chapters of my Advanced Animal Training course don’t lend themselves to be published as a stand-alone blog posts, since they build on each other.

But the chapter below, discussing the Matching Law, does!


Matching Law implies that animals (and humans) will do more of the behaviour that leads to the most favoured outcome, but they will keep offering the other, less well reinforced behaviour too, at least sometimes. Matching is affected by reinforcer quality, rate  and delay of reinforcement – and response effort.

Click the CC button at the bottom right of the video for subtitles.

The term bold shaping is something I have discussed earlier in the course – it essentially means that as we’re shaping a novel behaviour, we minimize the number of repetitions of unfinished versions of the behaviour as we’re climbing that shaping staircase.

Eileen Anderson writes about how she sees the Matching Law play out in how her dogs choose to interact with food toys.

You may think: what about Contrafreeloading and the Matching Law? Aren’t these two phenomena contradictory?(Contrafreeloading, you may recall, is when an animal chooses to work for food even though the same food is available for free, a robust phenomenon seen in many species (except, apparently, cats) – seemingly a violation of the Matching Law).

Well, it seems to me that what occurs during contrafreeloading is that another reinforcement system takes precedence. Rather than just preferentially choosing the least energetically demanding option to get the calories, the animal is choosing the option that involves a degree of work, because it stimulates the SEEKING system (a core emotion) which is reinforcing in and of itself.

So, when choosing between SEEKING and no-SEEKING, the choice is SEEKING: work over no work – contrafreeloading. But I would expect that when choosing between SEEKING with a low work/reward ratio or SEEKING with a high work/reward ratio, Matching Law kicks in.


The chapter above is from the module Schedules of Reinforcement from the Advanced Animal Training (AAT) course that opens for enrollment every year in April.

Interested in the learning more about the AAT course? Sign up below and I’ll let you know when it opens for admission! I’ll also keep you posted on blog posts,  free webinars and masterclasses, silly experiments and my other online courses – all about animal behaviour, learning and wellbeing!

Dogs and fireworks (30+ proven techniques to eliminate noise phobia)

Is your dog afraid of fireworks? How about thunder?

Keep reading, this blog post contains everything you need to know. This post is updated and all the links are double-checked about twice a year, last on December 15th, 2023 – look for the “revised” signs in the post to find the latest changes.

Is your dog not fearful of fireworks, thunder or other loud noise?

Keep reading anyway. That may change, and you should be prepared.

fearful dogs fireworks
It’s the combination of different techniques that produce the best effect (Crowell-Davis et al., 2003: 93%). Nobody’s tried using all the techniques suggested in this blog post, as far as I know.
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The pros and cons of labelling animal behaviour.

Many animal behaviour consultants abhor labels.

They consider them not just pointless, but disastrous, and many of them wouldn’t be caught dead using labels.  

You might think I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect, and yes, I do have a penchant for hyperbole so it is entirely possible… but sometimes I do wonder. 

As an ethologist, I had merrily been using labels for decades without even realizing that they could be problematic. It was not until I started hanging out with behaviour analysts that it was pointed out to me.

I had two main reactions to that insight:

  • Wow, it’s really useful to realize that labels can be very detrimental!
  • Wow, some people really don’t seem to realize how useful labels can be!

When are labels useful? Well, as is the case with literally everything related to animals and their behaviour, it depends on the context.

Labels are sometimes useful, sometimes irrelevant, and sometimes harmful.

I can think of three useful types of label, and one label type that is harmful. And yet, the harmful labels are getting all the attention!

Continue reading “The pros and cons of labelling animal behaviour.”

My problems with the Constructed Theory of Emotions

I finally finished reading a book.

It took me three years to read.



And it’s not because I’m a slow reader. I plowed through Brandon Sanderson’s 1100-page brick The Way of Kings in less than a day. So why, then, did this particular book take me so long?

Well, before I tell you, let me frame the context.

It’s a book that’s getting a lot of traction amongst animal trainers lately, specifically amongst the behaviour analytic crowd.

The book is called How Emotions Are Made, and it’s by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of Psychology and a neuroscientist. In the book she makes a big, and in many peoples’ eyes, compelling, case of emotions being constructed rather than innate.
So, many behaviour analysts love the book, and I feel like a complete dissenter in that crowd, because while they’re all nodding in agreement, I shake my head thinking that some of the main conclusions in the book are seriously flawed.

Swimming against the behaviour analytical crowd

We’ll get to my objections in a minute, but let’s start with: what is the central idea behind the Constructed Theory of Emotions?

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How often should you train the animal?

In this post, I’m sharing a chapter from my extensive online course Getting Behaviour! The video below is one of the 108 similar chapters from the course.

The video discusses why training sessions should be shorter rather than longer, and why training more than once a day may in some cases actually hurt your training; sleep consolidates memory, so a second same-day training session may interfere with the consolidation of the first training session.

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The 6 foundation behaviours

I’ve recently revised my introductory animal training course, and one thing we do in the course is discuss which behaviours to start teaching an animal.

The 6 foundation behaviours.

Not only are these the behaviours that the animal learns first, so they are the ones that he’ll tend to revert back to and offer when he doesn’t know what else to do, but they also teach him about this game we’re playing together.

The foundation behaviours teach the animal what training is all about.

That it’s fun.

The foundation behaviours teach the animal what training is all about.

That the trainer is a good person to be around – interesting things happen next to that person, which builds their relationship.

Continue reading “The 6 foundation behaviours”